Earmarks Increase Wasteful Government Spending

 

   Source of table:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — Even though members of Congress cut back their pork barrel spending this year, House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.

Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year. Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively. It also includes $92 million in requests from Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, a committee member who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, requested $32 million in earmarks, while Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, asked for $26 million for projects in the $459.6 billion defense bill, the largest of the appropriations bills that go through Congress.

As promised when they took (p. A27) control of Congress in January, House Democratic leaders cut in half from last year the value of earmarks in the bill, as they did in the other 11 agency spending measures. But some lawmakers complained that the leadership failed to address what it had called a “culture of corruption” in which members seek earmarks to benefit corporate donors. Earmarks have been a recurring issue in recent Congressional scandals, most recently the 2005 conviction of Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

“Pork hasn’t gone away at all,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an earmark critic who cites the “circular fund-raising” surrounding many of them. “It would be wonderful if this was a partisan issue, with Republicans on the right side, but it is really not. Many of these companies use money appropriated through earmarks to turn around and lobby for more money. Some of them are just there to receive earmarks.”

Congressional earmarks are for programs that are not competitively bid , and the Bush administration has complained that they waste taxpayer dollars and skew priorities from military needs, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, though, sees the costs of earmarks as less of a problem than their potential for abuse.

“The fiscal fallout of earmarks is trivial,” he said. But they can lead to “conflicts of interest, the irrational and unconstructive allocation of resources, or their use by Congressional leaders as carrots and sticks to buy votes for larger measures that clearly lack majority support on the merits.”

 

For the full story, see: 

MARILYN W. THOMPSON and RON NIXON.  "Even Cut 50 Percent, Earmarks Clog Military Bill."  The New York Times, First Section   (Sun., November 4, 2007):  1 & 27. 

 

Unwashed Hospital Worker Hands Often Spread Disease

 

   "A special light reveals deadly bacteria."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

If health care in the U.S. were a free market, with unregulated entry, and real consumer choice, it is hard to believe that some Wal-Mart-of-health-care wouldn’t come along that would gain huge market share and profits by providing its employees incentives to wash their hands.

 

(p. A1)  PITTSBURGH — At a veterans’ hospital here, nurses swab the nasal passages of every arriving patient to test them for drug-resistant bacteria. Those found positive are housed in isolation rooms behind red painted lines that warn workers not to approach without wearing gowns and gloves.

Every room and corridor is equipped with dispensers of foamy hand sanitizer. Blood pressure cuffs are discarded after use, and each room is assigned its own stethoscope to prevent the transfer of microorganisms. Using these and other relatively inexpensive measures, the hospital has significantly reduced the number of patients who develop deadly drug-resistant infections, long an unaddressed problem in American hospitals.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected this year that one of every 22 patients would get an infection while hospitalized — 1.7 million cases a year — and that 99,000 would die, often from what began as a routine procedure. The cost of treating the infections amounts to tens of billions of dollars, experts say.

But in the past two years, a few hospitals have demonstrated that simple screening and isolation of patients, along with a relentless focus on hygiene, can reduce the number of dangerous infections. By doing so, they have fueled a national debate about whether hospitals are doing all they can to protect patients from infections, which are now linked to more deaths than diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.

. . .

(p. A16)  Dr. Richard P. Shannon, who championed a program to reduce catheter infections at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, was able to show administrators that the average infection cost the hospital $27,000. He demonstrated that reimbursement payments for weeks of extended treatment were not keeping pace with actual costs. “I think it was assumed that hospitals didn’t mind treating these infections because they were getting paid for it,” Dr. Shannon said.

A major emphasis at the Pittsburgh hospitals has been hand hygiene. Studies have consistently shown that busy hospital workers disregard basic standards more than half the time. At the veterans hospital, where nurses have taken to pushing elevator buttons with their knuckles, annual spending on hand cleaner has doubled.

 

For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK.  "Swabs in Hand, Hospital Cuts Deadly Infections."  The New York Times   (Fri., July 27, 2007):   A1 & A16.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 InfectionsDropGraph.jpg CunninghamBillNurse.jpg  In the photo on the right, Pittsburgh nurse Bill Cunningham, "puts on a gown and gloves before approaching patients with infections."  Source of graph, caption, and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 

X Prize Foundation “Encourages Entrepreneurship”

 

   "From left, Bob Weiss of the X Prize Foundation; Larry Page of Google; Peter Diamandis of X Prize; Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 33)  THE quests are monumental: end global warming; build a private spaceship; cure diseases; develop a car that can go 100 miles on a gallon of gas.

But the prizes are also monumental: millions and millions of dollars.

Such extreme public interest projects have been taken up by foundations, most prominently the X Prize Foundation, an 11-year-old group in Santa Monica, Calif., that rewards innovation on an entirely new scale.

“The world faces difficult problems — bigger than government, business and nonprofits can handle,” said Tom Vander Ark, president of the X Prize Foundation. The foundation encourages entrepreneurship, he said, and “competitions can create and reshape markets.”

In 1996, the foundation offered a $10 million prize, called the Ansari X, for someone to invent a private passenger rocket ship able to fly nearly 70 miles up and back again. A team led by the aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and paid for with more than $20 million from Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft, collected the $10 million in 2004.

The X Prize Foundation is not alone in its ambitious ventures: Google.org, the nearly two-year-old philanthropic arm of Google, has kicked off a $10 million competition to inspire production of plug-in hybrid vehicles so energy efficient they can sell excess electricity back to the utility.

. . .

“It’s a new kind of grant-making,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who sold his company, Ethos Water, to Starbucks and became a senior adviser to the X Prize Foundation. “It’s a mode that encourages experimentation rather than prescribing solutions. It sets the stage for innovation and dynamism that the grantor can’t anticipate.”

. . .

Cash prizes to induce innovation are not new. Peter Diamandis, the 46-year-old aeronautical engineer and physician who founded the X Prize Foundation, said he was inspired by the $25,000 aviation prize offered in 1919 by a New York hotelier, Raymond Orteig, to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. The prize went, of course, to Charles Lindbergh, whose grandson, Erik Lindbergh, is on the X Prize Foundation board.

In the same spirit, “We asked ourselves, how do we demonstrate the technology and stimulate market interest?” said Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives at Google.org. “How do we advance the technology around plug-ins? The usual way is to quietly go about looking at investment opportunities, make investments and have some impact. We decided to take a different route, a public request for investment proposals. We wanted to look beyond the usual players, bring attention to a critical area and catalyze competition and innovation.”

. . .

The X Prize Foundation announced the new competitions at the Clinton Global Initiative, a conference organized by former President Bill Clinton and held in September in New York.

“Think of this,” Mr. Clinton said at the time. “Twelve prizes in areas designed to break barriers to human health, have children live longer, solve all these education problems and do it in the most cost-effective way. This is the most amazing idea to me, trying to unleash entrepreneurship in the public interest.”

 

For the full story, see: 

KEITH SCHNEIDER.  "Win Fabulous Prizes, All in the Name of Innovation."  The New York Times, Giving Special Section  (Sun., November 12, 2007):  33.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

“People Giddy on Hope and Thrilled to Be Changing”

 

   "Emily Prager at her lane house in Shanghai."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.   

 

The centers of dynamism are not set in stone.  I once asked the philosopher Alan Donagan why the Scottish enlightenment had occurred where (Edinburgh) and when (in the mid-late 18th century) it did.  With his usual good humor he told me that I was asking a bad question–that my question assumed that enlightenments were determined.  He instead believed that they were chance occurrences resulting from the free-will choices of individuals.

I think that there was something to what he said.  But I also believe that some institutions, and some policies of government, can greatly increase the probability that fruitful dynamism will occur.  For instance, free markets tend to tolerate diversity and experimentation, and to reward initiative. 

In the past, locations of economic dynamism, also were often locations of intellectual dynamism.  I wonder if the connection is still true today, and if not, why not? 

Among past centers of dynamism were Miletus, Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and New York City.  Today, centers of economic dynamism include Las Vegas, Dubai and Shanghai.  The article quoted below paints a generally appealing picture of Shanghai.

 

(p. D1)  I decided to move myself and my 12-year-old daughter, Lulu — whom I had adopted as a baby in China — from the old capital of the world to the new: to make a home in Shanghai, a city of the future.

I knew something about Shanghai, having been here on trips several times in the last few years. The city was always so excited it could hardly contain itself. It is a microcosm of the Asian boom, stuffed with people giddy on hope and thrilled to be changing. It recalls the greatness of New York in the early ’70s, except for one thing: Like the rest of China, Shanghai was largely closed to the outside world, and real economic growth, for nearly 50 years after World War II. It is a place where every car on the road is brand new and every pet recently acquired, but the person you just met might trace his family back 70 generations. The modernity and polish that Manhattan learned between 1945 and 1995, Shanghai is cramming for as fast as it can, and it’s fascinating to watch.

. . .

(p. D6)  Pets are new to Chinese people and they don’t know very much about them. Dogs are not neutered and they are walked without leashes. Many people are terrified of dogs, particularly given the country’s serious rabies problem.

Twice when I was walking Skippy, young women caught sight of him and screamed in terror at the top of their lungs. Because having a pet is so new, there is a video showing how to pick up after a dog and wash his paws after his walk, which appears many times a day on a huge video screen on Huaihai, the city’s other main shopping street.

 

For the full story, see: 

EMILY PRAGER. "At Home Abroad; Settling Down in a City in Motion."  The New York Times  (Thurs., July 19, 2007):  D1 & D6. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

   "On the streets of Shanghai, the author’s injured foot attracts less attention than her pet dog, still a rare sight in the city."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 

Entrepreneur Bets His Wealth on a Risky, Important Project

 

  "Alfred E. Mann, at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., has put nearly $1 billion of his own money into developing an insulin that can be inhaled."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C1)  LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15 — Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, flopped miserably with a seemingly can’t-miss idea. But Alfred E. Mann is so certain he can succeed that he is betting nearly $1 billion of his own money on the effort.

Pfizer’s failure was a form of insulin that people with diabetes could inhale rather than inject. But last month, after selling only $12 million worth of inhaled insulin in the first nine months of the year, Pfizer said it would take a $2.8 billion charge and abandon the product.

Mr. Mann, the 82-year-old chief executive and controlling shareholder of the MannKind Corporation, is not deterred. He says his company’s inhalable insulin is not just a way to avoid needles but is medically superior to Pfizer’s product and to injected insulin.

If he is right, he could help change the way diabetes is treated.

“I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I’m willing to back it up with my estate,” Mr. Mann said at his 23,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The interview took place on a Saturday evening, which Mr. Mann said was the only opening in his seven-day work schedule.

Despite Mr. Mann’s remarkable entrepreneurial career — he has founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies — there are people who wonder whether he has so much invested in this latest effort, both financially and emotionally, that he cannot see any odds against him.

“I don’t know of an individual who has spent as much of a personal fortune on a long shot,” said Andrew Forman, an analyst with WR Hambrecht & Company. Mr. Forman said MannKind faced numerous regulatory and patent challenges, as well as possible competition from the leaders in injected insulin, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, which are also developing inhalable products.

 

For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Betting an Estate on Inhaled Insulin." The New York Times  (Fri., November 16, 2007):  C1 & C5.

 

  "The inhaled insulin device, about the size of a cellphone."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 

Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ”Mine Your Own Business,” billed as ”the world’s first anti-environmentalist documentary.” Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film — financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company — portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ”YouTube revolution” with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ”exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen’s Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 

Massaging Millions from Google

 

"Bonnie Brown joined Google when it had 40 employees."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 11 — Bonnie Brown was fresh from a nasty divorce in 1999, living with her sister and uncertain of her future. On a lark, she answered an ad for an in-house masseuse at Google, then a Silicon Valley start-up with 40 employees. She was offered the part-time job, which started out at $450 a week but included a pile of Google stock options that she figured might never be worth a penny.

After five years of kneading engineers’ backs, Ms. Brown retired, cashing in most of her stock options, which were worth millions of dollars. To her delight, the shares she held onto have continued to balloon in value.

“I’m happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it’s been pouring,” said Ms. Brown, 52, who now lives in a 3,000-square-foot house in Nevada, gets her own massages at least once a week and has a private Pilates instructor. She has traveled the world to oversee a charitable foundation she started with her Google wealth and has written a book, still unpublished, “Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.”

When Google’s stock topped $700 a share last week before dropping back to $664 on Friday, outside shareholders were not the only ones smiling. According to documents filed on Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google employees and former employees are holding options they can cash in worth about $2.1 billion. In addition, current employees are sitting on stock and unvested op-(p. A16)tions, or options they cannot immediately cash in, that together have a value of about $4.1 billion.

Although no one keeps an official count of Google millionaires, it is estimated that 1,000 people each have more than $5 million worth of Google shares from stock grants and stock options.

 

For the full story, see:

KATIE HAFNER. "Google Options Make Masseuse a Multimillionaire."  The New York Times  (Mon., November 12, 2007): A1 & A16.

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.