October 6, 2006 2:03 PM
In what has to be one of this week's worst excuses for good
news, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the federal budget deficit
for FY2006 was “only” $250 billion, down from last year's $318 billion.
Actually, let's look at that again: the number of deficit-spent dollars last
fiscal year was 250,000,000,000. That'll buy you a lot of House page uniforms.
The White House had issued a February prediction of
$423,000,000,000, and then went on to claim repeated victory on the deficit in
the intervening months as they revised their numbers down and closer to
reality. Reuters politely describes the original OMB estimate as having been “thought
to be unrealistically high by many experts.”
Even if you can
manage to define the government overspending by a quarter of a trillion dollars
in a single year as “good news,” don't break out the champagne just yet. CBO is
now predicting fiscal year deficits growing to $286 billion for the current
fiscal year and to $328 billion by fiscal 2010.
October 6, 2006 1:44 PM
News out of the Netherlands this week is bearing an odd parallel to DC's most talked about scandal involving a now-former Congressman from a certain peninsular state. In what must be a not entirely unexpected setback, a political party founded earlier this year by Dutch pedophiles looks as though it has insufficient support to compete for seats in the parliamentary general election next month. Children's rights groups sued to have the party banned outright, but a Dutch court ruled that the nation's freedom of expression guarantees extended even to the euphamistically-named "Brotherly Love, Freedom and Diversity party (PNVD)." Maybe this two-party system isn't such a bad thing after all.
October 6, 2006 1:30 PM
It seems that German welfare queens have been enraging their hard working fellow citizens by driving expensive cars while on the dole. The Christinan Democrats in parliament, however, have come up with a solution - force those receiving benefits to sell their cars (above a certain value) in order to contribute to their own upkeep. The plan has been thwarted in the past, but appears to be moving forward.
On the minus side of the ledger, German attorney Jens Lorek is encouraging citizens who believe they've been abducted by aliens to apply for government compensation originally set aside for kidnap victims. "There's quite obviously demand for legal advice here," Lorek told
Reuters. "The trouble is, people are afraid of
making fools of themselves in court." Enough said.
October 5, 2006 3:53 PM
October 5, 2006 3:20 PM
Rosenberg's article in today's New York
Times addresses the devastating impact that misguided bans of the pesticide
DDT have had on people in developing nations. The New York Times presents
the DDT issue as simply a serious policy mistake. But it's not simply a single mistake—it's
part of a dangerous effort by environmental activists around the world to
deprive people of various life-saving technologies. The DDT case alone should discredit these
groups, yet they continue to have a harmful influence on public policy.
the problems DDT bans have caused, environmental activists have successfully
advanced a worldwide ban on DDT under the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
(known as the POPs Treaty). The
treaty has been ratified in enough nations for it to take effect, and the
United States Senate plans to ratify it soon. It allows for only limited use of DDT on a temporary basis, and it creates
serious regulatory hurdles that limit access in nations where people are dying
in droves. The POPs treaty will also ban
many other substances that might be useful in developing nations. In addition, international negotiators have
set up a process to ban even more substances in the future under the POPs
October 5, 2006 12:26 PM
The X PRIZE Foundation said it would be offering a $10
million prize to researchers who devise the technology “that can successfully
map 100 human genomes in 10 days.”
In its press release the foundation said it was trying to
stimulate faster advances in genomics for preventative medicine and procedures.
“Only after we have access to affordable and fast genome sequencing will we be
able to take advantage of the countless benefits.”
Here's to the newest X PRIZE — using private funds to
finance private research and innovation.
October 3, 2006 11:25 AM
Yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued an executive
order commanding businesses seeking federally-funded disaster relief
administered by the City of New Orleans to award at least 50 percent of their
business to local businesses and at least 35 percent to minority and
women-owned businesses. Assistance will
now be denied those businesses that contract based on merit, rather than
discriminating based on race or geographic origin.
Nagin's minority set-aside rule violates court rulings from
the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled that a
government entity cannot impose racial preferences except to remedy its own
past discrimination, or the past discrimination of the entities it seeks to
force to engage in racial preferences. Under Fifth Circuit decisions such as the Caddo Parrish School Board
case and Messer v. Meno (1997), minority preferences cannot be used to promote
“diversity,” except in college admissions. Doing so violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution.
It also may violate the Louisiana State Constitution. In 1996, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in
the Associated General Contractors case that race-based affirmative action is
flatly forbidden by the State Constitution.
Nagin's local-business preference probably violates the
Privileges and Immunities Clause, which the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Camden
case, held bars cities from discriminating against out-of-state individuals,
even with respect to a city's own contracts.
October 3, 2006 11:11 AM
In Schwab v. Philip Morris, a federal judge in Brooklyn recently
approved a class-action racketeering lawsuit against tobacco companies on
behalf of millions of smokers of "light" cigarettes.
Up to 30 million smokers will be able to sue based on
allegations that the tobacco companies exaggerated the health benefits of
smoking “light” rather than regular cigarettes. Many smokers compensate for the reduced nicotine in light cigarettes by
inhaling more deeply or smoking more cigarettes. That offsets much of the health benefits of
light cigarettes. The tobacco giants
apparently suspected as much but didn't tell the public.
This ruling has triggered debate, since the Federal Trade
Commission arguably approved the tobacco companies' use of the “lights” label,
as the Illinois Supreme Court concluded last year when it quashed another class
action lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
But that's relevant to whether Big Tobacco is guilty, rather
than whether the case should be handled as a class action. Even if you're
guilty, that doesn't mean you can be sued by 30 million people all at once.
Under federal court rules, for smokers as a group to bring a
class action, they have to show that legal issues that affect all “lights” smokers
alike predominate over ones that vary between individual smokers or have to be
resolved on a smoker-by-smoker basis.
And there are a lot of issues that have to be resolved on a
smoker-by-smoker basis. The federal
racketeering law, RICO, isn't an anti-lying statute. Even if a tobacco company made false claims,
to recover damages, each individual smoker still has to prove he actually
believed its claims, and reasonably relied on them, when he bought its
October 2, 2006 2:37 PM
Sad news for online poker fans: Congress has effectively outlawed Internet gambling, as part of legislation widely expected to be signed into law by the President. The efforts to keep you from winning it big (or losing the rent money) via the web are not new, of course. We need only look back to analysis done by our good friend Thomas Pearson, Esq., that appeared as early as 2000 and 2001 to see how long our would be saviors have been trying to protect us from the temptations of e-games of chance.
October 2, 2006 2:25 PM
ICANN is moving toward greater autonomoy and away from direct ties to the U.S. Department of Commerce. As long as it doesn't end up under some kind of United Nations control, this looks like a positive development.