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Out of the Storm News - November 13, 2014, 9:30 AM
R Street's Lori Sanders will be speaking at the ASBC Annual Business Summit on November 13, 2014.

FCC’s Secret Meetings Raise Significant Process Concerns

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 3:49 PM

A little-noticed article in the Wall Street Journal over Labor Day Weekend concerning the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger caught my eye, not only because the article obviously concerns an important matter of communications policy, but also because it raises questions regarding a matter of proper administrative agency process.

In the online version, the article is titled, “Comcast Targeted by Entertainment Giants.” This presages the article’s focus on the substantive communications policy matter. Along with my colleague, Seth Cooper, I filed public comments in the FCC’s proceeding that set forth our views concerning the proper way for the FCC to consider the merger proposal. You can read our comments, and I don’t intend to discuss the substance of the merger proposal here.

Instead, what I want to focus on is the matter of proper agency process. The article’s subtitle says a lot about my process concern: “FCC Encourages Media Companies to Provide Confidential Complaints on Time Warner Cable Purchase.”According to the WSJ, the FCC “is encouraging those big companies to offer feedback confidentially, people familiar with the matter say.”

In my decades-long experience with FCC matters, it is fairly unusual, if not unprecedented, for the FCC to take the initiative in encouraging confidential complaints in the context of an on-the-record merger review proceeding. The fact that it is doing so here caught my “administrative law” eye. (As a former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, a current member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, and a current Fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration, I do have such an “administrative law” eye. But, of course, I am speaking here only for myself.)

The theory spun out in the WSJ article is that the so-called “Entertainment Giants” may be too intimidated to put whatever concerns they may have about the merger on the public record. Unless these companies are able to meet with Commission officials on a confidential basis, so the story goes, they may not present their concerns at all because they fear that they may be subject to retribution by Comcast.

I can follow the theory, but nevertheless I do question the use of secret meetings in the context of the FCC’s transaction review proceedings. The practice of conducting off-the-record meetings raises questions of fundamental fairness that go to the integrity of the agency’s decision-making process. This is because no one –including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the parties most directly affected – is in a position to rebut claims made by the parties during the confidential meetings.

In administrative law terms, the FCC’s merger review proceeding – a proceeding in which the FCC is considering applications to approve the transfer of specific spectrum licenses and other specific authorizations – is an adjudicatory proceeding affecting the legal rights of the parties to the applications. In most cases, adjudicatory proceedings are “restricted” proceedings. This means that ex parte, or off-the-record, contacts between interested parties and Commission decision-making officials are not allowed. In restricted proceedings, all communications between interested parties and FCC officials must be on-the-record.

But in certain adjudicatory proceedings that may have significant public policy implications beyond the rights of the immediately affected parties, the FCC may invoke what it calls a “permit-but-disclose” process. The agency typically designates major merger reviews “permit-but-disclose” proceedings under Section 1.1206(b) of its rules, and it did so in a public notice in this case. As the name implies, in a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding, an interested party may make an ex parte presentation to Commission decision-making personnel, as long as the person promptly places in the public record the substance of the presentation.

The “permit-but-disclose” process allows interested parties to present their views to Commission officials considering the transaction, while ensuring, at the same time, that the substance of those views is placed in the record so that other interested parties, including the applicants seeking approval of the transaction, have notice of the presentation and an opportunity to respond.

If the Wall Street Journal reporting is accurate, and in fact the FCC is deviating from the “permit-but-disclose” practice in the case of the Comcast-TWC merger proceeding, then I have concerns. Providing fair notice and an opportunity to respond are fundamental elements of due process, even in a constitutional sense. A “permit-but-non-disclose” process, which by definition lacks fair notice and an opportunity to respond, is problematic from the perspective of proper conduct of an adjudicatory proceeding.

Now, I understand that perhaps in this instance the FCC may be invoking a further exception to the restricted proceeding requirements that otherwise apply to adjudicatory matters. Section 1.1204(a)(9) of the Commission’s rules provides that the Commission may allow a secret presentation to be made “to protect an individual from the possibility of reprisal, or [if] there is a reasonable expectation that disclosure would endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.” I understand that this provision may have a role to play as a “safety valve” in very rare situations, including when life or limb may be threatened.

Despite some of the exaggerated and unhelpful heated rhetoric bandied about regarding so-called “media giants” – whether they be cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable on the one hand or content programmers on the other – no one seriously entertains the notion that anyone’s life or physical safety is threatened by on-the-record participation in the merger proceeding. So, perhaps agency officials are reading “reprisal” in the sense of an interested party’s possible fears that it might not be treated as well as it otherwise would like in a business negotiation if it expresses concerns about the proposed merger.

Well, of course. It is understandable that one business “giant” (or even little giant) might prefer not to tick off another by expressing concerns in a public proceeding. But this worry, such as it is, must be balanced by concerns about maintaining the integrity of the agency’s administrative process. I don’t know what is said in the secret meetings – well, that’s obvious – but, without knowing more, my sense is that here the balance tips in favor of putting the substance of the claims on the public record. After all, remedies are available if anticompetitive retaliatory conduct is proven, and they will remain available whether or not the Comcast-TWC merger is approved.

Finally, I understand that the Department of Justice, in investigating proposed mergers, conducts secret meetings just like the FCC apparently is conducting in this instance. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that DOJ is conducting confidential meetings with some of the very same parties with whom FCC officials are meeting. To some extent this just serves to highlight the duplication of effort, in many instances unnecessary duplication of effort, when both DOJ and the FCC investigate the same merger.

But in a more fundamental sense, DOJ’s conduct of confidential meetings just serves to highlight my concern about the FCC’s process. DOJ, an executive branch antitrust enforcement agency, presumably is investigating whatever competitive concerns it may have about the proposed merger, including those brought to its attention by competitors of Comcast and TWC and those who deal with them. But, ultimately, if DOJ concludes the merger presents competitive concerns, it must either file a complaint in court seeking to block or condition it. This would begin an on-the-record process in federal court that will be conducted in full public view.

In the case of the FCC, ultimately it will adopt a public order regarding the applications seeking transfer of specific licenses. But the substance of the secret meetings will never be put on the public record before this official action is taken. Comcast and Time Warner Cable most likely won’t even know who met with whom, and they won’t have an opportunity to respond.

There may be more than I know as to why the FCC is proceeding in the unusual fashion it is. But based on what I know, I think this is a problematic way for the Commission, acting in its quasi-judicial capacity, to proceed in an adjudicatory proceeding.

Alexander Bickel, the prominent constitutional law scholar, wrote in his 1975 book, The Morality of Consent, that “the highest form of morality almost always is the morality of process.” I share Professor Bickel’s view regarding the importance of process.

In this case, converting a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding into a “permit-but-non-disclose” one raises significant process concerns.

[Originally published at The Free State Foundation]

Categories: On the Blog

With Texas windstorm insurance, what you don’t pay for, you won’t get

Out of the Storm News - October 23, 2014, 1:06 PM

There’s an old saying in business: you get what you pay for. Yet all too often, government policy seems based on the hope that you can make costs go away by shifting them to someone else.

Take Texas windstorm insurance. The state-run Texas Windstorm Insurance Association provides cut-rate insurance against wind damage from hurricanes and other storms. While originally justified as a provider of last resort for families and businesses who couldn’t get insurance in the private market, TWIA now covers approximately 60 percent of residents in a 14-county Texas coastal region.

But TWIA’s artificially low insurance rates come at a cost. Without actuarially sound rates, TWIA risks being unable to pay out claims when Texas is next hit by a major storm. Such concerns aren’t hypothetical. In 2013, TWIA briefly considered going into receivership in order to stem the tide of claims made after 2008′s Hurricane Ike. Since then, TWIA has considered a number of alternatives to help put the insurer on a firmer financial footing. And even though TWIA’s financial position has improved somewhat, it still has $77 billion in liability.

Inevitably, when an organization like TWIA doesn’t charge enough to meet its liabilities, it has to find the money from somewhere else. Recently, the Texas Department of Insurance issued rules providing for a surcharge on property and auto insurance policies in the coastal region if other sources of funding for TWIA are exhausted.

The new rules have drawn criticism from coastal residents, on grounds that the surcharge would apply only in the 14-county coastal region, rather than in the whole state. Yet it’s hard to see why residents of Lubbock should be required to subsidize windstorm insurance for folks with beachfront property along the Gulf Coast. The real problem with the surcharge is not that it applies to too few people, but that it applies to too many. Under the rules, coastal residents who maintain private windstorm insurance would end up paying to bail out TWIA along with everyone else.

The Business and Commerce Committee of the Texas Senate is currently looking at ways to reform TWIA. Instead of using indirect and complicated mechanisms to shift costs around, TWIA’s funding problem should be solved by resetting premium rates on an actuarially sound basis. That will help to restore not only TWIA’s long-run viability, but also its status as a true provider of last resort. Artificially low insurance rates may seem appealing, but ultimately, the only way for Texans to ensure that windstorm insurance will be there for them when they need it is for them to pay for it.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wisconsin Wind Health Hazard

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 12:06 PM

Wind farms in particular and wind power in general create a number of problems.

We at The Heartland Institute have written extensively concerning the death toll wind farm operations inflict on birds and bats.

Anyone who travels across this country or lives near the vicinity of wind farms can describe the increasing industrial blight wind farms impose on previously unmarred vistas and formerly wild, undeveloped locales.  Wind farms, sprawling across thousands of miles, have an unmatched footprint on the basis of the land required per unit of energy produced.

Wind power is expensive and unreliable.

All of these points are becoming evident, not just to we policy wonks who study the issue, but increasingly to the public at large.

Now, issues in Wisconsin highlight another possible problem caused by wind farms, perhaps the most damning of all: more and more people who reside near wind farms are claiming the turbines’ operations are making them sick. If, in fact, industrial wind turbines do cause human health problems, it could result in significant restrictions on their placement and operations — making them even less popular and unprofitable (absent large subsidies) than they already are. Lawsuits could also be in the offing.

Wisconsin’s Brown County Health Board has gone on record this week declaring the Shirley Wind Project, owned by Duke Energy, a “human health hazard.” The Board’s action puts Duke on the defensive to prove the farm is not a health risk.

It is the duty of health departments to collect information regarding human health within in their respective counties.  If other county or state health departments take the Brown County Health Board’s declaration seriously, they may start investigating the issues in their areas.  This could bring on onslaught of health complaints, which would become a problem for wind farm operators around the nation.

For more on the Brown County/Shirley Wind Farm situation see:

http://www.rightwisconsin.com/perspectives/A-Game-Changer-for-the-Wind-Energy-Debate-out-of-Brown-County-279728222.html

http://www.fdlreporter.com/story/opinion/2014/10/19/wind-turbines-rotten-cuts-ways/17454793/?from=global&sessionKey=&autologin=

http://www.jrn.com/nbc26/news/Health-Board-Says-the-Shirley-Wind-Project-is-a-Health-Hazard-279626362.html

http://edgarcountywatchdogs.com/2014/10/duke-energys-shirley-wind-farm-declared-health-hazard/

One wonders where the mainstream media coverage is on this question of human health risk.  Major media players cover every oil spill, pollution from farming operations and the slightest possible health risk from chemicals, yet when the issue is a possible health risk from the environmental left’s sacred cow, wind energy, there is a deafening silence from national media outlets on the issue.

Categories: On the Blog

Housing Affordability in China

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 11:48 AM

Finally, there is credible housing affordability data from China. For years, analysts have produced “back of the envelope” anecdotal calculations that have been often as inconsistent as they have been wrong. The Economist has compiled an index of housing affordability in 40 cities, which uses an “average multiple” (average house price divided by average household income) (China Index of Housing Affordability). This is in contrast to the “median multiple,” which is the median house price divided by the median household income (used in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and other affordability indexes). The Demographia Survey rates affordability in 9 geographies, including Hong Kong (a special administrative region of China). The average multiple for a metropolitan market is generally similar to the median multiple.

The Economist Data and Methodology

The Economist develops its ratio from central government data on house sales and incomes in individual cities. Like the Demographia SurveyThe Economist provides estimates for housing affordability from the perspective of the average urban household, as opposed to the “ex-pat” or “luxury” markets that are typically reported by real estate commentators. The Economist also estimates its price to income ratio using an average house size of 100 square meters (approximately 1,075 square feet). This is larger than the average new house size in the United Kingdom, but smaller than those in the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

With an overall average multiple of 8.8, China’s housing is less affordable (Figure 1) than all of the nine geographies rated in the Demographia Survey, except for Hong Kong (14.9). Even so, China’s housing affordability has improved from a national average multiple of 11.7 in April of 2010.

Affordability by City

It appears that if The Economist had included Hong Kong in its China ranking, it would have been ranked the most unaffordable in the country. Hong Kong houses are much smaller than the Chinese average, at 45 square meters (480 square feet). This would have given Hong Kong, with an unadjusted multiple of 14.9, a house size adjusted multiple of more than 30.

For years, there have been press reports of astronomic price to income multiples in China. The Economist data indicates that in some cities (Shenzhen, Beijing, Hanghzou and Wenzhou) this has indeed been true. But incomes have risen faster than house prices in recent years, and average multiples above 20 are, for now, a thing of the past.

Shenzhen, the “instant” megacity next to Hong Kong, is ranked as the least affordable with an average multiple of 19.6. The Economist indicates that this may be the result of demand from Hong Kong residents. Shenzhen had reached an average multiple of nearly 25 in 2010. An even higher average multiple was recorded in Beijing, which reached 27 in 2010. Beijing house prices have fallen substantially, however, dropping to 16.6 in 2014, the second most unaffordable in China.

China’s other megacities (over 10 million population) have lower average multiples than Shenzhen and Beijing. Shanghai has an average multiple of 12.8 and Guangzhou has an average multiple of 11.4. Tianjin, approximately 100 miles (140 kilometers) from Beijing and China’s newest megacity has an average multiple of 11.2.

China’s most affordable city is Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol), with an average multiple of 4.9. Generally, interior cities had better housing affordability than those along the east coast. For example, Changsha (capital of Hunan) has an average multiple of 5.9, Kunming 6.6, while the two leading cities of China’s Red Basin, Chongqing and Chengdu, were somewhat higher (7.1 and 7.4).

Comparison to Other Demographia Cities

Yet the multiples for many Chinese cities are no worse than highly unaffordable cities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Outside Hong Kong, the other most expensive cities in the Demographia Survey would rank in the second 10 of Chinese cities. Vancouver, with a median multiple of 10.3, is more expensive than all but 12 of the 40 cities rated in China. San Francisco, with a median multiple of 9.3, would rank 15th. Sydney, with a median multiple of 9.0, would rank in a 16th tie with Dalian. San Jose, at 8.7, would rank in a 19th place tie for unaffordability with Wuhan and Ningbo.

A sampling of cities from China and the Demographia Survey is illustrated in Figure 2.

Toward an Affordable China

One of rapidly urbanizing China’s biggest challenges is to improve housing affordability. This is an imperative, with easing of the hukou internal resident permit system and the one-child policy. United Nations projections indicate that China’s urban areas will add another third to their population in the next 25 years, an increase of more than 250 million. China is better housed today than perhaps at any time in its history. But it needs to be still better housed, as internal migrants become permanent urban residents and as rural citizens move to the cities for better lives.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: Jinan

[Originally published at New Geography]

Categories: On the Blog

New CBS Streaming Service Reflects Rapidly Changing TV Market

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 11:14 AM

Hot on the heels of the announcement of a new streaming service from cable channel HBO (reported here last week), broadcast TV giant CBS has begun a standalone streaming service to deliver CBS programming.

The service does not distribute CBS’s broadcast feed through the service, instead offering shows from the network’s extensive programming library, including full seasons of current daytime and primetime programs. Current primetime shows will not be made available until the day after they air on the broadcast network. The network’s sports programming remains tied to broadcast and cable/satellite delivery as well.

Those concessions will allow the network’s local broadcast affiliates and cable and satellite providers to breathe easier for a while, but probably not for long.

CBS All Access costs subscribers $5.99 per month, and some programming includes commercials. It launched last Thursday, so those interested in giving it a try can do so right away.

Whether there will be a big market for the service remains to be seen, of course, as the amount of programming choices continues its rapid increase on both cable/satellite television and via the internet. CBS, however, has been the top-rated TV network for most years of the past couple of decades, and its library includes past fan favorites such as Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and Cheers. Cord-cutters who have already watched nearly all the Netflix-available programs and movies they’re interested in might consider switching.

In addition, given CBS’s deep pockets, it might not be long before CBS All Access starts premiering programs of its own, as Netflix and Amazon.com have done with much success.

The one certainty is that the market for TV programming is fracturing rapidly, which will ultimately force down the prices to consumers while increasing choice. From a consumer perspective, that is an ideal outcome.

 

[First published at The American Culture]

Categories: On the Blog

Bureaucracy’s latest challenge: listening to the public

Out of the Storm News - October 23, 2014, 10:47 AM

The American public often rails about bureaucracy. It is not difficult to fathom why. Who among us has not fumed while standing in a long line at an understaffed post office? And how many of us have thrown up our hands in frustration at the complexity of income tax instructions and outsourced the work to an accountant?

The public tends to explain bureaucratic behaviors by attributing ill motives to the bureaucrats. Civil servants, they allege, are arrogant and lazy. Scholars, such as the late James Q. Wilson, have provided us with social scientific evidence of what many individuals suspect: bureaucracies, especially government ones, tend to be slow to perform tasks, resist change and frequently creep beyond their missions.

But the blame should not be attributed to bad bureaucrats. Rather, research indicates that most of the problems spring from the very nature of government bureaucracy.

Agencies cannot run like businesses because they cannot do what private sector entities do: choose their lines of business and organize themselves accordingly. Instead, bureaucracies’ work is assigned through legislation, usually enacted over decades. The result is a progressive layering of policy duties, which often conflict with one another. And elected officials also tend to impose operational constraints on bureaucracies. For example, instead of allowing agencies to hire whomever they think is best for the job and pay them accordingly, elected officials force bureaucracies to follow byzantine hiring practices and dictate the permissible compensation packages. Thus it is that bureaucracies, as Wilson observed, tend “to be driven by the constraints” on them rather than “the tasks of the organization.”

And thanks to Adam Eckerd, a professor at Virginia Tech University, we know there is an additional reason that bureaucracies get the stink-eye from public: some of them are not good listeners. Eckerd looked at three federal agencies that recently embarked on significant public works. As required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the agencies prepared environmental impact statements in consultation with the public. Eckerd analyzed the comments submitted by the public and the agencies’ responses.

The results of the study, published in the latest copy of Public Administration Review, are dispiriting. He found little evidence of “meaningful dialogue” between agencies and the public. The two sides talked past one another, especially on the subject of proposed projects’ risk to the environment. “[P]ublic managers tend to take a more aggregate and technical view that risk is something to manage, while citizens focus on risks specific to themselves, consider the fairness of the distribution of risk, and come from a viewpoint that risk is best avoided.”

Eckerd further observed that “the administrators involved in the three cases were usually technical or project management specialists who were well versed in the details of the particular projects but likely had no training in public relations or political engagement.” Hence, agencies’ responses many times were tin-earred and merely acknowledged the receipt of the comments.

An Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who reviewed Eckerd’s study, wrote a response that was published in the same issue of the journal. “My experience,” he wrote, “bears out Eckerd’s conclusion that citizen involvement often has little impact in government decision making.” The administrator further validated the study’s findings by unabashedly proclaiming, “Regulatory agencies are charged with the informed, expert implementation of their organic statutes and resultant regulations…. The contrary attitude [amongst the public] stems from a lack of sophistication about the underlying technical issues, or… a predisposition to object to any proposal on the grounds that it risks changes to the status quo.”

These findings are distressing. Most agencies have public comment policies. These policies are intended to improve bureaucracies’ decision-making by providing them with additional information. The adversarial process also forces agencies to think twice about about what they propose doing. But public input serves an additional critical purpose: fostering a sense of democratic legitimacy. Bureaucrats are unelected and often tenured for life. As such, they are inherently suspect to Americans. So getting public comment right is a critical to having their exercise of authority accepted as legitimate by the public.

For the citizen feeling unheard, Congress is the place to turn. It created bureaucracies and funds them. Congress, accordingly, should make it a regular part of oversight to direct agencies to review their public input processes. And agencies should ask themselves, “Were I John Q. Public, would I feel my voice has been heard and taken seriously?”

 

Heartland Daily Podcast: Jennifer Lynch – FBI’s New Massive NGI Database

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 10:36 AM

Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney and digital surveillance expert Jennifer Lynch joins he Heartland Institute’s Budget and Tax News managing editor, Jesse Hathaway, to discuss the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) new massive electronic surveillance and investigation database, the Next Generation Identification system (NGI).

Lynch explains how the NGI may infringe upon American citizens’ right to peaceably assemble in political protests, as well as how other surveillance and database technologies employed by the government threaten our privacy.

Categories: On the Blog

Free-market think tank ramps up Texas efforts

Out of the Storm News - October 23, 2014, 10:02 AM

From Breitbart:

The R Street Institute, a non-profit, free market think tank with offices in Washington, D.C., Florida, California, Ohio, and Texas, is ramping up its efforts in the Lone Star State, hiring a new Texas state director and setting its sights on an ambitious agenda for the 2015 legislative session that will include insurance reform, environmental and energy issues, the interaction between regulation and newly emerging technologies, among other issues.

Breitbart Texas conducted exclusive interviews with R Street President Eli Lehrer, Florida State Director Christian Cámara, and the newly hired Texas State Director, Josiah Neeley, who joins R Street from the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Energy and the Environment, where he was a policy analyst. “I’m thrilled to be joining R Street,” Neeley told Breitbart Texas. “I’ve followed the organization since its founding a few years ago, and appreciate its fresh conservative approach to policy.”

According to Lehrer, R Street has had a history in Texas, both as R Street and with their predecessor organization, the Heartland Institute, working mostly in the area of insurance reform, which he described as their “bread and butter” issue. Cámara discussed the similarities between Texas and his state of Florida, politically, being “generally business-friendly,” and facing similar challenges from risks like hurricanes and tornadoes, as well as noting that there was room for improvement in the regulatory systems in both states. Florida’s term limited legislature also causes some frustration related to policy work in a complicated field like insurance, with Florida’s legislators limited to eight years, consecutive, in either the House or Senate. Although a number of legislators do run for a Senate seat after serving their full House term, or return after taking a one-term break (which starts the term limit clock over), the end result, according to Cámara, is that the Texas legislature is “much more knowledgeable” and “not as clueless” on insurance issues.

Another key difference is although both states face risk of hurricane damage along the coasts, the insurance issue is more regional in Texas, partly due to the different political dynamics. Whereas in Florida, the Republicans currently have a lock on the Legislature and the statewide offices are up for grabs (polls show a neck-and-neck race between current Republican Governor Rick Scott and former Republican/former Independent/current Democrat and former Governor Charlie Crist), in Texas, the statewide races are looking like cakewalks for the Republican candidates and the legislative races are more variable. 

A significant part of R Street’s efforts in the upcoming legislative session will be expanding their environmental work. Lehrer characterized their goal as to show that the conservative side “can be greener,” quoting Barry Goldwater that “there’s nothing more conservative than conservatism.”

Neeley will start at R Street in early November, and his background in environmental policy work made him a good fit for R Street’s strategy. “Texas is blessed with an abundance of energy resources, and R street has shown that you can protect the environment in a conservative way,” said Neeley, “The markets are the best means of environmental protection. You can protect the environment in a way that doesn’t threaten the energy lifeblood of the Texas economy.”

Another area where R Street will focus its energies is on the “sharing economy,” newly developing technologies like Uber, Lyft, Bitcoin, HomeAway, Airbnb, and so on. There is a “huge opportunity made possible by the internet to remove intermediaries from commerce and unlock otherwise dormant capital,” said Lehrer, and these technologies demonstrate the power of the “disintermediation of commerce” and “capital unlocking.” Lehrer noted how the rapid growth of ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft show that there’s “no need for a taxi company between a driver and the customer,” and also pointed to HomeAway, the country’s second largest space sharing company, based here in Austin. 

What makes R Street interested in these businesses is determining the appropriate role of regulation. “There’s no reason that renting out a room [through Airbnb or HomeAway] should be a tax-free transaction,” said Lehrer. “The question is, should these activities be allowed and under what circumstances?” Local and state governments have struggled with how to approach this question, and oftentimes end up pursuing reactionary regulation that many customers of these businesses view as overly restrictive. The California legislature has debated bills that would significantly increase the costs for Uber and Lyft, district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco labeled them as “a continuing threat to consumers and the public,” and the Houston City Council voting to allow them to operate, but with restrictions. As Breitbart Texas previously reported, Dallas will take up the issue later this fall.

Lehrer told Breitbart Texas that getting involved in these issues presents a “golden opportunity for the political right to attract people who otherwise are culturally not connected to the right…this whole sharing economy is an enormous opportunity for conservatives.” Neeley echoed this sentiment, characterizing the situation as one “where 21st century technologies [are] butting up against 20th century regulatory systems.” Lehrer also observed that what these companies — and their customers — want as far as a regulatory environment goes is “very much aligned with the right,” but it may take some adjustment on the part of conservative elected officials, who “need a modern culturally relevant approach to conservatism.” The key, said Lehrer, is to find a way where they are “not giving up any core principles of conservatism, but rather applying them,” looking past the pink-mustachioed Lyft cars and their fist-bumping drivers, and seeing the opportunities for economic development and innovation.

Snus users’ hearts keep on ticking, not fluttering

Out of the Storm News - October 23, 2014, 8:58 AM

Swedish researchers from several institutions document that snus use is not associated with atrial fibrillation (commonly known as AFib), the most common heart arrhythmia (irregular timing of the heart beat) and a risk factor for stroke. The same group previously reported that snus use conferred no significant risk for heart attack and stroke.

Led by Maria-Pia Hergens, researchers analyzed data on Swedish men who were subjects in several studies. While snus users had no risks for Afib, smokers had a small but significantly elevated risk (hazard ratio = 1.16, 95% confidence interval = 1.01-1.33).

Although smokeless tobacco cannot be proven to be absolutely safe, this study adds important evidence that any cardiovascular effect is very minor.

Given the number of institutions represented by its authors, the report is an important development for tobacco harm reduction. In contrast are the biased 1990s and 2000s studies from the Karolinska Institute. There, a small group of KI researchers had access to the construction workers’ cohort and refused to share the data. Instead, they manipulated the information to fabricate some health risks and amplify others in snus users, a fact which I documented in numerous blog posts (examples here, here, and here) and in letters to journal editors.

Deconstructing the liberal myth of government management as a better solution

Out of the Storm News - October 23, 2014, 8:47 AM

Too many Americans suffer from inadequate access to health care. The political left offers to construct government programs or expand the ones we already have.

America’s education system is falling behind its global counterparts. Liberals suggest that we send more tax dollars to the same government systems to finally get it right.

We need to protect our environment and steward our natural resources. The left’s first inclination is cede state authority to federal regulators hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Government management is the liberal answer to the right’s free marketplace. The left rails against the corporate tycoon as out of touch with the common man and the uncertainties of the market as too unreliable to meet the needs of the poor and uneducated.

At first blush, it actually seems to make sense. If capitalism produces an every-man-for-himself society subject to the uncaring and ever-changing laws of supply and demand, government control feels like a natural safeguard. The left holds government out as the remedy to the wrongs our free society creates and a source of stability in a tumultuous economy.

First, dispense with the notion that the political left is somehow run by the “common man.” The same elitism the left vilifies in the corporate boardroom is a virtual requirement in the upper echelons of government. In spite of the fact that the left is run by their own elite, they profess that their system of control produces better outcomes for society’s poor and vulnerable. In other words, they are elitists that care.

Again, the narrative feels good and the left spins it well. Americans pay their taxes and government addresses poverty, education, healthcare, and the environment and protects us from a host of bad things, like Ebola and terrorism. For the liberal, more money to the government means more of the good things and less of the bad things.

The mythic aspiration for government is shockingly disconnected from reality. The main problem is that the government behaves more like a slot machine than a vending machine. Buying more of it does not guarantee better outcomes. It is far from stable and equally as unpredictable at producing the desired outcomes for those the left hopes to aid.

Sometimes good policies and practices actually take shape. The Clean Water Act is a perfect example. In many respects, the original legislation worked as intended. Constraining the ability of industry to dump toxic waste into our national waters cleaned up the environment considerably.

Other times, and particularly recently, the results are shockingly incompetent. Consider the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s response to the Ebola outbreak. The CDC appears to have offered guidance that could have actually helped spread Ebola by assuring a nurse, now being treated for Ebola, that she could fly after coming into contact with an infected patient.  Problems with the Affordable Care Act website, issues at the IRS and failures at the Secret Service are other troubling examples.

The danger of the political left’s myth of government provision is that it creates the feeling that we are solving society’s problems without much accountability for results. We continue to suffer the effects of poverty, declining education outcomes, and high costs of healthcare even as government has grown.

The myth operates as a soothing balm for the many liberal consciences. If we pay our taxes, we need not worry too much about society’s most vulnerable. Government will take care of them…except that it often does not.

Capitalism will not cure all of society’s ailments, but it was never designed to do so. It will only ever be as good and altruistic as the people participating in it. The left has responded with a myth that government will effectively and predictably fill in the gaps where the marketplace fails. The question we must answer is whether we would rather feel better believing the myth or face the reality that government might actually be more elitist and unpredictable than the free marketplace liberals find so inadequate.

No Ebola Panic Despite Media Hysteria

Somewhat Reasonable - October 23, 2014, 8:20 AM

One man has died of Ebola in the U.S. and he came here from Liberia. Two of the nurses that tended him are in intensive care and likely to survive. A third was thought to be infected, but wasn’t. That news has been sufficient to keep most Americans calm as the media has done its best to exploit Ebola-related news.

The public absorbed the facts and came to their own conclusion.

An October 8 Pew Research survey found that “Most are confident in Government’s ability to prevent major Ebola outbreak in U.S.” That reflects the way we have all been conditioned to look to the federal government to solve our problems, but the public mood had not changed by October 20 when a Rasmussen Reports analysis of a survey concluded that “Americans are keeping their cool about Ebola, but some acknowledge that they have changed travel plans because of the outbreak of the deadly virus in the United States.”

Wrong. There has been no “outbreak.” One dead Liberian and two nurses is not an outbreak.

Fully 66% of the Rasmussen respondents said that Ebola is a serious public health problem, including 29% who deemed it very serious, but few believe it is an active public health threat here in the U.S.

All this was occurring as spokesmen for the Centers of Disease Control tried to both warn and reassure Americans, managing only to evoke a measure of derision. President Obama also sought to reassure Americans, but fewer and fewer believe anything he has to say these days.

Then he appointed an “Ebola czar” who had no medical or healthcare background whatever to qualify for the job. Add in Obama’s failure to institute a travel ban and the likelihood is that Democratic candidates will pay a price for this on Nov 4.

I suspect the President’s advisors are telling him the Ebola problem has been a blessing because the media will not be reporting any of the stories that could harm Democratic candidates. Starting with the fact that the nation’s voters are evenly divided between a liberal or conservative point of view that means that independent voters will be the deciding factor and they are independent because they pay more attention to events and the news.

One of the stories that are being held back from the news is the outcome of the U.S. Army investigation of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who was traded by Obama for five top Taliban leaders to secure his release. Members of his unit unanimously say he deserted them and, if that is the Army’s conclusion, it makes the swap look dubious, if not treasonable.

The news after the midterm elections will be filled with reports of employers cutting healthcare insurance to both full and part-time employees. Wal-Mart has already announced this for its part-timers. There is already news of the fact the ObamaCare, the Affordable Patient Care Act, is proving to be very expensive for those who signed up. This includes news about its higher deductibles and premiums.

Robert E. Moffit, a senior fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Health Policy Studies, recently reported that “Thanks to ObamaCare, Health Costs Soared this Year”, noting that “On November 15, open enrollment in the ObamaCare exchanges begins again.” Among the lessons learned from Year One of ObamaCare is that “Health costs jumped—big time.” Compared with employer-based coverage, the average deductible of a little over $1,000, doubled to more than $2,000.

Obama promised that the typical family premium cost would be lowered by $2,500, but it has actually increased and ObamaCare actually reduced competition in most health-insurance markets. We do not know how many Americans are actually insured. Despite predictions of millions who would be insured, the administration “now concedes that there are 700,000 fewer persons in the exchanges.”

The claim was that ObamaCare would reduce U.S. health spending, but a recent Health and Human Services report—delayed as long as possible—found that its Accountable Care Organization element has increased costs. States are dropping out of ObamaCare exchanges as a result.

The Obama administration has been very quiet about his intension to by-pass Congress to impose an amnesty program for the eleven million or more illegal aliens in the US. Most polls demonstrate widespread opposition to amnesty. Obama is expected to try to institute one anyway.

Lastly, unless the Islamic State shows up at the gates of Baghdad and takes control, there is likely to be little news from an Iraq that exists now in name only.

The results of Obama’s six years in office have been a disaster in many ways and the outcome of the midterm elections will have a dramatic effect on Obama’s ability to continue his destruction of the U.S. economy and other policies.

Essentially, a majority of Americans, including many of his former supporters, have concluded that there is no Ebola crisis and that Obama’s time in office has been the very opposite of what he promised. The change they want is to see an end to Obama’s term in office. A start in that direction is the November 4 midterm elections.

Categories: On the Blog

Untangling a Big Government Mess

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 4:07 PM

Changing our country and its laws back to a manageable and sane state is more complicated than the average small-government advocate may think. One cannot simply look at the situation in black and white, right and wrong mindset. A longer term strategy must be established.

This article is the result of a conversation I was engaged in earlier this week. I was speaking with a like-minded individual about the minimum wage. While we are both principally against the idea of a minimum wage, I was playing the “devil’s advocate” role. My stance was that there are so many laws and regulations on the books that distort and harm the economy, a minimum wage is necessary to prevent even lower wages.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I understand the consequences of a minimum wage and the effects it has on those that are unable to find a job.

The minimum wage is a solution the government created to deal with the side effects of failed economic policies. Like in many cases, the government chooses to treat the symptoms while leaving the underlying conditions unaltered. When capitalism is transformed by government into a crony-capitalism hybrid, the natural laws of supply and demand are not allowed to operate correctly. What we are left with is a flawed system with underutilized resources, including labor.

This is what brings me to my main point. Untangling the mess that we are in will take careful and thought-out steps. Our situation is like a stereotypical tangled ball of Christmas lights. You can’t just start pulling at strings; you have to pull the right strings first. The laws that we speak out against routinely do not exist in a vacuum; they have effects and consequences in other areas.

Here’s an example. Most, if not all, small-government advocates prefer smaller taxes. However, if a law passed eliminating all taxes only for the top 1%, most, if not all, would be against that change. Even though this appeals to the principle of lower taxes, most would concede that a more balanced approach is necessary.

While I do not advocate a raise in the minimum wage, I do believe other actions need to take place first prior to the potential elimination of said wage. Actions that level the playing field between small and big business, actions that create a friendlier environment to hire more people, etc., need to occur first. One major step in the right direction would be the simplification of the tax code. Closing loopholes exploited by big business and reducing regulations that hurt small business would create a more uniform market. Eliminating or reducing payroll taxes would also benefit employees by decreasing the cost of a new hire. These steps are just a few moves that could occur quickly with little or no unintended consequences.

If the economy were allowed to function in true free-market fashion, resources would be used as efficiently as possible. Eventually, full employment would be attained and a natural rise in wages would follow.

The laws that distort the free market and society have been built up since the founding of our nation. Unwinding the mess cannot be done haphazardly. Pulling the wrong string first may cause a knot that can’t be untied, causing the whole mess to crumble down on the average citizen’s back. Moving toward a society with a far more limited government requires careful planning and strategy.

Categories: On the Blog

The “Malaise” Has Returned

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 3:39 PM

The joke is that Jimmy Carter is happy that Barack Obama has replaced him as the worst President of the modern era.  It is a supreme irony that Obama’s campaign theme was “Hope and Change” when Americans have lost a great deal of hope about their personal futures and the only change they want is to see Obama gone from office.

Elected by a narrow margin in 1976, Carter managed in his one term to see his approval ratings fall to twenty-five percent by June 1979. The lesson Americans have to learn over and over again is that liberal policies and programs don’t work.

In six years, the kind of dependence on the government to take care of people from cradle to grave has left the nation with 92 million unemployed or who have stopped looking for a job, entitled 45 million to food stamps, and there is still talk of a “minimum wage” in the interest of “fairness” that simply kills jobs, especially those that used to be filled by young people just entering the workplace. The worst part of Obama’s presidency is the lies he tells in the belief, apparently, that most Americans are so stupid they won’t see through them.

On July 15, 1979, in an effort to encourage a greater sense of confidence, Jimmy Carter delivered a speech that became known as the “malaise” speech, but which did not include that word. What it did, however, is double down on all the bad policies Carter had pursued and blamed Americans for not accepting them. By then the economy was in decline, gasoline prices and interest rates had climbed to record levels, and the voters were understandably pessimistic. Iranians had taken U.S. diplomats hostage and they would not be released until Ronald Reagan took the oath of office.

Carter’s speech began by asking “Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?”  Quite literally there was no need then or now for an energy problem because, as recently noted by the Energy Information Administration, the United States has enough coal to last more than 200 years! With the development of hydraulic fracturing, fracking, we now have access to more oil than exists in Saudi Arabia.

Obama literally came into office saying he intended to wage a war on coal and he has; using the Environmental Protection Agency to institute regulations that have led to the closing a mines and the shutdown of coal-fired plants that used to produce 50% of the nation’s electricity; now down to 40%. He resisted allowing the drilling for oil in the huge reserves on our east and west coasts. He has refused to permit the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. These policies have led to the loss of thousands of jobs during the time that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

In his speech, Carter said, “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.” We would do well to remember that we have been through periods like this before and corrected course.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan would be elected to replace Carter and America prospered through his two terms, returning to being a major superpower, economically and militarily. That’s what conservatism produces.

Carter, however, blamed Americans for the problems of his times. “Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.”

One of Obama’s earliest acts was to visit foreign nations and blame America for many of the world’s problems. Militarily he pulled our troops out of Iraq and he intends to do the same in Afghanistan. He has cut the military budget to the bone and has now defined its mission as one to address “climate change”, not the enemies of our nation.

Obama spent his entire first term blaming George W. Bush for every problem that he did nothing to correct. Indeed, Obama has never seen himself as the real problem, finding anyone else to blame.

Those Americans watching Carter deliver his speech must surely have cringed as he announced that he intended to set import quotas on foreign energy resources. He said he wanted Congress to impose a “windfall profits” tax on the very energy firms that he wanted to get us out of the doldrums and dependency that was causing the problem. He wanted the utility companies to “cut their massive use of oil by fifty percent within a decade.” He wanted them to switch to coal and now we live in a nation whose President doesn’t want our utilities to use coal. Why? Despite massive evidence to the contrary, he has advocated “renewable” energy, wind and solar, neither of which can ever meet the nation’s needs.

“In closing, let me say this: I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard,” said Carter.

In the 1980 election the voter’s voice was heard. Carter was gone and Reagan was our President. With him came his infectious patriotism and optimism. By late 1983 his economic program had ended the recession he inherited from Carter. A similar program would have put an end to what is now routinely called Obama’s Great Recession.

We are at a point not dissimilar from the days of Jimmy Carter and with an even greater sense of dissatisfaction and distrust of Barack Obama.

I reach back in our recent history to remind you that on November 4thin our midterm elections and in the 2016 presidential election we can repeat history by ridding the nation of those members of Congress that voted for ObamaCare and have supported President Obama. We must wait to see who the GOP will offer as a presidential candidate, but we have time for that.

We have time to “hope” for a better future and we have the means to make the “change” to achieve it.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Who Says you Need a Doctor to Fight Ebola?

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 2:10 PM

Perhaps it’s not surprising coming from our first Community Organizer president that the trait the administration claims is most needed in an “Ebola czar” — not that it’s been shown that such a position needs to be created in the first place — is, as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health put it, “somebody who’s a good organizer.”

It’s been proven that rabble-rousing on the South Side of Chicago does not qualify one to lead anything more significant than a golf foursome (though you have to give Obama credit for spending his time doing what he’s best at, showing a clear understanding of the principle of comparative advantage).

Similarly, one wonders just what the newly named czar, Ron Klain, has “organized” that should give the American people confidence that the most incompetent administration in modern U.S. history is doing what needs to be done to keep citizens safe from a virus that the media is turning into the biggest medical scare since the Spanish Flu.

To wit, Ron Klain — no doubt a very smart man and talented lawyer, including having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and clerking for a Supreme Court justice — is best known for organizing and advising Democratic politicians from Ed Markey to Bill Clinton to Al Gore to Gen. Wesley Clark to John Kerry, and most recently serving as Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden (proving that intelligence cannot be gained by proximity) before taking a job in the private sector.

Other notes of interest about Mr. Klain include his membership in the Algore Cult of Global Warming and that he was a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, helping a firm that required tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts with “regulatory issues,” according to the Washington Post. He has publicly supported the ill-conceived “Buffett Rule” — calling for higher taxes on the wealthy — although within an analysis that at least recognizes that the “middle class” is as skeptical of Democrats as it is of Republicans.

Clearly the man is indeed a qualified organizer — of the office workings and spin machines of liberals.

But unless you count a couple of health advice-related portfolio companies of Case Holdings, where he serves as president, Mr. Klain’s medical experience seems limited to visits to his own GP.  A quick note to Mr. Case: Klain sure couldn’t sniff out the impending disaster of Solyndra despite being warned of it, so you might want to keep an eye on him if he’s involved with keeping your money safe.

Most of all, the selection of Ron Klain underscores the blindness of President Obama to what the American public really thinks of his Keystone Cops approximation of an executive branch.

Petty (and not so petty) dictators throughout history have valued loyalty over competence or honesty. That characteristic, perhaps more than any other, defines the composition of the Obama cabinet and their underlings such as Lois Lerner and Susan Rice — to whom, strangely, we are told that Ron Klain will report. I expect Mr. Klain to be far more competent than either Lerner or Rice (or Eric Holder or Janet Napolitano or Kathleen Sebelius, just to name a few), but every bit as loyal — which is really the point.

But what purpose does even the existence of this position serve?

Are there not literally dozens of people within the Departments of Health and Human Services or Homeland Security or even Defense or State, within the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or within management of major teaching hospitals, who could combine managerial skill with medical or epidemiological experience in a way that would be both useful and credible?

(My two cents: I recommend Dr. Alex Rowe of the CDC who has led important work in “improving health care provider performance in low- and middle-income countries” in Africa. Alex (whom I’ve known since high school) is just one example of a person whose experience seems vastly more relevant than Mr. Klain’s medically empty résumé, though I’m far from certain that his wife would appreciate my suggesting him for the job.)

And should not an “Ebola czar” be reporting to the HHS Secretary (and perhaps secondarily to the Secretary of Homeland Security) rather than to counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice, a political hack whose only redeeming quality is that she’s willing to lie to the public (not just about Benghazi) and take the political heat for the boss? If anything, this chain of command is a recipe for complete dysfunction in the American response to Ebola, not just because the public doesn’t trust Susan Rice but also because the actual work needs to be done well outside of her and Ms. Monaco’s nominal areas of expertise and control.

The obvious conclusion is that the purpose of the naming of Ron Klain to the post of Ebola czar is political: to demonstrate that the administration is doing something about an issue over which the media is shamefully whipping the public into a frenzy. It is the health care equivalent — not least in the modest immediate risk to the homeland being amplified by horrific images from far-away places — of Obama’s air campaign against ISIS. (Or, if you work for the administration where the word “Syria” appears to be verboten, ISIL.)

And just as the air campaign is not a serious military strategy, the Ebola czar-naming is not a serious medical strategy. Even more ridiculous, it’s already failing as a political CYA.

Ron Klain did not attend a high-level meeting last Friday to discuss the federal response to Ebola. He also missed a Saturday evening meeting on the same subject. But with President Obama having spent Saturday afternoon golfing (you must see that link), Mr. Klain can be forgiven for believing that all this “Cancel my fundraisers!” and “It’s our top priority!” rhetoric is just for the masses.

So let’s see if we can summarize this: Motivated by a fear of even greater public perception of presidential incompetence and aloofness as we head into an election that should result in the trouncing of congressional Democrats, the president has appointed a politically loyal “organizer” with no medical experience whatsoever to a medically focused position that should not exist.

This in order to make the public feel better about a virus that, although often fatal when contracted, would be unlikely to pose a substantial threat to the U.S. if the government would take the obvious step of stopping residents of a few West African countries from entering the United States (apparently there’s no “red line” there either) until the breakout can be controlled where it currently exists rather than trying to hire airport Ebola screeners for$19/hour.

For any other administration, this confused mess would be considered a blunder. For President Obama, it’s quite literally par for the course.

[Originally published at The American Spectator

 

Categories: On the Blog

Radio Rewind: National Football League Sacks Taxpayers

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 1:53 PM

Recently, I joined Columbus radio talker Chuck Douglas — host of Saturday-morning talk show On Point with Chuck Douglas — to discuss how the National Football League (NFL) receives special tax carve-outs and exemptions, as well as millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for stadium construction and maintenance.

Despite volumes of academic evidence to the contrary, supporters of sports subsidies often claim that the National Football League requires taxpayer support to remain solvent, and that public financing of privately-owned stadiums will lead to increased economic revenue. Neither claim, unfortunately, is supported by the evidence.

In fact, the academic evidence shows that subsidization actually “reduces the level of real per capita income in metropolitan areas,” by causing public money that would otherwise be spent on core government functions, to be diverted to socializing team owners’ risks, while they’re allowed to pocket the rewards.

Take a listen!

Categories: On the Blog

Thinking the Unthinkable – Part II

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 12:50 PM

In Scott Cleland’s recent piece titled, “Silicon Valley’s Biggest Internet Mistake,” he makes an important, too little addressed point: Were the FCC to classify Internet service as a “telecommunications” service under Title II of the Communications Act, this drastic step likely would have significant adverse international ramifications.

In a September 29 paper titled, “Thinking the Unthinkable: Imposing a ‘Utility Model’ on Internet Providers,” I explained, from a purely domestic policy perspective, why FCC imposition of the Title II common carrier utility model on broadband Internet providers should be “unthinkable.” The adverse international consequences provide another reason.

As Scott explains in his commentary:

Legally, “telecommunications” is what international treaties and agreements regulate like a utility, under the Constitution of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Specifically, ITU agreement: ITU-T D.50, recognizes the sovereign right of each State to regulate “telecommunications” as that State determines. Apparently, Silicon Valley interests are blind to the many risks of “telecommunications” regulation to their foreign businesses….[T]he FCC reclassifying the American Internet as “telecommunications” predictably would invite most every other country to reclassify their Internet traffic as “telecommunications” too, so that they could impose lucrative price tariffs on Silicon Valley’s dominant share of Internet traffic into their countries.

This is not an unjustified concern. Indeed, there is rising apprehension in many quarters about the designs of many foreign countries harbor to exert more government control over Internet traffic within their own countries and, indeed, throughout the world through international organizations. Especially at a time when the U.S. has embarked on a process that is intended to lead to a new governance structure for ICANN, the FCC – and the entire U.S. government – ought to be concerned about actions here at home that are likely to be construed by foreign governments as authorizing more government interference in Internet operations.

In fact, this very concern regarding the international ramifications resulting from FCC adoption of net neutrality regulations was expressed by Ambassador Philip Verveer in May 2010 in his capacity as the State Department’s Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy. Of course, Philip Verveer now serves as Senior Counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Answering a question at a Media Institute luncheon as the FCC was considering the then-pending net neutrality rulemaking, according to the report in Broadcasting & Cable, Ambassador Verveer said this:

“I can tell you from my travels around the world and my 
discussions with figures in various governments around the world there is a
very significant preoccupation with respect to what we are proposing with 
respect to broadband and especially with respect to the net neutrality.”

Most significantly, Ambassador Verveer went on to say that the net neutrality proceeding “is one that could 
be employed by regimes that don’t agree with our perspectives about essentially
 avoiding regulation of the Internet and trying to be sure not to do anything to
damage its dynamism and its organic development. It could be employed as a
 pretext or as an excuse for undertaking public policy activities that we would
 disagree with pretty profoundly.”

Of course, many others were saying much the same at the time, but Ambassador Verveer was subjected to a harsh attack by Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld for deviating from what Mr. Feld considered to be the established Democratic party line. He wondered how someone as experienced as Mr. Verveer “manage[d] to get so off message at precisely the wrong time.”

I happen to think that Mr. Verveer’s job was not primarily to stay “on message,” but rather to serve the American people by explaining the risks of adopting an ill-advised policy. I have known Phil Verveer since we served together at the FCC in the late 70s and early 80s, and I have a high regard for his qualifications and his dedication to public service. At the time of Mr. Feld’s attack, I defended him. And shortly thereafter, in the context of responding to another of Mr. Feld’s blogs, this time urging FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to act quickly to adopt net neutrality regulations “to fire up the base before the election,” I called Mr. Verveer a “stellar public servant.”

Nothing has changed my view that Phil Verveer is a stellar public servant. But I do wish he would avail himself of the opportunity once again to explain that the concerns he expressed in 2010, when he was responsible for coordinating international communications policy on behalf of the U.S., are still valid today. Regardless of whatever good intentions may be expressed, if the U.S. government adopts new net neutrality mandates, especially in conjunction with classifying Internet providers as “telecommunications” carriers, other countries may well use such action as an excuse or pretext for, in Ambassador Verveer’s words, “undertaking public policy activities that we would
 disagree with pretty profoundly.”

In other words, despite any protestations to the contrary uttered by U.S. officials, the FCC’s actions regulating Internet providers will speak louder than its words. Other countries, with obvious designs on exerting more control over Internet communications, and over international entities that play a role in managing Internet communications, will seize upon the FCC’s action as a justification.

Scott Cleland is right that this would not be good for Silicon Valley.

I would go further: When then-FCC Chairman Bill Kennard in 1999 rejected dumping what he called the telephone world’s “whole morass of regulation” on the then-emerging cable broadband systems, he concluded, “That is not good for America.”

Dumping the telephone world’s “whole morass of regulation” on broadband Internet providers still would not be good for America today. Indeed, it ought to be unthinkable.

[Originally published at The Free State Foundation]

Categories: On the Blog

‘This is not an Education Problem. This is a Government Problem’

Blog - Education - October 22, 2014, 12:15 PM

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches.

Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said.

Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue — not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been introduced recently to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.

Heather Kays (hkays@heartland.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

 

[Originally published at The Tampa Tribune]

‘This is not an Education Problem. This is a Government Problem’

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 12:15 PM

The world needs more teachers like Susan Bowles. The kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville risked her job to stand up for what she believes in.

What she believes is that conducting standardized testing three times a year, some of it required to be computerized, is simply not in the best interests of the kindergarten students she teaches.

Despite the risk of losing her job after 26 years of teaching, Bowles felt compelled to speak out.

And something amazing happened. Instead of her being fired or reprimanded, the policy was changed. The community rallied around Bowles after she took a stand. Now, K–2 grade students will not be required to take the FAIR tests that Bowles refused to administer.

In the letter Bowles wrote to parents, she explained that even though she would be in breach of contract, she couldn’t in good conscience give the test to her students. The FAIR testing would have meant kindergarten students being tested on a computer using a mouse, Bowles said.

Although many of her students are well-versed in using tablets or smart phones, most had not used a desktop computer before. Once an answer is clicked, even if a mistake was made and a student accidentally clicked the wrong place, there is no way to go back to correct it. This means the data that would have been collected would not have been accurate.

“While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child,” Bowles wrote. “This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during the test. Someone has forgotten there are other five-year-olds in our care.”

The problem is not with the people she works for, Bowles said. “This is not an education problem. This is a government problem,” she wrote.

Bowles was not directly named in the letter to parents from officials changing the testing policy, but the letter does mention the recent attention surrounding the issue.

Bowles was brave in facing down the school administration, state and local officials, and teachers unions who continually protect the status quo and each other. She stood up by herself with no way of knowing what the consequences would be.

Bowles told me she feels lucky to have had the opportunity to speak her mind, because her husband was supportive and her children are grown. After hearing the policy had changed, Bowles said, she “hugged, laughed, cried, and did a happy dance” with other teachers who had been waiting outside her classroom because they had already heard the news.

“I was surprised and pleased that they actually backtracked on the FAIR, suspending it for one year,” said Bowles, noting tension over standardized testing has increased because of Common Core. “Of course, the fear is it will be back next year with a few tweaks.

“This fight should continue — not just regarding the excessive testing that takes away from our children’s learning, but also for the standards that have been adopted that are not developmentally sound, at least for elementary students,” said Bowles. “I can speak for the elementary grades that any developmental psychologist or early childhood educator would tell you that these standards are inappropriate.”

Two bills have been introduced recently to decrease the federal footprint on standardized testing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spoken about the possibility of over-testing.

The hope is that these changes aren’t just lip service. Parents, teachers, and legislators will have to continue to fight for students and against the education establishment. The contrasting approaches of the federal government and Susan Bowles regarding how children should be educated suggest we all should support more local control rather than failing federal mandates.

Heather Kays (hkays@heartland.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

 

[Originally published at The Tampa Tribune]

Categories: On the Blog

Roy Spencer: Why 2014 Won’t Be the Warmest Year on Record

Somewhat Reasonable - October 22, 2014, 12:14 PM

Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a frequent presenter at Heartland’s climate conferences, is an invaluable and prominent voice among scientists who are righly skeptical about the hypothesis of man-caused climate change. In a post today, Dr. Spencer throws a lot of cold water on the idea that 2014 is shaping up to be the “warmist year on record.”

Much is being made of the “global” surface thermometer data, which three-quarters the way through 2014 is now suggesting the global average this year will be the warmest in the modern instrumental record. I claim 2014 won’t be the warmest global-average year on record … if for no other reason than this: thermometers cannot measure global averages — only satellites can. The satellite instruments measure nearly every cubic kilometer – hell, every cubic inch — of the lower atmosphere on a daily basis. You can travel hundreds if not thousands of kilometers without finding a thermometer nearby.

(And even if 2014 or 2015 turns out to be the warmest, this is not a cause for concern…more about that later).

The two main research groups tracking global lower-tropospheric temperatures (our UAH group, and the Remote Sensing Systems [RSS] group) show 2014 lagging significantly behind 2010 and especially 1998:

With only 3 months left in the year, there is no realistic way for 2014 to set a record in the satellite data.

Granted, the satellites are less good at sampling right near the poles, but compared to the very sparse data from the thermometer network we are in fat city coverage-wise with the satellite data.

In my opinion, though, a bigger problem than the spotty sampling of the thermometer data is the endless adjustment game applied to the thermometer data. The thermometer network is made up of a patchwork of non-research quality instruments that were never made to monitor long-term temperature changes to tenths or hundredths of a degree, and the huge data voids around the world are either ignored or in-filled with fictitious data.

Furthermore, land-based thermometers are placed where people live, and people build stuff, often replacing cooling vegetation with manmade structures that cause an artificial warming (urban heat island, UHI) effect right around the thermometer. The data adjustment processes in place cannot reliably remove the UHI effect because it can’t be distinguished from real global warming.

Satellite microwave radiometers, however, are equipped with laboratory-calibrated platinum resistance thermometers, which have demonstrated stability to thousandths of a degree over many years, and which are used to continuously calibrate the satellite instruments once every 8 seconds. The satellite measurements still have residual calibration effects that must be adjusted for, but these are usually on the order of hundredths of a degree, rather than tenths or whole degrees in the case of ground-based thermometers.

And, it is of continuing amusement to us that the global warming skeptic community now tracks the RSS satellite product rather than our UAH dataset. RSS was originally supposed to provide a quality check on our product (a worthy and necessary goal) and was heralded by the global warming alarmist community. But since RSS shows a slight cooling trend since the 1998 super El Nino, and the UAH dataset doesn’t, it is more referenced by the skeptic community now. Too funny.

You’re going to want to read the whole thing.

Categories: On the Blog
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