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  • "Fast track" trade authority -- will carry some baggage

    January 25, 2007 7:36 PM

    According to news reports, President George Bush will ask Congress to renew fast-track trade authority — perhaps as soon as next week.

    The Trade Promotion Act of 2002 expires at the end of June 2007. TPA gives the president the authority to negotiate trade deals and have them voted up or down by Congress without amendments.

    However, Democratic Congressional leaders have said that to renew fast-track, the Administration would have to agree to include even more labor and environmental mandates in trade agreements.

    Already, TPA includes stringent mandates that have been used to impose U.S.-style environmental and labor “regulations” on developing countries with which the U.S. has negotiated free trade agreements. See my earlier article on the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement.

  • Renewable energy -- burn dead cows!

    January 25, 2007 7:36 PM

    There's even more talk now about alternative energy sources — spurred by President Bush's State of the Union address where he said:

    We must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.)

    While most of the talk in the U.S. focuses on ethanol (with its huge subsidies and more to come), some countries, such as Scotland, are trying a different path to alternative energy sources: Burning dead cows.

    The BBC reported that a new 24 million-pound project in Aberdeenshire will “turn dead cows into an energy source.” They're going to get the dead animals and parts from local abattoirs, install new equipment in the abattoirs, subject the cow carcasses to heat blasts of 1,000C for two seconds, and generate energy for the National Grid.

    Don't worry about the usually horrible smells from rendering meat and bones and entrails (I worked for a couple of years around the corner from a rendering plant in Buffalo, so I know whereof I speak). The high-temperature blast will “dispel any odours,” officials said.

    I wish President Bush had learned about this before his SOTU — “Let's burn dead cows!” would have made a great renewable energy slogan that would have brought the Congressional audience to its feet.

  • "Tricks and traps" with Senate Banking

    January 25, 2007 2:46 PM

    “Tricks and traps.” Those were the terms used to describe credit card industry practices to snare vulnerable and lower-income people into a vicious cycle of credit card interest payment and fees.

    Sound familiar? Sounds like the credit card issuers are likely to get similar treatment to those “predatory lenders” — i.e., lenders who provide credit to higher risk consumers at higher interest rates.

    Today, at Senate Finance Committee hearings titled “Examining the Billing, Marketing, and Disclosure Practices of the Credit Card Industry, and Their Impact on Consumers,” Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) put the industry on notice that policymakers are examining their rates and fees and disclosures with a view to possibly setting limits.

    Senators seemed to love the testimony of Professor Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School who said that card issuers are trying to “catch consumers who stumble or mistake those traps for treasure and find themselves caught in a snare from which they cannot escape.”

    Industry representatives tried to explain that they want their customers to make their payments on time. They don't deliberately set out to find customers who will pay late, make only minimum payments, or exceed their credit limits. But when customers do pay late, they will charge late payments. When they only pay the minimum on their debt, their interest charges will keep adding up. If their credit risk increases, their interest rate may rise.

  • Mayor McCheese Would Be Proud

    January 25, 2007 2:40 PM

    While we at Open Market know that there's nothing inherently bad about fast food, we're still willing to believe that an outragous stunt like eating nothing by McDonald's every day for a month can lead to a sub-optimal health results. Now, however, Swedish researchers are suggesting that even an all-QSR diet might not be all that bad for you:

    A month-long diet of junk food does not necessarily cause devastating health effects like those in documentary film Super Size Me, scientists say.

    Experts asked volunteers to follow the binge-eating habits of film-maker Morgan Spurlock (pictured) and were surprised by the results.

    Many of the healthy twenty-something students showed little change in their cholesterol levels after stuffing themselves with up to 6,000 calories a day.

    This story is not the first, of course, to express skepticism about Spurlock's findings, motives and agenda.

  • When the facts don't fit, construe!

    January 25, 2007 1:59 PM

    At the DC premiere of Mine Your Own Business yesterday evening, I spoke with protesters who insisted that the 96% of the citizens of Roşia Montană were opposed to the controversial mining project that is the primary subject of the film. I'm certainly a believer in democracy (at least when an issue can't be resolved via property rights), so I thought I'd look into this more. The 96% statistic presented for all to see on bright white tag board can be found in a news release from rosiamontana.org:

    Rosia Montana/Romania 22. January 2007 — A consultation process conducted by the Romanian Parliament has been inviting people to comment on the Rosia Montana mine proposal since last October. As of 22 January 2007 over 96.86% of a total of 6617 participants voted against Gabriel Resource's open cyanide leach gold mining proposal.

    Well, this seems damning to say the least. The producers of Mine Your Own Business must have just found the 3.14% of residents who agree with their pro-mining stance, right? But how could a vote have 6617 participants if Roşia Montană only has a population of roughly 3800 people? It turns out that these 6617 voters were from all of Romania, a country of 22 million people, making this vote a paltry 0.03 % of the population. This public consultation vote was overwhelmingly against the mine because the participants were almost exclusively activists who sought out the means to cast their votes. I'm sure the people of Roşia Montană would have taken the time to cast their ballots were they not spending so much time carrying buckets of water to their homes or feeding their horses.

  • How About People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans?

    January 25, 2007 11:07 AM

    The PETA animal cruelty trial is getting started in North Carolina this week, and the Center for Consumer Freedom is on the case:

  • When Metaphors Attack: Greenpeace Edition

    January 24, 2007 5:24 PM

    We at Open Market HQ just received an email from John Coequyt at Greenpeace, responding to the President's State of the Union remarks about global warming. In order to put us in the right state of mind to "TAKE ACTION" (Step 1: Donate to Greenpeace), John heads to the linguistic kitchen:

    President Bush has let the issue of global warming simmer on the back burner of his presidency for 6 years. The scientific community and the rest of the world has heard the oven timer go off, but last night, President Bush continued to ignore the alarm as he served up a plateful of tepid solutions to a worldwide audience.

    While the chef may finally have acknowledged the brewing problem, he failed to rescue the planet from the oven. His so-called solutions of "clean" coal and nuclear energy are a recipe for disaster. Well, we're serving up a fresh new alternative to global warming with real solutions that don't rely on nuclear energy or coal. Our plan would cut global CO2 emissions in the U.S. by almost 75% within the next 43 years. In fact, renewable energy and greater energy efficiency can deliver half of the world's energy needs by 2050.

    The President has failed to lead this country, or the world, on the issue of global warming. It's up to Congress to pull us out of the global warming fire, and time is running out.

  • Comments on the energy portions of Bush's SOTU

    January 24, 2007 4:55 PM

    In this post, I comment on President Bush's remarks, in the State of the Union address, about energy. Although a few nods to the old supply-side emphasis of Bush's first term remain, the speech is heavy on political correctness, corporate welfare, and central planning.

  • Goldilocks and Osama

    January 24, 2007 4:55 PM

    Climate Change seen fanning conflict and terrorism runs the Reuters headline. The premise is that people will fight over resources made scarcer by global warming. Well, people will probably fight if the world gets cooler, too, as is likely that they did in the 17th century. The conclusion must therefore be that we live in a sort of Goldilocks climate, where things are worse if hotter and worse if cooler; current temperatures are just right. This is sloppy thinking. Mankind adapts when things change. Generally, the adaptations are for the better (would we have had the benefits of the industrial revolution if the balmy climate of the Medieval Warm period had not given way to the Little Ice Age?). If, however, adaptation is discouraged then populations becomes victims of change. In that respect, the environmental movement, which has viciously opposed adaptation as an acceptable response to global warming, must bear some of the blame here. A forthcoming paper from CEI will demonstrate how adaptation to global warming can be achieved at little cost and to great benefit.

    The story also notes the following:

    "You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries," al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wrote in a 2002 "letter to the American people".

    Yes, Osama bin Laden supports the Kyoto Protocol. And that's supposed to be a recommendation?

  • Development by Market

    January 24, 2007 1:48 PM

    June Arunga and Billy Kahora of the International Policy Network have a new paper out about the cellphone revolution in Kenya. The tale is inspiring: the state having failed miserably in providing communications services, a market sprang up in cellphones without any idea of what customers wanted, what they were willing to pay or what benefits they would gain. The market provided the answers; as June and Billy say:

    [B]usiness could be done, distant families could be supported and — anathema to the bureaucratic mindset — a lifestyle could be aspired to merely by the fact of ownership.

    Over time, prices and service packages were adjusted as suppliers competed to find out the most advantageous way to serve their customers. In the process, they poured new capital into their systems on the basis of phenomenal growth in custom. Knowledge grew and everyone benefited.

    And the ground rules of this revolution? Simple really: private property rights and the freedom to trade.

    Government failed, markets succeeded. So often the truth.

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