Out of the Storm News
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2013) – Legislation set to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives would crack down on frivolous patent lawsuits that are “imposing a significant tax on investment and entrepreneurship,” a coalition of free-market groups argues in a letter to Congress.
Offered in support of the Innovation Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the letter commends the bill for 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.
“Unfortunately, the current litigation environment surrounding our patent system frequently stifles innovation the Constitution sought to protect, and at a substantial economic cost,” the groups write. “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.”
The letter’s signatories include the R Street Institute, Generation Opportunity, Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, the American Consumer Institute, Digital Liberty, the Discovery Institute, the Center for Individual Freedom and Frontiers of Freedom.
The full text of the letter can be found here:
NEW YORK (Dec. 4, 2013) – The New York City Council should consider the potential adverse effects on public health should it move forward with a proposal to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, according to R Street Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Joel Nitzkin.
Under an ordinance proposed by Council Members James F. Gennaro, Christine C. Quinn, Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, e-cigarette use would be banned in New York’s public parks and other places where cigarette smoking already is prohibited. The ordinance is set to be the subject of a 10 a.m. Dec. 4 hearing of the council’s Health Committee.
A public health physician, board certified in preventive medicine and the former co-chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force of the American Association of Public Health Physicians, Nitzkin recently authored an R Street policy study on the promise e-cigarettes hold for tobacco harm reduction. He noted the emergence of e-cigarettes is changing the face of tobacco control, as they provide smokers a way to satisfy their cravings for nicotine without the high risk of potentially fatal cancer, heart or lung disease.
“Exhaled e-cigarette vapor presents no threat to non-users that would justify a ban,” Nitzkin said. “Misrepresenting e-cigarettes to be as harmful as cigarettes is both factually incorrect and damaging to public health.”
While environmental tobacco smoke, commonly referred to as “second hand smoke,” has been demonstrated to increase the risk of lung and other cancers, heart and lung disease, low birth weight and birth defects, no such findings have been made of exhaled e-cigarette vapor, Nitzkin said. He added that tobacco smoke is a “witches brew of carbon monoxide, other gasses and tarry particulate residue loaded with carcinogens and other toxins” and that 85 percent of environmental tobacco smoke is the smoke that curls off the end of a cigarette when no one is puffing on it.
“Exhaled e-cigarette vapor has no carbon monoxide, harmful gasses or particulate matter,” Nitzkin said. “Nothing curls off the end of an e-cigarette when no one is puffing on it. The vapor exhaled by users includes only the tiniest traces of chemical contaminants.”
Public health policy that serves to discourage e-cigarette usage would have the effect of encouraging smokers to continue with their fatal habits, rather than switch to a less harmful product that is 98 percent safer, Nitzkin concluded.
December 3, 2013
The Honorable John Boehner
United States House of Representatives
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
United States House of Representatives
Dear Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi:
The broad-ranging group of undersigned industries and main street American businesses, responsible for tens of millions of U.S. jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity, support passage of the Innovation Act of 2013 (H.R. 3309). We believe this legislation aims to address the widespread abuses of the legal system by certain patent assertion entities, commonly referred to as patent trolls.
During this time of economic need, we believe enactment of H.R. 3309 is integral to curbing frivolous and costly patent litigation that currently hinders our ability to innovate, create jobs and promote positive economic growth. Such frivolous lawsuits by patent trolls are an expensive distraction for many diverse, mainstream American industries, and the staggering growth of patent troll activity in recent years has caused our businesses to receive thousands of threatening demand letters and forced more than 7,000 lawsuits (a 400% increase since 2006), costing the U.S. economy more than $80 billion in 2011 alone.
Simply, patent trolls do not innovate, create jobs or promote economic growth. Our businesses do.
To make clear, patent trolls no longer only threaten large technology companies. In 2012, patent trolls filed more lawsuits against small and medium-sized non-tech businesses than against tech companies. The many targets of this abuse, ranging from food providers, retail stores and media companies to financial institutions, hotels, gaming entertainment companies and other industries that drive the U.S. economy, have been left with no choice but to defend themselves through inefficient and burdensome processes, rarely avoiding costly litigation. We believe American businesses must be able to defend against these consequential attacks more efficiently and less expensively.
While we recognize there may be no single solution that addresses all complexities surrounding our nation’s patent process, but one thing is clear: The Innovation Act of 2013 has significant bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and throughout many sectors, small and large, of the American business community. This broad support and willingness to work together is a true testament to its importance and we urge House passage of H.R. 3309.
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
American Association of Advertising Agencies
American Gaming Association
American Hotel & Lodging Association
Coalition for Patent Fairness
Competitive Carriers Association
Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America
International Franchise Association
MPA – The Association of Magazine Media
National Association of Broadcasters
National Restaurant Association
Newspaper Association of America
Online Publishers Association
Printing Industries of America
The R Street Institute
U.S. Travel Association
CC: The Honorable Eric Cantor
The Honorable Steny Hoyer
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
The Honorable Jim Clyburn
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
The Honorable John Conyers
The Honorable John Kline
The Honorable George Miller
The Honorable Fred Upton
The Honorable Henry Waxman
The Honorable Jeb Hensarling
The Honorable Maxine Waters
The Honorable Sam Graves
The Honorable Nydia Velazquez
The Honorable Bill Shuster
The Honorable Nick Rahall
The Honorable Dave Camp
The Honorable Sandy Levin
In mid-2013, three years after the Dodd-Frank Act’s passage, American International Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. became the first insurance companies to be designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council as non-bank financial companies that were nonetheless “systemically important financial institutions.” MetLife Inc., which had been regulated as a bank holding company prior to divesting all of its banking operations, is widely expected to become the third.
FSOC is the “college of regulators” created by Dodd-Frank and granted broad powers under the law to police systemic risk in the financial system, including heightened government scrutiny of designated firms. In conjunction with a similar designation process currently underway internationally by the G-20 countries, in consultation with the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the move by FSOC made clear that the business of insurance – in the United States, historically regulated at the state level –would be treated as a potential source of risk to the broader financial system.
This sea change has caused considerable consternation among industry leaders, who understandably fear both draconian regulatory oversight and the imposition of bank-centric rules that do not fit the needs and challenges of insurance markets. The property/casualty industry has been particularly adamant that their sector is not a source of systemic risk and that P&C insurers should not come under the rubric of any systemic risk regulatory regime.
While it is true that the business of P&C insurance is not generally systemically risky, there have been notable exceptions where the excessive concentration of insured or insurable P&C risks has threatened the broader economy. At the same time, regulators continue to pay insufficient attention to some genuine sources of systemic risk: namely, the accumulation of excessive insurable property/casualty risks within some state and federal enterprises.
This paper takes a look at some of those hidden, heretofore unquantified risks, with particular attention to the ways U.S. taxpayers are exposed to risks that should properly be borne by the global insurance industry.
WASHINGTON (Dec. 3, 2013) – Natural disasters pose significant threats to taxpayers and the economy at-large, thanks to trillions of dollars of insurable risk concentrated on the balance sheets of state and federal government entities, a new paper from the R Street Institute argues.
Authored by R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann, the paper first examines the growth of residual insurance markets at the state level, where total exposure to loss has surged from $54.7 billion in 1990 to $818.1 billion in 2012—an increase of 1,396 percent.
“Funding sources for these exposures within the plans have not grown at this pace,” Lehmann writes. “There is currently no regulatory oversight of the broader systemic risk these plans pose to insurance markets, financial markets, homeowners or consumers more broadly.”
The paper focuses specific attention on Florida, where a state-sponsored insurer, a state-sponsored reinsurer and the state’s insurance guaranty association all would, in the event of a sufficiently bad hurricane season, rely heavily for funding on market-share based assessments on what would at that point be a weakened private insurance market.
“While these assessments can be made over time, and states have latitude to exempt particularly troubled insurers from undue assessments, this interconnected nexus of assessments raises the risk of ‘cascading insolvencies,’ as a smaller and smaller assessable base of private insurers to bear the burden of larger and larger shortfalls,” Lehmann wrote.
The paper also examines the roughly $130 billion of uninsured earthquake risk absorbed by the Government-Sponsored Enterprises – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While loans bought or secured by the GSEs are required to maintain property insurance coverage for most standard perils— including flood, fire, windstorm and hail — due to a unilateral loophole, the GSEs do not require insurance for earthquake risks.
“For the GSEs, the result is that, in the event of a major earthquake, there would be no insurance to recover on most of the properties that serve as security for the mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie,” Lehmann wrote. “The USGS estimates a 7.8 southern California quake on the San Andreas Fault could produce $200 billion in damage, and much of that would be uninsured.”
Read the full paper here:
In 1890, two of America’s leading legal minds, Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, published an article called “The Right to Privacy” in the Harvard Law Review. Scandalized by the rise of a gossip-mongering press that intruded on the lives of prominent citizens, they called upon the courts to recognize a “right to privacy.” Their fear was that new technological and commercial innovations — in this case photography and the mass-circulation gossip rag — would cause the rich and famous untold mental pain and distress. As Stewart Baker observes in his provocative book Skating on Stilts, the substance of Brandeis and Warren’s argument now seems rather quaint, as a gossipy news media has become a central part of our public life. In Baker’s telling, “the right to privacy was born as a reactionary defense of the status quo.” And even now, he argues, privacy campaigners often overreact against new technologies they fear but do not understand.
Baker’s argument has been panned in civil libertarian circles. When he suggests that societies eventually adapt to new technologies — that “the raw spot grows callous” as we grow accustomed to invasions of privacy — privacy campaigners reply that it is Baker who has grown callous to the harms in question. Baker’s central goal is to convince Americans to accept that government must use new technological tools, like the data mining programs used by the National Security Agency, to combat mass-casualty terrorism. His critics maintain that he is far too glib about the potential that government might abuse these new tools, and indeed too dismissive of the notion that it has already done so.
I’m torn on the question of whether the national security state has overstepped its bounds, and there are people I respect on both sides of the debate. Civil libertarians like Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union and Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute see the new Leahy-Sensenbrenner USA FREEDOM Act– which would end the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records under the PATRIOT Act, and limit other surveillance — as an important step towards reining in a bureaucracy run amok. Baker fears that it will cripple the ability of U.S. intelligence officials to prevent future terror attacks. I couldn’t tell you which side is closer to the mark.
What is increasingly clear to me, however, is that privacy concerns are limiting our ability to flourish as a society for reasons having nothing to do with NSA surveillance.
The Food and Drug Administration recently ordered one of America’s most popular consumer genonics firms, 23andMe, to cease selling and marketing its direct-to-consumer DNA test on the grounds that it is a medical device subject to FDA approval. The FDA’s case seems pretty flimsy. The saliva collection kit that 23andMe offers through its Personal Genome Service is utterly harmless, and no one is claiming otherwise. Rather, the FDA is concerned that by giving its consumers data on disease risks, complete with plenty of disclaimers, it may prompt them to seek unnecessary MRIs and mastectomies, as Christina Farr of VentureBeat reports. The obvious rejoinder to these concerns is that consumers don’t have the option, for better or for worse, of operating on themselves. They generally need a medical practitioner to sign off, and medical practitioners hardly suffer from a lack of licensing and regulation. The FDA seems to be engaging in a senseless power grab.
The reason this matters is that 23andMe represents just the first step of the coming consumer genomics revolution. Recently, Razib Khan and David Mittelman outlined the future of consumer genomics in a short article in Genome Biology. First, Khan and Mittelman expect that startups like 23andMe, which offer consumers basic information about their ancestry and genealogy, to grow more popular as the costs of their DNA tests continue to plummet. Then these vast databases will be used to yield real scientific insights, as biomarkers record how we respond to the food we eat and the activities we undertake, and this data “is intersected with millions with varying levels of genetic relatedness and lifestyle.” The result will be “a perpetual stream of novel insightful predictions,” and Khan and Mittelman see this future as all but inevitable. Yet for this future to become a reality, consumers will have to grow more comfortable with sharing their personal medical data. One of the reasons Americans are so sensitive about sharing this data is that many of them fear becoming uninsurable, a fear that universal coverage will (hopefully) do much to allay. If privacy concerns win the day, the marriage of big data and personal genomics might never come to pass — and our best hope for achieving medical breakthroughs in the decades to come will be dashed.
It’s not just a desire for medical privacy that’s getting in the way of progress. U.S. higher education institutions have fought tooth and nail against efforts to build a unified database of “student unit records” — collected throughout a student’s educational life, and anonymized – that can allow taxpayers, parents and students to see how different kinds of students have fared at different colleges and universities. As Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, has argued, higher education institutions understand that if this data is released, the federal government can hold them accountable for their performance. For example, a student unit record system will reveal which schools do the best and worst job of educating low-income students who receive Pell Grants. This is a prospect that keeps higher education administrators up at night, and with good reason, as it threatens the flow of federal dollars to subpar educational programs.
So how do the higher education institutions get away with keeping Americans in the dark about how well they are educating U.S. students? It’s simple. Critics of a federal student unit record system warn that it represents a threat to student privacy — determined sleuths might be able to figure out the grades and household income levels of individual students, despite efforts to anonymize the data. And though there are many techniques schools and governments can use to protect privacy, it really is true that data anonymization is a hard problem to solve. The question is whether we should put privacy ahead of the goal of building a more efficient and equitable higher education system.
Privacy matters. But so do the things we give up when we let the fear of invasions of privacy stymie the development of promising new technologies.
Worth considering in this discussion: Eli Lehrer, founder of the conservative R Street Institute, and formerly of the climate denialist Heartland Institute, broke with his colleagues a few years ago, for, among other reasons, his misgivings about the denial of science among right wing “think” tank colleagues. Lehrer’s special expertise is on the insurance industry.
Free-market groups on Monday urged banking regulators to create a path for surplus lines insurers to provide flood coverage on mortgaged property and to set up protections against flood policies that offer little or no coverage.
The R Street Institute, National Taxpayers Union and American Consumer Institute put forward the suggestions in a letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Reserve Board, National Credit Union Administration and Farm Credit Administration.
What would you think if someone knocked on your door one day and threatened to sue you for the way you made your to-do lists? That’s what patent trolls do, and they’re costing us $29 billion a year. The good news is that House Republicans, led by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., have taken the first step to stop them.
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;
As you can imagine, however, there is a very large “but” inserted in here.
These are the patent trolls. They own patents, but don’t really make anything. They sue anyone–including small and medium-sized businesses who don’t have the resources to fight back–who might even potentially infringe on their “inventions.” In 92% of cases brought to court, they lose, but most companies 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, US 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 Patent #7103380: “Wireless Handset Communication System: A small light weight 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.)
Many of these are “covered business method” (CBM) patents, and under legislation passed a few years ago, they could undergo a review process to determine if they were legitimate–though only if they fell within the financial sector. Patent reform was severely limited.
Fortunately, Chairman Goodlatte introduced a bill earlier this year to stem the patent troll tide. His Innovation Act would first shift legal fees to the losers of court battles, which would usually be the trolls. It would also expand the CBM review to cover non-financial patents, such as software patents (including those covering “chart rendered on a display.”)
Unfortunately, the bill was diluted somewhat. The fee-shifting provision was watered down, and the committee was pressured by lobbyists to drop the expansion of the review program. Instead of a detailed examination of a patent and whether or not it is legitimate, there will be a far more limited study of the patent, but without much teeth. This means that patent trolls will still be able to subject thousands of American businesses to costly legal battles over how they receive phone calls (or if they have an online shopping cart.)
Businesses that employ average Americans will still be open to malicious attacks costing them thousands or even millions of dollars. That’s money that could be spent on filling another job and employing another person, but must go empty instead.
The bill has just passed the Judiciary Committee; it will now go before the full House for a vote, and likely it will be modified further. If it is not watered down, the Innovation Act will at least be a first step. If it can be strengthened, it can put a stop to this harassment and return businesses and innovators to their main role: making goods and services that make us all better off.
We don’t like people harassing us. So why do we let it happen in the world of patents?This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Spend any time at a gathering of conservative thinkers, and soon enough, the conversation will turn, like clockwork, to the idea that conservatism needs to remain a “three legged stool” if it is to stand. Those three “legs” are usually conceived as a strong national defense, a rear-guard action against social permissiveness and a preference for free-market economics. Believers in this system tell their listeners – frantically – that an attack on any of these three legs is an attack on the whole, and that therefore even conservatives disposed to agree with only one or two of the “legs” are obliged to hold up the third.
Apparently, Pope Francis hasn’t read the memo for some time. Indeed, the pope himself seems to have made a habit of challenging two of the three legs, or at least is portrayed as having done so by the press. And while neither the pope’s seemingly permissive quotes on abortion and gay marriage, nor his extended and rather tendentious denunciation of capitalism, are at all out of step with previous popes, all the same, these two bits of pontification (no pun intended) seem to have served as a means by which to illuminate all the fault lines within the supposedly inviolate three-legged stool.
After all, one can surely imagine that many libertarians, upon hearing the pope’s comments on abortion and gay marriage, came close to celebrating in the streets. “Finally,” they would say, “the pope has come round to the 21st century where these needlessly retrograde areas of emphasis are concerned.” By contrast, naturally, social conservatives bemoaned the remarks and wondered if the church was dying.
Flash forward to the pope’s comments on the free market, and the roles are completely reversed. Now it is libertarians denouncing the pope as an ideological enemy, and social conservatives remarking mildly on how “we really could learn a lot from this.”
If this sounds like the usual ideological wrangling to you, then you’ve probably missed at least part of conservative history. After all, libertarians and traditionalists have been at each others’ throats since the 1950s and 1960s, but not over the same things. William F. Buckley, for instance, who tried to straddle the line between the two, issued a denunciation of the similarly anti-market church encyclical “Mater et Magistra,” titled “Mater Si, Magistra No.” Buckley later walked back the more strident bits with this eerily prescient phrase:
The editorial in question spoke not one word of criticism of the intrinsic merit of Mater et Magistra. Our disappointment was confined to the matter of emphasis, and timing, and by implication, to the document’s exploitability by the enemies of Christendom, a premonition rapidly confirmed by the Encyclical’s obscene cooption by such declared enemies of the spiritual order as the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian, which hailed the conversion of the pope to socialism!
However you slice it, this is a long way from the sort of wrangling that Pope Francis’ remarks have provoked.
Now, to be clear, I stand as usual firmly on the libertarian side of this, though I am more alarmed that parts of the conservative press seems to be willing to stand with him than I am at what the pope actually said, which seems to be in keeping with church doctrine going back to…well, “Mater et Magistra.” Moreover, not being Catholic myself, I admit to not understanding what all the fuss is about. Yes, Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church, and Catholics are a vibrant group within the United States, albeit one that is experiencing record levels of demographic decline with young people. But surely any church that still includes both Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan is simply too ideologically diverse to have its vote commanded by a single man, no matter how important his title. Are there not bigger things to worry about, like the equally alarming demographic decline that Republicans are facing?
That being said, if the three-legged stool is going to fracture (and it looks more ready to do so at this stage than at any other), and if libertarians do end up supplanting it, then the pope’s encyclical should be considered a warning sign about the degree to which dogmatism can cloud a libertarian message, and the degree to which libertarianism itself could become an electoral liability, if it fails to make a case for capitalism that responds to the lived experience of voters.
A little data is necessary. While I’m fond of pointing at copious polls showing young people moving away from social conservatism, the polls aren’t all good news for libertarians, either. According to a Pew Poll taken in November of last year, among voters aged 18-29, the term “socialism” is viewed positively by 49 percent of them, while only 43 percent react negatively. “Capitalism,” by contrast, is a slight net negative, with only 46 percent of young people viewing it positively and 47 percent viewing it negatively.
Now, for libertarians, there’s an obvious counter to this – one that I actually made myself at TheBlaze – which is that while “capitalism” gets bad grades among young people, the label “libertarian” gets very good grades, with 50 percent of young people approving of it and only 28 percent disapproving.
However, given that libertarianism is so intimately bound up with capitalism as a concept, and given also that the net positive intrinsic in that number exists only because a large percentage of young people apparently have no idea what libertarianism is, it’s not a stretch to think that if “libertarian” becomes a mainstream political label, those numbers will tighten. Moreover, given that “libertarian” tends to be used as a term of contrast with “social conservative,” if social conservatism ceases to be a bogeyman, and the choice comes down to libertarianism vs progressivism (i.e. between responsibility and endless mediocre free stuff), I believe libertarians could have a very rough time of it indeed, if they fail to make the case for capitalism in a way that resonates and wins back the next generation.
So while Pope Francis’ remarks clearly bear no actual relation to political reality within the United States, nor particularly to economic reality more generally, the fact remains that if the pope, one of capitalism’s great beneficiaries, can be turned against the system, it is not a stretch to imagine a generation that has only ever experienced capitalism as the iron hand of student debt, and the terminal stagnation of a hostile workplace, turning against it with equal or even greater force. If libertarians want to keep the pope’s beliefs confined to the pope, this is the challenge they face, three-legged stool or no.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.