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web posted January 17, 2000

CLASSical Liberals of Las Vegas

CLASSical Liberals of Las Vegas is a fellowship of individualists where proponents of freedom can join in friendship. Classical liberalism promotes the principles of civil and economic liberty taken by such enlightenment figures as Jefferson and Paine in the 19th Century, Albert Jay Nock, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman in the 20th Century.

JANUARY MEETING: The New & Improved Ayn Rand

TIME: Friday, January 28, 2000, 7:00-9:00pm

$7:00 Dinner (price range: $8-$25), 8:00 Discussion
(final Friday of each month) RSVP preferred

LOCATION: Chicago Joe's Restaurant
820 S. 4th St., Las Vegas (1-1/2 blocks N. of Charleston)

Special toast in honor of Thomas Paine (b. 1/29/1737), author of Common Sense, Age of Reason, godfather of the American Revolution, at the concluding ceremony of the meeting.

Contact Kenneth Gregg, moderator and Hon. Sec. of CLASSical Liberals of Las Vegas, at KGregg@free-market.net (702 521-9471 weekdays) for further information.

NEXT TOPIC: Murray N. Rothbard and Austrian Economics (2/25/00).

U.S., Canada ranked among freest economies

Hong Kong and Singapore have the most free economies in the world, according to a ranking of 123 countries published on January 10.

The study by the Washington-based Cato Institute and Canada's Fraser Institute said the two Asian economies shared the number one ranking, followed in descending order by New Zealand, the United States and Britain.

Other economies ranked near the top included Ireland in sixth position, Canada and Australia sharing the seventh position and the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland sharing the ninth position.

At the bottom of the table stood Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, ranked in the 123rd position.

The economies are ranked according to seven categories which include size of government, structure of the economy, monetary policy and price stability, freedom to use alternative currencies, security of private ownership, freedom of trade and freedom of capital markets

Dismissal of tobacco suits is upheld

The U.S. Supreme Court on January 10 let stand the dismissal of three lawsuits by union health funds seeking to force the tobacco industry to reimburse them for funds spent on the medical treatment of smokers.

The high court without any comment or dissent rejected appeals by the labor health funds arguing they should be able to proceed with the lawsuits under the federal racketeering and antitrust laws against the tobacco companies.

The justices let stand separate U.S. appeals court rulings that threw out the lawsuits because the union health funds were not directly injured by the cigarette makers and thus did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuits.

The appeals courts ruled that such lawsuits were too "remote" and "indirect" as a matter of law.

"There is a clear national interest in holding tobacco companies accountable for the public health devastation they have wreaked," attorneys for the health funds said in appealing to the Supreme Court.

They said the appeals courts have effectively given civil immunity to the tobacco companies and prevented the health care industry from suing for billions of dollars in medical costs.

The attorneys said the health funds are the only plaintiffs that can assert the claims to recover the medical costs in question. They said smokers cannot assert the claims.

The attorneys said measuring the total damages statistically would be easier and more reliable than ascertaining damages in separate personal injury claims by individual smokers.

But the major cigarette companies, including Philip Morris Inc. , R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a unit of British American Tobacco Pls, Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Liggett Group Inc., a unit of Brooke Group Ltd. said the rulings were correct and do not warrant Supreme Court review.

They said all of the appeals courts to have considered such cases have dismissed the lawsuits, and that federal district courts have overwhelmingly rejected these suits as well.

In one case from New York, six union health funds had sued the tobacco industry in 1997, alleging the companies conspired to deceive the public about the health risks associated with smoking.

A federal appeals court in April last year dismissed the case.

A month earlier, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia threw out a similar lawsuit by seven Pennsylvania union health funds claiming the industry intentionally targeted less educated, blue-collar workers with special advertising and promotional campaigns.

The third case involved a lawsuit by six Oregon union health funds claiming the companies blocked efforts that would have made tobacco products less hazardous and manipulated nicotine content, resulting in higher expenditures for medical bills.

The appeals court in that case described the damages sought as "highly speculative" and ruled the funds were one step removed from the employees or fund participants allegedly injured by smoking cigarettes.

Photograph may undercut Davidian claims

An FBI photograph seems to discredit claims that flashes of light filmed during the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound were gunfire from government agents, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on January 11.

The Post-Dispatch said the surveillance photo appears to have been snapped within seconds of the time when a flash appears on an infrared tape taken from an FBI plane flying about 9,000 feet over the compound at 11:24 a.m. on April 19, 1993.

The Branch Davidians and their experts claim flashes on the infrared film are muzzle flashes from FBI agents' guns. But the surveillance photo shows nobody in the vicinity of the flashes.

The photograph is one of several the government recently turned over to U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith and John Danforth, the former senator appointed last year to investigate whether the FBI tried to cover up its actions at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Smith is presiding over a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidian survivors and relatives of about 80 Davidians who died when the group's compound burned. The suit accuses the government of using excessive force in the standoff.

The FBI has acknowledged firing pyrotechnic tear-gas canisters into the compound the day it caught fire. But the agency maintains agents did not shoot at the Davidians and that people inside the compound started the fire.

The tape from the plane was only recently compared to the photographs. The surveillance photographs were timed by the damage depicted on the infrared tape.

Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians, said the government hasn't given the plaintiffs copies of the pictures, but said he was not impressed by the comparison.

"There were a lot of times when that tank went in and out of the building," he said. "Being able to identify what time it is and whatever the precise moment when someone was firing from the rear of the tank is very suspect unless you've got a complete roll of film and you can see the entire sequence."

Attorneys for the Davidians are accusing the federal government of failing to turn over thousands of documents related to the raid on the compound and the standoff between Davidians and government agents. They asked Judge Smith to sanction government attorneys $50,000.

In a motion filed in federal court in Waco, Caddell said fewer than 20 boxes of documents have been turned over to the plaintiffs and that the "United States has not acted in good faith in reviewing and producing documents."

Caddell added, "It is clear that many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pages of documents have yet to be produced." He said he's worried the government may dump the materials on the plaintiffs just before the deadline. In his motion, he said the money would allow the plaintiffs to hire additional staff to sort through the materials.

The trial is set for May 15.

StatsCan change could swell ranks of 'poor'

Statistics Canada is considering changing the way it defines low-income earners in a move that could classify significantly more Canadians as poor.

The definition is important because it is a hotly debated and influential yardstick that is used to determine such things as how social programs are delivered and who receives them.

Although it is updated regularly to take inflation into account, the low-income cutoff level of $32,759 for a family of four is based on eight-year-old data on the average spending on food, shelter and clothing, said Cathy Cotton, a Statistics Canada spokeswoman.

StatsCan is considering raising that cut-off level to $33,356, to reflect recent changes in spending on necessities.

That would put 18.9 per cent of all Canadians -- an additional 1.4 per cent -- below the low-income cutoff level, said Cotton.

"The cut-off line moves a little bit higher and more people or families fall below that line and they're counted in the low-income level," she said.

More people may be defined as poor even if their income rises, as long as they are spending a larger percentage of their money on food, clothing and shelter relative to the increasingly better-off average Canadian, she said.

The agency does not call the low-income cut-off Canada's poverty line, but it is used as one by anti-poverty groups because it compares Canada's poor to more wealthy Canadians in relative terms.

Critics of the StatsCan calculation say it is a measure of income disparity, not poverty.

"The problem is that it is at best a measurement of inequality. It measures how many of us are doing compared to the average," said Patrick Basham of the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank.

"The country and most Canadians can be getting better off and yet the low income cut-off could get larger. It measures how my neighbour is doing relative to me."

Clinton declares new national monuments

At one of the most revered natural wonders in the United States, President Bill Clinton made a controversial announcement on January 11 designating three new national monuments to protect scenic lands, including one off the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

"This is not about locking lands up; it is about freeing them up from the pressures of development and the threat of sprawl," Clinton said, while locking the lands up..

Critics, though, say the federal government has usurped congressional power and grabbed the land without local input.

Clinton used the federal Antiquities Act of 1906 -- legislation initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt -- to establish the new national monuments.

After taking a helicopter and walking tour of the North Rim, the president headed to the scenic Hopi Point to announce he has accepted Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's recommendation to designate two national monuments in Arizona, one in California and expand an existing monument in California.

Babbitt is a former governor of Arizona.

Although the land covered by the proposals is owned by the U.S. government, a national monument designation would ban mining, timber cutting or other large-scale development, limiting the income of many area residents involved in those industries.

The White House says the purpose of the monument designation is to protect unique natural, scientific and historic features in each of the sites.

While environmentalists have applauded the move, saying it would protect land amid the rapid expansion of the Southwest, Republican lawmakers and some business interests have attacked it.

"I think this is a blatant attempt by President Clinton to use the Antiquities Act for political purposes to essentially shut out the democratic process," says R.J. Smith, senior environmental scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Using executive privileges accorded him under the Antiquities Act, Clinton:

• Designated just over 1 million acres as the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument to protect the land off the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

The new monument, which encompasses an important watershed for the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, is practically the same size as the adjacent 1.1 million-acre Grand Canyon National Park, which Roosevelt declared a national monument in 1908 -- 92 years to the day of Clinton's announcement.

• Designated a 71,000-acre Agua Fria National Monument on public land north of Phoenix, Arizona, to protect prehistoric rock inscriptions and American Indian ruins.

• Announced a third national monument, California Coastal, covering thousands of small islands, rocks and reefs off the state's Pacific coast that serve as a habitat for wildlife such as sea otters and birds.

• Expanded the Pinnacles National Monument, south of San Jose, California, by 8,000 acres to better protect spire-like rock formations that rise up to 1,200 feet high.

When the proposals were announced by Babbitt in December, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said Clinton had no right to make such a move "unilaterally."

Arizona officials have urged Clinton to include state residents in any such decision, while Republican lawmakers say Clinton is using his executive privilege to bypass the Republican-led Congress.

McCain, Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull and other Arizona lawmakers rebuked Clinton in a joint letter for creating the two national monuments in their state.

"We join in again requesting that you forgo unilateral federal action in declaring further monuments in Arizona, and instead work with us as we involve the people of Arizona in a preservation effort that allows the public a voice in the process," said the letter, dated January 7.

George Frampton, chairman of the president's Council on Environmental Quality, wrote back, saying there has been plenty of public input.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt says the president should use his executive authority to continue Theodore Roosevelt's tradition of protecting the Grand Canyon

Babbitt and Interior Department officials have held more than 60 meetings on the proposed Arizona monuments, including two public hearings, Frampton wrote.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said Clinton should allow Congress to consider such moves, arguing the president should not use the Antiquities Act to unilaterally declare places national monuments.

Murkowski said recently that he might consider legislation this year to require public input in situations that did not constitute an emergency.

A spokeswoman for the committee said the Antiquities Act, created to protect lands being ravaged, was not meant to be used the way Clinton was using it.

"When it was started back under Teddy Roosevelt, they were emergency powers. We've come a long way since then," she said. "These are already public lands ... If they feel they need further protection, why not at least bring it to Congress?"

As Babbitt made his recommendations last month, he noted that all presidents since Theodore Roosevelt, except Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, used their authority to protect federal lands under the Antiquities Act.

Other defenders of the Act also say it has helped preserve some of the country's national -- and natural -- treasures.

"The Statue of Liberty was protected through the Antiquities Act, (as were) Devil's Tower (National Monument in Wyoming) and Acadia (National Park in Maine)," said Tom Kieran of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Said White House spokesman Jake Siewert: "Congress has the power to overturn it, but they never have."

Residents of Fredonia, Arizona, which is near the proposed Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, fear federal restrictions associated with national monument status will replace their quiet lifestyle with a hectic, tourist economy.

"I thought we were going to have some input," said Fredonia Mayor Joy Jordan. "But things have not worked out that way at all. So I feel very sad and very helpless."

Just before the last presidential election in 1996, Clinton made a similar designation at the Grand Canyon and created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

The move angered Utah lawmakers who said it would hurt the economy and block development of a key coal mine.

In the largest presidential designation of land, Jimmy Carter used the Antiquities Act in 1978 to set aside 56 million acres in Alaska. Much of that territory is now national park land.

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