Think Tanks Wrap-up

Feb. 8, 2002 at 7:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (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.

The National Center for Public Policy Research

(NCPPR is a communications and research foundation dedicated to providing free-market solutions to today's public policy problems, based on the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility. NCPPR was founded to provide the conservative movement with a versatile and energetic organization capable of responding quickly and decisively to late-breaking issues, based on thorough research.)

WASHINGTON -- Ten Second Response: Union of Concerned Scientists Pushes Fuel Efficiency at Expense of Auto Safety

By Chris Burger

Background: The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on Feb. 2, 2002, claiming that our nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack and saying that increasing domestic oil production won't lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It contends that the most secure way to protect the U.S. economy from oil price shocks is to increase fuel efficiency.

Ten Second Response: Nuclear physicists point out that our nuclear power plants are quite resistant to terrorist attacks.

Thirty Second Response: The UCS is trying to frighten Americans about nuclear power. Nuclear reactor vessels are surrounded by a containment vessel, and each is made of several feet of concrete and steel. Even if a large airliner crashed directly into the reactor, which would require incredibly precise targeting by the pilot, the reactor vessel is unlikely to be breached. And while fuel efficiency is desirable, corporate average fuel-economy standards imposed to promote fuel efficiency indirectly have killed Americans by forcing manufacturers to produce lighter, less crashworthy vehicles.

Discussion: A study written by physicists Gerald Marsh and George Stanford for The National Center for Public Policy Research, National Policy Analysis #374: "Terrorism and Nuclear Power: What are the Risks?" shows that nuclear power plants are well protected against a variety of potential threats posed by terrorists. The paper is available at

Marsh and Stanford show how nuclear power plants are protected against threats including, but not limited to, car bombings, airplane crashes and small-arms assaults. Fuel-efficiency standards, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE, were mandated by law in 1975. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences shows if cars had weighed the same in 1993 as they did in 1976, an estimated 2,000 deaths would have been avoided in that year alone. In addition, that lower car weight in 1993 was responsible for 13,000 to 26,000 incapacitating injuries and 97,000 to 195,000 total injuries. The report goes on to say that "any increase in CAFEs could produce additional road casualties."

The NAS study is available at

A copy of the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is available at

(Chris Burger is the program coordinator of the John. P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research.)

CHICAGO -- Ten Second Response: Bush Proposes "Charter Forests"

By Gretchen Randall

Background: President Bush has proposed a new pilot program called "charter forests" in his 2003 budget. This proposal is not clearly defined yet but the budget does propose to "establish certain forests or portions of forests as separate entities outside the Forest Service structure that report to a local trust entity for oversight." The goals stated are to "emphasize local involvement and focus upon more forest ecological restoration or hazardous fuels reductions."

Ten Second Response: Kudos to President Bush and his advisers for taking this first step in trying to give residents more local control of our forests.

Thirty Second Response: As a result of the last two seasons of catastrophic wild fires, which needlessly consumed millions of acres, it has become apparent that a change is needed in how our federal forests are managed. A new management system that involves more local input is certainly welcome.

Discussion: Any such charter or pilot program would still require the forests to be subject to all federal environmental rules and regulations. Congress will also have to approve such a program. The president's proposed budget states, "Like charter or magnet schools, this proposed structure would avoid the central bureaucracy and thereby reduce

organizational inefficiencies, while emphasizing local involvement, and focusing upon

specific programmatic goals such as forest ecological restoration or hazardous fuels


(Gretchen Randall is the director of the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for

Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at The National Center for Public Policy Research.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON--Why Not Implant a Microchip?

By Charlotte Twight

Why bother with national ID cards?

Some in America have sought such cards for years. The most recent type comes with magnetic strips and biometric identifiers. It's being peddled by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in concert with federal officials in the Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, and elsewhere.

Yet these ID cards would be technologically obsolete before the system could be implemented. And think of the problems: physical cards can be counterfeited, damaged, misused, and more. Way too low-tech.

In their struggle to come up with a politically palatable national ID system, proponents of the ID card are being far too timid. So here's a modest proposal: Why not implant a microchip under everyone's skin?

If we mean to fully protect our security we should immediately seek federal legislation to establish standards for the implantation of microchips uniquely identifying each and every individual residing in this country, linked to central databases that could protect all Americans against terrorism. In fact, similar technology has been used in veterinary medicine for years to facilitate the return of lost dogs and cats to their owners.

The system could be voluntary at first, to allow time for Americans to get used to the idea. No doubt many Americans will quickly see the benefits of such an implant for themselves and their children. Think of it: a single microchip linked to a person's medical records as well as financial, tax, employment, Social Security, welfare, criminal and other records -- along with appropriate biometric identifiers. It would be so much more convenient and less subject to abuse than physical cards, even if terrorism does not strike us again, Americans could be sure that if they had a medical emergency in a distant city, authorized physicians could scan the microchip to access the patient's medical history and avoid administering an inappropriate -- or potentially life-threatening -- medicine.

Sound crazy? Well, it is. But as a thought experiment, it well illustrates how incremental incursions on liberty can lead to dramatic losses of privacy over time. Consider our experience with Social Security numbers.

People worried when the Social Security Act was passed in 1935 that the Social Security number would become an all-purpose identifier -- an understandable public response, at the time, to a rather dramatic institutional change. But government officials reassured the public that the SSN would not be used for any such purpose. Equally important, they showed restraint and only gradually expanded the federally mandated uses of the SSN--not mandating its use by other federal agencies until 1943.

A step at a time, during the 1960s the SSN became the taxpayer identifier used by the IRS, the identifier for federal civilian and military personnel, the Medicare identifier, and more. In the 1970s, Congress passed laws requiring the SSN's use for legally admitted aliens and anyone seeking federal benefits--and also gave the states free rein to use SSNs for identification purposes.

A series of federal laws passed in the 1980s required the issuance of SSNs to ever-younger children if their parents wanted to claim them as dependents on federal tax forms -- by age 5, age 2, age 1, now at any age. People got used to it.

Legislators so far have failed to establish a national ID card with any real public traction -- despite extraordinary efforts by some proponents. In 1996 Congress did pass one law to establish what amounted to a national ID card. It was a provision called "State-Issued Drivers Licenses and Comparable Identification Documents," whose passage was achieved by placing it on page 716 of the 749-page Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, tucked between a section entitled "Sense of Congress on Discriminatory Application of New Brunswick Provincial Sales Tax" and another entitled "Border Patrol Museum."

But opponents discovered the measure, and it was repealed a few years later.

Now the AAMVA is proposing a similar system--this time initiated by state officials who are seeking federal financial, legislative, and rule-making support for their effort to turn American drivers' licenses into national ID cards.

Over half of the population now supports some form of national identification. If Americans accept a national ID system as they accepted SSNs, and if the intrusiveness of such a system expands as did government-mandated SSN usage, 10 years from now the idea of a national microchip system may not seem as alien and repugnant as it does today. As with SSNs, people will get used to it.

(Charlotte A. Twight, professor of economics at Boise State University, is author of "Dependent on D.C.: The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans" (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, January 2002).

Progress and Freedom Foundation

(PFF studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. P&FF is ideologically diverse and politically non-partisan, and its work focuses heavily on communications, computing and telecommunications.)

WASHINGTON -- Echostar-DirectTV Merger Will Benefit Consumers

Saying that the potential benefits to consumers far outweigh the costs, Progress & Freedom Foundation President Jeffrey Eisenach is urging the Federal Communications Commission to give its blessing to the proposed merger between Echostar and DirectTV, two satellite service providers.

In comments filed with the FCC this week, Eisenach cites potential efficiencies resulting from the merger, including better use of spectrum and the ability of the combined firm to serve more markets. But he urges the Commission to pay particular attention to "the potential efficiency and pro-competitive effects of the proposed merger in the market for broadband internet services" currently served by cable and telephone companies.

Moreover, he maintains that the dynamism of the market for digital information services makes the exercise of market power by the new company highly improbable.

"Satellite-delivered broadband Internet services represent the most likely near-term prospect of providing the 'third pipe' to homes and small businesses, and there is every reason to believe that the merged firms will have an enhanced ability and incentive to fulfill this promise, thereby contributing further to an already intense rivalry and reducing the probability that market power will develop in these markets," he said. "Equally important, the merged firms will have a stronger capability to provide broadband services to rural and other underserved communities."

Eisenach's comments draw on those he submitted with PFF Director of Communications Policy Studies Randolph May last month urging the FCC to adopt the least restrictive regulatory alternatives possible as it sets new ownership rules for multi-system cable television operators. In those comments, Eisenach and May concluded the Commission "must recognize that horizontal and vertical combinations have an important role to play in enabling firms to achieve the economies of scale and scope necessary to build out and provide video and other services over competing platforms, whether they be cable, satellite, wireline, 3G wireless or whatever."

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