Feed aggregator

Feeling our ObamaCare pain

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - December 12, 2014, 2:56 PM
Imagine how long ObamaCare would last if the folks who wrote and approved the law were forced to live by its rules. Sen. David Vitter has been waging this…

R Street congratulates Citizens on lowering reliance on taxpayers

Out of the Storm News - December 12, 2014, 1:55 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Dec. 12, 2014) – The R Street Institute welcomed this week’s news that Florida’s state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is prepared to enter the 2015 hurricane season ready to pay catastrophic storm claims without having to assess Florida policyholders.

Citizens is able to weather a once-in-a-lifetime storm due to expanded reinsurance coverage and a surplus accumulated over nine consecutive storm-free hurricane seasons. Additionally, its board has approved a recommendation for the company to purchase additional reinsurance coverage to handle a 1-in-100 year hurricane.

The news comes on the heels of Citizens reducing its customer base to below 1 million, with further reductions expected in 2015, as efforts to transfer policyholders to financially secure private companies continue.

“Florida has been very fortunate to see nine straight hurricane-free years, but Citizens’ staff and board also deserve credit for maximizing the benefits of this ‘hurricane drought,’” said R Street Florida Director Christian Camara. “Purchasing additional reinsurance is a wise investment that will further protect taxpayers and the state’s economy from potentially crushing assessments should Florida’s lucky streak run out next hurricane season.”


Gone Google: Europe is pushing to limit Internet companies

Out of the Storm News - December 12, 2014, 1:16 PM

Europe’s battle against large Internet companies (or should we just say Google?) wages on. Spain just introduced a new intellectual property law that will require Spanish news publications to charge a fee every time Google News posts a link to “even the smallest snippet of their publications.” As the head of Google News explained in a blog post, such a funding model is not sustainable, considering that Google News makes no money from its services. So Google News is pulling out of Spain.

Spain’s law spells bad news for Spanish-speaking Internet users around the world and carries dangerous consequences for treatment of the right to link to content under copyright law. In fact, it is difficult to find a single party who will benefit from the law. What might seem to be a bald exertion of special interest rent-seeking on the part of the Spanish publishing industry has, in fact, destroyed one of the major services that drives readers to Spanish news sites. Far from teaching Internet users that they must pay for good information, Spanish publications have simply cut themselves off from a huge swath of potential consumers.

German publications learned this the hard way when German law instituted a similar fee in 2013 (the difference being that German publications had the option to charge the fee, whereas Spanish publications will be required to do so). German publications quickly realized that it was more profitable to forego charging Google and include their content in the Google News index, effectively killing the law.

Things are getting real. Europe’s actions against Google thus far could be interpreted as blustering, bluffing and political posturing. The European Parliament recently voted in favor of an antitrust resolution to unbundle Google’s search engine from the rest of its services, but the resolution has no legal or political teeth.  The CJEU’s “right to be forgotten” ruling could be circumvented by searching for content on google.com instead of European versions of the search engine, such as google.fr. Germany’s ancillary copyright law, the precedent to Spain’s law, was optional.

But in the past few months, lawmakers have been cracking down. The “right to be forgotten” has been extended to .com Google domains. New European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger suggested that ancillary copyright laws could be expanded. The United Kingdom just announced a “Google Tax” that slaps a 25 percent surcharge on profits generated in the United Kingdom that are transferred overseas by multinational companies. Many expect similar taxes to follow in other European countries, increasing costs for U.S. tech companies and erecting previously nonexistent barriers in the digital economy. Such barriers will be fortified by tougher data protection and privacy policies coming down the pike.

It is politically popular to rant against large U.S. tech companies as “neo-liberal,” imperialist or big brothers, but the truth is that a huge percentage of European Internet users benefit from the services of these same companies. Google enjoys about 90 percent of the search engine market in Europe, a higher percentage of the market than in the United States.

Google’s actions could foreshadow a new trend in which foreign Internet companies find it impossible to operate in Europe. European lawmakers and special interest groups are creating a market characterized by complicated regulations, added fees and legal uncertainty. We could be looking at a future Europe cut off from the global Internet, replacing foreign services with second-tier duplications, such as a publicly backed European search engine that some Google critics are calling for.

An example of what a fragmented web would look like is Wiktionary, a useful wiki dictionary tool that has different platforms for different languages. The English version (en.wiktionary.com) is far more robust than alternatives (fr.wiktionary.com, etc.). The service would be most effective as a coherent whole, where all crowdsourced knowledge is pooled on a single platform. Now use your imagination to apply this small-scale example to wikis, search engines, ecommerce sites, news aggregators and other digital platforms or services that could be fragmented based on language, country, region or political party in power. It destroys the point of the Internet.

If Europe really wants to make a dent in the dominant U.S. presence in the tech market, it should look at reforming its own policies. It is more difficult to form companies in Europe. Tighter regulations hamper innovation. Rather than fostering the growth of European businesses that prioritize European values, such as data privacy, many European politicians are coming out with messages like those of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls:

“It would be wrong to think all regulation kills innovation … It’s the role of the state.”

Google just announced that it is shutting down its engineering operations in Russia in response to Russian laws that require all data about Russian citizens be stored locally in Russia. Google pulled out of China in 2010 in response to cyberattacks and censorship legislation. Is Europe trying to be next on the list?

If Europe keeps telling Google to leave, Google might just go. The results won’t be good for anyone.


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

The Sony hack might mark the end of the phony cyber war

Tech Suite - In The News - December 12, 2014, 9:56 AM
CyberWar by Shutterstock

U.S. government wants to keep you out of comfortable boxers

Out of the Storm News - December 12, 2014, 9:35 AM

As I am a woman, I cannot effectively comment on the pros and cons of various forms of men’s underwear and their comparative comfort levels. I understand that each type has its merits, and that men are frequently disposed to discussing them in great detail at cocktail parties, but given that women are frequently enticed to purchase underwear that consists of little more than a triangle of cheap fabric held in place by unreliable strings, I do not feel much sympathy in regard to this particular male conundrum.

However, it seems there’s a company in Norway, apparently, that has applied the latest in garment design technology to the ever-popular “boxer briefs” option, creating what they consider to be the ultimate in comfort for your bits and pieces (or “twigs and berries” or “block and tackle”) below the equator. Unfortunately, the U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, has made it next to impossible for America’s men to experience the innovative Norwegian underwear, thus depriving millions of potential American customers from the revelation that is “Comfyballs.”

The Norwegian company Comfyballs applied to release its product into the US market earlier this year, but the country’s patent office refused to trademark the term, ruling that the brand name was “vulgar”.

The company was established in Scandinavia in 2013 and has since rolled out to Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

But American authorities banned it from operating under that name, finding that, “in the context of the applicant’s goods… Comfyballs means only one thing – that a man’s testicles, or ‘balls,’ will be comfortable in the applicant’s undergarments.

Apparently, the term “Comfyballs,” though, is not so much a moniker as it is an accurate description of how, exactly, your testicles will feel when they encounter the boxer briefs’ state-of-the-art technology and design. It is not merely a double entendre or cutesy marketing ploy to name the underwear after the feeling you might get from donning a pair. It’s the truth.

Package Front™ is designed to keep your equipment in place, while being lifted away from the inside of your thighs, preventing unnecessary heating of the balls. Extremely curved panels combined with innovative use of elastic fabric seams lift the user experience to a new level!

Now, the USPTO cannot effectively prevent Comfyballs from operating in the United States, but not approving their application for trademark does send Comfyballs into quite the conundrum. They’ve simply been denied the extra protection that a registered trademark provides. In the event someone in America comes up with a similar product and also names it Comfyballs, the makers of the original Comfyballs product are cut off from a variety of federal options for recourse, which is, of course, enough to make them think twice about introducing their product to a clamoring American public, no matter how interested they may be.

Anders Selvig, the founder of the underwear brand, plans to appeal the USPTO’s decision on the grounds that it has recently approved other trademarks that contain the term “balls” and certain variations of the term thereof, including the phrases, “nice balls,” and “I love my balls,” and trademarks for products like “Truck Nutz” and “Ballroom Jeans,” which have a hidden “Crotch Gusset” that apparently lets you “crouch without the ouch.” Selvig has not considered potentially changing the name of the product to something more aptly descriptive to “ComfyTesticles,” but I’m sure the option is on the table.

I, for one, believe this is just yet another front on our national uncomfortability with anything that offends our delicate sensibilities, and demand that America’s manly men be allowed to exercise their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of comfortable underwear.

The complicated politics of Uber

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 5:31 PM


“I don’t think there are any clear partisan lines yet,” said Andrew Moylan, executive director and senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C. “The reality has not yet caught up to the [Republican] rhetoric nationally.” The group recently released a report card grading cities on varying measurements of friendliness for transportation apps like Uber and Lyft. There were no obvious partisan lines. Interestingly, several liberal cities like Austin, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. established sensible regulatory climates and fared well, according to R Street. More conservative cities like Houston, San Antonio and Orlando fared poorly, and have embraced what Moylan describes as onerous regulations that hinder residents there from using the popular car-for-hire service…

…Moylan did say, however, that the legal fights have unearthed a division in the broader liberal coalition. “There’s the union-centric, labor-oriented side of that movement, which has done a lot to impose new regulatory climates and try to protect entrenched industries. On the other side, you have a younger, more tech-savvy part of the liberal movement not tied to union politics and more open to these technologies. Republicans have been trying to highlight that.”

“My gut tells me that some level of consumer demand is the key,” said Moylan. “When you have cities like Washington, D.C. or Austin, where there’s lot of peoples and needs, you can’t afford to get it wrong,” he said, adding that bigger cities tend to be more supportive of such services.

Hill funding compromise leaves FCC short on desired cash

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 4:52 PM

From Washington Internet Daily:

The funding bill’s Internet Tax Freedom Act extension through Oct. 1 is clear indication that a “battle” is coming over the Marketplace Fairness Act (HR-684) next Congress, said Executive Director Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. R Street opposes MFA. There’s no reason for a relatively short extension of an “utterly noncontroversial” bill unless there’s forthcoming attempt to link it to MFA, he said. Moylan said he expects the House Judiciary Committee to address Internet sales tax issues next year.


Heartland Daily Podcast: Jeff Anderson – The 2017 Project Plan to Replace Obamacare

Somewhat Reasonable - December 11, 2014, 4:44 PM

Research Fellow Sean Parnell talks with Jeff Anderson, Executive Director of the 2017 Project. The two discuss Anderson’s organization’s plan for replacing Obamacare with a more market-friendly system. The 2017 project is based on a combination of tax credits, reform of the individual insurance market, and high-risk pools.

Among other topics, Parnell and Anderson talk about the details of the proposed plan and how it could replace Obamacare. How politically feasible is the plan? and how would it address the common concerns of American citizens?

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

The New Congress Must Save the USA from the EPA

Somewhat Reasonable - December 11, 2014, 1:45 PM

When the Republican Party takes over majority control of Congress in January, it will face a number of battles that must be fought with the Obama administration ranging from its amnesty intentions to the repeal of ObamaCare, but high among the battles is the need to rein in the metastasizing power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In many ways, it is the most essential battle because it involves the provision of sufficient electrical energy to the nation to keep its lights on. EPA “interpretations” of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have become an outrageous usurpation of power that the Constitution says belongs exclusively to the Congress.

As a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, a free market think tank, I recall how in 2012 its president, Joe Bast, submitted 16,000 signed petitions to Congress calling on it to “rein in the EPA.” At the time he noted that “Today’s EPA spends billions of dollars (approximately $9 billion in 2012) imposing senseless regulations. Compliance with its unnecessary rules costs hundreds of billions of dollars more.”

Heartland’s Science Director, Dr. Jay Lehr, said “EPA’s budget could safely be cut by 80 percent or more without endangering the environment or human health. Most of what EPA does today could be done better by state government agencies, many of which didn’t exist or had much less expertise back in 1970 when EPA was created.”

The EPA has declared virtually everything a pollutant including the carbon dioxide (CO2) that 320 million Americans exhale with every breath. It has pursued President Obama’s “war on coal” for six years with a disastrous effect on coal miners, those who work for coal-fired plants that produce electricity, and on consumers who are seeing their energy bills soar.

As Edwin D. Hill, the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, noted in August, “The EPA’s plan, according to its own estimates, will require closing coal-fired plants over the next five years that generate between 41 and 49 gigawatts (49,000 megawatts) of electricity” and its plan would “result in the loss of some 52,000 permanent direct jobs in utilities, mining and rail, and at least another 100,000 jobs in related industries. High skill, middle-class jobs would be lost, falling heavily in rural communities that have few comparable employment opportunities.”

“The United States cannot lose more than 100 gigawatts of power in five years without severely compromising the reliability and safety of the electrical grid,” warned Hill.

In October the Institute for Energy Research criticized the EPA’s war on coal based on its Mercury and Air Toxics Rule and its Cross State Air Pollution Rule, noting that 72.7 gigawatts of electrical generating capacity have already, or are scheduled to retire. “That’s enough to reliably power 44.7 million homes, or every home in every state west of the Mississippi river, excluding Texas.” How widespread are the closures? There are now 37 states with projected power plant closures, up from 30 in 2011. The five hardest hit states are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.

If a foreign nation had attacked the U.S. in this fashion, we would be at war with it.

The EPA is engaged in a full-scale war on the U.S. economy as it ruthlessly forces coal-fired plants out of operation. This form of electricity production has been around since the industry began to serve the public in 1882 when Edison installed the world’s first generating plants on Pearl Street in New York City’s financial district. Moreover, the U.S. has huge reserves of coal making it an extremely affordable source of energy, available for centuries to come.

The EPA’s actions have been criticized by one of the nation’s leading liberal attorneys, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who has joined with Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, to criticize the “executive overreach” of the EPA’s proposed rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. He accused the agency of abusing statutory law, violating the Constitution’s Article I, Article II, the separations of powers, the Tenth and Fifth Amendments, and the agency’s general contempt for the law.

It is this contempt that can be found in virtually all of its efforts to exert power over every aspect of life in America from the air we breathe, the water we use, property rights, all forms of manufacturing, and, in general, everything that contributes to the economic security and strength of the nation.

That contempt is also revealed in the way the EPA spends its taxpayer funding. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a report, “The Science of Splurging”, on December 2 in which he pointed to the $1,100,000 spent to pay the salaries of eight employees who were not working due to being placed on administrative leave, the $3,500,000 spent to fund “Planning for Economic and Fiscal Health” workshops around the nation, $1,500,000 annually to store out-of-date and unwanted publicans at an Ohio warehouse, and $700,000 to attempt to reduce methane emitted from pig flatulence in Thailand! “After years of handing out blank checks in the form of omnibus appropriations bills and continuing resolutions,” said Sen. Flake, “it’s time for Congress to return to regular order and restore accountability at the EPA.”

Whether it is its alleged protection of the air or water, the only limits that have been placed on the EPA have been by the courts. Time and again the EPA has been admonished for over-stating or deliberately falsifying its justification to control every aspect of life in the nation, often in league with the Army Corps of Engineers.

If the Republican controlled Congress does not launch legislative action to control the EPA the consequences for Americans will continue to mount, putting them at risk of losing electricity, being deprived of implicit property rights, and driving up the cost of transportation by demanding auto manufacturers increase miles-per-gallon requirements at a time when there is now a worldwide glut of oil and the price of gasoline is dropping.

The United States has plenty of enemies in the world that want it to fail. It is insane that we harbor one as a federal agency.

Categories: On the Blog

Why regulating Uber and Lyft is such a big deal

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 11:04 AM

From the Rivard Report:

Members of Council have heard a lot about a “level playing field” with legacy cab regulations. But rather than regulate up to the monopoly cab level, why not deregulate cabs so that cab drivers can keep more of the money they earn, drive nicer cars, and provide more options for consumers rather than enriching the owners of the few authorized taxi cab monopolies. San Antonio’s cab and limo regulations are among the worst in the country. See an excellent national comparison of taxi, limo, and TNC regulations by the R Street Institute here. Hopefully city council won’t continue this unenlightened approach with the adoption of a bad ordinance today.

San Antonio regulations could run Uber out of town

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 11:02 AM

From Breitbart:

The R Street Institute, a free market think tank, recently published a study on how America’s fifty largest cities are approaching the challenge of regulating TNCs. As Breitbart Texas reportedSan Antonio got the lowest score out of any city in Texas, a D-, and these new regulations are poised to drive that score even lower. “Make no mistake. This is not an ordinance to allow ride-sharing. It’s an ordinance to prevent ride-sharing,” Josiah Neeley, R Street’s Texas Director, told Breitbart Texas. “The regulation throws up so many anti-ride-sharing roadblocks, from millions in insurance to written exams, that it will effectively prohibit ride-sharing companies from operating in San Antonio.”

San Antonio passes anti-Uber regulations

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 10:56 AM

From the Daily Caller:

Josiah Neeley, senior fellow and Texas director for the R Street Institute, said that these regulations are supported by established taxi companies to prevent competition. He said even with small changes to the regulations, they will still likely be too much for Uber.

“Frankly, I’m not sure that they would be able to function in the city if they wanted to try,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Neeley said that this debate will come up again because the people want these services.

“It is one of those things where the public wants ride sharing, they want the alternatives,” he said. “I don’t think that the issue is going to go away.”

Government Pummels Farmers Into Oblivion – Then Subsidizes the Wreckage

Somewhat Reasonable - December 11, 2014, 10:07 AM

The late, inordinately great Ronald Reagan provided expert analysis of the ridiculous Push-Pull damage wrought by government.

The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Government Pushes you into arrest – and then Pulls you in with money.  From enemy of the state – to serf thereof.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an all-encompassing part of the Push portion of the program.  The EPA is an activity-seeking missile – that aims to end all activity.  It was created to be a weapon against any and all private sector endeavor.

As you can probably guess, government assaulting the private sector isn’t a great idea.

EPA Costs (2012) US Economy $353 Billion Per Year

Complying with EPA regulations costs the U.S. economy $353 billion per year – more than 30 times its budget – according to the best available estimate. By way of comparison, that is more than the entire 2011 national GDPs of Denmark ($332 billion) and Thailand ($345 billion).

The EPA is far too busy pummeling us for self-reflection – the last time it analyzed the exorbitant costs it inflicts was 1990.  Transparency.

American farmers are absolutely amongst the EPAs victims.

A Wake-Up Call For U.S. Farmers: The EPA Is Trying To Put You Out of Business

Strong signals from regulators suggest they are about to severely restrict or completely eliminate some of the most important tools in the farmers toolkit….

EPAs Biological and Economic Analysis Division recently issued a report proclaiming that seed-coating applications of neonicotinoid pesticides–the most popular and widely used insecticide in the world today–“provide negligible overall benefits” in growing soy crops….

Government uber-regulates farmers – and the price of food skyward.  Government then sets a price for food – and subsidizes farmers when the crops government made way too expensive to produce don’t meet the government-set price.

The EPA is here soy-specific – but the assault on farmers is all-encompassing and worldwide.  They are proactively targeting “the most popular and widely used insecticide in the world today”  – that’s fairly far-ranging.  I would imagine that if it’s the most popular and widely used – it’s probably a little more effective than the EPA is letting on.

The EPA issued this “report”…

…without talking to a single farmer–and after conducting a rushed review of a small, cherry-picked sampling of efficacy studies, a few articles, and 21 responses to a questionnaire.…

Why would the EPA talk to farmers about farming?  With whom was it speaking?

(I)t makes EPA an active accomplice in a years-long campaign by radical environmentalists to ban neonicotinoids.…

Because environmentalists – and the EPA – have the farmers’ best interests at heart.

Ranchers, Farmers Fear Eco-Terrorists After EPA Releases Private Info

The Environmental Protection Agency has told farmers and ranchers it is sorry for handing private information about them over to environmental groups….

(T)he federal agency released information on up to 100,000 agriculture industry workers, including their home address and phone numbers, GPS coordinates and even personal medical histories.  The agency later acknowledged much of the information should never have been provided, and even asked the recipients to give it back.

The EPA specifically – and government generally – exponentially increase the cost of our food.  And they constantly continue to look for new ways to crank the ratchet upward.

You’ve heard of the war on coal? Get ready for the war on farming….

The issue is the EPA’s proposed changes to the Waters of the United States regulation….

“The EPA and Corps of Engineers do not need to be coming on to our farmers’ private property unless there is a specific grievance that would harm other citizens,” (Kentucky Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson) Spann said.

“The agencies could essentially expand oversight to isolated ponds, puddles, or ditches, areas that may hold water only for a short time following rain events.”

Simultaneous with this incessant governmental assault on farmers – is the government subsidization of farmers.  Behold the Farm Bill.  Government regulates farmers beyond any hope of crop profit – then give them money predicated upon their not turning a crop profit.

2014 Farm Bill – Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Program

Under the PLC program, payments are issued when prices for covered commodities fall below the reference prices. This is similar to the old Counter Cyclical payments that were in effect during the last Farm Bill….These prices are set for the life of the Farm Bill.

Government uber-regulates farmers – and the price of food skyward.  Government then sets a price for food – and subsidizes farmers when the crops government made way too expensive to produce don’t meet the government-set price.

This is absolutely insane.  It certainly isn’t anywhere close to a free market.

[This first appeared at Human Events]
Categories: On the Blog

Taxi trouble in Texas

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 10:00 AM

Texas has a well-deserved reputation for being a freedom-loving state. We like our regulations same as we like our steaks: rare.

That, at any rate, is the stereotype, and there is a lot of truth to it. But while the Lone Star state adheres to a hands-off approach to governing in many areas, it ain’t always so.

Consider ridesharing. Using smartphone apps to connect drivers with passengers, companies like Uber and Lyft have grown rapidly over the last few years in many big cities by offering a cheaper, higher quality alternative to traditional taxis. Many drivers work part-time, setting their own hours and making good money doing so.

Yet on Thursday, the San Antonio City Council is set to vote on an ordinance that would impose so many restrictions on ridesharing companies as to effectively ban the practice. Under the new regulations, before Uber or Lyft drivers are allowed to pick up fares, they must submit to a background check, fingerprinting, a driving test, a defensive driving course, a physical exam, an eyesight test, a drug test, written and verbal tests of English proficiency, and random vehicle inspections. Given that the individuals in question already have drivers’ licenses, many of these regulatory hoops are redundant or even pointless.

As if that wasn’t enough, the San Antonio ordinance piles on insurance requirements that far exceed any reasonable justification. Ridesharing drivers are required to have $1 million in comprehensive coverage from the moment they accept a fare. By contrast, a San Antonio taxi need only have the state minimum of $60,000 coverage per incident.

The San Antonio ordinance might not pass. Then again, it might. Last month, a Houston ordinance went into effect requiring a 40-step process for driver registration. Though much less onerous than the proposed San Antonio ordinance, the law was sufficiently burdensome that Lyft announced it was suspending operations in the city. Uber has likewise indicated that it will have to pull out of San Antonio if this ordinance is adopted.

San Antonio, and especially Houston, are relatively conservative for big cities. Republican Greg Abbott won both cities during his recent triumph over Democrat Wendy Davis for governor.

Yet even before these recent ordinances, these cities ranked near the bottom of the class on ridesharing regulation. Last month, the R Street Institute released a scorecard ranking America’s 50 largest cities in terms of how they regulate taxis, limos and other vehicle-for-hire companies. San Antonio received a grade of D- and ranked 47th out of 50, behind every other Texas city. Houston was only slightly better, with a grade of C- and a rank of 40. By contrast, the American city with the most “hands off” approach to ridesharing was Washington, D.C. And Austin, which is known for being the more liberal of Texas’ major cities, also passed a comprehensive ordinance legalizing ridesharing.

Now, Portland, which is as liberal as they come, is currently seeking a court injunction barring Uber from operating in the city. The issue isn’t that liberal cities are better on ridesharing; it’s why the most conservative, free market cities aren’t uniformly good on the issue.

Why are Texas cities lagging when it comes to ridesharing? Demographics and entrenched interests are two important factors.

In denser cities with more reliance on public transport, the benefits that come from ridesharing are all the more vital. Some cities have also been dealing with the issue longer than others, which helps public officials and the public at large gain a better understanding of the value alternative vehicle-for-hire companies can provide.

How a city regulates traditional taxi and limo services is also important. When a city puts caps on its taxi fleet this can create a powerful lobby against more competition, whether from traditional or alternative sources. By contrast, where entry into the taxi market is already relatively easy, there may be less resistance to new transportation models.

Whatever the reason, though, this trend cannot continue. Texas continues to urbanize, and its success depends on being able to continue to attract people to live and work in vibrant communities. Cities like San Antonio can’t afford to be seen as backward when it comes to technology and transportation.

‘Commemorative’ bills plunge in 113th Congress

Out of the Storm News - December 11, 2014, 6:40 AM

For all the talk of congressional dysfunction, there is a bit of good news: Congress has spent less of its valuable time passing “commemorative” legislation. For this development, we can thank Republicans and leaders in the U.S. House.

Last week, the New York Times’ Derek Willis reported that this Congress has enacted far fewer bills to name post offices than its recent predecessors. The 110th Congress (2007-2009) set the record, passing a whopping 109 of these laws. With hardly any time left on the clock, the 113th Congress has renamed only 23 post offices. (At the moment, 15 bills have been signed into law and another eight post office naming bills await the President’s signature.)

Commemorative legislation, a Congressional Research Service report explains, comes in many forms:

  • Naming post offices, other federal buildings and other federal structures
  • Creating postage stamps
  • Issuing commemorative coins
  • Bestowing congressional gold medals
  • Establishing monuments and memorials
  • Creating commemorative commissions and observances
  • Establishing federal holidays
  • Requesting presidential proclamations

Additionally, Congress issues charters. These honorific documents of incorporation typically do nothing more than slap an “endorsed by Congress” sticker on favorite nonprofit organizations.

The 113th Congress, to its credit, has passed only a small number of commemorative bills (seen in Table 1 below). The 46 commemorative bills enacted amount to 21 percent of the 218 total bills enacted in the last two years. To put this number in perspective, in recent Congresses, post office naming legislation alone constituted 20 percent of the total bills enacted. In the 113th Congress, postal naming bills amount to only 10.5 percent of the bills sent to the president (thus far).

Those who love these sorts of bills talk up their beneficence: commemorative legislation is nice because it honors someone, something or some place. It’s legislation that a party-torn Congress can work together to pass, and which might serve as the basis for collaboration on substantive policy-making.

Or maybe commemorative legislation usually is little more than an attempt to win votes back home. Regardless, commemorative legislation comes with significant costs: time and man-hours.

How much? Nobody knows, because the calculation of cost per bill enacted is so complex. But to get a sense of the magnitude, consider a typical post office naming bill. Should a member decide he or she wants to name a post office, one of his or her staffers must meet with legislative attorneys to draft the bill; do the research to choose a post office that is appropriate (preferably not one soon to be closed); get other representatives and senators from one’s home state to cosponsor the legislation; and work with the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction to get buy-in for the bill.

Then the legislation needs to be formally introduced into both chambers, entered into Congress.gov and CRS will need to write a bill digest. CRS librarians also may be asked by Congress to research the background of the individual for whom the post office is being named, so as to ensure he or she is not a lobbyist or disreputable figure. Then the legislation must be scheduled for action by both chambers (including the committees), voted upon, finalized and delivered to the president’s desk, after which it gets printed by the Government Printing Office and added to the U.S. Statutes-at-Large.

Thereafter comes the work of issuing self-congratulatory press releases by the bill’s sponsors, and actual implementation (whatever there is). And let’s not forget that added to all of this is that CRS has to devote the valuable time of Ph.D.s to writing reports about these types of bills and coaching Congress through the process.

In recognition that time was short and commemorations were not a high-utility use of it, Republicans, particularly in the House, cracked down on them. The leadership of the House made it clear that a 20-year old rule (Rule 28) curbing commemorative legislation would actually be enforced. Additionally, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to which post office naming bills are referred, adopted a rule stating:

The consideration of bills designating facilities of the United States Postal Service shall be conducted so as to minimize the time spent on such matters by the committee and the House of Representatives.

The committee, which spent an enormous amount of time in recent years working on postal legislation, saw little sense in spending its precious time on naming bills. The majority also likely sought to exert a little pressure on members to get behind their postal reform bill by going slow on moving post office naming bills. (No postal reform was enacted, alas.)

Critics, especially on the left, tar this Congress for not passing as many bills as other Congresses. Congressional productivity, plainly, should not be measured by legislative enactments alone. The institution has duties beyond that, like oversight. And when it comes to costly and mostly pointless commemorative legislation, passing fewer bills is a good thing.

Let’s hope the 114th Congress continues the trend. With the debt skyrocketing and the economy limping along, our nation’s highest legislature has better uses for its time.

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

Exposed: The Merchants of Smear, Climate Edition

Somewhat Reasonable - December 11, 2014, 2:01 AM

YOU can surrender more of your liberty for my enrichment in service to a phony man-caused climate crisis.

For about two decades we’ve been told the science behind human-caused global warming is settled, and to ignore skeptic scientists because they’ve been paid by industry to manufacture doubt about the issue. The truth, however, has every appearance of being exactly the opposite: A clumsy effort to manufacture doubt about the credibility of skeptical climate scientists arose in 1991 with roots in Al Gore’s Senate office.

The Merchants of Smear, such as Al Gore, gained effectiveness and media traction after Ozone Action took over the effort and drew attention to the “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” memo phrase (which they never showed in its full context). The effort achieved its highest success after being heavily promoted by the “Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter” Ross Gelbspan, who never won a Pulitzer, never displayed any investigative prowess in this matter, and never proved that any skeptic climate scientist had ever knowingly lied as a result of being paid illicit money.

These efforts to portray skeptic scientists as corrupt are swamped with additional credibility problems, far more than can be described in this Policy Brief. Plain presentations of science studies contradicting reports from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have no chance of vindicating skeptic scientists in the face of such viral anti-skeptic rhetoric, as long as the mainstream media and majority of Internet sites remain gatekeepers preventing the release of accurate science information.

This gatekeeping indicates a much larger problem concerning the issue: The evidence presented in this Policy Brief is something any unqualified, disinterested bystander could find and ask about. Indeed, believers in the theory of human-caused global warming could have explored the problems presented in my brief with each other in order to find out whether their accusation about industry corruption of skeptics survives serious scrutiny.

Instead, this accusation has been unquestioningly accepted since 1991 by the mainstream news media and by officials who want to implement greenhouse gas mitigation regulations. During this time, skeptic scientists and other well-informed experts have revealed devastating problems with IPCC climate assessments. It has been shown time and again that the corruption accusation was riddled with obvious holes from the start. No matter.

The main pillar of support for the notion that humans are causing a dangerous warming of the climate has been the notion of “settled science.” That notion has long been questioned by skeptic scientists. The secondary pillar of support for the alarmist global warming theory has been the notion that industry-corrupted skeptics are unworthy of public consideration. This accusation could easily have been investigated and refuted long ago. That never happened, because of the third pillar: Journalists should not give equal time to skeptic scientists.

We are overdue for the biggest ideology collapse in history, begging for an investigation into why the mainstream media and influential politicians apparently never checked the veracity of claims about “settled science” and “corrupt skeptics.”

Read and share my Heartland Institute Policy Brief as widely as you can. And learm more about the myth that man-caused climate skeptics are funded by “Big Oil” at Gelbspanfiles.com.

Categories: On the Blog

Something Is Very Rotten In Denmark

Environment Suite - In The News - December 11, 2014, 12:39 AM
I’ve been suspicious about sea surface temperatures since the bizarro Unisys incident a few weeks ago, when they suddenly replaced cold North Atlantic…

Something Is Very Rotten In Denmark

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - December 11, 2014, 12:39 AM
I’ve been suspicious about sea surface temperatures since the bizarro Unisys incident a few weeks ago, when they suddenly replaced cold North Atlantic…

All hail the CRomnibus

Out of the Storm News - December 10, 2014, 6:00 PM

After much hemming, hawing and belt-tightening, Congress finally unveiled their “pared-down” yearly budget, this year lovingly titled the “CRomnibus” because it is the product of the unholy union between a continuing resolution (CR) and an omnibus spending bill. The reason for the cute nickname is simple: the omnibus spending bill will keep the government funded through next September, when we have this same fight all over again. The continuing resolution will keep the Department of Homeland Security funded only until March, in the hopes that the Republicans can somehow pass an immigration bill that will keep Obama from declaring that everyone — including, but not limited to, various animals and inanimate objects — can obtain legal work permits.

While the two parties did spend much of last week cutting out unnecessary spending and negotiating the details of the bill in order to avoid a shutdown, the very best, lowest number they could come up with to keep the government rolling on is $1.1 trillion, because everything is terrible and we’ve lost all sense of reality.

The legislation is expected to pass in the coming days and will allow the incoming Republican-controlled Congress to clear the decks of lingering spending issues while setting the stage for a prolonged fight with President Obama over immigration policy.

At 1,603 pages, the bill includes at least $1.2 billion for agencies to deal with the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. There’s also money to fight the rise of the Islamic State and $5.4 billion to fight the threat of Ebola. But there are also significant changes to campaign finance laws and potential cuts to retiree pension plans. Democrats were cheering bigger budgets for enforcement at agencies created after the 2008 economic collapse.

The magic of the CRomnibus is, that while it generally sucks all around, the only person who can shut the government down at this point is Barack Obama. And while he’s had quite the “let it burn” philosophy since suffering a crushing defeat in the midterm elections, vetoing the bill right before the Christmas holiday would ensure nothing but constant shutdown coverage, with only minimal interest from Congress in ending the standoff. The Obama Administration is masterful at engineering distractions for the media, but two weeks is a lot of airtime to fill. The president can only have so many sore throats and colonoscopies.

The other magical result of the CRomnibus is basically everyone hates it, which in D.C., usually means you’ve hit upon a fairly decent solution. If anyone were happy about it, it would be time to worry.

Syndicate content