From the American Conservative:
In the September/October issue of The American Conservative, R Street’s Andrew Moylan laid out the conservative case for a carbon tax. He looked at the manner in which conservatives consistently denied any problems in the health care industry, leaving the ball entirely in the Democratic court and allowing Obamacare to be passed in the first place. Moylan then laid out a plan for getting conservatives out ahead of the curve. By making the tax revenue neutral, he proposed being able to pursue other conservative policy goals, such as a more growth-friendly tax code, in exchange for addressing climate change.
After a decade-long run of bad weather that included Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Ike, and a host of other river valley and storm-surge floods, the 45-year-old National Flood Insurance Program owes taxpayers about $25 billion that no analyst believes it will ever pay back. Meanwhile, by keeping rates far lower than the private market ever would for some flood-prone properties, the program encourages development in ways that endanger lives and harm the environment.
That’s why it’s disturbing that so many in Congress—including some who stand firm against government meddling in other areas of the economy—have embarked on an effort to undo modest reforms that actually move the program in the right direction. Whether Congress can stay the course on flood-insurance reform is a clear test of its willingness to put its fiscal house in order and govern in the public interest.
The reforms in question were enacted last year in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, one of the few major pieces of legislation to pass a terribly riven Congress in 2012. At a glance, they seem to offer something for everyone. Environmentalists got better maps of flood zones that reflect rising sea levels, as well as improved protection of nature. Fiscal hawks saw premium subsidies phased out for owners of second homes, business properties and houses the taxpayers had already rebuilt multiple times, as well as a transition to appropriate rates for people who have been remapped into higher-risk areas.
Private property insurers continue to get payments for servicing policies under the NFIP’s “write your own” program. The law also opened the door to privatizing at least part of the NFIP via private reinsurance and catastrophe bonds.
Realtors, local governments and developers, who would have preferred the status quo, at least got assurance that the program would continue into the future and that rates wouldn’t rise sharply for most primary residences. More than 90 percent of the program’s 5.5 million policies would see no major changes in rates.
The only real losers—people who will no longer get subsidies—are literally members of the “1 percent.” There are 130 million housing units in the country, 1.1 million of which receive subsidized flood insurance through NFIP. And of those 1.1 million, nearly 80 percent are found in counties that rank in the wealthiest quintile. And most of them won’t see their premiums rise sharply anyway.
But the reforms’ vast benefits and modest costs may not suffice. A little more than a year after passage, many who once signed off on the reforms have changed their minds. In local briefings around the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the NFIP, set off a panic by offering accounts of rates rocketing up to $20,000 and $30,000 per year. When about 350,000 second-homeowners (by definition, not poor) got much higher bills this past January, opposition to the reforms kicked into high gear. The National Association of Realtors, arguably the most powerful trade association in Washington, joined with developers and local governments to call for vast changes and convened a high-level committee to seek measures that would effectively gut the core provisions of Biggert-Waters.
Congress responded. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who coauthored the reform legislation, did a U-turn, and in June the House passed an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill that suspended the core flood insurance provisions for a year. Meanwhile, 23 senators have jumped on to a bill sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would delay all rate changes for four years, effectively punting the issue until the NFIP’s next scheduled reauthorization, at which point it’s not inconceivable that the program’s debt to taxpayers could rise as high as $50 billion. While plenty of liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have joined the bill, so have conservatives like Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
This isn’t to say that the reforms have no flaws or couldn’t use some changes. A handful of people of modest means who are unexpectedly remapped into much higher risk areas may be socked with larger bills they can’t afford to pay and should probably get some temporary relief as long as they occupy their homes. More seriously, a longstanding rate-setting practice of ignoring levees that don’t provide protection against 100-year floods has resulted in some people behind “decertified” or “uncertified” levees being charged much higher rates than they should be. (Developers and others blocked an effort to fix this, because it would have also required more of those behind the levees to purchase coverage.) Other broader changes—even rate freezes for people of modest means who own their own homes—probably should be part of a negotiation.
But not every problem has a government solution. Even the truly high rates—which will likely be in the neighborhood of $10,000 rather than the $30,000 figures FEMA has thrown around—may be more an opportunity than anything else. They can be a catalyst for serious discussions about mitigation or buyouts for those who face the enormous risks that justify extremely high rates. Moreover, as higher rates have rolled out, at least a half-dozen companies around the country have announced plans to go into business in competition with the government’s program. While they won’t charge subsidized rates, many of them may be able to underprice the government on unsubsidized coverage.
On balance, the reforms under Biggert-Waters are incredibly modest: More than half of the properties most at risk won’t see rate increases even if all of the reforms go into force. The private sector’s role in flood insurance for homeowners will grow only slightly. Anyone looking to privatize flood coverage in a serious way will have to make further reforms when Biggert-Waters expires in 2017.
Still, each year that subsidies for development in flood-prone areas continue, more people will move into harm’s way. As the backlash to the reforms demonstrates, once they are there, it is beyond difficult to get them out.
This has very real human costs: Undoing a modest phaseout of flood insurance subsidies almost surely would mean plucking more people off of roofs with helicopters during the next massive flood or seeing more of them perish. And things appear certain to get worse. Ocean levels have been rising for at least 10,000 years, and climate change may accelerate this process in the future.
The real problem, however, isn’t the flood insurance program itself, but rather what it represents. In the context of a $3.5 trillion budget, the NFIP’s $25 billion of unpayable debt isn’t a fiscal calamity. But Congress’ seeming inability to stick with modest reforms—even when they produce far more winners than losers—proves how hard it is for the federal government to do anything that improves the nation’s finances. If members of Congress can’t save flood insurance reform, it’s hard to believe they’ll ever be able to fix far larger fiscal ills.
The government spent about $634 million on creating healthcare.gov; what did they do with all that money? Well, they created a huge mess. They contracted five different people who apparently built their portions while “hiding in silos” and never communicating with each other and they built it on 10+ year-old software. Seton Motley, founder and president of Less Government joins The Heartland Institute to discuss the horrific technical problems of the Obamacare rollout.
Facebook is 9 years old! The first Pirates of the Caribbean came out around the same time that the software for healthcare.gov came out… Come on! So, how did they spend so much money and still not deliver? Well, Motley offers up the “wallet rule” as explanation- if you went out on a Friday night with your own wallet, but went out on a Saturday night with someone else’s wallet, which night do you think you’d have more fun on? The point is, when you spend other people’s money, you are less frugal, and you care less about the results. And that is what happened to healthcare.gov, and what government almost always does!
When asked if the website would ever catch up and work how it’s supposed to work- Motley is not optimistic. He predicts that if the British government can’t pull it off in 9 years and $15 billion, then neither can we.
Listen to the podcast in the player above.
The R Street Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C., wants to hire a media relations manager. The media relations manager will be chiefly in charge of growing R Street’s media impressions, particularly in right-of-center outlets. He or she will author press releases, manage and expand our contacts database, serve as a spokesperson and have primary responsibility for getting R Street staff and fellows noticed by print, broadcast and electronic media.
We will be frank: this job is really, really demanding. A good candidate will come to the job with proven experience and existing contacts with right-leaning talk radio hosts like Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham; cable stations like Fox News and CNBC; bloggers like Glenn Reynolds and Matt Drudge; and print publications like the Wall Street Journal. We already get a lot of good notice in print and Internet sources, so having broadcast experience of some sort (either working for a broadcaster or booking people with them) is absolutely required.
Our operating philosophy is summarized in the slogan we emblazoned on the side of mugs we passed out at the recent State Policy Network convention: “Get Sh—t done.” If you’re not already much more productive than everyone else in your current and past workplaces, you probably won’t fit in.
We seek to recruit the very best around. To secure the best people, we try to compensate them fairly. While we may not always compete with the richest private sector firms, we seek to pay top-of-market compared to other right-of-center organizations. If you currently do this type of work for another organization with a similar mission, you can expect that you’ll get a raise by coming to work for us.
Our benefits are great. Among other things, we currently pay 100 percent of employee health insurance premiums (even for families); get iPhones for everyone; reimburse gym membership; pay for bike sharing; and provide a fully stocked kitchen with whatever snacks you want. We give nice bonuses both at the end of the year and whenever you do something that goes above and beyond.
Vacation time is unlimited too. (Although if you don’t really like to work in general, you probably won’t fit in.) You can even tell the boss when he’s full of it or just wrong and he’s not going to fire you for it. We also have a strict policy against having internal meetings, although you should expect to be peppered with questions by the boss and your colleagues.
We expect that strong candidates will have at least three to four years experience in the liberty movement broadly: this can include experience on the Hill, campaigns, with other free-market organizations or media organizations, or anything similar. There’s no issue litmus test but candidates should familiarize themselves with R Street’s issue positions.
We don’t care where you went to school and certainly don’t care what your GPA was or how you did on the SATs. We care, above all, about your demonstrated ability to get media attention. We don’t discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, taste in music, or anything else that’s illegal, immoral or stupid to use as a basis for hiring.
We will pay $500 to the person who refers us a candidate who we hire and accepts the job. This payment will be made once the person we hire has been with R Street for two weeks. We currently plan on accepting applications for this job until Jan. 5, 2014 and conducting in-person interviews during the first week in January 2014 and will likely make a job offer that same week. We may modify this timeline if we find (or fail to find) the right person.
To apply, please send us cover letter in the body of an e-mail with a resume as an attachment in Microsoft Word or PDF format. Please also include he name of the person who referred you to us so that they can be eligible for $500 bonus. E-mails should go to email@example.com.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Yes, it’s better than it was two months ago. But by their own measures and by the measures of other retail sites, the administration has failed to fix their bungled website and achieve the easier lift of success on the front end, let alone the as-yet-unconstructed back end of the federal exchange. Every week brings another announcement of delays in the law – delays that are in some cases more than even Republicans had requested to begin with – from the White House. The small business exchange delay dropped right before Thanksgiving, the decision to kick the can on open enrollment until after the 2014 elections, and the latest decision to scrap the payment system for insurers and rely on manual submissions for at least the first month illustrates how extreme the back end problems are. Healthcare.gov is even having trouble signing people up for Medicaid, which should be as easy as can be. And we’re just three weeks away from the December 23rd deadline to buy insurance, and the December 31st deadline to pay their premium, before people start getting hit by the mandate penalty.
Taking the president’s public relations campaign rollout claiming “everything’s fixed!” at face value, Democrats are now reportedly demanding that someone be held accountable for the mismanaged launch of Obamacare.
White House officials, asserting that the HealthCare.gov website is largely fixed, are under mounting pressure from Democrats and close allies to hold senior-level people accountable for the botched rollout of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement and to determine who should be fired. For weeks, the president and his aides have said they are not interested in conducting a witch hunt in the middle of the effort to rescue the website. But in the West Wing, the desire for an explanation about how an administration that prides itself on competence bungled so badly remains an urgent mission… Close aides said that Mr. Obama was unlikely to give in to the demands for a public flogging, but White House officials also said that Mr. Obama had demonstrated a calculated willingness to push people out.
So they claim. To this point, there’s every indication that the president is too soft to fire anyone who was actually responsible for this. Kathleen Sebelius should feel safe as ever.
But if you set aside the talking points and look at the real, enduring problems of the federal exchange, the real question Democrats should be asking isn’t who should be pushed out – it’s who should be brought in.[S]uccessful businesses have a good management structure. People in charge are familiar with the problems and able to focus effort, and operational employees are empowered to identify and solve problems. The Obama Administration failed in this last task. The team lacked a “CEO” who could focus the efforts, and line employees were stifled or ignored. As a result, deadlines were missed, minority opinions were ignored, and possible problems were not considered. The universal opposition of Republicans to the ACA made the administration’s task more difficult, but it does not excuse the failure. Fixing the administration’s implementation efforts will require more than just fixing the website. It will mean changing the entire organization of the government’s ACA efforts. Undoubtedly, some people need to leave or move on to other positions. More important is who needs to come on board, and that’s people with management skills and experience in startup businesses. There is no successful organization without good senior leadership.
Going forward, this kind of CEO-style leadership is essential for fixing Obamacare. Back up a moment: one of the lessons about the failure of Obamacare’s launch is that it’s an indication of how the impression of Obama himself was out of sync with his actual approach to leadership. Obama delegates, and he trusts his people. While he ran as a cool under pressure technocrat, the reality is that he’s an ambitious ideologue and a political animal. He left the framing of his namesake legislation to Hill veterans, quickly backing off the promises he’d made while running for the presidency in 2008. The implementation was delegated, too – to a group of self-styled elite bureaucrats at HHS and CMS who, lacking experience in anything approaching a project of this size, turned out to be terrible project managers.So What’s The Answer?
We’re only beginning to deal with the ramifications of this, politically. But when it comes to the implementation side, there’s one simple step Obama could take to rescue his signature project. It’d be bold. It’d be out of the box. It’d be the sort of thing that the Hope and Change era Obama might’ve done, even if today’s Obama would never think of it.
What Obama needs right now more than ever is a turnaround artist. Ideally, he would find someone with executive experience and bipartisan bona fides, someone experienced in the health policy space, who understands how these complicated exchanges are supposed to work. He needs someone with serious management experience and corporate consulting acumen, who’s dealt with a prominent national project while in the public eye, who’s completed a significant Olympic-sized undertaking under the pressure of a hard timeline. He needs someone with no future ambitions or plans to run for office again, a true non-ideological technocrat, someone who won’t manipulate a bureaucratic undertaking toward personal or political ends, but is just interested in solutions, in making things work.
It might even help if this person was a bit cutthroat, a tad robotic, with that special type of smiling harshness – someone who can slash the deadwood from a project, prioritize what needs doing and who can do it, and who won’t hesitate for one second to fire people who deserve it. If you’re talking about the perfect candidate, it’d be someone who actuallyliked firing people, who relishes it, and didn’t really give a damn who didn’t like him for it.
Thankfully, as Ann Althouse has noted, there is exactly one person in America who has all these qualities. And he’s got time on his hands.
All Barack Obama has to do is pick up the phone and say the magic words: “Help me, Mitt Romney. You’re my only hope.”
[Originally published in The Federalist]
The headline on the Centers for Disease Control’s Sept. 5 press release was dire: “E-cigarette use more than doubles among U.S. middle and high school students from 2011-2012.” The agency’s shocker generated reams of coverage (examples include USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and CBS News).
In an earlier blog post, I criticized the CDC’s media ploy for positioning e-cigarettes as a new childhood tobacco epidemic. Based on additional research, I have uncovered serious flaws in the agency’s analysis – errors and omissions that made the CDC’s message more appealing to the media, but less conscionable in terms of public health.
Analyzing the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey, the dataset the CDC used to generate its report, I discovered the falsehood of this key statement in the agency’s press release: “Altogether, in 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes.” This assertion was highlighted in most major media reports.
In fact, the NYTS did not collect information on the number of students who had used e-cigarettes in 2012. Instead, the survey asked if students HAD EVER TRIED e-cigarettes, “even just one time”; that number is 1.78 million. The only number in the survey that is applicable to 2012 is the 554,179 students who used an e-cigarette on “at least one day” in the past month. That is only 31% of the number wrongly reported by the CDC.
Another statement in the CDC release is seriously misleading: “The study also found that 76.3 percent of middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days also smoked conventional cigarettes in the same period.” That statement implies that 24% of e-cigarette users were not smokers, and gives the distinct impression that e-cigarettes are emerging as a first-use tobacco product.
Not so fast. The NYTS also measured other forms of tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, cigars, pipes, hookah, snus and dissolvable tobacco. In addition to the 76.3 percent of e-cig users who were concurrent cigarette smokers, another 12.9 percent were using other tobacco products. That means the percentage of e-cigarette users who weren’t using any other tobacco product was only 10.8 percent, a tiny fraction. Of this group, about half had “ever tried cigarette smoking, even one or two puffs.”
There is another feature of this and other federal surveys that you need to understand: the numbers that the CDC reports (e.g. 1.78 million) are not actual counts but are national estimates based on a complex sampling strategy. This is not necessarily a problem, but it provides needed context, especially when the number of survey respondents is small. For example, the total number of youths in this survey who used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days was 500, and the number of vapers who did not use any tobacco product nor had ever tried smoking was around 20.
The bottom line: Among all middle and high school e-cigarette users, only 10.8 percent were not concurrently using any other tobacco product, and half of those had tried to smoke in the past.
CDC director Tom Frieden may wish to use his position as a bully pulpit to oppose e-cigarette use, but abusing the facts is inexcusable.
In a future post I’ll discuss other key findings from the NYTS that were omitted by the CDC.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A new study shows that academic qualifications for prospective teachers are on the rise. Dan Goldhaber- director of the Center for Education Data & Research and a professor at the University of Washington- joins The Heartland Institute to discuss the aforementioned study.
In the past, teachers tended to be in the bottom half of the SAT distribution, while the top half chose other occupations. Recently, around 2009, there was a slight shift where more people in the upper half of the distribution were choosing to pursue careers in teaching. This is obviously a good thing, and Goldhaber discusses what the implications could mean.
Listen to the podcast in the player above.
A new study shows that academic qualifications for prospective teachers are on the rise. Dan Goldhaber- director of the Center for Education Data & Research and a professor at the University of Washington- joins The Heartland Institute to discuss the aforementioned study.
In the past, teachers tended to be in the bottom half of the SAT distribution, while the top half chose other occupations. Recently, around 2009, there was a slight shift where more people in the upper half of the distribution were choosing to pursue careers in teaching. This is obviously a good thing, and Goldhaber discusses what the implications could mean.
Listen to the podcast in the player above.
WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2013) – The R Street Institute welcomed today’s 325-91 vote by the U.S. House to approve H.R. 3309, the Innovation Act.
Sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the bill marks an important step toward cracking down on frivolous patent litigation that impedes innovation and entrepreneurship. Among its significant provisions, it shifts fees to losers of patent suits; adopts pleading standards that appropriately identify alleged infringements; improves transparency about who owns disputed patents; and reduces abuse of the discovery process.
“The Innovation Act isn’t a panacea for the problem of so-called ‘patent trolls,’ and in some ways doesn’t go as far as we’d like,” R Street Policy Analyst Zach Graves said. “But it offers the most comprehensive package of any proposal thus far, including a set of litigation reforms vital to undermining the patent troll business model. Overall, this is a big win and we will stay vigilant as the measure moves on to a more uncertain future in the Senate.”
The bill received bipartisan support, including the votes of 195 Republican members. R Street led a coalition of conservative and free-market groups that voiced support for the legislation in a letter to Congress. R Street Associate Policy Analyst Jeremy Kolassa also outlined the conservative case for patent reform in the Daily Caller.
The American people don’t trust the government. This could be a great thing for America. It could also be a dangerous opportunity for an enduring and desperate factionalism, of the kind largely unfamiliar to the American experience — and lead to more, and more dangerous, government in the future. But I don’t think it will.
There are all sorts of polls you can cite about the decline in trust in government, but after the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, this trendline isn’t going up. And Ezra Klein is worried about it. He runs through a litany of recent failures of federal government – considering that Millennials alone have witnessed 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, the financial crisis, the failed stimulus, and now Obamacare, young voters have every reason to be cynical. But Klein notes that this may not stop voters from trusting government to do more, and implement more big programs, in the future:[B]ecause voters don’t entrust tasks to “the government.” They entrust them to particular administrations, and, righty or wrongly, they tend to extend their faith in the president to the entire federal government. Obamacare’s failures aren’t likely to undermine confidence in Chris Christie or Hillary Clinton’s ability to manage the machinery of the federal government. They might perversely, enhance it, as a country that’s purposefully looking for more effective management is likely to be more desperate to believe they’ve found it. But the fact that the public will trust the government to do big things again doesn’t mean they should.
Government’s inability to get even basic things right may become just another attribute of partisan measures – Democrats trusting Democrats, Republicans trusting Republicans – but a system with a healthy level of distrust for both parties to manage “good government” is a more honest one, one which understands that markets and individuals do best when government doesn’t try to micromanage them. We should welcome an America with more skepticism that our political leaders know best, or know anything at all. They certainly haven’t proven otherwise recently.
If the American people see the lesson of the failures of government in foreign and domestic policy as a sign that the federal government should focus more on the handful of things it can do and set aside the things it keeps screwing up, most conservatives and libertarians would rejoice. There is a danger here, though, of swinging the pendulum back in the other direction. Nick Gillespie outlined this well in a piece earlier this summer, citing this 2010 paper on “Regulation and Distrust,” written by Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andrei Shleifer. Gillespie writes:
Drawing on World Values Survey data from the past several decades for over 50 countries, the authors help explain what they call “one of the central puzzles in research on political beliefs: Why do people in countries with bad governments want more government intervention?” The authors make a distinction between “high-trust” and “low-trust” countries. In the former, most people have positive feelings about business and government and the general level of regulation is relatively low. In “low-trust countries,” the opposite is true and citizens “support government regulation, fully recognizing that such regulation leads to corruption.” As an example, they point to differing attitudes toward government-mandated wages in former socialist countries that transitioned to market economies. “Approximately 92 percent of Russians and 82 percent of East Germans favor wage control,” they write, naming two low-trust populations. In Scandinavia, Great Britain, and North American countries, where there are higher levels of trust in the public and private sectors, less than half the population does. As a final kicker, Aghion et al. suggest that increased regulation sows yet more distrust, which in turn engenders more regulation.
This type of experience is echoed by Jorge Castañeda in his book, Mañana Forever. According to Castañeda, to understand Mexicans and their history you have to understand that Mexicans have nothing between the masses and the government, with almost nothing like the “little platoons” of Edmund Burke, nor the network of associations that Tocqueville saw as key to America’s thriving democratic-republic. Castañeda writes:
In the United States, there are approximately 2 million civil society organizations, or one for every 150 inhabitants; in Chile there are 35,000, or one for every 428 Chileans; in Mexico there are only 8,500, or one for every 12,000, according to Mexican public intellectual Federico Reyes Heroles. Eighty-five percent of all Americans belong to five or more organizations; in Mexico 85% belong to no organization and, according to Reyes Heroles, the largest type, by far, is religious. In the United States, one out of every ten jobs is located in the so-called third sector (or civil society); in Mexico the equivalent figure is one out of every 210 jobs. In polls taken in 2001, 2003, and 2005 on political culture in Mexico, a constant 82% of those surveyed stated they had never worked formally or informally with others to address their community’s problems. In another series of polls already quoted concerning Mexican and world values, a robust and inverse correlation was detected between Mexicans’ happiness (which grew remarkably between 1990 and 2003) and their belonging to any type of organizations. In the words of the survey in question, “the more a Mexican joins an organization or belongs to any type of association, the lower the probability of his or her feeling happy.… Studies regarding values have constantly concluded that Mexican society is extremely difficult to organize.”
In place of lateral social bonds, Castañeda maintains Mexicans form bonds upward and downward, creating a patronage society where unhealthy levels of corruption, cartels, and tribal loyalties are a substitute for freedom of association and true community. This creates a cycle of desperation, where people put their faith in charismatic leaders who promise to solve their problems, only to have their hopes dashed. Castañeda writes:[I]t should not be altogether surprising that today, after nearly five hundred years of a strong state, civil society should be weak. From this perspective, Mexicans are disorganized, except during exceptional circumstances (rescuing victims after an earthquake, for instance), because, tautologically, they are not organized, and they are not organized because a perennial, all-powerful, overwhelming state has crowded them out. This Hobbesian behemoth (unmistakable in colonial times, at least after the Bourbon Reforms of the late eighteenth century) has simply never allowed civil society to flourish, and absent an organized civil society, people fend for themselves. When they do that for centuries, they get used to it, and persist in their customs indefinitely, until something occurs that makes them change their mind. It hasn’t in Mexico, and so the ways of the past continue. As we shall see further on, those ways — corruption, cronyism, disregard for the laws — persist and date back to those times. Today, according to polls, nine out of every ten Mexicans believe that “if one does not take care of oneself, people will take advantage of you.” Some sought solutions by joining the state; others by leaving the country; still others, by retrenching into the past and the ways of that past.
So could the United States be on a path to becoming, like Mexico, a state where a hollowed out civil society leaves people with nowhere else to turn than the government they don’t trust? I just don’t think that’s going to happen. It didn’t happen after the Bay of Pigs, the JFK assassination, the quagmire of Vietnam, and Watergate. It won’t happen now. (The Millennials may turn out worse than the Boomers because of it, but that’s a different matter – and no one generation is all bad).
I’m more optimistic in part because America has bucked the trend of other nations and retained its inherent generosity, with more than 70% of charitable giving offered by individuals and families, and a healthier appreciation of civic involvement and volunteerism. The Mexican historical experience is a very different one from ours, and the character of the American people still has some strength in it yet. Even as the nature of our associations have changed, and the level of trust in government, institutions, and others has decreased, there’s still a large segment of the American people who have faith in each other and work to help each other. Rather than throwing up their hands, people should not view the failure or success of government, particularly presidential level policies, as the be all and end all of the nation’s future. Far from it.
There is a path for the country out of the wreck of distrust and disaster we’ve seen at the federal level over the past decade, if the American people choose to take it. The truth is staring them in the face. If the American people reject the false promise of one more politician promising a governmental answer to their problems – “trust me, this time, I’m not like the other guys” – we could see a resurgence of bottom-up trust. This has happened before in American history (the 1830s, for instance): when the failure of large institutions leaves power decentralized, people can give in to hopelessness… or they can realize the sun will still rise the next morning, and that they are better off living as individuals and families, trusting their neighbors rather than trusting in factional political tribes or far off powers which will always fail to live up to their promises.
The failure of government to live up to its promise is an opportunity for honesty and clarity and for the American people to reexamine the role of the citizen and the state – not a moment for despair. There’s more to life, and more to a country, than government.
[Originally published on The Federalist]
Two and a half years ago Eric Holder and the U.S. Justice Department applied dubious legal logic to shut down one of America’s quintessential pastimes – poker games among consenting adults. The Justice Department not only put a freeze on one of America’s fastest-growing forms of entertainment, it made the Land of the Free one of the few democratic nations in the world to ban consenting adults from playing online poker. Is it time for over-intrusive government to allow consenting adults in a free country to play online poker again?A Poker Renaissance
From 2003 through 2010, poker caught America’s fancy in a way not seen since Doc Holiday dominated the poker tables at the Alhambra and Oriental saloons in Tombstone, Arizona, infuriating the outlaw Cowboys gang by relieving them of much of their ill-gotten fortune. In 2003, a full-time accountant who avidly played small-stakes online poker turned, through a remarkable string of events, a $40 entry in an online poker tournament into the world championship at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. Chris Moneymaker’s Cinderella championship run coincided with ESPN for the first time devoting major resources to producing several hour-long episodes chronicling that year’s WSOP. This was the poker equivalent of Rocky Balboa beating a stadium full of 838 Apollo Creeds – except this was a true story and the world’s premier sports network captured the story from start to finish.
Buoyed by the “Moneymaker Effect” and a dramatic increase in the popularity of online poker, 2,576 people entered the 2004 WSOP Main Event, fully triple the number of players who entered in 2003. Now, rather than a tournament numerically dominated by professional poker players and extremely wealthy businessmen, the tournament had a large contingent of amateur poker players and small-stakes pros living out a dream and telling themselves that if Chris Moneymaker could take down all those Apollo Creeds, so could they. In a sequel every bit as fascinating as the 2003 WSOP (and every bit as inspirational as the Rocky II sequel), full-time tax lawyer Greg Raymer gave amateur poker players a second consecutive victory over the legendary pros. Raymer’s run to the title gave the cameras everything a viewing audience could ask for, as the large, good-natured man appealed to every-day viewers while simultaneously intimidating even seasoned poker pros with his size, imposing stare, and unnerving lizard-eye sunglasses.
In 2005, the number of entrants jumped again, to 5,619. Again, a relatively unknown poker player won the championship in memorable fashion. With a large, rowdy cheering section reminiscent of a World Cup soccer match, telegenic Australian Joe Hachem seized his dream and won the title. Prior to 2005, poker spectators at the World Series of Poker could easily be mistaken for the nearly silent spectators at a golf tournament. In 2005, Hachem’s large contingent of boisterous friends and family waved Australian flags and chanted, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!”
In 2006, a record 8,773 people entered the WSOP. Hollywood talent agent Jamie Gold captured the title and a staggering $12 million payday. Between 2007 and 2010, at least 6,300 people entered each year. Many of the entrants won their seats by entering small-stakes online tournaments like Moneymaker. Others fronted their own entrance fees, but honed their skills and built up their WSOP bankrolls on the online poker sites.
ESPN devoted more and more air time to the WSOP each year. Lesser tournaments and even simple poker cash games began popping up on the Game Show Network, NBC, and seemingly every channel in between. Top poker players began signing lucrative endorsement deals similar to NFL and NBA stars. Poker was hip, poker was lucrative, and poker was mainstream.
Just as importantly, poker was egalitarian. Everyday people mired in dead-end jobs and with little excitement in their lives could dream of becoming the next Chris Moneymaker or Greg Raymer. Jerry Yang, a religious, soft-spoken social worker who professional poker shark Scotty Nguyen described as the nicest guy you can ever meet, won the Main Event in 2007. In 2008 through 2010, a series of young 20-somethings seemingly fresh out of college took home the title.
In the absence of extraordinary God-given skills refined by a lifetime of practice, nobody can realistically dream of homering off David Price in the seventh game of the World Series, tackling Adrien Peterson in the open field to clinch a Super Bowl victory, schooling LeBron James in the NBA Finals, or taking down Tiger Woods at the Masters. But a skilled amateur poker player – if he or she is playing at the absolute top of his or her game and catching a few breaks along the way – can plausibly dream of entering a small-stakes online poker tournament culminating with sticking it to cocky, irascible poker legend Phil Hellmuth while capturing fame and fortune at the World Series of Poker.Feds Shut It Down
That all changed on April 15, 2011 – Tax Day, by design or not – when Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice shocked the poker world by shutting down poker websites, freezing poker accounts, and filing major criminal charges against operators of online poker sites and the financial companies that processed poker deposits and cash payouts. The Justice Department justified its actions by claiming the companies violated the Wire Act of 1961, a mafia-focused statute that outlaws the use of wire communications to accept sports wagers or process payments relating to sports bets.
By December 2011 the Justice Department, chastened by court rulings indicating it had overzealously applied the Wire Act, indicated it was backing off on its targeting of poker sites. Nevertheless, the damage was already done. The online poker sites had already shut down, and nobody was eager to start back up again without express assurance that the Justice Department wouldn’t change its mind again and resume prosecutions.
The federal government recently told the individual states it would not interfere with state-specific laws authorizing and regulating online poker. However, only a few states have begun to seriously consider this option. Those that do will have differing regulations and standards, meaning gaming companies will have to navigate a patchwork of often contradictory legal requirements. Moreover, each state that authorizes online poker must ensure that nobody can access that state’s poker sites from outside the state. For all intents and purposes, online poker remains dead thanks to the U.S. Justice Department, even though few seriously argue that it is illegal.The best and perhaps only way for government to reliably assure the online poker community that it can operate without fear of a new round of overzealous criminal prosecutions is for Congress to formally affirm that online poker remains legal.
The best and perhaps only way for government to reliably assure the online poker community that it can operate without fear of a new round of overzealous criminal prosecutions is for Congress to formally affirm that online poker remains legal. But not many Congressmen appear eager to stir a potential hornet’s nest of anti-gaming sentiment when the political rewards appear minimal. Nevertheless, is it time to restore legality to this quintessential American game?Ingrained in the American Spirit
History records the first poker games springing up in New Orleans during the 1820s. Large-wheeled riverboats delivered the game and its first professional players up and down the Mississippi River in America’s antebellum period. Poker became synonymous with Mississippi River folklore, and as the frontier stretched west, so did poker.
Poker provided river travelers with entertainment to relieve the boredom of long days confined on a boat deck. Poker offered a sanity-preserving diversion for Union and Confederate soldiers experiencing the long, drawn-out misery of fighting the Civil War. Poker gave gold prospectors and fur trappers an entertainment commodity thousands of miles from the bustling cities of the East. Poker became the preferred form of competition among outlaws and gunslingers in the Wild West, allowing them to blow off steam in a manner that did not involve bullets. Poker sustained thousands of Navy servicemen devoting years of service patrolling the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans during World War II. Poker, as much as baseball, steam boats, covered wagons, and manifest destiny, is part of the very fabric of America.The Strange Politics of Poker
Strange bedfellows have joined forces to vigorously oppose legal online poker. Two political factions that are usually in sharp disagreement on almost every political issue form the strongest opposition to online poker.
One faction consists of so-called nanny state liberals who believe government must step in to protect ourselves from our own personal choices and our own unregulated activities. These are the folks who often support laws against Big Gulps, laws requiring kids to obtain a permit to set up a lemonade stand or sell Girl Scout cookies, and laws requiring McDonald’s to serve apple wedges rather than French fries as the default side item in a Happy Meal. These folks believe some people will recklessly lose their rent money playing online poker, so therefore nobody should have the opportunity to play.
The other faction consists of social conservatives who believe playing poker is inherently immoral or sinful and therefore government must step in to preserve public morality. These are the folks who usually raise the most strenuous objections to the liberal nanny state, but find common ground with such liberals on this particular issue.
The result of this strange political coalition is legalized poker is neither a Democratic nor Republican issue. Support for legal poker spans the bipartisan middle ground between the usually bifurcated poker opponents.Misguided Opposition
The irony is the two factions opposing poker reveal a certain degree of self-contradiction.
For liberals concerned about people being victimized by their own choices, poker offers opportunities that for many people do not exist anywhere else. People without advanced education or highly developed job skills can master a game that allows them to pluck money from wealthy executives who play poker merely for ego and fun. The house commission for online poker tournaments is typically merely 10 percent, with 90 percent of the money returning to the players. This is a far more generous return than legally sanctioned lotteries, which are disproportionately played by low-income Americans, and a more generous return than brick-and-mortar casinos that typically return only about 75 percent of players’ entry fees.There is no Bible verse that condemns gambling, though gambling has occurred throughout human history.
Social conservatives concerned about the morality issue should take several points into consideration.
There is no Bible verse that condemns gambling, though gambling has occurred throughout human history. Gambling is more akin to drinking wine or engaging in other activities that are not immoral in themselves but can be problematic if a person does not behave ethically or exercise self-control. Indeed, some religious customs such as spinning the Hanukkah dreidel involve gambling.
For certain people, gambling can be an activity associated with self-destructive or immoral activity, but for many other people it is not. For 2012 Main Even champion Greg Merson, his love of poker and his need to stay sober in order to play well gave him the strength and inspiration to kick a serious drug habit. If you attend any WSOP tournaments you will observe that 99 percent of the players are sober, well-rested, and drinking nothing stronger than bottled water throughout the competition. Neither smoking, nor profanity, nor hostile behavior is allowed. The WSOP taking place in the inescapably wild atmosphere of the Las Vegas Strip has the feel of a convention of designated drivers taking place in Rio de Janeiro during Mardi Gras.
Also, poker has more in common with contests of skill than with gambling. In true gambling, there is little skill involved in choosing a particular wager and participants have little or no control over the outcome of the contest. Playing the lottery or slot machines is gambling. If you buy a lottery ticket, you theoretically have no better or worse chance of winning than anybody else who buys a ticket. The only person or entity with an advantage in the lottery is government, which unavoidably turns a profit on every lottery it promotes, administers, and thereafter taxes. In poker, by contrast, skill is a far greater factor than luck. Sure, the luck of the draw will impact the results in any given tournament, but in the longer term the best players are regular winners and the unskilled players are regular losers.
A good analogy is looking at the day-by-day results of a full baseball season. Even the best teams will lose plenty of games and have significant losing streaks. Even the worst teams will occasionally beat the best teams and string together several wins in a row. By the end of the season, however, the luck largely evens out and skill is rewarded in the standings. The best teams make the playoffs and the worst teams try to improve for next year.
There is little logic to opposing poker on morality grounds while allowing individuals the freedom to drink heavily, smoke, eat unhealthy foods, climb Mt. McKinley, or play golf with lightning nearby. Each of these activities is more dangerous or self-destructive than consenting adults deciding to spend a little of their hard-earned money playing in an online poker game. Yet each of these other activities is rightfully legal and few poker opponents argue these other activities should be against the law.
This brings us back to empowering the Big Government nanny state that most social conservatives oppose. Doesn’t government have more important things to do than tell people what card games they can play?Overlooked Virtue
For those who still believe poker is inherently immoral, the personal stories of virtue among poker players are too many for this column. However, here are a quick few:
2007 WSOP champion Jerry Yang, a childhood refugee from war-torn Laos, donated more than $2 million of his winnings to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other charities. Yang’s unabashed Christian faith shone throughout the WSOP, as he frequently talked about his Lord and gave thanks for his tournament run.
Legendary poker pro Barry Greenstein is known as the Robin Hood of poker, donating all his tournament winnings to charity. Those donations have totaled millions of dollars.
Hedge fund manager David Einhorn gave all of his $4.3 million in winnings at the 2012 WSOP to the One Drop charity, which provides clean drinking water to people in Third World nations.
Without poker, none of this charity takes place.Time to Affirm the Freedom to Play Online Poker
In a free society, government should be very careful about taking away people’s freedoms. While some justifications and necessities will exist, it is hard to make a compelling, internally consistent case for the Land of the Free taking away the right of consenting adults to play online poker. With its de facto ban on online poker, America is an outlier among the world’s democratic nations that largely respect and protect such a right. Congress can and should affirm that online poker remains legal, and in the process demonstrate that America remains the Land of the Free.
[Originally published on The Federalist]
One Washington D.C.-based business group gave the House vote a half a thumbs up, encouraging the movement of lawmakers to address the problem even as it acknowledged the bill’s flaws.
“The Innovation Act isn’t a panacea for the problem of so-called ‘patent trolls,’ and in some ways doesn’t go as far as we’d like,” R Street policy analyst Zach Graves said in a statement. “But it offers the most comprehensive package of any proposal thus far, including a set of litigation reforms vital to undermining the patent troll business model.”
This week, Congress updated one outdated technology law, but they’ve left a more serious one languishing. While Congress has renewed the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans plastic guns, they still have not updated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently permits warrantless spying on almost every file that passes through the Internet.
In the 1980s, when EPCA was passed, the government promised that all the documents you held on to were safe from snooping. A file saved on your desktop was treated like a file in your desk; it required a warrant to search and read. But a document you gave to a third party and “abandoned” for more than six months was fair game for the police or the NSA to grab and gawk at without any oversight.
Skip forward a quarter-century, and nearly all of your information is stored with third parties. The text of every email and every attachment you’ve ever sent or received (as well as all your contacts and associated metadata) lives on the servers of companies like Google and Yahoo. Every ping for the location of your iPhone may be stored on Apple’s servers. All the passages you’ve searched for inside a book, and all the comments you’ve made on your own, cloud-backed Kindle are also fair game.
The Fourth Amendment wasn’t intended to protect you only from unreasonable search and seizures of property you’ve acquired in the last six months. But Congress has been slow to bring EPCA in line with the 21st century. And, the longer they delay, the longer police, FBI and other government agents can dip into your private data without oversight.
Congress has managed to update the law to protect us from our fellow citizens by renewing restrictions on plastic weapon, but won’t protect us from overreach and assaults on our liberty by the government itself. Unlike 3D-printed guns, which are basically a novelty, warrantless searches are a weapon that is actively in use. And their very design means they are undetectable, even by the victim.
A broad coalition of activist groups and technology leaders including R Street and the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, TechFreedom and Twitter are joining together for a day of action today, Dec. 5, to stand up for your digital Fourth Amendment rights.
You can sign the petition calling on the Obama administration to bring the law up to date. Once you’ve added your name, send the petition to your friends via email and social media. That way they’ll get a reminder to act today, and, in six months, barring reform, so will the government.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
What would you think if someone knocked on your door one day and threatened to sue you for everything you’re worth unless you paid a settlement fee to make them go away? That’s what patent trolls do to thousands of small businesses every year, causing tens of billions in economic damage.Fortunately, with growing awareness and support, the patent trolls’ lucrative racket is in jeopardy. A bill sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., called the Innovation Act is set to go before the House of Representatives today. If passed, the bill promises to put in place vital litigation reforms to undermine the trolls’ business model. Important changes include implementing “loser pays,” improving transparency and research into the actual owners of patents and tightening standards regarding potential infringements–all points explained in a letter authored by my colleagues at the R Street Institute, and endorsed by such other conservative groups as Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity. So why is this important and why should conservatives back this plan? Patents play a legitimate role in our economy, giving innovators the incentive and the breathing room to develop new medicines, technologies and products that improve all of our lives. They’re so important, in fact, that the Founding Fathers placed patent protection within the Constitution itself, under Article One, Section 8: The Congress shall have power … To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries Though many provisions drafted at the Constitutional Convention were controversial, this language was agreed to unanimously and without debate. So while the Constitution gives Congress a duty to protect legitimate intellectual property from infringement, it also sets out that it must balance those efforts against the broader goal of promoting innovation. Then there are patent trolls. They own patents, but don’t really make anything or invent anything. They don’t advance a useful secondary market, either. Instead, they exploit the system to sue anyone and everyone for settlement money. In fact, more than half of these lawsuits target small and medium businesses who don’t have the resources to fight back, even when the infringement claims are completely spurious. In 92 percent of cases brought to court, they lose. But most defendants simply settle because they can’t afford to fight. Many of these patents are so broad and abstract, they could cover just about anything. For example, U.S. Patent #6128617: “Data display software with actions and links integrated with information.” More specifically, it covers “a hierarchical graphical listing or chart rendered on a display.” Ever used the Start menu on Windows? That’s so banal any software developer could be sued. Or anyone down the chain of commerce, from Best Buy to you, the consumer. Or Patent #7103380: “Wireless Handset Communication System: A small lightweight modular microcomputer-based computer and communications systems, designed for both portability and desktop uses.” (The owner of that patent, NetAirus Technologies, was just defeated by Apple last week.) More than any other reason, conservatives should support these litigation reforms because the victims of these spurious lawsuits are not big businesses who can afford it — it is the small businesses down the street who cannot afford a lawsuit, and are forced to settle with the trolls. The legal fees and the drawn-out court process would shutter them completely. And with that goes more American jobs. Opponents of the Innovation Act, in a recent letter of their own, argue that the act will harm individual inventors trying to protect their property rights. In reality, the bill does a lot to protect rights and minimize costs for legitimate intellectual property holders, as our friends at EFF expertly explain here, here, here and here. The bill is also endorsed by top law professors, various major industries, tech companies, startup investors, inventors, and more. Goodlatte’s Innovation Act is a win-win. By protecting small businesses from the prospect of ruinous litigation, they get to keep more of their money and hire more Americans. By reducing the pressure on the court system, it will decrease the cost for innovators to defend their legitimate patents. And by reforming litigation so that it properly focuses on those patents that truly “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” we will be following the Constitution and honoring the Founding Fathers. We don’t like it when people threaten us. So why do we let it happen to American businesses? Now is the time for conservatives to rally together and stop the trolls.
Radical left-wing organizations have long-enjoyed stenographic coverage in the mainstream media. So it certainly came as a shock to Greenpeace to see CNN rip into the organization for employing a decrepit Santa to advance lies that scare kids and adults alike about the climate.
CNN’s Jeanne Moos has for many years specialized in quirky human interest stories at the venerable cable channel. This week she ripped Greenpeace for its latest video featuring a disheveled and depressing Santa that makes Billy Bob Thorton’s iconic “Bad Santa” look as warm as the one from “Miracle on 34th Street.”
You see, says Greenpeace’s Apocalyptic Santa, if the ice doesn’t stop melting at the North Pole, “there may be no alternative but to cancel Christmas.” Worry not, kids. Arctic ice has actually increased this year by 533,000 square miles (and total polar ice is at highest point in about a decade), which Moos notes in her report.
That’s a good thing. Yet here’s proof the MSM still can’t just report the facts about the climate: Moos couldn’t bring herself to simply declare the truth of increasing polar ice, which is proven by scientific observation. She had to couch it with the qualifier of “critics say” polar ice has increased.
But why quibble? Moos was nice enough to cite our friends at the International Climate Science Coalition who told CNN: “Santa should be celebrating the return of the ice!”
Moos also cast the alarmists at Greenpeace and elsewhere as folks who “believe in global warming.” Exactly right. Their adherence to human-caused climate calamity is akin to religious belief, unaffected by the reality of scientific proof. It was a nice touch by Moos that I’m amazed got past CNN’s editors.
Moos also cited a commenter at the YouTube post of the Greenpeace video who wrote:
Hope that you are proud of yourselves green piece (sic) for scaring innocent children with your bully boy tactics as usual.
That’s right. CNN cited a critic of Greenpeace in its story. That represents amazing progress for truth (if not grammar) in MSM coverage of the climate.
Here’s another taste of Moos’ CNN-approved mockery of Greenpeace and what she said was a “sorry excuse for a Santa”:
It looks like a hostage video, but instead of Al Qaida, it’s Santa.
Let it be said forever more: CNN compared Santa to terrorists! (Sorry. I channeled the mindset of the left for a second. Now I’m back to normal.)
Moos closes by asking: “Who would you trust to save the icecaps?” She makes it clear that it is not Greenpeace. Perhaps the public and the MSM would do better to trust an organization (ahem!) that recently published a 1,000-page report containing the latest climate research, and has hosted eight international conferences on climate change with some of the most-esteemed climate scientists in the world.
This much is true: CNN is not trusting Greenpeace and its Doomsday-Cult Santa.
Watch Moos’ CNN spot below, and the whole Greenpeace video below that. If watching these videos do not make you merry, Heat Miser might be your Christmas hero.
CNS News reported in October of this year that according to the U.S. Treasury the government’s federal debt had jumped by $409 billion. This equals approximately $3,546 for each of the Census Bureau’s estimated 114,663,000 U.S. households, and makes October’s spending the largest one-month jump in debt in this nation’s history.
What is troubling is that Congress is not currently restrained by a debt limit. Since October 17 when Congress enacted the Continuing Resolution (CR) with a deal that ended the government shutdown and pushed the debt ceiling level to February 7, 2014, no set dollar amount exists to restrict spending.
With nothing to stop legislators from piling even more spending and debt on taxpayers before February 7, 2014, it is folly to believe that legislators will restrain their spending, nor have they done so. Noted was how an additional $409 billion of debt was accrued through the end of October. While on October 17 the debt subjected to limit stood at $16,699,396,000,000, just $25 million shy of the legal limit of $16,699,421,095,673.60, by October 31 the debt now subject to limit had grown to $17,108,378,000,000.
Troubling is that even with this nation’s credit card maxed out (along with taxpayers’ wallets), Washington aims to continue its spending spree. Instead of addressing future debt by controlling the growth in entitlement spending and enforcing lower levels of spending, the budget conference committee is considering an option that could increase spending by up to an additional $100 billion; that is, if a compromise deal can be fashioned to bust the sequestration spending caps by up to $100 billion.
An increase in user fees (really a disguised tax increase) would be employed to offset mandatory spending with necessary revenue. Although gimmicks are nothing new in Washington, D.C., raising user fees to pay for more spending is what has helped fuel our now $17.2 trillion national debt.
Not only is the federal government at a tipping point financially, but Illinois has already reached its tipping point. Consider this Statement of Position from Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford:
- Illinois taxpayers’ debt from borrowing = $44.3 billion
- Illinois taxpayers’ unpaid bills = $8 billion
- Illinois’ unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities = $140
Each Illinois family shoulders this debt = over $40,000 per household Moody’s rates Illinois as the worst credit risk of all the states in the nation, which raises the cost of borrowing money, which, in turn, adds billions of dollar in the repayment of bond issuances.
The following dreary picture of Illinois was painted by Reboot Illinois on November 18:
All of Illinois’ neighboring states were in the top half of Chief Executive Magazine’s 2012 list of best states for business. Illinois was rated third worst. The state’s unemployment rate, consistently the highest in the region, is evidence of that ranking’s accuracy [Since 2008, Illinois has lost the third most jobs by state in the country]. Businesses in Illinois suffer under some of the highest workers compensation insurance rates in the country, and in 2011 they saw their income tax rate jump from 4.8 percent to 7 percent — a 46 percent increase [IIllinois' Corporate tax rank is now 45th in the nation].
On Tuesday, Illinois legislators addressed in a one-day special session a pension reform deal crafted by the Illinois House and the Senate. Numerous reports about the bill before the vote left much to be desired, making Tuesday’s exercise seemingly geared to convince the pubic that legislators are finally taking the state’s $100 billion pension shortfall seriously.
According to a report by Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, House speaker Mike Madigan’s solution is just the next in a long line of disastrous pension maneuvers and does nothing more than delay real reform and keep Illinois in a chronic state of crisis.
In typical Illinois fashion, little advance information was shared with the media, the public, and legislators about a bill so critical to the financial well-being of this state. Just what might be the language of a bill that is being kept under wraps until only hours before legislators cast their votes?
In addition to federal and state tax obligations, there are also local taxing bodies that make financial demands. Significant is that Illinois has more “local” governments than any other state in the country, 6,963, which is one-thousand more than any other state when factoring in state population. As it is, Illinois residents pay the second-highest-owner-occupied property tax rates in the country, and their state is the third most corrupt.
Having so many units of government at the local level put taxpayers on the hook for unnecessary layers of government that duplicate services and cause taxes to soar. It is not uncommon for Illinois residents (61% of them do) to live under the burden of three levels of local government (municipal, township or county government), resulting in a huge outlay of funds allocated for salaries.
Lake County in northern Illinois, Thorner’s home county, ranks No. 1 for the Midwest region on Forbes’ list of U.S. counties with the highest property taxes, the average being $6,052.
Thorner also lives under a township government, that of Shields, in addition to her Village of Lake Bluff. In Shields Township a whole department exists to handle the scattered township roads and bridges whose trucks criss-cross the same area when snow plowing far fewer mile, than do municipal trucks.
Also adding to the tax burden at the local level are the high number of school districts in Illinois, 911 in all. Two hundred of them are single school districts. These single districts (Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65 is a single district) cost more per student to educate than do multi-school districts.
Federal, state, and local tax liability has become a burden to many. Often asked is how much is too much to pay in taxes? Although little can be done to fight taxation at the state and federal levels, citizens have more of a say at the local level. Unfortunately many officials are opposed to doing away with the positions they hold, either elected or appointed, even if they hold positions that duplicate work done by others.
And so our tax burden continues to grow to keep the hungry beast that is government fed, with many legislators indifferent about the way taxpayers’ money is wasted and spent as long as it suits their own political interests to be re-elected, thereby ensuring that they will continue to enjoy all the attractive perks they have grown so accustomed to receiving over the years.
This memo urges USPSTF to expand their consideration of options for smoking cessation to include tobacco harm reduction, alternative health education interventions not involving use of pharmaceuticals, and to address issues raised by e-cigarettes. Available evidence suggests that, for many hard-core smokers, THR may be far more effective than currently endorsed smoking cessation protocols. Since the main argument against THR is the assumption that THR cannot be implemented without recruiting large numbers of teen non-smokers to tobacco use, USPSTF is also urged to review the degree to which e-cigarettes, as a THR modality, is attractive to teen non-smokers.
Rather than continuing to rely on pharmaceutical products as the major intervention for smoking cessation, the USPSTF should play a leadership role in encouraging research and implementation of cessation options that promise to be far more effective.
December 3, 2013
Dear Member of Congress:
On behalf of the millions of Americans represented by the undersigned organizations, we write to urge you to support the Eliminate Preventable Waste Act, sponsored by Congressman Jack Kingston. The bill would require federal agencies to show a reduction in the error rate for payments in federal spending. If the rate of improper payments increases in a given fiscal year, then the administrative budget for the agency will be cut by the same percentage of the error rate.
Improper payments are an increasing problem in federal agency spending. According to the Government Accountability Office, federal agencies reported $115.3 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2011 alone. For several programs, the error rate is remarkably high; the Disaster Assistance Loans under the Small Business Administration exceeded 28 percent in 2011, for example.
With the federal debt now exceeding $17 trillion and ever-increasing spending levels coming out of Washington, it’s more important now than ever to get spending under control. Holding federal agencies accountable for reducing improper payments is a great first step to reining in total federal spending. Americans deserve to have their tax dollars spent as intended, not wasted on improper payments.
I urge you and your colleagues to show support for reining in federal spending by supporting Congressman Kingston’s Eliminate Preventable Waste Act.
Phil Kerpen, President
Dee Stewart, President
Americans for a Balanced Budget
Christine Hanson, Federal Affairs Manager
Americans for Prosperity
Grover Norquist, President
Americans for Tax Reform
Tom Brinkman Jr., Chairman
COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes)
Penny Nance, CEO and President
Concerned Women for America
Mattie Duppler, Executive Director
Cost of Government Center
Evan Feinberg, President
Seton Motley, President
Amy Ridenour, Chairman
National Center for Public Policy Research
Pete Sepp, Executive Vice President
National Taxpayers Union
Andrew Moylan, Outreach Director and Senior Fellow
R Street Institute
David Williams, President
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
In the 1980s, a group was formed which warned of an emerging danger to American’s youth. That danger was a new, and increasingly popular form of entertainment that, while seemingly harmless, allowed children and teens to tap into their more violent and morally questionable urges while hiding under the guise of harmless escapism. In fact, the group argued, it was necessary to understand this form of entertainment if one wanted to understand the then-increasingly prevalent and seemingly unexplainable wave of crime, to the point where it manufactured police training manuals based on a document explaining the phenomenon in question. Meanwhile, the group’s founder appeared all over the mainstream press, including 60 Minutes and Geraldo Rivera’s show.
Given that the 80s were also the arguable birthplace of mass market home video games, made by companies like Atari and Nintendo, the reader might conclude that they were the target of this crusade. But they’d be wrong. The form of entertainment in question was table-top roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and the group warning about their danger was a little organization called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, or BADD, which alleged that Dungeons and Dragons, or “D&D,” was a cover for recruitment into Satanic murder-suicide cultism, using the deaths of various mentally unstable teenagers who (allegedly) had played the game as evidence. In fact, the founder of the group – Patricia Pulling, who coincidentally was also the author of its main document, The Pulling Report – was the mother of one such child.
There was just one problem: The whole argument was laughably, unimaginably false. In fact, today, the only people who still read The Pulling Report are tabletop role-players looking for a laugh. The idea of police investigators interrogating high schoolers about whether they role play as elves or dwarves, and what class they are (an actual recommendation of the report itself) rises to the level of absurd comedy. D&D has become so mainstream it gets pop cultural spoofs on shows like The Big Bang Theory and Community, and claims pop culture figures like Vin Diesel and Patton Oswalt as enthusiasts. Patricia Pulling, and BADD, if they are remembered at all, are remembered as punch lines, or as symbols for how bad parents can use senseless, irrational moral panic backed by quack “scholarship” as a way to distract from their own failures.
And apparently, anti-video game crusaders are desperate to emulate them. This is not surprising, seeing as the anti-video game movement is possibly the most poorly substantiated, technophobic form of activism since The Pulling Report itself. Fittingly, they have now found a scholar to produce a document with precisely as much credibility. Meet Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, an academic who has authored a study allegedly showing that teenagers both “eat more [and] cheat more” after playing violent video games.
The problem, as Techdirt points out, is that the study has so many holes it may as well have been designed by King Koopa. For starters, its means of telling whether people make poor decisions was to set a bowl of M&Ms in the same room as players of both violent video games (tellingly, both from the Grand Theft Auto franchise) and non-violent video games (pinball and golf simulators), and then to see how many M&Ms got consumed in spite of a warning that the candy was unhealthy. To quote Techdirt:
Let’s stop right here for a moment and consider the credibility of researchers who (presumably with a straight face) told teenagers that eating too much candy would make their tummies hurt. The health implications of a single bowl of candy in a research setting are effectively nil, but this ridiculous instruction is used as evidence that violent video games adversely affect players’ judgment.
According to Bushman’s research, players playing violent games ate more than those playing non-violent games. Ipso facto, violent game players have less self-control.
Another problem? The study treats short-term immorality after playing violent video games as if it’s a systemic pattern that lasts over the long term. Players were, for instance, given the opportunity to cheat on a quiz game after playing the games, and also allowed to blast “losing” players with a loud noise. Those playing violent video games were more likely to do both, which should surprise precisely no one who’s ever been inside an Xbox Live chatroom. However, despite behaving like a bloodthirsty sociopath when behind a controller, it’s a well-established fact that not every user of Xbox Live transforms into one when he or she leaves the game behind to, say, order pizza. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of a much better done study of 11,000 children, undertaken over 10 years, which showed that video games have no effect on someone’s long-term behavior.
Moreover, the strongest correlation in the study wasn’t between violent video games and immoral behavior, but between people with fewer moral qualms and immoral behavior. This was tested with a “moral disengagement” questionnaire that was handed out to participants before play, to test their moral fortitude. To no one’s surprise, those who scored worst on this questionnaire (which had problems of its own, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment) also behaved the worst after playing video games.
If Bushman were simply a misguided or inept researcher, this sort of thing might be forgivable as a one-time failure. However, seeing as he’s been attacked for shoddy research practices in this area before, as has his frequent research partner and anti-video game fellow traveler Craig Anderson. Anderson, in fact, has even been embarrassed as an expert witness on the subject. It is telling, therefore, that these two men produce the lion’s share of anti-video game research, while studies undertaken by virtually any other researchers turn up completely different results.
These men are, in short, not scientists, but ideologically driven latter-day Patricia Pullings trying to make a panic out of a new and, at this point, thriving art form. On one level, this is not so problematic. Such alarmist charges are endemic when an art form comes into its own, as I discovered when TheBlaze allowed me to defend one of the greatest video games of the recent generation, Bioshock Infinite, from utterly unjustififed charges of anti-Americanism.
However, as I believed at the time of that article and continue to believe now, the idea that conservatives could even think of joining in the crusade against video games is extremely sad. Especially at a time when the art form’s most relevant and visible critics are not the increasingly irrelevant anti-violence coalition of religious fundamentalists and aging hippies, but rather radical feminists bent on willfully misinterpreting and censoring great video games just as they attacked the great books. In other words, video games are an art form that conservatives, who prize innovation and entrepreneurship, should be defending. After all, if guns don’t kill people, it’s a real stretch to imagine that pixels kill people, and conservatives should not allow themselves to be straw manned as Luddites for thinking so.
Which is a massive reason why this kind of “scholarship” needs to be exposed for the hack job that it is, so that art and creativity of the kind that D&D unleashed on the tabletop can be equally celebrated on the PC or console, and the new frontier of technology can be allowed to expand where neither the Pullings nor the Bushmans of the world are allowed to touch it.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write in strong support of Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s H.R. 3309, the Innovation Act, which seeks to strengthen the patent system by protecting intellectual property rights while limiting the economic harm of predatory litigation. The bill’s provisions to address heightened pleading, fee shifting, and discovery reform clearly fall into the category of litigation reform and serve to protect the property rights of legitimate patent holders.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution is explicit in calling for a patent system to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Though many other provisions of the document drafted at the Constitutional Convention were controversial, this language was agreed to unanimously and without debate. This reflects the foundational importance our nation’s framers placed on a robust legal structure protecting copyrights and patents.
Unfortunately, the current litigation environment surrounding our patent system frequently stifles innovation the Constitution sought to protect, and at a substantial economic cost. So-called “patent trolls” are entities that hoard overly broad patents, but do not use them to make goods or services. Instead, these entities maliciously threaten small businesses, inventors, and even consumers through rampant and costly litigation abuse.
Patent trolling works because patent trolls offer to settle for less than litigation would cost. That means they single out small businesses as targets. More than half of defendants in lawsuits brought by patent trolls are small businesses ($10 million or less). Since litigation costs millions of dollars, businesses are forced to settle even when the claim against them is spurious. Patent troll lawsuits are thus effectively imposing a significant tax on investment and entrepreneurship.
The Innovation Act would discourage trolls by implementing several important reforms to the litigation process, such as shifting fees to losers of patent suits; adopting pleading standards that appropriately identify alleged infringements; improving transparency about who owns disputed patents; and reducing abuse of the discovery process.
Together, these reforms would reduce the cost of defending against spurious patent claims, and therefore make companies less likely to resolve such disputes by paying nuisance settlements. With these improvements, the Innovation Act would increase protections for smaller patent-holding innovators, while minimizing what it costs for legitimate plaintiffs to defend their patents.
With these changes, H.R. 3309 would help reduce the economic harm associated with expensive and frivolous patent troll suits while improving the overall strength and quality of America’s patent system. We strongly support its passage and look forward to seeing this important reform signed into law.
R Street Institute
Americans for Tax Reform
Americans for Prosperity
American Consumer Institute
Center for Individual Freedom
Frontiers of Freedom