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OpenMarket: March 2011

  • The Hidden Costs of State Workers' Early Retirement

    March 23, 2011
    Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin could not have foreseen how his Budget Reform Bill may backfire and contribute to larger pension liabilities. A structural issue that causes increased pension liabilities and deficits for states is early retirement of state and local employees. The Wall Street Journal article published today, "Public Employees Rush to Retire," plays it off as government savings and only a loss of expertise in state employees. This is not the case. A significant reform of Gov. Walker’s budget bill was an increase in employee contribution toward their pension and benefits. The notable increase in state employees applying for retirement in Wisconsin...
  • Morning Media Summary

    March 23, 2011
    Tech: Apple Sues Amazon Over App Store Trademark: “Apple Inc has sued Amazon.com Inc in a bid to stop the online retailer from improperly using Apple's APP STORE trademark, according to a court filing.” Google Spends $1 Million on censorship and throttling detection: “Google has awarded $1 million to Georgia Tech researchers so that they can develop simple tools to detect Internet throttling, government censorship, and other "transparency" problems.” Google Releases open source Bitcoin client: “A Google engineer has released an open source Java...
  • TTB Should Allow, Not Mandate Nutritional Labels

    March 22, 2011
    Last month I penned an article for BigGovernment.com in which I asserted that some large alcohol producers were in favor of the nutritional label mandate that TTB, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, has been considering. As a follow-up, I interviewed Guy Smith, the executive vice president of Diageo, perhaps the leading producer of alcoholic drinks throughout the world (they make beverages such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo, and many others) to get their perspective on the prospective mandate. The article, "Voluntary...
  • U.S. Property Rights Protections Continue to Decline

    March 22, 2011
    This morning, I attended the Property Rights Alliance's launch presentation of the 2011 International Property Rights Index. Overall, the United States declined to 18th place in the world (from 16th in 2010 and 14th in 2007, when the Index was originally created), losing out to top-ranked Finland. The biggest contributor to the U.S.'s reduced standing was in the Physical Property Rights category (real property), which accounted for nearly half of the year-over-year decline in points. The variables for this category are protection of physical property rights, property registration, and access to loans. It is here where one might be surprised by some of the countries who rank ahead of the U.S. (ranked...
  • Obama's Support of Brazil

    March 22, 2011
    President Obama was in Brazil over the weekend:
    “The United States doesn’t simply recognize Brazil’s rise; we support it enthusiastically,” Obama said in Brasilia, the capital, after meeting with President Dilma Rousseff as he began a five-day trip that also will take him to Chile and El Salvador.
    This is true. The taxpayer is still sending Brazilian cotton farmers millions of dollars per year because the WTO ruled in favor of Brazil when they sued the United States over our farm subsidy program. Rather than try to support Brazil by ending this (which is, admittedly, likely impossible for President Obama at this time), meaningless speeches will be given and some silly inter-bureaucratic program...
  • Obama Administration Undermines Free Speech and Due Process in Crusade Against Harassment and Bullying

    March 22, 2011
    The Obama administration’s recent push against “bullying” resulted in a letter to school officials that undermines both free speech and due process. On October 26, a political appointee in the Education Department sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s school boards claiming that many forms of homophobia and bullying violate federal laws against sexual harassment and discrimination. But those laws only ban discrimination based on sex or race -- not bullying in general. The letter from the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Russlynn Ali defined “harassment” so broadly as to reach both speech protected by the First Amendment, and conduct the Supreme Court says does not legally qualify as harassment. The letter left the incorrect impression with some reporters that federal statutes already ban...
  • High-Speed Rail Follies: International Edition

    March 21, 2011
    Over at the excellent NewGeography.com, Wendell Cox has an article about the battle over high-speed rail investment in Britain. As we've seen in the United States--and all over the world--Britain's high-speed rail plans are propped up by incredibly optimistic cost and ridership projections. Of course, these initial estimates generally turn out to be radically different from reality as it unfolds:
    The international record of high-speed rail projections is nothing short of horrific. Not only have costs proven far higher, but ridership and revenue have been less than projected. All of this means that taxpayers end up paying more. Again, Britain is a prime example. The Eurostar London to Brussels and Paris continues to attract at least 50 percent less ridership originally projected. High...
  • New Hampshire Experiments with Lower Cigarette Taxes

    March 21, 2011
    File this under "Adventures on the Laffer curve." The New Hampshire House is seeking to lower its cigarette tax from $1.78 per pack to $1.68. Almost every other state has increased cigarette taxes over the past few decades. In New York, an individual pays an extra $4.35 per pack (minimum, not including any local taxes) of cigarettes, about $.20 per cigarette. Some legislators believe it will bring increased revenues, through increased cigarette sales and other economic activity near the border, among other things. The opponents do not believe this:
    But state Rep. Christine Hamm, a Hopkinton Democrat, called the move "fiscally stupid." "No state has cut their tobacco tax and seen a...
  • CEI Podcast for March 21, 2011: How Washington Ruined Your Washing Machine

    March 21, 2011
    CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman talks about how ever-stricter energy efficiency regulations are making washing machines more expensive and less effective than they used to be.
  • Liquor Wholesalers Enlist Mormon Lawmaker

    March 21, 2011
    Alcohol wholesalers have enlisted Mormon Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to lead their quest for passage of anti-competitive liquor legislation during the 112th Congress [see a copy of the bill here]. Chaffetz is most likely a well-meaning guy who believes he can promote virtue with policies that make alcohol less accessible and more expensive. Publicly, he says that a federal alcohol law is necessary to protect "states’ rights." Yet both views are wrongheaded. First of all, representatives of the National Beer Wholesalers Association—the main force behind the bill—are not interested in virtue or states’ rights. They want government-secured profits. Accordingly, the bill is an attempt to grant...

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