UNO Protects Students from Cupcakes (Whether They Want to Be Protected, or Not)

 

Many years ago, I went along with a group of Exec MBA students to Germany.  Among them was Bill Swanson.  Bill had a sense of humor.

At some point in the trip, I spilled ketchup on my tie.  Bill’s response was that normally a ruined tie would be sad, but given my tie, the ketchup was an improvement.

Yes, Bill has a sense of humor; so I’m hoping the story below is a joke.

That’s what I hope, but what I fear is that the story below is one more example of the inefficient, sometimes painful (like when an 8th grader can’t take aspirin to middle school), and sometimes funny, things that we are driven to do to protect ourselves from being sued, in an economy where congress has empowered personal injury lawyers to frequently sue for huge and unpredictable compensatory and punitive damages.  (When Joe Ricketts, Ameritrade founder, spoke to my Exec MBA class a few years ago, he said that the biggest threat facing the U.S. economy was the proliferation of tort law suits.)

So it’s either a bad joke; or (most likely) it’s UNO protecting itself against every potential law suit; or it’s a third, and worse, alternative—which would be if the story below is to be taken at face value. 

In that case we would have to conclude that some UNO staff have nothing better to do with their time than to paternalistically ‘protect’ young adults from a minuscule risk of illness from freely choosing to purchase and eat cupcakes being sold by fellow students to raise money for good causes.

 

Here is an excerpt from the page one, lead story, of the Sat., Oct. 6, 2007, Omaha World-Herald:

 

(p. 1A)  Guns. Drugs. Bake sales.

What do these things have in common?

All have been banned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.

Citing safety and health concerns, UNO last week prohibited selling homemade food items at campus fundraisers.

Officials said the prevalence of serious food allergies and the potential for contaminated food — either by accident or deliberately — led UNO to adopt the policy, which then drew complaints from student groups.

"The primary issue is the health of the students and the safety of the students," said Bill Swanson, assistant to the vice chancellor in the Career Exploration and Outreach Office.

No one on the UNO campus has reported problems with contaminated food purchased at a bake sale, Swanson said.

But there have been incidents around the country, he said, and those were enough to prompt a discussion among officials.

The decision has come under fire from students who say the restriction cuts off small student (p. 2A) groups from their primary fundraising source.

The Public Relations Student Society of America traditionally held bake sales once a month to raise money for national conferences, local business luncheons and volunteer work, said the group’s president, Katie Dowd.

The group raised about $1,500 a year hawking homemade baked goods donated by members.

"It’s a big blow to us," said Dowd, who called the potential for food contamination from her group’s offerings "very unlikely."

 

For the full story, see: 

ELIZABETH AHLIN.  "Goodies ban half-baked, UNO students say." Omaha World-Herald  (Saturday, October 6, 2007):  1A & 2A.

 

How the Congo Government ‘Inspires’ Technology Entrepreneurs: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

KapingaMichelineCellPhone.jpg  "Micheline Kapinga of Kamponde, Congo, uses a cellphone on the only site in the village that is sometimes able to capture a signal."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

I AM just back from Tanzania in East Africa.

In the mornings, disregarding the protests of the armed guards at my lodge near Arusha, I jogged along muddy footpaths. After the heavy rains, and under a low, misty sky, the fields looked as ruined as a battlefield. Very poor farmers and their children stared curiously at me as I passed.

In the afternoons, I attended the TEDGlobal 2007 conference, held by the Technology, Entertainment and Design organization in the modern Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge. The contrast between the two experiences troubled me.

TED conferences, mostly held in Monterey, Calif., are invitation-only affairs, are attended by the aristocracy of Silicon Valley and are known for their adventurousness in drawing together wildly disparate trends in technology, business and the arts.

On this occasion, Bono, the Irish rock star and champion of African causes, had persuaded the conference’s organizer, Chris Anderson, to invite the usual crowd, as well as African entrepreneurs, activists, health care professionals and artists to this tropical, leafy region midway between the Serengeti Plain and Mount Kilimanjaro.

. . .

At least one of the African attendees of the conference was representative of the kind of technological entrepreneurialism that the show advocated.

Alieu Conteh, the chairman of Vodacom Congo, was born in Gambia, in West Africa, 55 years ago and moved to Congo in 1981. For years, he was a successful coffee buyer and exporter.

Congo is about the size of Western Europe and has an estimated population of 65 million people. It is one of the least-developed nations in the world, with less than 300 miles of roads, most of them in poor condition.

In 1997, Mr. Conteh recalled in an interview, he heard Laurent D. Kabila, then the country’s president, deliver a speech in which he called upon his countrymen to rebuild Congo’s infrastructure after the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mr. Conteh, who had no experience in telecommunications, said he was inspired. He decided to build the nation’s first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) digital network.

At the time, according to Mr. Conteh, fewer than 10,000 people living in Congo — mainly business people, foreigners and government employees — had mobile handsets. They paid $7 to $10 a minute to make a call, using an older technology. Less than 15,000 homes had a telephone landline.

Mr. Conteh said he went, cap in hand, to the minister of communications to ask for the country’s first GSM license. In January 1998 he got it — but he first had to pay the government a license fee of $100,000. Over the years, and with little explanation, he said, the government, which is often terribly short of money, increased the license fee, first to $400,000, then $2 million.

  

For more of the commentary, see: 

JASON PONTIN.  "SLIPSTREAM; What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?"  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., June 17, 2007):  3. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Online Job Sites Grow and Evolve

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article excerpted and cited below.

 

Among the hottest Web sites of the past few years were job-search sites such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com. Helped by lavish advertising, they became household names. Newspapers, eager to tap the fast-growing online-ad market, teamed up with them.

Now, the hottest names in online recruitment are increasingly specialized job sites. That poses a threat to the growth prospects of the broad-based online job boards and their newspaper partners, analysts said.

In August, the number of unique visitors to CareerBuilder — which is jointly owned by Gannett, Tribune, McClatchy and Microsoft — dropped 2% to 20.2 million, while Monster.com’s traffic rose 4% to 16.3 million visitors.

By contrast, technology-focused Dice.com saw its traffic jump 34% to 998,000. At Healthcaresource.com, which posts health-care jobs, traffic rose 36%. 

 

For the full story, see: 

EMILY STEEL.  "ADVERTISING; Job-Search Sites Face a Nimble Threat Online Boards Become Specialized, Threatening Web-Print Partnerships."   The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., October 9, 2007):  B10.

 

A Toast to the Feisty Old Lady Entrepreneur Who Fought the Government, and Won

(p. B10) When Virginia-based vintner Juanita Swedenburg discovered Prohibition-vintage laws prevented her from mailing cases of wine to customers in New York, she decided to make a federal case of it.

"I was furious, never so cross, as cross as I can get," Ms. Swedenburg told the Washington Post in April 2005. A month later, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Swedenburg v. Kelly that a New York law preventing wine sales across state lines was unconstitutional.

. . .

To Ms. Swedenburg, it was a matter of principle, not peddling more vino, says her son, Marc Swedenburg. She shut down her mail-order business when she filed suit in 2000, to ensure she wasn’t violating the law. The family winery still does very little mail-order sales.

Ms. Swedenburg’s day before the nation’s high court was set in motion in the early 1990s, when lawyer Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based libertarian law firm, stopped by her Middleburg, Va., tasting room. There, he discovered "a chardonnay with the toastiest nose I can remember," Mr. Bolick wrote in his book "David’s Hammer" (2007), which includes Ms. Swedenburg’s story in an anthology of David vs. Goliath tales. Mr. Bolick and Ms. Swedenburg got to talking, he writes, "When I told her that, among other things, I challenged regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, she exclaimed, ‘Have I got a regulation for you!’ "

. . .

Ms. Swedenburg expressed regret that her husband didn’t see her constitutional arguments prevail. "He never made fun of me for doing something as foolish as this. Some men would say, ‘What are you getting into all this foolishness for?’ Not him," she told the Washington Post. "He would always be very quiet when I’d go off on my rampage about the situation." The decision in her favor was rendered on May 16, 2005, the first anniversary of his death. Ms. Swedenburg was still bouncing around on her tractor days before her death at age 82 on June 9 in Middleburg.

 

For the full story, see:

STEPHEN MILLER.  "REMEMBRANCES; Juanita Swedenburg (1925 – 2007); Passionate Winemaker Won Fight To Sell Product Across State Lines." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 16, 2007):  A6.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

The reference for the Bolick book, is:

Bolick, Clint. David’s Hammer: The Case for an Activist Judiciary. Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, 2007.

 

  Source of book image:   http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/12270000/12274961.jpg

 

Water Problems from Ethanol Reported by National Academy of Sciences

 

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting.  . . .

. . .

But increased production could greatly increase pressure on water supplies for drinking, industry, hydropower, fish habitat and recreation, the report said.  . . .

The research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued the report yesterday. It is available at the academy’s Web site, nas.edu. It was financed by the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies and foundations.

The report noted that additional use of fertilizers and pesticides could pollute water supplies and contribute to the overgrowth of aquatic plant life that produces “dead zones” like those in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. 

 

For the full story, see: 

CORNELIA DEAN.  "Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production."  The New York Times (Thurs., October 11, 2007):  A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Government Subsidies Support Wealthy Golfers

 

Wealthy greeting card executive Mike Keiser created and owns the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which caters to wealthy corporate executives who fly to the course in small private corporate jets.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  BANDON, Ore. — Mike Keiser, who made a fortune selling greeting cards on recycled paper, turned this remote spot on the southern Oregon coast into a golfing mecca that attracts wealthy people in private jets from around the world. 

To many in this hard-luck town of 3,000, Mr. Keiser is an economic hero. Work became scarce after the timber and fishing industries collapsed a quarter-century ago, and his Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, a few miles north of town, has created 325 full-time jobs, plus hundreds more part-time jobs. Mr. Keiser earns millions of dollars in profits each year.

But beneath this model of enterprise, largely hidden subsidies from airline passengers, state-lottery players, taxpayers and company shareholders support the benefits that the owner, workers and visitors at Bandon Dunes enjoy.

Airline passengers and lottery players are paying for a $31 million airport expansion to serve the 5,000 business jets that arrive each year, filled almost entirely with golfers. Many of them are executives of publicly traded companies flying at a small fraction of the real cost of their trips; taxpayers and shareholders bear nearly all of these costs.

Much controversy swirls around the subsidies and tax exemptions state and local governments offer expressly to attract businesses to a community. But far less attention has been focused on the many kinds of indirect favors that are showered on places like Bandon Dunes through government policies (p. C6) that influence the flow of money from the public to private interests and often serve to reinforce benefits for those who are already successful.

. . .

No official tally of business subsidies exists, but in separate studies Peter S. Fisher of the University of Iowa and Kenneth F. Thomas of the University of Missouri estimated that state and local subsidies aimed at creating jobs total about $50 billion annually. More subtle subsidies like those that benefit Bandon Dunes are not counted in those figures and may be even larger.

Such government subsidies have been challenged as inefficient by a broad spectrum of critics, from the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation to liberal groups like Good Jobs First.

To be sure, said Martin S. Feldstein, a Harvard University economics professor and a former chief economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, some government subsidies can be beneficial for society.

“A subsidy for flu vaccines is good,” he said, “because if you are vaccinated I am less likely to get flu by contagion.” But job subsidies are a drag on the economy, he added, “unless the local gain exceeds the loss in the rest of the nation.”

 

For the full story, see: 

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON.  "Assisting the Good Life."  The New York Times  (Fri., June 15, 2007):  C1 & C6.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

  A few of the roughly 5,000 business jets that carry executive golfers to the public airport, built and expanded partly with fees from middle-class airline travelers.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Ehrlich Won Genius Award; Simon Won No Award, But Simon Was Right

 

SimonJulianL.gif    Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited below. 

 

A new United Nations report called "State of the Future" concludes: "People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer."

. . .  

To what do we owe this improvement? Capitalism, according to the U.N. Free trade is rightly recognized as the engine of global prosperity in recent years. In 1981, 40% of the world’s population lived on less than $1 a day. Now that percentage is only 25%, adjusted for inflation. And at current rates of growth, "world poverty will be cut in half between 2000 and 2015" — which is arguably one of the greatest triumphs in human history. Trade and technology are closing the global "digital divide," and the report notes hopefully that soon laptop computers will cost $100 and almost every schoolchild will be a mouse click away from the Internet (and, regrettably, those interminable computer games).

It also turns out that the Malthusians (who worried that we would overpopulate the planet) got the story wrong. Human beings aren’t reproducing like Norwegian field mice. Demographers now say that in the second half of this century, the human population will stabilize and then fall. If we use the same absurd extrapolation techniques demographers used in the 1970s, Japan, with its current low birth rate, will have only a few thousand citizens left in 300 years.

I take special pleasure in reciting all of this global betterment because my first professional job was working with the "doom-slaying" economist Julian Simon. Starting 30 years ago, Simon (who died in 1998) told anyone who would listen — which wasn’t many people — that the faddish declinism of that era was bunk. He called the "Global 2000" report "globaloney." Armed with an arsenal of factual missiles, he showed that life on Earth was getting better, and that the combination of free markets and human ingenuity was the recipe for solving environmental and economic problems. Mr. Ehrlich, in response, said Simon proved that the one thing the world isn’t running out of "is lunatics."

Mr. Ehrlich, whose every prediction turned out wrong, won a MacArthur Foundation "genius award"; Simon, who got the story right, never won so much as a McDonald’s hamburger. But now who looks like the lunatic? This latest survey of the planet is certainly sweet vindication of Simon and others, like Herman Kahn, who in the 1970s dared challenge the "settled science." (Are you listening, global-warming alarmists?)

The media’s collective yawn over "State of the Future" is typical of the reaction to just about any good news. When 2006 was declared the hottest year on record, there were thousands of news stories. But last month’s revised data, indicating that 1934 was actually warmer, barely warranted a paragraph-long correction in most papers.

 

For the full commentary, see:  

STEPHEN MOORE.  "DE GUSTIBUS; Clear-Eyed Optimists."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., October 5, 2007):  W11.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)