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Weiner: What makes Tony run?

June 16, 2016, 8:27 AM

Long before the name “Anthony Weiner” became synonymous with the seven-term congressman who accidentally tweeted a picture of his junk, it already was a punchline. Watching Weiner, the discomfiting and Sundance-winning documentary from Motto Pictures, there’s one particular classic joke that comes to mind, usually attributed to the vaudeville duo Smith & Dale:

PATIENT: Doctor, it hurts when I do this.

DOCTOR: Then don’t do that.

Which is to say that Weiner, bright and talented though he may be, is undeniably the source of his own pain. Granted unprecedented and nearly unrestricted access to the embattled pol’s 2013 comeback attempt in the race to become mayor of New York City, filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman (a one-time Weiner staffer) document that pain in excruciating detail, over and over and over again.

A viewer goes into Titanic certain of one thing: In the end, the boat’s going to sink. One goes into Weinersimilarly certain of its ignominious conclusion. The iceberg — in this case, fresh revelations that Weiner continued sexting with strangers even after his public apologies, even after he resigned from Congress — arrives just one-third of the way through the doc’s running time. For the remaining hour, we follow the candidate’s slow descent into the icy waters of defeat, until the ultimate denouement: Anthony Weiner and his elegant wife, Huma Abedin, on their way to give a pitiful concession speech, being chased through a McDonald’s back alley by a porn star and her entourage of cameramen.

“What is wrong with you?” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell asks Weiner, in one of the more awkward cable news interviews in history, and the film at various points attempts to posit an answer to that question. This particular scene cuts between the public’s view of that interaction — with two heads in a box on a television screen, O’Donnell’s wearing a glib smirk as his subject has a full-blown meltdown — and Weiner’s own, sitting alone in an empty New York remote studio, raving impetuously at an off-screen monitor. Later that evening, when Weiner insists Abedin watch the segment with him, we see the horror on her face at the notion that she has married a man who could possibly think it went well.

In his public proclamations, Weiner insists that the reason he got back in the game, the reason he would subject himself and his family to further humiliations, is that he’s driven by his commitment to ideas (“64 of them,” he notes in his debut campaign commercial) to help the middle class. The behind-the-scenes belies that notion, as it becomes clear that what’s really driving him is personal redemption: “She was very eager to get her life back that I had taken from her,” Weiner says of his wife, “…to clean up the mess I had made, and running for mayor was the straightest line to do it.”

The Weiner on display in Weiner is obsessed with bullies, whether they be the media or political opponents or random voters on the street who hurl insults his way. “It’s easy to beat me up. I don’t respect it,” he says after one such encounter. He’s talking about his public scandal, but one gets the sense he could be talking about his whole life as a skinny, gawky kid with a funny name and a big mouth.

Of course, Weiner doesn’t just stand up to bullies: He actively seeks them out and, in the process, becomes one himself. Remarkably thin-skinned, he is nonetheless compelled to seek the adoration of people he already knows don’t like him. Like the ouroboros snake swallowing its own tail, this most narcissistic of egos ultimately consumes itself.

Witnessing that process from this close a focus can be a tough slag. It is, nonetheless, utterly gripping from start to finish. Which raises perhaps an even more difficult question: what, indeed, is wrong with us?

Here’s why the Boy Scouts of America received federal recognition 100 years ago

June 15, 2016, 12:41 PM

From Time:

But few know that a century ago, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed a unanimously-approved Congressional charter that gave federal recognition to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), stating at the time that“every nation depends for its future upon the proper training and development of its youth.” The charter — ratified a century ago on June 15, 1916 — allowed for the group to be recognized under Title 36, the part of U.S. law that recognizes “patriotic and national organizations,” rather than having to seek incorporation state-by-state, explains Kevin Kosar, an expert in Title 36 and senior fellow and governance project director with the research group R Street Institute.

The FBI isn’t Santa Claus: Fix your lists and check them twice

June 15, 2016, 7:00 AM

The recent tragedy in Orlando has set off yet another contentious debate over the issue of gun control. On a June 13 conference call Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., explained how the attack motivated Democrats to renew their push to pass S. 551, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, which would direct the attorney general to block individuals on the federal Terrorist Screening Center’s  “No Fly List” from being able to buy firearms.

At first blush, the logic of the proposal appears sound: if someone isn’t safe enough to board a plane, they certainly can’t be trusted with a weapon. But while this notion might pass the focus-group test, it’s yet another example of policymakers reaching for an error-filled, politically convenient solution to a delicate and far more complicated issue.

Some obviously raise Second Amendment concerns about the proposal. My primary concern is the inherent flaws in the No Fly List, which has made travel all but impossible for numerous innocent Americans. The TSC – a division of the FBI – offer little transparency as to who exactly is on the list, and no due process that would allow the listed to petition to be taken off.

According to a 2013 Intercept report, the No Fly List contained some 47,000 names. Little is known publicly about how the list is constructed, but under the notably dubious standard that has been made public, all a federal agent needs is “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is a threat or connected to terrorism. For sure, this could mean real “bad guys” with connections to terrorism. But it could also include anyone who has ever taken to social media to criticize the government, the war on terror and or the war on drugs. It could include anyone who has ever traveled abroad or uses an encrypted phone.

Famous public servants like Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and former Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., have at one time or another been included on the No Fly List. In fact, the ABC hit comedy Modern Family had a plotline where the precocious ten-year-old Manny Delgado is held up at the airport because he is somehow “accidentally” on the No Fly List. This isn’t just Hollywood fiction but actually happened to an 18-month-old child in 2012. In fact, back in 2008, then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff admitted: “We do have circumstances where we have name mismatches.”

Many individuals on the no-fly list don’t even know they are on it until they are in the TSA line at the airport. There is little or no opportunity for the “no flyer” to have a hearing or prove innocence. For anyone not a member of Congress or in a fictional sitcom the process of getting off the flawed list is “basically impossible.”

Instead of rushing to pass legislation that would bar Americans from exercising their constitutional rights, members of Congress should re-examine the federal No Fly List as well as other flawed lists assembled by the federal government that may unfairly impede Americans from other important aspects of the lives, like getting a job.

Last month, residents of Austin, Texas voted to uphold a new city-passed ordinance requiring TNCs (transportation network companies) like Uber and Lyft to require all of their drivers in the city to pass FBI fingerprint-based background checks. The thinking was that the FBI-run database would keep customers safe. But the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System is seriously flawed, with incomplete, missing and erroneous data. The requirement to use a faulty system prompted Uber and Lyft (who already do their own extensive background checks) to pull out of Texas’ capital city.

Uber and Lyft have good reason to be dissatisfied. A 2013 study by the National Employment Law Center (NELC) found the FBI system “routinely fail(s) to report important information on the outcome of arrests, information that is often beneficial to workers subject to these reports.” Roughly half the records do not include the case’s final settlement, such as whether the individual was arrested but never charged, or whether he or she eventually was acquitted of the charges. The records often aren’t even updated appropriately if an individual’s record was expunged. These inaccuracies have a negative impact on Americans, who may have trouble finding employment even though they are in no way a threat to coworkers, employers or customers.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder echoed NELC’s findings in a recent letter explaining how using the FBI database for employment and licensing background checks goes beyond the scope of database’s clearly defined purpose to aid law enforcement during investigations:

It facilitates investigators who are then expected to follow up on information found in the database to determine whether it is complete or not. It was not designed to be used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for a work opportunity. Relying on it for that purpose is both unwise and unfair.

No one questions the importance of the FBI keeping our nation safe. Unfortunately the inaccuracies in employment background checks and the No Fly List reveals operational deficiencies. In order to correct these problems, as well as to promote security and privacy, Congress should re-examine the ways these lists are used. The No Fly List should not trap law-abiding citizens from being able to travel. Furthermore the FBI fingerprint database should not continue to thwart individuals from finding stable employment.

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

Boost or Barrier? Upward mobility in the on-demand economy

June 14, 2016, 2:42 PM
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  • Here’s how Secretary King is living up to a 50-year-old promise

    June 14, 2016, 12:08 PM

    From Education Post:

    Kevin Kosar, a fellow at a conservative think tank, wrote a blog post for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute aimed at Education Secretary John King’s proposed approach to ensuring all children benefit from federal dollars governed by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Kosar took issue with Secretary King’s statementthat ESEA is a civil rights law.

    Kosar’s arguments against calling ESEA a civil rights law are flawed, but what is troubling about his piece is that it distracts from the real issue.

    Secretary King referenced the civil rights origins of ESEA as a means of justifying proposed rules that would require districts to prove they’re spending Title I funds given to them by the federal government on low-income students. Kosar attacks the civil rights argument in order to delegitimize King’s point that the federal government should direct more resources to the kids who need them the most.

    Kosar acknowledges that while Secretary King isn’t the first to talk about ESEA being a civil rights law, the civil rights branding in this instance is offensive because it is used to mask federal overreach.

    Kosar claims that ESEA, as adopted in 1965, was not a civil rights law, but an anti-poverty measure. Kosar supports this claim by observing that the statute neither says the words “civil rights,” nor did President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the bill at his hometown school, instead of one that served predominantly children of color. Kosar adds that ESEA didn’t create an entitlement or speak of equalizing spending.

    Levity at the lake

    June 14, 2016, 10:51 AM

    From the Advocate:

    Adding their party presence were Dr. Margie Kahn and David Graham, the above Joyce and Sidney Pulitzer, Ana and Dr. Juan Gershanik, Sue and Jack Jernigan, Carol and Stanley Marx, Phyllis and Dr. Joel Nitzkin, Sarah and Josh Hess, retired Judge Miriam Waltzer and Bruce, Marlene and Reuben Friedman, and Susan and Bill Hess. On June 1, Bill stepped in as the new board president of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Congratulations and best wishes ensued.


    Puerto Rico: The process works, so far

    June 14, 2016, 10:09 AM

    From the Library of Law & Liberty:

    Miraculously, the bill recites the constitutional authority on which it rests: not the Bankruptcy Clause of Article I, but the Territories Clause of Article IV (which authorizes Congress to make “all needful rules and regulations” for the Territories). That turns out to matter because Congress could quite probably not do to states, under the Bankruptcy Clause or any other clause, what it’s here doing to Puerto Rico: establish an Oversight Board, patterned after a board established back when for the District of Columbia and urged in congressional testimony and on this site by the indispensable Alex Pollock, with comprehensive authority to revamp the place, control its budget, and propose a debt reorganization plan to a federal district court. All that, and more, without the local government’s consent and over its objections.

    Let my Nevadans go

    June 14, 2016, 7:30 AM

    More than 3,000 years later, another desert exodus is upon us. Customers yearn to break free from NV Energy, the sole electricity provider in most of Nevada. Escaping a monopolist’s grip pales in moral magnitude to the Exodus, but it’s still cause to celebrate and feast.

    At least four companies have actively pursued escaping the NV Energy monopoly since 2015, looking to find cheap and clean power on the wholesale electricity market. Motivated by customer demand, many companies actively seek to procure 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources. They’ve found better deals from competitive energy suppliers than NV Energy’s green power offering. Of the four companies known to have pursued access to competitive sources of renewable energy – a group that also includes Las Vegas Sands Corp., Wynn Resorts and the data-storage company Switch – only MGM Resorts International has reached the competitive promised land.

    Achieving and maintaining freedom from a regulated power monopoly are arduous tasks. The model is not built to accommodate individual choice. Escape to an alternate supplier requires a complex regulatory process, coupled with an exit fee. The fee is largely premised on ensuring the utility recovers costs it incurred to meet expected demand from the customer or customers that look to exit. Under the regulated model, the state guarantees that utilities can recover their costs; losing customers could shift some of those costs to other customers. Such regulatory barriers have inhibited customers, even sophisticated ones with deep pockets, from leaving NV Energy and purchasing power on the open market.

    MGM, the sole escapee, agreed to pay around $87 million in fees to exit this fall. Wynn also prefers to leave, but the $16 million exit fee may prove prohibitive. Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Switch saw the fees they would have been charged – $24 million and $27 million, respectively – and determined the price was too high.

    Frustrated by regulatory headaches and exit fees, a consortium of gaming and tech companies are seeking to remove barriers for all Nevadans to choose their electricity supplier. Las Vegas Sands, Switch, MGM, Tesla and others are backing the Energy Choice Initiative. This ballot initiative would change the state Constitution to give customers the right to choose their energy provider. Specifically, it would establish an open, competitive retail electricity market, whereby customers would freely choose the electricity supplier that suits them best. The initiative must obtain 55,000 signatures from registered voters by June 21 to qualify for the November ballot.

    Success will require overcoming past ghosts. The first attempt to introduce electricity competition in Nevada began in the 1990s. The plan would have introduced competition at the retail and wholesale levels. It derailed over fears that stemmed from instability in California’s competitively restructured power market.

    Fortunately, many lessons have been learned since the California market dilemma. In particular, the flaws in market design and monitoring that gave rise to chronic instability and manipulation by companies like Enron no longer exist. Electricity competition is no longer experimental. In fact, competitive power markets are thriving in many parts of the country today.

    In retail choice states like Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania, customers can choose from dozens of electricity suppliers, many of which procure their power entirely from clean-energy sources. While regulated utilities sometimes offer clean-power options, competitive markets provide a much broader array of alternatives. Beyond encouraging suppliers to provide power from a variety of sources, it also drives these suppliers to reduce costs and lower prices. The quality of customer service also improves when companies compete, relative to that received from a complacent monopolist.

    The diversity of customer preferences highlights the benefit of letting customers choose among a variety of power suppliers. For example, green power usually comes at a premium, but many customers are willing to pay for it. Customers differ widely on this and other preferences, such as the premium they’d pay for bill stability. Retail choice creates a menu of options that reflect these preferences and allow customers to choose their own path.

    Customers in retail choice states can switch providers at will, avoiding the fees and regulatory haggling of seeking to exit a regulated utility. This makes life easier for large companies, but small companies and residential customers may benefit most. Small players lack the resources to pursue regulatory filings to expand their options under the restrictive regulated monopoly model. Consider that, despite escaping NV Energy, MGM supports the Energy Choice Initiative out of belief that “other consumers should have similar freedom of choice.”

    Democratizing the grid empowers customers and benefits the environment. Some of Nevada’s biggest power customers recognize that competitive markets, not a regulated utility, will provide customers with better service. The state should follow suit. May the power of customer choice liberate Nevadans and spur innovation for a brighter tomorrow.

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

    The gig economy could defy regulation

    June 14, 2016, 7:00 AM

    Austin, Texas, has been taking a lot of heat after passing a proposition that essentially regulated Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies out of town. This is unfortunate for many of the city’s residents, as well as for those who had hoped to make money as full- or part-time drivers.

    Facing the inevitable future of the sharing economy, Austinites behaved like the spoiled child who, when not getting his way, presses his palms to his ears and starts screaming “la, la, la” at the top of his voice.

    In the weeks since the vote, buyer’s remorse has set in. The city government, rushing to close the barn door after the proverbial equine escape, has started talking about a wholesale revamp of local taxi regulations to spark more competition. As a political sop to the hundreds of Austin Uber and Lyft drivers now without means of income, the city held a job fair. The biggest draws were other rideshare companies.

    Meanwhile, in a portentous development, Austin residents and former Uber drivers are turning to sites like eBay and Craigslist to connect. Residents are conducting peer-to-peer transactions without a platform in the middle.

    That Austin’s ridesharing services can continue despite attempts to suppress it exposes the elemental flaw in the approach that governments, from local up to the federal level, are taking to the so-called “gig economy.” Even in cities where Uber is operating, regulators treat it as a taxi company. In reality, Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and others like them are brokers, connecting suppliers with customers.

    For a visual model, consider an hourglass: individual consumers and suppliers at each end, with a common platform at the bottleneck that connects them. As long as that identifiable point of connection exists, governments can create a framework for regulation and enforce compliance. In Uber’s case, regulators have essentially set down rules the company must use to qualify drivers—background checks, vehicle inspections, license and so on. This model works as long as Uber remains the tangible third-party link between drivers and passengers.

    Yet this hourglass model may be transitory. As Austin is learning, regulating Uber out of the market did not end ridesharing services. It just drove them underground or, at least, under the radar, as buyers and sellers turned to other means. Now, eBay and Craigslist may be cumbersome for ridesharing, but they serve as a harbinger for the next stage of the gig economy—direct peer-to-peer transactions.

    Blockchain, waiting in the wings, stands to be a major disruptor. The platform, dubbed “the trust protocol” by authors Don and Alex Tapscott, is currently the verification tool used in bitcoin transactions. But its utility extends well beyond cryptocurrency.

    Simply explained, blockchain allows for trusted, verifiable, yet fully encrypted electronic transactions to occur between two parties without the participation of a third party, such as a bank, to verify both ends. With no third party, government loses it regulatory pressure point. Once individual consumers adopt applications that use blockchain to verify the validity of their vendors, and vendors use blockchain to verify the validity of a funds transfer, gig economy services will prove extremely difficult to regulate without cracking down significantly on individual freedom to enter voluntary transactions.

    Given the calls for gig-economy regulation, which have been heard at the local level up to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, I’m not sure how much lawmakers appreciate the enforcement challenge. How far will cities and towns be willing to go to halt economic activity between citizens using their own property and resources? Moreover, the traditional “public goods” arguments used to justify regulation of gig-economy services are falling flat. Instead, much of the public sees such regulation—rightly—as attempts to protect politically connected taxi cartels or big hotel chains and the local tax revenues they provide.

    In the past year, several cities in California – including San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Monica – have passed laws against short-term rentals in an effort to crack down on spacesharing. But enforcement has been spotty. Based on news coverage (here, here and here), police and city inspectors seem to rely on the old East German Stasi model—neighbors willing to inform on a host. In other cases, city personnel are spending hours of work time sifting through thousands of Airbnb and VRBO listings to try to identify local violators (listings generally hide addresses), or going door-to-door to look for lockboxes and other signs that a home is being sublet.

    Santa Monica claims it spent only $190,000 enforcing its anti-Airbnb ordinance since it went into effect last June, but other estimates place the cost as high as $410,000. Aside from the expenditure of limited taxpayer resources on such work, I want to believe that most police officers and city inspectors, rather than harassing retired schoolteachers, would rather spend their time catching criminals or investigating code violations that actually pose a danger.

    The gig economy is indeed changing the nature of work and the way people monetize their talents and resources. Regulation, by definition, limits freedom. It’s easy to get behind it when the target is a faceless corporation. It becomes more difficult to support when it deprives you, your friends, neighbors and fellow constituents of a legitimate means to make a living. Governments, from the city council to Congress, should be careful as to how intrusive they allow enforcement can become.

    Over the long term, regulation of the gig economy may not be possible. Worse, it may end up snatching digital-economy opportunities from the very people displaced from the former industrial economy. Economic activities—be they ridesharing, spacesharing or housecleaning—that are legal in the brick-and-mortar world will be driven underground. This would create lawbreakers and scofflaws out of honest citizens. It will be a high price to pay to assuage a subset of lawmakers who are uncomfortable with the gig-economy disruption.

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

    80+ groups support H.R. 5053 and eliminating the IRS Schedule B form for 501(c) organizations

    June 13, 2016, 1:25 PM

    June 13, 2016

    Dear Member,

    As organizations that represent the interests of millions of taxpayers across the country, we write in support of H.R. 5053, the “Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act,” sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). This legislation would eliminate the Schedule B form for 501(c) organizations, which includes identifiable information of contributors to 501(c) organizations. This information is irrelevant to the routine handling of 501(c) organization tax filings and will help make tax compliance easier, as well as further curb the ability of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to hinder free speech and civic participation among the public.

    This bill presents an opportunity to strengthen free speech protections in light of recent cases of intimidation and mishandling of private information by the IRS. It would be a win for organizations across the political spectrum.

    Free speech has been under assault in recent years and the IRS has been at the center of the controversy. In several well-documented cases, the agency leaked private and sensitive Schedule B information that should never have been made public. For example, the agency settled a lawsuit with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) after an IRS official emailed NOM’s Form 990, Schedule B to the Human Rights Campaign, which then published it.

    The revelations of leaked information, as well as evidence proving that the IRS selectively grouped organizations based on their names, policy positions, and perceived ideology to deny or delay requests for non-profit status, show that the fight for free speech is alive and very real.

    Lawmakers must take every opportunity to keep the IRS in check, as the agency has been both derelict in its oversight and abusive with its power. H.R. 5053 will reduce the risks of continued abuse.

    Some officials at the IRS have even supported ending the Schedule B form requirement for some 501(c) classifications.  For example, in December of 2015, it was reported that Tamara Ripperda, IRS Director of Exempt Organizations, discussed the potential for elimination of Schedule B:

    The IRS is considering eliminating Schedule B of the Form 990, which asks for the names and addresses of an exempt organization’s contributors and for certain information about contributions received.  Tax Analysts reported that, at a program sponsored by the Urban Institute, Tammy Ripperda (Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS) questioned whether the IRS should ask for the names and addresses of contributors, given that this information is not made public, and whether there is a need for the information from a federal tax law enforcement standpoint.

    It is clear that the Schedule B form requirement is not needed.  Therefore, we urge all members of the House of Representatives to support H.R. 5053 and eliminate the Schedule B form requirement for 501(c) groups.


    The Undersigned

    (See attached PDF for full list of signees)



    Lawmakers mobilize to thwart transparency initiative

    June 13, 2016, 11:47 AM

    Almost everyone has some idea for fixing whatever is wrong in Sacramento, ranging from new campaign spending limits to a requirement that legislators wear NASCAR-style sponsor logos. Such reforms, however interesting they might sound in theory, never change anything.

    The problem, of course, is the state government is so big and spends so much money that lobbyists will always try to control and influence it. Real reform would mean reining in the power of government – an idea that’s never on the table.

    Does that mean we abandon any hope of making state government more accountable? Probably not, but it’s important to focus on reforms that work – rather than simply venting our populist anger.

    One of the most significant proposed reforms since the passage of property-tax-limiting Proposition 13 in 1978 is headed toward the November ballot. Backed by former Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo and funded by moderate GOP donor Charles Munger Jr., “The California Legislature Transparency Act” is far more significant than its title would suggest.

    The initiative has such potential to shake up the way legislation is passed that legislative leaders spent the week trying to undermine it. Backers of the Blakeslee/Munger measure have submitted a million-plus signatures. It is likely to pass by overwhelming margins. Opponents’ only way to derail it is to confuse voters by placing a similar-sounding, but weaker, measure on the ballot and passing a related reform in the Capitol.

    The transparency act’s main provision requires that “all bills must be in print in their final form, and available to the public on the internet, for a minimum of 72 hours before a vote can be taken.”

    Legislators often pass “gut-and-amend” measures in which the original bill’s language is stripped out and replaced with something completely different. The transformed bill is rammed through in the final moments of the session. Often, legislators haven’t even read the details of what they approved. No one – except for the legislative leaders and lobbyists who cobbled together the bill – knows what happened until it’s too late to do anything about it.

    The initiative also requires all committee hearings to be recorded (audio and video) and made publicly available within 24 hours. It gives the public the right to record hearings and floor sessions with their own phones and recorders.

    The measure is based on the simple concept that openness leads to better government and less bad behavior.

    No wonder the Legislature is scurrying for an alternative. Many lawmakers want an alternative, SCA14, to go on the same ballot. If this constitutional amendment passes with more votes, the Blakeslee-Munger initiative would not go into effect. SCA14, passed in committee, pretends to deal with the 72-hour transparency issue but critics say it’s so laden with loopholes it renders the reform nearly meaningless.

    For instance, SCA14 requires a 72-hour notice only in the second legislative house. Instead of expanding transparency, it would allow one house to game the system – and foist gutted and amended bills on the other house. SCA14 also removes the transparency act’s language that would void any law passed in violation of the rule. Without that language, legislators could ignore its provisions and pay no price for it.

    Ironically, legislators also used the gut-and-amend process to pass in committee Assembly Bill 884, which deals with the public-recording portion of the Blakeslee-Munger initiative. Because this is a legislative measure and not a constitutional amendment, the Legislature can change any of its provisions with a simple majority vote.

    The initiative allows recordings to be used for “any legitimate purpose,” but AB884 changes that to “any legal purpose.” With a simple majority vote, legislators can once again make it illegal to use video for campaign ads. That’s an almost-certain violation of the First Amendment that exists in current law, but would be repealed by the initiative.

    Opponents say some of the most important legislation would not have passed because the 72-hour rule would have given opponents time to organize to stop it. If that’s the case, why don’t we just dispense with the entire legislative process and let leadership hammer out all bills in secrecy?

    I’m being facetious, of course. In reality, legislators should stop ramming things through at the last minute. They should respect the public and give all groups – pro and con – time to weigh in. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. Clearly, the Legislature’s latest actions show the transparency act is likely to have a real impact in the Capitol.

    Some Ag Committee members draw millions in farm subsidies

    June 13, 2016, 11:27 AM

    Who benefits from farm subsidies? R Street long has been critical of our federal farm-support system, a massive boondoggle that disproportionately funnels taxpayer dollars to wealthy agribusinesses rather than family farms struggling to stay afloat. In April, we reported on an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis, which revealed that 50 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans received at least $6.3 million in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2014.

    New analysis from EWG out this past week sheds additional light on who is getting farm support and why reform is so elusive. According to EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database, members of Congress have collected more than $9.5 million in farm subsidies since 1995. The list of those who have received farm subsidies includes 36 legislators, both Republican and Democrat. Two of the legislators—Reps. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., and Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.—own farms that have received multiple millions of dollars in subsidies.

    What’s especially troubling is that many of the congressmen raking in subsidies are members of the committee most directly involved in crafting legislation governing farm supports. EWG notes that overall, 10 members of the House Agriculture Committee received at least $3.5 million in subsidies, including current Vice Chairman Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

    It’s worth noting that these members are no longer receiving subsidies in the form of direct payments, since the 2014 Farm Bill phased out the politically unpalatable direct payments program. In its place, Congress massively expanded federal support for crop insurance premiums. Our federal crop insurance program is now the primary source of government support for farmers.

    Unlike the direct payments program, there are no transparency requirements for the crop insurance program’s outlays. That means we’ll never know how much these members receive in federal farm support. Unless transparency requirements are implemented, critical oversight, like EWG’s farm-subsidy database, will become impossible in the future.

    There is much that needs to be done to fix our broken crop insurance program, but making the program more transparent is the essential first step. It’s unacceptable that members of Congress directly tasked with overseeing our crop insurance program are not required to disclose that they personally make money from the program. Unfortunately, given the prominence of subsidy-receiving farmers on the Agriculture Committee, advocates for reasonable reforms and fiscal responsibility face an uphill battle.

    Check out EWG’s full list of the congressmen who received federal farm subsidies here.

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

    The Grand Oil Party: House Republicans denounce a carbon tax

    June 13, 2016, 7:47 AM

    From the Guardian:

    It’s odd that not a single House Republican voted against the Resolution, because as long as the revenue is returned to taxpayers (also known as “revenue neutrality”), many conservatives support a carbon tax. This concept is supported by free market, libertarian, and conservative think tanks like the R Street Institute, the Niskanen Center, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

    How do you explain the Orlando massacre to your kids?

    June 13, 2016, 4:00 AM

    “Daddy, why are all those police lights on TV?”

    My family and I were eating lunch in Birmingham, and my oldest noticed the CNN broadcast on one of the televisions in the background. My son’s question demanded the attention of my 5-year-old as well.

    “Yeah, dad. What happened to those people?” he asked.

    As the footage showed friends and law enforcement carrying the wounded away from the scene, “50 dead and 53 wounded in the worst mass shooting in US history,” scrolled across the screen.

    I’d read the news on my phone, but I hadn’t seen the footage of the carnage. The 2015 attack at the Bataclan Theater in France immediately came to mind—shock, blood, limp bodies and confusion.

    How do you explain that to little boys? How do you take all that hate, the pain, the hurt of so many families and boil it down into something a child can comprehend?

    I briefly thought of brushing it off. Telling my sons that they need not worry about it, or providing some sterilized answer that didn’t address the death and destruction.

    But I couldn’t.

    My conscience wouldn’t let me. This is their world whether I like it or not, and it doesn’t seem to be moving in a positive direction. Should I mention to them that the attack took place at a gay nightclub or that the shooter was a Muslim? How should I address gun issues, radicalization or even ISIS?

    “A hateful man shot and killed a lot of people because they were different from him.”

    It’s all I could get out.

    We talked about the biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” and evaluated the different contexts—self-defense, law enforcement and military—where shooting a person might be justified or even necessary. I explained that police might have needed to shoot the hateful man to stop him from killing anyone else.

    That seemed to satisfy their curiosity, but I turned to see the deep sadness in their mother’s eyes. “I just can’t help but think we’re going to turn on each other,” she said. She feared for the retaliation that might be meted out against our Muslim friends. We wondered if others would be emboldened to attack gay Americans. What about a new age of terrorism in the American heartland without a clear face, group or nation behind it? There weren’t any answers at the lunch table.

    Where should we go from here?

    On our knees in prayer for our nation? On social media expressing our feelings? Learning self-defense and training on personal firearms? Taking away guns and increasing government monitoring? Maybe dropping bombs somewhere in the Middle East? Giving aid and shelter to refugees?

    We might not be able to do much to stop individual attackers, but I do know that we can address our own character and what we teach our children.

    If you’re forced to sacrifice the tenets of your faith to love someone, then it’s not a religion worth having. If you can’t extend your hand to a fellow man because of political principles, then you’ve misplaced your priorities.

    Someone will offend you, they’ll hurt you, and they might even target you. That is the sad reality of our broken world.

    But we’re not without a response. As for my family, people see what we believe by how we love one another. Love is unmistakably the most difficult response to those with different beliefs and values from our own. It’s even harder when it comes to those who would do us harm. But it’s more powerful than any weapon we’ll ever use or law we’ll ever craft because it strikes at the very heart of the hate that currently besieges us.

    Unconditional love is a fundamental component of the character my wife and I are attempting to develop in our sons. It’s a complicated lesson involving the value of life, respect for our fellow man, and the reluctant but necessary use of force to combat evil.

    I promise that you won’t lose your faith because you unconditionally love a gay person, Muslim or anyone else for that matter. You won’t become less liberal or less conservative because you treat people with respect and dignity even when you passionately disagree. Terrorists don’t win by the number of people they kill; they win by changing our way of life and interactions with each other. They’re victorious when we live in suspicion of our neighbor.

    We have many choices before us, and they will speak more about our character than the clarity of our future. Reject the political opportunism from the horrors in Orlando and weep. Discard the saber-rattling and embrace the brokenhearted. We must wrestle with the required response to radicalized individuals and terrorists groups like ISIS but not before we care for our brothers and sisters wounded and frightened by such a hateful attack.

    Recommendation to: Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice

    June 12, 2016, 9:59 AM

    From the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice:

    Sources: “Raised on the Registry, The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US,” Human Rights Watch, 2013; “Child Maltreatment, Our Minds Are Made Up So Don’t Confuse Us With The Facts: Commentary Concerning Children with Sexual Behavior Problems and Juvenile Sex Offenders,” Mark Chaffin, Sage Publications, 2009; “Revising Harmful Policy: An Inside Look At Changes to US Juvenile Sex Crime Laws,” Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Presentation to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, March 18, 2016; “Youths Who Sexually Abuse: What Works,” Sue Righthand, Presentation to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, March 18, 2016; “Community Based Services for Youth with Problematic Sexual Behavior, Child Victims and Caregivers,” Jane F. Silovsky, Presentation to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, March 18, 2016; “Juvenile Sex Offenders and SORNA, National Conference of State Legislatures,” May 2011; “Costs And Benefits Of Subjecting Juvenile to Sex-Offender Registration and Notification,” Richard B. Belzer, R Street Policy Study #41, September 2015; “Improving Illinois’s Response to Sexual Offenses Committed By Youth: Recommendations for Law, Policy and Practice,” Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, March 2014; “Some States Refuse to Implement SORNA, Lose Federal Grants,” Prison Legal News, September 2014.

    How Congress should proceed on the Kelsey Smith Act

    June 10, 2016, 5:37 PM

    In June 2007, 18-year-old Kelsey Smith was tragically abducted and murdered in Kansas. For various reasons, it took four days for law enforcement to access the location coordinates of her cellphone, delaying the recovery of her body and extending an excruciatingly terrible experience for her family.

    What happened to Kelsey Smith is a horrific tragedy. It’s completely understandable that her parents and other advocates would want to make legislative changes so that no one else has to go through limbo that they did.

    Early last week, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass H.R. 4889, the Kelsey Smith Act. Though it was certainly a well-intentioned piece of legislation, congressional members made the right choice not to pass it in its current form. I was happy to find that a sufficient number of Republicans and Democrats joined together to stall the bill, allowing cooler heads to work together to craft a reform that finds the right balance between privacy and emergency expediency.

    To date, 21 states already have passed their own versions of the Kelsey Smith Act, which compels cellphone companies to hand geolocation data over to law enforcement in the event of an emergency. In developing a federal standard, legislators should have taken the time to follow the lead of states like California, Colorado and Indiana, all of which inserted key provisions that balanced the need for safety with the promise of a right to privacy.

    In fact, an earlier version of the bill introduced during the last Congress did include such safeguards. Unfortunately, in the name of expediency, this year’s version had none of these essential privacy protections. It was rushed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee and then fast-tracked to the floor under a suspension of the rules.

    Any government-led effort to compel technology companies to undermine customer trust in the name of security ought to sound eerily similar to the recent kerfuffle between the FBI and Apple. Because the bill was changed so subtly from the previous version, it caught both privacy advocates and tech companies off guard, and they initially failed to notice the measure’s assault on the Bill of Rights. No doubt contributing to this oversight was the fact that it was authored byKevin Yoder, R-Kan., the well-respected lead sponsor of the Email Privacy Act, a measure that actually restores Fourth Amendment protections to email and that passed the House unanimously.

    In the age of the Internet of Things, the market is already fixing these issues of geolocation sharing, which were more of a problem back in 2007, when the Kelsey Smith abduction occurred and before the widespread use of smartphones. Americans already have the ability to consent voluntarily to allow their phone carriers to share information in the event of an emergency. Apps like “Glympse” enable individuals to share their movements with loved ones. In the aftermath of the Paris attack, Facebook users were able to alert their friends that they were OK. When I go for a bike ride I share my location with my wife who will, I hope, help me if I fall off or have a flat tire.

    The Kelsey Smith Act in some ways accidentally hits on a deeper, more complex question of the right to privacy and location. In fact the House Judiciary Committee has already promised to hold hearings on the intricate question of how the Fourth Amendment intersects with geolocation data in the digital age. It would probably be better for House leadership to allow those deliberations to proceed in a committee format rather than rush hastily drafted legislation to the floor.

    Regardless, I am aware of the pressure politicians feel to “just do something.” In that spirit, here are a few suggestions that would drastically improve the bill in a way that appeases opposition from privacy advocates and the tech community.

    If H.R. 4889 is to proceed through the House, the legal standard governing access to location information in the event of an emergency should be raised from “reasonable belief” to “probable cause.” This would reduce significantly the chances that sensitive location information would be disclosed in the absence of an actual emergency.

    The bill also should require after-the-fact judicial review within 48 hours of the emergency that triggered the geolocation search. It’s not hard to envision ways a lack of accountability could lead to abuse by law enforcement.

    Both of these provisions were included in the previous version of the bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with bipartisan support in the 113th Congress. In addition to these previously accepted safeguards against abuse, Congress should consider two other provisions that would also drastically improve the legislation.

    First, the bill should require disciplinary action be taken when location information is acquired unlawfully or without cause. Second, consideration should be given to require notice to the person whose location information was obtained. These important provisions would limit exposure to abuse by law enforcement, while still accomplishing the legislation’s intended goals.

    Congress must be careful whenever it crafts legislation that grants broad powers to the government. No one denies this bill was developed with the best intentions, but the devil is in the details. Instead of trying end-run around the privacy of Americans, lawmakers should seek a balanced approach that addresses the real world need for expediency with the real world value of privacy.

    Why Republicans should reconsider their blanket opposition to a carbon tax

    June 10, 2016, 3:50 PM

    As House Republicans take up a resolution declaring they are against ever considering the possibility of a carbon tax, it bears noting that there are good reasons for Congress to act to address carbon emissions, even (perhaps especially) for members who disagree about the science of climate change.

    That is to say, even those who question the role of government in this arena should seek a legislative solution, not primarily to the problem of climate change, but to the hubris and regulatory overreach of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The EPA currently awaits a decision from the Supreme Court on whether its Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants, will go into effect. It appears likely it will, particularly given how unlikely it is that a conservative justice is not appointed before the court takes up the rule. Once implemented, the CPP would see the agency enforce pollution control on an entire industry, not a specific source.

    The regulation is expected to be both expensive and ineffective. The EPA estimates the CPP will cost $8.4 billion annually to implement, but the rule will do no better to reduce emissions than recent low prices for natural gas have. The likely end result is a hefty price tag for little to no environmental gain.

    We currently limit carbon emissions through an exhaustive and exhausting regulatory and incentive infrastructure that tends to be completely obscured from view. In addition to the CPP, the EPA also limits greenhouse-gas emissions through regulations on the vehicle fleet, oil and gas operations, landfills and transportation fuels. There also are regulations from the departments of Energy and Interior, as well as an abundance of loan guarantees, subsidies, tax incentives and other efforts across government.

    Regardless of one’s opinion on the science and risk of – or the appropriate policy response to – climate change, our status quo is expensive, arduous and ineffective. That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing that the House is set to vote this week on a resolution that takes one alternative to EPA regulation off the table: a direct price on carbon.

    The resolution the House considers this week asserts, “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.” This is, at best, an oversimplification. Is a carbon tax necessarily worse for Americans than the myriad solutions advanced by the environmental left and the Obama administration to limit carbon emissions?

    To be clear, there certainly are ways to design a carbon tax that would limit economic growth and opportunity, impose high costs on families and businesses, force jobs overseas and burden the poor and elderly. This would be the case if the tax were set too high, were not accompanied by cuts to other costs or taxes, were not adjusted at the border or were layered on top of redundant federal policies. Interestingly, that’s exactly how existing carbon regulation functions: a steep, ineffective, damaging cost on energy and consumers.
    But there’s also a right way to do it. R Street supports a revenue-neutral price on carbon that cuts or outright eliminates other taxes on capital and income; that can be adjusted at the border for imports and exports; and that’s accompanied by preempting existing EPA, Interior and DOE carbon regulations. A properly designed price on carbon could be used to eliminate some of the most harmful taxes and regulations that restrain economic growth. If designed correctly, a carbon tax might be excellent for American families and businesses and in the best interest of the United States.

    These are conservative ideas. Economists like Art Laffer, Greg Mankiw, Doug Holtz-Eakin, Irwin Stelzer and Alan Viard – people conservatives trust to guide good decisions in tax and economic policy – all have supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax, if designed correctly. It behooves no conservative to treat these ideas unfairly and distort the debate by conceding as fact something that is not necessarily true.

    Let’s deal honestly. Recent polls suggest that 64 percent of Americans are worried about climate change and voters aged 18-29 mention climate change as a “very important” issue more than any other public-policy topic facing legislators today. There’s little political upside, at this point, to ignoring the challenges of carbon or eliminating viable solutions from consideration. There’s growing consensus that action is needed on climate change. We need an alternative to the regulatory machine in place now.

    In the end, the best policy to address carbon emissions won’t necessarily be a tax on carbon. There are plenty of other approaches that might be more effective, lower cost or more politically palatable. To find them, we need creative and active debate about what the role of government should be in this challenge.

    Amodei skewers Allard over land bill — McBee, Madison group join Gulen case — Rebecca Coffman to R Street

    June 10, 2016, 3:16 PM

    From Politico Influence:

    — Last night at R Street Institute’s Alice-in-Wonderland themed party at Wonderbread Factory, as the libertarian think tank celebrated its 4th birthday — Rebecca Coffman and Mike Lurie of Freedom Partners, Cody Parrish of Morning Consult, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and his niece, Beverly Hallberg of District Media Training, Anthony Bellotti of White Coat Waste Project, Will Adams, Martin Avila of Terra Eclipse, and Alex Stone of AIPAC.