Low-Level Radiation, Revisited

Is there a threshold level for radiation exposure, below which no harm results? Or is the relationship a linear one, whereby any amount of radiation produces some harm? The question still divides scientists, but more and more evidence is accumulating that the former hypothesis is correct.

Consider a study just in from China, as reported in Science (August 22). It turns out that Yangjiang County in Guangdong Province has a background radiation level three times as high as in neighboring areas. Since 1972 a group of scientists from the Laboratory of Industrial Hygiene in Beijing has studied the 73,000 residents of Yangjiang County, comparing them with 77,000 people living in two separate control areas nearby, at the same altitude.

The groups were compared on a large variety of health-related indicators: hereditary diseases, congenital abnormalities, chromosome aberrations, the rate of spontaneous abortions, the frequency of malignancies, and the growth and development of children. The findings? There were no significant differences on any of these measures, lending support to the idea that there is, indeed, a threshold level of radiation below which no harm results.

The alternative view, the "linear" hypothesis, received another blow in August when the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) issued a revised report on radiation hazards, reducing its previous (1972) estimates of cancer risks by about half. The revision, produced by a seven-member subcommittee, was approved by all but two members of the full 22-member committee of experts. Those two split between one who held out for the linear hypothesis and another who thinks the revised figures still overestimate the risks.

Car Quota Drawbacks

The US International Trade Commission (USITC) is currently preparing its recommendation to the president on a complaint by the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Company that American auto makers are being hurt by imports. While the final USITC recommendation had not been released at press time, it is encouraging to note that an interim report by USITC cited "potential drawbacks" to the use of import quotas or higher tariffs.

The report noted that American consumers could still choose not to buy the current line of US cars even if import restrictions were imposed. Consumers could keep their cars longer—indeed, the average age of passenger cars in the United States has already increased from 5.7 years in 1972 to 6.4 years in 1979. Furthermore, the USITC report said, American auto makers market a large share of imported vehicles; import restrictions would hurt their sales as well.

Caribbean Victory

Attorney Mary Eugenia Charles took over as Dominica's prime minister late this year, winning the elections on a free-market platform and bringing her opposition Freedom Party to power. Prime Minister Charles, who has said that "foreign investment is the key to our future prosperity," advocates allowing the free market to flourish as the way to recover from the 1979 Hurricane David. A knowledgeable source says Charles is "as pro-free enterprise as any government official can be." Neighboring St. Vincent and Antigua islands have also, in the last year, voted in conservative governments to replace socialist ones.

When to Evacuate

Most planning for protection of the public from nuclear reactor accidents focuses on defining evacuation zones and making plans for moving people from them. Yet in many cases, say two Electric Power Research Institute scientists, the best course is simply to urge people to stay indoors.

Writing in a recent issue of Science, Milton Levenson and Frank Rahn point out that a simple wood frame house reduces the dose rate by a factor of 2; a masonry house, by a factor of 10 on the first floor and 50 or more in the basement. Evacuation, by contrast, is likely to increase exposure by getting people outdoors (and even more so if they inadvertently move in the direction of the cloud or if the wind shifts unexpectedly). Based on an analysis of past reactor accidents, including Three Mile Island, Levenson and Rahn argue that evacuation is likely to be the best policy only in special circumstances and that in most cases "massive evacuations will only add to the public risk, with little probability of having tangible benefits."

Britain's Indexing Cuts

Britain's welfare benefits are notoriously lavish, and ironically, its strict indexing of those benefits is partly to blame for the disparity between so-called public and private income. The Thatcher government has therefore decided to slow the pace at which benefit checks are increased to reflect a rise in prices. National retirement pension payments (analogous to our Social Security payments) will no longer be tied in to either prices or wages, whichever is greater, but to prices alone. The rate of increase on several specific pensions will also be adjusted by five percent less than previously allotted. The cuts will reportedly save the British government some 350 million pounds in the first year.

Do Jobs Programs Work?

Senator Edward Kennedy's emotional pitch persuaded the Democratic national convention to include in their platform a $12 billion program to create government jobs. Yet the evidence has been accumulating over the past two decades that such programs are not effective.

To begin with, the basic assumption behind many such programs is that they will succeed in providing jobs for the hard-core unemployed—those unemployed for "structural" reasons in the economy. Such people are presumed to be unresponsive to economic growth, during which the private sector creates new jobs. But a new study by Kim Clark and Lawrence Summers of the National Bureau of Economic Research torpedoes that assumption.

Clark and Summers present evidence that "hard-core" groups such as black teenagers (whose unemployment rate is about 36 percent) respond very strongly to a growing economy: their employment rises by six percent for every one percent increase in overall economic activity. Prior studies apparently failed to perceive this because they focused on data on unemployment rather than employment. But unemployment figures are notoriously unreliable as indicators in such cases, because they reflect only those persons who are "participating" in the work force.

It is precisely such groups as black teenagers that tend to drop out altogether during recessions, not showing up in the labor force numbers at all. Then, when the economy picks up and they reenter the labor force, those who don't find jobs are suddenly added to the numbers of unemployed used to compute the unemployment rate, at the same time that many of their compatriots are finding jobs. Thus, looking only at unemployment figures gives a totally false picture—one that is then used to argue for government jobs programs of the sort backed by Kennedy.

That's not the only evidence against such programs, though. It turns out that the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) and the other major federal jobs programs—touted as being counter-cyclical (that is, counteracting recession)—actually make the business cycle worse. That's because it takes so long for Congress to get around to expanding them in response to a recession that they don't really start pumping out the money until the recovery is already well under way. They end up adding new jobs when the economy is running close to full employment. Concludes economist Michael Wachter of the University of Pennsylvania, "CETA expansions turn out to be pro-cyclical rather than counter-cyclical."

Other economists point out that, by and large, the federal programs create few new jobs; instead, they simply redistribute the money that pays for jobs. In a 1975 American Enterprise Institute study, Alan Fechter found that between 60 and 90 percent of "Great Society" public employment funds merely displaced state and local funds that would otherwise have paid for the jobs. Today's programs may be even worse; George Johnson of the University of Michigan puts the consensus of economists at 80 percent "fiscal substitution."

These findings may be sinking in. The Democratic platform notwithstanding, the Carter administration's job-creation proposals focus on tax cuts to stimulate business activity rather than expansion of CETA and similar programs.

Rent Control Setbacks

The boom in rent control seems to have come to a halt, as private property advocates increasingly learn to marshal facts and figures and exercise political savvy. Leading the campaign on a national basis is the National Multi-Housing Council, a Washington-based apartment owners' association.

One strategy to fend off controls is to have the state legislature preempt local government's power to enact rent control. That has been accomplished thus far in Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana. (An effort to get such a measure through the California legislature failed, leading to a ballot measure last June that would have limited the scope of local rent control measures; misleadingly advertised as a form of moderate rent control, it was trounced by the voters.)

Generally, where local rent control is subjected to a vote of the citizenry, it has been defeated (as has occurred twice during the past two years in Santa Barbara, California—by two-to-one margins both times), except in cities where tenants make up an overwhelming majority of the population. Most of the California and New Jersey cities with rent controls had them voted in by their city councils, after skillful lobbying campaigns by tenant groups. Recently, however, city councils in Chicago and San Diego have rejected proposals to enact controls. And homeowner and apartment owner groups have organized to work for repeal in Elizabeth and Hackensack, New Jersey.

Richard Fore, president of the NMHC, is modestly optimistic over these developments. "We could be seeing the first sign of a shift in attitudes on the part of legislators and the public," he told reporter John Betz recently.

Into Space without Taxes

We reported in Editor's Notes last month about NASA'S acceptance of private funds to pay for processing data from the Viking Mars spacecraft (via the Viking Fund). We're pleased to be able to note two more private initiatives to support space exploration. While neither specifically promotes less government involvement in space exploration, they do attempt to loosen the stranglehold NASA has had on fund raising (that is, taxes) potentials.

One is the new Planetary Society organized principally by space guru Carl Sagan and Dr. Bruce Murray of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Sagan hopes that the formation of a nonprofit, tax-exempt, public-membership group advocating the exploration of the planets, among other things, will both demonstrate popular support for space programs and provide funds for "the stimulation of critical activities" (presumably to be carried out by NASA). Charter membership is $20 a year, and the Society can be reached at P.O. Box 3599, Pasadena, CA 91103.

Jeff Vale of the L-5 Society, on the other hand, is fielding an initiative in Washington state to use lotteries as a nontax method of State support for space exploration. The first prize winner of the lottery, Vale proposes, would win a trip on the Space Shuttle (or $10,000 tax-free). The initiative also describes the use of lottery money to build an orbiting space station resort (a visit to it could become the next lottery prize). While most observers are pessimistic about the initiative's passage, readers who would like more information could write to Vale at 2451 S. 22nd St., Seattle, WA 98188.

Telephones: Inching toward Deregulation

Although Congress failed to enact a telephone deregulation bill this session, the industry—helped along by the Federal Communications Commission—continues to move toward open competition.

The deregulation bill would ratify the April FCC decision to allow AT&T to enter the data processing business in exchange for losing its monopoly over long-distance service and customer-premises equipment. It passed the House Commerce Committee in August by 34 to 7 but was killed by the Judiciary Committee in September. A Senate version, supported by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Howard Cannon (of airline deregulation fame), was postponed during the summer due to the illness of several key committee members.

A broad-based coalition is on record in favor of the legislation, including the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Electronic Funds Transfer Association, and the National Cable Television Association. Not all of these groups are enthusiastic about competition, but all want Congress to resolve the issue, ending the present climate of uncertainty as FCC actions are continually challenged in court. (In August, for example, a federal appeals court overturned the FCC's year-old decision to allow Western Union Corp. to enter the international telecommunications market; the court said the agency had exceeded its authority.)

Nevertheless, telephone competition continues to accelerate, based on those challengeable FCC decisions. AT&T has announced plans for a complete restructuring to comply with the FCC's controversial April deregulation ruling. Ma Bell plans to set up a brand new subsidiary—dubbed "Baby Bell"—to engage in data processing, word processing, and information services.

Bell's long-distance competitors are wasting no time expanding their services. Already there are four firms offering lower-priced long-distance telephone service to businesses: MCI, Southern Pacific, IT&T, and Western Union. The first three also offer residential service, with MCI having signed up 60,000 residential customers since March (See "Slash Your Phone Bill," REASON, Mar. 1980).

Over the next several years, at least three more firms will be entering the market for business long-distance service: GTE Satellite Corp., a revamped American Satellite Corp. (now jointly owned by Fairchild and Continental Telephone), and Satellite Business Systems (the IBM-Comsat-Aetna joint venture). All three will specialize in large-volume business users of voice and data service, transmitted mostly via satellite. The largest customers—SBS estimates about 400 of them—will do enough business to justify having their own satellite dish antennas. A second tier of users—perhaps 3,000—will be served from regional antennas to which they will be linked by special digital networks, again bypassing local phone service. (Small users served by firms such as MCI and Southern Pacific must use the local phone network to tie into the alternative long-distance service.)

Despite congressional delays, the FCC continues to deregulate on its own. In August it proposed exempting from regulation altogether communications firms, such as MCI and Southern Pacific, that are not "dominant" in the market. The FCC staff anticipates that 24 companies fall into that category. Agency personnel contend that the FCC has the legal authority to "forbear" from regulating if it chooses, based on common-carrier decisions dating back to 14th-century England. A second tier of larger firms would be subject to less-stringent regulation than the dominant carriers like AT&T.

FCC Chairman Charles Ferris has no intention of slowing the pace of deregulation. Addressing the International Radio and Television Society in September, he emphasized, "Free enterprise means protecting competition, not competitor…when new technologies arise, unless the facts compel us to intervene, we should get out of the way."

Lifting Usury Limits

The Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee has asked Congress to permanently override state limits on the interest that may be charged on credit cards and consumer loans. The banking deregulation bill enacted last April temporarily suspended state usury limits (Trends, June), and the committee wants to make this suspension permanent.

Created to examine the effects of the bill, the committee includes representatives of the White House, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and other banking regulators. After testimony from consumer, business, labor, and government groups, the committee concluded that usury limits block thrift institutions from diversifying into consumer loans in times of high interest rates and thus undermine their financial stability.

The recommendation is bound to be controversial in Congress, as many members feel that a federal override is an infringement of states' rights.

New Hebrides Rebellion Crushed

The libertarian-inspired independence movement in the New Hebrides (see "Wun Niu Fela Kuntri," REASON, Sept.) has been put down by force of arms. At press time, however, there remained hope that some degree of autonomy would be granted to the Espiritu Santo area of Jimmy Stevens and his followers.

After the withdrawal of British-French rule on July 30, outside military forces were brought in by the newly installed socialist government of Walter Lini—some 250 combat troops from Papua New Guinea and Australian officers and aircraft. The PNG troops replaced 200 British and French troops occupying Espiritu Santo as of mid-August. After a series of incidents, including the arrest and beating of 40 of Stevens's people and the killing of his 24-year-old son, Eddie, the rebel headquarters at Tanafo was stormed on Sunday, August 31. Jimmy Stevens and 70 others were captured.

Meanwhile, Fijian chief Ratu Osea Gavidi, acting as a spokesman for Stevens's movement, traveled to Australia and Papua New Guinea to tell Stevens's side and exert diplomatic pressure. Gavidi received considerable publicity in both countries, and his trip led to debate in the PNG legislature over the propriety of Melanesian troops being used against fellow Melanesians.

The same sentiment was evident in Espiritu Santo when the PNG forces refused to transport Stevens to the capital, Vila, for trial, on grounds that it would be unjust to remove him from his land and people. A trial of sorts was therefore begun at Santo town in mid-September, only to be interrupted by a visit to Stevens from the PNG prime minister. At press time, the trial had not resumed, and the PNG troops had left Espiritu Santo and returned home.

New Hebrides prime minister Walter Lini, meanwhile, was reportedly on his way to Fiji to meet with Gavidi. What the outcome of all this will be is anybody's guess, but it appears that—even in jail—Stevens is still considered a force to be reckoned with.

Space Entrepreneurs

While NASA dilly-dallies over the already delayed (by three years) launching of the first space shuttle, private entrepreneurs are busy catching up. Several of the more promising ones were featured in a recent issue of Venture magazine, including: Gary C. Hudson, a rocket consultant to NASA and coauthor of the April 1979 REASON article on a space freeport; Robert Truax, who successfully ground-tested a private manned (suborbital) spaceship on June 24 (Trends, Sept.); and Leonard Cormier, a space consultant and a former project engineer on space transport systems for Rockwell.

All three entrepreneurs are working independently on various aspects of developing space trucks for suborbital and orbital flights. Research by Gary Hudson's group—Advanced Propulsion Technology (APT)—thus far has been in the area of specific impulses of fuels. Specific impulse is the amount of thrust per pound of fuel. APT has been experimenting with different fuels in different ways to find the most efficient amount of boosting power. "Conventionally, engineers design rockets to get the most efficient use of fuel around," explains Gayle Pergamit, vice-president of public affairs. "Unfortunately, that particular fuel may cost $10 a pound." Using a less efficient fuel that costs only, say, 50 cents a pound, lowers costs significantly. So APT is testing for fuel mixes and rocket designs on small test engine models and is currently financed for all current research and development work. At the present, it is a division of Hudson's firm, GCH, Inc., but will become an independent entity this spring. The APT division got rolling in May, Pergamit reports, acquired offices and warehouse space for construction in Sunnyvale, California, in June, and began initial design work in July. So far, Pergamit reports, things are going "very well."

Truax is also achieving some success with his planned manned spaceship and hopes to launch his "Volksrocket" from Southern California next year. He expects that the sale of television rights to the event will pay for its development costs and perhaps even return a profit. Leonard Cormier, on the other hand, intends to sell interests in his company, Transpace, Inc., to get it off the ground. He plans to modify the wings, tail, and engine of an existing big jet transport to build a manned first stage launcher. It would take off horizontally from an airport with an unmanned second-stage and manned third-stage rockets riding piggyback.

Meanwhile the granddaddy of private space enterprises, OTRAG (see "Rockets in Africa," REASON, July 1978), is rumored to be alive and well and living in "a developing country"—some say Brazil. You may recall the fuss over OTRAG's original launch site in Zaire, with a Penthouse "exposé" of this supposedly West German government-funded private front developing cruise missiles in secrecy in Africa. The real reason for the furor was that OTRAG is quite willing to provide satellite launchers to any country that can pay for them—Third World, European, Chinese, or American. OTRAG plans a series of two-stage suborbital flights with science payloads in 1981, and to launch a small orbiting satellite in 1982.

Transit Deregulation in England and Chile

Transportation seems to be a favorite target for deregulation, perhaps because inefficiency in that area is so obvious and affects consumers so directly. In London the newspaper of the Freedom Association, The Free Nation, recently gave Transport Minister Normal Fowler an "Enemy of the State" award for setting high standards in "deregulating and cutting that ought to be the rule rather than the exception for Mrs. Thatcher's ministries."

In his past 15 months as transport minister, Fowler has managed to end a ban on fare-paying car passengers, to cut civil service rolls by 18 percent, and to denationalize the National Freight Corporation, Sealink Ferries, and Seaspeed Hovercraft. Fowler has also allowed school buses to carry fare-paying adults and plans to partially denationalize the British Transport Docks Board. Furthermore, he has encouraged free-enterprise bus service in local areas and has arranged for the sale of 40 million pounds worth of State interests in motorway service areas.

Chile is also removing regulations on transit services. Professor Arnold Harberger of the University of Chicago, an advisor to the Chilean government, reports that new freedoms in transportation include: freedom of entry in the taxi industry, unrestricted conversion of taxis to jitneys (collectivos), and unregulated choice of routes for buses.

Poland Moves toward the Market

The Polish workers' strike that monopolized the news for several weeks in late summer is by no means over. Polish courts are still considering the legality of the form of the new independent (that is, nongovernment) unions being organized by the Gdansk interfactory strike committee (known by its Polish initials, MKZ). Entrenched official unions are also fighting the new unions by intimidating workers, news reports say.

But there are signs that repercussions from the strike will last for a long time. A new government took over in late August, with four antireform members of the ruling Communist Party Politburo ousted and two new liberal members named in their place. Finance Minister Marian Krzak has talked about the need to decentralize responsibility to individual enterprises and to overhaul the internal pricing system, which is politically motivated and bears little relation to actual market costs. (Interestingly, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times elaborated on these points, explaining that central planners cannot know what costs really are and what prices should be "since there is no open market or competition to determine them"—shades of Ludwig von Mises!)

The government says it will also try to reduce popular farm subsidies, to increase incentives for individuals to go into business for themselves, and to allow people the right to set up franchises of State-owned service companies. In the meantime, it is reported that 80 to 90 percent of workers in Gdansk are opting to join the new unions, some groups moving lock, stock, and barrel from government to independent union. Some have also predicted that the independent union movement will affect other areas, such as acting as an impetus to schoolteachers who have begun lobbying to scrap the newly adopted Russian pattern of secondary education.

Entrepreneurs Offer Medical House Calls

Imagine that you're alone at home one weekend and you twist your ankle painfully while nurturing the nasturtiums in the garden. Driving yourself to the hospital would be a pain, but on the other hand, your accident isn't serious enough to warrant an ambulance. What do you do? Well, if you're a member of Doctors' House Call Service in the Orange County area of California, you hobble to your telephone and dial a number. Soon after, a physician and a medical assistant drive up in their radio-equipped mobile unit to treat your injury.

Participation in this new service is through payment of of a one-time membership fee of $50 for individuals and senior citizens' households and $79.50 for families of any size. A complete medical file is kept on each member, and his or her place of residence is placed on a map for easy reference. House calls and medication provided are then billed as used at a rate comparable to office visits. While the program is especially attractive to senior citizens and other people who are not mobile (such as a parent at home with three small kids), even those with a regular family physician can benefit from the 24-hour availability of home medical service. Complete reports of any treatment given in such cases can be sent to one's regular physician.

While it is too early to gauge the popularity of this market service, it will be interesting to come back to Doctors' House Call Service in a year and see just how accurately it has felt the consumer's pulse.

Alaska Repeals Its Income Tax

Despite opposition from the governor and a court decision overturning a previous income tax repeal measure, Alaska's legislature finally pushed through a bill repealing that state's 31-year-old state income tax retroactive to January 1979. The legislature also passed a measure allowing rebates to be paid to 1979 taxpayers to the tune of $185 million.

The achievement of Alaska's tax repeal can be directly attributed to the efforts of lone Libertarian representative Dick Randolph. Earlier this year, Randolph and the Alaska Libertarian Party succeeded in gathering enough signatures to place a measure on the statewide ballot that would have rolled back state income taxes to one percent. Gov. Jay Hammond, who was opposed to the measure, preempted the initiative by introducing a bill that allowed residents who had previously paid at least three years of taxes to be exempt from future tax payments. It passed but was then challenged in the state supreme court as discriminatory and declared unconstitutional. Hammond then tried to pass a measure that would repeal income taxes for only 10 years. It was rejected by the legislature. The Alaska House voted unanimously to pass the outright repeal of state income taxes, and the Senate concurred with an 18-to-1 vote. The governor signed the bill immediately, apparently realizing that his continued opposition would be a political liability.

Market Care for the Disabled

One of the lingering fears in many people's minds is that the "cold-hearted" private sector cannot be trusted to care for the handicapped, that only government will take the pains to perform this "nonprofit" service. But, as in so many other instances, private insurance is proving that it, for one, has incentives in this area.

Liberty Mutual Insurance Company has funded the development by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of a "bionic" arm, introduced a decade ago as the Boston Arm. The company has since paid to fit some 85 persons (most of them policyholders) with the arm at an average cost of $2,500. Liberty Mutual does this because the arm can mean the difference between paying large claims for total disability and simply aiding the victim to near-normal ability.

The program has been so successful that Liberty Mutual has helped fund a second-generation bionic arm, developed by the University of Utah's Institute of Biomedical Engineering. (So-called bionic artificial limbs are activated by tensing a muscle over which a sensor has been taped; the flex generates an electrical impulse, which then turns on a miniature electric motor implanted in the arm; the motor runs until the muscle is tensed again.)

Even gigantic American Telegraph and Telephone Company is not without a (motivated) heart: for many years it has been giving free second-hand teletype machines to deaf customers, making it possible for them to communicate over the phone. What these examples show is that private incentives exist for helping the handicapped. Whether those incentives are "pure" or tainted by profit motives seems to be beside the point; the end, after all, is achieved, and without using involuntary (tax) means.

Free Trade and FTC See Eye-to-Eye

When the Federal Trade Commission in 1978 struck down association rules and state laws prohibiting the advertising of eyeglasses, there was grumbling about how commercialism would encourage shoddy quality and shortchange the consumer. A study of the first year the FTC rule was in effect (Oct. 1978-Oct. 1979), however, shows quite the contrary. While the Consumer Price Index rose 12.2 percent and medical prices went up by 9.4 percent, the price of a pair of eyeglasses increased only by 6.5 percent. The FTC believes that advertising was a crucial factor in holding down those prices, particularly since an earlier FTC study had shown that in states where eyeglass advertising was restricted, the average price for an examination and a pair of eyeglasses was $95. Where advertising was allowed, however, the same services averaged $73 at an optometrist's and $61 at a large chain dispenser.

Meanwhile, the FTC staff is urging the commission to lift restrictions on the employment of optometrists. At present, most states have laws preventing eyeglass stores and chain and department stores from hiring optometrists on the grounds that commercial considerations would compromise professional concerns (only optometrists are licensed to give eye examinations and write prescriptions). The FTC could decide either to adopt a trade regulation rule banning such restrictions or could circulate an agency recommendation urging states to abolish such restrictions on their own. At press time, no decision had been made.


Laetrile Legislation. California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill legalizing the use of Laetrile for cancer patients in university teaching hospitals.

IRS Rebuffed. The House voted 401-to-4 to forbid the Internal Revenue Service from even considering a withholding tax on dividend and interest income. This fundraising gem was suggested by the White House last March.

Addiction versus Relief. Despite testimony by doctors that heroin is the most effective drug for pain relief for dying cancer patients, officials from the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Cancer Institute all argued against legislation that would allow such patients to use heroin. Their rallying cry: it might lead to more addiction among young people.

New School Rulings. Carles and Alyne Davis won an appeal in Missouri reversing an earlier lower court decision that they had violated compulsory attendance laws and failed to provide proper instruction for their child by teaching him at home. In Minnesota, a jury conviction of a home-schooling family for violation of school attendance laws was reversed on appeal on the grounds that their constitutional rights under the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment were being violated.

Conservatives Urge Defense Cuts. A Republican Study Committee headed by Rep. John Rousselot listed 107 examples of "waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the federal government" and—to everyone's surprise—included $14.7 billion in excessive spending by the Department of Defense. The study group members vowed that they would try to implement the proposed cutbacks by amending appropriations bills.

Land Satellite Market. Comsat General Corporation has tried to convince Congress that a private company could run a viable Landsat remote sensing system, operational by 1985, but the Department of Commerce stubbornly insists that commercial viability will not come before 2000 (and perhaps not then) and that government therefore needs to continue operating the satellite. In the meantime, some European and Japanese companies expect to have operational technology to set up their own systems by mid-1980. And people wonder why American technology is being overtaken!

ICC Throws Out More Rules. Besides following the guidelines passed by Congress on rate deregulation (Trends, Nov.), the Interstate Commerce Commission further gave truckers the freedom to raise or lower their rates up to 10 percent without giving advance notice to industry rate bureaus. The advance-notice provision had removed incentives to cut rates because competitors would be tipped off in advance, ICC officials said.

Sea-Law Treaty Update. From Germany has come unexpected support for the US mining industry's view that the UN Law of the Sea Treaty may shortchange their efforts. Its parliament has passed a seabed mining law similar to that passed by the US Congress (Trends, Aug.), and a German official at the UN conference says that they do not share American negotiator Elliot Richardson's desire for a hasty conclusion at any cost.

Building Immunity. Wyoming is the 10th state to declare unconstitutional a statute that limits the time during which a builder can be sued for damages resulting from faulty construction. In other states where a similar statute has been sustained, the reasoning has been that builders are entitled to this special immunity because they have to contend with such variables as building design and site conditions, while other parties involved in construction—such as materials suppliers—can and should have more control over their work.

Costly Blockade. The Coast Guard blockade of the Florida coastline ordered by President Carter is costing American taxpayers $700,000 a day, making it "the most expensive peacetime operation" in the Coast Guard's history, Coast Guard spokesman Greg Robinson said. And because the federal government insists on sheltering Cuban refugees from the hard facts of life, it is spending another $56,000 a day to feed over 1,600 Cubans at detention centers and $1 million a week to feed and shelter about 15,250 refugees at relocation centers. The Cubans are certainly getting early training in the welfare mentality.