Category: Public Policy

On Wednesday the European Commission again delayed a decision on whether European farmers may grow more genetically modified (GM) crops. The commission claimed that more scientific analysis is needed before three new crops can be approved. But curiously, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already twice analyzed the crops and found that they pose no danger to public health.

Divisions seem to have broken out within the commission on how to proceed with GM food. This comes at a time when biotech investors are increasingly exasperated with European procrastination on the issue.

The intra-Commission conflict on GM food is most bizarrely expressed in the open attempts by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas to discredit the EFSA, an agency set up by the Commission in 2002 in order to specifically investigate food safety concerns. By undermining the authority of the EFSA, Dimas is colliding with Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who has defended the agency. The result is a complete stalemate which may leave the Europe years behind in biotech investment compared to the US and other countries.

Dimas’s hostility to GM food is cheered on by some environmental NGOs, in particular Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Greenpeace boasts that it orchestrated a campaign of 130,000 emails in order to obstruct the approval of the crops.

These NGOs have virtually no expertise in the area of consumer health research but join Dimas’s ritual attacks on the risk assessments done by the EFSA. It is particularly striking that they try to bring the EFSA into disrepute by implying that the World Health Organization (WHO) is speaking out against GM crops. But here’s what the WHO actually says:

“GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

European worries about food safety are to a large extent based on the experience of the 1990s when a number of food scandals, in particular BSE or mad cow disease, caused understandable anxiety among consumers. All of these scandals, however, were entirely unrelated to GM food; it is irresponsible to exploit these fears in the current debate on biotechnology.

It is not difficult to see that at bottom the controversy is not so much about health and science but about politics and whose ox is being gored. In the European Council of Ministers, more agrarian-based countries like Greece (Dimas’s home country), Italy, Austria and Poland tend to vote against GM foods while states where traditional farming is not as dominant like the UK and the Netherlands are more open to biotech.

The politicization of the GMO debate is especially damaging at a time of global food price inflation. Future improvements in agricultural productivity will become increasingly necessary and biotech can play an important role in this area. The Commission must not allow pseudo-scientific excuses to stand in the way of serving the interests of the European, and indeed the global, consumer.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, May 8, 2008
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Michael Franc has an interesting piece on NRO about the demographics of campaign contributions. The gravamen is that Democratic presidential candidates in the current election have exhibited a whopping advantage among all kinds of elite groups, identified by professional, financial, or educational status. Meanwhile, Republicans garnered more support from plumbers, truckers, and janitors.

Franc doesn’t make much of an effort to explain the phenomenon, other than to note that Democrats have enjoyed a $200 million advantage in general, which may go a long way toward generating the more specific category advantages. And which may further be explained (this is my speculation) as being due to a) more people thinking a Democrat will win the White House and wanting to support a winner, or b) the Democratic primary race being more competitive than the Republican, or c) a combination of the two.

Instead of positing explanations, Franc focuses on what the trend may mean for the respective parties’ conventional policy tendencies:

What should we make of all this? National political parties, after all, reflect their supporters, and party leaders traditionally feel a responsibility to cater to their supporters’ whims. A party that receives overwhelming support from elite Wall Street investment firms, corporate bigwigs, and highly educated professionals may find it exceedingly difficult to raise their taxes or impose draconian new Big Government regulations on them. Similarly, a party that is losing well-educated suburban professionals and gaining support from blue-collar workers may find it more difficult to support free trade agreements and embrace globalization.

Next Monday will be the sixtieth anniversary of Luigi Einaudi’s inauguration as Italian President. Einaudi (1874-1961) was a distinguished economist and defender of classical liberalism. In the immediate period following World War II, he was governor of the Bank of Italy and finance minister. Many credit his policy of low taxes and dismantling tariffs with having laid the foundation for Italy’s “miracolo economico” of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, while his role as president between 1948-55 is still remembered, his legacy of economic freedom as a key to Italian post-war development has largely been forgotten. In a recent article, the Milanese financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore lamented that currently there is no political force in the country which feels inspired by Einaudi’s actions and insights.

The center-right led by Silvio Berlusconi which won the recent general elections in April cannot be considered a catalyst for market reforms. Its new economy minister Giulio Tremonti has expressed hostility to free trade and blames most of the world’s economic problems on an ideology he calls “marketism”. At the same time, the Northern League, Berlusconi’s junior coalition partner, is impossible to categorize in terms of its economic policy. It demands decentralization and reducing the role of the Italian state but also advocates protectionism.

Neither can Einaudi’s heirs be found on the Italian center-left. The recently founded Democratic Party (PD) has its origins in communism. One can appreciate its transformation towards more moderate positions and a certain openness to economic liberalization. However, the transition is not complete and cannot be compared to the process initiated by Tony Blair in the UK Labour Party in the 1990s.

It is regrettable that nobody wishes to emulate Einaudi’s achievements. These go beyond the technical mastery and application of market economics. Einaudi’s understanding of freedom also led him to insights of more wide-ranging importance for Italian society. He believed that an excess of state power tends to make citizens more lazy in the way they live their lives and think of their responsibility towards others. This attitude leads them to tolerate the social ills around them. They view the poor state of public services as inevitable and accept corruption and rent-seeking as unchangeable phenomena.

Now, that so many people in Italy worry about the economic situation of the country and feel alienated from the political institutions and their lack of accountability, one might think that the time is ripe to return to Einaudi’s lessons.

Blog author: dwbosch
Monday, May 5, 2008
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Daily Times of Pakistan:

LAHORE: Electricity shortage has exceeded 3,500 megawatts and load shedding is likely to increase across the country, Geo TV reported on Sunday. The water in both Tarbela and Mangla dams has dropped to dead levels, causing the shortfall, the channel quoted PEPCO officials as saying. The electricity demand had shot up after an increase in the use of air conditioners…

Ah, load shedding.

We lived in Guam for a couple of years in the early 90’s. The island was making the difficult transition from a 50 year old Navy-run power grid to a public utility and a growing tourist hotel presence on the island. Regularly scheduled blackouts were a fact of life. We learned to put up with them with the help of kerosene lanterns swung from hooks on the walls in case of earthquakes. We weren’t missing much in the way of TV back then anyway. There was that one stretch of outages by which we knew the wristwatch on the guy running the grid was running exactly seven minutes late. And while my very pregnant better half sometimes bristled at the loss of air conditioning twice a day, I quite liked the night-time blackouts that revealed a carpet of stars stretching from one horizon to the other, and bright blue phosphorescence on the reefs.

Anywho, one Pakistani doctor suggests their current power situation is the path to religious, military, political, and economic salvation:

Then there are my dear and good friends who keep pointing out that if only we as a nation revert to the true Sunnah, all our problems would be solved almost immediately. During periods of load shedding my mind does indeed turn to such admonishments.

More importantly, the only major advances in Muslim history, scientific, cultural and political, occurred before electricity was discovered. The Mughals, the Ottomans, the Safavids, the Ommayyads in Spain, the Fatimids in Egypt all brought great glory to Islam without a car, a motorbike, a split air-conditioner or a cell phone in sight.

Therefor I am convinced, especially during periods of load-shedding that our new and popularly elected government wants us, the people of the Islamic Republic, to revert to our greatness by recreating the environment in which Muslims excelled and built rich and thriving empires. In this connection I have a few suggestions that are offered in the true humility of my faith…

Heh. And this bit was great:

Also, the Islamic Republic will literally have no ‘carbon footprint’ since there will be virtually no production of ‘green-house’ gases except those produced in a biological fashion or in the industrial enclaves.

Therefore we can sell our carbon units to our neighbours to the east and the north. And if there are no airplanes, no cell phones and no ‘pillion riding’, then as a country we can demand a lot of money from our benefactors in the West. They all know what those three can lead to!

Hmmmmmm. Load shedding as a U.S. political platform? Nah – we’re way too impure for that.

[Don’s other habitat is www.evangelicalecologist.com]

The story of the Deutsche Bank building following the NYC 9/11 attacks is a study in bureaucratic incompetence…but more importantly it’s an ongoing experience in human tragedy and loss.

There’s a great deal to sort out. This piece, “The tombstone at Ground Zero,” does a good job introducing the issues.

The article begins with an introduction into the fire at the building site in August of last year:

…Thick black smoke was pouring out of the shell of what used to be the Deutsche Bank building. The structure had been badly damaged in the terrorist attack when portions of the collapsing south tower dug a 15-story gash and propelled toxic dust into it. Six years later the bank building was finally being taken down.

The fire quickly spread to 13 floors. The 100 firefighters inside the building couldn’t douse the flames because, as would become clear later, the basement standpipe that should have supplied water to the floors above had been disconnected. The scene was chaotic. Firefighters couldn’t see through the dense smoke and found their retreat blocked by a mazelike series of plywood walls and polyethylene sheeting that made it nearly impossible to locate exits. Panic was audible in the voices on the firefighters’ radios.

Eventually some 275 firemen used ropes to hoist hoses up the scaffolding on the building and tamed the seven-alarm conflagration around 10:30 that night, seven hours after the blaze began. But the struggle to extinguish the flames had cost two lives. Firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, were found lying on the 14th floor near a hose line and pronounced dead at a local hospital. The cause: smoke inhalation.

Here’s a picture of the building when it was on fire:

Photo provided by Rev. Benjamin Spalink of City Fellowship Church.

Sure to be a significant issue in the presidential campaign going forward, the question of immigration reform continues to divide otherwise like-minded religious folks. Mirror of Justice sage Michael Scaperlanda penned an article on the subject for First Things in February. A raft of letters upset with what the writers deemed Scaperlanda’s unreasonably lenient view toward illegal immigrants followed in the May issue (not accessible to non-subscribers), along with an article-length exchange between Scaperlanda and attorney William Chip. Scaperlanda’s initial article as well as part of the subsequent debate revolves around statements made by Catholic bishops on the subject.

Scaperlanda wants to see tighter borders in the sense of eliminating illegal immigration, but he also advocates a path to citizenship for currently illegal residents as well as a significant expansion of immigration quotas. Chip thinks large numbers of immigrants depress American wages and observes that most illegal migrants (specifically, Mexicans) are gainfully employed in their native country and not as desperately poor as they are sometimes portrayed.

Both Chip and Scaperlanda make valid points. The former on the possibility of enforcing the law:

The specter of mass arrests and deportations is a red herring. Approximately 500,000 aliens legally cross the border every day. They come to shop or to sightsee, to attend university, to conduct business, to work for an embassy, or to fill a temporary job. If we are to enjoy the benefits of these international visits without being overwhelmed by overstayers, it should be obvious that we cannot depend on the “hard power” of arrest and deportation except as a last resort.

We depend instead on the “soft power” of allowing legal visitors the means of a comfortable but temporary stay (including free emergency medical care if they ­cannot afford to pay for it) while withholding from them the means of taking up a comfortable permanent residence. Denying aliens who are not eligible for permanent residence the opportunity to hold a regular job, to drive a car, to draw nonemergency public benefits, and so forth is such an effective deterrent to breaking the law that 99.8 percent of aliens who enter the country each year return home of their own accord.

And Scaperlanda (in his response to the letters):

One commonly held myth is that illegal immigrants have cut in line ahead of others who are patiently waiting their turn to immigrate to the United States. In reality, no line exists for the vast majority of illegal entrants. The United States grants five thousand immigrant employment visas annually to low-skilled workers worldwide. Currently, we have more than ten million illegal immigrants residing in the United States. If they lined up today, and if we allotted all five thousand spots to Mexico and Central America, the one millionth would be eligible to receive a visa in the year 2208, and the ten millionth in 3008.

But the key question on which the debate hinges, it seems to me, is whether the United States possesses the economic capacity (and hence, for Christians and others who share a common moral view, responsibility) to sustain large numbers of immigrants. On this point, Scaperlanda finds that the evidence suggests that the answer is affirmative. I’m inclined to agree.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
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Continuing with my posts highlighting just how wonderful things will be here in the United States when the government finally does its job and takes over the healthcare sector of the economy, I’d like to bring your attention once again to the fabulous success story that is the Canadian health care system:

Last year, the Canadian government issued a series of reports to address the outcry over long wait times for critical tests, procedures and surgeries. Over a two year period:
• Wait times for knee replacements dropped from 440 to 307 days.
• Wait times for hip replacements dropped from 351 to 257 days.
• Wait times for cataract surgeries dropped from 311 to 183 days.
• Wait times for MRIs dropped from 120 to 105 days.
• Wait times for CT scans dropped from 81 to 62 days.
• Wait times for bypass surgeries dropped from 49 to 48 days.

Sure, you might have to wait a couple of months for that lifesaving bypass surgery. But remember: it’s free!