Dr. Frist, Medicine Man ( General ) by David Boaz

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has launched www.medicalmatters.org, a medical website and blog, as a special project of his PAC. Maybe MedicalMatters should partner with YouTube and give readers a chance to send in home video of themselves so they could be diagnosed by Dr. Frist.

Posted on July 24, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

‘Marriage’ Problems ( Civil Rights ) by David Boaz

There were 15,000 divorces in Massachusetts last year. Guess which one made the front page of the Washington Times, above the fold, today. Well, none of them, actually. But the separation of Julie and Hillary Goodridge, plaintiffs in the landmark same-sex marriage case Goodridge v. Massachusetts, did. With a classic Washington Times headline:

"Gay 'marriage' first couple splits up in Massachusetts"

It's not a real marriage, you see, no matter what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts says, so "marriage" has to be in ironic quotes.

But what's the point of such a prominent display of this story? Is the (apparent) failure of one marriage, even that of a landmark plaintiff couple, supposed to undermine the case for legal equality? If Linda Brown had flunked out of high school, would that have undermined the moral authority of Brown v. Board of Education? If John Peter Zenger's newspaper failed, would that undermine the case for freedom of the press?

Posted on July 22, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

He Is the Very Model of the Modern GOP ( Foreign Policy ) by David Boaz

Discussing the massive failures of the $14.6 billion Big Dig project in Boston, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney told reporters, “I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t always ask for federal money whenever I got the chance.”

Posted on July 21, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

No Consensus ( General ) by David Boaz

The Wall Street Journal reports that "as gas prices again approach $3 a gallon, consumers are buying new vehicles that are faster and heavier than ever," much to the annoyance of the EPA. Sometimes, no matter how much we hector and even tax and regulate them, the masses just persist in doing what they want to do in defiance of elite opinion. The story reminded me of several other stories that I wrote up recently at the Guardian blog:
A weekend article in the FT comes with this teaser: "A generation ago, Shin Dong-jin was trying to stop South Korean women from having babies. Now his planned parenthood foundation has the opposite problem--there aren't enough babies being born. He must persuade the country to go forth and multiply." Apparently Shin Dong-jin is just the only person in South Korea who knows, at any given time, how many children people should have. But people make their own decisions. The FT piece reminded me of some other recent articles about how stubborn people just won't do what the planners want. A front-page headline in the Washington Post read: "Despite planners' visions, outer suburbs lead in new hiring." I was particularly struck by the lead:

As a consensus builds that the Washington region needs to concentrate job growth, there are signs that the exact opposite is happening.

Over the past five years, the number of new jobs in the region's outer suburbs exceeded those created in the District and inner suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery counties ... contradicting planners' "smart growth" visions of communities where people live, work and play without having to drive long distances.

Maybe if tens - hundreds - of thousands of people aren't abiding by the "consensus," there is no consensus: there is just a bunch of government-funded planners attending conferences and deciding where people ought to live. It's like, "Our community doesn't want Wal-Mart." Hey, if the community really doesn't Wal-Mart, then a Wal-Mart store will fail. What that sentence means is: "Some organised interests in our community don't want Wal-Mart here because we know our neighbours will shop there (and so will we)."
Similarly, another Post story reported that the Ford motor company has dropped a pledge to build 250,000 gas-electric hybrid cars per year by the end of the decade. Environmentalists accused the company of backpedalling: it seems not many people want to buy hybrid cars - even though the planners want them to. Again and again, individuals insist on making their own decisions rather than conforming to planners' visions and purported consensuses.

Posted on July 19, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Ralph Reed and the GOP ( General ) by David Boaz

Christian Coalition co-founder Ralph Reed lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia yesterday by more than 12 points. After a career at the top of Republican politics -- chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, Southeast Regional chairman of Bush-Cheney, one of Time's 50 future leaders of America -- it's got to be galling to lose a Republican primary for a ceremonial job like lieutenant governor. Reed was tarred by his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He became a poster boy for the downward spiral of the Republican Party -- the born-again activist with the choirboy face who helped transform the GOP into a religious party and then got caught taking millions of gambling dollars to lobby against rival gambling firms. Makes the K Street Project look positively, well, saintly. Ralph Reed lost a Republican primary election on the same day the anti-marriage amendment failed to pass in the House of Representatives. Maybe one day we'll look back on July 18 as the day that the Republican party decided not to be a religious party and started to become once again a broad-based conservative political party.

Posted on July 19, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conscientious Objectors ( General ) by David Boaz

Can pharmacists have a conscience? Activists are demanding that Congress and state legislatures pass laws forcing pharmacists and other health workers to act against their own conscience in such matters as abortion, morning-after pills, and gay parenting. Some doctors say it violates their conscience to perform abortions or provide artificial insemination for unmarried or gay people. Some pharmacists believe that the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and their religious commitment forbids them to dispense it. And now some patients and activists are demanding laws to force health professionals to dispense the care the patients want, no matter how it violates the health worker's conscience. Activists who march for a woman's right to choose want the government to overrule a pharmacist's right to choose. I was reminded of Arnold Kling's question "Is Bioethics an Oxymoron?" when I read in the Washington Post the comments of official bioethicist R. Alta Charo: "As soon as you become a licensed professional, you take on certain obligations to act like a professional, which means your patients come first." As I wrote in an online debate for Legal Affairs magazine,
this is an example of how one state intervention generates the demand for additional interventions. We say you can't be a pharmacist unless you get a state license, and now you want to say that that license should empower the state to impose morally offensive obligations on those who were required to get the license. Similarly, we require a prescription to get many drugs, including some forms of contraception. Why should a woman need a prescription for contraception? Why not just grant access to contraception by allowing it to be sold over the counter? Here we've created one intervention—the requirement that people get a prescription from a licensed doctor, which they must take to a licensed pharmacist—and it has led to a situation you don't like, in which some tiny number of pharmacists are refusing to dispense a particular prescription. So you say we should have another rule, another regulation, another intervention.
As philosopher Loren Lomasky of the University of Virginia puts it in the Post article, "Freedom of conscience has been central to our political notions since even before the United States existed. People should not be forced into doing things that they find morally odious." Do the people who want doctors and pharmacists to be forced to provide abortions and morning-after pills want anesthesiologists to be forced to participate in executions? I'd bet not. These activists want their moral values enforced by law, they don't want a neutral rule that all doctors must obey the laws of the state. If they did take such a consistent position, of course, I'd still disagree: anesthesiologists shouldn't be forced to participate in what they may regard as murder, any more than gynecologists should. This seems like such a clear issue to me. Yet most of the people in the Post's online chat about the issue were insistent that health workers must be forced to do as they're told, regardless of their own conscience. Whatever happened to the liberal claims of individual autonomy, of the right of conscience, of the individual exercising his or her own mind? Gone with the wind, it seems, when liberals have the power to impose their values on other people's consciences. In a country of 290 million people and 14 million businesses, we should let these issues sort themselves out in the marketplace. Chances are that major drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreen's are going to insist that their stores fill all prescriptions. If they have more than one pharmacist on duty at a time, then they may be willing to tolerate pharmacists who avoid filling certain prescriptions. If they do insist that all pharmacists be prepared to fill any prescription presented by a customer, then pharmacists who can't accept such rules will have to look for jobs elsewhere. And if customers encounter a pharmacy that won't give them what they want, then they will have to find another pharmacy. A prime reason for freedom is pluralism. In the modern world we don't all share the same moral and religious perspectives. The fact of moral diversity is a good reason for toleration and allowing people to sort themselves out in society according to their own moral choices. Freedom in a pluralistic society should mean that individuals get to make their own choices. Sometimes other people aren't willing to do what we want them to do. But frankly, it's involuntary servitude to force other people to work for us when they prefer not to. And it's appalling that 141 years after the Thirteenth Amendment, some people still want to hold others to involuntary servitude.

Posted on July 19, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Incredible Expanding Farm Program ( General ) by David Boaz

The Washington Post reports that a federal program to help dairy farmers and ranchers hurt by drought has been expanded to benefit farmers untouched by drought conditions:
In all, the Livestock Compensation Program cost taxpayers $1.2 billion during its two years of existence, 2002 and 2003. Of that, $635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned.
It's a typical story of government handout programs. Under "pressure from ranchers and politicians in a handful of Western states that were hit hard by drought," the Bush administration in 2002 created a fund to compensate them. Within days members of Congress were demanding that more counties be included, and they were. But that still wasn't enough, and in 2003 Congress expanded the program to cover any kind of weather-related disaster. And then President Bush declared that the shuttle explosion over Texas constituted a disaster, so that made more counties eligible. County USDA officials were pressured to find any kind of "disaster" that would qualify local farmers for handouts. The Post has run other articles in this series, with titles like Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm and Growers Reap Benefits Even in Good Years. Yet even with front-page stories in Congress's hometown newspaper, the farm program rolls merrily along, handing out more and more subsidies with less and less plausibility. It's enough to make you a public choice economist. So the question is, why doesn't it make Washington Post and other mainstream-media journalists and editorial writers more skeptical about the benefits of government programs? A great deal of what we know about the failures of government, or way that politics really works, comes from mainstream journalists. Yet many journalists continue to assume that every problem in society suggests a government program to fix it.

Posted on July 18, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

“Pelosi Promises Fiscal Restraint If Democrats Win” ( General ) by David Boaz

That's the headline House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi managed to get the Wall Street Journal to run after an exclusive interview. She told the Journal's reporters that if Democrats take control of the House next year and raise taxes, they would use the money to reduce the federal deficit. And she promised to reduce the use of earmarks: "Personally, myself, I'd get rid of all of them," she said. "None of them is worth the skepticism, the cynicism the public has... and the fiscal irresponsibility of it." If Republicans are going to spend like Democrats, it would be nice to think that Democrats might save like Republicans. But let's take a reality check. According to the National Taxpayers Union, in the first seven months of this Congress Nancy Pelosi introduced 22 bills that would increase spending and only one that would cut spending. Admittedly a better record than some Democrats: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who would be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in a Pelosi-led Congress, introduced 80 spending bills and three cuts, for a net budget impact of $1.6 trillion. Even the misnamed Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced 44 spending bills and one cut. Another NTU report showed that Pelosi voted in the interests of taxpayers only 11 percent of the time on tax and budget votes. And her fiscal conservatism has been declining the longer she has been in Congress. In her early years in the House she sometimes voted for taxpayers as much as 25 percent of the time. But not recently. For taxpayers, it looks like the fall election will be a choice between the devil we know . . . and another devil we know.

Posted on July 17, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Good Time for Tax Reform? ( General ) by David Boaz

From the Washington Post, July 12:
The Internal Revenue Service headquarters will remain at least partially closed until January while department officials attempt to repair tens of millions of dollars in damage wrought by last month's storms, the IRS announced yesterday.

Posted on July 17, 2006  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bourgeois virtues

We must reclaim the word from its enemies, and make it a term of honour.

Posted on July 14, 2006  Posted to The Guardian

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