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From the week of September 4, 2003

Bret Billings
via the Internet


You Call This Progress?

Giving Roberts the business:The Progress and Freedom Foundation is flattered that Westword's Michael Roberts took the time to attend our Aspen Summit ("The Rah Expedition," August 21). Digital economy issues, regulatory policy and intellectual property law tend to induce catatonia in normal people, so Mr. Roberts is to be commended for his fortitude.

I would like to offer a couple of modest correctives to his column. First, my belief in competition is not animated by fondness for business. It is based on a belief that competition, properly understood and, yes, properly regulated, is better for consumers than regulation more often than not. Call it laboring under false consciousness if you will, but consumer welfare is the standard that guides our analysis at PFF. To be sure, we will more often than not support market mechanisms and deregulation, but we reach that conclusion based on consumer-welfare analysis. As a general matter, the history of regulation is one where regulation is perverted to private ends and fails to constrain monopoly pricing. Markets tend to correct errors quickly, whereas regulators' errors tend to become institutionalized and compound upon themselves. Therefore, deregulation and traditional free-market mechanisms will usually serve consumers better than old regulatory modes. Second, of course, we were honored by Justice Scalia taking time to join us. That said, these regulatory issues do not break out on a predictable left/right axis. For instance, Justice Breyer has been the most outspoken critic in the courts of the FCC's highly regulatory actions since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, writing dissents to Justice Scalia's majority opinions. As between Breyer and Scalia on the economics of the FCC's actions, I'll take Breyer.

Furthermore, President Clinton first appointed then-commissioner and now Chairman Michael Powell to the FCC. While the chairman is portrayed as a hell-bent deregulator, the more accurate description of Powell would be of a cautious, principled and measured regulator, who lets the economic analysis and underlying facts guide his regulatory decisions. (Indeed, free-market advocates like PFF have been impatient with Powell and his caution.) Ultimately, I don't think that regulatory policy neatly breaks down between deregulatory Republican plutocrats versus pro-regulation Democrat consumer-rights advocates. There is a rough correlation that Republicans are for markets and Democrats for regulation, but there is much incoherence, too.

In any event, we appreciate Westword's reporting on the summit, and the opportunity take your stage with our "cosmically dull" (Mr. Roberts's words) issues.

Ray Gifford, president
The Progress and Freedom Foundation


Buddha Call!

If you knew Shoshu...:Your characterization of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in the August 21 Off Limits was extremely one-sided and offensive to the Nichiren Buddhists living in the Denver area. You aired some very old and discredited allegations with no apparent effort to present a balanced or truthful picture.

For the record, there are no known allegations of Soka Gakkai leaders having a dispute over prostitute bills. Second, Mr. Ikeda left Nichiren Shoshu, along with 12 million members of the Soka Gakkai International -- roughly 95 percent of the Nichiren Shoshu membership. This split was inevitable, given the outgoing and engaged style of Soka Gakkai versus the more insular and doctrinaire manner of the Nichiren Shoshu leadership.

It is unfortunate that your reporter did not take the time to learn more about the group he was defaming. He/she would have learned that the SGI-USA is the largest and most diverse Buddhist association in the U.S., and that we seek to help people -- through Buddhist practice -- to cultivate the virtues of responsibility, wisdom and compassion in their daily lives. Locally, the SGI-USA/Denver and its over 3,000 members have been civicly active and contributive to the Denver metro community for over 33 years.

Chris Risom, director of community affairs
SGI-USA Buddhist Association, Denver region

Soka to me:Buddhism is a religion; SGI is a religious corporation. Buddhism teaches the wonderful dharma; SGI teaches the greatness of its president, Daisaku Ikeda, and his interpretation of Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhists who defend SGI as a "faith" (as C.L. Harmer seems to in her August 28 letter) may not know that Ikeda is proud of his friendship with the late Zhou En-lai and Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leaders responsible for the genocide of more than a million Tibetan Buddhists (see http://www.sokagakkai.info/html1/news1/headlines1/00cal1/00jul09-15_1.html).

I am cynical about SGI's so-called peace efforts, but my cynicism is informed by thirteen years of affiliation with SGI. If anything, the experience has taught me the difference between a person of faith and a peace poseur.

Lisa Jones
Denver


Arms and the Men

Fire when ready:I, for one, would like to chime in with Fred Cummins from Freeport, Texas, on firearms freedoms (Letters, August 7). I'm sure he's going to be painted with the Retrograde Redneck brush, yet look at what decades of "progressive" and "reasonable" gun legislation has brought us: Dare thee walk down an alley in Denver at night all by thyself?

I am a firm believer in the Dick Valentine Theory of Crime Reduction: Issue everyone a surplus M1911 and 500 rd to carry whensoever and wheresoever they want, and watch what happens. The crime rate would go sky-high for about a month and then would drop to zero after the hotheads and boneheads shot each other up. Yeah, there'd be some innocents lost, but I'll bet there'd be fewer than the innocents lost under our present system of maternalistic firearms "protectionism."

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