Category: Business and Society

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, July 22, 2005

The last of many gems here:

“Here’s Williams’ roadmap out of poverty: Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is in the single digits.” — Walter Williams

HT: The Anchoress

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 20, 2005

One of the reasons cited for various government programs promoting healthy eating, including the “fat” or “fast food tax,” is the obesity epidemic in America. This is especially true for America’s youth, as childhood obesity is often cited as one of the nation’s greatest health risks.

And experts and bureaucrats alike point the finger at unhealthy diets and “junk food.” A recent study linked childhood obesity in New Zealand with “heavy promotion of calorie-laden junk foods in advertisements near high schools.”

Various public schools, under tigher financial pressures, have made deals with vending companies, and the backlash is starting to be felt, as soda, candy, and chips take the rap for kids’ growing waistlines.

The Simpsons, as usual a reliable pop culture bellwether, had an episode called “The Heartbroke Kid,” in which Bart becomes addicted to junk food at his elementary school, gets fat, and has multiple heart attacks. The vending machines feature such “hip” treats as “Lollapalollipops,” “Krishna Krisps,” and “Dalai Lamanade.” Ingredients in one snack, as Lisa observes, include “monosodium poisonate and partially deweaponized plutonium.”

But have we been too quick to judge the root causes of childhood obesity? Duane D. Freese at Tech Central Station observes that

On the same day that the Federal Trade Commission finished a two day conference on food marketing and obesity and a couple days after the activist group Center for Science in the Public Interest called for warning labels on non-diet soda pop, up popped a study by scientists at the University of New Mexico that said most of the talk was so much hot air.

While scapegoating fast food and vending machine companies has been a favorite pastime for nutrition experts, more important contributing factors to childhood obesity have been overlooked. The greatest of these is perhaps the lack of childhood exercise. The New Mexico study

provided a glimpse at what is going on in the real world. The researchers tracked changes in body mass index, skin fold, physical activity and eating habits of 2,200 girls in three cities for 10 years, from age nine to 19.

The results? Even as eating remained the same, the rate of excess weight and obesity doubled among girls whose physical activity had markedly declined.

In other words, fast food and soft drinks weren’t the culprits. Neither was advertising of it. It was a decline in exercise that mattered. Just two to five hours of brisk walking a week — 17 to 43 minutes a day — would prevent girls gaining 9 to 20 pounds, according to the study. And even if it didn’t prevent weight gain, the additional exercise likely would make the girls healthier and feel better than all the dieting advice coming out of Washington conferences in events.

The sedentary lifestyle of children (and adults) is clear in this country. Wealth and technology, along with substandard physical education, have combined to make physical inactivity a favorite pastime.

My experience with P.E. growing up supports this. On days when P.E. was indoors, the teachers would roll out a few basketballs, and those who wanted to play would, and the others would sit and talk and watch. On outdoor days, we’d stroll lazily around the track. And even this little bit of exercise is minimized, since health class, which consists of sitting in a classroom, is often combined with P.E.

Things aren’t much better when kids get home, because there’s TV to watch, video games to play, and safety concerns with letting kids “go out and play.” Instead of so vigorously attacking fast food and “junk food” companies, people concerned about the health of children should emphasize the importance of regular exercise and physical activity.

Acting “white” is a term of derision among those who view hip hop and rap culture as authentically black. In fact, writes Anthony Bradley, it’s the rappers who’ve sold out by adopting the low-life habits first displayed among poor Southern whites. Bradley examines the hip-hop world’s violent and immoral ethos through the lens of Thomas Sowell’s new book, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” and other sources.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An article in today’s New York Times confirms the trend in Hollywood to make movies that are faith and family friendly. Sharon Waxman reports that

producers, directors, studio executives and marketing specialists have been looking to either mollify or entice an audience that made its power felt with last year’s “Passion of the Christ.” That film, directed by Mel Gibson, took in an astonishing $370 million at the domestic box office when released by Newmarket Films in February 2004 and – along with the empowerment of a Christian conservative bloc after the last presidential election – helped change attitudes and practices in an industry usually known for its secularism.

Rev. Sirico recently wrote a commentary on this topic, referencing a newly released report by the Dove Foundation on the profitability of various ratings. The Dove study found that G-rated films are 11 times more profitable than R-rated features.

Here’s an illustration that when there is a market for morally upright products, the marketplace responds, despite whatever disagreements vendors may have with such morality. As Taylor Hackford, director of “Ray,” says, “It’s impossible for Hollywood not to reflect the nature of the country, and Bush has made his religion clear…. People in Hollywood aren’t stupid. It flies in the face of what I believe, but you’re still working in the movie industry, not the movie art form.” The purchasing power of moral consumers is where the real strength is in the marketplace.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 18, 2005

Cigar Jack passes along this story about “faith leaders” soliciting the government to place tobacco regulation under the auspices of the FDA. The proposed legislation, which has twice been left languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives, “would give the FDA authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.”

These faith leaders, like Rev. T. Randall Smith, pastor of Deer Park United Methodist Church and president of Texas Conference of Churches, represent a faction of Christianity that is radically different than that is historically ensconced in European culture. I have remarked on this before, specifically with reference to the “the Dutch-American culture of West Michigan.”

Moments like these seem to show that public opinion is generally in favor of the government restriction and prohibition of smoking. Even something as traditionally suspect as poker has succumbed to the cultural sanitization, as at the 2005 World Series of Poker completed last week, “There’s no cursing, no smoking and no mercy at the tables in a windowless hangar-like room,” though there is “a choking haze of cigarette and cigar smoke in the hallway.”

And to think that government is an impartial arbiter of justice in cases like this, as the aforementioned “faith leaders” seem to think, is to be more than a bit naive. A case in point: Despite bitter and contentious debate about the state’s budget woes, Republicans and Democrats in Michigan can at least agree on one thing–there’s a consensus to “sell off part of the state’s future tobacco settlement for a $3 billion upfront payment.”

Trial by Fury, by Ronald Rychlak

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today (subscription required) on a rare bit of good news from the world of tort law:

If the criminal investigation of class-action titan Milberg Weiss is anything to go by, prosecutors may finally be starting to hold the trial bar accountable for its legal abuses. Another good sign is that a separate federal grand jury, this one in New York, is investigating the ringleaders of the latest tort scam, silicosis.

Much of the credit for pointing the grand jury toward this corruption goes to Texas federal Judge Janis Graham Jack, who last month put the brakes on the silicosis machine with an extraordinary 249-page decision. Judge Jack not only blasted nearly every one of the 10,000 silicosis claims in front of her court, she documented the fraudulent means by which lawyers, doctors and screening companies had manufactured the claims. “These diagnoses were about litigation rather than health care,” wrote Judge Jack. “These diagnoses were manufactured for money.”

The facts of this case would be comical if they didn’t represent a gigantic effort to pervert the legal system into a cash cow for unscrupulous lawyers:

A former nurse, [Judge Jack] couldn’t understand how a disease that causes on average fewer than 200 deaths annually in the U.S. had suddenly resulted in more than 20,000 claims from Mississippi and surrounding states. To get to the bottom of the suits against some 250 companies, the Clinton appointee held 20 months of pretrial proceedings. What she found was a gigantic attempted swindle.

Her first discovery was that, of the more than 9,000 plaintiffs who supplied more information about their “disease,” 99% had been diagnosed with silicosis by the same nine doctors. These physicians had been retained by law firms or by “screening companies” that do mass X-rays on behalf of law firms searching for plaintiffs. When these physicians were deposed, they all but admitted they took their orders from the lawyers and screening firms…

…Another shocker was that more than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had previously been plaintiffs in an asbestos suit, even though it is close to clinically impossible to have both asbestosis and silicosis. Digging deeper, the judge found that many of the same doctors had ginned up the same patients for both asbestos and silicosis cases. One doctor, Ray Harron, received nearly $5 million from 1996-2004 from a leading screening company, N&M, and has supplied thousands of silicosis diagnoses, and at least 52,000 asbestos-related diagnoses.

Representatives from N&M admitted in court that they had no medical training and that their company has never had a medical director. They confirmed that law firms often set the criteria for the silicosis screening process, and that the screening companies were paid by the volume of people who ultimately joined a lawsuit. As N&M owner Heath Mason testified, his business depended on doing “large numbers.”

Thankfully, in this case a conscientious judge stopped the fraud in its tracks, and now a Manhattan grand jury is examining the conduct of the individuals who so recklessly tried to abuse the system. That investigation will be worth keeping an eye on.

Be sure to visit Acton.org’s special section on tort reform, where you will find a wealth of resources dealing with the important legal, societal, and moral issues that arise from the abuse of tort law, including the most recent addition to Acton’s Christian Social Teaching series: Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation.

Apparently Europe is buying in to the concept. Here are two key paragraphs from today’s Washington Post, in this article from Robert J. Samuelson, “The End of Europe”:

It’s hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe’s birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It’s 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century — if these rates continue — there won’t be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe’s population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.

No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe’s economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bernie Ebbers got 25 years in the cooler for his role in the demise of WorldCom. If he serves the full sentence, he’ll be 85 years old when they let him out. Here’s how AP described his reaction when the verdict came down:

Ebbers sniffled audibly and dabbed at his eyes with a white tissue as he was sentenced. He did not address the court. His wife, Kristie Ebbers, cried quietly. Later, the two embraced as the courtroom emptied.

Now, set that picture against these remarks:

At the sentencing hearing, Henry J. Bruen Jr., 37, a former WorldCom salesman, told the court the company’s collapse caused “untold human carnage” and put him through “sheer hell.” He lost all of his savings and couldn’t get another sales job.

There are many thousands more who have been severely battered by the WorldCom collapse. Ebbers also had to cough up nearly $40 million of his own fortune as partial restitution for investors and employees whose retirement accounts were wiped out by the $11 billion accounting fraud. No doubt, many tears were shed by these unfortunates, too. Recently, The New York Times offered this summary of what Mr. and Mrs. Ebbers had to give up:

The assets that Mr. Ebbers has promised to turn over include $5 million in cash, 300,000 acres of timberlands in Mississippi, a prospective multimillion-dollar income tax refund, and interests in a major trucking business, a marina, a golf course, a rice farm, a hotel, a grain elevator company and other real estate ventures. He and his wife will also be required to vacate their multimillion-dollar home in Clinton, Miss., by October; it will be put up for sale. In addition, Mr. Ebbers has agreed to pay $450,000 to former WorldCom employees who sued him over losses they incurred in their retirement accounts.

So what’s the cure for this, and other corporate wrongdoings? Rev. Robert Sirico points to the solution in “The Ethical Challenge for Business,” a commentary written in 2002, that scandal plagued year:

If we are to learn anything from the ethical lapses of business this year, it should be that the Judeo-Christian moral code needs to be retrieved, not reformulated, much less wholesale politicization. Old truths need to be spoken into new contexts, remembering that the basic principles of right and wrong are discovered, not invented. Nor do they change based on circumstance or popularity. If this lesson is not learned from the corporate scandals, we cannot expect the moral standing of business, that activity that most people spend much of their time occupied with, to achieve a level worthy of human beings and a civilized culture.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Melbourne Herald Sun reports, “Fast food could be subject to a new tax of up to 50 per cent under a plan to fight Australia’s worsening obesity epidemic. The proposed fat tax would, hopefully, steer consumers away from calorie and sugar-laden foods and force them to choose cheaper, healthier options.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, July 11, 2005

Following last month’s Supreme Court decision in No. 04-277, National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, which denied the use of established cable lines to high-speed ISP competitors, there might be a new addition to the broadband internet market.

High-speed internet access is now available in three main ways: via a cable modem, a DSL line, or satellite (this being by far the least common). There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but the Brand X decision solidified a cable company’s sovereignty to it’s own cable lines. This effectively reduces the pool of possible competitive vendors, since even if all three methods are available to you in your particular location (which very often one or more is not available), typically you have the option of only one vender per method.

But today’s Houston Chroncle reports on the possibility of high-speed internet access being made available through powerlines (called BPL, or broadband over power lines), perhaps adding a whole new set of competitors to the game.

And on a related note, check out the possibility that the Brand X decision confers the regulatory powers of the FCC in a radically new way to IP services.