Friday, April 25, 2014

A Belated Birthday Salute to Shirley Temple Black (1928-2014)

Earlier this week the world celebrated William Shakespeare's 450th birthday.  The Bard of Avon was born on April 23, 1564.

In the midst of the fireworks and toasting, it appears we forgot that the late Shirley Temple Black would have celebrated her own birthday that day.  She was born on April 23, 1928, so she'd now be 86 years old.
On Valentine's Day, a few days after the former child star and diplomat passed away, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an article I wrote about her, a tribute of sorts, titled "Shirley Temple Black: politician, diplomat, feminist."

With Ambassador Black's birthday in mind, here it is, with the citations omitted from the RTD version now hyperlinked:

When Shirley Temple Black became the State Department’s chief of protocol in 1976, her appointment was seen as an oddity because she was the first woman to hold that office. The press focused on her dimples, not her diplomacy.

A female chief of protocol no longer seems odd. In fact, eight of the 14 people who succeeded Ambassador Black in that role have been women, including the current (acting) chief, Natalie Jones, and her two predecessors.

Many of the obituaries published since Black died on Monday have focused on her childhood acting career. Black’s much longer career was in public service, beginning with an unsuccessful campaign for Congress and ending with her tenure as U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia at the close of the Cold War.

Black was not the first female show-biz figure to enter politics and diplomacy. For example, playwright Clare Boothe Luce (like Black, a Republican) was elected to Congress from Connecticut in the 1940s and later served as ambassador to Italy and Brazil.

When Black ran for Congress in a special 1967 election, she would have been the only woman in California’s congressional delegation.

“I think men are fine and here to stay,” she said announcing her candidacy, “but I have a hunch that it wouldn’t hurt to have a woman’s viewpoint expressed in that delegation of 38 men — especially since there are 10 million women in California.”

In retrospect, it was probably better that Black lost that race — although President Gerald R. Ford said later that he “thought she would make an excellent member of the House of Representatives” — because her talents lay outside electoral politics.

After her stint as Richard Nixon’s envoy to the United Nations, Ford appointed her ambassador to Ghana, at the time a sensitive diplomatic post, one that would have been expected to go to a career Foreign Service officer.

By all accounts, however, Black acquitted herself well and adapted to the mundane, routine tasks required of an ambassador. As one newspaper story about her explained in August 1975, this involved “regular staff meetings, wading through more than 200 telegrams daily from the State Department, keeping abreast of the latest U.S. policy statements, receiving visitors and at the end of a long day attending the merry-go-round of official functions and receptions which consume a large slice of any ambassador’s time.”

Despite these successes, when Black was appointed chief of protocol in July 1976, the news media — and a good many of her diplomatic colleagues — treated her condescendingly. The headline of one profile of her emphasized her dimples. As the first woman in the post, she confronted what was then called “male chauvinism” and disdain from her boss, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“He told me he was skeptical of my credentials,” she told a reporter at the time. “As a child, he had seen my films and that’s the extent of his knowledge of me.”

Black initially found herself excluded by male diplomats in social settings simply because of her gender. After a formal dinner, when the men retreated to a private room for brandy and cigars — it sounds so “Downton Abbey”! — she would excuse herself in spite of knowing that substantive, not frivolous, conversations would take place there.

Later she chose not to leave. “I join the men for cordials and I instruct the women to follow me. There’s no room for exclusivity.” In the mid-1970s, that was taking a major stand in favor of gender equality.

Black later was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be ambassador to Czechoslovakia at the very moment the Soviet Union’s grip on its Central European satellites was let loose.

As the communist government in Prague began to unravel, Black had the foresight to reach out to Vaclav Havel, who later became the country’s first freely elected president in nearly 50 years. By then, the media had discarded the condescension and referred to Black as “a seasoned diplomat.” One 1991 report noted that upon taking her post in Czechoslovakia two years earlier, Black “immediately made contact with Havel, then a dissident playwright. Their series of secret meetings (grew) into a firm friendship.”

That same report illuminated Black’s cheeky side. The ambassador would go out on her balcony wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with her initials — STB — “which also was the acronym of the now-disbanded Czech secret police.”

When asked what became of the STB’s secret agents, Black quipped: “Most of them are driving taxis.”

Although she will be mostly remembered as a movie star, Shirley Temple Black deserves a great deal of credit for being an unexpectedly feminist diplomat who broke the glass ceiling more than once.

Richard Sincere writes about politics at and about culture at He can be reached at
In my research for this article, I came across this interesting interview with Shirley Temple Black on NBC's Meet the Press from 1969. What's striking to me is how she comes across as nervous and tentative, not what one would expect from someone who grew up in the spotlight. To be fair, this was an early TV appearance in her role as a public official (at the time, she was a representative of the United States to the United Nations) and so she may have been unused to discussing policy issues with journalists.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Shirley Temple Black is the subject of a book published this month, The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression: Shirley Temple and 1930s America by John F. Kasson. Also, according to NBC29 news, Wilson Memorial High School in Augusta County (Va.) is mounting a stage version of Shirley Temple's 1945 movie, Kiss and Tell, with a cast that includes both students and teachers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Marriage equality and freedom of thought are not incompatible

Affirming their “unwavering commitment to civic and legal equality, including marriage equality,” a diverse group of activists, advocates, lawyers, writers, and others issued a statement today that also affirms their “our unwavering commitment to the values of the open society and to vigorous public debate—the values that have brought us to the brink of victory.“

The statement – prompted in part by the resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his contribution to support the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign in California became controversial, and reactions that followed – was published today on the RealClearPolitics web site under the title “Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both.”

Among the 58 individuals who signed the statement are University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter, Wayne State University philosophy professor John Corvino, University of Wisconsin political scientist Donald Downs, NYU law professor Richard Epstein, former Arizona superintendent of public instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, former Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona), Eli Lehrer of the R Street Institute, former national GOP chairman Ken Mehlman, Minnesota state senator Branden Petersen, Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis, former Georgia Supreme Court justice Leah Ward Sears, Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute, author and blogger Andrew Sullivan, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and myself.

The signatories – both gay and non-gay, spanning a spectrum of conservative, liberal, libertarian, and progressive worldviews – argue that “sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that respects and welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.”

In support of that proposition, they note that a “culture of free speech created the social space for us to criticize and demolish the arguments against gay marriage and LGBT equality. For us and our advocates to turn against that culture now would be a betrayal of the movement’s deepest and most humane values.”

In addition to RealClearPolitics, the statement is also posted to iPetition, where any individual may affix his or her signature in support of it.

Although "Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent" was only released about two hours ago, commentary on the statement has already appeared on the Independent Gay Forum and the Volokh Conspiracy.  Expect more reactions over the next day or so.

UPDATES: Box Turtle Bulletin also has a post on this.
Somewhat related, the Williams Institute has issued a report that concludes legalizing marriage equality will add $60 million to Virginia economy over its first three years. Scott Shackford offers this at At the Business Law Prof Blog, Joshua Fershee comments from the perspective of, naturally, a business law professor. The Hoover Institution's Peter Berkowitz has posted a commentary at RealClearPolitics. There is also a discussion thread about the statement on DebatePolitics.

UPDATES 2 (April 23): Rod Dreher comments at The American ConservativeGreg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) at The Huffington Post.  Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic calls us "the liberal wing of the gay equality movement."  Bryan Preston at the PJ Tatler says the statement is a "nice sentiment" but it's also "unrealistic" (and then criticizes the statement for what it didn't criticize).  Joshua Riddle at Young Conservatives calls the statement "AMAZING" and reprints it in full.

At IGF Culture Watch, David Link explains "Why I Signed."  Someone with the pen name "Buckeye" calls the statement "good news on the free speech front" on the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board.  Andrew Sullivan says "I'm not much of a joiner, but..."  Michael Polemra at National Review Online's "The Corner" says the "signers of this document ought to be really proud of what they have done." Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God says the statement comes from "a coalition of homocons and others."

Justin Snow reports on the statement for Metro Weekly.  News has apparently reached New Zealand, too.  Ilya Somin explains why he chose not to sign.  Zack Ford at ThinkProgress argues that the "pledge" -- his word, not the signers' -- justifies anti-gay activism.

Reactions are still coming in more than 36 hours after the statement was released. "BlackTsunami" comments at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters. John M. Becker calls the statement "repugnant" at the Bilerico Project.

UPDATES 3 (April 24):  Jonathan Rauch replies to critics on The Daily Beast with "Opposing Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Crypto-Racist." Eric Schulzke comments in the Daily Oklahoman and Deseret News. Jennifer Rubin mentions the statement on her Washington Post blog. William D. Lindsey comments critically at Bilgrimage. Signatory Jonathan Rowe links. Viktor Kerney includes an excerpt as well as a link. Even the white supremacists at VDare have their say.

UPDATES 4 (April 25): Peter Wehner calls the statement "an impressive stand on behalf of liberal ideals" in Commentary. The American Spectator's Bill Zeiser mentions the statement at the end of an article about signatory Charles Murray. Jonah Goldberg offers backhanded approval at NRO and Jeremy Hooper replies to Goldberg at Good As You. Will Shetterly agrees with the statement, too.

Doug Gibson compares the statement to a recent speech by LDS leader Dallin H. Oaks at the Standard-Examiner. Nelson Garcia alleges some of the signatories once "decided to throw me under the bus." Gina Dalfonzo expresses skepticism over the statement's optimism at Breakpoint. Rob Tisinai admits "Yep, I Signed It" at Waking Up Now. Marvin Olasky cites the statement in an article called "Christians and gay-rights advocates can agree on freedom to dissent" at World.

UPDATES 5 (April 26): Signatory Richard Epstein "sort of" explains his position on same-sex marriage at Ricochet. The blogger at Pink-Briefcase names the statement one of "Five [Awesome] Things" she read this week.

UPDATE 6 (April 27): Carl F. Cannon, Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics, writes "On Gay Marriage, Intolerance Cuts Both Ways."

UPDATES 7 (April 28):  Jillian Page offers a Canadian perspective on The Montreal Gazette.  In USA Today, Glenn Harlan Reynolds draws a comparison to the case of a libertarian science fiction writer coming under fire.

UPDATES 8 (April 29):  "Michael-in-Norfolk" says the statement "Is Wrong and Justifies Anti-Gay Activism." Morgan Lee reports about the controversy on The Christian Post.

UPDATES 9 (April 30):  Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill comments on "coercion dolled up as civil rights."  At The, Andy Birkey reports that "Minnesotans sign on to controversial 'Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent.'"

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's 4/20: Time for a Marijuana News Round-up

Easter falls on 4/20 this year, which means in addition to bunnies and chocolate eggs, Americans are thinking about marijuana.

Here's a brief round-up of marijuana-related news in celebration of the dual holiday.

First, where did the "420" tradition come from?

An Phung offers this explanation on the NBC Los Angeles web site:
While there are no shortages of theories about how the “high" holiday came to be, several published reports give the credit for 4/20's creation to a group of Northern California high school students. The friends say they started using the term as code for pot-smoking in 1971, after planning to meet at 4:20 p.m. one day to smoke and search out a rumored pot crop.

The term spread, eventually reaching, through mutual acquaintances, members of the Greatful Dead [sic] rock band, the friends claim. The lingo was picked up by High Times magazine in 1990, according to BBC News, after an editor saw the term on a Grateful Dead concert flyer.

While others have also come forward to claim they are parents of the pot phrase, the friends, who call themselves the Waldos, say they have letters and other documents to back their story.
What about the weed business?

While he cautions that too much optimism may be premature, Andrew Bender reports in Forbes that Colorado is seeing a boom in the tourist industry since recreational pot was legalized earlier this year:
In the first quarter of the year, Denver International Airport saw record traffic, online searches for Denver hotels were up 25 percent, the real estate market has boomed, and the nation’s first cannabis-themed tour operator has sold out all its tours. That’s a lot to cheer about going into the 420 Rally this weekend, itself newly expanded and set to bring in record numbers of visitors.
Bender offers details such as this:
Cannabis tour operator My 420 Tours has sold out all six of its tours so far this year, at rates of $1,399 to $1,699 for 5 days. CEO and founder J. J. Walker says that the tours let visitors “see the industry from inside and out” with visits to dispensaries and growers, cannabis cooking classes, hashish-preparing lessons and plenty of product samples. Oh, yes, and snacks.
And this:
[Ricardo] Baca and [J.J.] Walker also credit pot with new real estate construction, sales and rentals. “There’s tons and tons of construction starting and apartments being built,” Walker says.

Baca has heard from apartment search services that there’s been a huge influx of people, especially those in their twenties, moving to the state for the marijuana. “They don’t want to have to be looking over their shoulder or for it to be illegal just to have some in their refrigerator.”

Meanwhile, Walker says, commercial rental rates for potential dispensaries or growers’ warehouses have skyrocketed.

“People are moving here for the industry and the opportunity and freedom it represents,” Walker says. Talk about all-American values.
Hunter Stuart offers these four statistics (and nine more equally compelling) at The Huffington Post:
$1.53 billion: The amount the national legal marijuana market is worth, according to a Nov. 2013 report from ArcView Market Research, a San Francisco-based investor group focused on the marijuana industry.

$10.2 billion:
The estimated amount the national legal marijuana market will be worth in five years, according to that same ArcView report.

$6.17 million: The amount of tax revenue collected in Colorado on legal marijuana sales in just the first two months of 2014.

$98 million: The total tax revenue that Colorado could reap in the fiscal year that begins in July, according to a recent budget proposal from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Another economic benefit of pot legalization is that it is usually accompanied by the legalization of industrial hemp production. According to a report in the Post Independent:
“Hemp can fix every problem in the world if we just let it, so let’s get to work finding out the hundreds of thousands of uses for hemp,” said Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial.

In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products, largely from China and Canada, compared to $1.4 million in imports in 2000. Most of that was hemp seed and hemp oil, used in granola bars, soaps, lotions and cooking oil.

Colorado authorized hemp cultivation in 2012 when it legalized marijuana for recreational use. Farmers must apply for permits with the state Department of Agriculture, which are being issued for the first time this year, though a few growers didn’t wait and brought in sparse and scraggly experimental crops last year.

Twelve other states have removed barriers to hemp production — California, Kentucky, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, according to the Vote Hemp advocacy group.
As for those who worry that legalizing marijuana (for medical or recreational purposes) will lead to an increase in violent crime, Erin Delmore of MSNBC reports:
[E]ven after Colorado legalized the sale of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1 of this year, violent and property crime rates in the city are actually falling.

According to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.
Delmore cites a study, "The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006," by four criminologists at the University of Texas at Dallas ( Robert G. Morris, Michael TenEyck, J. C. Barnes, and Tomislav V. Kovandzic), which concludes (references omitted):
The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML [medical marijuana legalization] is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.

In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes. To be sure, medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. While it is important to remain cautious when interpreting these findings as evidence that MML reduces crime, these results do fall in line with recent evidence and they conform to the longstanding notion that marijuana legalization may lead to a reduction in alcohol use due to individuals substituting marijuana for alcohol. Given the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes that can be detected at the state level.
With these advantages -- reductions in crime, economic growth, increased tax revenues -- it should come as no surprise that Americans have become more open to the idea of marijuana legalization in recent years.

Writing in The Weed Blog earlier this month on a survey of Americans about pot laws, Paul Armentano of NORML reported:
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.
Pew reported its findings like this:
The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults, finds that support for the legalization of marijuana use continues to increase. And fully 75% of the public –including majorities of those who favor and oppose the legal use of marijuana – think that the sale and use of marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide.

By wide margins, the public views marijuana as less harmful than alcohol, both to personal health and to society more generally. Moreover, just as most Americans prefer a less punitive approach to the use of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, an even larger majority (76% of the public) – including 69% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats – think that people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not have to serve time in jail.
(The same survey also showed Americans' preference for medical treatment rather than criminal penalties for users of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine.)

However you slice it, the news is good for proponents of ending the drug war, at least as far as marijuana is concerned. People are beginning to understand that prohibition doesn't work, it is unable to overcome the economic laws of supply-and-demand, it encourages the growth of illegal enterprises, and it punishes -- sometimes with death -- otherwise innocent Americans.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Will Fifth District Democrats refuse to challenge Robert Hurt in 2014?

Robert Hurt in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda
It appears there is a good chance that Fifth District U.S. Representative Robert Hurt will not face a Democratic challenger in the 2014 general election.

About two months ago, Bearing Drift broke the news that Ben Hudson of Fluvanna County, a retired U.S. Army officer, was seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Hurt. Hudson had run for the same office in 2012 as a write-in candidate, getting 388 scattered votes.

Subsequently, another candidate emerged. Last month, the Daily Progress reported that television and film actor Lawrence Gaughan of Albemarle County had thrown his hat in the ring.

Both candidates submitted their candidacy papers properly by the April 1st filing deadline. They will both be on the ballot at a convention of Fifth District Democrats to be held at Fluvanna County High School on Saturday, May 31.

A funny thing happened on the way to the nomination, however.

Fifth District Democratic leaders are unimpressed, and in some cases displeased, by the choices they have before them.

Hudson, for instance, despite the tepid results of his write-in candidacy in 2012, had actively opposed Democratic nominee John Douglass. One local Democratic activist told me that he was puzzled over the fact that Hudson had expressed views at odds with Democratic policy positions on about five key issues, positions that he has now reversed without explanation.

For his part, Gaughan -- who has lived outside the district for about five years, until recently -- tried to run against incumbent Virgil Goode and challenger and future congressman Tom Perriello in 2008 as a candidate for the Green Party, but the party's central committee refused to nominate him.

Neither Gaughan nor Hudson has reported any campaign receipts or expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. (During the reporting period ending March 31, Congressman Hurt's campaign received $643,625 in contributions with $378,679 cash on hand and no debts.)

It appears Fifth District Democrats are looking for a way to avoid fielding a weak candidate against Hurt, in the belief that no candidate is better than one who may bring disrepute upon the party.

In fact, "no candidate" is one of the choices that will be on the ballot at the May 31 convention in Fluvanna.

During the delegate selection process, which will take place in the form of "assembled caucuses" in each of the district's cities and counties, according to the convention call,
After caucus participants have been certified as eligible to participate, all participants will be asked to assemble into caucuses, with one caucus for each filed Congressional candidate, a “No Candidate” caucus, and an “uncommitted” caucus.
and this:
A delegate candidate or alternate candidate may indicate a preference for a filed Congressional candidate on his or her filing form, or he or she may file as a “No Candidate” delegate or alternate or as an “Uncommitted” delegate or alternate. If a delegate or alternate candidate fails to indicate a preference on the filing form, the committee shall list such persons as “uncommitted”.
Most pertinent, the convention call exercises an option offered in Section 12.5 of the Democratic Party Plan implemented in September 2013 -- essentially "none of the above" as an alternative to selecting a candidate:
The Temporary Rules Committee shall prepare the pre-printed ballot, which shall be on white paper and which shall contain the names of all filed candidates for Congress as well as the option of selecting "No Candidate".
While Fifth District Democratic party leaders cannot prudently advocate in the open for the "no candidate" option, they are hoping that its prominent inclusion will nudge delegates in that direction. Like their counterparts in the Seventh Congressional District, who are running nobody against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they are calculating that having no candidate to run against an incumbent Republican is better for Fifth District Democrats in the long run than having a candidate who will embarrass the party.

The question that remains is this: Will the Libertarian Party or the Independent Green or Green parties take advantage of this potential vacuum to run a challenge against Hurt, who is seeking his third term? Stay tuned -- there may be more news to come.

This article has been cross-posted from Bearing Drift.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Should Virginia taxpayers subsidize the film industry?

Regal Cinemas: 'Welcome Virginia Film Festival'
How should Virginia's relate to the film industry?

The Commonwealth has become a popular location for shooting prestige motion pictures. Steven Spielberg's Lincoln used Richmond as a stand-in for 1860s Washington, and Spielberg used the Shenandoah Valley as a stand-in for Massachusetts in his 2005 War of the Worlds remake. Other movies shot on location here include Gods and Generals, Sommersby, Killing Kennedy, Evan Almighty, Giant, Toy Soldiers, and Swedish Auto (those last four made in the Charlottesville area).

Not simply a location for making films, Virginia often is an early venue for seeing other big movies.

For example, one of the Oscars' Best Picture nominees for 2013, Alexander Payne's Nebraska, had pre-release screenings both at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, where co-star Will Forte and producer Ron Yerxa discussed the film, but also at the new Middleburg Film Festival, where Yerxa appeared with lead actor (and Oscar nominee) Bruce Dern. The 2013 Virginia Film Festival also screened Philomena, another Best Picture nominee this year. In 2011, eventual Best Picture winner The Artist was a closing night feature at the Virginia Film Festival. Oscar-winning live-action short subject West Bank Story also had an early screening at the 2005 festival in Charlottesville.

It's clear that Virginia has strong ties to the film making industry. But should Virginia taxpayers have to pay for them?

Although Virginia has, for some time, offered substantial tax benefits to movie companies that come here to make films, a bill introduced in this year's General Assembly -- and passed by both chambers -- would expand tax credits to the millionaires who would probably do business here anyway.

According to the summary of HB 460, patroned by Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) and copatroned by Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville, the bill
Changes the motion picture production income tax credit by (i) increasing the percentage of qualifying expenses eligible to be claimed from 15 percent to 20 percent, and from 20 percent to 25 percent for productions in an economically distressed areas, (ii) increasing the total biennium cap for all such credits from $5 million to $25 million, and (iii) having the credit expire on December 31, 2023. The bill also requires the Department to publish information regarding the credit regardless if it does not prevent the identification of the taxpayer claiming the credit. The bill is effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2014.
Does this make good sense as policy? Economists say no.

Even uber-liberal Robert Reich, the Clinton administration's Labor Secretary, agrees that states that subsidize the film industry are making a mistake.

According to Variety, Reich
called the bonanza of states offering production tax credits a “race to the bottom,” as competition sees governments sweetening the pot to try to lure movies and TV shows within their borders.

“These tax credits and tax incentives are a zero sum game,” he said in an interview last week. “They don’t create a single new job. They just move jobs around, and they rob the states of the money they need for education and infrastructure.”
Closer to home, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University headlined an article by one of its scholars, Antony Davies, "The Film Tax Credit Farce." Davies, an economist at Duquesne University, wrote:
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, every independent study of film tax credits has found that the credits are money-losers for the states. Arizona's Department of Commerce calculated that Arizona made back 28 cents in tax revenue for every $1 it “invested” in film tax credits. Connecticut's Department of Economic Development estimated that the state earned 7 cents in tax revenue for every $1 it lost. State agencies in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico and even Pennsylvania's Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found that state coffers received less than 30 cents for every dollar they paid out in film tax credits.

If film production is such a great cash cow, why aren't venture capitalists lining up for a piece of the action? The problem is that the film industry wants special treatment. It wants someone else to shoulder the risk of investment while it keeps the profit for itself. No investor would agree to such a deal, and that is why the film industry has turned to our state government.

Filmmakers know the state can force taxpayers to invest in something taxpayers would never choose on their own.
Some politicians are getting the message that tax credits for the film industry do not bring states the benefits touted by their proponents. Variety quotes another GMU source, economist Eileen Norcross:
Other arguments against incentives hold that they don’t help the states that offer them. In March, the Massachusetts revenue commission issued a scathing report on the state’s tax credit program, which stated that two-thirds of the total $175 million awarded in 2011 went to out-of-state spending. “The critique is that while they appear to bring in short-term temporary activity to a state or community, a lot of those benefits flow to the production companies,” says Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at George Mason U. “The people who are hired locally tend to be (in) more low-wage service industry jobs. It provides a temporary economic blip on the radar, and then it’s sort of fleeting.”
In a commentary piece for U.S. News and World Report, Norcross explained the case against film industry subsidies. States, she said, are
finding that it is barely worth the lost revenue. A recent report by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue found that of the $44 million in tax credits awarded in 2011, two-thirds of the $175 million in spending generated due to economic activity went to out-of-state workers, and 47 percent of the wages generated, or $53 million, went to those earning over $1 million.

On net, Massachusetts' film credit program is costing the state more than it delivers. After subtracting payments to out-of-state residents and the budget reductions required to fund the credits, only $39 million in state economic activity resulted. The findings have prompted Governor Deval Patrick to cap the state's program to $40 million in annual credits.

North Carolina's Legislative Services Office analysis shows their film credit program realizes even less impressive returns. In 2011, the state awarded $30.3 million in film credits – reimbursing productions that spent over $250,000 up to 25 percent for qualifying expenses. Yet, the program could only claim about 55 to 70 new jobs. Based on their model, the report claims that if instead North Carolina's business taxes had been reduced across the board by $30.3 million, between 340 and 450 jobs and $14 million in personal income would have materialized.
Why, against all this evidence, are states -- including Virginia -- continuing to transfer tax dollars from poor- and middle-class residents to rich out-of-state film producers?

There's a widely held belief that putting the state's locales on film encourages more tourism. That's dubious. Consider the examples above: Tom Cruise fought Martians in the hills near Lexington, Virginia, in War of the Worlds. But Virginia was never mentioned in the film. Virginia played Massachusetts. Daniel Day-Lewis was Abraham Lincoln while Richmond was Washington, D.C.

Of course, even 50 years after it was made, The Sound of Music still brings tourists to Salzburg, Austria, and its environs, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy became the basis to attract tourists to New Zealand. Those are outlying exceptions, however, with cult followings that films like Evan Almighty and Swedish Auto can't match.

In addition, politicians hopefully believe connections with film producers, directors, and actors bring with them "movie magic," as though having Sally Field or Dakota Fanning in town will result in fairy dust falling on Richmond or Lexington. Even governors and senators are dazzled by celebrity, not to mention delegates and city council members.

As Variety's David Cohen pointed out on public radio's Here & Now,
place after place has discovered these things are rife with corruption and they don't deliver the returns that they expect. But there's always another politician or another city that's willing to be seduced by Hollywood glamour.
It turns out that HB 460 passed both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe on April 6, with an effective date of July 1, 2014.

Too bad the governor failed to listen to his friend Bill Clinton's old friend Robert Reich.  He has helped  Virginia join the "race to the bottom."

Adapted from an earlier post on Bearing Drift.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Will Medicaid expansion actually make poor people healthier?

Members of the General Assembly who oppose Governor Terry McAuliffe's proposals to expand Medicaid in Virginia under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also called "Obamacare") may find some intellectual ammunition to bolster their case in a study published on March 24 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The Economics of Medicaid: Assessing the Costs and Consequences, edited by Jason J. Fichtner, contains a lot of wonkish economic analysis, such as Nina Owcharenko's chapter on "the state side of the budget equation," which shows the astronomical growth in Medicaid spending and enrollment over the past two decades (see the graph to the upper left), but the most significant findings may be in the book's last chapter, by Robert F. Graboyes and titled "Medicaid and Health."

Graboyes relies on previous studies in several states and on reports from the Government Accountability Office and other federal agencies to demonstrate that people who rely on Medicaid for health insurance not only have worse health comes than those who have other types of insurance, but worse than people with no insurance at all.

What's more, rather than taking patients out of emergency rooms and putting them in doctors' offices for routine health care, expansion of Medicaid coverage tends to increase emergency room visits by Medicaid recipients.

I'll let Graboyes -- a senior research fellow who was formerly an economist with Chase Manhattan Bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, as well as a faculty member at the University of Richmond -- tell it in his own words (end notes omitted).

Pages 175-76:
A Mercatus publication I authored in 2013 stated the following: “An ideal health care system will provide better health to more peo­ple at lower cost on a continuous basis.” By this standard, Medicaid is an abject failure. For lower-income Americans, Medicaid yields poor coverage, poor care, and poor medical outcomes. While prom­ising coverage far beyond the program’s original scope, it fails to enroll millions of people who are among its intended population and who are eligible for enrollment. The data suggest that Medicaid does surprisingly little to improve its recipients’ health and in some ways may even harm them indirectly. It is a pennywise-and-pound-foolish program that, paradoxically, sends costs soaring by underpaying pro­viders. And the coverage, care, and cost elements show little or no improvement over time.

Pages 181-82:

In 2010, the University of Virginia conducted a large-scale study that suggested that an individual without insurance has better health outcomes than an individual on Medicaid.47 Even after adjusting for risk factors, Medicaid patients had higher in-hospital mortality, longer hospital stays, and higher costs—compared with the uninsured, those on Medicare, and those on private insurance plans.48 A University of Pennsylvania study examined data on patients receiving surgery for colorectal cancer; Medicaid patients had higher mortality and surgical complications than uninsured patients.49 A 2011 Johns Hopkins study found that “Medicare and Medicaid patients have worse survival after [lung transplantation] compared with private insurance/self-paying patients.”

Perhaps the most damning of all the recent studies is the Oregon Experiment. This was a rare example of a large-scale, fully ran­domized experiment in health care. In 2008, Oregon expanded its Medicaid program. Approximately 90,000 people applied for 30,000 newly available slots, and the state used a lottery to choose who got in and who did not. Afterward, the state tracked the health of 6,387 adults who were chosen and 5,842 who were not. From a standpoint of physical health, the results were devastating: “This randomized, controlled study showed that Medicaid coverage generated no sig­nificant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.” Supporters of Medicaid point to positives that follow the word “but” in the preceding sentence.

Page 177:

Rapid expansion of Medicaid, as envisioned under the ACA, also has the potential to touch off a cycle of expansion, financial over­load, and mass cancellations of coverage. The best example of such a process is the TennCare disaster that began in 1994 in Tennessee. The state sought to convert Medicaid to managed care, assuming this would lead to enough savings (from efficiency gains) to cover children and the uninsured. In less than a decade, however, enroll­ ment swelled far beyond what had been predicted, and the savings proved elusive. The expansion threatened the state government with bankruptcy and, by 2006, the program was forced to cancel cover­age for approximately 200,000 Tennesseans. A high-profile study of Oregon’s Medicaid expansion provides powerful new evidence that expansion increases rather than decreases the use of emergency services; putting it another way, one of the principal arguments in favor of expansion now appears illusory [emphasis added].

The whole book, which is also available in a Kindle edition, is chock-a-block with nuggets like these. Even legislators who don't read bills before they vote on them should read this book.

Cross-posted from Bearing Drift (April 12, 2014).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

2014 Jefferson Muzzle awards have been announced

Violators of freedom of expression are the "winners" of the 2014 Jefferson Muzzle Awards from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville. Now in their 23rd year, the Muzzles are announced to coincide with Mr. Jefferson's birthday (April 13).

Josh Wheeler
The ten recipients this year include three educational institutions, three state government agencies, and four federal government agencies. They were announced by the Center's executive director, Josh Wheeler, via a press release on Thursday, April 10.

The awards include implicit criticism of the White House press office for limiting access to the news media to even trivial events and of the Department of Justice for "secretly seiz[ing] dozens of phone records of the Associated Press and falsely label[ing] Fox News reporter James Rosen a criminal 'co-conspirator' in order to obtain a search warrant for the reporter’s phone records and emails."

The National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security are joint recipients of a Muzzle
For causing an online retailer to remove from its website a Minnesota man’s products satirizing various government entities on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other items. pulled the items from its marketplace after receiving cease and desist letters from the NSA and Homeland Security. Among the items removed were products featuring a variation of the NSA seal along with the statement “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.”
The North Carolina General Assembly police are cited for arresting a reporter who was covering a protest at the state capitol, while the Tennessee General Assembly gets dinged for criminalizing undercover reporting at agricultural facilities.

The Kansas Board of Regents receives a 2014 Muzzle award because
Following controversial statements by a member of the University of Kansas faculty on his personal Twitter account, the Kansas Board of Regents (the governing board of the state’s public universities) adopted a social media policy that allows for the firing of a faculty member for using social media in such a way that “impairs…harmony among co-workers,” or that the university’s chief executive officer deems “contrary to the best interest of the university.”
A Florida high school principal gets an award for cutting off the microphone of a graduation speaker who was stumbling over his words and then denying the student an opportunity to accept his diploma with the rest of the class. His reason? He thought the stumbling was an attempt to go "off script" on the approved text of the speech.

The principal of Pemberton High School in New Jersey wins a Muzzle for censoring two articles in the student newspaper, and then forbidding the same newspaper from publishing an article about censorship.

My favorite 2014 Muzzle concerns a case that received a lot of publicity last September. At Modesto Junior College in California, a student was refused permission to distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day. Here's the Thomas Jefferson Center's citation:
Campus police confronted Robert van Tuinen outside the student center as he handed out free copies of the Constitution to his fellow students on September 17—Constitution Day. Officers informed van Tuinen that school policy only permitted literature to be distributed within a tiny designated spot on campus, and only then if scheduled several days in advance.
If you missed the widely-distributed video of this incident, here it is:
To hear Thomas Jefferson Center director Josh Wheeler talk about how the Muzzle Award winners are determined, check out this interview on The Score.

Cross-posted from Bearing Drift (April 9, 2014).