Thomas Jefferson at Cato

Today’s Wall Street Journal gives a warm review to the new book Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford:

Alan Pell Crawford treats his subject with grace and sympathetic understanding, and with keen penetration as well, showing the great man’s contradictions (and hypocrisies) for what they were…. Drawing on new archival sources, Mr. Crawford reconstructs daily life at Monticello and depicts a colorful supporting cast of eminent personages, family members and retainers.

Alan Crawford will discuss Twilight at Monticello at the Cato Institute on Tuesday, February 19. He promises to discuss Jefferson’s growing concerns about slavery and how he became a radical decentralist and admirer of the New England townships, where, he believed, the real fire of liberty burned bright. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m., so our hard-working friends can work a full day and still join us for a glass of wine and a new look at the man George Will called “the man of the millennium.”

The Corruption of Barack Obama

Barack Obama stands accused of moral shortcomings regarding money in politics: he has not invited the press to all of his fundraisers.

Obama has voluntarily disclosed his bundlers and opened some fundraisers to the media. But that is not enough. He is not inviting the media to all his fundraisers, probably to protect the privacy of his supporters. After all, Hillary may yet become president, and like most politicians, she is not known for forgiving and forgetting.

Obama might learn a lesson here. If you give the media what they want, they will only demand more. If you give them access to all your fundraisers, they will write stories about how big donors are corrupting the once-promising reformer.  On the other hand, if you don’t let them come to the fundraisers, they will write stories about how big donors are corrupting the once promising reformer.

The media have only one storyline about private money in politics: it corrupts the process. You don’t get a pass by supporting their crusade to restrict private money in elections (Obama does) or by giving in to their endless demands for access. They will write the same story.

Obama has shared that narrative until now. He has promised to move against big money when he has power. He is also famously open-minded. Perhaps his own “corruption” might occasion some rethinking about the politics of “reform.”

A Republican Worth Supporting

Many advocates of limited government are rather unhappy with the GOP’s fiscal record in recent years. Yet even after losing Congress in part because of fiscal profligacy, it seems that Republicans have not learned any lessons. The major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have conspicuously failed to identify programs they would cut and departments they would eliminate — presumably because they have no interest in reducing the burden of government. But then I found this video, which shows that it is possible to be a Republican who believes in smaller government.

Let Them Go Barefooted

Just about every American needs to buy socks every year, while a relatively tiny number of U.S. workers actually MAKE socks for a living. Yet the Bush administration may decide by this Friday whether to sock it to the many for the temporary benefit of one small and dwindling industry.

Under a provision of the Central American Free Trade Agreement approved by Congress in 2005, the Bush administration is weighing whether to impose special duties on socks imported from Honduras. According to today’s Wall Street Journal, the move would placate a particular lawmaker in Alabama with several sock factories in his district and a few other, mostly southern lawmakers whose votes may be necessary for upcoming trade deals the administration wants.

Has U.S. trade policy come to this? For the sake of a domestic sock industry that, by its own count, employs only 20,000 workers, the U.S. government would impose a temporary 13.5 percent tariff on the 8.3 percent of imported socks that come from the small neighboring democracy of Honduras—a country that entered into a free trade agreement with the United States only two years ago.

By design, the tariff would mean higher sock prices for the 300 million or so Americans who buy and wear socks. And the sock tax would fall disproportionately on lower-income families, who spend a higher share of their income on such staples as food and clothing.

The Bush administration should forget nose counting for future trade agreements if gathering votes means raising trade taxes on low-income Americans. If the administration wants to support free trade, it should resist any calls for higher tariffs.

Sometimes Medicine Helps, Sometimes It Hurts

This week’s Health section in The Washington Post has one, two, three illuminating articles showing how aggressive medicine can either hurt or help:

  1. Often helpful, often unhelpful, sometimes harmful medicine: “Brenner and his colleagues estimate that CT scans may be responsible for perhaps 2 percent of all cancers in the United States. The ECRI Institute estimated the scans may be causing 6,000 extra cancers each year, half of them fatal … While there are scant hard data about how often CT scans are done needlessly, several experts estimated that perhaps one-third could be eliminated.”
  2. Outright harmful medicine: “One of the most horrifying medical treatments of the 20th century was carried out not clandestinely, but with the approval of the medical establishment, the media and the public. Known as the transorbital or “ice pick” lobotomy, the crude and destructive brain-scrambling operation performed on thousands of psychiatric patients between the 1930s and 1960s was touted as a cure for mental illness.”
  3. Unexpectedly helpful medicine: “Scans of my bones, pelvis and abdomen were all clear – suggesting the prostate cancer hadn’t metastasized. But the stomach scan caught a couple of inches of my right lung in the picture – and it wasn’t pretty. A suspicious nodule was growing in the lung’s lobe, apparently unrelated to my prostate cancer. A PET scan ‘lit up’ the nodule, confirming it was a live growth … My experience puts me in a select group of people lucky to have received an accidental lifesaving diagnosis.”

Wannabe Software and Movie Pirates: Hold Your Fire

A story from the Associated Press today suggests that WTO-sanctioned piracy is still a way off. Antiguan Finance Minister Errol Cort arrives in Washington today to discuss the internet gambling dispute with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, in hope of resolving the case.

Last month I reported that a WTO arbitration panel had agreed with Antigua that the U.S. restrictions on gambling over the internet entitled the Antiguans to retaliation – in this case by suspending its obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) to protect U.S. trademarks and copyrights, as well as suspending market access for some U.S. services firms. Antigua has long maintained that retaliation is not its preferred option, and would rather negotiate with the Americans to allow regulated access to the U.S. internet gambling market.

Antigua has strongly rejected the WTO arbitrators’ decision about the level of damages – a decision that is made especially controversial given that one of the three panelists dissented from the opinion, a rare occurrence in WTO jurisprudence, and by their own admission that they were on “shaky grounds” in determining the level of damages. According to Antigua, by basing their analysis on the “most likely scenario of compliance” by the United States rather than the export opportunities foregone, the arbitrators were showing unfair sympathy to the American case. The Americans were pleased that the $21 million in annual damages was well below the figure sought by Antigua ($3.4 billion), but expressed concern over the form of retaliation authorized. The United States had originally argued that their restrictions were worth only $500,000 in damages.

Notwithstanding the back-and-forth over the amount of sanctions, a couple of problems remain. First, who is to say how much it is worth to, say, download illegally a new CD or movie. Is it equivalent to the market value of buying a legal copy of the material? Or is it worth the cost of the download itself (less than a penny, I imagine). That is important because the WTO would limit Antigua to $21 million fairly strictly, and the U.S., under instruction from Hollywood and the software industry, would be expected to pounce if they saw the limit violated. There is also the question of whether Antigua would be able to export the fruits of its copyright violation to other countries and “earn” the $21 million that way.

While this is not the first time that the WTO has sanctioned violating intellectual property protections by suspending obligations under (that first came in March 2000, when the WTO gave Ecuador permission to suspend TRIPS obligations to the tune of $201 million in their dispute over European banana tariffs), the authorization has never been “actioned.” And, if the U.S. comes to its senses and begins to allow its citizens to gamble online freely, this case may not bring that to fruition either.