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OpenMarket: August 2008

  • The Nutrition Nazis are Back

    August 30, 2008 7:47 AM

    The consume'rs right to know. It's hard to disagree with the nanny-state proposal now before the California legislature (I know, I know ... what nanny-state procedure isn't before the California legislature!?) to require full disclosure of calories on menus by restaurants. The target, of course, is supposedly unhealthy fast food outlets. Once people see the calorie count, it is assumed that they will desert en masse to the local veggie bar.  But as Jacob Sullum of Reason points out, if people really wanted that information, companies would compete to provide it. It's fair to assume that most people who show up at McDonald's don't expect a healthy meal!

    They certainly aren't likely to change their eating habits.  Writes Sullum:

    The only chain where a substantial share of customers said they noticed nutritional information was Subway, where 32 percent reported seeing it, compared to 4 percent at the other chains. Since Subway promotes a subset of its menu as lower in calories and fat than its competitors' offerings, using a pitchman who lost hundreds of pounds while eating at the chain every day, this disparity is not surprising.

    But even at Subway, calorie information seemed to make a difference for just one in eight customers. Of those who reported seeing the calorie information at Subway, 37 percent—12 percent of all Subway customers—said it affected their purchases. Subway customers who said they used calorie information bought about 100 fewer calories than those who said they didn't see it and those who said they saw it but didn't use it.

    Notably, "there was no significant difference in mean calories purchased by patrons reporting seeing but not using calorie information and patrons who reported not seeing calorie information." In other words, simply making people aware of calorie content is not enough to affect their food choices.

  • Happy Labor Day!

    August 29, 2008 10:55 AM

    Today, in time for Labor Day weekend, I've got two new articles out on current goings-on in organized labor.

    In The American Spectator, my op ed asks "What does Big Labor want?" -- from the enormous amounts of time and effort it's spending on this election.

    Meanwhile, a longer article in Capital Research Center's Labor Watch looks at the growing trend among labor unions to leverage their pension funds to pursue policy agendas at public company shareholder meetings -- policy agendas that may not benefit the union members on whose behalf they're supposed to be managing those pension funds.

  • The word 'absurd' does not do justice

    August 28, 2008 4:44 PM

    Today in the WaPo we see that plans by the University of Chicago to establish a research institute named after the late Nobel prize-winning economist (and U. of Chicago alum) Milton Friedman has caused a bit of an outcry from the leftist professor crowd that typically congregates at exclusive and elite universities like U. of Chicago.  That in itself is not a surprise, nor is it as absurd as statements made by some of the folks who helped draft and circulate a petition to block the establishment of said institute:

    Critics say that they are concerned the institute will be a partisan, elitist organization and that it shouldn't be under the auspices of a university. (irony not added!)

    According to Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions:

    People are concerned about the blurring of the line between Friedman's technical work in economics and his fairly well-known persona as a political advocate of a very pure, free-market conservative or neoliberal position, where the market is the solution to everything.

    And this is a bad thing because...?

  • Brookings Winds Up Doomsday Clock

    August 28, 2008 1:32 PM

    The Brookings Institution is the most establishment of establishment think-tanks. Old-fashioned, genteel, liberal, they do a lot of good work while at the same time perpetuating a lot of ideas whose time passed long ago. I would never, however, have called them alarmist. Until today, that is, when its President put his name to an op/ed in the Washington Post that is laughable in its alarmism. Drawing from the language of the 1980s doomsayers and their Doomsday Clock, the op/ed is entitled "7 Years to Climate Midnight."

    Here's a sample:

    Reflecting a consensus of hundreds of scientists around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has affirmed that greenhouse gas emissions are raising the Earth's temperature. The Earth is on a trajectory to warm more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by around mid-century. Exceeding that threshold could trigger a series of phenomena: Arable land will turn into desert, higher sea levels will flood coastal areas, and changes in the convection of the oceans will alter currents, such as the Gulf Stream, that determine regional weather patterns.

    Manhattan and Florida would be under water, while Nevada would have no water at all. Some Russians quip that they would welcome a more temperate climate, but they would probably be sorry to lose St. Petersburg. Countries such as Bangladesh and Mali do not have the resources to mitigate or even to adapt to the impact of climate change; millions would flee coastal flooding and the desertification of farmlands, creating instant "climate refugees."

  • "Pre-crime social dangerousness"

    August 28, 2008 1:01 PM

    In a move reminiscent of Minority Report, the Cuban government has arrested punk rock singer Gorki Aquila Carrasco, for charge of "pre-crime social dangerousness." His real crime, of course, is criticizing the Castro government in not-very-polite terms. (Video contains very strong language. Thanks to Tom Walls for the Miami Herald link.)

  • A note from Fred Smith on the battle for free trade

    August 27, 2008 5:40 PM

    Some thoughts on why our side is losing in its efforts to promote and defend free trade:

  • Does Government Need to Fund Energy R&D?

    August 26, 2008 4:41 PM

    The Breakthrough Institute, whose willingness to think outside the box I greatly admire, issues a challenge of sorts to my friend Jim Manzi, who has been particpating in a debate with them over at Cato Unbound. They say:

    “If Manzi thinks it is not the government's role to make large investments to enable the emergence of new industries then he should explain how America could have become such a rich nation without having invested in the railroads, the highways, the electrical grid, the Internet, microchips, the computer sciences, and the biosciences.“

    Let's go through them one by one:

    Railroads: were actually built by private enterprise, very much following the similar model in the United Kingdom. Government's role was not as investor but as facilitator, issuing state charters with limited eminent domain powers that eased the way for quick build. There was very much competition to build the best routes. Eminent domain has significant problems, but it is difficult to think of alternatives with linear developments like railroads - or electric transmission lines. That's a subject for a future post, but at base, this is an example of private, not government investment.

  • SEIU's California Scheming III (and Michigan, too)

    August 26, 2008 12:33 PM

    The scandal that broke at the largest union local in California earlier this month, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has spread to Michigan, where the head of that state's largest local has been forced to resign, less than a week after Tyrone Freeman, the head of the California local was forced to resign and the SEIU national organization removed all of the California local's officers.

    One interesting aspect of this story, in today's Los Angeles Times, is the continuation of the power struggle between SEIU President Andy Stern and Sal Rosselli, the head of an Oakland, California, local which Stern has been trying to merge into the local at the center of the scandal.

    In its statement, the SEIU said it has enlisted former California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp to assist in the Los Angeles investigation, and that former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin has agreed to preside over an internal hearing on the inquiry next month.

    The statement also announced that Stern's administration would seek trusteeship of an Oakland local that has resisted the union's efforts to shift 65,000 of its 150,000 workers to the chapter that Freeman headed. The Los Angeles local was placed in trusteeship last week and all of its officers were removed.

  • Russia Bears Down on European Energy

    August 26, 2008 12:32 PM

    Incisive article in the Wall Street Journal today on how Russia is using energy supply as part of its strategic renaissance. An excerpt:

    Despite Russia's repeated use of energy as a political weapon in Eastern Europe, Western Europeans keep repeating the mantra that Russia has been a reliable supplier to “Europe.” They also choose to ignore that natural-gas giant Gazprom serves as the Kremlin's leading foreign-policy arm. The company is primarily state-owned, and many members of Gazprom's leadership are current or former government officials. The Kremlin's present occupant, Dmitry Medvedev, until recently was the chairman of Gazprom. His replacement there is former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.

    The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals. Maintaining a monopoly over the transport of Caspian gas to Europe is essential for Moscow to ensure that all those countries that have submitted to a Russian “partnership” will acquiesce to the return of the former Soviet space to the Kremlin's control.

    It is vital to understand that Russia has designs on Eastern Europe and is using its energy supply to buy off Western Europe. The future looks bad if this is the case.

    Yet there is a question here that needs answering first. Natural gas, while cheap to burn and an efficient form of energy, is not the only source of electricity Western Europe has. Germany and Britain both possess abundant coal. France has based its energy profile on nuclear. Both could provide Russia-free energy across Western Europe, yet both are reviled by environmentalists. Wind power and renewables, beloved by environmentalists, are simply not up to the job.

  • Anna Tomalis, R.I.P.

    August 25, 2008 2:59 PM

    Last Friday, I attended the funeral of a remarkable 13-year-old girl named Anna Tomalis. For the past three years, Anna had been battling terminal cancer and, more recently, trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to grant a "compassionate use" exemption so she could try an experimental cancer drug now being jointly developed by the pharmaceutical companies ARIAD and Merck. Unfortunately, FDA rarely grants exemptions. If too many exemptions are granted, it would become harder to enroll patients in clinical trials, where they have as much as a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo. Anna was too young and too sick to be admitted to any of the clinical trials, so that wasn't at issue here. But, of course, the whole point of FDA is to keep individuals from making their own decisions about which drugs to take. So, eventually, after months of delay, FDA finally approved Anna's exemption, but it came too late. She died just three weeks after beginning treatment -- too little time for the drug to have worked.

    I got to meet Anna and her mother Liz a few months ago, through a patient advocacy organization called the Abigail Alliance For Better Access To Developmental Drugs, with which CEI works occasionally. And, I continued to correspond with them both by e-mail ever since. Though I certainly did not know Anna very well, the service was quite moving. Her father, Ron, for example, explained that Anna realized all along that her chances of survival weren't good. But, keeping a good attitude about the whole thing, Anna insisted that she be buried in a hot pink casket. Since no one actually makes a hot pink casket, her parents had to buy a non-descript one and take it to an auto body shop to have it painted pink.


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