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OpenMarket: October 2012

  • Suffocating Athena: Public Sector Unions Kill Greek Salvation -- Again

    October 4, 2012 11:26 AM

    On October 1, the Greek government unveiled an austerity package that aims to reduce public spending by $15 billion (11.5 billion euros) for 2013-2014, which includes cuts to welfare as well as salaries and pensions of government employees.

    The reductions are necessary to receive a 31.5 billion euro installment from the 130 billion euro (second) bailout that has been keeping Greece’s head above the wine-dark sea. The International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and the European Central Bank, collectively referred to as the Troika, have assured that no more money will be given without credible steps being taken to ensure a sound investment.

    As necessary as the measures are, unions are pitching a fit at the thought of decreased government funding. Two of Greece’s largest unions called for a 24-hour strike in late September in anticipation of the proposed austerity measure. The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Confederation (ADEDY), which represent half the nation’s work force, mobilized 50,000 teachers, lawyers, civil workers, and other Greek employees to protest in Athens, promising more to come if the cuts are implemented. This is the third strike this year, but perhaps one of the most significant Greece has had in a while, as it has brought together people of varying political beliefs who collectively oppose austerity.

    Union officials want to negotiate with the government for fewer salary and pension reductions, and they don’t seem to care how the government gets the money to pay them. Sotires Martalis, a high school physics teacher in Athens who was on the National Council of the Public Employees Union Federation, spoke to Labor Notes in 2010, claiming:

    “The rank and file is so angry,” he said. “Their main idea is ‘we don’t pay for your crisis, not even one euro. Take the money from the rich.’ So the leaders of the federations have had to support and call strikes."

    Greece’s finances are spinning out of control. If nothing is done, public debt could reach 179.3 percent of GDP by next year. But this does not concern unions. They are fighting the austerity measures that could give Greece its first budget surplus in 10 years.

  • Today's Links: October 4, 2012

    October 4, 2012 10:56 AM

    OPINION

    LARRY KUDLOW: "Romney Politely Cleaned Obama's Clock"
    "Mitt Romney politely cleaned Barack Obama's clock tonight. A lethargic and at times tired looking President Obama was out-hustled, out-facted, out-energized, and out-informed by Former Governor Mitt Romney. Completely unlike Romney's convention speech, tonight he focused on strong economic issues, developed his philosophy of limited government, and convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is in fact a pro-growth tax reformer who wants to lower the rate, and broaden the base in a revenue-neutral fashion that will actually create jobs and spur the economy. This is the first time I have been totally convinced of his tax reform bonifide and principles. Elsewhere in the debate, Romney had to correct President Obama on a number of issues, including oil tax breaks, healthcare issues, job training programs in the federal government and even how Obamacare works."

    DAVID WEIGEL: "What Losers Look Like"
    "This is what losing looks like: five stoic strategists for the Obama campaign camped out in the spin room. They do not deny that Mitt Romney just beat the president on all the points that count in TV debates. How can they, when even the foreign press, heavy in accent and fond of existential questions, keeps asking why the president blew it? In one corner stands David Plouffe, the president’s chief strategist, fielding question after question about optics."

    ANDREW SULLIVAN: "Liveblogging the Debate"
    "Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama's meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look."

  • Obama Administration Shirks Legal Obligation To Protect Military Voters

    October 3, 2012 3:43 PM

    "Military absentee ballot requests" are "down 92% in key battleground state Virginia," notes Cornell Law Professor William Jacobson. "The government has become quite efficient under Obama at fast walking guns to Mexico [details here] and free cell phones to Cleveland [details here], but has ignored its obligation to secure and promote absentee ballot requests from the military." As an article he cites points out, "A 92 percent drop in absentee-ballot requests by military personnel in Virginia is raising concerns that the Pentagon is failing to carry out a federal voting law." Only "1,746 military voters" have requested "absentee ballots so far this year," a tiny fraction of the "126,251 service members in the state."  This precipitous decline is mirrored "across the nation," with only "55,510 absentee ballots" requested this year versus "166,252" in 2008, for eight states studied by the Military Voter Protection Project (states such as Ohio, Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina).

  • Medical Junk Science: Canned Veggies May Make Kids Fat

    October 3, 2012 1:24 PM

    Can feeding your child canned soup and vegetables make her fat? According to study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it just might -- but only if your child is white. That's the latest junk science "finding" from yet another study designed to condemn the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). Despite obvious flaws with the study and the implausibility of its findings, newspapers around the nation, news websites, blogs and others continue to declare that there is “more evidence” that BPA poses a health problem.

    You would think that reputable medical journals like JAMA would focus on science that truly adds insight and value about medical research and public health. After all, the group that publishes it -- the American Medical Association -- states on its website that its mission is "[t]o promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health." But this study really doesn't do that. It's more akin  to political science than it is to medical research and may harm public health if it leads to bans on food packaging that uses BPA resins. BPA bans are used to prevent the development of deadly pathogens in our food, and there are no good substitutes.

    Surely, all publications have a bias toward studies that come up with positive associations even if dozens of others fail to find associations. Positive findings are more interesting news, even though this bias can generate false impressions as to the state of research. But that alone does not explain why JAMA published this study, which, much like a recent study on BPA and heart disease, is so flawed that no one -- let alone a serious medical journal -- should take it seriously.

  • Alcohol Regulation Roundup: Columbus Day Edition

    October 3, 2012 12:50 PM

    Alcohol has a long and complex history in the USA. In fact, it’s probable that the Scandinavian Vikings that tried to conquer North America in the 10th century had plenty of mead on board their ships. While Christopher Columbus never actually stepped foot in the land we know now as the United States, he definitely made it to the Caribbean islands where he introduced sugar cane and kick-started the vibrant tradition of rum-making so many Americans enjoy today. But since the earliest days of settlement, a fight has been going on between those who want less alcohol and greater government oversight and those who believe alcohol should be cheaper and easier to make or purchase. Below are a few notable developments from various states.

    National: As I wrote about last February, a Sioux tribe in South Dakota filed a lawsuit against beer stores and national beer manufacturers such as Anheuser-Busch. The tribe claimed that the stores and makers supplied alcohol to members of the reservation where alcohol is prohibited, causing $500 million worth of damages. This week, the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge in Nebraska who said the case belonged in a state court.

    Alabama: Prohibition is alive and well in the Heart of Dixie. Newspapers reported that a small beer, wine, and homebrew supply store was raided by agents from the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC). An attorney for ABC says it wasn’t a raid. They didn’t break down any doors, but they seize $7,000 worth of merchandise like boxes of beer brewing kits, carboys, immersion chillers, and books about brewing. Well, just as long as it isn’t a “raid.” Hopefully 2013 will be the year that Alabama legalizes home brewing. Mississippi and Alabama are the only two states that maintain the home beer brewing ban.

    Also in Alabama, lawmakers are beginning to talk about how to reduce the state’s involvement in alcohol sales. Currently, it is one of eight states that maintains government-run retail liquor stores. Proponents claim that privatizing retail liquor sales could save the state between $40 million and $50 million dollars a year.

  • Obama Administration Promotes Dependence On Welfare And Food Stamps: A Bigger Priority Than Public Safety?

    October 3, 2012 10:26 AM

    While the Obama administration left the Mexican government completely in the dark about Operation Fast and Furious (which sent guns to Mexican drug cartels), provoking outrage in Mexico, it did have time for at least 30 meetings with the Mexican government in its efforts to promote food-stamp use among previously self-reliant Mexican immigrants. The Obama administration has illegally paid out billions of dollars in tax credits to undocumented immigrants for relatives back in Mexico, promoting rampant tax fraud, even as it has made it much harder for hard-working immigrants to work legally in this country.

  • Today's Links: October 3, 2012

    October 3, 2012 10:19 AM

    OPINION

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: "DHS Counterterror Centers Produce ‘A Bunch of Crap,’ Senate Finds"
    "Unnamed DHS officials told the panel the fusion centers produce 'predominantly useless information' and 'a bunch of crap.' An internal 2010 assessment, which DHS did not share with Congress, found that a third of all fusion centers don’t have defined procedures for sharing intelligence — 'one of the prime reasons for their existence.' At least four fusion centers identified by DHS 'do not exist,' the Senate found. As civil libertarian groups have long warned (.pdf), those that do are hives of incompetence, bureaucracy, mission creep and possible civil-liberties abuses."

    JED GRAHAM: "Fed's Bernanke Hits Delete, Erases $1 Trillion In Debt"
    "Fed asset buys could erase the cost of the $800 billion stimulus and then some. Call it quantitative deleting. By acquiring a vast portfolio of Treasury and mortgage securities — expected to approach $5 trillion in the next couple years — the Fed is driving interest rates even lower and funneling interest payments on U.S. debt back to the Treasury. By the end of 2015, its bond buys may have shaved nearly $1 trillion from the rising public debt since 2008, an IBD analysis finds."

    AMANDA HESS: "Don't Be Afraid: Sexting Is the Polaroid of Our Time"
    "In his new history, Instant: The Story of Polaroid, Bonanos details how, post-Polaroid, friends would gather at "camera club" photography sessions to snap nude models in the privacy of their own homes; amateur sessions like those would eventually launch the legendary pin-up career of Bettie Page."

  • Celebrate National Cybersecurity Month!

    October 3, 2012 9:44 AM

    The summer may be over, but don’t put the barbecue away yet -- the president just declared this October “National Cybersecurity Month.” It’s the latest maneuver in the Obama administration’s campaign for better cybersecurity. After Congress failed to pass cybersecurity legislation earlier this year, rumors of an executive order on cybersecurity soon surfaced.

    These rumors were confirmed when a draft version of the executive order was leaked in mid-September. A few days later, a letter from John Brennan, the president’s chief cybersecurity advisor, to Senator Jay Rockefeller, co-sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 and the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 and the Senate’s biggest proponent of increased cybersecurity measures, admitted that the White House was formulating an executive order.

    When the draft order was leaked, many questioned the White House’s intentions. The order was extremely vague, containing few details about the actual plan for cybersecurity. In fact, most of the order discussed the creation of various commissions to oversee the implementation of the order and assigned deadlines for the commissions’ compliance.

    What was clear in the draft, however, was the administration’s seeming lack of concern for privacy. There were two mentions of civil liberties in the draft. One was a rather cursory assurance that the order was to be carried out “in a manner consistent with applicable law, presidential directives, and federal regulations, including those protecting civil rights and civil liberties”; the other was an equally cursory mention of protecting the “the privacy and civil liberties of the American People” in a list of goals the order was to accomplish.

  • Obama Imposes Billions In Costs On Taxpayers In Order To Prevent Legally Required Disclosures

    October 3, 2012 9:37 AM

    Yesterday, ABC News reported that "Defense contractor Lockheed Martin heeded a request from the White House . . . one with political overtones – and announced it will not issue layoff notices to thousands of employees just days before the November presidential election. Lockheed, one of the biggest employers in the key battleground state of Virginia, previously warned it would have to issue notices to employees, required by law, due to looming defense cuts set to begin to take effect after Jan. 2" as part of last year's bipartisan deal to lift the national debt ceiling, in automatic cuts known as "sequestration."

    As Ed Morrisey notes, the WARN Act "requires any company with 100 or more employees to provide a 60-day warning ahead of planned layoffs. However, both the Department of Labor and OMB insisted that it didn’t apply to the sequestration issue, because no one really believes that Congress will allow the automatic cuts to go through. . .The kicker for Lockheed came when the Obama administration indemnified corporations for keeping workers in the dark:

    So the Office of Management and Budget went a step further in guidance issued late Friday afternoon. If an agency terminates or modifies a contract, and the contractor must close a plant or lay off workers en masse, the company could treat employee compensation costs for WARN Act liability, attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs as allowable costs to be covered by the contracting agency—so long as the contractor has followed a course of action consistent with the Labor Department’s guidance. The legal fees would be covered regardless of the outcome of the litigation, according to the OMB guidance issued by Daniel Werfel, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, and Joseph Jordan, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy."

  • Good Men Don't Become President

    October 3, 2012 5:00 AM

    The ardors of campaigning deter most normal, decent people from seeking office. That's a major reason why, as Hayek put it, the worst get on top. Over at the Daily Caller, I explore this theme in a little more detail:

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