Archives: 08/2006

Thank You for Never Having Smoked

Cartoon editors are painstakingly working through more than 1,500 episodes of classic Tom and Jerry, Flintstones, and Scooby Doo cartoons to erase scenes of characters - gasp - smoking. Turner Broadcasting says it’s a voluntary decision, but the move comes after a report from Ofcom, which has regulatory authority over British broadcasters. So in this case “censorship” seems a reasonable term.

It’s not the first time. France’s national library airbrushed a cigarette out of a poster of Jean-Paul Sartre to avoid falling foul of an anti-tobacco law. The US postal service has removed the cigarettes from photographs on stamps featuring Jackson Pollock, Edward R. Murrow, and Robert Johnson. And in the 20th-anniversary rerelease of ET, Steven Spielberg replaced the policemen’s guns with walkie-talkies.

On one level, this is just a joke: they are redrawing cartoons to make them more kid-friendly. And just to make the rules completely PC, Turner is allowed to leave cigarettes in the hands of cartoon villains.

But there’s something deeper here: an attempt to sanitize history, to rewrite it the way we wish it had happened. Smoking is a part of reality, and especially a part of history. Just look at any old movie. Everyone smokes: doctors, pregnant women, lovers. Real people smoked, too - people like Murrow and Pollock and Sartre. And some of them died of lung and throat cancer, which parents and teachers can point out. It’s Orwellian to airbrush historical photos in order to remove evidence of that of which you disapprove.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spent decades trying to conceal the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair. Historians say that out of more than 10,000 photographs of FDR, only four show him using a wheelchair. Those are the ones that are now used in textbooks and at the FDR Memorial in Washington. One victory for historical accuracy. However, the FDR Memorial removed the ever-present cigarette from FDR’s hands. Orwell’s ministry of truth would be proud.

(Excerpted from Comment is free.)

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Canadian Doctors Ready For Private Insurance?

Canada.com reports:

Canadian doctors have given their blessing to patients having the option of purchasing private health insurance as a possible solution to the problem of not getting timely medically necessary treatment in the public system.

Delegates to the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association weighed in on the divisive subject Wednesday, defeating key resolutions aimed at getting voting physicians to register intolerance for any new parallel system of private health care.The meeting was marked by what appeared to be a determined willingness by the majority of the 250 delegates to keep private-care options firmly on the table.

A day earlier, they overwhelming approved a resolution asking governments to remove existing bans that prevent physicians from practising in both the private and public sectors. At the time, they rejected an amendment that said such a move would be allowed only if there was no negative impact on the publicly funded system.

Thanks to The Crisper for the pointer.The Canadian physicians were meeting in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, which is a wonderful place to vacation. A few years ago, we stayed there at a B&B, and the owner relayed a story of his need for a cardiologist to monitor his heart condition. When he moved from Ottawa to PEI, since he was new to the province, he was told that he was number 609 in the queue to be seen by a cardiologist, which the provincial health authorities estimated meant a wait of about two years.

If you want to hear better ideas about how to reform health care, come to the Crisis of Abundance forum at Cato on Tuesday. Tickets are going fast, so register soon.

Higher Education Policy: Dysfunction in Microcosm

In “Budgeting in Neverland,” James L. Payne explains that one of the major reasons federal policy is so irrational – and expensive – is that policymakers typically hear only from people who stand to gain from expanding federal expenditures and programs, while those who bear the costs – taxpayers – are almost never heard from.

Federal higher education policy illustrates this perfectly. Case in point: a Department of Education notice issued just last Friday to establish “negotiated rulemaking,” part of the process for revising federal regulations. Take a look at the groups the feds will permit to have representatives on various rulemaking committees, and you’ll see Payne’s problem in action:

The Department has identified the constituencies listed below as having interests that are significantly affected by the subject matter of the negotiated rulemaking process. The Department anticipates that individuals representing each of these constituencies will participate as members of one or more of the negotiated rulemaking committees. These constituencies are:

Students; Legal assistance organizations that represent students; Financial aid administrators at institutions of higher education; Business officers and bursars at institutions of higher education; Institutional servicers (including collection agencies); Trustees; State higher education executive officers; Business and industry;

Institutions of higher education eligible to receive Federal assistance under Title III, Parts A and B and Title V of the HEA, which includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, and other institutions with a substantial enrollment of needy students as defined in Title III of the HEA; Two-year public institutions of higher education; Four-year public institutions of higher education; Private, non-profit institutions of higher education; Private, for profit institutions of higher education; Guaranty agencies and guaranty agency servicers (including collection agencies); Lenders, secondary markets, and loan servicers; and Accrediting Agencies.

In addition to these groups, the Department would like the following groups to be represented on the negotiating committee for the ACG and National SMART Grant program:

K-12 public schools, including charter schools; Governors; Private schools and home schooled students; Registrars; Admissions officers; Parent organizations; and Organizations related to National SMART Grant majors.

The feds recognize numerous groups as having “interests that are significantly affected by the subject matter of the negotiated rulemaking process,” but the people who actually pay the federal bills are nowhere among them. It’s just another example of your – I mean, their – government at work.

A Poll-ish Joke About School Vouchers

In its 38th annual poll of the public’s attitudes toward education released yesterday, Phi Delta Kappan magazine makes the following statements:

  • “Since 1991, the PDK/Gallup polls have approached [the school choice] issue with a question that measures approval of the voucher concept – ‘allowing parents and students to choose a private school to attend at public expense.’”
  • “Support for vouchers started at 24% in 1993…”
  • “Support for vouchers is declining and stands in the mid-30% range.”

This representation of their own survey results on the subject is incomplete, disingenuous, misleading, and, in one instance, factually incorrect.

PDK actually started asking the American public about vouchers back in 1970, with a rather more informative question:

In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child for his or her education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial, or private school they choose. This is called the “voucher system.” Would you like to see such an idea adopted in this country?

Response to this question was initially somewhat unfavorable, but those answering favorably began outnumbering those opposed in 1981, and that pattern was never reversed. The last time PDK ever asked this question, in 1991, 50 percent of respondents were in favor while only 39 percent were opposed.

I guess PDK’s editors just didn’t happen to have those back issues of their magazine handy when writing up this year’s report – which is somewhat odd given that they are now all available on-line

That’s the misleading and disingenuous part. The factually incorrect part is that they confuse the starting year of their own newly revised question (see the bullet points above), suggesting that it was introduced in both 1991 and 1993. In reality, it was first administered in 1993. As noted above, they were still asking their original voucher question – the one whose existence they now fail to acknowledge – through 1991.

I like to think – in the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart” – that their guilty conscience over sweeping their earlier voucher question and its positive results under the rug caused them to slip up on their chronology for the new question.

Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, if you change just a handful of words in PDK’s current voucher question, the results are almost exactly reversed. The public’s response goes from being 60 percent opposed (PDK/Gallup 2006) to 60 percent in favor (Harris, 2005). A hearty thanks to the Friedman Foundation for pointing that out.

As a final historical note on the original voucher question wording, it was asked one last time, to my knowledge, in 1992, though not for Phi Delta Kappan. The response in that year was that 70 percent of Americans favored school vouchers when informed that they already exist in other countries.

How surprised should we be that an advocacy organization for the public school monopoly is reluctant to tell Americans about the competition and parental choice that exist in other nations?

Revolt Against Canadian Health Care System Continues

The new president of Canada’s National Medical Association is an outspoken advocate of greater privatization of Canada’s national health care system. Dr. Brian Day, who was elected at the organizations annual meeting on Tuesday, operates a private-pay medical clinic in technical violation of Canada’s single-payer health care laws. Last year, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down Quebec’s prohibition on private payment for health care, and implying that other similar restrictions in other provinces were similarly unconstitutional. However, the prohibition remains on the books in Vancouver where Dr. Day runs his clinic. Dr. Day points to the long waiting lists and patient suffering under Canada’s system and says, “A state-run monopoly is not the best way to run anything, let alone a health care system.”

Canadian journalists and observers say that Day’s election is the latest manifestation of a Canadian unhappiness with their government-controlled system. Maybe they know something that advocates of a single-payer system in this country don’t?

New at Cato Unbound: Stephen Trejo on the Intergenerational Assimilation of Mexican Americans

How well are Mexican immigrants and their offspring assimilating?

In his contribution to this month’s discussion at Cato Unbound, University of Texas economist Stephen J. Trejo lays out the latest findings. According to Trejo:

Mexican Americans are not too far off the path of intergenerational assimilation traveled by previous waves of European immigrants. During their first few generations in the United States, Mexican-American families experience substantial economic and social mobility, and their actual progress is probably even greater than what we see in available data.

However, a slow rate of educational attainment remains a “critical problem” that may delay the full integration of Mexican Americans. But, Trejo says, the evidence suggests that Mexican Americans will eventually assimilate as fully as the once-disdained Italian Americans.

Watching the “Lack of Competition” Meme

Ars Technica — a wonderful publication with brief, informative, and interesting pieces on technology — is showing a little sloppliness in covering the broadband competition issue. The question whether there is sufficient competition in the provision of broadband Internet service underlies the debate about “net neutrality” — whether there should be public utility regulation of broadband.

Discussing FTC chair Deborah Majoras’ speech at the PFF Aspen Summit, an Ars reporter casually observes, “[M]arket forces really do not exist when it comes to broadband.” That’s at least overstatement. A little more caution would be good given the centrality of the issue.

To show the existence of a duopoly (which is not inherently a competition-free situation), the report links to an earlier Ars piece interpreting a study as showing “not much” competition between DSL and cable. But that conclusion goes only to price competition. And it’s a little overstated, too.

The actual study, from a group called Kagan Research, seems to show that DSL is the low-cost option (and getting lower), while cable is the high-bandwidth option (getting higher in bandwidth while dropping in cost more slowly). That diminishes head-to-head price(-only) competition because each is focused on a different niche. But they’re still in competition.

The Kagan Research analyst concludes: “Eventually, cable will probably have make [sic] some reductions to cater to the lower end of the consumer market simply to get more customers.” So the study author believes more direct price competition is coming.

That’s some distance from “market forces really do not exist when it comes to broadband.” There is some price and quality competition among the major broadband platforms. Substitutes (such as getting broadband at work and getting information and entertainment offline) play a role in the competition question. And several competitors wait in the wings, to become viable through improvements in technology, new investment, or bad behavior by the current platforms.

I hasten to add that I am not satisfied with the current level of competition. I would like it to be more intense along all fronts and in all regions.