Archives: 06/2007

The House Votes on Cloning: Good News! Bad News!

Last Wednesday the House held a surprise vote on Rep. DeGette’s (D-Colorado) Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007. The bill that would prohibit reproductive, but not therapeutic cloning was defeated by only nine votes. That same morning, the White House issued a “Statement of Administrative Policy” declaring “The President unequivocally opposes all forms of human cloning” and that the President would veto any bill that allows even therapeutic cloning. The good news is that the House bill did not pass. The bad news is that Congress, the President, and a dozen or so states would like to ban at least some forms of cloning.

The Act would have prohibited human cloning which it defines as “the implantation of the product of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.” It would have prohibited both actual human cloning and any “attempt to perform” human cloning. The bill did not define “equivalent of a uterus” or what would constitute and “attempt” to perform human cloning. Vagueness is a problem in all efforts to ban cloning because of the possible chilling effects such prohibitions can have on scientific advancements. Ten years in prison or a ten million dollar fine would be a harsh penalty to pay for a misunderstanding of scientific motives.

Science is no longer something done in the basement of a mad scientist’s mansion. Scientific inquiry requires teams of researchers with universities or research institutions to back them. It is possible to conceive of one mad scientist or even one mad scientist who convinces another to go along, but a whole team of mad scientists? That is not only highly unlikely, but nearly impossible. The only way something that horrific could conceivably happen is if government sponsored a highly top secret project. No one in the private sector could command that amount of secrecy without the public finding out what was going on.

This isn’t the first time there have been efforts to ban new reproductive technologies for fear of mad scientist and monster babies. There were cries to ban in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the 1970s, but Congress never passed any such laws, and the research proceeded without the creation of any “monster babies,” only millions of happy infertile couples who now have children – children, who by most estimates, have fewer birth defects than children born without the assistance of reproductive technologies.

Cloning is an integral part of several potential medical advances. It is essential to embryonic stem cell therapies, potential infertility therapies, and possible genetic therapies. The best course of action for the federal government is no action at all. If we are lucky, Congress and the President will remain at loggerheads long enough for cloning to continue to play its part in the advancement of science. But, what might happen at the state level is another story.

Forty Years of Loving

Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. It’s a good time to reflect on the social progress that Brink Lindsey discusses in The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Changed America’s Politics and Culture. Indeed, the Freedom to Marry Coalition has been celebrating the anniversary with a series of newspaper ads highlighting the interracial marriages of such prominent Americans as Jeb Bush, Mitch McConnell, Clarence Thomas, Jim Webb, and Tiger Woods.

But Virginia’s attempts to impede the course of true love didn’t begin or end with its “anti-miscegenation” statute. As I noted for Reason a couple of years ago, in the early part of the 20th century the state was in the habit of sterilizing “imbeciles.” The Supreme Court, influenced by Progressivism, approved that exercise in social engineering. And in our own times, Virginia has been repeatedly banning same-sex marriage, not worrying excessively about how much collateral damage it does to wills, custody agreements, medical powers of attorney, or joint bank accounts.

I wrote about the state’s tradition of interfering with private choices:

Neither of these now-derided laws is a perfect match with the predicament facing gays in Virginia, but both flowed from an arrogant desire by the state to control private relationships. The state is schizophrenic about such things, but if the past is any indicator, things do not look good for gay Virginians. In the 1995 case of Sharon Bottoms, the Virginia high court took a two-year-old child away from his lesbian mother, because of her sexual orientation. If voters pass the amendment against gay marriage and civil unions next year, it would have real teeth. Already, many gays in Virginia are talking about moving to Washington or Maryland if what they view as an anti-gay crusade doesn’t recede. If things continue on their present course, the state might have to amend its slogan, “Virginia is for lovers,” to include the caveat, “some exceptions apply.”  

Does Globalization Undermine Redistribution?

An article in the UK-based Guardian notes that wealthier regions within nations and wealthier nations within Europe are increasingly unhappy with the amount of money being used to subsidize less productive areas. The article suggests the growing unease is a function of globalization, though it is more plausible to argue that the high tax rates associated with redistributionist policies are becoming more untenable because of globalization:

…disputes over public money and how to spread it fairly are rife across large tracts of Europe, eroding national solidarity, feeding separatism, encouraging populism, and generating friction between Europe’s wealthy centres of excellence and their less fortunate national hinterlands. The rich bits of Europe are revolting. And it is some of the most successful and attractive cities on the continent that are in the revolutionary vanguard. From the fashion and finance mecca of Milan to the hi-tech centre of Munich, from the world’s diamond capital, Antwerp, to the vibrant coastal hub of Barcelona, Europe’s most dynamic cities and regions are increasingly rebelling against “subsidising” the poorer parts of their countries, demanding to keep their home-grown wealth, and causing headaches for central governments. … In Italy, the centre-left government of Romano Prodi has just received a drubbing in local elections, particularly in the north, not least because the north perceives Rome as the agent pilfering its hard-earned cash only to hand it over to the “spongeing” south where the Mafia and Camorra soak up the subsidies. …In Belgium, Flemish nationalists complain that the public sector payrolls in Wallonia are twice the size of those in Flanders. “It’s majority socialist in the south, the last Soviet republic in Europe,” says Filip Dewinter, the Vlaams Belang leader. “They’re stealing our money with the collaboration of the government in Brussels. We’re a hard-working people, very prosperous, low unemployment, and we’re giving them €12bn (£8bn) every year to finance their social security. We can stand alone.” In Germany, the wealthy southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg balked at the Berlin government’s health service reforms last year because they had to pay more into the national kitty than poorer parts of Germany. In Britain, in the debate over Scottish devolution or independence, the wealthy south-east appears increasingly aggrieved over the Barnett formula that ordains higher per capita public spending in Scotland than in England.

Foolish Tax Haven Demagoguery

An article posted at msnbc.com reports on the looming investigation of the building in Cayman with more than 12,000 companies. But congressional investigators also may want to travel to Delaware, where there are 120,000 companies registered at one address and 200,000 companies at another address. There is nothing wrong with lots of company registrations, of course, but politicians cannot resist going for cheap headlines:

A five-storey office block in the Cayman Islands on Wednesday became the unlikely focus of US congressional concern over offshore tax havens as lawmakers ordered government inspectors to fly to the Caribbean to inspect “shady transactions” in the building. Ugland House, a nondescript structure on Grand Cayman island, is home to over 12,000 companies, according to the Senate finance committee. …Mr Baucus has now asked officials from the Government Accountability Office to travel to the Caymans to investigate Ugland House.

Topics:

The Romney Brothers Go to War … for the White House

The Washington Post reports on Five Brothers, the blog written by the sons of Mitt Romney, with heartwarming stories about just how wholesome and wonderful Dad is. Indeed, the whole family’s just so … wholesome: five brothers image

The Post notes that the blog allows visitors to post comments and questions, “though answers are not guaranteed.” Thus,

A query such as, “Being a Mormon, does Romney campaign on Sunday?” gets a reply — yes, Romney tries to make it — while something like, “Have any of the five Romney brothers, all healthy heterosexuals well under 42, considered volunteering for military service in the Global War on Terror?” is ignored.

The Sullivan Brothers they’re not.

 

Bill Gates’s Flip-Flop

In today’s New York Times, I make the case against software patents, comparing a 1991 memo by Bill Gates to today’s battle between Verizon and Vonage:

[Microsoft general counsel Brad] Smith has argued that patents are essential to technological breakthroughs in software. Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want….”

It’s not surprising that Microsoft — now an entrenched incumbent — has had a change of heart. But Mr. Gates was right in 1991: patents are bad for the software industry. Nothing illustrates that better than the conflict between Verizon and Vonage.

Vonage developed one of the first Internet telephone services and has attracted more than two million customers. But last year, Verizon — one of Vonage’s biggest competitors — sued for patent infringement and won a verdict in its favor in March.

The Times has strict word-count limits, so I didn’t have the space to discuss some of the details of my argument. Here is an in-depth analysis of Verizon’s patents. And here is a longer discussion of Microsoft’s change of heart on software patents.

How I Learned to Read the New York Times While Simultaneously Scratching My Head

From a column on tax reform by Floyd Norris in today’s Times:

“Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has traveled around to promote what he calls a Fair Flat Tax Act, which is basically an attempt to go back to what Mr. Reagan enacted. It would get rid of many deductions — but save some of the more popular ones, like retirement savings accounts and mortgage interest — and have three tax brackets, of 15, 25 and 35 percent.” [emphasis mine]