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OpenMarket: July 2007

  • Pickets for Hire Raise Homeless Activists' Ire

    July 24, 2007
    Today's Washington Post reports on a phenomenon that, while not new, strikes some as counterintuitive -- pickets for hire used by activist groups and labor unions.
    Although their placards identify the picketers as being with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, they are not union members. They're hired feet, or, as the union calls them, temporary workers, paid $8 an hour to picket. Many were recruited from homeless shelters or transitional houses. Several have recently been released from prison. Others are between jobs. "It's about the cash," said Tina Shaw, 44, who lives in a House of Ruth women's shelter and has walked the line at various sites. "We're against low wages, but I'm here for the cash."
    This may strike some as exploitative, but...
  • Nonagenarians in the news

    July 24, 2007
    Nonagenarians — people in their nineties — are making news this month. Last week Norman Borlaug received the Congressional Gold Medal for his lifetime work in saving a billion people through high-yield crops. He's 93 and still going strong. This week biotech pioneer Orrie Friedman — a young'un at only 92 — announced he wants to make $1 billion dollars before he dies through finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. His company Grand Pharma is working on using organic silica-based compounds to dissolve the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. And Friedman is no slouch in chemistry and biotechnology. After teaching at Brandeis (and before that seven years...
  • Is Traditional Landline Telephone Service Even Worth Saving?

    July 24, 2007
    The failure of SunRocket--which I write about here--has left a fair number of people without landline telephone service. Nothing bad seems to have happened as a result. In countries like Israel and Greece that had terrible government-run phone monopolies, few people under 40 even have landlines at home largely because the monopolies gave the service such a bad reputation. The current billing structure for mobile service make it unattractive for businesses to adopt mobile telephone service for many purposes. The relative lack of density of North American mobile phone networks, furthermore, means that dropped calls are a fact of life. But network quality already seems to be improving by leaps and bounds (it's already much better in the richer and denser parts of Asia and Europe) and there's probably some economic model...
  • More on subsidies for dead farmers -- in the GAO's words

    July 24, 2007

    Here's a copy of the Government Accountability Office's report on large farm subsidy payments made to dead farmers, which was released today at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

    Some of the noteworthy findings:

    USDA also cannot be assured that it is not making improper payments to deceased individuals. For 1999 through 2005, USDA paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals (either as an individual recipient or as a member of an entity). Of this total, 40 percent went to those who had been dead for 3 or more years, and 19 percent to those dead for 7 or more years. Most of these payments were made to deceased individuals indirectly (i.e., as members of farming entities...

  • The downside of bipartisanship -- 2007 Farm Bill

    July 24, 2007

    At an hour-and-a-half press conference this morning, House Agriculture Committee members, perhaps sensitive to revelations that dead farmers have been receiving huge farm subsidies, defended the 2007 Farm Bill they unanimously approved last week. They stressed that the bill, due to be considered by the full House as early as this Thursday, was a bipartisan effort. That's true — both Democrats and Republicans on the committee pushed for more pork in their districts.

    At the press conference, a parade of Agriculture Committee members downplayed the pork and talked about the nutrition programs, the conservation programs, the energy programs. They also stressed their...

  • Call me a dictator, will you? I'll show you!

    July 23, 2007
    Venezuela's strongman, Hugo Chavez, is now threatening to expel from the country any foreign nationals who criticize him. His words would be hilariously self-parodying if they weren't backed up by the barrel of a gun:
    "How long are we going to allow a person -- from any country in the world -- to come to our own house to say there's a dictatorship here, that the president is a tyrant, and nobody does anything about it?" Chavez asked during his weekly television and radio program.
    Well, what kind of democracy doesn't allow that? (Thanks to Megan McLaughlin for the link.)
  • The curious case of the Japanese beetle

    July 23, 2007
    (Warning : not for the squeamish) "Nature is not benign" is a lesson one learns quickly when spending time outdoors, even if engaging in the sport of conversation. This weekend at Cobb Island is a case in point. Fred and I were on the deck by my rosebushes, desiccated by Japanese beetles. (“The Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica Newman) is a highly destructive plant pest of foreign origin.”) We were talking with a neighbor. One of the beetles, undoubtedly attracted by the conversation, flew onto Fred's head and proceeded to crawl into his ear. Numerous shakes of the head seemed to drive the beetle further inside. Now both beetle and Fred became frantic — the beetle scrabbling...
  • Hands off VOIP

    July 23, 2007
    Today's New York Times carries a story about the sudden failure and shutdown of my former home telephone company, SunRocket. Although it obviously could have handled its own demise better, SunRocket did provide pretty good service: Unlike its competitor Vonage, SunRocket never went down and generally provided call quality as good as land line. The 11 months of service I got for $203.00 (including all taxes) cost about what I would have paid to Vonage and a lot less than I would have paid for traditional land-line service. Although he can't actually find a single expert who supports his point of view, the Times reporter nonetheless talks about the possibility of more regulation for VOIP companies and, implies that it would be a good idea. Here'...
  • Anti-AIDS Spending Backfires

    July 23, 2007
    A U.N. effort to reduce the spread of AIDS to children by encouraging HIV-positive mothers to use formula rather than breast feeding has backfired in Botswana. It has resulted in many children dying from diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition, while saving few, if any, from AIDS. In the Third World, the risk of a child contracting AIDS from breast feeding is less than risks associated with formula, such as getting diarrhea and other ailments from unsterilized water used to prepare the formula. AIDS rates remain stubbornly high in Botswana, which is one of Africa's wealthiest countries (owing to diamonds), and has one of its highest HIV-...
  • Two Cheers for House Small Business Committee

    July 20, 2007
    As the 110th Congress has passed its six-month mark, there is one committee that has significantly improved. This is the House Small Business Committee, which has expanded its scope to look at not just the traditional issues of Small Business Administration loans and grants, but the crushing regulatory burden facing small business in particular. New Chairman Nydia Velazquez and Ranking Member Steve Chabot deserve credit for pursuing investigations of and exploring bipartisan solutions for problematic rules. At first glance, as well as a glance at voting records, Chabot and Velazquez appear to have little in common policy-wise. Chabot is a conservative from Ohio, and Velazquez is a liberal from the Bronx. Yet both recognize that sometimes well-intentioned regulations can hurt the "little guy," and have used the committee as a bully pulpit to help rein in burdensome red tape. Velazquez...

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