Tuesday, July 26, 2016

From the Archives: Index of Economic Freedom shows global progress for 2015, while USA loses ground

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on February 2, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Index of Economic Freedom shows global progress for 2015, while USA loses ground

For 21 years, the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal have collaborated to publish the annual Index of Economic Freedom, a list ranking nearly every country in the world on the basis of various criteria like rule of law, regulations, corruption, and openness to investment.

The 2015 Index was released on January 27, and two days later, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner spoke by telephone to one of its compilers, Charlotte Florance, who is research associate for economic freedom in Africa and the Middle East at the Heritage Foundation.

In the interview, Florance explained that the Index “scores the metrics in four broad categories for every country in the world,” drawing on statistics gathered by the World Bank and other organizations.

Analytical categories
The four broad categories that the Index uses are, she said, “rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets.”

Those four categories are broken down further into sub-categories.

For instance, Florance explained, rule of law includes “property rights and freedom from corruption. Government size includes fiscal freedom and government spending. Regulatory efficiency includes business freedom, labor freedom, and monetary freedom. And then open markets include trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom.”

This methodology, she continued, “covers a broad spectrum of the economies of countries around the world. Scores in each category are aggregated to create an overall score and then countries are ranked on that score.”

The rankings are then divided up among five additional categories: “free, mostly free, moderately free, mostly unfree, and repressed.”

The “repressed” category, she noted, refers to countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, “some of the most closed off economies in the world, with North Korea being the bottom of countries ranked.”

United States is 12
Florance noted that people are surprised to find out that the United States is not in the “free” category, and does not even have one of the ten most free economies in the world.

“The United States is actually twelfth,” she said, “in the mostly free category and it falls behind countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Canada, and even a very small African country, Mauritius.”

That last country, she explained, is “an island but still part of sub-Saharan Africa and it is actually ranked tenth – so a very tiny economy is actually ranked more free than the United States.”

In the past two decades, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom, the world as a whole has become increasingly free. The United States is something of an exception in that it has become less free.

This year was the first year in seven years, Florance said, in which the United States “was bumped up slightly in its score.” While economic freedom has been declining here in the United States, she said, global economic freedom has been improving.

She cautioned, however, that “there are certain cases around the world where certain authoritarian regimes do certain things that hinder economic freedom.”

Florance noted how it is “a good message that in 21 years of measuring economic freedom, globally it's getting a lot better.”

She pointed to sub-Saharan Africa as “a region where, although you do have the most repressed economies in the world, there has been significant improvement over the past 21 years.”

Africa south of the Sahara, she said, “remains one of the leading regions in overall improvement year after year,” even though, she added, there is “still a lot to be done.”

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Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/index-of-economic-freedom-shows-global-progress-for-2015-while-usa-loses-ground


Friday, July 22, 2016

From the Archives: Lamar Alexander honored for his work promoting civics, history education

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on March 5, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Lamar Alexander honored for his work promoting civics, history education

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R) accepted the 2015 John M. Ashbrook Award bestowed by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in a brief ceremony at the Library of Congress on March 4.

The Ohio-based Ashbrook Center has presented the annual award since 1983, when the first recipient was President Ronald Reagan. Other recipients have included Speaker of the House John Boehner, former Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, and former Vice President Dan Quayle, as well as journalist M. Stanton Evans, who died on March 3.

In presenting the award, Ashbrook Center executive director Roger L. Beckett explained that, about ten years ago, as a result of legislation sponsored by Senator Alexander, the center competed for and received the first federal grant to administer congressional and presidential academies for teachers of American history and civics. From that first grant, which allowed 50 teachers (one from each state) to further their own educations, the Ashbrook Center's programs now include 4,000 middle- and high school teachers annually.

Beckett said Alexander was chosen to receive the 2015 award “for his integrity of thought and action, for his devotion to principle, and for his dedication to teaching the next generation about what it means to be an American.”

'What it means to be an American'
Alexander recalled that the subject of his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate “was the importance of teaching U.S. history in our schools so our children could grow up knowing what it means to be an American.” He noted that the lowest test scores for high school seniors “are not in math or science. They're in United States history.”

He conceded that “there's not much the federal government ought to try to do about that in local schools” because that kind of involvement at the local level is “not a very good Republican, federalist idea.”

He explained that he was inspired to sponsor congressional and presidential academies for school teachers, one from each state, to learn more about American history and how to teach it better.

Sense of history
He found an ally in the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who, he said, “had a great sense of American history” and worked to find 21 Democratic cosponsors for Alexander's bill and helped to get it passed – ultimately resulting in the Ashbrook Center's first grant to administer the teacher education program.

Senator Alexander – who was Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush and is now chairman of the Senate Education Committee – also recalled being at a conference in 1988 when someone asked, “What is the rationale for the public school?”

There was “stunned silence around the room,” he remembered, until Albert Shanker, then the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “A public school is for the purpose of teaching immigrant children reading, writing, and arithmetic, and what it means to be an American, with the hope that they'll go home and teach their parents.”

That, Alexander said, is “such a great definition of what we should be doing in our public schools.”

In addition to Lamar Alexander, three previous recipients of the John M. Ashbrook Award were present at the Capitol Hill reception: Lee Edwards, David Keene, and John Von Cannon.

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Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/lamar-alexander-honored-for-his-work-promoting-civics-history-education




Thursday, July 21, 2016

From the Archives: Former Senator Rick Santorum says homosexuals deserve protection

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on March 8, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Former Senator Rick Santorum says homosexuals deserve protection

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), who was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and a likely candidate for the same job in 2016, placed sixth in the annual CPAC straw poll last month, behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Santorum also garnered sixth place in the 2014 CPAC straw poll.

Despite his poor poll showing, Santorum's still-unofficial presidential campaign had a visible presence at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), which took place in suburban Washington, D.C., and attracted more than 11,000 participants.

On February 27, after hosting a townhall-style meeting for about 250 supporters and potential supporters, Santorum spoke briefly with members of the news media. During the press gaggle, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner posed two questions to the former senator, both on foreign policy issues.

'Obligation to protect all people'

First, Santorum, who is well known for his socially conservative positions with regard to gay rights, was asked whether it is appropriate for the U.S. Department of State to defend the rights of homosexuals in foreign countries where their lives might be threatened by anti-gay governments.

“We have to defend human rights everywhere,” Santorum replied. “If someone's life is threatened because of race, sexual orientation, or other [reasons], I think we have an obligation to stand up and defend that human right. I don't have a problem at all, if people's lives are in jeopardy, then we have an obligation to protect all people and their freedoms.”

'A different threat'
Second, the former Pennsylvania senator was asked whether Middle Eastern or Islamic terrorism poses a greater threat to the United States today than the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.

“I think it's a different threat,” Santorum said.

Islamic terrorism, he explained, is “a threat that is in some respects is more difficult to understand and to respond to.”

Rick Santorum at CPAC 2015
In contrast, “the Soviet Union was in many respects a predictable animal. Remember, we had policies like Mutual Assured Destruction, and we did it because we knew how they would behave, how they would act.”

“In fact,” he added, the Soviets “were very predictable. That doesn't mean they weren't evil, that doesn't mean they weren't oppressive, that doesn't mean they weren't everything that Reagan and others said about them.”

Today, he explained, “the complexity of dealing with radical Islam – and the fact that there are 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – makes this a much more difficult issue and one that, if you look historically, [is] a more intransigent problem for the West than the 50 years of the Cold War.”

The “other war” against Islamic terrorism, he concluded, almost as an afterthought, has lasted “a thousand years.”

Video of this press gaggle with likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is available on YouTube.

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Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/former-senator-rick-santorum-says-homosexuals-deserve-protection



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From the Archives: Think-tank head Jason Grumet reacts to Obama's mandatory voting idea

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on March 19, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Think-tank head Jason Grumet reacts to Obama's mandatory voting idea

Speaking in Cleveland on March 18, President Barack Obama raised the idea that compulsory voting could improve the U.S. electoral system.

“In Australia, and some other countries,” the President pointed out, “there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted... that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.”

The next day in Charlottesville, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jason Grumet, spoke about Washington's dysfunctional politics at the Virginia Festival of the Book. He was featured on a panel sponsored by local non-profit Charlottesville Tomorrow called “Bipartisanship and Everybody Loves Jefferson” along with Louisiana State University historian Andrew Burstein.

Aspirational, not practical
Grumet described his 2014 book, City of Rivals: Restoring the Glorious Mess of American Democracy, and, in a post-panel interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, he reacted to the president's idea of making voting mandatory, under the threat of punishment, for American citizens.

“There's a constitutional issue,” he said.

Compulsory voting, he explained, is “more of an aspiration than a practical solution. Like everything, there are pros and cons.”

Grumet conceded that “it would be terrific to have greater participation in a participatory democracy” but he pointed to problems in the country identified by President Obama as a potential model.

In Australia, he said, experience has shown that “the downside is a lot of people are essentially forced to vote who have no desire to participate in the process, no information about the process, and so there's a question about whether you dilute the quality of the voter pool.”

There are good and bad levels of participation, he continued.

“Having 20 percent participate [or] having 100 percent participate probably also has some problems,” he said. On the other hand, “60 to 70 percent would be great.”

Gerrymandering 'doesn't matter'
During the interview and the panel discussion, Grumet also addressed a widely-held electoral concern – legislative redistricting.

“Gerrymandering is a concern,” he said. “It is undermining to the democracy to have politicians choosing the voters as opposed to the voters choosing the politicians.”

However, he added, “it just doesn't matter as much as a lot of people think. The high water mark for redistricting reform would be the tenor of the U.S. Senate. There are no districts in the Senate [yet] it is not exactly a venue of great collaboration.”

Nationwide, he explained, “we have essentially sorted ourselves so that no matter how you draw districts, we are still going to have a diminishing number of competitive” elections.

While Grumet continues to believe there should be efforts to create “bipartisan redistricting commissions and get away from some of these crazy, gerrymandered districts but,” he cautioned, “in and of itself [that] is not going to be the solution to the fractious nature of our democracy.”

Independent redistricting
He noted a case now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the redistricting commission in Arizona, which was created by voter initiative to bypass the state legislature.

That case, he said, poses “an interesting question because the essence of it, as I understand it, is that the legislature was basically taken out of the redesign process.”

Arizona has “an independent commission and there's a question about whether, in fact, it is constitutional to have redistricting happen without legislative prerogative. That doesn't mean that you couldn't have redistricting commissions that have three Democrats and three Republicans. It wouldn't eliminate the capacity to seek better efforts when it comes to redrawing lines but it could limit a certain type of redistricting commission.”

As to the ultimate ruling in the Supreme Court case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Grumet quipped, “If I could tell you the outcome of that case, I could also tell you the price of oil in a month.”

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Former Senator Rick Santorum says homosexuals deserve protection

Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/think-tank-head-jason-grumet-reacts-to-obama-s-mandatory-voting-idea



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

From the Archives: Poultry industry is trade-talk pawn of South African government, says analyst

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on May 5, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Poultry industry is trade-talk pawn of South African government, says analyst

In the run-up to the recent introduction of bills in the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which has broad bipartisan support because of the benefits gained by both African and American economies, there was a minor glitch owing to objections in South Africa to potential sales of U.S. poultry products in that country.

According to Kevin Lovell, CEO of the South African Poultry Association, the dispute stems from the United States “not selling chicken at the right price. They’re trading unfairly by dumping their chicken in our market. And that makes competition impossible for us to compete fairly.”

Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), who represent major poultry-producing states, disagreed with Lovell and obtained a provision in the AGOA renewal bill (sponsored by Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch) that requires a 30-day review of poultry policy in South Africa.

"It's not fair for them to continue to get” AGOA benefits, said Coons, ranking member of the Senate Africa subcommittee, “when they aren't playing fair with American exports.”

In a press release, Isakson stated that he and his colleagues “believe passionately in AGOA’s value and support its long-term renewal, but believe it unfair and inappropriate that the country that benefits from the law the most — South Africa — continues to maintain unreasonable tariffs on American poultry.”

Playing Chicken
One South African analyst sees something bigger at stake in the dispute.

After a presentation about South Africa's economy at the Cato Institute in Washington on May 4, the CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, suggested that this “playing chicken (literally)” represents a significant and troubling trend within South Africa's policy making circles.

In an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Cronje -- author of A Time Traveller's Guide to Our Next Ten Years (2014) -- explained that “South Africa is recording a trade deficit with every major region and country in the world except the United States and non-energy Africa, and that's only because of the generosity of AGOA.”

In the AGOA negotiations, he said, what we saw “was the chicken producers being used as a pawn by South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry.”

That is because, Cronje explained, “within the Communist left that has such influence over policy formulation in South Africa now, there is a drive to limit the influence and exposure of Western countries in the South African economy, even if that comes at the price of growth.”

From his point of view, “the chicken producers have been used as a pawn in this respect, to create stumbling blocks” that work to the advantage of left-wing factions within the South African government.

“Should South Africa see the benefits it draws from AGOA being limited, the chicken farmers can always be blamed by government as having caused this,” he said.

At the same time, “the government will accept that situation because it gives them one thing they don't have at the moment, which is a high-level excuse to explain our weak economic performance. They can say, 'Well, look at how the West is starting to treat us.'”

'Carcass' of economy
The attitude showed toward the United States in the AGOA negotiations has precedents, he noted.

The hostility that South Africa has “displayed on AGOA,” Cronje said, “is the same hostility we showed eighteen months ago in unilaterally canceling bilateral investment treaties with fifteen European countries.”

The result of that decision, he explained, is that “if that investment continues, South Africa will welcome it, but it's going to be on the terms and conditions set by the left of the South African government. Should the investment leave, to put it quite directly, the leftists will prefer to have absolute control over the carcass of the South African economy than to progressively lose control over a high-growth economy.”

The House Ways and Means Committee has approved H.R. 1891, the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015, and the Senate Finance Committee has approved a companion bill, S. 1009. Both bills are expected to come to a vote on the floor of the House and Senate in June.

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Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/poultry-industry-is-trade-talk-pawn-of-south-african-government-says-analyst