Think Tanks Wrap-up

Nov. 29, 2001 at 6:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank Wrap-Up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events, and position statements released by various think tanks.

Center for Democracy and Technology

(CDT works to promote democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age. CDT seeks practical solutions to enhance free expression and privacy in global communications technologies, including the Internet and other new media.)

WASHINGTON -- CDT Policy Post: A Briefing On Public Policy Issues Affecting Civil Liberties Online

By the Center for Democracy and Technology

--Domain Names Body Reaffirms Public Role, Without Details

The board of directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the body responsible for technical management of the Internet domain name system, committed to holding elections for public representatives, but left important implementation questions unresolved. In a resolution adopted at its meeting in Los Angeles, the board of ICANN also refrained from implementing the controversial recommendations of a committee it had tasked to examine public representation.

With these actions, the board effectively deferred making major decisions on its own governance structure until its next public meeting in March 2002 in Accra, Ghana.

ICANN coordinates critical elements of the Internet's infrastructure, including the naming and addressing systems on which online communications rely.

Since its inception in 1998, ICANN has faced criticism for perceived shortcomings in representing the public interest. Presently, nine of the 19 seats on the ICANN Board of Directors are designated for "at-large" directors, to be chosen by the Internet user community -- although only five have actually been elected by users.

In November 2000, ICANN created an at-large study committee, known as the ALSC, to make recommendations on the question of public participation for ICANN. The ALSC's final report, released earlier this month, supported the concept of user participation in ICANN, but several of its recommendations would have limited ICANN's inclusiveness and the voice of the user community.

CDT and others questioned the report's practicality and fairness. In particular, the ALSC recommended that voting rights in future ICANN elections be restricted to those owning domain names, and that public representation on the board be limited to just six of the 19 directors (as opposed to the current nine).

CDT opposed both of these limitations and joined an international coalition to provide workable alternatives. The report of that coalition, the NGO and Academic ICANN Study, is available at

At its Marina del Rey meeting earlier this month, the ICANN board accepted the ALSC document as a basis for further discussion, but importantly declined to adopt the ALSC's questionable recommendations.

The board also re-committed itself to a short timeline for resolving representation issues. The terms of the five at-large directors publicly elected by Internet users in 2000 are set to expire in November 2002, and there are currently no provisions for their replacement. The board resolved to begin planning election systems, and declared once again that the selection of new at-large directors should take place by November of next year.

More information on ICANN and on CDT's other activities in the area of domain names management can be found at

--Icann Board Acknowledges Need For Constrained Scope Of Activities

In Marina del Rey, the ICANN board took a first step towards acknowledging a need to place limits on the scope of its own activities. As part of a resolution establishing a committee on restructuring (see below), the ICANN board noted that "it would be useful... to reaffirm and clarify ICANN's limited mission for technical management and administration."

Throughout its short history, ICANN has run the risk that it would make policy affecting the Internet without adequate processes to guide those policies. CDT and others have warned against the possibility of "mission creep," the likelihood that ICANN's authority over key resources could tempt it to enter policy areas it was never designed to handle.

Already there has been some evidence that ICANN's activities are not sufficiently limited; many observers believe that the contracting process undertaken after last year's selection of new global top-level domains, known as gTLDs, was fraught with questions about ICANN's appropriate policy role.

CDT believes that, in order to retain its legitimacy and protect the best interests of the Internet, ICANN should take every possible step to limit its likelihood of becoming entangled in inappropriate policy decisions. A clear restatement of ICANN's mission --- and, conversely, of areas not in ICANN's mission -- is necessary.

--Internal Restructuring Placed On ICANN's Agenda

As the issue of public representation in ICANN has continued to gain traction, other stakeholders have begun to complain of deficiencies in the ICANN process. Particularly within ICANN's most diverse stakeholder group, the Domain Name Supporting Organization, there have been long-running debates about the relative representation of various interests, and about the efficiency of the DNSO process in general.

This has led to a call for ICANN to revisit its internal structures. In Marina del Rey, the board responded by establishing a committee of Board members to examine the issue and to report back to the Board at future meetings.

CDT believes that ICANN's internal structure should accurately reflect the wide range of interests affected by ICANN's activities. We look forward to working with ICANN on this issue, and hope that the committee will utilize an open, transparent process that includes the input of many throughout the Internet community.

--Meeting Addresses Issues Of DNS, IP Address Security

With the events of Sept. 11 in mind, much of the Marina del Rey meeting agenda consisted of panel discussions and roundtable meetings on improving the security of the systems under ICANN's administration. Attendees heard from speakers such as security experts Steve Bellovin and Bruce Schneier, U.S. government official John Tritak of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, and Kenji Kosaka, Japanese senior vice minister for public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications.

Notes of ICANN's real-time scribe and RealVideo archives of the speakers and roundtables are available at

CDT recognizes that security constitutes a core part of ICANN's mission. However, as ICANN continues its work in this area, we urge it to remain mindful of the fact that Internet security is an extremely broad area in which ICANN plays a small, though important, part. As it has already recognized, ICANN cannot and should not use its authority to promote security beyond the systems it manages.

Ludwig von Mises Institute

(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism -- often known as libertarianism --a nd the Austrian School of economics. Grounded in the work of economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, LVMI seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate by advancing the Austrian School of economics and by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive.)

AUBURN, Als.-- Diversity Requires Freedom

By Christopher Mayer

In "From Dawn to Decadence," Jacques Barzun maintained that separatism was the "strongest tendency" of the late 20th century. He provided many illustrations that "the greatest political creation of the West, the nation-state, was stricken."

Among other examples, Barzun cited the efforts for more independence by the Basques, Brutons, and Alsacians from France; Corsica's desire for independence; civil wars in Northern Ireland, Algeria, and Lebanon; the Spanish Basques fighting to break away from Spain; the breakup of the former Soviet Union into many smaller parts and Russia's problems with Chechyna; Turkey and Iraq's battles with Kurdish separatists; Mexico's rebellious Zapatistas; Quebec's periodic demands of freedom from Canada; and the ethnic and religious strife in the Balkans. Indeed, all around the world, we can find evidence of nation-states being ripped apart and struggling under separatist movements.

Barzun makes mention of "tokens of malaise" even in the United States: a small group in Texas that wanted to regain status as an independent republic, and talk of Martha's Vineyard seceding from Massachuesetts and of Staten Island seceding from New York. We witnessed the divisiveness of the nation in the last presidential election, where dense Eastern urban centers were pitted against broader Western and Midwestern communities. The election underscored deep incompatible political differences over a broad range of issues.

Even though there are counteracting forces, like the unity temporarily achieved during times of crisis and the efforts of international governmental entities such as the European Union or the United Nations, these factors only mask the turmoil beneath. The far stronger trend seems to favor localization of politics and the electrifying current of separatism.

What might the animating forces of such a trend be? Could it be that, just as government intervention into the economy causes misallocations of capital resources, government intervention into other social aspects of life also causes political rifts and creates antagonistic relations between various groups? Does government intervention into our lives create a situation of the type described by Auberon Herbert long ago?

"Under political organization you mix everybody together, like and unlike, and compel them to speak and act through the same representative," Herbert observed. The consequences of such an unnatural brew were self-evident to Herbert:

"It is evident that the most fair-minded man must become intolerant if you place him in a position where he has only the unpleasant choice either to eat or be eaten. Cut the cord, give us full freedom for differing amongst ourselves, and it at once becomes possible for a man to hold by his own convictions and yet be completely tolerant of what his neighbor says and does."

Politics creates a setting where, in the words of Longfellow, "man must either be anvil or hammer." Thus, a vast array of political machinery is created to represent a wide variety of interests and to further those interests at the expense of the other groups.

As a nation-state grows, this mixing of like and unlike becomes more and more problematic. It becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile these differences under the umbrella of one nation-state. The nation-state becomes an unstable compound of pluralities unable to build the contented majority that so often forms the glue of nation-states. It is in this unsettled soil that the seeds of separatism thrive.

The idea that the size of government has natural limits that it cannot exceed without unleashing the nation-dissolving forces of separatism is akin to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises's idea that socialism is impossible.

The Misesian tradition has long held that socialism is impossible. The inability of a socialist system to calculate -- or, in other words, its inability to determine profits and losses -- renders it incapable of basic production. Unable to rationally sort the means available to achieve desired ends, a pure socialist economy (i.e., where the government owns the means of production) would dissolve in utter chaos.

Part of the lengthy existence of the old Soviet Union and other socialist countries can be explained by their ability to reference market prices from around the world. The Soviet experiment was also kept alive by a thriving black market. Ironically, socialism could only exist as a shadow of the theoretical grandeur conjured up by the socialists themselves, because the very markets they sought to abolish still existed.

Misesian economist Murray N. Rothbard extended the same idea to apply to the nature of competition in markets and used it to explode the myth of the One Big Cartel. A fear of many observers who support antitrust legislation is that, absent such restrictions, markets would eventually combine into One Big Cartel, where one company owned all the means of production for a given product.

But, Rothbard asked, if on the free market no such combinations had been voluntarily consummated but only created via the force of government (i.e., government-granted monopolies), then why are we to assume that such global combinations are desirable?

In fact, as Rothbard showed, if a firm owned all the means of production, it would be subject to the same chaos as a socialist economy. Its inability to rationally allocate resources would quickly lead to losses.

The free market, then, has its own mechanism to limit the size of any one firm. More powerful than the capricious interpretations of antitrust legislation, these are real incentives and limits.

The lesson of the myth of the One Big Cartel is twofold. It teaches that market forces limit the size of a firm, and it also teaches an important lesson about resource allocation, giving us powerful reasons not to trust governments to carry out this function. Indeed, the theory demonstrates the impossibility of a government-directed economy.

It seems probable that, just as government cannot calculate with regards to economic resources, it cannot calculate when it comes to deciding the non-economic aspects of social life. The underlying differences between various populations make the problem insolvable; people will always be forced to support policies or do certain things that they otherwise would not support or would not do.

Just as a socialist economy like the old Soviet Union had its black markets and reference points in the world's market economies, so too the people coerced by a nation-state have some personal freedoms and loopholes that make life under the nation-state bearable. Yet as the nation-state grows, as these personal freedoms and loopholes are pressed further, so too the future of the nation-state grows dim.

Several authors have explored the idea that the nation-state is in a period of decay, among the more recent of them Martin van Creveld, in "The Rise and Decline of the State" and in "The Sovereign Individual," by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg. Both would interpret recent events not as a sign of growing entrenchment of the state, but as its dissolution. It is for these reasons that libertarians of all stripes should remain hopeful, in spite of the recent increase in government power and spending --all pursued in the hope of defeating terrorism and-or reviving the economy.

This country remains incredibly diverse in its political makeup and this diversity will someday reassert itself at the expense of the heavy, homogenizing hands of the nation-state. At some point then, the realization ought to occur that the surest way toward a peaceful, tolerant society is to move toward greater liberties, toward the "full freedom" that Herbert wrote about.

(Christopher Mayer is a commercial lender for Provident Bank in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.)

The Hoover Institution

STANFORD, Calif. -- The Press And The War

By Robert Zelnick

How tempting it is to say that David Westin, the president of ABC News, suffered a bout of foot-in-mouth disease when he told a Columbia Journalism School audience that "I actually have no opinion on that," in response to whether he considered the Pentagon a legitimate military target on Sept. 11.

What about Steven Jukes, the Reuters editor, who offered: "We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," as the excuse for the news agency's decision against describing the Sept. 11 hijackers as "terrorists."

Or NPR's foreign editor, Loren Jenkins, who explained why he would report a secret U.S. commando staging area in Northern Pakistan if he found one: "I don't represent the government. I represent history, information, what happened."

Alas, the statements belie an underlying moral confusion that is beyond arrogance. If the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are not acts of evil criminality, then is anything criminal in Westin's world? Rwanda? Katyn forest? The Holocaust?

If killing innocent civilians for political purposes is not terrorism, then Reuters has summarily rejected the conventional usage of a familiar term. Would it similarly decline to call the premeditated killing of a single individual "murder"?

Jenkins, whose judgment could send American military personnel to their deaths, offers a supposedly noble excuse: "We journalists are above national allegiances. We are the historians for all mankind, the future's agents."

But if you are also the eyes and ears of the enemy, don't demand access to military operations under the banner of the First Amendment. People no less idealistic than yourself died in the service of that amendment. It is not now yours to defile.

The press does have its role to play in a democracy, even during a time of war. That role is different from those of political or military institutions. The press cannot cease to ask questions and must view bland accounts of progress with skepticism. It cannot become a willing agent of disinformation in what the military euphemistically calls "the information war." It cannot shy from reporting failed operations or even successful ones that trigger excesses among allied troops. It cannot ignore civilian casualties or unthinkingly accept military charges that many of those casualties result from the enemy using civilians as shields.

In today's war the press was right to accept Taliban invitations to view what that government chose to make available, just as a decade ago, in the midst of Operation Desert Storm, Western reporters flocked to Baghdad to learn what they could. And yes, the press should report the words of adversaries, even Osama bin Laden, if those words are newsworthy and present no clear and present danger of terrorist violence.

The quest is for truth. In time of war that quest is difficult and dangerous. Coolness, analytic detachment, and an objective eye are all qualities to be admired in today's journalists as they have been in the past. But objectivity and neutrality are not synonyms. Nor does objectivity require the debasement of language. And no standard of credible journalism justifies putting the lives of Americans at risk.

(Robert Zelnick, an Emmy award-winning journalist, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of journalism and acting director of the Department of Journalism at Boston University.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON-- Social Security Commission Reform Options Viable, Scholar Says

President George W. Bush's Social Security commission held a public meeting at which it presented analyses of several reform options. Michael Tanner, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Privatization, had the following comments:

"The commission's examples clearly show that individual accounts would lead to higher retirement benefits than can be sustained under the current system. This is extremely good news to today's workers, especially low income and minority workers.

"The commission has now produced three viable options for reform. It is time for critics of individual accounts to tell us their alternatives."

The Mackinac Center

(MCPP is a nonpartisan research and educational organization devoted to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions through the objective analysis of Michigan issues. MCPP seeks to broaden the policy past the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution for various issues. MCPP offers an integrated and comprehensive approach encompassing the role of voluntary associations, business, community and family, as well as government.)

MIDLAND, Mich. -- Gas "Gouging" Brouhaha Ignores Lessons of Economics 101

By Lawrence W. Reed

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm is pursuing legal action against gasoline stations that substantially raised their prices at the pump in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Is this sound economics and good public policy?

First, let's recount what happened. hen news of the attacks spread, many citizens did what seemed to make sense given the extraordinary situation: They began to "stockpile" gasoline in case of a disruption of fuel supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations across the country by mid-afternoon on Sept. 11. In other words, demand soared. And just as Economics 101 teaches us, prices rose as a result.

If the crisis had indeed slashed world fuel supplies, then the public's initial reaction would have been both smart and prescient. Buying more when prices are low, in anticipation of higher prices later, actually has the effect of spreading today's relatively abundant supplies over a longer period, assuring that future prices will be lower than would otherwise be the case. The rising prices then send a powerful signal for somebody to find new supplies quickly. This is the way a free price system works -- in gasoline, green beans, coffee, or anything else.

Eventually, it became apparent that there would not be any disruptions in the flow of oil or the production of gasoline. So demand ebbed, and the lines at the gas stations evaporated.

That should have been the end of the issue, but it isn't. Attorney General Granholm is pressing forward under the authority of a vague and ill-conceived provision of a law signed by former Gov. William Milliken. Section 3(z) of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (Act 331 of 1976) makes it unlawful to "charge the consumer a price that is grossly in excess of the price at which similar property or services are sold." Just what constitutes "gross excess" is left up for grabs. To the attorney general, "gross excess" means charging at least $2.50 per gallon, compared to the approximate average price of $1.79 on Sept. 10.

Other politicians also have jumped on the bandwagon. State Rep. Mike Kowall, R-Waterford, introduced HB 5156 to make it a felony to sell an essential commodity during an emergency at a price greater than 10 percent above the "prevailing" price for comparable goods before the declaration of an emergency, regardless of actual supply and demand factors. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, introduced HB 5155 to establish sentencing guidelines for the evil culprits.

But while politicians pile bad law on top of previous bad law, the marketplace effectively works its magic. People shop elsewhere or find ways to do with less while prices are high. Suppliers round up more supplies. Prices come down. The upward spike in prices sets into motion the market forces that solve the "problem."

Sonja Sturgeon of Midland manages Bobbie's Point Citgo, one of the gas stations targeted by the attorney general. Sturgeon readily admitted to the Midland Daily News that the store boosted prices to $3 per gallon at about 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 11.

"The whole point of raising the prices was to send customers down the road to buy gas," she said. "It had nothing to do with gouging the customers."

Faced with long lines at the pump and no prospect of supplies being replenished until later in the week, Citgo upped prices to encourage customers to go to stations whose supplies were more plentiful, said Sturgeon. But even at $3 a gallon people still were lining up.

Perhaps the attorney general and Reps. Kowall and Bishop would have advised Bobbie's Point Citgo to behave like nothing had changed in the wake of Sept. 11. Pretend that customers were demanding no more gas on Sept. 11 than they wanted on Sept. 10. Keep prices the same or raise them no more than 10 percent. Then the lines would have been many blocks longer and station after station would have run out of gas completely, leaving people at the back of many lines without hope of getting a drop in their tanks.

Which is better: Gas at $3 after a 15-minute wait, or no gas at $1.79 after sitting in line for an hour?

All the fuss about the price of gas on Sept. 11 was, it turns out, nothing more than the wrong solution in search of a nonexistent problem.

(Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliation are cited.)

Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON -- IPA Experts Comment On: Afghanistan; Iraq

--Alexander Thier, former officer-in-charge for the U.N. humanitarian office in Afghanistan and co-author of the new report "Planning Considerations for International Involvement in Post-Taliban Afghanistan."

"Political space must be created in Afghanistan to allow representative, non-military leadership to emerge. At the Bonn meeting, there is a very notable absence of more direct representation of the Afghan people, with mostly the military and the king's camp having a voice. If these same warlords are not persuaded to behave differently than they did during their rule between 1992 and 1996, there is a real danger that, like before, several quasi-states will emerge ..."

-- Michael Albert, editor of "Z" magazine.

"Hunger persists and even grows in the land we are ostensibly saving. ... In response to terror we (a) delegitimated any legal recourse ... (b) unleashed far more massive terror to maintain credibility, and (c) moved to curtail civil liberties at home and redistribute income upwards."

-- Denis Halliday, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and former head of the U.N. oil-for-food program that is part of the sanctions against Iraq. The U.N. Security Council on Thursday afternoon voted to revise sanctions against Iraq within six months and extend the existing oil-for-food program until then.

"There's no basis to continue bombing -- or start a new bombing campaign on the people of Iraq. It has legislation outlawing al Qaida and Wahabbism. There's no evidence of terrorist links."

-- Thomas Nagy, associate professor at George Washington University and author of the cover story in the September issue of "The Progressive" magazine, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply."

"The U.S. government intentionally used bombing and sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country's water supply, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe the Pentagon predicted. This is outlined in documents which have been partly declassified, such as a Jan. 22, 1991, Defense Intelligence Agency document entitled 'Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.' Due mainly to the sanctions, contaminated water continues to be the leading cause of deaths of children in Iraq today."

-- Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Arab-American Action Network.

"On Monday, (White House Press Secretary) Ari Fleischer repeated the well-worn fabrication that 'Iraq unilaterally threw them (the U.N. weapons inspectors) out.' In fact, the inspectors were withdrawn suddenly on Dec. 16, 1998, by Richard Butler, then the head of the now-defunct inspection agency UNSCOM, in anticipation of a U.S. attack ..."

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