5 Bad Arguments for Public Infrastructure Spending

With healthcare reform stalling, President Trump’s administration seems ready to shift focus onto infrastructure.

Good infrastructure, especially highways, bridges, and airports, can certainly improve economic mobility and lower costs by reducing travel time between locations. This, however, says nothing about the kinds of institutions most likely to produce good infrastructure or who should fund it.

Here’s a handy guide to some of the bad economic reasoning you will likely hear as the debate about infrastructure spending heats up.

1. Past benefits don't mean future benefits

In his joint address to Congress, President Trump declared that “the time has come for a new program of national rebuilding.” The implication was clear: building new infrastructure was a success in the past, so it would be good for the economy today.

Past experience and the experience of other countries lead to mixed conclusions about the value of public infrastructure project. Highway construction can substantially boost productivity for industries associated with road use, but the same research finds those benefits to be largely one-offs. More recent research has found that too many new highways were built between 1983 and 2003. It has also found that marginal extensions to the highway system are unlikely to increase social welfare because the cost savings from reduced travel times are relatively small.

We should judge new projects on their own merits, not against old examples or countries in different circumstances.

2. Don't ignore opportunity costs

“Traffic Congestion Costs Americans $124 Billion A Year” is a headline from 2014. As legislation for infrastructure is pushed, we will hear plenty about the costs of delays to the economy.

Infrastructure decisions should be judged by robust estimates of costs and expected benefits.

These costs are undoubtedly very real, but so are the costs of building new infrastructure, and that money can't then be spent on other things that we might have preferred to spend them on. Without the aid of clear market signals, it's very difficult and maybe impossible for governments to determine the optimal amount and nature of infrastructure spending. It would obviously be prohibitively expensive to eliminate all congestion by expanding every freeway to 15 lanes but building no new highways would also be problematic. How far should a road expansion go? How often should it be repaired? How much transportation should go by train? How much money should be spent on research and development for completely new ways of meeting transportation demand? Markets are good at finding the optimal mix over time and rewarding those who are better at satisfying demand. Governments, even with the best of intentions, lack the necessary knowledge about each of our individual opportunity costs to find that mix. They certainly lack the incentive structure to improve over time.

3. But what about that one bridge...?

Individual catastrophic events can lead to concern about the physical conditions of infrastructure. The I-35W bridge collapse in Mississippi in 2007 is a recent example. Even more recently, commentators have used the I-85 bridge fire and collapse in Georgia as justification for more infrastructure investment. But these are rarities that tell us little about the quality of infrastructure overall.

You often hear that 58,791 bridges are structurally deficient, for example, which sounds kinda scary. Less often will you hear that, according to the Federal Highways Agency, “structurally deficient does not mean that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe.” You also won't hear that the proportion of bridges labeled structurally deficient has fallen from 24.1 percent in 1990 to 9.6 percent in 2015.

When you hear individual statistics on the dire state of U.S. infrastructure, ask questions like, “compared to what?,” “how has this changed over time?,” and “is there a demand for this to be replaced?”

4. Cheap debt doesn't make everything a bargain

In 2015, Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller argued that "the government should be borrowing, it would seem, heavily and investing in anything that yields a positive return." The Brookings Institution recently spelled out similar logic, suggesting that low interest rates should also be inducing private sector investment.

The mistake here is to conflate a less costly time to invest with a “good time” to invest. Take the example of a toll road. If the long-term growth and population outlook for an area has seriously slowed, then the expected use of that toll road would fall, as would demand for investment opportunities. This would cause lower interest rates, all else being equal.

Attempts to stimulate quickly and get people back to work will likely result in sloppy project selection.

Those lower interest rates, however, would not indicate that it was a good time to invest. They would be signalling lower expected future revenues.

Similar logic applies to government investment in transport infrastructure without user fees – if there are structural reasons why demand for transportation use is falling, then any investment would yield far fewer economic benefits.

Infrastructure decisions should be judged by robust estimates of costs and expected benefits, not just how cheap it is to borrow.

5. How stimulus actually works

Leaked documents show that the Trump administration is likely to prioritize “shovel ready” projects and those that are “direct job creators.” But previously on his campaign website Trump’s team had suggested the goal of infrastructure development was “more rapid productivity gains.”

This conflates two well-known arguments for infrastructure investment. The first is that government investment spending can be used to “stimulate” the economy and put people back to work. The second is that smart, efficient investments can help enhance long-term productivity growth.

These two ambitions often conflict. Attempts to stimulate quickly and get people back to work will likely result in sloppy project selection and the hiring of more labor than would be most efficient. And since government is, well, government, it's a pretty good bet that infrastructure funds will go preferentially to the well-connected.

Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne
Ryan Bourne, former head of public policy at IEA, occupies the R. Evan Scharf chair in the Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute. He is a co-author of "The Minimum Wage: silver bullet or poisoned chalice?" and "Smoking out red herrings."
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Hey New York Times, This Is Why Uber Is Awesome

We are only a few years into the emergence of a new form of market freedom.

In our highly regulated, static, and bureaucratized job marketplace, hobbled by a thicket of government rules and impositions, there appeared a beautiful thing. Sometimes called the gig economy, it specializes in using mobile apps and other software to directly connect producers and consumers. These new strategies have turned billions of previously idle physical and human resources into ones active in markets, to the great satisfaction of people, but much to the annoyance of governments and their connected labor unions.

The headline company here is Uber, the global ride-sharing service that only employs 7,000 people but gives power to millions of drivers and passengers, but there are also thousands of others. What a bright spot! Economic opportunities are being made available for millions, and these markets really do represent a hope for the future.

The irony here is that these strategies are devolving capital control back to workers, just as the socialists once imagined it should be – but it is happening through a capitalistic process. You might think that the emergence of such markets would be greeted with universal acclaim. But, of course, nothing this dramatic is greeted with ubiquitous cheers.

The New York Times has issued a major blast against the gig economy, and it has all the features of this genre of writing: find anything in the sector that might be improved, or is improving, and treat it as something government should crush immediately, regardless of the results for people who are actually choosing in favor of this form of market participation.

An editorial as bad as this calls for a good fisking:
There is no utopia at companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Handy, whose workers are often manipulated into working long hours for low wages while continually chasing the next ride or task.
“Utopia” is a pretty high standard against which to compare any existing reality. It’s also pretty presumptuous for any writer to presume people are being “manipulated” because they choose to work hard. Many, just like many newspaper reporters, they desire success.
These companies have discovered they can harness advances in software and behavioral sciences to old-fashioned worker exploitation, according to a growing body of evidence, because employees lack the basic protections of American law.
Imagine an Uber driver sitting at home, binging on Netflix, who suddenly realizes: I could be out making money by driving people around the city, having great conversations, making people happy, and getting drunks home safely. So up he goes out on the town. This is what the Times calls “exploitation.”
Gig economy workers tend to be poorer and are more likely to be minorities than the population at large ... Most said the money they earned from online platforms was essential or important to their families.
I have no doubt, but the Times is blaming the solution and calling it the problem. People who need another source of income have one, thanks to the gig economy. Would they be better off or worse off without the opportunity? (I’m embarrassed to have to make such rudimentary points here but such is the current situation.)
Since workers for most gig economy companies are considered independent contractors, not employees, they do not qualify for basic protections like overtime pay and minimum wages. This helped Uber, which started in 2009, quickly grow to 700,000 active drivers in the United States, nearly three times the number of taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the country in 2014.
That Uber grew so fast under this model should tell us something. The conventional workplace is not working precisely because of the “basic protections” that are actually horrible burdens that don’t help either workers or business owners. What these regulations do is diminish competition in every sector. The success of the gig economy is proof that the market is crying out to carry a lighter load of law. When you see success, that’s a signal you are doing something right (again, my apologies for typing such obvious things).
Increasingly, workers and government agencies are pushing back.
Put on your decoder ring: the term “workers” here means labor unions, whose only interest is in cartelizing the labor market for their benefit and at the expense of everyone else. As for government agencies, sure, they are ready to beat into submission anything in the market that moves without their permission. This is an old and grim story.
But so far, experience with these companies shows that without the legal protections and ethical norms that once were widely accepted, workers will find the economy of the future an even more inhospitable place.
Hey, listen. If the Times is saying that Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Handy, and the thousands of other gig companies are going to fail in the marketplace and be replaced by something else, that’s fine. Let the market sort out winners and losers. If workers find better options, they will gravitate toward them.

But so far, it looks like all the gravitational pull is in the other direction, toward industries that devolve ownership rights and choices to workers and away from the center and around government barriers. The market is already speaking, yelling, screaming: let’s try a different way. What the Times is actually agitating for are laws that crush these innovating companies. If they were to succeed, that would be deeply tragic.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

The Racist Roots of Marijuana Prohibition

The history of marijuana (or cannabis/THC) stems back over 10,000 years and is widely recognized as one of the most useful plants on the planet. Yet it was made illegal in the United States in the early 20th century due to political and economic factors.

History of The Drug                                                                                     

Let’s get one thing clear: marijuana was not made illegal because it caused “insanity, criminality, and death” as was claimed by Harry J. Anslinger. It was made illegal in an attempt to control Mexican immigration into the United States and to help boost the profits of large pharmaceutical companies.

Humans have been using the plant for almost 10,000 years to make necessary items such as clothing and pottery. But the first direct reference to a cannabis product as a “psychoactive agent” dates back to 2737 BC in the writings of the Chinese emperor Shen Nung.

The focus was on its healing powers, primarily how it healed diseases such as malaria and even "absent-mindlessness." The plant was used recreationally by Indians and Muslims as well.

Marijuana in America

The drug was introduced into America by the Spanish in 1545, where it became a major commercial force and was grown alongside tobacco. Farmers mostly grew hemp instead of cannabis (a form of the plant that is very low in THC), and by 1890 it had replaced cotton as the major cash crop in southern states.

Hemp continued to flourish in the States until the 1910s when Mexicans began popularizing the recreational use of cannabis.

At the time, cannabis was not primarily used for its psychoactive effects. However, and quite frankly, many "white" Americans did not like the fact that Mexicans were smoking the plant, and they soon demonized the drug.

Around 1910, the Mexican Revolution was starting to boil over, and many Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. to escape the conflict. This Mexican population had its own uses for cannabis, and they referred to it as "marihuana." Not only did they use it for medicinal purposes, but they smoked it recreationally – a new concept for white Americans. U.S. politicians quickly jumped on the opportunity to label cannabis “marihuana” in order to give it a bad rep by making it sound more authentically Mexican at a time of extreme prejudice.

It worked. Southern states became worried about the dangers this drug would bring, and newspapers began calling Mexican cannabis use a “marijuana menace.”

During the 1920s, many anti-marijuana campaigns were conducted to raise awareness about the many harmful effects the drug caused. These campaigns included radical claims stating that marijuana turned users into killers and drug addicts. They were all obviously fake, made up in an attempt to get rid of Mexican immigrants.

"A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say that there is no hope of saving the children's lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life," read a New York Times story from 1927. It was clear the newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant, and much of it has been said to be based on racist ideologies against Mexican immigrants.

The "war against marijuana" arguably began in 1930, where a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.

Anslinger realized that opiates and cocaine would not be enough to build his new agency, so he turned towards marijuana and worked relentlessly to make it illegal on a federal level. Some anti-marijuana quotes from Anslinger’s agency read:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

“Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”

“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Yes, every single one of these claims is outrageous, but the strategy worked.

(Harry Anslinger got some additional help from William Randolph Hearst, owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. First, he hated Mexicans. Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. Third, he had lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa and blamed Mexicans. Fourth, telling lurid lies about Mexicans [and the devil marijuana weed causing violence] sold newspapers, making him rich.)

The two were then supported by the Dupont chemical company and various pharmaceutical companies in the effort to outlaw cannabis. Pharmaceutical companies were on board with the idea because they could not standardize cannabis dosages, and people could grow it themselves. They knew how versatile the plant was in treating a wide range of medical conditions and that meant a potentially massive loss of profits.

So, these U.S. economic and political powerhouses teamed up to form a great little act called The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

This act testified to the many harmful effects of marijuana and was obviously opposed by many. But it was ultimately the committee chairman who got this act passed in congress. 

The chairman decided that
“high school boys and girls buy the destructive weed without knowledge of its capacity of harm, and conscienceless dealers sell it with impunity. This is a national problem, and it must have national attention. The fatal marihuana cigarette must be recognized as a deadly drug, and American children must be protected against it.”
And there you have it: 1937 marks the year where marijuana became illegal in the United States of America.


A man by the name of Harry Anslinger became the director of the newly established department — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Anslinger teamed up with William Randolph Hearst (a newspaper company owner) and some big-time pharmaceutical companies, and together they launched an anti-marijuana campaign to profit off of manufactured medicine and deport thousands of Mexicans.

Marijuana was not made illegal because of its negative health impacts. It was these men who manipulated the public into believing the herb was deadly, and their impacts are still felt even today.

The war against marijuana intensified in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed.

During this time, marijuana, heroin, and LSD were listed as "schedule 1" drugs (having the highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use). Obviously, this goes against thousands of years of human knowledge where it was widely known that cannabis was one of the most beneficial herbs on the face of the planet.

Congress has repeatedly decided to ignore history to the benefit of big pharmaceutical companies, which bring in billions of dollars annually from selling cheaply manufactured medicine.

The “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush years resulted in the passage of stricter laws, mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of marijuana, and heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The “war on drugs” brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation.

It wasn’t until 1996 when California legalized marijuana for medical use. Alaska, Oregon, and Washington eventually followed suit. However, it has taken well over a decade for marijuana to reach recreational legalization in these states. 

With all this being said, the future for marijuana is looking very bright. Marijuana advocates believe there is a chance for at least 11 more states to legalize recreational marijuana in the near future, which would be a huge leap forward in the grand scheme of things.

It has taken far too long to break the stigma attached to marijuana. Yes, like any drug, it can be abused. But to ignore its obvious health benefits in order to maintain large scale pharmaceutical operations and a monopoly on the health industry is ludicrous. 

David McDonald
David McDonald is a 20-year-old student at the University Of Guelph.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

There Are No Good Arguments for Syrian Intervention

You would think the never-ending mess in Afghanistan would have taught us lessons.

Or maybe we might have learned lessons from the never-ending mess in Iraq.

Notwithstanding those unpleasant experiences, President Trump is expanding America’s intervention in Syria with missile strikes.

This rubs me the wrong way, but let’s look at what others are writing on this issue.

One of my colleagues at the Cato Institute, Gene Healy, isn’t impressed by Trump’s intervention.
Thus far, the administration has said nothing about the legal authority for the strikes. There’s not much that can be said: they’re plainly illegal. He had neither statutory nor constitutional authority to order them. …Without statutory cover, all that’s left is an appeal to presidential power under Article II of the Constitution. But that document vests the bulk of the military powers it grants in Congress, with the aim of “clogging, rather than facilitating war,” as George Mason put it. In that framework, the president retains the power to “repel sudden attacks” against the US; but he does not have the power to launch them. …
Kevin Williamson of National Review is equally unhappy with Trump’s unilateral intervention.
As Daniel Pipes and others have persuasively argued, the United States does not have an ally in Syria. The United States does not have any national interest in the success of the ISIS-aligned coalition fighting to depose Assad. The United States does not have any interest in strengthening the position of the Assad regime and the position of his Russian and Iranian patrons. …Of course the Assad regime is murderous. It is murderous in an awfully familiar way: a Baathist despot in cahoots with jihadists using chemical weapons against a civilian population. …The Trump administration has no authorization to engage in war on Syria. Congress has not declared war or authorized the use of military force; there is no emergency to justify the president’s acting unilaterally in his role as commander in chief; there is no imminent threat to American lives or American interests — indeed, there is no real American interest at all. President Donald Trump is acting illegally, and Congress has a positive moral obligation to stop him. …All decent people feel for the Syrians. We also feel for the Ukrainians, the North Koreans, the men and women languishing in Chinese laogai, Russian gulags, and Cuban prisons. We do not go to war for the sake of sentiment. We go to war for the sake of pressing national interests that cannot be otherwise secured. There is no casus belli for knocking over the Assad government, odious as it is.
And Sean Davis of the Federalist asks 14 questions. Here are the ones that caught my attention.
…proponents of military action to depose Assad have not explained is what our clear national security interest is there, what political victory looks like, what our main risks are, and what costs we will be required to pay in order to achieve that victory. …If our nation is going to wage war, and if we are going to pay a price in dollars and in American lives as a result of that decision, we are owed answers to questions that were never adequately answered before we went into Iraq.
1) What national security interest, rather than pure humanitarian interest, is served by the use of American military power to depose Assad’s regime?
2) How will deposing Assad make America safer?
3) What does final political victory in Syria look like (be specific), and how long will it take for that political victory to be achieved? Do you consider victory to be destabilization of Assad, the removal of Assad, the creation of a stable government that can protect itself and its people without additional assistance from the United States, etc.?
6) What costs, in terms of lives (both military and civilian), dollars, and forgone options elsewhere as a result of resource deployment in Syria, will be required to achieve political victory?
8) Should explicit congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria be required, or should the president take action without congressional approval?
10) If U.S. intervention in Syria does spark a larger war with Russia, what does political victory in that scenario look like, and what costs will it entail?
14) What lessons did you learn from America’s failure to achieve and maintain political victory following the removal of governments in Iraq and Libya, and how will you apply those lessons to a potential war in Syria?
I try to avoid commenting on foreign policy, but all of the excerpts I just shared make total sense. Nobody is claiming that America’s national interests are being threatened. Instead, the case for intervention is that Assad is a bad dictator who is doing bad things.

But if that’s the criteria for intervention, why aren’t we bombing China, Venezuela, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Central African Republic?

Heck, here’s a map from Freedom House. The purple nations are “not free,” which means systematic repression of political rights and civil liberties. Syria is on the list, of course, but if having an oppressive government is what triggers U.S. intervention, there will be perpetual war.

Finally, I can’t help but call attention to a story in the New York Times that looked at many of the Republicans and Democrats who have flipped and flopped when commenting on Obama’s 2013 intervention and Trump’s 2017 intervention.

But there are some notable exceptions, particularly two of the more libertarian-leaning Republicans who actually put principle over partisanship.

And even though I admit I’m not a foreign policy expert, I sometimes play one on TV. And if you look at this interview from 2013, you’ll see that my views also have been consistent.
Republished from International Liberty.
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

E-cigarette critics get research dollars from industry competitors

Some interesting news recently landed in Jeff Stier’s inbox.

“Today’s a good day to quit smoking!” proclaimed an email from NYC Quits, part of a statewide tobacco control program that gives away free nicotine patches and gum every year.

Stier, a risk analyst with the National Center for Public Policy Analysis, signed up for the program, not because he’s a smoker (other than the occasional cigar) but for research.

“I got a few free nicotine patches. I was interested in seeing if I could feel the nicotine,’ he told Watchdog.org. “But the next morning in the shower, I felt something strange on my skin and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot!’ It was imperceptible.”

Stier said the fact that the patch has government backing as a smoking cessation product is more alarming.

“If you’re a smoker and you want nicotine, this product is going to do nothing for most people,” he said.

The patch is one of four nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) approved by the FDA to help people quit smoking. Three others are prescription-only. Nicotrol NS is a nicotine nasal spray, while Chantix and Zyban are non-nicotine medications.

The FDA, however, does not report success rates for these products. And the best Smokefree.gov can do is say they “increase your chances of quitting successfully.”

Research varies, but one study found 9.2 percent of people who used the patch were still smoke-free after six months, versus 8.4 percent for Nicotine gum. According to WebMD, quit rates for all five NRTs range from 19 percent to 26 percent, while Chantix and Zyban are 33 percent and 24 percent effective, respectively.

Studies also show, however, that e-cigarettes might belong on the FDA’s list.

Researchers have found that e-cigarettes are not only 95 percent less harmful than the cumbustible version, but they have helped 6.1 million people in Europe quit smoking and another nine million have cut back on their habit.

In other words, 15.1 million smokers in the EU have either quit or curtailed an activity that kills 400,000 Americans per year, using a product that’s 95 percent less harmful.

But rather than add e-cigs to its nice list, the FDA — whose stated mission is “protecting the public health” — the agency warns against them for smoking cessation based on “potential health risks.”

Instead, the FDA is regulating vape products, possibly out of existence with the 2016 “deeming” rule that treats tobacco-less liquid nicotine products as tobacco products.

“So people who have tried to quit and failed, and tried to quit and failed, don’t have other choices that the public health establishment supports,” said Stier.

And that establishment is getting help from Big Pharma-funded medical research.

The prestigious Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic and its Nicotine Dependence Center, for one, has followed the FDA’s lead in calling e-cigarettes a method to avoid due to lack of risk data and “mixed results” of studies so far.

And Mayo Clinic addiction expert and researcher Dr. Jon Ebbert has been an outspoken critic for several years. The star of Mayo Clinic in-house podcasts and videos, Ebbert has repeatedly advised against e-cigs.

“I think we need to be very clear as clinicians that these electronic cigarettes have an unknown safety profile,” Ebbert said in Mayo Clinic videos in both 2015 and 2016,

And in a widely circulated 2013 column and a 2015 research paper, Ebbert advised clinicians to be “justifiably circumspect in recommending e-cigarettes” for smokers until there is more data.

But the fine print at the end of both lists the following “potential” conflicts of interest:

“Joe (sic) O. Ebbert, MD, MSc, reports receiving grants from JHP Pharmaceuticals, Orexigen, and Pfizer outside the submitted work; he also reports receiving personal fees from GlaxoSmithKline.”

Pfizer makes Nicotrol NS, a nicotine nasal spray, and Chantix. The company’s website and a ProPublica database show Ebbert racked up $646,584 between 2010 and 2014 in research grants.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is responsible for Zyban and Nicorette gum and lozenges, paid Ebbert $7,129 in consulting fees in 2010 and 2011.

The Mayo clinic, Ebbert, and GSK did not respond to Watchdog.org requests for comment. Pfizer sent a statement saying physicians offer companies vital feedback and advice grounded in their expertise and clinical practice experience, and there’s nothing wrong with paying for it:

“Pfizer believes it is appropriate and ethical to fairly compensate healthcare professionals for the work they do with us. Pfizer does not pay healthcare professionals for prescribing our medicines or using our medical devices, or as an inducement for promoting our products.”

Appearance of bias

Boston University public health professor and tobacco control expert Dr. Michael Siegel agrees, telling Watchdog.org that drug company money doesn’t mean a researcher is going to consciously bias the results. But as the full-court press on e-cigarettes demonstrates, bias can still exist.

“Conflict of interest refers to a subconscious bias that the researcher isn’t aware of,” he said. “A conflict of interest creates the appearance of bias, whether it’s present or not”

Siegel spent two years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and testified in the $145 billion lawsuit against the tobacco companies. He has long criticized conflicts of interest in tobacco research, documenting them on his blog, “The Rest of the Story.”

Siegel points out the Mayo Clinic website has made a number of misleading statements about e-cigarettes, as has Dr. Richard Hurt, the director of Mayo’s Nicotine Dependence Center. He says Hurt, who received nearly $65,000 in Pfizer and GSK money between 2009 and 2014, questioned the sanity of e-cigarette users.

“One of the solutions that the nicotine and the e-cigarette is dissolved into is called propylene glycol which is a cousin of antifreeze and why anybody would want to puff on something and put that in their mouth is amazing,” Hurt said in a 2013 video for the hospital.

But it’s not just Mayo and the FDA. Siegel says the vaping industry is getting hit by the CDC as well as many health organizations and departments.

“It’s a phenomenon in the entire e-cigarette industry,” he said, “Nowhere do [researchers] actually come out and say, ‘e-cigarettes are a lot safer than cigarettes and that there’s a huge relative risk difference between the two.’ They’re really using scare tactics to demonize e-cigarettes.”

And smokers will suffer.

“It’s going to convince many smokers who might otherwise have quit by switching to e-cigs, to not quit,” Siegel said.

In the meantime, facing a regulation that could cost $77 million in compliance costs each year, the vaping industry sees Big Pharma’s huge research footprint as more firepower to squeeze out competition.

Lou Ritter is the president emeritus of the American E-Liquid Manufacturers Association (AEMSA), a volunteer trade organization that creates safe manufacturing standards for the liquids used in vape products.

In 2014 he started the E-Research Foundation as a way for the industry to collectively fund science.

“Every other industry funds its own science. They’re just big corporations that are out there competing and they have a lot more money,” Ritter said on a conference call hosted by the E-Vaping Coalition of America. “This is the first industry that has really come up through consumer incentivization and consumer motivation, so there isn’t a lot of money in one place.”

Ritter was invited to a workshop in February held by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine as part of an FDA directive to review existing research on the health effects from using electronic nicotine delivery systems and identify future federally funded research needs.

The report is due for release at the end of this year or early 2018. And while Ritter is pleased the FDA has taken this step, he hopes it’s not too little, too late.

“I think this should have happened a year ago, before the regulatory time-clock started,” he said. “This is probably the last chance for this industry.”

By Kathy Hoekstra | From Watchdog.org.

Five Handy Household Uses for Vodka

Unlike many other types of alcohol, over the years vodka has gained a reputation for being more than just devastatingly effective beverage (if you know what I mean). Vodka is also quite useful for a number of tasks. It’s kind of like the duct tape of spirits. It’s a cheap, ubiquitous, all purpose liquor that has more applications than you can shake a stick at. Coincidentally, if you’re haphazardly swinging a stick for any reason, you should probably quit drinking vodka, and start using it on any one of the following applications:

Toothache Relief

Alcoholic beverages are notorious for damaging your teeth, but if you have a tooth that has already passed the point of no return, and you have to wait a few days before your next visit with the dentist, you can use vodka to ease the pain. And no, I’m not suggesting that you should drink the pain away. Simple soak a cotton ball in vodka and place it on your aching tooth, which should help numb the pain. Whiskey apparently works too if that’s your poison.

Cleaning and Deodorizing

Alcohol has long been used for cleaning, but the pure nature of vodka makes it an ideal choice for this application. Vodka’s ingredients are almost entirely limited to water and ethanol, so you don’t have to worry about staining your belongings with this substance. You can use vodka for shining chrome, cleaning glass, and given the antibacterial properties of alcohol, you can use use it to naturally disinfect and deodorize most materials. It’s also nice to know that both the alcohol and the water content of the vodka will evaporate with time, so you won’t be leaving any harsh chemicals behind. Personally, I use it to clean my toothbrush; which is probably one of the most bacteria laden objects in any household.

As a Solvent

Vodka happens to be a pretty good solvent. You can soak just about any metal in vodka to remove rust (though it can tarnish jewelery, so save this one for screws and nuts). It’s also a pretty effective degreaser, so keep a cheap bottle handy in your kitchen. And finally, alcohol in general is very useful for breaking down adhesives. If you’ve ever removed tape from any surface, you know that gunk it leaves behind is fairly hard to remove. Vodka will definitely break it down, and make it much easier to wipe away. This also makes it a good choice for band-aid removal. Instead of squirming while tearing off your band-aid, soak it in vodka for a few minutes first, for a pain-free removal.

Weed Killer

Again, the lack of impurities in vodka, along with the fast evaporation rate, make it an ideal substance for any task that needs an all natural touch. Killing weeds is a perfect example. In general, plants hate alcohol and weeds are no exception. Pour your vodka into a spray bottle and apply it to every part of the weed. Doing this in hot sunny weather tends quickly dry the plant up, but it should have an effect in any condition. Even in small doses, the ethanol in vodka will stunt the growth of the weed.

Insect Repellent

While it may not be ideal, you can use vodka to repel insects. Like the aforementioned weeds, insects really don’t like alcohol, so feel free to to use that spray bottle on yourself. However, if you don’t want to smell like an alcoholic, you can add some of your favorite herbs and essential oils to the vodka.

So, will you be using vodka for any of these applications in the future? If so, let us know in the comments, and if any of your favorite alcohol uses weren’t listed above, feel free to share them with our readers as well.

Joshua Krause was born and raised in the Bay Area. He is a writer and researcher focused on principles of self-sufficiency and liberty at Ready Nutrition. You can follow Joshua’s work at our Facebook page or on his personal Twitter.

Joshua’s website is Strange Danger

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Hungary's president signs law that could oust Soros-founded college

By Krisztina  Than and Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's president late on Monday signed legislation on foreign universities that could force a top international school founded by U.S. financier George Soros out of the country, triggering a fresh protest in Budapest against the move.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians had rallied on Sunday in one of the biggest demonstrations against right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's 7-year-old rule, denouncing a law that critics and opposition parties say targets the Central European University (CEU) set up by Soros, a Hungarian-born global campaigner for liberal "open society."

Late on Monday hundreds of protesters walked to the state radio office, in a spontaneous rally, and put up a European Union flag on the building, according to a video posted on local website Index. Protesters faced a line of police and Index said police used paprika spray on them. The protest ended about 0020 GMT on Tuesday.

Another protest is scheduled for Wednesday.

More than 500 leading international academics, including 17 Nobel Laureates, have come out in support of CEU, founded in Budapest in 1991 after the collapse of communism, saying it was one of the pre-eminent centers of thought in Hungary.

President Janos Ader, a long-time political ally of Orban, said the legislation did not infringe academic freedom or international laws and urged the government to hold talks with universities.

"It is the interest of all of us that the value created at foreign universities in Hungary in the past years should continue and accumulate further and academic work should continue undisturbed," Ader told state news agency MTI.

CEU said in a statement that it was willing to negotiate with the government to find a solution to enable it to stay in Budapest but that academic freedom was "not negotiable."

"The legislation constitutes a premeditated political attack on a free institution that has been a proud part of Hungarian life for a quarter of a century," the statement said. "We will oppose this legislation to the full extent of the law."

Orban, who faces elections in 2018, is not expected to backtrack on the legislation as it constitutes a major plank of his political strategy defending national interests against what his government calls foreign meddling in Hungarian affairs.

Orban, whose Fidesz party has a firm lead in opinion polls, has often vilified Soros, whose ideals are squarely at odds with the Hungarian premier's view that European culture is under an existential threat from migration and multiculturalism.


Orban told parliament on Monday that there was a "disinformation campaign" under way against Hungary similar to the criticism it received from fellow European Union countries over its tough line against refugees and migrants.

"The government does not close down any universities and does not close down CEU either ... The aim of the government is to ensure that all universities are governed by the same rules and there should not be privileges," he said.

The new law requires foreign universities to have campuses both in Budapest and their home country. The CEU operates in Budapest but is the only international college with no branch outside Hungary.

CEU has said its dual U.S.-Hungarian identity permitted it to comply with both Hungarian and U.S. laws and award both Hungarian and U.S.-accredited degrees. It has said it is committed to staying in Hungary.

After a similar protest a few years ago against a government plan to tax Internet traffic, Orban scrapped the move. But the situation with foreign universities is different, said Attila Juhasz, a political analyst at think tank Political Capital.

"This is a long-form strategy that they (Fidesz) want to maintain until the elections, so it is much more difficult to backtrack on this," Juhasz said. "This is not just about CEU, this all fits into the campaign against Soros.

"This is part of the political ideology that is a foundation stone of Orban's system - national interests against foreign interests."

Orban's right-wing government has been tightening up on dissent in other ways as well, proposing tighter rules on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which will have to register with authorities if they have a yearly foreign income of 7.2 million forints ($25,000).

 (Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Bill Trott)