- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2008

City sidewalks are seeing a lot more foot traffic lately and rising fuel prices are the reason. Ditto for the flood of bicycles, motorized scooters and tiny electric cars we see on city streets.

While they come with a steep price, especially for the poor, these prices have done what Americans should have been doing all along - thinking more about conserving fuel than finding new ways to burn it. Today, we are seeing fuel prices that other countries have had for years, and our streets are starting to reflect their traffic.

Large SUVs are rare sights overseas, partly because of narrow city streets, but also because it costs a fortune in fuel to operate. …

At long last, we are looking to wind farms for producing electricity, a means that has been employed elsewhere for decades. A massive project is under construction along Interstate Highway 70 west of Salina and news reports highlight the exploding wind-power industry in oil-rich Texas. …

Sure, the short-term pain of fuel costs is affecting nearly every family and business, especially those lower on the earnings ladder. Fuel costs consume a larger part of their budget and any increase hurts.

But eventually, our society will adjust. In place of the heartburn will come a decrease in our dependence on foreign oil, and ending our reliance on places like Iran will be worth it.

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What’s the value of a human life? …

We do have an answer, courtesy of our national nanny - the federal government.

A human life is worth $6.9 million. To be more precise, that amount is the statistical value in today’s dollars, calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Making matters worse is that your value is decreasing. You are worth nearly $1 million less than your $7.8 million value five years ago.

Before you start feeling seriously undervalued, keep in mind the assessment is for statistical purposes only. The government is not attempting to stimulate the economy by creating a new industry merchandising people.

In addition to quality-of-life issues, federal agencies find quantifying life helps justify decisions. Bureaucrats then can weigh the cost of a proposed federal regulation against the lifesaving benefits. …

The Bush administration is being accused of devaluing human life to discourage adoption of new federal regulations, particularly environmental rules.

Placing a value on human life is not without precedent; insurance companies write life insurance policies for specific amounts and juries assess monetary damages in wrongful death judgments.

But these are practical assessments, not solutions to an elusive puzzle.

The value of a human life, like the depth and breadth of the cosmos, remains a mystery to ponder and celebrate.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal laid out in compelling terms this month how urgently Louisiana needs resources to protect and rebuild our coast.

And he argued persuasively for President Bush to give the state financial relief to ensure that there’s no lag in levee work or coastal restoration projects.

For now, the federal government is insisting that Louisiana pay its $1.8 billion share of levee construction costs up front. The figure includes $200 million more for that work than would have been required before Hurricane Katrina.

That is unfair. President Bush ought to give Louisiana 30 years to pay its share and reduce the cost to pre-Katrina levels, as Gov. Jindal is asking. All it would take is an executive order. The long-term payment plan is allowed under the 1986 Water Resources Development Act, and California and Nevada have been given those terms on similar projects.

Louisiana should be given the same consideration. After all, if the federal government’s levees had held up during Katrina, much of New Orleans would have been spared. This community shouldn’t be made to suffer further in the name of safety - and neither should other Louisianians.

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Florida growers take no consolation from the federal government’s announcement last week that all kinds of tomatoes are safe to eat. The damage - more than $100 million of it - has been done to sales of the state’s crop. The fear now is that damage might last longer.

Four months ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pointed to tomatoes as the primary suspect for the salmonella outbreak that was spreading across the country. To date, more than 1,200 people in 42 states have gotten sick from something, but the government can’t figure out what. No evidence exists to connect any of the illness with any of the state’s produce.

Florida tomato growers correctly blame the FDA for stigmatizing their product without working more closely with the industry early on to trace the problem to its source. It appears that the government jumped to a convenient conclusion under public pressure to come up with an answer - any answer. …

The FDA’s inept and irresponsible response to the outbreak cost Florida growers mightily. They want compensation from the government, and they deserve to get it.

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The agreement reached on Monday between Dr. Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should hopefully deliver the people of Zimbabwe from misery. But there should be no illusions about the complexity of the problem. … The document they signed before South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki was merely an agreement to start talking. …

The negotiated settlement in Kenya that brought the country back from the brink of disaster following a disputed presidential election has been hailed as a model for Zimbabwe and other countries facing similar political problems.

Such a settlement may well be necessary to head off a complete national breakdown, but it should only be as a last resort. …

Citizens of any nation who exercise their right to vote for leaders of their choice do not troop to the polling stations in expectation of an abortive election followed by some arrangement between the contenders. If such deals become the norm then democracy as we know it is not worth the ballot paper… .

So if the Zimbabwean leaders get to actual negotiations, they must seek to go beyond the Kenyan model and look for a formula that actually tries to address the will of the people.

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Many people hoped that holding this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing would serve as a lever to induce China to act more as a mature member of the international community.

The Chinese government has relented on a few issues it didn’t veto a U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Iran; it has offered limited cooperation on reining in the genocidal regime in Sudan; and it has agreed to a smoking ban at Olympic venues (this is a key human-rights issue?).

However, as the August 8 opening of the games approaches, it has become clear that the Olympics have led to more repression in China rather than less. The reason is not hard to understand. Beijing wants to present a harmonious face to the world during the Games.

So, it has rounded up street beggars in Beijing and shipped them off to the provinces. And it is rounding up political dissidents and potential troublemakers as well. …

China will no doubt put on an impressive Olympics. But it will be worth remembering that, amid the pageantry, spectacle and inspiring athletic competition, the image of harmony will have been achieved at a steep price.

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