Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Libertarian views: Resenting the Rich

Resenting the Rich, by Chris Edwards
This article appeared in the Economist on April 7, 2009

This is half of a larger debate between Chris Edwards and Professor Thomas Piketty.

Should the rich pay higher taxes? Definitely not. Governments do not need any more money, and they misallocate much of what they already take from us. Furthermore, taxation imposes large deadweight losses on the economy, which makes us all poorer.

More on those points later, but first let us examine how much tax the rich are currently paying. In the United States, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data show average effective tax rates for five income groups or quintiles. The CBO data include federal income, payroll, and excise taxes (www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/taxdistribution.cfm).

The most recent data for 2005 show that effective rates (taxes divided by income) for the quintiles starting at the bottom were 4.3%, 9.9%, 14.2%, 17.4% and 25.5%. That is a steeply graduated tax system. I would prefer a flat or proportional system because I believe in the American ideal of equal justice under law. But it is amazing that some people want to increase taxes on the rich when the top quintile is already paying a rate five times higher than the rate at the bottom.

The Economist's proposition states: "Inequality has risen across the rich world since the 1970s" partly as a result of lower taxes on the rich. If income inequality has risen, the CBO data suggests that taxes are not the cause. The CBO data show that the effective tax rate on the top quintile has been fairly constant since 1979, hovering between 25% and 28%.

If there are disproportionately large tax cuts at the top end, it might lead to larger asset accumulations by the wealthy and greater pre-tax income inequality over time. But the CBO data show that is not what happened. The rich have been pummelled with an effective rate of 25% or more for decades, while effective rates on the other four quintiles have fallen modestly.

Statutory rates have been cut at the top end, but that has led to substantially higher reported income due to an increase in productive efforts and a reduction in tax avoidance. In a 2006 paper, Martin Feldstein at Harvard calculated that the elasticity of taxable income with respect to income tax rates is about 1, so that cutting the top rate from 40% to 30% would boost taxable income by about 16%. The result would be more work effort and less avoidance by entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists and others in the top quintile, which would greatly benefit the rest of us.

Unfortunately, President Obama wants to go in the other direction, raising the top two income tax rates, which would reduce production and increase avoidance by highly skilled people. Such economic damage from higher taxes is called deadweight loss. In the 2006 paper, Mr Feldstein argued that deadweight losses from a federal income tax rate increase would be $1.76 for every dollar of tax increase. That means that every new $1 billion spending programme in President Obama's budget will destroy about $1.76 billion of activities in the private sector.

That is the economics of tax hikes, but what about the politics? The Economist proposition suggests that "resentment over inequality is growing ever more vocal … is taxing the rich more heavily necessary to buy social peace?" Consider that 43% of American households do not pay any federal income tax, according to data from the Joint Committee on Taxation. That large group is doing little to support the huge burden of the welfare state, so it is laughable that they might be angry at the wealthy who do bear the burden. The CBO data show that the top one-fifth of households pay 69% of the entire costs of the federal government. Frankly, the rest of Americans are free-riders on the top quintile's enormous financial support of government.

In America, it is not rich and productive people that create resentment. Instead, it is corrupt politicians handing out special favours, it is the bungling bureaucrats we saw after Hurricane Katrina, and it is cabinet nominees who cheat on their taxes. Americans are not upset at wealthy Steve Jobs and his amazing innovations, but they are upset when they hear that global warming advocate Al Gore lives in a mansion that consumes 15 times more electricity than the average US home. It is hypocrisy, fraud and corruption that people do not like, not hard work and high incomes.

The main reason that we should not increase taxes on the rich is that most governments are far above their optimal size. Vito Tanzi, a former top economist at the International Monetary Fund, noted in a 2004 study: "All the theoretical reasons advanced by economists to justify the role of the state in the economy, including the need to assist the poor, could be satisfied with a much smaller share of spending of GDP than is now found in most industrial countries." Mr Tanzi found that bigger governments were not correlated with better human development indicators such as education achievement, infant mortality or life expectancy.

There are fundamental reasons why big governments do not work very well. As taxes rise, resources are shifted from more efficient private activities to less efficient government activities. The private sector is not more efficient than government because it does not make mistakes, but because it has mechanisms to purge mistakes and move resources to higher-valued uses. Government policymakers do the opposite: they retain failed programmes year after year, and resources get stuck in low-value uses.

Even if politicians did focus on moving resources to higher-value uses, they would be unable to because government activities do not generate the price and profit signals needed to allocate capital and labour efficiently. A final problem is that government programmes are often horribly managed. To take one example, President Obama wants to expand subsidies for energy research, but past US energy subsidies have led to boondoggle after boondoggle, as I have documented at www.downsizinggovernment.org. Perhaps governments in other countries work better than in the United States, but I doubt it.

Some economists in America think that it is inevitable that taxes will rise in coming years. But Canada's recent experience shows a different path. Since the early 1990s, Canada has cut individual and corporate tax rates, shrunk the overall size of government from 53% of GDP to 40%, and has consistently balanced its federal budget. In Canada, tax cuts, spending cuts and debt reduction have not led to less social peace, nor should it anywhere else.

Chris Edwards is tax policy director at the Cato Institute and co-author of Global Tax Revolution.

Remarks by the Federal President to the Troops in Baghdad

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 7, 2009


Al Faw Palace
Baghdad, Iraq
6:08 P.M. (Local)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, guys. Let me say Multinational Force Iraq, Multinational Corps Iraq, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq First Corps, America's Corp Band: Thanks to all of you.

Listen, I am so honored.


THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.) I am honored -- I'm honored and grateful to be with all of you. And I'm not going to talk long because I want to shake as many hands as I can. (Applause.) And I've been talking all week. (Laughter.)

But there's a couple of things I want to say. Number one, thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're welcome.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, when I was at Camp Lejeune I spoke about what it means for America to see our best and brightest, our finest young men and women serve us. And what I said then is something that I want to repeat to you, which is: You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you.


THE PRESIDENT: Under enormous strain and under enormous sacrifice, through controversy and difficulty and politics, you've kept your eyes focused on just doing your job. And because of that, every mission that's been assigned -- from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people. (Applause.) That's point number one.

Point number two is, this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it's something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. (Applause.) They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty. (Applause.)

And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They're going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.

All those things they have to do. We can't do it for them. But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.

And so just as we thank you for what you've already accomplished, I want to say thank you because you will be critical in terms of us being able to make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally, and we can start bringing our folks home. (Applause.)

So now is not the time to lose focus. We have to be even more focused than we've been in order to achieve success.

The last point I want to make is I know how hard it's been on a lot of you. You've been away from your families, many of you for multiple rotations. You've seen buddies of yours injured and you remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


THE PRESIDENT: There are probably some people here who have seen children born and have been missing watching them grow up. There are many of you who have listened to your spouse and the extraordinary sacrifices that they have to make when you're gone.

And so I want you to know that Michelle and myself are doing everything -- (applause) -- are doing everything we can to provide additional support for military families. The federal budget that I have introduced increases support for military families. We are going to do everything required to make sure that the commitment we make to our veterans is met, and that people don't have to fight for what they have earned as a consequence of their service.

The main point I want to make is we have not forgotten what you have already done, we are grateful for what you will do, and as long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation. (Applause.)
So thank you very much everybody. (Applause.) God bless you. (Applause.) God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)


6:15 P.M. (L)

U.S.-New Zealand Arrangement For Cooperation On Nonproliferation Assistance to Kazakhstan

U.S.-New Zealand Arrangement For Cooperation On Nonproliferation Assistance
Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Spokesman, US State Dept
Washington, DC, April 7, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully signed on April 7, 2009, an arrangement for cooperation on nonproliferation assistance. This arrangement supports collaborative work between the United States and New Zealand to secure nuclear and radioactive materials that could be used in a nuclear or radiological weapon and to detect and deter illicit trafficking in these materials by improving monitoring capabilities at priority border crossings, airports, and seaports.

Through this arrangement, New Zealand has pledged to provide NZ$685,000 (approximately US$350,000) to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s Second Line of Defense program in equipping Kazakhstan’s borders with radiation monitors and providing related infrastructure and training. This contribution builds on the success of a similar arrangement signed in May 2007, through which New Zealand contributed similar assistance to help secure Ukraine’s border.

This arrangement reflects the common conviction on the part of the Governments of the United States and New Zealand that nuclear smuggling is a global threat that requires a coordinated, global response. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister McCully have agreed to sign this document today because of the high priority that the United States and New Zealand both place on nonproliferation cooperation.

This contribution results from the efforts of the U.S. Government’s Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative (NSOI), a Department of State-led program that also involves the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and several other U.S. agencies. NSOI engages nations most at risk of nuclear smuggling to jointly identify steps to improve their capabilities to combat that threat. NSOI then works with international donors to identify and coordinate funding to help the vulnerable countries address their needs. New Zealand is one of eleven partners that has joined the United States in supporting anti-nuclear smuggling projects through NSOI. For more information on the Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative, go to www.nsoi-state.net.

Conservative: How not to promote democracy in Cuba and at home

How not to promote democracy in Cuba and at home. By Paul Mirengoff
Washington Examiner, Apr 04, 2009

Momentum is growing in Washington for removing the ban on most travel to Cuba and for lifting or lightening other economic sanctions. This is a subject about which reasonable people can disagree. Unfortunately, there appears to be little room for disagreement within the Senate Democratic caucus.

Let’s start with the merits. U.S. sanctions were originally intended to bring down Castro’s revolutionary regime or, alternatively, to marginalize it.

Sanctions failed on the first score, but succeeded on the second. In less than 20 years, Cuba was transformed, even in the left-liberal imagination, from a romantic cutting-edge society to an impoverished backwater. And Castro was never able to “export” his revolution.

This was due primarily to the underlying weakness of Castro’s model, but sanctions probably made a contribution too. Once Cuba was marginalized, however, the case for maintaining the sanctions came to rest on their ability to help actually change Cuba.

In this, sanctions have not succeeded, and there begins the case for lifting or lightening them. Taking the analysis one step further, liberal Democrats contend that Cuban “engagement” with American tourists and American businesses will make the country a more open one and increase internal pressure for reform.

The problem with this approach is that, like sanctions, it has been tried and found wanting. As Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, points out, millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, and South Americans have visited Cuba, while their nation’s businesses and governments have invested in the Cuban economy and entered into trade agreements. Yet the regime has not opened up.

Unfortunately, the tyrants who control Cuba have the desire and the means to maintain their control. Neither the infliction of more economic pain on the population through sanctions nor the further lining of the tyrants’ pockets through “engagement” will change this.

Maintaining the sanctions nonetheless increases the likelihood of a democratic Cuba. The next generation of Cuban leaders may be less dead set against loosening the government’s hold on society than the old-time totalitarians. If sanctions remain in place, the prospect that they might be lifted provides the new leaders with an incentive to reform. If sanctions have already been removed or substantially reduced, that particular incentive no longer exists.

The Senate Democrats, though, have decided to accommodate the Cuban regime without seeking any political concessions. And they are brooking no dissent from within their caucus.

Menendez is a dissenter. The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez has forcefully advocated the continuation of sanctions and travel restrictions.

In response, according to The Washington Post, some of Menendez’s Democratic Senate colleagues are questioning whether he should continue to serve as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The Post also reports that some liberal donors have “protested doing business with a man they [believe] is taking outdated positions.”

This reaction is odd. First, President Obama told the Cuban American National Foundation last year that he would “maintain the embargo [of Cuba] as an inducement for democratic change on the island.” Menendez, then, is in hot water for holding an “outdated” position not that different from the Democratic president’s.

Second, the Democrats don’t need Menendez’s vote. They have the support of influential Republican Richard Lugar and other farm-state Republicans looking for new markets.

Finally, Menendez’s main objection does not even go to the merits of the sanctions; he says he just wants an open debate. He fears, however, that his Democratic colleagues will thwart such a debate by radically altering U.S. policy towards Cuba through language smuggled into unrelated legislation.

“A full and open discussion of the real situation in Cuba is timely,” Menendez concedes. All he demands is that “we gather the evidence, bring a wide range of voices to the table, and make careful and thoughtful considerations of their implications.”

This doesn’t seem like too much to ask – unless you’re questioning liberal Democratic orthodoxy.

Ironically, it is the Republican Party that is portrayed in the mainstream media as doctrinaire and monolithic. Yet throughout the Bush administration, the party tolerated defections from Republican Senators.

The dissenting Senators included not just blue state centrists like Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter, but also, for example, John Sununu (on the Patriotic Act), George Voinovich (on John Bolton’s nomination), Lindsey Graham (on treatment of detainee policy), and John McCain (on detainee policy, tax cuts, etc.) Far from being punished, Specter became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. McCain became the Republican nominee for president.

As a minority party, the Democrats too were reasonably tolerant of dissent, at least on the part of members of Congress from red states or congressional districts. But now that they are in power, and racing to implement a leftist agenda, their acceptance of dissent seems diminished.

The main culprit appears to be the left-wing interest groups that help float the party. As noted above, “liberal donors” say they are reluctant to do business with Menendez due to his “outdated” views about Cuba. And Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he is working to dissuade liberal interest groups from raising money to finance challenges to centrist Democrats.

How the Democrats resolve this matter is their business. But the Party’s aversion to full and open legislative debate should concern all Americans.

Menendez’s fear that the Senate leadership will limit or prevent debate on altering U.S. policy towards Cuba is well-founded. Earlier this year, the Democrats pushed through a trillion dollar stimulus package without hearings, and on a timetable so short that members could not read the legislation before voting on it. Marching in lockstep, every Democratic Senator voted for the legislation without really knowing its contents.

Reasoned debate is not possible when members do not know what they are debating. Neither is responsible legislating.

By limiting public debate and discouraging even internal debate, the Democratic Party shows itself to be increasingly less democratic.

Paul Mirengoff is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a principal author of Powerlineblog.com.

The Supreme Court of Iowa’s decision to redefine marriage abandons reason and replaces it with feelings as the standard of public consensus

Law, Feelings, and Religion at the Bar in Iowa, by Matthew J. Franck
The Supreme Court of Iowa’s decision to redefine marriage abandons reason and replaces it with feelings as the standard of public consensus.
April 07, 2009

What happens when judicial arrogance becomes so habitual as to become second nature? This past Friday, April 3, the Supreme Court of Iowa provided an answer: judicial arrogance transforms into smug self-deception. This is not the question the court thought it was answering. It claimed to be addressing the question of whether “exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage”—namely the “class” of “gay and lesbian people” who wish to marry others of the same sex—can be justified by the state. But the opinion for a unanimous court in Varnum v. Brien, written by Justice Mark Cady, actually says very little about matters of such justification. By contrast, it speaks volumes about the extent to which American judicial power, having burst free of all constraints, is now in the grip of a banal routinization of tyranny so complete that the tyrants do not recognize their own character as they blandly overturn many centuries of civilization in a day’s work.

The evidence of this “banality of tyranny” (to paraphrase Hannah Arendt) is littered throughout Justice Cady’s opinion. We might point to the court’s blithe unconcern for the actual words of the Iowa constitution, which receive no real analysis at all. We might note, as has legal scholar Robert F. Nagel, that the opinion is full of “clunking vocabulary” and “painfully labored analysis” about whether the statute under challenge is subject to the “rational basis test” or to “strict scrutiny” or to something in between called “intermediate scrutiny.” We might remark on the relentless question-begging and the abrupt ipse dixits that drive the court’s choice of the third of these “levels of analysis” and create a simulacrum of reasoning on the part of judges whose minds were clearly made up before any “analysis” was undertaken. We might say something about the bad faith the judges show their fellow Iowans, whose tolerant attitudes about homosexuality, expressed in previous public policy decisions, are exploited to push their state into a brave new world they continue to resist. Or we might join others who have gasped incredulously at the court’s rejection of any argument for the natural family as the best setting for child-rearing as a mere “stereotype” (and this in a dismissive footnote, no less).

We could broaden the discussion to consider the Iowa supreme court’s general impression of its relationship to its state constitution and to the people for whom and by whom it was made. More than once, Justice Cady’s opinion actually cites the undoubted prospect of failure for the cause of same-sex marriage in Iowa’s democratic institutions as a justification for the court’s intervention on the cause’s behalf on allegedly constitutional grounds. The judges, you see, are “free from the influences that tend to make society’s understanding of equal protection resistant to change.” And so when he follows the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling (overturning a state law criminalizing sodomy), claiming that “the standards of each generation” are the touchstone for understanding what the Constitution says about equality, we know perfectly well that Cady does not mean that democratic majorities will be consulted for discerning what those standards are. No, “a new understanding of equal protection is achieved” whenever the judges say a new thing on the subject. Adorning the opinion with the standard insincere pledge of a “keen and respectful understanding” of separation of powers that is employed by all judicial activists, Cady all but admits that the Iowa supreme court has just amended the state constitution. This is easily done illegitimately by the judiciary, but is a very hard thing for Iowans themselves to do legitimately through the prescribed amendment process. Cady knows this too, remarking that the people can “shape it over time,” while silently passing over the fact that the judiciary can do it in a few minutes on a Friday morning.

We could talk about all these matters at length, but let us instead consider something else in this “legal astonisher” (to borrow Abraham Lincoln’s description of the Dred Scott case). Let us examine the state supreme court’s peculiar view of the role of moral reasoning in legal decision-making, and of the sources of moral principles.

Choosing, as it does, the standard of “intermediate scrutiny” to test the validity of Iowa’s 1998 marriage-protective statute, the court puts the burden of justification on the state. This maneuver masks the essential weakness of the argument for same-sex marriage, which comes finally to this: because some persons are “sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex,” and because some of those persons have entered into “committed and loving relationships” with each other, they are entitled to “the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage.”

From this vantage point, the feelings individuals have for one another are the authoritative wellspring of moral principle. Now, only a great fool would deny the connection of love and marriage—they go together like a horse and carriage, as Frank Sinatra famously sang. But emotion and desire, without more, are a treacherous foundation for law and public policy. As Pascal remarked, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. From society’s vantage point, that’s not good enough. Marriage and family are a moral institution—the teacher of right conduct between the sexes, the school of morality for the young, the founding scene of our moral obligations, the refuge from a wider world where respect for those obligations is a much chancier proposition. These may sound like lofty ideals often unrealized, but that both is the point and is beside the point. Society has an interest—none of its interests is higher—in encouraging the successful formation of marriages and families that point by their nature toward the achievement of these ideals. Within the metes and bounds of the law that expresses society’s conclusions about these matters, the rest is up to us.

Hence it is essential that public policy on marriage turn from love, and from lovers’ felt need for “affirmation,” to consider what reasons can be given for this or that way of arranging the family that makes a claim on our attention. Are all “relationships” created equal? Are all of them equally conducive to human flourishing? Is every way of bringing children into the world, or of rearing them, equally deserving of “affirmation”? How many men and/or women does it take to make a marriage that will perform the functions we want marriage to perform? Are children best prepared for healthy, responsible adult lives with both a mother and a father? Natural or “step-” or adopted? With a mother and a father or with “parents”? How many of each?

The laws of marriage and family, of divorce and custody, are efforts to address such questions rationally, if necessarily imperfectly, with the moral health of each party concerned being something to be optimized to the greatest extent possible. In the nature of things, someone’s preferred notion of a “relationship” that needs “affirming” is always going to be left outside the moral pale, or so one would have thought until now. But on the Iowa court, all such questions, answered slowly and haltingly by G.K. Chesterton’s democracy of the dead, the living, and the yet-unborn—otherwise known as “tradition”—are swept aside by the judges’ solicitude for the “excluded” whose self-esteem is wounded. When desire becomes the foundation for a right, beware. Nothing in what passes for reasoning in Justice Cady’s opinion can stand against the next claimant—perhaps the polygamist—who presents himself as needing affirmation for his relationships. This is not a slippery slope we have before us. It is the sight of a levee breaking in a spring flood.

The Iowa court itself presents an alternative to a feelings-based moral reasoning in the final pages of the Varnum opinion. But it presents that alternative in the most thuggish and intellectually dishonest way. Turning to an argument that was not even made by the county officials defending their duty under Iowa law (and thus should not have been discussed by the court at all), Justice Cady imputes to the state legislature a covert motive behind its marriage-protective statute of 1998: “religious opposition to same-sex marriage.” This is what’s really going on: “religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage.” But this, Cady argues, is constitutionally objectionable for the following reasons: first, there are different religious opinions, some opposing but others approving of same-sex marriage; second, the state government is forbidden to choose between rival religious beliefs; and third, “[s]tate government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. . . . This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state.”

Justice Cady seems not to notice that, by ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, he and his fellow judges, by his own reasoning, have placed the state in the position of endorsing those religious views that approve of same-sex marriage. But that observation only scratches the surface of an argument that is—well, come to think of it—all surface. For the unanimous Iowa court appears incapable of entertaining the most elementary distinction between matters of theology, faith, and worship, on the one hand, and matters of moral reasoning springing from religious conviction on the other. What the opinion calls “religious opposition to same-sex marriage” would more accurately be described as “moral opposition to same-sex marriage springing from religious sources.” It would not go too far to say that religion is the true wellspring of moral thought and action in our civilization. Our own Declaration of Independence—source of what Lincoln called “our ancient faith”—calls upon the Creator as the giver of all our fundamental rights.

Because of the diversity of religious commitments in our society—and because it violates our constitutional morality, and no little part of our dominant religious morality, for anyone to be coerced in matters of faith and practice—we must express our moral opinions to one another in a shared language of reasons and arguments. This does not and cannot mean that the connection of our moral arguments to our religious sentiments is severed when we meet in the public square. But when all the arguments have been aired out, the moral view that prevails at the ballot box and in the legislative halls is entitled to have its way in public policy, barring any explicit constitutional obstacles to its enactment. The “separation of church and state” is not one of those obstacles. If it were, no law with any moral purpose that happened to coincide with the view of any religious community could ever be upheld.

All of this escapes the Iowa justices, whose view seems to be that if a moral argument finds support in any religious commitment, then the promulgation of that argument in law is a violation of the principle of religious disestablishment. This is logically fallacious, historically illiterate, and politically brutish. Recall that juxtaposed with this unremitting hostility to religiously-supported morality is an embrace of the morality of desire. Yet in the Iowa court’s view, religion is itself reduced to mere “feeling,” and so the justices wind up incoherently privileging one kind of feeling over another. Those who desire to marry win out over those who desire to “exclude” them from marrying, and that’s that.

Lost from view is the true ground of our common public morality: reasoned judgment about the natures of things and the good of human persons, families, and communities. About such matters, religion can be instructive (to say the least), while a mere desire to “affirm” our “relationships” cannot be. And so, in both its reductive approach to religion and its empty invocations of feelings, the Iowa Supreme Court has done an injustice to religion, to the possibility of lawful public morality, and—yes—to our relationships themselves.

Matthew J. Franck is professor and chairman of political science at Radford University and a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

WSJ Editorial: The Silicosis Abdication

The Silicosis Abdication. WSJ Editorial
A scam that deserves as much scrutiny as Lerach and Scruggs.
WSJ, Apr 07, 2009

It is going on four years since a Texas judge blew the whistle on widespread silicosis fraud, exposing a ring of doctors and lawyers who ginned up phony litigation to reap jackpot payouts. So where's the enforcement follow-up?

That's an especially apt question given news that New York's State Board for Professional Medical Conduct has finally revoked the license of Dr. Ray Harron. He was among the doctors who Texas Judge Janis Graham Jack showed had fraudulently diagnosed thousands of plaintiffs with silicosis, a rare lung disease. These doctors were later called to testify in Congress, where many, including Dr. Harron, took the Fifth Amendment.

Dr. Harron has since lost his medical licenses in California, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Mississippi. This is progress, though hardly sufficient. Among the questions Congress asked state departments of health during the silicosis hearings were why those bodies hadn't moved to shut down these doctors and their mobile X-ray vans at the time they were committing medical malpractice.

New York is belatedly joining the queue, and its order stripping Dr. Harron of his license is particularly noteworthy. After outlining his unethical actions, and citing other medical boards that had denied him a new license, it summarized: "[Dr. Harron] was part of an operation to find plaintiffs with silicosis whether or not they really had silicosis. This is perpetrating a fraud on the courts."

Precisely. The question is what anybody else is doing about it. Judge Jack's findings inspired U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York to convene a grand jury investigation into silicosis fraud. The criminal division of the Texas state attorney general also went this route. We know both juries subpoenaed doctors and documents involved in the Jack case. While these physicians bear responsibility for negligent medical practices, the Jack trial and Congressional hearings made clear that many were taking orders from the trial bar. Dr. Harron has stated in court that he "capitulated" to attorney demands that he include inaccurate language in his silicosis reports.

Yet these grand juries have yet to result in prosecutions. The feds and Texas aside, it would seem incumbent upon New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to follow up on his own state medical board's determination of fraud. A follow-up is especially important given that, prior to their silicosis escapade, these doctors made millions working for trial attorneys on asbestos. According to the Johns Manville Bankruptcy Trust, six of the doctors at the center of the silicosis fraud were also responsible for at least 140,000 asbestos-lawsuit diagnoses. Dr. Harron alone diagnosed an astonishing 51,048 people with asbestos-related disease.

The silicosis litigation machine broke down after Judge Jack's ruling, yet hundreds of thousands of phony asbestos-related diagnoses continue to clog courts. An Ohio state court in 2006 dismissed all cases that relied solely on Dr. Harron, and a federal court in Philadelphia recently did the same. But with medical boards now admitting these doctors were at the center of silicosis schemes to defraud courts, prosecutors ought to pursue their role in asbestos too.

The silicosis and asbestos scams are as corrosive to justice in their way as the cases that resulted in convictions for Bill Lerach, Dickie Scruggs and Melvyn Weiss for kickbacks or bribery. The difference is that these asbestos cases are still in court.

An Idea for Mr. Summers: He could pay higher taxes—if he thought that was right

An Idea for Mr. Summers. WSJ Editorial
He could pay higher taxes—if he thought that was right.
WSJ, Apr 07, 2009

Larry Summers, the White House economic guru, is taking some hits from the left after his official disclosure forms revealed late last week that he got rich thanks to the financial industry he is now charged with reviving and reregulating.

The appearance-of-a-conflict-of-interest crowd isn't happy that Mr. Summers earned $5.2 million last year working for the beneficent hedge fund, D. E. Shaw & Co. He also made a bundle in speaking fees, including $135,000 for a single appearance for Goldman Sachs. That must have been some stemwinder, though we're confident Goldman figures it didn't overpay given Mr. Summers's later White House prominence.

We've got nothing against getting rich, though it is worth noting that Mr. Summers will pay Bush-era tax rates on his Wall Street windfall profit. So if the man who would still like to be Federal Reserve Chairman is looking to make a gesture of political solidarity with the middle-class masses, here's an idea: Honor your principles, and pay taxes on that income at Bill Clinton-Barack Obama rates.

Mr. Summers could simply calculate his taxes for 2008 based on what he'd pay if President Obama's tax proposals had been law. Thus his top marginal income tax rate would rise from 35% to 39.6%, plus the phase outs in deductions and exemptions, which would make the rate roughly 41.6%. Mr. Summers could write a check to the IRS for the difference. And of course he wouldn't forget to deduct any charitable giving at only 28 cents on the dollar, rather than 35 or 41.6 cents.

Mr. Obama likes to say it's the "era of responsibility," and if that's true then we assume Mr. Summers will want to lead by example.

Tobacco cessation therapies, cell phone towers, &c.

ACSH Dispatches Round-Up: Tobacco cessation therapies, cell phone towers, &c. By Elizabeth Wade
ACSH, Apr 04, 2009

April 3, 2009

Congress's Pro-Smoking Bill and Anti-Book Law, plus Radiation Hysteria

Quitting smoking just got harder

A story about a study concluding that smokers who use nicotine replacement therapy are twice as likely to quit for six months than those who were given placebos reminds us of the dire straits we are in with regard to tobacco cessation therapy. What isn't reported until the end of the news story is that only 6.75% of the smokers given the nicotine replacement therapy managed to quit for six months -- and only half of them are expected to remain smoke-free in the future.

"These abysmal quit rates show that our current smoking cessation therapies are almost never effective," says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. "People who close their eyes to alternative cessation therapies, such as smokeless tobacco as harm reduction, are being ostriches at the expense of the over 40 million addicted smokers in this country -- and who knows how many millions around the world."

Unfortunately, the U.S. took a step in the wrong direction yesterday when the House of Representatives passed the Kennedy-Waxman bill giving the FDA regulatory control of tobacco and defeated Rep. Steven Buyer's (R-IN) harm reduction amendment in a 284-142 vote. Lawmakers expect a tighter vote in the Senate, and ACSH looks forward to offering our science-based perspective to the continuing debate. We wholeheartedly agree with Rep. Buyer when he says, "Effectively giving an FDA stamp of approval on cigarettes will improperly lead people to believe that these products are safe, and they really aren't. We want to move people from smoking down the continuum of risk to eventually quitting."

The current battle over the e-cigarette illustrates the problems with our country's approach to tobacco policy. The e-cigarette delivers a hit of nicotine vapor when a person "smokes" it, so smokers who are trying to quit can satisfy their craving without inhaling the harmful products of combustion produced by cigarettes. But because the FDA has yet to approve the e-cigarette as a nicotine-delivery device, this new technology could be banned until it undergoes the approval process. "You can't blame the FDA for enforcing the law, but we have bad laws about tobacco that lead to bad public policy outcomes," says ACSH's Jeff Stier.

Attack of the cell phone towers!

A group of Staten Island parents and lawmakers are up in arms about the possibility of cell phone towers sending low-level radiation into a nearby school. "When they traced the source of radiation, which was above average but not dangerous, they found that it wasn't connected to the cell phone towers at all," Dr. Ross remarks. "But they are still trying to get them removed!"
Dr. Whelan adds, "When people believe scares like this they become totally irrational. When they really believe that these towers are emitting dangerous levels of radiation, how do you convince them otherwise?"

Dr. Ross jokes, "The only way to appease them seems to be getting all the students at this school metal helmets." ACSH debunked the wrongheaded notion that cell phones cause brain cancer in our Top 10 Unfounded Health Scares of 2008. For more information, see our publication The Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation.

CPSIA remains intact, Prop 65 grows even more ridiculous

Unfortunately, the Senate rejected Senator Jim DeMint's (R-SC) amendment to the stimulus bill that would have reformed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). "The Senate failed to take a breath of fresh air," Stier says. As we have written before, the CPSIA places an impossible burden on many small businesses by banning certain types of phthalates and requiring that every children's product be tested for minuscule levels of lead. If a business can't afford the expensive testing, it must throw out the products -- even all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and children's books!

As summarized so succinctly in today's Wall Street Journal editorial, "With one stroke of the regulatory pen, an estimated $100 million of inventory can't be sold, and the industry loss may reach $1 billion."

In California, we see the results of another absurdly stringent "public health" measure, Proposition 65, which requires warnings to accompany any product that contains "toxic chemicals." To avoid lawsuits, businesses in the state have taken to posting frivolous "warning signs" about products that do not pose any danger to consumers' health.

"Prop 65 is not based on health or science, but rather perceptions and politics," Dr. Ross says. For more on the consequences of the misguided law, check out Stier's op-ed "Perils of Global Warnings" from the Washington Times.