Archived Posts January 2007 » Page 2 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 26, 2007

“No committee, arguably, has more power or attracts more lobbyists than the Committee on Ways and Means,” writes the NYT’s Robin Toner. “Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, joined the committee in 1975, and now, at the age of 76, has finally arrived at the very top.”

“[Jesus] said the rich are going straight to hell.”

Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist, said: “When the Ways and Means Committee has worked well, they’ve identified social needs and advocated for the funds to meet them. Will this committee do that? I hope so.”

What does this mean for Rangel’s chairmanship? “Chairmen of the 218-year-old committee have traditionally been at the center of the great debates, including how to support a growing elderly population and how to deal with the excesses of capitalism.”

You can expect Rangel to engage economic issues from a similar rhetorical perspective, a liberal one that seeks “to cushion workers in this rough, new, competitive environment.” But as Toner also observes that “the ideological gulf between the two parties is vast, not just on tax cuts, but on the role of government versus the private market in areas like health care.”

In recognition of Rep. Rangel’s new position, we offer this moment from the Acton Institute’s history. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, and Rep. Rangel share the following exchange during Rev. Sirico’s testimony before the Ways and Means Committee in 1995 on welfare reform:



For more on Rangel’s views of religion, wealth, poverty, and charity, check out the dialog from an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews, where Rangel asserts that Jesus said that “the rich are going straight to hell.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 25, 2007

They say that technology drives culture (HT: Zondervan>To The Point).

But what drives technology? Many believe that pornography is the driving force behind adoption of particular technologies. Thus, says Slate television critic Troy Patterson, “Watching YouTube is far closer to consuming Internet pornography than staring at the television. … But then, all media culture has an increasingly pornographic feel, doesn’t it?”

Let’s look at some actual cases where this claim has been made (HT: Slashdot). In a recent TG Daily article reflecting on CES 2007, Aaron McKenna writes,

Quite famously in the war between Betamax and VHS the latter won especially because the adult industry preferred it. If you’ve been around long enough, you probably remember that the very early home video rental stores were primarily responsible for driving Betamax out of the market. And those stores carried almost exclusively pornographic content.

Thus, the fact that pornographers preferred VHS rather than Betamax assured VHS of being the dominant home video technology.

Many are applying this argument to the current battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats. These competitors want to bring high-definition content to the home theater on DVDs. The drives are expensive and the technology is new, so are we in a comparable position to the relationship between VHS and Betamax decades ago?

McKenna did a straw poll at AEE and “got the strange feeling that HD DVD has won the format war already, at least in the porn industry.” Meanwhile, Sony has announced that it will not allow XXX rated content in Blu-ray format. So in this case, it might not be so much pornographers choosing HD-DVD but rather Blu-ray excluding pornographers.

But a recent piece in Electronic Gaming Monthly (“Blue Steal: Is Blu-ray winning the high-def disc jam?” by Marc Camron, February 2007, 34-35) describes another aspect of the DVD format war: gaming. Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Morgan Securities Analyst, points out that the new PlayStation 3 comes with a Blu-ray drive included. Its main competitor, the Xbox 360, is compatible with an add-on HD-DVD drive that runs about $200.

“Blu-ray is in a better position because more people are interest in purchasing a PS3 than in purchasing a stand-alone HD-DVD player,” says Pachter. “That interest will continue for several years. That means that the studios will see a Blu-ray installed base much larger than the HD-DVD installed base, and they will ultimately be compelled to make the best economic decision, which is to support Blu-ray.”

At the time Camron wrote his piece, the news hadn’t dropped yet about Sony’s ban of adult-rated content. But even so the Blu-ray has something going for it that Betamax didn’t: the PS3, which can now be marketed as the family-friendly gaming system because it’s Blu-ray drive won’t have hi-def DVD adult content.

We now know what format pornographers prefer. But the question remains, which one will parents prefer?

How does one account for the widespread distaste among Jews for a free market political agenda? Why is it that Jews, who earn per capita almost twice as much as non-Jews in America, “fervently support relatively collectivist social policies”? Corinne and Robert Sauer, co-founders of the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, contend that “it is not at all true that Judaism is a set of principles that endorses income redistribution and other progressive social programs.” Instead, they say, Judaism is a system of thought that more naturally aligns itself with the basic principles of economic liberalism.

Read the commentary here. This article was adapted from Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer’s Judaism, Markets and Capitalism, a new monograph available from the Acton Institute.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Last night the President spoke of “the challenge of entitlements” and said that “Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience — and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound.”

“With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid — and save Social Security,” he averred. The ability of the federal government to negotiate drug prices has been an aspect of the recent debate over Medicare that was brought to the fore in the recent “100 hours” legislative agenda.

A number of conservative commentators have come out against this idea, including Acton’s own Rev. Jerry Zandstra and Benjamin Zycher of the Manhattan Institute (HT: The Reform Club). These are just two voices in a chorus of criticism rising against federal negotiation (I use them just because they are the ones with which I’m most familiar. I don’t mean to pick on anyone in particular).

Both of their arguments seem to me to boil down to this: the government is an effective negotiator and the result of negotiation will be that drug companies will have less money coming in and therefore spending on research and development will suffer.

Zandstra says of successful negotiation, “if, in doing so, you dry up research and development dollars so you aren’t developing drugs to treat cancer and Alzheimer’s and other diseases — if you take the profit motivation away — have you done good? No, you really haven’t.”

Zycher writes, “Federal price negotiations will cause sharp price reductions, but this will yield less research and development investment in new and improved medicines over time.”

These claims fail at a number of points in my opinion. Zycher and Zandstra are probably right on the mere claim that federal negotiation of drug prices will produce a drop in pharma income. But that isn’t the datum that is most relevant to the policy discussion.

Once government has decided to tax us and spend our money on a particular program, I think it is government’s responsibility to spend that money as well as it can, to be good stewards of efficient and productive use of those funds. This is true regardless of whether or not the program itself is one that government should be undertaking. The question of whether the government should be doing or pursuing a particular program or agenda is a different one than whether the government should pursue these programs efficiently and well.

So, given that Medicare is an entitlement to which our government has committed itself, it seems to me that the government is responsble for administering it as cost-effectively as possible. The government needs to make our tax dollars stretch as far as they can. This should include negotiating lower prices paid for prescription drugs, regardless of the effect it might have on drug company profits or research budgets.

It is a separate question whether drug companies need federal support to achieve the current or higher levels of funding for research and development. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that pharma companies do need federal support to find new drugs for “Alzheimer’s and other diseases.” If that’s the case, then the argument for subsidizing pharmaceutical research should be parsed out from the question of drug price negotiation.

Refusing to allow the feds to negotiate prescription drug prices effectively creates a subsidy for drug companies…something I would think that Zandstra and Zycher would be against, at least in principle. But maybe not.

Drug companies are in fact struggling, it seems. Pfizer, for instance, is shutting down operations at three Michigan sites and laying of 2400 workers, as part of a broader layoff of 10% of its workforce. And perhaps the estimated “loss of about five million life-years each year” is sufficient reason to support government subsidy of drug research.

But if conservatives are in favor of government subsidies for drug companies, they need to make that argument stand on its own and separate it from the question of price negotiation. Government subsidy of drug R&D should be a separate question, complete with its own line-item and its own policy analysis.

The Detroit News ran my commentary from the end of last year on the role of religion and prisoner reform today, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” The version that ran today omits the references to Jeremy Bentham, which you can get from the original and this related blog post.

In related news, Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley reports today that the “Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has set February 13, 2007, for oral arguments in the appeal of the ruling against Prison Fellowship and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI).” The appeal will be argued in St. Louis, MO and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be part of the three judge panel.

Get more information about the case at the IFI Ruling web page.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 23, 2007

You may have seen this story a few weeks back toward the end of last year: “Some faith groups say bottled water immoral,” by Rebecca U. Cho of the Religion News Service.

The core of the story revolves around this assertion made by the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program and a number of other mainline projects: Drinking bottled water is a sin.

Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs for the National Council of Churches, bases this claim on the assumption that bottling water by definition deprives access to a natural resource basic to human existence.

“The moral call for us is not to privatize water,” Carmichael said. “Water should be free for all.”

According to the RNS piece, “Rebecca Barnes-Davies, coordinator of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, said bottled water companies encourage a culture in the U.S. that is comfortable with privatizing a basic human right.”

“As people of faith, we don’t and shouldn’t pretend to have ownership of any resource — it’s God’s,” she said. “We have to be the best steward we can be of all those resources.”

The foundational document for the NCC’s campaign is “WATER: THE KEY TO SUSTAINING LIFE: AN OPEN STATEMENT TO GOVERNING BODIES AND CONCERNED CITIZENS,” which presents the following false dilemma, “Water should be viewed as a gift from God for all people, not a commodity that can be traded for profit.”

The problem is that “Access to fresh water supplies is becoming an urgent matter of life and death across the planet and especially for the 1.2 billion people who are currently suffering from a lack of adequate water and sanitation.”

The lack of access to water in many developing nations is a real and serious problem (more on that here). The exploitation of this real problem by the NCC, however, is indefensible. (more…)

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Monday, January 22, 2007

Via Drudge, the Weather Channel "Climate Expert" is taking serious flack (check the comments) for her call to pull the credentials of any media meteorologist who doesn’t endorse the theory of human-caused global warming. The cover provided by her boss doesn’t garner any more favorable feedback.

I think people want more science from scientists and less dogma. I know I do.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this seems a little over the top.

If forecasters can’t reliably tell us what will happen in two to three months from now, why would anyone trust that they know what will happen with the weather in 50 or 100 years from now and let them tell us how to live our lives accordingly? This is all about Big Brother do-gooders trying to control how you live your life, and stripping away the freedoms and liberties of people to live their lives as they see fit, engage in commerce and raise their families.

The truth is probably someplace in between.

UPDATE: Sorry, the cartoon is doing something funny with the format. Link is here.

UPDATE: Lots more here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 22, 2007

Child labor is too expensive, at least for the Grand Rapids Press. As part of “cost-cutting measures,” The Press will no longer be delivered by paperboys and papergirls under the age of 18.

According to WOODTV.com, “In a change to the way they deliver their papers to their carriers, The Press announced they will drop off their papers to depots around the city instead of at neighborhood corners. The carrier will have to go to that depot to get their bundle and then deliver them.”

This means that only people 18 and over can go and deliver the paper, presumably because of transportation and insurance concerns.

This is the headline from Zenit on January 18. "Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk warns that a division of boundaries will lead to more conflict, with Christians caught in the middle."

“He says ‘a divided Iraq will not be a peaceful Iraq.’ …Archbishop Sako fears that possible plans for a Christian safe haven on the Nineveh plain will not succeed. He said: ‘They would have their own territory, but to be viable, the idea of a protected zone, a safe haven, which is viewed sympathetically by the Kurds and even the Americans, needs an end to the violence and remains in any event, a dangerous plan. The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs, and Christians would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds.’”

In other words, Christians would be caught in the cross-fire between Arabs and Kurds, unless something is done to curb the violence.

"According to the archbishop the best solution is religious freedom:" ‘In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere.’
Note: San Diego County, where I live, has one of the largest concentrations of Iraqi Catholics outside of Iraq. They are known as Chaldean Catholics, and they use Aramaic as their liturgical language. That is the language Jesus Himself used. It would be a shame for Iraqi Christians to be purged from their country.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

Acton senior fellow Rev. Gerald Zandstra comments on the first 100 hours of the new legislative session in this Associated Baptist Press article by Robert Marus.

Zandstra had previously examined one of the core planks in the House leadership agenda, raising the federal minimum wage, in a recent Acton Commentary, “Minimum Wage and Common Sense.”