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OpenMarket: October 2011

  • State Budgets Busted

    October 25, 2011
    The nonprofit fiscal watchdog State Budget Solutions has conducted an extensive analysis of state government finances. Reuters sums up the dismal findings:
    State Budget Solutions combined states' major debt and future liabilities, primarily for pensions and employee healthcare, unemployment insurance loans, outstanding bonds and projected fiscal 2011 budget gaps. It found that in total, states are in debt for $4.2 trillion.
    Let that sink in. $4.2 trillion. In debt. And that’s only the state governments whose official financial calculations “…do not offer a full picture of the states' liabilities and can rely on budget gimmicks and accounting games to hide the extent of the deficit." Great. True, Reuters points out that other estimates of state liabilities are lower: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI)...
  • The Great Danes of Space

    October 25, 2011
    Wired welcomed a new author to its Science Blogs on Monday afternoon -- Kristian von Bengtson, an aerospace engineer and co-founder of Copenhagen Suborbitals. His three year-old group is working on ways of achieving suborbital spaceflights with rockets. As its website indicates, the effort is supported entirely by private donations, sponsors, and the work of part-time specialists. von Bengtson’s discusses in his inaugural piece what makes their effort unique in today’s environment:
    This is not a business, nor is it an attempt to race against being the first doing private space travel in Europe. It is truly a project pushing the limits of a small group of...
  • For the Children

    October 25, 2011
    The people of Illinois don't expect their government to be corrupt; they insist on it. That's why nary an eyebrow was raised when it recently came out that two lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers were able to qualify for generous teachers' pensions by working as substitute teachers for one day. One man could receive up to $3.8 million if he lives to age 84. This is in addition to the 401(k) the union gives him as an employee. The Chicago Tribune reports:
    Preckwinkle's one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He's 59, and at age 60 he'll be...
  • Obama-Fannie Regressive Refinance Ripoff for Taxpayers and Middle-Class Investors

    October 24, 2011
    President Obama is announcing his plan today to bypass Congress with new government intervention to save the housing market through the entities that destroyed it: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. For different reasons, thoughtful members of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street should be up in arms at many of the plan's aspects. For the Tea Party, which was sparked by the 2009 rant of CNBC's Rick Santelli against "pay[ing] for your neighbors' mortgage that has an extra bathroom" through Obama's first mortgage "rescue" program, this is a similar bailout for big borrowers. And for OWS, which is concerned with policies that favor those at the top, there should be consternation that this could benefit owners of McMansions worth up to $730,000. And both movements should be concerned that this plan lets banks off the hook for shoddy loans they sold to investors such as pension funds,which...
  • Alcohol Regulation Roundup: Ale-oween Edition

    October 24, 2011
    National: Phusion Projects, the makers of the now-infamous alcoholic energy drink Four Loko, have reportedly reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). After making nice with the FDA/TTB by removing the stimulants from their product, the FTC warned that the size of the can could constitute a deceptive act. To avert another government attack, the makers of Four Loko have agreed to add a resealable top to indicate that the drinks hold multiple servings. Also at the national level, Ken Burns’s newest documentary, "Prohibition," has the media all atwitter with articles on modern-day issues from marijuana,...
  • The Simpsons and Immigration

    October 24, 2011
    Art Carden has an excellent column about immigration, and not just because the first third is about The Simpsons.
  • Senate Bill Would Further Undermine Due Process on Campus

    October 24, 2011
    Historically, most colleges used a "clear and convincing" evidence standard in student and faculty discipline cases, to safeguard due process. As Nicholas Trott Long noted in 1985 in the Journal of College and University Law, "Courts, universities, and student defendants all seem to agree that the appropriate standard of proof in student disciplinary cases is one of 'clear and convincing' evidence." (Long, The Standard of Proof in Student Disciplinary Cases, 12 J.C. & U.L. 71 (1985)). But in recent years, this due process safeguard has come under attack, most prominently in a legally-flawed April 4, 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter from the head of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Russlynn Ali, who has demanded that colleges dilute the presumption of innocence in sexual harassment and assault cases by...
  • Public Interest Groups Challenge Misleading Government Information Used to Justify Ethanol Mandates and Subsidies

    October 21, 2011
    Recently, ActionAid USA and CEI filed a correction request under the Data Quality Act targeting misleading claims made by the EPA regarding the effects of ethanol mandates and subsidies, claims that have obscured how government policies have contributed to world hunger, malnutrition, disease, and death. This legal request, which was filed shortly before World Food Day, can be found here.
    According to one recent study, ethanol diversion to fuel has caused nearly 200,000 excess deaths annually. Marie Brill, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA...
  • What Does it Mean to Be Against Free Markets?

    October 21, 2011
    What do the Wall Street protesters want? According to a survey of 200 protesters encamped in New York's Zuccotti Park and reported by pollster Doug Schoen in The Wall Street Journal: “What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is…opposition to free-market capitalism…” So we know that they are opposed to the free market. But what does that mean, exactly? Obviously they are not opposed to “markets” as such, because that would be tantamount to being against human economic activity of almost any kind -- as long as homo sapiens has existed, he has traded with others of his kind. Plus, I see a lot of laptops and smartphones being used and shared among the throngs of protesters, so I know they are not opposed to ...
  • Alcohol Myths Persist Beyond Prohibition

    October 21, 2011
    In a recent article for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, I make the case that many elements of Prohibition did not fade away after the repeal of the 18th Amendment. In his October 13 opinion piece for The Detroit News, former police chief Jerry Oliver proves my point by digging up an old alcohol myth -- one that was used to force Prohibition on the nation. In short, Mr. Oliver expresses the belief that producers of alcohol only seek to have customers consume as much alcohol as possible, thereby making it necessary for the government to intervene in the name of “moderation.”
    Historically, it was unscrupulous alcohol...

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