It may not be great cinema on par with Alfred Hitchcocks best thrillers, but the latest installment in the Jason Bourne movie franchise has new and important things to sayespecially about government surveillance and the hazards of public-private cronyism. Thus, while its no substitute for reading the eye-opening new Independent Institute book, American Surveillance, by Anthony Gregory, the newest action-thriller starring Matt Damon is worth the price of admission and a bucket of popcorn.
In his latest movie review for The Beacon, Independent Institute Research Fellow Sam Staley notes that the screenwriters of Jason Bourne could have taken the easy way out, by repeating the Hollywood trope of intelligence agencies that spy on people directly, using their government operatives and equipment. Instead, they took a more creative route: They depicted a CIA director who wants to outsource mass surveillance, by pressuring the CEO of a social media company to give the agency access to customers data. Adding to the conflict of this subplot: the corporate chief resistson the grounds that complying with privacy violations would be bad for business and violate his principles. Adding another twist: The spymaster reminds the tech executive that, in Staleys words, Those same principles werent in play when the CIA helped his company get off the ground and grow.
Its rare for filmmakers to depict the complexities of public-private partnershipswhat many people call crony capitalism. Its rarer still for them to depict the downside of such Faustian bargains with the state. Thus, Jason Bourne is plowing new ground, by rendering such a timely and critical topic in a blockbuster that grossed $60 million dollars in its opening weekendnot counting box-office receipts from overseas. This, I believe, is a good omen for civil liberties and individual freedom, Staley concludes.
Wind and solar power have soaked up billions of dollars in public subsidies, but this hasnt made much of a dent in most households energy budgets. In fact, the push for renewable energy has made electricity less affordable, not more. Thats because it comes with more regulatory sticks as well as taxpayer-funded carrots.
Government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency have increasingly piled on regulation upon regulation to hinder coal power, which generates one-third of U.S. energy, but also to hobble cleaner natural gas. One result is to make energy more expensive than it would be otherwise. This problem, according to Independent Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II, is especially costly for low-income Americans, who now spend about 20 percent of their household budget on energy costs, instead of the affordability threshold of 6 percent. That 14 percent gap costs an estimated $40 billion per year.
The clean energy mantra is so loud that it often drowns out the feeble cry of energy poverty, Shughart and co-author Michael Jensen, a researcher at Utah State Universitys Institute for Political Economy, write in a recent op-ed. Maintaining, or even lowering, energy costs must be as important a consideration in U.S. energy policy as any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, federal bureaucrats and many politicians seem more eager to fight against cheap energy than for it.
3) Most Republicans Quiet on Obamacare Replacement?
More than six years after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the party that voted unanimously against the controversial legislation has yet to agree on a detailed plan for its replacement. Congressional Republicans have voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare, but they havent even held hearings on the many problems caused by the presidents health reform law.
Having a hearing wouldnt just put Democrats on the spot, writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman. It would put Republicans in the potentially embarrassing bind of having to explain how they would solve these very same problems.
Goodman has long advocated the creation of a uniform tax deduction for buying health insurance. Along with a few other reform measures, this, he believes, would solve the bulk of Obamacares problemsand conquer other healthcare challenges, such as the need to ensure coverage for the 20 million people who would be left without insurance if the 2010 health law were repealed but not replaced. Goodman offers the way forward in his books Priceless and A Better Choice. Theyve even inspired recent healthcare legislation, by Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Pete Sessions. In a world in which political substance was more important than mere posturing, Congress would jump at the opportunity to examine common-sense reforms.