Kurt Johnson's Blog

A libertarian's perspective

Religious Freedom bill may be just fine.

I respectfully disagree with Kevin Pokorny’s letter to the editor in the Register yesterday.  (See link below.)  The State of Iowa does need to amend its civil rights laws to allow buyers and sellers of products and services to peacefully follow their conscience when they have reasonable disagreements.
To the extent that a product or service is personalized or customized, it does infringe on the rights of a seller to force him or her to provide the product or service in such a way that goes against the seller’s sincerely held religious beliefs. If the products or services are readily available from a multitude of sellers, and a buyer can reasonably find what he or she wants from another seller, then it is not unreasonable to allow some sellers to follow their conscience.
In Iowa and other states, florists, photographers, bakers, and wedding venue operators have been forced to provide customized products and/or services for gay couples’ weddings.  Governments should never discriminate against gay marriage, and I personally have and do support giving gay marriage the same government rights and privileges as any other marriage.  But, private individuals, and the businesses they operate, should not be forced to provide customized or personalized services or products against their will.
FYI – I am a libertarian-minded atheist, and believe it is better to have peaceful voluntary solutions whenever possible, rather than to use the force of government to decide who will be winners and who will be losers.

Prairie Meadows should open their books, regardless of ruling

On 12/16/2016, The Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa Public Information Board had ruled that Prairie Meadows  Race Track and Casino was not a “government body” according to their rules and, therefore, was not required to follow open records laws, and not required to provide the Register with records pertaining contracts of its top executives.  (See link below.)

The Register can appeal the decision, and has some good arguments why Prairie Meadow should be subject to open records laws.  But even if Prairie Meadows is not required to follow open records laws, they could still release the records voluntarily.  Just because it is legal to do something does not mean it is the right thing to do.  Prairie Meadows would not exist if not for the original support of Polk County taxpayers.  The board claims that Prairie Meadows is a not-for-profit organization, (even though the IRS disagrees).  I don’t understand why any board member would want to be anything other than completely transparent about the operations of Prairie Meadows?  I presume that none of them feel they have anything to hide.

I appeal to the board members of Prairie Meadows to simply do the right thing, and voluntarily open their records to the public, and the Des Moines Register.

 

Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/government/2016/12/15/iowa-board-says-prairie-meadows-records-can-secret/95492840/

Checkoff programs for commodities should be ended.

The Des Moines Register recently reported that all Iowa cattle producers will soon be forced to pay $0.50 per head into a “checkoff program.  The funds will be used for beef promotion, research and other activities.  56% of the cattle producers voted for the “checkoff” program – forcing the other 44% to contribute to the scheme.  In any other setting, it would be called a tax.
There are many checkoff programs for a wide variety of commodities, both nationally and in various states.  They all work the same way.  If a majority of the producers want to tax themselves to promote their commodity, then they get to force all producers to pay into the program.
There is not the kind of activity that should be ruled by a majority.  I understand that if the programs were voluntary, which they originally were, that those who did not pay would get a “free ride” – they would get the benefits without paying for any of the costs.  That is not a sufficient reason to use the force of government.  There are an unlimited number of things that a majority of businesses might like to do, if they could force all competitors to help pay.
Both federal and state governments need to repeal the laws which allow checkoff programs to exist.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/2016/12/08/iowa-beef-checkoff-passes-with-56-percent-approval/95138020/

Russian “tampering” of election needs to be disclosed.

If the Russians did tamper with the election, the citizens of the U.S. need to know what happened.

If the tampering was limited to hacking into the Democratic National Committee computers, and releasing what they found to the public, the the outcome of the election should not be called into question.  There are many news related factors that affect the election, and false statements were made by the candidates and others.  What was released about the DNC was true.

On the other hand, if the Russians did anything to affect the counting of the votes, that would and should cause us to call the results into question.

Trump should work with Obama to allay fears of dreamers

Some Democrats have suggested that President Obama pardon the 750,000 “Dreamers” who fear that President-elect Trump will deport them.  The Dreamers are young people who, while they were still young children, were brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents . President Obama used his executive power to grant them temporary legal status if they registered with the federal government through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The dreamers, and their friends and family, fear that the registration information they provided to the government will now be used by President-elect Trump to find and deport them.  Surely, we should not penalize these children and young adults who have made a good faith effort to become legal residents.  For many of them, the United States is the only home they have ever known.  Maybe they should not be given a path to citizenship, but we should allow them to stay there legally.  I hope that President-elect Trump will support these young people, and announce his support publicly.  This good faith effort would very much help to allay the fears of many of those who have continued to protest the election of Trump.

 

EpiPens and Government Cheese – article from Reason Magazine

The November issue of Reason magazine included the article below by Katherine Mangu-Ward.  I think it is an excellent example of how our government can screw things ups, no matter how good the intentions.

 

EpiPens and Government Cheese

Some things won’t change no matter who wins the 2016 election.

At the end of August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought 11 million pounds of cheese—that’s a cheese cube for every man, woman, and child in America—in order to bail out the nation’s feckless cheesemongers.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack touted the aid package, worth $20 million, as a win-win: “This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need.” (Most of the federal government’s new stockpile will go to food banks.)

This bailout of Big Cheese came on top of an $11.2 million infusion earlier in the month to dairy farmers enrolled in a 2014 federal financial aid scheme. The deal comes after months of lobbying by the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau, and the National Milk Producers Federation, who were too antsy to wait for their next big cash cow to come ambling in with the farm bill.

The same week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) wrote a letter to the pharmaceutical company Mylan, demanding an explanation for why EpiPens, the epinephrine auto-injectors that severely allergic people carry in case of an emergency, have quadrupled in price since 2007. Grassley cited constituents paying $500 to fill their prescriptions.

Hillary Clinton issued a statement about the price increases as well: “Since there is no apparent justification in this case, I am calling on Mylan to immediately reduce the price of EpiPens.” Donald Trump used the occasion to score points, tweeting out a story about hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation from the disgraced company. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) echoed Clinton’s sentiment in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission: Lamenting that “antitrust laws do not prohibit price gouging,” she asked the regulatory body to look into whether Mylan has used “unreasonable restraints of trade” to keep prices high.

The summer’s cheese bailout and EpiPen price scandal are ideological Rorschach blots.Where one observer sees only the evils of the profit motive, another looks at the same fact pattern and sees the perils of an overweening regulatory state.

Vox sided solidly with the profit shamers, declaring: “We are the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices, maximizing profits the same way sellers of chairs, mugs, shoes, or any other manufactured goods would.” But pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex responded with a tidy reverse Voxsplanation: The cronyist Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government forces have squelched nearly every effort to compete with Mylan’s EpiPens, distorting the market beyond recognition via a process he chronicles in painful detail.

Mylan acquired the EpiPen from Merck in 2007, by which time the product was already 25 years old, which means the question of paying back research costs was moot. In 2009, Teva Pharmaceuticals tried to enter the market—and Mylan sued. Teva managed to get its product to the FDA anyway, only to be told that it had “certain major deficiencies,” unspecified. In 2010, Sandoz Inc. tried its luck and got bogged down in the courts, where the case still dwells. In 2011, the French drug company Sanofi made a bid to gain approval for a generic, which was delayed for years because the FDA didn’t like the proposed brand name. Which brings us to this year, when Adamis decided to sell plain old pre-filled epinephrine syringes directly to patients without the fancy injector. Cue an FDA recall, on the rather vague basis that insufficient study had been done on standard administration of a drug whose medical properties have been known since the turn of the last century.

And sometimes the tangled, dysfunctional relationship between big business and big government gets even more personal. The CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W. Va.), which probably makes things awkward in the Senate cafeteria. But Manchin has joined his colleagues in saying that he is “concerned about the high prices of prescription drugs,” which probably makes things awkward at Thanksgiving. Then again, Mylan spends over a million dollars a year lobbying, which likely goes a long way toward smoothing things over.

In 2014 Congress passed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which Grassley mentions in his letter. The law, he writes, “provides an incentive to states to boost the stockpile of epinephrine at schools.” It was co-sponsored by Klobuchar, the same senator who now wants to sic the antitrust dogs on Mylan. That law was a top lobbying priority for Mylan that year, along with new rules that reduced competition for generics.

Grassley also notes that the taxpayers are picking up the tab for kids who are getting EpiPens while on Medicaid or the state-level Children’s Health Insurance Program, and he adds that some 47 states require or encourage schools and other public institutions to stock EpiPens. In other words, Congress created a huge new class of price-insensitive EpiPen customers and now wonders why the price has gone up.

Meanwhile, the prescription laws still require you to get a special piece of paper from a doctor every single time you want to buy an EpiPen. If the doctor writes a brand name on that paper, it’s illegal for the pharmacist to give you a cheaper generic.

The story of the government cheese is just as convoluted. It’s easy to be lulled by Vilsack’s sell: Helping farmers and the hungry? Sounds great! But you know what else helps move a glut of cheese off the shelves and into the hands of poor people, without requiring taxpayer dollars? Lowering the price.

That’s something the industry isn’t willing to do, and—given all the pricing rules and production quotas that have been distorting dairy markets since the 1930s—mostly can’t do. With Americans eating a record 34 pounds of cheese a year, the problem isn’t an unexpected drop in demand.The problem is a failure to allow the laws of supply and demand to function at all.

Eleven million pounds of cheese may seem like small potatoes (to mix culinary metaphors), and it is in the larger scheme of federal spending and meddling. What’s another $20 million when the debt is already $20 trillion, after all? But our typically cheerful acceptance of central control of compressed curds and injectable epinephrine shows how widespread and insidious such conditions are in our lives.

What would real free market reforms look like, and how would they come about? In this issue, you’ll read what Libertarian Party nominees Gary Johnson and Bill Weld would do in the (very unlikely) event that they won the presidency and vice presidency (page 30). Reason TV’s Jim Epstein reports on the millennial libertarian activists in Brazil who brought down a corrupt populist president (page 50). And in Detroit, an American city where public services are essentially nonexistent, we detail how residents are building DIY alternatives (page 65).

In the meantime, there is no reason to think either the tale of the EpiPens or the saga of the cheese would play out any differently under President Trump or President Clinton. Taxpayer-funded sops to farmers are as bipartisan as it gets, and there is precisely zero chance that a president from either major party would discontinue the practice. Likewise, the iron grip of the FDA on the drug approval process—and the opportunities to purchase influence in that powerful bureaucracy—will not diminish one iota, regardless of which major-party candidate becomes America’s Big Cheese in January.

End racist prohibition.

As The Des Moines Register reported on 10/13/2016, “Black Iowans are seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Iowans…”  (See link below.)  Drug possession.  A crime without a victim.  Arrests that create a criminal record that seriously negatively affects a person’s ability to get a job.
Even if blacks do possess illegal drugs at a rate seven times more than whites, which I very much doubt, treating possession of any drug as a crime is clearly unfair, if not racist.   Why don’t people get arrested for “possession” if they are caught with a six pack of beer?  Why aren’t people be arrested and charged with “intent to deliver” if they are caught with more than a case of beer?  Why aren’t people charged with a more serious crime if they are caught with high alcohol content distilled spirits, which are surely more dangerous?
We need to end the immoral and impractical drug wars.  The correct and reasonable thing to do is to legalize and regulate the manufacture, sale and use of all drugs, just like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs.  Just like with alcohol, fair regulations would include protecting our children, and prohibiting driving vehicles while intoxicated.  In any case, we need to end prohibition.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/10/12/iowa-ranks-2nd-worst-racial-disparities-drug-arrests/91958452/