Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Footnoting the News: A Response

In response to blogger/newspaper editor Mark Tapscott's take on my idea that online versions of MSM articles (news, features, editorials, etc.) should have footnotes:
1) Mark says: "...reporting assertions of the "most right-thinking people are liberals on this issue" sort would likely continue unless the regimen included all assertions subject to verification."

I agree and for that reason believe they should.

Consider an article I just happened to read Tuesday: editorialist Margaret Carlson's Bloomberg column regarding Rush Limbaugh and Michael J. Fox. I believe it could have been a much stronger piece -- to the benefit of the reader, Carlson, and the ideologies Carlson expouses -- had a footnote requirement imposed upon her the discipline of checking the reliability of her assertions.

Like many writers, Carlson (apparently) uses her memory as a source. Her memory is not as good as she supposes:
Carlson says: "There was a time when politics wasn't a blood sport. At the end of the day, Tip O'Neill shared a whiskey with Ronald Reagan..." Bonhomme for the cameras aside, Reagan and O'Neill were not in the habit of unwinding together at the end of their workdays, with a whiskey or without. (For that matter, which experts don't believe politics in the Iran-Contra era was as much a blood sport as it is today?)

Carlson says: "After Limbaugh suggested that Fox enjoyed being a victim..." Having heard much of Limbaugh's show the past week and a half, I believe Limbaugh said no such thing, but if Carlson heard something I missed, it is reasonable for her to provide a precise quotation (the broadcast is archived on or, at least, tell us where she learned this (Daily Kos?) so readers can evaluate her source's reliability.

Carlson says: "...the Republican Party sped up production of an ad that began airing on Tuesday. It features actress Patricia Heaton and James Caviezel... as well as several sports figures." It didn't. The group "Missourians Against Human Cloning," not the GOP, created and ran the ad.

Carlson says: "Imagine if Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, were deprived of federal funds because a minority of Americans said scientific research was against their religious beliefs. There would still be kids in iron lungs today." The Virus Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh where Jonas Salk worked was supported by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (known today as the March of Dimes) and a lady named Sarah Scaife. As the Washington Post put it, "Sarah Scaife's... most famous gifts, in the late 1940s, were to the University of Pittsburgh -- $35,000 to equip a virus research lab. In that lab, Jonas Salk discovered his polio vaccine."

There's also the little matter of a scientist named Albert Sabin and his live-virus oral polio vaccine.

Carlson says: "One ad ran in Missouri, where Republican Senator Jim Talent is locked in an unexpectedly close race with challenger Claire McCaskill..." Unexpectedly close? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 22, 2006, said: "With the election 10 months away, state Auditor Claire McCaskill is in a statistical dead heat with the man she hopes to replace in the U.S. Senate, incumbent Jim Talent." Associated Press, January 22, 2006: "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV poll released Saturday found no clear leader in the race for the U.S. Senate between State Auditor Claire McCaskill and incumbent Sen. Jim Talent." Kansas City Star, April 18, 2006: "Early polls show the race should be close." Roll Call, June 14, 2006: [Jim Talent] and Missouri Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) are duking it out in possibly the most evenly matched Senate race this cycle..." Associated Press, July 9, 2006: "...Missouri Republican Jim Talent, who appears to be locked in a tight race with Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill..." Roll Call, July 27, 2006: "Polls have shown McCaskill and Talent running neck and neck." AP, August 8, 2006: "...polls show a tight race."
If the editorial policy of Bloomberg News included footnotes, Carlson would have had to track down citations for each of these and other assertions in her op-ed. Presumably, her effort to do so would have resulted in a self-correction process as invisible to the reader as it would be valuable.

Yes, it would have been a hassle for Carlson, but in weighing accuracy against convenience, I have to give the edge to accuracy.

But this isn't about Margaret Carlson. It's about sloppy writers and editors everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

2) Mark also points out: "Footnoting would also present a problem when sources insist on anonymity. Yes, there has been vastly too much anonymous sourcing in the MSM for decades, but the fact is there are some stories that cannot be done without such sources. Possible alternative - Instead of an identifying footnote, the reporter could describe the grounds for granting the source anonymity, as a means of reassuring readers of the veracity of the information provided."

If bona fide reasons existed and were described, and all other assertions of fact in an article were footnoted, it would be a huge improvement over the present situation. When it comes to "the reporter could describe the grounds for granting the source anonymity," however, I'd hold out for a lot more specificity than what we get now (for example, reporters write "a source who requested anonymity due to the sensistive nature of the inquiry." What the heck does that even mean? How about something like: "Because he is the lawyer for a person potentially under investigation and any comments he makes could be attributed to the client by law enforcement." Or: "Because he is not supposed to talk to the press but enjoys the feeling of self-importance he gets from seeing his words in the newspaper.")

3) Mark says: "But while I'm not holding my breath, it would be a worthwhile exercise for bloggers to begin campaigning for MSM footnoting - and practicing it themselves as well." I take it, then, that, on balance, Mark agrees with my idea. I agree that most media outlets will be reluctant to do this. Partly its the production hassle; mostly, I think, it will be the response of journalists who would -- believe it or not -- be personally offended that they should be held to the same standard as academics and scientists. Many journalists sincerely believe they inhabit a higher moral plane than the rest of us.

Nonetheless, it is always possible that newspaper owners would be open to the idea. With newspaper circulation down 2.8 percent from last year, management may be willing to consider product improvements.

As to bloggers, would I be wrong in thinking that the standard blogger practice of providing a link in support of nearly all significant factual assertions in blog posts serves as a de facto footnoting process?
Consider this: If even one paper, one news organization, started footnoting, the public would start wondering why the others aren't doing it.

What publication will go first?

Back to you, Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of the Washington Examiner.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 4:33 AM

On Confidential Sources

I happened to be reading some of the contemporaneous news coverage of the censure of the late Rep. Gerry Studds, and noticed this passage in a July 21, 1983 New York Times article, "House Censures Crane and Studds for Sexual Relations with Pages," by Steve Roberts:
Some lawmakers who supported the milder penalty [reprimand rather than censure] were bitter at the House action. Later, one California Democrat called the vote ''disgusting'' and said the representatives were ''trying to show how pure they are.'' Another West Coast Democrat added that a vote for the harsher penalty would be ''easier to explain'' to constituents.

''A lot of people out there worry what happens when the Moral Majority uses a 30-second spot against them,'' an Eastern Democrat added.
If by some chance these members were still in the House, it would be interesting to compare their statements then to whatever they may have said about the Mark Foley scandal, would it not?

Too bad Steve Roberts and the New York Times decided the public had no need to know the names of these Congressmen.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:14 AM

Halloween History and Traditions

Halloween's history and traditions are covered in an interesting essay in the Lighthouse Patriot Journal blog.

Some things I learned I hadn't known:
The transatlantic migration of almost two million Irish during the Irish Potato Famine in the mis-1800s played a key role in bringing the Halloween holiday to Americas.

In Ireland there is a traditional Halloween cake which contains a bit of a rag, a coin and a ring.

Robert Burns wrote a poem called "Hallowe’en."

Irish kids get a week off school for Halloween.
Something covered I would have guessed:
Halloween parties are popular on college campuses.
There's lot's more. Read it here.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:04 AM

Continuing the Health Care Overview

David Hogberg now has his second part of his two-part series examining the major health care reform proposals introduced by Democrats over the past Congress online at the American Specator.

This time, David takes at look at Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark's proposal to expand Medicare to all Americans.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:59 AM

Monday, October 30, 2006

Al Gore Becomes a Foreign Lobbyist

At least, according to the Irish Times, in a report in tomorrow's editions:
The British government has hired former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as a lobbyist to convince the American public that action must be taken urgently to combat the "disastrous" threat of global warming.

The unusual appointment was announced yesterday following the publication in London of a major review by the government's chief economist warning of the dire consequences of failing to deal with climate change...
It is not clear exactly how Gore could work harder to promote his views on the global warming theory than he already has, although it may be that the British government wants to direct his activities with precision.

Setting aside the global warming issue itself, it is a little disconcerting to think of any former president or vice president becoming a lobbyist for a foreign government.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 9:11 PM

NJ's Ex-Governor Says He Would Marry

Former Governor James McGreevey, who resigned after acknowledging a gay affair, said he would marry his male partner if New Jersey's state legislature adopts same-sex state marriage.

'Marriage would offer the ability to bless our relationship in a committed way,' McGreevey, 49, told The New York Times."
"Committed" way? This is a guy who cheated on his wife while she was in the hospital recovering from giving birth to their child. What kind of a moron would someone have to be to marry him?

I'd guess he'd claim he could never cheat that way on a guy.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 8:52 PM

Major Health Care Legislation Overview

Writing for the American Spectator, our David Hogberg is examining the major health care legislation introduced by Democrats during this Congressional session.

David's first article in a two-part series examines Senator Russ Feingold's "State-Based Health Care Reform Act."

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 3:02 AM

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cutting Edge Reporting by Scientific American

Presenting its readers with the very latest in scientific discovery and advancement, Scientific American displays this headline: "Potential Male Contraceptive Homes in on Testes."

I guess the ear covers weren't working out.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:50 PM

Post Update

I've updated my post from April about the Ohio parents who may be fined for helping their own son. The U.S. Supreme Court, encouraged by the Bush Administration, has agreed to hear the parents' case.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 9:29 PM

Saturday, October 28, 2006

If Jeffrey Skilling Had Worked for the UN...

...instead of for Enron, says Claudia Rosett, "he’d be looking forward to years of dining out with his pals and collecting his pension in comfort. Instead, found guilty of fraud and conspiracy, he’s facing a 24 year sentence."

Read it all here.

Addendum, 10/29: In a related story, Cliff Kincaid points out that "the United Nations will NOT be releasing the financial disclosure form filed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan."

If a form is kept secret, it is not really a "disclosure" form, is it?

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 5:06 PM

USS North Carolina: "A Building Whose shape and Coloring Resembles a Ship"

EagleSpeak has the details.

As Eagle1 notes, sometimes the law is -- well, you know the quote.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 5:01 PM

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rumsfeld Worship: The Here-Today, Gone-Tomorrow Fickleness of the Drive-By Press

Speaking of the New Republic, I noticed that Jonathan Chait's "Rummyache: The SECDEF Cult: A Tour Through the Hilarious Bygone World of Rumsfeld Worship" in the October 23 edition re-writes history a bit by implying that post 9/11 "Rumsfeld worship" reporting was limited to rightie publications.

Says Chait: seems hard to believe that, just a few years ago, Rumsfeld was hailed as a visionary war leader. Among conservatives, in particular, he was treated to the sort of over-the-top hero worship that the right customarily bestows upon its standard bearers in flush political times. And so it seems as good a time as any to reexamine the wave of Rumsfeld hagiography that was in vogue for about two years following September 11, 2001. These documents offer a prime window into the pathologies of conservative thought in the Bush era...
If admiring Rumsfeld is a pathology, it has been a fairly widespread one, as these examples indicate:
A Warrior In One Battle, Manager In Another

...Rumsfeld has emerged as the public face of the U.S. war on terrorism, a celebrity status he has handled with a blend of humor, charm and curmudgeonly candor. He is impersonated on Saturday Night Live, invited to watch the Washington Redskins from the owner's box and labeled a sex symbol by talk show host Larry King...

One advantage for Rumsfeld is that the same pundits, politicians and reporters who had pilloried him as being ineffectual a few months ago are now praising him for the way he has managed the military campaign in Afghanistan and the public relations campaign at the Pentagon podium.

Part cantankerous professor, part lovable grandfather, part take-no-prisoners warrior, Rumsfeld has projected a public persona familiar to those who know him.

"He doesn't try to fool anyone," says former president Gerald Ford, who in 1975 made Rumsfeld, then 43, the youngest Defense secretary in U.S. history. "He's straightforward. He's frank in admitting he doesn't know all the answers. On the other hand, he gives strong answers, like 'Either they're gonna surrender or they're gonna be killed.' The press likes it. The public likes it."

It's straight from Rumsfeld Rule No. 1: Have the courage to say what you think "with the bark off."

-Jonathan Weisman, USA Today, December 21, 2001

Do Ya Think He's Sexy? He's Vigorous. He's Direct. At Nearly 70, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Is TV's Newest Stud

"...The sexiest man on television is a grandpop with a throaty laugh and a confidence so overpowering it's made entire countries go weak in the knees.

No doubt about it, Donald Rumsfeld is a stud muffin.

Oh sure, he's a bespectacled government bureaucrat pushing 70. But the secretary of defense has a quality that many women adore.

He's as self-assured as a bull in a cow pasture.

Next to this ex-Navy flyboy and self-made millionaire, humorless careerists are but empty suits, doubt-ridden heroes are boring, and sensitive New Age males look like big whiny babies.

Rumsfeld, in contrast, looks like a good time.

In a recent interview, Larry King asked, "Secretary Rumsfeld . . . do you like this image? You now have this new image called sex symbol."

Rumsfeld laughed heartily and replied, "Oh, come on." But he seemed delighted, and later allowed that he could be a sex symbol "for the AARP."

He's direct, plainspoken, full of that quality John F. Kennedy so admired: vigor.

He enjoys sparring with reporters at news conferences. Exuding bonhomie, he gets his points across while revealing very little of what everybody is there to find out. These performances are among the best on television, depicted by political cartoonist Mike Peters as "Must See TV."

Rumsfeld is decisive, a quality Saturday Night Live recognized in a recent skit: The President is in a meeting, taking a call from boring Al Gore, who drones on and on while Bush's advisers point impatiently to their watches and Bush, a prisoner of his breeding, seeks a polite end to the conversation.

Rumsfeld strides in. Grasping the situation immediately, he grabs the receiver and barks, "Get off the phone, Al. Now!" A startled Gore hangs up.

Talk about a man of action...

Classical Roman virtues such as courage and determination, so passe in the high-flying '90s, are again in vogue.

Steely confidence is admired, in burly firemen, guys who attack armed hijackers with their bare hands, 19-year-olds who parachute into battlefields in the middle of the night - and straight-shooting Rummy, the senior with swagger.

Manly men, every one. It's good to have them back."

- Beth Gillin, Phildelphia Inquirer, December 29, 2001

Straight Shooter - How An Ageing Bureaucrat Became America's Hero

...He's been branded 'the media star of America's new war' by CNN.

The network even quoted a woman calling him 'the newest sex symbol.'

Famed Washington columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that he outcharms George Clooney and Brad Pitt with his gruff but witty style that he uses with brutal effect on hapless journalists....

- Damon Johnston, Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia), January 6, 2002
I've written before about the drive-by media's attitude toward Don Rumsfeld, which can be summed up in one word: Fickle.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:05 AM

Help Journalists Be Honest

Victor Davis Hanson explains the difference between a historian and a journalist:
...the verifiability of source material is what distinguishes history from hearsay -- and what distinguishes the genre from journalism...
Journalists could change this with one little word: footnotes. A good argument can be made that footnotes in the paper version of publications would be distracting and costly, but the major impediment to including them in online editions would probably simply be resistance by the writers themselves. Footnotes are a hassle for writers -- but they do have a way if helping to keep writers honest.

Who's with me on this?

Addendum, 10/29: Mark Tapscott has posted a thoughtful response to this idea. I'll respond to his comments in a little while.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:02 AM

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Week's Funniest Media Error -- And No Politics Involved!

Reuters claims: "Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day."

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:47 PM

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Patti Davis, Limbaugh, Fox and Newsweek: Even Presidents' Kids Need Editors

Why does Newsweek insist on embarrassing itself with yet another lame essay on stem cells by Patti Davis? (You'd think the one I skewered here would have been enough for any self-respecting publication.)

Forget about stem cells, Michael J. Fox and Rush Limbaugh for a second, and just look at the writing.

Davis begins with the semi-obligatory "I'm Ronald Reagan's daughter" anecdote (just in case you forgot her singular achievement), a mundane little tale of an incident during her childhood in which she was being bullied. Her Dad advised her to ignore the bully, and the advice worked.

So, apparently unable to break her lifelong pattern of ignoring Dad's wisdom, Davis then claims Rush Limbaugh is a bully and admits she isn't ignoring him. (So the purpose of the anecdote was what again? Oh, right, your Dad was President.)

Limbaugh's bullying consists of criticizing Michael J. Fox's political activities at a time when you can't swing a cat without hitting someone who is criticizing someone else's political activities. Big whup.

Furthermore, says Davis, Limbaugh "flagrantly broke the law by procuring large amounts of drugs and then escaped the punishment that someone who is not white, wealthy and famous would have gotten."

Pardon me, but isn't this quite a bit more nasty than anything Limbaugh said about Fox?

And what supporting evidence did the Newsweek editors require for the assertion that, had Rush Limbaugh been black, he would have been treated differently by the justice system?

Davis further refers to "the miracles that stem-cell treatment holds for people afflicted with many diseases, including Parkinson’s." Maybe I'm missing something, but shouldn't that read "may hold"?

Details, details. Her Dad used to be President, you know.

Addendum, 10/27/06: I'm getting a bunch of mail on this, all saying pretty much the same thing. Me bad! Two of the more succinct letters follow:
Limbaugh's bullying consists of accusing a Parkinson's sufferer of "exaggerating his symptoms" despite the absence of any proof that would confirm the allegation. It is unfortunate that Mr. Limbaugh fails to realize tormenting the afflicted is unmanly, just as it is unfortunate that Amy Ridenour fails to realize practicing sophistry is unethical.

"Podvin" describes Rush Limbaugh's comments in this instance as "tormenting the afflicted," and then accuses me of sophistry?
OK, let's talk about the writing. Yours. You are the one that should be embarrassed, as a journalist and a mother. Your mindless Rush-defense makes you out to be heartless and terribly judgmental. Good luck to your three 6-year olds! And be sure to call your buddy Rush for parenting advice if they are ever bullied. (Or better yet, just get some painkillers from him and numb yourself even more.)

John Mabry
Journalist? No cotton pickin' way!

Addendum 2, 10/27/06: I spoke too soon. A middle-of-the-night (here, anyway) correspondent sees it my way:
No, don't listen to those idiots that are saying you're wrong; they don't know what they're talking about. Good grief, I thought I was the only who who was just agape at how vapid President Reagan's daughter still is. I really admire Ronald Reagan, even though I don't really remember him personally (b. 1980), but I have heard my mom say that Patti Davis gave her family trouble when she was younger.

Anyway, I read her essay last night, and my immediate reaction was that she is a stupid representation of a word I won't use, and that her writing was full of lies. As you said, not only regarding her absolute dearth of knowledge on stem cell research, but also about Rush Limbaugh. Being a listener of his, I'm aware of the list of talking points used to describe him by people of Davis' mindset, and she used them all.

You should write your two new email buddies back and tell them BOTH they need to relearn the definition of sophistry, because they both displayed it, as did Patti Davis. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.


Thanks, Katie!

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:39 PM

Doesn't It Really Depend on Whether You are Buying or Selling?

If the price of gas goes down, the media treats it as a good thing.

When the price of housing goes down, the media treats it as a bad thing.

But if a $3 gallon of gas is unaffordable, what is a $250,000 house?

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:27 PM

Partying with the Global Warming "Deniers"

Al Gore says:
15 percent of people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They get together on Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers.
Gore apparently doesn't realize how big our parties are.

We also invite the people who believe Gore invented the Internet.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:15 PM

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nearly 70 Policy Groups Warn: Beware of 'Invasive Species' Regulations

Beware of 'invasive species' regulations, says a new National Center press release:
Nearly 70 Policy Groups Warn: Beware of 'Invasive Species' Regulations

Washington, D.C. - The National Center for Public Policy Research has delivered a coalition letter signed by representatives of nearly 70 policy organizations to Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) urging him to protect private property rights by avoiding the creation of so-called "invasive species" regulations. Senator Inhofe's committee holds jurisdiction over such proposed initiatives.

"This ill-advised brainchild of the Bill Clinton era needs to go the way of the Bill Clinton era," said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for The National Center. "Regulating the movement of plant and animal species based on whether or not the fringe of the environmental movement considers them 'native' or 'non-native' has very little to do with sound science and very much to do with controlling private property."

In 1999 President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order that created the "National Invasive Species Council" which broadly defines "alien species" as "any species...that is not native to that ecosystem." Since Clinton's Order, numerous regulatory measures have surfaced in Congress that seek to control so-called non-native species in ways that would likely harm private property rights and Americans' access to public lands.

National policy organizations that signed the letter include: Coalitions for America, the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, the Property Rights Foundation of America, the Capital Research Center, the National Center for Policy Analysis and the American Land Foundation.

State policy organizations, including the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the Bluegrass Institute, the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, Oregonians in Action, the Rio Grande Foundation, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and Take Back Pennsylvania signed the letter as well.

The letter was also signed by the Honorable Edwin Meese III, who served as U.S. Attorney General in the Reagan Administration, and former U.S. Representatives Bob Barr and Jay Dickey.

Noting that invasive species regulations are arbitrary and ignore the fact that "many non-native species are beneficial to ecosystems, the environment, human health and the economy," the letter concludes:

"We have seen how endangered species and wetlands regulations can wreak havoc on Americans' constitutional right to private property. Invasive species regulations have the potential to be even more damaging to this fundamental right."

A copy of the letter can be found online at

For more information on this issue, see "Invasive Species: Animal, Vegetable or Political?" by National Center Senior Fellow Dana Joel Gattuso, available online at

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation founded in 1982 and based in Washington, D.C.
As noted above, a PDF of the coalition letter can be downloaded here.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 4:33 PM

Did the Little Girl Get Her Rabbit Back?

The animal liberation movement takes a giant step toward farce:
...the Animal Liberation Front... told Circus Royal director Oliver Skreinig they planned to steal [the Circus's] Siberian tiger and hand him to a zoo.

But when they broke into the circus enclosure and saw the animal they changed their minds - and stole a rabbit instead.

The liberationists then posted pictures of themselves online wearing black army uniforms and balaclavas and holding the rabbit.

Skreinig said: 'The pet rabbit was not even in the show, it belonged to our clown's six-year-old daughter.'"

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 3:47 PM

Where's Peter Beinart?

From the National Center's senior policy analyst, Dr. David Hogberg:
As you may recall from this blog post, I took Peter Beinart of The New Republic to task for using misleading budget numbers from this report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). I emailed Beinart about this and, as of this posting, he has not responded.

To recap: Beinart claimed that, based on CBPP numbers, discretionary non-security related spending rose only 2% between 2001-2006 when accounting for inflation and population growth and actually fell as a percentage of GDP.

As I saw it, a problem with Beinart's thesis arises in that the CBPP uses budget authority numbers, which are only the spending that Congress authorizes. What Congress actually spends is called budget outlays, and when those numbers are calculated, spending did increase a total of 13% and also rose as a percentage of GDP, from 3.1% to 3.6%.

Since Peter Beinart did not reply to my e-mail, I contacted Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the Heritage Foundation, about this. Brian confirmed my belief that outlays are the proper numbers to use:
...that's where the rubber meets the road on spending. Outlays represent what taxpayers are actually paying for. Budget authority can and often is easily manipulated by Congress to count or not count certain spending at certain times.
So, Peter, where are you? The question remains as it was in the email I sent: When talking about spending, shouldn't we be talking about what Congress actually spent instead of what it authorized?
Addendum: I note that Ari Berman, writing on the Nation's website six days after David Hogberg first alerted The New Republic to what appears to us to be an error, says:
I often disagree with TNR's Peter Beinart. But his latest essay, debunking the myth that George W. Bush isn't really a conservative, is dead on.
I wonder if he'd still think this if the New Republic had issued a correction to Peter Beinart's assertion that discretionary, nonsecurity-related federal spending as a percentage of GDP actually fell during the Bush years.

Any essayist can make an honest mistake. People can respect a publication secure and honest enough to issue corrections when warranted.

Addendum. 10/26/06: Noel Shepherd, writing at, says Peter Beinart is not the only one at the New Republic using fuzzy math to make points about federal taxing and spending.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:46 AM

Friday, October 20, 2006

Huffington Post Beware: A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing, Part II

David Hogberg continues his newest two-part series on health care, begun yesterday:
Here are some other problems with Blake Fleetwood's two blog posts (here and here), in no particular order.

What Is Single Payer?

Fleetwood writes:
The facts are clear: Single-payer systems work and they save money. The Germans, French, Australians, Swiss, and Canadians all benefit from universal health care at less than half the cost that Americans pay for an incomplete system. Our for-profit health care system is a gambling scheme with the explicit goal of excluding the sick.
A single-payer system is one in which one entity, usually the government, acts as the payer -- it collects all taxes and pays all the expenses for health care. Of the countries that Fleetwood lists, only Canada has a single-payer system. The others have multi-payer systems, in which there is a mix of public and private funding sources. Indeed, Switzerland (pdf) has a health care system that is more market-based than our own.

I've already shown in the first post of this series that in some very important ways the American system outperforms the single-payer systems of Canada and Britain, but let me throw a bit more cold water on the idea that "single-payer systems work and they save money." In Canada, currently 1.2 million people are unable to find a family doctor due to shortages. According to Dr. David Gratzer, a few towns each year hold lotteries to see who gets to see the doctor. And if you have the time, check out this teaser for a documentary about the Canadian health care system that shows, among other things, a woman named Diane Gorsuch, who had appointments for open-heart surgery cancelled twice and died of a heart attack before her third appointment.

In Britain, about 61,000 surgeries are cancelled each year. This results in circumstances like what happened to Mavis Skeet, whose cancer became inoperable after her operation was cancelled four times. And, of course, there are the waiting lists, which resulted in Brian Booy becoming the ultimate victim of bureaucracy in that he finally got an appointment for his bypass surgery a year after he had died from a heart attack.

U.S. Has A Free Market System

Fleetwood writes, "Why has our vaunted free enterprise system -- which has produced such great benefits in delivery of most goods and services -- failed so completely with regard to this most fundamental need?"

A good answer is that we don't really have a free market system in U.S. health care. About 50% of health care costs are paid for by either federal or state governments. The private sector is dominated by a third-party payer system, where patients (consumers) do not pay the provider directly (as they do in a true free market); instead, providers are paid by insurance companies, thereby insulating patients from the cost of health care. This confusion leads Fleetwood to his next mistake.

For Health Care, People Won't Act As Consumers

Fleetwood states:
Simple, buyers don't shop for health care. Sick people don't negotiate with doctors or hospitals or drug companies. They don't care what it costs; insurance or the government will pay. This vulnerability has been exploited and hijacked by greedy doctors, drug companies, insurers, personal injury lawyers, HMOs, and hospitals. About 50% of health care funds never even get to doctors or hospitals -- which themselves run bloated operations.
That patients don't act as consumers with regard to health care is not the "natural order" of things. It is due to a fluke born of myopic public policy in the 1930s. During that time, FDR's Administration imposed wage controls on the economy, so employers had to find another way to attract employees. They ended up giving pre-tax health insurance benefits to attract employees. Eventually the IRS approved the practice, and Congress formalized it in the 1950s. Thus, employers pay for the health insurance of the employee, and the insurance companies pick up the tab for health care. Before the 1930s, patients often paid directly for health care. I hope that, aided by innovations such as health savings accounts, they soon will again.

18,000 Die From Lack of Health Insurance Coverage

Fleetwood gets this one slightly wrong: "18,000 Americans die each year for lack of care according to the Institute of Medicine." It is not due to lack of care, but lack of health insurance, according to the Institute of Medicine. Yet, the Institute of Medicine's estimate was actually drawn from many other studies on insurance and health outcomes. Dr. David Gratzer notes that many of the studies yield results that are mixed at best. One study by Dr. John Ayanian and others found that women with private insurance were more likely to survive breast cancer than those uninsured. However, some data in the study showed that those who were uninsured had a higher survival rate than women covered by Medicaid. As Gratzer puts it, "Taking their conclusion one step further, it would seem that the nation's poor would do better if we scrapped Medicaid." In short, no one really knows the effect that insurance has on the likelihood of death.

Medicare Is A Great System

Fleetwood suggests this in his first post, and I'm not going to go into it in depth because I've gone on too long, and I have a policy analysis on this coming out soon and going into detail here might give the game away. I'll just refer you to this study that shows that on 16 out of 40 quality indicators, Medicare recipients received the appropriate care less than two-thirds of the time.

In short, Fleetwood's "analysis" appears to come from doing little more than reading some headlines. Digging deeper shows that our health care system performs very well and that claims that single-payer health care is better are misleading.

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:55 AM

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Congratulations to Peyton Knight

Congratulations to Peyton Knight, the National Center's director of environmental and regulatory affairs, for being awarded the Property Rights Foundation of America Tenth Annual Property Rights Advocate Award on October 14 in New York.

Peyton received this award for his work alerting the public and policymakers to the risks to property rights of National Heritage Areas.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:07 AM

Huffington Post Beware: A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing, Part I

David Hogberg says:
Over at the Huffington Post, journalist Blake Fleetwood claims "Poor Little Greece Has Better Health Care than the U.S."

In that blog post, he links to another of his posts, titled "Cuba Has Better Medical Care Than the U.S." That one begins:
Statistics don't lie.
Really? Didn't Mark Twain have something to say about that?

Fleetwood continues:
Figures from the World Health Organization clearly show that The United States lags behind 36 other countries in overall health system performance ranging from infant mortality, to adult mortality, to life expectancy.
First, this simply doesn't pass the smell test. The WHO report (pdf) that Fleetwood refers to puts Colombia, Morocco, Dominica and Costa Rica ahead of the U.S. Do you see Americans running off to those countries (or to Cuba, for that matter) to get treatment from their supposedly superior health care systems? Indeed, the WHO report is a classis example of what happens when bureaucracies are dominated by people who think government knows best. This is evidenced by the fact that the report states that in health care, "government remains the prime mover," and its "key role is one of oversight and trusteeship -- to follow the advice of 'row less and steer more.'"

We further learn that markets ration health care
by price, which means that who gets what goods and services depends not only on how much those goods and services are valued by people, but on who has the means to buy them. Priorities are not set by anyone but emerge from the play of the market. As indicated, this is almost the worst possible way to determine who gets which health services.
But back to Fleetwood. In his first blog post he explains why the U.S. health care system is inferior:
One of the main indices of the success of a nation or its government is the state of health of its citizens. Life expectancy is the most verifiable statistic to determine this. Considering the U.S.'s dismal health care performance, this should be a major election issue. But it is not.
Sorry, but the research doesn't bear out that life expectancy is "the most verifiable statistic to determine" the quality of a health care system. Indeed, it is one of the worst. As I explained in a recent policy analysis, numerous studies have shown that life expectancy is determined by factors such as GDP per capita, literacy rate and sanitation. Measures like health care expenditures or physicians per capita have no effect. (For an explanation of why the U.S. has lower life expectancy than other industrialized nations, see the policy analysis.)

As for the other statistic mentioned, infant mortality, it is also largely useless. It is measured far to inconsistently across nations to be of any value. Switzerland, for instance, doesn't count any infant born under 30 centimeters, thereby eliminating some of the most at risk infants from its infant mortality numbers. Belgium and France, for instance, exclude any infant born prior to 26 weeks. Ultimately, life expectancy and infant mortality tell us next to nothing about the quality of a health care system.

When we look at areas where (1) the health care system can actually have an impact, and (2) the data is collected consistently, we find that the U.S. exceeds other nations.

Fleetwood clearly loves single-payer systems, and touts Canada as one nation that has longer-life expectancy than the U.S. Yet, a recent article in the journal Circulation found that the mortality post-heart attack was higher in Canada than the U.S. The researchers attributed this to the fact that we do more angioplasties and bypass surgeries than Canada. (Word to the wise: we also do more angioplasties and bypass surgeries than any other nation on Earth, so if you have heart problems, the U.S. is where you want to be.)

We can also look at another single-payer system, that of Great Britain, where most of the hospitals are government-run. How do we compare? It's not even close. A 2003 study in the British Journal of Surgery found that the mortality rate after most major surgeries in British hospitals was four times higher than in American hospitals.

Unfortunately, using statistics that tell us next to nothing about a health care system is not the only problem in Fleetwood's blog posts. I'll address other problems in a second blog post.
Go here to read David's second post in this series.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:03 AM

Embracing Momminess

Kim Priestap has a new blog.

Single childless males may not find it their cup of tea, but I liked it.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:02 AM

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gorbachev's Chutzpah

Wow, that's chutzpah:
It is one thing when a lightweight dilettante in the matter, like former Mexican weak-man Vicente Fox, pretends that a wall intended to slow the flood of illegal immigrants into a country is similar to a wall intended to prevent exit of legal citizens from a country. It is quite another thing when the man who actually ordered the Berlin wall torn down makes a similar comment: Mikhail Gorbachev compares proposed U.S. border wall to Berlin Wall...

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:11 PM

U.S. Health System Beats Others

David Hogberg has a letter in the Detroit News taking issue with an earlier Detroit News article by Ron French that appeared to be, in my opinion at least, a bit unfair to the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals within the U.S. health care system.

For instance, the article said:
If you're born in the United States, chances are that you'll die younger than people born in other industrialized nations. The United States has the lowest life expectancy of 14 nations measured by the World Health Organization. U.S. life expectancy in 2001 was 77.1; Canada, 79.7; Italy, 79.8; Japan, 81.5

The infant mortality rate is higher in the United States than in other industrialized nations. In 2003, seven infants died for every 1,000 live births in the United States -- the worst rate of 19 countries measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Here's what David wrote in response, as published:
U.S. Health System Beats Other Nations' Care

The Sept. 26 article "In U.S., it's pay more, get less" suggests Americans pay more for their health care than other nations but are no healthier. The article points to the fact that the U.S. has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than other nations, but those two measures tell us little about the quality of a health care system.

Research shows that life expectancy is determined by factors such as gross domestic product per capita, genetics, literacy, diet and sanitation. Health care spending and doctors per capita have no effect.

Infant mortality is measured too inconsistently across nations to be a meaningful measure. For instance, Switzerland does not count any infant measuring under 30 centimeters, while France does not count any infant born before 26 weeks, when compiling its infant mortality rates. The United States does.

Statistics that do accurately measure health care outcomes show that the U.S. has the best health care system in the world.

The Commonwealth Fund compared a few nations, including the U.S., using the ratio of incidence to fatality of diseases such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. The United States came out on top.

A recent study in the journal Circulation found that the five-year mortality rate among patients who had severe heart attacks was higher in Canada than the U.S. because the U.S. does more angioplasty and bypass surgery than Canada.

If we in the United States wish to maintain our superior health care system, then the statistics suggest that the last thing we should do is adopt a system of government-run health insurance.

David Hogberg
Senior Policy Analyst
National Center for Public Policy Research
Washington, D.C.

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 4:26 PM

Monday, October 16, 2006

Critics Fear National Heritage Area Would Threaten Property Rights

The AP has a nice story on the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground" proposed National Heritage Area today:
Objections are coming from several sources over a proposal for a 175-mile National Heritage Area extending from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Monticello...

Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf supports the historic corridor...

But Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and the National Center for Public Policy believe the designation could be an infringement on property rights...

John Fieseler heads up the Tourism Council of Frederick County, Maryland and is a board member for the project. He says it would change local control over zoning and land use.
That last paragraph is interesting. It appears to be saying that a board member of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground project agrees with our contention that adoption of a new federal Heritage Area would interfere with local control over local zoning and land use, but that this would be a good thing.

The National Center's Peyton Knight also did an interview today with the Washington D.C. all-news powerhouse radio station WTOP on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area proposal, and was pleased by the resulting story.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 5:15 PM

Sourcing Bob Woodward, Since He Won't

Redstate compares the way Bob Woodward reported an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with the transcript of said interview as released by the Department of Defense, and concludes: "Mr. Woodward is a serial modifier who selectively isolates statements, alters verb tense and even changes inconvenient words and omits relevant chunks of his material when it suits him."

It's not all subjective analysis. For example, Woodward writes, "I could think of nothing more to say," as if his interview with Rumsfeld had ended at that point, and in a manner that had left Woodward nonplussed. However, the DoD transcript showed about 1,000 more words in the conversation at that point.

But don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

The Redstate post is long, but well worth the time.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:23 AM

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Secretly Testing Politicians for Drug Use

Any bets on how long it is before ABC's Brian Ross tries this?

If not Ross, then some other journalist. And we can expect PACs and political parties to do it to their opponents.

Now that the genie's out of the bottle, it is just a matter of time.

Hat tip: Hit and Run.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:21 PM

Talk Is Cheap

Tell me again why Europe is to be commended for ratifying the Kyoto global warming treaty.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:49 PM

Details, Details

PostWatch says the Washington Post left out at least two important details in its Saturday story about a British coroner's charge that the U.S. military committed a war crime in Iraq.

Details that may be exculpatory.

Addendum: Based on this account at NRO's Media Blog, the Associated Press was more fair.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 9:43 PM

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stop Bleeding in Seconds?

Interesting science discovery: A substance that "looks exactly like water but when applied directly onto injured tissue it halts bleeding."

Significant potential benefits for medicine, obviously.

Hat tip: Greenie Watch.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:17 PM

Media Blog on NRO Nails Post on Rumsfeld

This picture tells a tale.

The parody underneath is pretty funny, too.

Hat tip: Redstate.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 9:49 PM

Mass Delusion

From Redstate:
On October 22, 1844, more than 50,000 of the approximately 18 million Americans gathered in homes and chapels across what was then America. Many had sold or given away all of their possessions because they were convinced they would have no need for them on October 23 because October 22 was the date affixed by their leadership for the end of the world.

We can laugh at this tomfoolery now but we are by no means immune to its call...
Warning: If the advice of some folks is taken, be aware: Those who click on the Redstate link above could be exposing themselves to the risk of a future government investigation of their views.

Hat tip:

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 6:28 PM

Friday, October 13, 2006

Eating the Planet?

Some people have too much time on their hands.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 11:16 PM


Next time you see the phrase "peer-reviewed journal," consider the fact that the guy in this video is the top editor of one of the most respected ones.


Hat tip: Asymmetrical Information.

Addendum, 10/15/06: Tim Blair has strong thoughts on the Lancet and peer review: "...the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. (Tell us what you really think, Tim!

Also, J.F. Beck ("The Lancet: medical journal or activist rag?") has a created a list of dubious Lancet achievements during Richard Horton's tenure. Amusingly, he (she?) notes that Horton has attacked Britain's Royal Society for not being political enough.

To which, the Royal Society replied, in part, that Horton's attack was: "a wholly inaccurate and astonishingly ill-informed picture of the Royal Society that will be unrecognizable to anybody who is familiar with the Society's activities."

I'll say. In fact, there are those who would say the Royal Society -- in the news lately for trying to tell a U.S. corporation which U.S. think-tanks it should support -- is entirely too political. But not political enough for Lancet Editor Richard Horton, I guess.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:48 PM

Peter Beinart Says Spending Hasn't Exploded; David Hogberg Differs

David Hogberg sent this over:
I noticed this in an article in The New Republic by Peter Beinart about discretionary spending under President Bush:
To listen to Bush's critics, you would think that discretionary, nonsecurity-related spending has exploded on his watch. But it hasn't. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, when you take account of inflation and population growth, it grew a mere 2 percent between 2001 and 2006. And, as a percentage of GDP, it actually fell. What has exploded -- rising 32 percent after inflation and population growth -- is spending on defense, homeland security, and international affairs. And the people most responsible for those increases are conservatives themselves, who demanded an expansive war on terrorism.
You mean all of those conservatives complaining about domestic discretionary spending are wrong? That didn't seem to pass the smell test, so I tracked down the Center for Budget and Policy Priority (CBPP) study that I think Beinart was referring to, and it turned out that CBPP is using the wrong numbers. If you scroll down toward the bottom of that study to the "Appendix Table," you'll notice that the CBPP uses "budget authority" numbers. This is key, because budget authority is what Congress authorizes, by law, to spend each year (in fact, Congress usually spends less than it authorizes). What Congress actually spends each year is called "budget outlay." Thus, CBPP didn't measure what Congress actually spent, but what it was allowed to spend.

Using some numbers from the Heritage Foundation and the Congressional Budget Office (pdf), I was able to calculate the increase in what Congress actually spent from 2001-2005 (final numbers on outlays for 2006 are not yet available). When controlling for both inflation and population, the increase was about 13%, not 2%. Nor did it decline as a percentage of GDP. Indeed, it rose from 3.1% in 2001 to 3.6% in 2005.

I emailed Beinart to this effect, asking whether we should use actual spending instead of authorized spending when talking about spending increases. I'll let you know if and when I get a response.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 6:40 PM

Censoring Climate Change, the Stormtrooper Way

The staffer at Grist magazine has retracted his statement that those of us unconvinced of the wisdom of the full range of policy prescriptions argued for by Al Gore et al on climate should be subjected to Nuremberg-style trials.

I was thinking "good for him," but then I saw what he posted today. Some excerpts:
Now that the wingnuts have moved on to their latest outrage of the day, let's take a closer look at the notorious Nuremberg analogy. On reflection, I've come to think that it's inappropriate -- and not because it gave Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh (and Brit Hume!) one of their patented umbrage woodies. Three reasons:

First off, never violate Godwin's Law. It's a law for a reason.

Two, the Nuremberg trials resulted in executions. I'm opposed to state-sanctioned execution in all cases, but would certainly never advocate it merely for the crime of being a lying scumbag.

Third -- and more to the point -- Nuremberg was primarily about prosecution and punishment. I'm not a particularly vindictive person, and I'm not that interested in retribution. What I'm interested in is the truth: that the truth be aired; that those who have lied own up to it and be held accountable; that those who suffered as a result of the lies be allowed to tell their stories.

For these reasons, a far better analogy for what I had in mind would have been South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission...
So a state-sponsored investigation of political dissent is still advocated.

Ironically, the fellow believes a state-sanctioned crackdown on independent thought would serve the cause of promoting "independent, verifiable information."

Hello, fellow. Clue in. You don't get independent thought by using the government to smash it. On any issue.

The fellow -- David Roberts is his name -- then says:
What I want is some sort of public forum where the liars can be exposed for what they are...
That's what public discussions do, dear fellow. "Lies" only get identified when people are free to speak and share information.

Mr. Roberts then says:
No one is more of a First Amendment absolutist than me. Bring on the open, good-faith debate.
I'm presuming he does not realize he's contradicting himself.

However, we "wingnuts" will continue to say what we truly believe, threats of stormtroopers -- inspirted by Germans or Soth Africans, it hardly matters -- notwithstanding.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:19 PM

True Blue Mutual Fund IDs "Progressive" Companies

Can a mutual fund have a political persuasion? Apparently so.

Senior Fellow Tom Borelli (who also happens to be affiliated with a pro-freedom mutual fund, the Free Enterprise Action Fund) has shared with me a new development in the mutal fund industry: A self-described "no Republican" mutual fund.

The Blue Fund claims it invests in companies that pass its "give blue" and "act blue" tests. I'm guessing that means companies it perceives as liberal.

So, if you are a liberal looking to invest only in liberal companies, this might be the fund for you.

Alternatively, if you are a conservative looking for companies not to patronize, the Blue Fund website might have some lists of interest to you.

P.S. Anyone surprised to CBS on the true blue company list?

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:44 AM

"A Poster Child for the Special Treatment of Illegal Aliens"

Mychal Massie has strong thoughts about the deportation case of Elvira Arellano.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:23 AM

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nuremberg Trials for Global Warming "Skeptics"?

Good grief.

I suppose I should not be surprised. Some folks just can't stand diversity of opinion.

(This reminds me of Britain limiting health care coverage to one of its senior citizens because part of its National Health Service didn't appreciate the man's pro-life activism.)

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:25 AM

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Earmarks to Help Fight for Earmarks?

Is our Congress adopting earmarks to help them get approval for more earmarks?
Did Frank Wolf Earmark Funds to Aid His Own Legislative Initiative?

Group Questions $1 Million Earmark to Journey Through Hallowed Ground Foundation

Washington, D.C. -
The National Center for Public Policy Research is calling on U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) to fully disclose his role in securing a $1 million earmark to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Foundation included in last year's massive transportation bill.

Earmarks are congressional instructions to federal agencies to spend a portion of their budget on specifically-named projects. These earmarks typically are anonymous. In 2005, the transportation bill included 6,373 earmarks totaling $24.2 billion. Among these was the infamous "bridge to nowhere," which famously allocated $233 million to connect an Alaskan town of under 9,000 people to an island of only 50 inhabitants.

"Frank Wolf is the chief House sponsor of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act," said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "If he was instrumental in securing federal funds for the principal organization pushing for his initiative, he has a conflict of interest and is, a minimum, ethically-challenged."

Representative Wolf is a likely sponsor of the earmark. The National Heritage Area that would be established by his bill encompasses his district and he is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, where earmarks typically are attached.

Representative Wolf's bill would also allow for up to $1 million in federal funds for the Heritage Area each fiscal year.

"This means one pork-barrel earmark is being used to press for another pork-barrel earmark," said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs at the National Center.

In an April 10, 2006 press release, Representative Wolf's office noted: "Support for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership Initiative has grown exponentially in the first quarter. Numerous resolutions of support have been passed by town councils and boards of supervisors..."

Little wonder support grew exponentially. According to The National Center's investigation, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Foundation (JTHG Foundation), which has been lobbying town councils and boards of supervisors to secure these resolutions, barely existed in 2005. According to the JTHG Foundation's press materials, the Foundation hadn't yet finalized its "letters of incorporation/501c3 non-profit organization status" as of November 16, 2005. And, for at least part of the year, the Foundation's mailing address was the personal post office box of the group's executive director, Cate Magennis Wyatt.

Congress approved the transportation bill in July 2005 - months earlier.

"Frank Wolf and the JTHG Foundation would have us believe that local community activists are clamoring for this Heritage Area designation. They would have us believe this is home-grown," said Ridenour. "It's only home-grown if you believe Capitol Hill is populated by local community activists."

Representative Wolf recently opposed a measure that would have required Members of Congress to list their names next to earmarks. He also reportedly has rejected requests to publicly disclose the earmarks he arranged over his years of service.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation established in 1982 and based in Washington, D.C. It has never requested nor received a federal or state grant or earmark.


Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:27 AM

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brendan O'Neill: Global Warming's Chilling Effect

The global warming debate is having a chilling effect... on free speech.

So says Brendan O'Neill, writing in Spiked and his own blog, Brendan O'Neill.

O'Neill begins by noting that "one Australian columnist has proposed outlawing 'climate change denial'," and goes on to discuss what he calls a "tidal wave of intolerance in the debate about climate change which is eroding free speech and melting rational debate."

An excellent essay. Unfortunately, the people who most need to read it, won't.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:32 AM

Friday, October 06, 2006

How the Republican Party is like the Catholic Church, Except It Isn't, Except It Is

Vis-a-vis the Foley scandal, in an essay "How the Republican Party is like the Catholic Church" for the New Republic, Andrew Sullivan asks: "What is the closet, after all, if it isn't the steadily crumbling facade of internal psychic damage?"

I ask: Does anyone actually edit the New Republic?

A facade is the outward, public face of something, so it can't be "internal." If it were, however, the fact that the damage was "crumbling" would be a good thing. Damage = bad, right?

The sentence comes from a passage designed to partially absolve Mark Foley for his behavior by blaming, in part, those who disapprove of homosexual activity:
Is it possible to feel sympathy for [Mark Foley]? I guess I felt a twinge of it, as I feel when any gay man is subjected to public scorn and anger. And I do not want to doubt that he may have been molested himself as a teen; or that he might have an addiction problem; or that he has a psyche damaged by decades of internalized homophobia. What is the closet, after all, if it isn't the steadily crumbling facade of internal psychic damage?
The over-written phrase "steadily crumbling facade of internal psychic damage" serves to disguise the fuzzy thinking. Why, after all, should disapproval damage the psyche of a person who believes the disapproval is meritless? Make them mad or contemptuous; possibly. Crumble their facades, no.


But why think it over anyway, as Sullivan in his next paragraph tells us none of what he wrote in that one matters:
But, in the end, none of this matters. Foley is entitled to his weaknesses and his pathologies. He is not entitled to drag young people in his care into them.
Okay so far, except then Sullivan says it matters again:
The worst thing one can do to [teenage homosexual men] at such an impressionable age, I think, is to initiate them into the cycle of shame and denial that comes with the closet.
And it is back to blaming those who disapprove of homosexual activity again:
And it points to the obvious conclusion to this tawdry, depressing spectacle. There is something deeply sick about a Republican elite that is comfortable around gay people, dependent on gay people, staffed by gay people -- and yet also rests on brutal exploitation of homophobia to win elections at the base. These public homophobes, just like the ones in the Vatican, may even tolerate gay misbehavior more readily than adjusted gay people do. If you treat gay sex in any form as a shameful secret to keep concealed, the line between adult, consensual contact and the sexual exploitation of the young may not seem so stark. That's how someone like Speaker Dennis Hastert could have chosen not to know...
Got it everybody? External facades are internal, and damaging, but when the damage crumbles, that's bad. And what Mark Foley did is the fault of people who think sex is for marriage, except it isn't, except it is.

Everybody straight on that?

I thought not.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:23 AM

Have to Agree...

...with former President Bush. Bob Woodward should put citations in in his books.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:30 AM

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Washington Post Publishes Smear Obituary for Conservative Member of Congress

The Washington Post, an altogether shameless publication on many levels, is running this inexcusable excuse for an obituary by Patricia Sullivan for the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, a great defender of freedom who died in a car accident Monday.

The obituary, which maintains the Post's tradition of including factual errors, is, in a word, b*tchy. (Go read it, if you question my use of that particular word.)

Helen Chenoweth-Hage was a very gracious and kind lady who believed strongly in liberty and fought for it in Congress and out. Although the undeservedly smug mainstream press unfairly parodied her beliefs during her six years on Capitol Hill (95-00 -- unfortunately, before the advent of blogs that could help balance the reporting), she was undeterred.

If anyone doubts the shamefulness of this Washington Post "obituary," compare it to this one, by the same Patricia Sullivan, in the same newspaper, written about a spy for the Viet Cong who also -- surprise surprise -- was a full-time journalist for the mainstream American press. The dead spy was, according to the Post obituary, a "successful spy and a good journalist," "the best Vietnamese reporter in the press corps," an "extremely sophisticated understander of not only Vietnamese culture but its politics," "such a professional journalist and professional spy," and "so smart."

In case you are wondering, the mainstream journalist spy "never expressed regret about his role," the Post tells us, though the Post does not appear to be critical of this.

It is shameful that the Washington Post bends over backwards to be kind to a spy who probably got young Americans killed yet refuses to be evenhanded -- and that's all I ask -- when publishing the obituary of a patriot who was loved by many.

Tramping on those who fought for liberty, and admiring those who opposed it.

Just another day at the office for the Washington Post.

Addendum, 10/31/06: Tom Graham of Newsbusters suggests we compare the Washington Post's obituary of Helen Chenoweth-Hage to the one the Post published for retired liberal Congressman Gerry Studds. In Congress for 24 years, Studds is most famous for turning his back on the House of Representatives as that body voted to censure him for having had sexual relations with an underage page. His obituary was far kinder than Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage's.

Speaking of Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage's obituary, in early October I received an e-mail from the Washington Post author of the Chenoweth-Hage obituary. She asked me not to publish it, so I won't, but see no reason why I shouldn't post my reply:
Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I appreciate your note and the opportunity to learn your perspective. I read the obituary for Mr. Apple and re-read Helen Chenoweth-Hage's after receiving your note. I understand that the Post's policy is to treat obituaries as news stories, and have no problem with that.

Unfortunately, I still see the Chenoweth-Hage obituary as I described it in my blog post. The obituary for Mr. Apple describes a rounded man (no pun intended) with, as you say, foibles and accomplishments. If I were to believe the obituary, very few foibles. He was brusque and had a tendency to be a blowhard, we are told; he ate more than was good for his waistline. To some readers the criticism by Johnson and Westmoreland would be a negative, but to just as many, it would be a compliment (and no doubt a source of pride to him). Much of the obit describes him through the fond words of people who, it appears, are sorry he's gone. The overall picture is a positive one.

Then there is the obituary for Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage.

If I had chosen perhaps for the exercise to write a parody obituary of how liberals see conservatives, I doubt I could have done better than you. We can set aside whether you call yourself a liberal; if not, you certainly have mastered the art of imitation. You did not just present Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage's views, you parodied them, and rebutted the parody. Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage's obituary less an obituary than a series of mini-editorials.

Nothing favorable was said about Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage, the person. No quotes or anecdotes were included from anyone who remembers her fondly. Mr. Apple got several, and was quoted himself several times in ways that made him seem interesting. Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage was quoted only in ways that made her seem like -- what was the term? -- an "arch" conservative . Like Mr. Apple, she was much more than the sum of her professional interests. You show that with him but not with her.

To read Mr. Apple's obituary, he had no controversial political views, and an awesome professional skill. No mention of running joke about the predictive value of his news-cum-editorials ('if Johnny Apple predicts defeat, victory must be imminent') or much else that is critical (and not from a lack of material); yet for Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage there is room to discuss, for example, her abortion views as if what she regarded as concern for pre-born life was actually nothing more than antipathy for poor rape victims. She loved babies, you know.

For Mr. Apple, you and Mr. Bernstein drew a portrait of a full human being. You nodded at his weaknesses but did not let them define the man. Coming from the Post, it was a generous portrait of a man who could have been drawn with a coarser brush. I agree with your apparent conclusion that his obituary was not the place for it.

I am sorry, however, that the Post did not see fit to extend even a portion of the generosity it extended to a key figure at rival paper to a Congressman from the rival party.

Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage was an exceptionally nice lady. There is no politics in that.

Too bad there wasn't room to print it, either.

Thank you for sharing your views with me.

Amy Ridenour
I did not hear from Ms. Sullivan again.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 3:34 AM

Commonwealth Fund Scorecard Unfair to USA

David Hogberg says the Commonwealth Fund isn't fair to the United States:
New Commonwealth Fund National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance Judges American Health System Unfairly

A new "National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance" released by the influential Commonwealth Fund uses misleading statistics to falsely make the U.S. health care system look as if it is performing more poorly than it genuinely is, charged Dr. David Hogberg, senior policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington.

The Commonwealth Fund is a nonprofit research foundation established in 1918 focusing on government-oriented solutions to health care problems. It advocates in favor of universal coverage and greater spending on Medicaid while being highly critical of market-oriented solutions like health savings accounts. The Commonwealth Fund is a formidable presence in the health care debate, testifying often before Congress. It has 25 senior staff members and over $28 million in revenue in fiscal year 2005.

"The Commonwealth Fund's Scorecard claims the U.S. health care system performs poorly compared to other nations," said Hogberg, "but it is the Scorecard itself that is performing poorly. The measures it uses to condemn the American system -- infant mortality, life expectancy at age 60, and mortality amenable to health care --tell us little about the effectiveness of a health care system."

The Commonwealth Fund's report is formally titled, "Why Not the Best? Results from a National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance."

"Infant mortality is measured too inconsistently across nations to be a reliable indicator," said Hogberg. "Nations use different definitions of 'infant mortality.' Some nations' infant mortality statistics do not register many infants who die during the first twenty-four hours after birth. Switzerland, for example, doesn't count as 'living' any infant born under 30 cm long, while the U.S. does. Italy has at least three different definitions for infant deaths in different regions of the nation. Many, but not all, nations tabulate births that occur while their citizens are living or traveling abroad as if their own health systems were tending to care, which they clearly are not. Overall, infant mortality is measured far too inconsistently to make cross-national comparisons useful."

Life expectancy is also a poor measure to use when comparing the health systems of various nations, said Hogberg. "Any measure of life expectancy is going to be influenced by factors -- GDP per capita, diet, lifestyle, income level, clean water, sanitation, etc. -- that have nothing to do with a health care system."

The measure of "mortality amenable to health care" comes from a 2003 article in the British Medical Journal. However, the authors of that study were far more sanguine than the Commonwealth Fund about the limits of that measure: "...amenable mortality has itself some limitations... A major limitation is that, for many conditions, death is the final event in a complex chain of processes that involve issues related to underlying social and economic factors, lifestyles, and preventive and curative health care... it is equally clear that large international differences in mortality are caused primarily by factors outside the health care sector."

"When one looks at factors that a health care system can actually influence, like cancer or heart attack survival rates, the U.S. consistently tops other nations," Hogberg said.

Hogberg noted that the Commonwealth Fund, along with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has a project on formulating quality cross-national measures of health care systems. "The measures that the Commonwealth Fund uses in its new National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance are not the ones they are using in their project on cross-national measures. Why didn't the Commonwealth Fund use some of the measures in its quality indicators project to compare the U.S. health care system with other nations?"
For more details on why life expectancy and infant mortality are poor measure for comparing health systems, read David's paper. "Don't Fall Prey to Propaganda: Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality are Unreliable Measures for Comparing the U.S. Health Care System to Others," here.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:40 AM

Sunday, October 01, 2006

American Spectator Previews

A couple of things caught my eye over at the American Spectator Online:
1) Dave Holman has posted the video of Rep. Jack Murtha's 1980 meeting with an undercover FBI agent -- part of what would become the Abscam scandal, after which one U.S. Senator and six Members of the House went to prison. Murtha was not indicted.

Folks can draw their own conclusions. I'm not going to say anything more about the tape other than that after I started watching the tape, I didn't turn it off.

2) Our own David Hogberg takes a look at consumer-driven health care, and finds reasons for optimism.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 12:57 AM

Copyright The National Center for Public Policy Research