Tuesday, June 22, 2010

FTC floats Drudge tax



6:30 p.m., Friday, June 4, 2010

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking ways to "reinvent" journalism, and that's a cause for concern. According to a May 24 draft proposal, the agency thinks government should be at the center of a media overhaul. The bureaucracy sees it as a problem that the Internet has introduced a wealth of information options to consumers, forcing media companies to adapt and experiment to meet changing market needs. FTC's policy staff fears this new reality.

"There are reasons for concern that experimentation may not produce a robust and sustainable business model for commercial journalism," the report states. With no faith that the market will work things out for the better, government thinks it must come to the rescue.

The ideas being batted around to save the industry share a common theme: They are designed to empower bureaucrats, not consumers. For instance, one proposal would, "Allow news organizations to agree jointly on a mechanism to require news aggregators and others to pay for the use of online content, perhaps through the use of copyright licenses."

In other words, government policy would encourage a tax on websites like the Drudge Report, a must-read source for the news links of the day, so that the agency can redistribute the funds collected to various newspapers. Such a tax would hit other news aggregators, such as Digg, Fark and Reddit, which not only gather links, but provide a forum for a lively and entertaining discussion of the issues raised by the stories. Fostering a robust public-policy debate, not saving a particular business model, should be the goal of journalism in the first place.

The report also discusses the possibility of offering tax exemptions to news organizations, establishing an AmeriCorps for reporters and creating a national fund for local news organizations. The money for those benefits would come from a suite of new taxes. A 5 percent tax on consumer electronic devices such as iPads, Kindles and laptops that let consumers read the news could be used to encourage people to keep reading the dead-tree version of the news. Other taxes might be levied on the radio and television spectrum, advertising and cell phones.

The conflict of interest in having the government pay or contribute to a newsman's salary could not be more obvious. Reporters and columnists would have little incentive to offer critical analyses of tax increases that might mean a boost in the pocketbook. Once Congress has the power to fund the news, it can at any time attach "strings" designed to promote certain viewpoints - in the name of fairness, of course. Each year at budget time, the Fourth Estate would scramble to be worthy in the eyes of Capitol Hill for increased support. It is hardly a surprise that the heavily subsidized National Public Radio frequently presents issues in a way favorable to Washington's tax-and-spend agenda.

Self-respecting journalists must reject this tempting government bribe as the FTC brings its proposals to a round-table discussion scheduled for June 15. When it comes to the media, consumers lose most when government suppresses innovation in the name of "saving" old business models.

© Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About 2,300 running for Congress, most in decades


Jun 2, 8:57 AM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - Discontent with incumbents and anti-Washington anger are adding up to a potentially record-breaking crowd of congressional challengers this election year.

More than 2,300 people are running for 471 House and Senate seats in the midterms. It's the highest number of candidates in at least 35 years, according to data provided to The Associated Press by the Federal Election Commission, which began tracking candidates in 1975.

Frustration, particularly on the right, with President Barack Obama and his Democratic agenda appears to have contributed to the surge. The field is heavily Republican, with almost twice as many GOP candidates as Democrats, and several hundred independent and third-party challengers.

A strong anti-incumbent sentiment and disenchantment with the way the federal government operates and spends money are prevailing forces this election year. The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll showed near-record lows in favorable ratings for the parties - 36 percent for Republicans in May, 43 percent for Democrats.

The mood has created a rush on elective office.

Some candidates are seasoned politicians looking to make the jump from local or state government to Congress; others are little-known, underfunded novices driven by the tea party movement. With several veteran lawmakers already tossed out in primaries - three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and five-term Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., among them - incumbents are keeping an eye on all the challengers.

"I had to sell my four-wheeler to pay (the filing fee), and I did. It's worth it," said Bruce Ray Riggs, a tea party sympathizer and first-time candidate who spent $6,960 to get on the ballot in Florida's Senate race, which is crowded with two dozen names.

Riggs, 43, whose campaign slogan is "No suit, no tie, no political lies," said he wanted to abolish most federal functions and give more power to the states.

"They've railroaded the American people," the independent says of Congress, arguing that Washington is operating an unconstitutional government.

Riggs is among the 2,341 people who have filed statements of candidacy with the FEC for the 2010 House and Senate elections, compared with 1,717 in 2008 and 1,588 in 2006.

The tally is still climbing, with more than a dozen states still allowing candidates to file, and the true number of candidates is probably higher, since some ignore requirements to file with the FEC. Close to 40 states still haven't held their primaries, including nine with primaries in September. The general election is Nov. 2.

The field is significantly larger than in 1976, two years after the Watergate scandal took down President Richard Nixon, and 1994, the year the GOP took control of Congress for the first time in four decades.

The next-largest field - of 2,159 candidates - was in 1992, when Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot battled for the White House.

"I guess it's a mild form of civil unrest," said Tom Parrott, a 59-year-old accountant who is making his first run for office as one of nine candidates in central Georgia's 7th Congressional District race.

"Do I think I'm going to win? Maybe not. But do I get a pulpit? Yes," he said. "I'm willing to spend 30 or 40 grand of my own money to get the chance to speak to people and maybe get my point across that we're really, really in trouble."

Parrott, who is running as a Republican and identifies with the tea party, said he has a strong libertarian bent. Obama's health care law was the "straw that broke the camel's back" in his decision to run, he said.

"I'm not a wacko," he said. "I just think the government would be better if they just butt out and do the things they're supposed to do like running an army and maintaining waterways and keeping our borders safe."

Democrat Scott Withers, another rookie candidate, sees things differently.

Running in Michigan's 5th Congressional District around Flint, with staggering unemployment from the decline of the automotive industry, Withers said government can be part of the answer. He's trying to unseat a 34-year incumbent from his own party, Rep. Dale Kildee.

"When we just keep rubber-stamping the same person, we're not getting any new ideas or new perspectives for our problems," said Withers, 37, who has worked in journalism and public relations but is unemployed after being laid off from a website startup.

"I don't believe the government should be interfering in our lives. There are areas, though, where the government can play a positive role," he said. "We can't keep increasing our deficit, but we need to look at moving our money around to areas that can have a bigger impact."

Self-identified liberals and Democrats do badly on questions of basic economics.



Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents' (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable." People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Associated Press

"Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?" TV show


Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer "not sure," which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.

The other questions were: 1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services (unenlightened answer: disagree). 2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago (unenlightened answer: disagree). 3) Rent control leads to housing shortages (unenlightened answer: disagree). 4) A company with the largest market share is a monopoly (unenlightened answer: agree). 5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited (unenlightened answer: agree). 6) Free trade leads to unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree). 7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment (unenlightened answer: disagree).

How did the six ideological groups do overall? Here they are, best to worst, with an average number of incorrect responses from 0 to 8: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.

Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.

To be sure, none of the eight questions specifically challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives and libertarians. Still, not all of the eight questions are tied directly to left-wing concerns about inequality and redistribution. In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities.

Yet on every question the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).

The survey also asked about party affiliation. Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.

Adam Smith described political economy as "a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator." Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.

Mr. Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University. This op-ed is based on an article published in the May 2010 issue of the journal he edits, Econ Journal Watch, a project sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research. The article is at: http://econjwatch.org/articles/economic-enlightenment-in-relation-to-college-going-ideology-and-other-variables-a-zogby-survey-of-americans

School Children taught: "I Am An Obama Scholar"


Welcome! Please e-mail me with any questions at johnrlott@aol.com.


School Children taught: "I Am An Obama Scholar"

If this is a private school, I personally don't care what they are chanting regarding this. But if this is a public school, I think that this is quite improper.

UPDATE: Apparently this was being done in a public school, Lincoln Bassett Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut.

Sowell: Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?


Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?

By THOMAS SOWELL Posted 06/21/2010 06:13 PM ET

When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics.

Such people were a valuable addition to his political base, since they were particularly susceptible to Hitler's rhetoric and had far less basis for questioning his assumptions or his conclusions.

"Useful idiots" was the term supposedly coined by V.I. Lenin to describe similarly unthinking supporters of his dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive.

In our times, American democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.

The president's poll numbers are going down because increasing numbers of people disagree with particular policies of his, but the damage being done to the fundamental structure of this nation goes far beyond particular counterproductive policies.

Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere.

And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many among the public and in the media may think that the issue is simply whether BP's oil spill has damaged many people, who ought to be compensated.

But our government is supposed to be "a government of laws and not of men."

If our laws and our institutions determine that BP ought to pay $20 billion — or $50 billion or $100 billion — then so be it.

But the Constitution says that private property is not to be confiscated by the government without "due process of law."

Technically, it has not been confiscated by Barack Obama, but that is a distinction without a difference.

With vastly expanded powers of government available at the discretion of politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals and organizations can be forced into accepting the imposition of powers that were never granted to the government by the Constitution.

If you believe that the end justifies the means, then you don't believe in constitutional government.

And, without constitutional government, freedom cannot endure. There will always be a "crisis" — which, as the president's chief of staff has said, cannot be allowed to "go to waste" as an opportunity to expand the government's power.

That power will of course not be confined to BP or to the particular period of crisis that gave rise to the use of that power, much less to the particular issues.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt arbitrarily took the United States off the gold standard, he cited a law passed during the First World War to prevent trading with the country's wartime enemies. But there was no war when FDR ended the gold standard's restrictions on the printing of money.

At about the same time, during the worldwide Great Depression, the German Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the German people."

That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people — indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others.

If the agreement with BP was an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it would not be a precedent. But there is nothing isolated about it.

The man appointed by President Obama to dispense BP's money as the administration sees fit, to whomever it sees fit, is only the latest in a long line of presidentially appointed "czars" controlling different parts of the economy, without even having to be confirmed by the Senate, as Cabinet members are.

Those who cannot see beyond the immediate events to the issues of arbitrary power — vs. the rule of law and the preservation of freedom — are the "useful idiots" of our time. But useful to whom?

Survey: Individual Health Insurance Premiums Jump

Survey: Individual Health Insurance Premiums Jump

Kaiser foundation survey finds steep jump in individual health insurance premiums

The Associated Press
By TOM MURPHY AP Business Writer
INDIANAPOLIS June 21, 2010 (AP)

New survey finds premium hikes for people who buy their own insurance.

People who buy their own health insurance have been hit lately with premium hikes that far exceed increases in premiums for employer-sponsored coverage, according to a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The nonprofit foundation, which is separate from health insurer Kaiser Permanente, said recent premium hikes requested by insurers for individual coverage averaged 20 percent. Some customers were able to switch plans and pay less, so people paying on their own actually wound up paying 13 percent more on average.

That tops last year's average 5 percent annual increase for employer-sponsored family coverage and almost unchanged premiums for employer-sponsored single coverage, though foundation Vice President Gary Claxton said the comparisons come with qualifications.

The individual insurance survey asked respondents for their most recent premium increases, and those can happen more or less frequently than the annual increases mostly seen in the group market, he noted.

In the online poll, Kaiser queried 1,038 randomly selected people who pay for their own coverage.

Individual health insurance premiums generally rise faster than group coverage rates. They can be affected by variables like a person's age. They also can be affected by rising medical and drug costs and are more vulnerable when a bad economy makes healthy people drop coverage.

That can leave an insurer with a higher concentration of sick people who keep coverage because they need it more and thus generate more claims.

The market also appears to be cyclical, with a big increase following a couple years of smaller ones, said Robert Laszewski, a health care consultant and former insurance executive who wasn't involved with the Kaiser study.

But even with a sizable average increase, individual premiums still span a wide range from no increases to huge hikes.

"There is no real consistency," Laszewski said.

Chavez Spearheads Food Raids


Hugo Chavez Spearheads Raids as Food Prices Skyrocket

Published: Friday, 18 Jun 2010 | 5:18 PM ET
Text Size

Mountains of rotting food found at a government warehouse, soaring prices and soldiers raiding wholesalers accused of hoarding: Food supply is the latest battle in President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution.

Hugo Chavez
Howard Yanes / AP
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says government-led raids of food markets will reverse exploitation of the poor, whom he needs for political support.

Venezuelan army soldiers swept through the working class, pro-Chavez neighborhood of Catia in Caracas last week, seizing 120 tons of rice along with coffee and powdered milk that officials said was to be sold above regulated prices.

"The battle for food is a matter of national security," said a red-shirted official from the Food Ministry, resting his arm on a pallet laden with bags of coffee.

It is also the latest issue to divide the Latin American country where Chavez has nationalized a wide swathe of the economy, he says to reverse years of exploitation of the poor.

Chavez supporters are grateful for a network of cheap state-run supermarkets and they say the raids will slow massive inflation.

Critics accuse him of steering the country toward a communist dictatorship and say he is destroying the private sector.

They point to 80,000 tons of rotting food found in warehouses belonging to the government as evidence the state is a poor and corrupt administrator.

Jose Guzman, an assistant manager at a store raided in Catia, watched with resignation as government agents pored over the company's accounts and computers after the food ministry official and the television cameras left.

"The government is pushing this type of establishment toward bankruptcy," said Guzman, who linked the raid to the rotten food scandal. "Somehow they have to replace all the food that was lost, and this is the most expeditious way."

Wasted Food

Much of the wasted food, including powdered milk and meat, was found last month in the buildup to legislative elections in September. The scandal is humiliating for Chavez, who accuses wealthy elites of fueling inflation and causing shortages of products such as meat, sugar and milk by hoarding food.

"They are not going to stop us in the plan, which is to give the people what is their right," Chavez said Friday during the inauguration of a supermarket chain the government bought this year from French retailer Casino.

Food prices are up 41 percent in the last 12 months during a deep recession, government figures show, despite the government's growing network of state-run supermarkets that sell at discounts of up to 40 percent and are popular with his poor supporters.

South America's top oil exporter, Venezuela imports about 70 percent of its food and analysts say the economic hardships could give the opposition a boost at the ballot box—although most expect Chavez to retain a reduced parliamentary majority.

Fighting back, Chavez says he is in an economic war against the "parasitic bourgeoisie"      that tries to convince Venezuelans that socialism does not work by twisting facts and taking advantage of honest mistakes.

"They know where we are headed, we are going to take from the Venezuela bourgeoisie the hegemony of dominance in this country," Chavez, who calls himself a Marxist, said to applause from supporters on his TV show on Sunday.

He has also revived threats to take over the country's largest private food processor, miller and brewer, Polar.

The president rushed to give public support to Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who as the boss of PDVSA is also responsible for food unit PDVAL, over the case of the rotting food.

Two former PDVAL managers have been jailed in the scandal, but that has not stifled opposition charges of government incompetence.

A string of expropriations and buyouts of companies during the last couple of years means the government now controls between 20 percent and 30 percent of the distribution of staple foods.

"We are bringing order to prices," Trade Minister Richard Canan told Reuters during the Catia raid. "There are traders who are taking these products to the black market ... That is a crime and our government will continue to target these stores."

Copyright 2010 Reuters. Click for restrictions.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Counting news stories on defensive gun uses



Counting news stories on defensive gun uses

As I have discussed in The Bias Against Guns, relying on news stories to document defensive gun uses has its limits, but it still gives you a very minimum estimate on how frequently they occur. One example of the bias is this claim: "in 14 percent of documented cases, no shots were fired." Note that the 14 percent number obviously misrepresents the actual rate because those cases where a gun doesn't have to be fired are much less likely to be newsworthy. In any case, this is still a useful exercise.

"We've documented 2,160 stories of self-defense with guns since May 2007 – the same time frame the VPC used," said Burnett. "When it comes to concealed carry permits, we have 153 documented cases across 26 states with at least 550 lives saved."
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) recently claimed concealed weapons licensees are killers, offering stories as proof. Burnett says the VPC is distorting the truth.
"If these victims had been disarmed, they wouldn't be able to fight back…they'd be dead," said Burnett. "Since no place is immune from crime, we must allow people to be armed for their own protection. Nobody wants to kill someone, but nobody wants to die either."
Burnett also notes that in 14 percent of documented cases, no shots were fired. "You don't always have to shoot to stop a criminal. Sometimes the threat is enough." . . .