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Updated: 33 min 21 sec ago

Embattled #Mizzou prof Melissa Click got grant to attend Twilight convention

November 13, 2015, 10:39 AM

You are, no doubt, familiar with Melissa Click, the embattled University of Missouri professor who kind of resigned this week (from the journalism school, where she had a “courtesy” position, but not from the communications department where she is actually employed) for her role in muscling away (what else?) journalists from covering the student protests, arguing that brave souls confronting the status quo on public land deserved a “safe space” away from cameras.

It turns out Melissa Click should have been more careful in preserving her own safe space; her curriculum vitae is posted online, and provides you with all the information you need to understand why Ms. Click is as unable to cope with the real world as her students.

A few highlights? She received a “graduate certificate” in “advanced feminist studies,” which is not actually a thing. She thinks home canning will subvert the capitalist food culture. She’s done the best work while studying Lady Gaga and Martha Stewart, and she once wasted taxpayer money on a very special trip to Texas:

‘Center for Arts and Humanities Grant, University of Missouri. Awarded to support travel to attend TwiCon in Dallas, TX for study of Twilight fans.’

That’s right, in 2009 Click received taxpayer funding to attend a Twilight fan convention.

Unfortunately, her resulting research has not been published, so we don’t yet know whether she’s Team Edward or Team Jacob.

Tech companies, labor advocates and think tankers of all stripes call for sweeping reforms of the social safety net

November 13, 2015, 10:34 AM

From the Washington Post

The idea was fleshed out in a follow-up brief by the conservative R Street Institute, which described a private benefits exchange through which companies with quasi-independent contractors could provide support without fear of being forced to treat them as employees, with all the costs and risks that entails.

A new gin for a new century

November 12, 2015, 2:47 PM

Gin has had a weird and wild ride over the past 500 years. The Dutch were producing the piney drink in the 1500s, but adding herbs to liquor is a tradition that goes back further still to the tinkering of medieval alchemists.

Juniper berries, which give gin its characteristic scent, have been used as a spice since ancient times. When, precisely, someone first plucked them from the bush and plopped them in liquor is anyone’s guess. Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia (77 to 79 CE) included a recipe for a wine-based “proto-gin,” reports Aaron Knoll in his entertaining Gin: The Art and Craft of Artisan Revival.

Gin was a fine drink when the Dutch first made it. Their Genever came from barley fermented into beer, then distilled and flavored with juniper. (Jineverbes is the Dutch term for juniper.) This gave it much more flavor than much of gin sold today, which is made from flavorless “neutral grain spirit.” The Dutch still produce many brands of Genever gin, withBols probably the most well-known producer globally.

Gin went down-market in the 18th century. Distilleries began cranking out cheap grain alcohol, often adulterated with toxic flavorings, which was lapped up by the poor. The artist William Hogarth’s 1751 ghastly etching of Gin Lane mayhem aptly depicts the ugly social consequences.

Gin’s social cache rose from its nadir as the British Empire flourished. The London Dry style – crackling crisp from juniper, lemon and other citrus fruits – became synonymous with gin. Better brands emerged, such as Beefeater and Tanqueray. The gin and tonic became known world-round, thanks in part to its value as an anti-malarial. (The high quinine content of early tonic, not the gin, was the curative. Adding gin and lime made the bitter tonic pleasant to drink. Old Raj Gin was unabashedly marketed as high imperial fare.

New market entrants, which arrived around the fin de siècle, have made major inroads against imperial London Dry style. The first wave of these new gins, like Bafferts, were much less piney and tended to highlight citrus flavors. They were designed to lure the millions of vodka drinkers to gin. Reflecting globalization, they sometimes came from unusual places, likeBelarus.

The next wave of new gins are far more interesting. Many came from American and European micro-distillers, and amount to reinventions of the spirit. Often these new gins, such as Glorious Gin by New York’s Breukelen Distillery, are produced from flavorful high-quality grains, instead of re-distilled bulk-purchased ethanol. Some of these contemporary gins derive wild flavors from atypical botanicals. Minnesota’s Vikre distillery makes gins flavored with cedar, spruce and sumac. Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin from California is spiced with red peppers, black peppers and pimento, in addition to juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender. Other new gin producers impart novel flavors through barrel-ageing. California’s Ballast Point distillery uses this method to impart a cinnamon aroma in one of its gins.

There are more than 260 gins out there already, and more surely will come. With the rising quality and growing diversity of choice, 21st century consumers are in an enviable position.


November 12, 2015, 11:30 AM

R Street’s day to day operations are overseen by its president, executive director and operations director.

Eli Lehrer

President Andrew Moylan

Executive Director Erica Schoder

Finance & Operations Director

R Street’s broader goals and structure are overseen by an independent board of directors.

Ryan Alexander

President of Taxpayers for Common Sense Marni Soupcoff

Chairwoman of the R Street Board, Exective Director of Canadian Constitution Foundation Bob Inglis

Executive Director of RepublicEN, Former United States Congressman Michael Cohen

Renaissance Reinsurance Steve McManus

State Farm Tevi Troy

President of American Health Policy Institute, Former HHS Deputy Secretary

A legislative advisory board, made up of state legislators from around the country, helps advise R Street leadership on state-level legislative issues.

Sen. Joel Anderson

Republican member of the California State Senate Sen. Kevin Bacon

Republican member of the Ohio State Senate Sen. Alan Hays

Republican member of the Florida State Senate Sen. Michael Hough

Republican member of the Maryland State Senate Rep. Jason Isaac

Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives Sen. Bill Payne

Republican Minority Leader of the New Mexico State Senate Rep. Kim Koopelman

Republican member of the North Dakota House of Representatives Rep. Ken Paxton

Republican member of the Texas State Senate

Funding and expenditures

November 12, 2015, 10:48 AM

The staff, fellows, and all-volunteer board of R Street are committed to fulfilling our mission of promoting limited, effective government and free markets through the principles of sound governance and transparency.

To review our most recent audited financial statements and organizational structure, please visit our GuideStar profile, or view our IRS Form 990 filings from 2014, 2013, and 2012. To maintain its independence, R Street accepts no government funding.

In 2014, R Street had revenues of $2,866,498 and expenditures of $2,360,531. R Street’s donations were divided roughly equally among corporate and foundation sources, with a smaller individual giving program. No single donor was responsible for more than 15 percent of R Street’s support.

In 2013, R Street had revenues of $2,369,480 and expenditures of $1,845,344. R Street’s donations were divided roughly equally among corporate and foundation sources, with a smaller individual giving program. No single donor was responsible for more than 15 percent of R Street’s support.

R Street was founded on June 1, 2012 by former employees of the Heartland Institute. You can read more about that here. In 2012, R Street had revenues of $792,122 and expenditures of $505,015. No single donor was responsible for more than 18 percent of R Street’s support.

If you’re interested in R Street’s mission and want to support us, you can call our president, Eli Lehrer, directly at (202) 525-5717 or email him at elehrer@rstreet.org. Otherwise please visit our online support page.

On-demand app companies propose new model for worker benefits

November 12, 2015, 9:34 AM

From PC World

The signatories to the statement, including representatives of groups such as the Freelancers Union, National Guestworker Alliance and R Street Institute, have proposed as an alternative a “portable” model that would allow workers to be able to take benefits and protections with them in and out of various work scenarios.

Surprising allies join together in support of tech gig workers

November 12, 2015, 9:32 AM

From Silicon Valley Business Journal

Although well short of a formal policy proposal, the statement is notable for some of its unlikely collaborators. In additional to tech and investment leaders, the signatories range from the R Street Initiative — a Libertarian think tank based in Washington DC — to several labor unions, including SEIU Local 2015, SEIU 775 and the Freelancers Union.

Federal prize incentives to innovation could save money and lives

November 12, 2015, 9:09 AM

WASHINGTON (Nov. 12, 2015) – The federal government should establish an “innovation savings program” (ISP) – rooted in familiar prize structures in the public and private sectors – to encourage innovation, save taxpayer money and provide an alternative to the current patent system, according to a new study released by the R Street Institute.

In the study, R Street Associate Fellow Derek Khanna lays out a vision for the ISP, which would kick in when inventions and discoveries surpass a minimum cost-savings threshold to the federal government. For example, if a cancer drug saved the federal government $1 billion per year, the researchers who developed the drug would receive a portion of the savings, in exchange for their not patenting the technology.

The program’s goal would be to provide a profit mechanism, separate and apart from patents and direct subsidies, to encourage innovations that could revolutionize such fields as medical technology, energy efficiency and payment processing. The innovations and research then would be available immediately to all Americans, free of royalty fees, to potentially spur on even further research and development.

“Traditionally, this kind of research has been limited by the patent system,” Khanna writes. “The costs associated with the research mean a patent is necessary to recoup costs.”

He notes the existing patent system’s incentives can mean investing in lawyers, rather than engineers, and filing applications for inventions and processes a firm may not intend ever to bring to the market. In such cases, innovation and competition suffer, for no discernable benefit.

Programs such as the False Claims Act and Medicare Recovery Audit program have provided incentives for auditors to uncover and pursue fraud in federal programs. The Medicare Recovery Audit program in 2013 alone saved the Medicare Trust Funds more $3 billion.

“The Medicare Recovery Audit program shows the power of aligning public and private sector incentives to save taxpayers money,” Khanna writes. “But programs that seek only to stamp out waste, fraud and abuse do little to encourage the kinds of innovations that could drastically reduce costs in the first place.”

Khanna also warns that a program this complex would certainly have some challenges that would have to be addressed, but that the downside risk of the proposal seems minimal.

“If the ISP wasn’t used, Congress could revise or discard it. Its failure wouldn’t have costs to taxpayers, because prizes would be paid only when there is a cost savings,” he said. “We can and should encourage the best and brightest to solve some of the biggest problems facing our country, our economy and our world.”


Using prizes to spur innovation and government savings

November 12, 2015, 9:00 AM

In myriad sectors of the U.S. economy, from military technology to medical care, the federal government serves as the single-largest spender. As such, many of the innovations, inventions and discoveries that could propel economic growth in the future also would have a direct and measurable impact on federal spending.

To offer an incentive to research and development that yields significant taxpayer savings, we propose an “innovation savings program” that would serve as an alternative to the traditional patent system. The program would reward teams or individuals who develop discoveries or technologies that produce federal budget savings. In effect, a portion of those savings would be set aside for the discoverers. To be eligible for these rewards, the researchers and inventors would not receive patents on their discoveries or processes.

This perpetual, self-funded federal prize system would be based, in part, on the successful False Claims Act and Medicare Recovery Audit programs. Payouts would be administered by an independent or executive agency, verified by the Government Accountability Office and overseen by Congress to ensure fair and effective implementation.

New technologies developed through this process would be available immediately for generic commercialization, free of royalty fees. This could encourage innovation in sectors where patents and traditional research spending have lagged, while also bringing those innovations to market more quickly and affordably. Prize systems of this type have been in operation in the United States for more than 150 years, in the form of the False Claims Act, and date back to “qui tam” actions from the 13th century, thus predating the patent system by several hundred years.

How Texas can get more time on EPA rules

November 11, 2015, 5:10 PM

Last Friday, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency formally published its Clean Power Plan, a set of regulations requiring a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from American power plants by 2030. Almost immediately, a coalition of states (including Texas, naturally) filed suit challenging the legality of the rule.

The legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan will take years to resolve. In the meantime, states are supposed to submit their own emissions-reduction plans to the EPA by September 2016. Failure to submit a plan could result in the federal government imposing its own plan, in what amounts to a takeover of Texas’ independent electrical system.

All of this has put Texas in a tight spot. The state Legislature isn’t set to meet until 2017, after EPA’s deadline. And state environmental regulators don’t have authority under existing state law to do what EPA is asking, even if they wanted to.

But there is a way for Texas to buy more time to respond properly to the Clean Power Plan without risking its independence or its economy. Along with the rule, the EPA published a memo Friday indicating that if a state is unable to complete a full emissions-reduction plan by the September 2016 deadline, it could apply for an extension if it met several basic requirements. The extension, which would push back the deadline until September 2018, would give the Legislature time to examine its options and would not compromise any political or legal challenges the state wanted to make against the Clean Power Plan itself.

To qualify for an extension, a state’s initial filing has to do three things. First, it has to identify what sort of plan the state is considering and include a description of progress made toward preparing the plan. The EPA notes the state “need not commit in their initial submittal to any one plan approach, and … may identify more than one approach.” Nor does the submission have to include “technical data or quantitative analyses.” In other words, the submission can be very general, and nothing in it ultimately commits a state to pursue that particular course.

Second, a state seeking an extension must explain why it needs more time. This is an easy one for Texas: the Legislature won’t meet until after 2016, and without legislative action, it’s simply not possible for the state to put together a viable plan to meet the Clean Power Plan targets.

Finally, the state must provide opportunities for public comment on the plan approaches it is considering, including input from vulnerable communities. The higher electrical prices induced by the EPA’s regulations would disproportionately impact low-income Texans. Communicating these risks to the general public, and hearing about the real-world impact, is something the state should do regardless of whether it seeks an extension.

Opting for an extension would not undermine Texas’ legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan, nor would it prevent efforts in the halls of Congress to repeal the rule. If anything, the extra time granted by an extension would allow the state to get a better sense of how those fights are likely to be resolved before it commits to a specific approach. And avoiding the immediate imposition of a federal plan would keep Texas in control of its own energy destiny.

Houston’s public potty problems flush out a lack of pragmatism

November 11, 2015, 9:28 AM

The smell is dissipating from what ultimately became a referendum on public potty policy in Houston, Texas, but this isn’t the last we’ll see of this type of issue.

The ordinance on the ballot didn’t specifically mention restrooms, but supporters raised the issue with a section (ultimately removed) that permitted transgendered individuals to use the restroom most nearly reflected by their gender identity.

Before we take up arms and pick our side, let’s dare to think about the public restroom experience.

Everyone knows that feeling you get when someone walks into the restroom stall next to you. You thought you had the place all to yourself.


Now you’re next to someone less than 2 feet away, and you can see their shoes. The sounds and smells only serve to compound the insane awkwardness. You hear them talking. They might be on the phone; they might even strike up a conversation with you through the divider.

The experience is so terrible that I’m shocked anyone is able to also contemplate the biological plumbing of the people in neighboring stalls. At the same time, I understand those who prefer not to have men identifying as a women joining their wives and daughters in the bathroom.

Voters saw the public potty problem as insurmountable and flushed the ordinance.

Oddly, Houston’s challenge is a perfect example of our increasing tendency to focus on polarized political combat rather than solving specific problems.

Supporters of the failed ordinance cast opponents as hateful bigots. On the other side, opponents attempted to terrify voters with an advertisement containing a scary man following a little girl into a bathroom stall.

Many people don’t like the idea of biological males in women’s restrooms and vice versa. It’s probably fair to say that people who appear to be of the opposite gender but who are biologically aligned with the sign on the bathroom door create the same type of panic.

To solve the problem, the good people of Houston and cities around the country buy into the false choice of siding with either a majority of the population or a discreet minority. That’s how we’ve come to define our problems: one team or the other in a winner-take-all battle.

On the other hand, we could try to develop solutions that work a little better for everyone.

Outside of the reality that most people already avoid public restrooms unless they’re an absolute necessity, gender-assigned facilities pose a number of problems. First, they create uncomfortable decisions for parents. When are little boys too old to use the women’s restroom under mom’s supervision? How about a father with a four-year-old little girl? Parents want to protect their children while respecting others in public situations, but that’s often a tough judgment call based on circumstance.

Men’s and women’s restrooms are also an inefficient use of space. How often have you seen a line for the women’s restroom next to an empty men’s room? In smaller businesses with single-user bathrooms, it’s not a bad idea to remove gender-specific signage altogether.

Larger stores usually have two sets of everything in rather spacious restrooms. Why not encourage floor-to-ceiling stalls with a communal area to wash hands as an alternative to playing games about who identifies as what. That’s just one idea. It’s different from what we’re used to, but it’s safer for parents with children, more private and not dependent on gender or identity guessing games.

I’d gladly trade away the visibility of my neighbor’s feet for the odd experience of washing my hands while a woman does her makeup next to me. In that scenario, I don’t care whether you’re questioning your sexual identity, gender or college-football allegiance; we’re simply washing our hands.

Gender-specific restrooms aren’t necessary in almost every circumstance. Why not encourage businesses and other public entities to help out everyone and make going to the bathroom in public places less awkward?

It doesn’t solve all the public accommodation issues in Houston—or anywhere else for that matter—but looking for small, direct solutions is a far better option than playing potty politics.

The college Frankenstein

November 11, 2015, 9:08 AM

Monday morning, embattled University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned, after pressure from student groups over a series of “racial incidents” that apparently marred the campus experience to such a degree that no one can effectively name the incidents in question without consulting a timeline that seems to quantify them as “he said/he said” events, without any specific details.

Someone drew a swastika in poop, (!) the timeline says, but the defecating Nazi perpetrator(s) has never been caught, nor identified. People were yelled at by drunkards and passing pickup truck passengers, the timeline screams, but other than a vague description of menacing shadowy figures, the stories are hardly fleshed out.

As a confused college president and chancellor struggled with how to punish the guilty without knowing who they were, and how to lift the weight of categorical and systematic oppression from their students’ shoulders for the sake of their own survival in an institution that is supposed to be the bastion of intellectual discourse, those same students took to campus streets to demand their removal instead, operating as judge, jury and academic executioner.

And you know what? He deserved it. He was part of the system that created the monster. Now, he’s its most public victim.

In fairness, oppression isn’t a quantifiable feeling. You’re either oppressed or you’re not, and that’s an entirely subjective decision. But it seems like, before he fell victim to campus mob rule, Tim Wolfe himself was trying to grasp the situation as best he could, to no avail. He simply couldn’t win. Apologies came too late. Students were unable to discuss the particulars of their ideological campaign. As they say, you can’t argue with crazy.

As it were, crazy didn’t even bother to argue and it didn’t bother to respond, even when Wolfe stepped down. Instead, the University of Missouri, a renowned journalism school, employed its top communications professor to push photographers and student journalists out of demonstrating students’ “safe space,” as Mizzou’s students couldn’t bring themselves to face the real world, even as they were angling to impact it.

This is far from an isolated incident. Screaming ninnies seem to be the most vocal component of campus populations these days, whether they’re stomping their feet at Yale administrators, pushing ESPN cameramen or indulging themselves with puppies and crayons as potentially violent middle-aged academics and scholars give speeches on the ill effects of third-wave feminism. Today’s students want nothing more than to feel safe and secure on college campuses: a characteristic they define by a level of protection, comfort and security typically reserved for the homicidal inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. They are conditioned to believe their liberal ideology and their illiberal approach to disagreement is only the natural outcropping of their intellectual and cultural superiority: a gift from the gods, apparently, to the upper middle-class residents of Ivy League schools. They’ve been indoctrinated with bullying compassion, taught to see redistribution as the only truly loving form of justice, confused by New Math and relaxed academic standards, plied with self-esteem-building toys and diversity workbooks and had their tears and bottoms wiped, well into adulthood, by well-meaning, if overly cautious Boomer parents, desperate to earn their latchkey love.

In other words, if you think the college students of today have problems with the real world, it’s because their caretakers, and especially their teachers, have endeavored as best they could to keep the real world from the college students of today. And now, they’re reaping what they’ve sown: obnoxious, entitled, intellectually uncurious, emotionally stunted, self-important, coddled and prickly young adults.

We’ve joked, for decades, about university English departments being the last bastions of American Communism. But it wasn’t a joke: liberals have flooded academia by the hundreds, as they’ve struggled to adapt to any environment outside of college life. Today’s professors are students from the 1960s who never left, who found business and capitalism distasteful, who devoted their lives to suggesting to impressionable students that they are somehow better, more compassionate, more intelligent and more apt to know how others would best live their lives; they’ve been imparting their nonsensical “wisdom” for decades now. And as their influence grew, the influence of the university as a bastion of discourse and debate diminished. Generations of students have been turned out, one less capable than the last, encouraged to further pursue nonsensical fields of study with no potential outside of academia. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

And now, liberal academics are concerned that their institutions are facing the very monster they’ve created. As in the case of Wolfe, faculty and academics have tolerated and encouraged a climate of political correctness, though they failed to anticipate that illiberal cancer among their population would metastasize on its own. Now, as it threatens to devour the Dr. Frankenstein it created, suddenly liberals are concerned. It’s too late now. The best they can hope for is to get off the sinking ship while there are still lifeboats adrift to rescue them — but the best we can all hope for is that the system finally collapses and intellectualism emerges from its ashes.

Red flag for vapers: avoid some flavoring agents

November 11, 2015, 8:24 AM

As a health professional, I started telling smokers to switch to smokeless tobacco in 1994, based on decades of definitive epidemiological evidence for the relative safety of smokeless tobacco. But I was slow to endorse e-cigarettes as a reduced-risk option for smokers.

There is no parallel body of evidence for e-cigarettes. But then, there is no scientific evidence that would link vapor inhalation to cancer, heart attacks or strokes. That is significant, but as a pathologist, I must consider whether long-term vapor consumption can cause respiratory problems. There is little human experience with intense, long-term inhalation of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and other agents, including flavorings.

Konstantinos Farsalinos and colleagues in 2014 reported a laboratory analysis of 159 e-cigarette liquids from 36 manufacturers/retailers in six European countries and the United States. They found that almost 70 percent of the samples contained varying amounts of diacetyl (DA) and/or a similar flavor compound, acetylpropionyl (AP). Although these substances naturally occur in fermented products like cheese and beer, they are also added to foods to provide a butter-like flavor. They are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration when added in small quantities to foods.

DA and AP are known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious, sometimes-fatal lung disease in exposed workers (see herehere and here), most notably in plants producing buttered popcorn.

Farsalinos estimated the amount of DA and AP that vapers would inhale using the tested liquids. He concluded:

The median daily exposure levels were slightly lower than the strict [National Institute on Occupational Safety and Hazards]-defined safety limits for occupational exposure and 100 and 10 times lower compared with smoking respectively; however, 47.3 percent of DA and 41.5 percent of AP-containing samples exposed consumers to levels higher than the safety limits.

Farsalinos’ study should have prompted e-liquid suppliers to abandon those agents. They have not.

Raquel Rutledge, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recently worked with a Marquette University chemist to test liquids sold in local vape shops. She “bought five e-liquids dubbed top-sellers by sales clerks… and had them tested for [DA and AP]… All five contained both chemicals.” According to her story, some had high levels.

Staff at the vape shops selling the liquids were unaware of the presence of these toxins.

It is unacceptable for any vape shop to sell liquids with flavoring ingredients that are proven respiratory toxicants. Vapers should only use liquids that are certified to be free of these agents.

The next big thing: ‘gig economy’ workers’ rights

November 10, 2015, 5:18 PM

From The Weekly Standard:

Two statements released this week—an open letter organized by a Silicon Valley nonprofit and a policy brief from the R Street Institute—launch a new and sure to be much contested national conversation about the sharing economy. The perplexing, unanswered question: how to combine the flexible hours and independence that draw people to work for an on-demand company like Uber or TaskRabbit with some kind of safety net to protect workers when they’re injured or want to retire?

Kind, Sensenbrenner Introduce Bipartisan Crop Insurance Reform Legislation

November 10, 2015, 5:15 PM

From Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the AFFIRM Act will save approximately $24.4 billion over the next decade, and the legislation enjoys bipartisan support from groups such as The Environmental Working Group, National Taxpayer’s Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, R-Street Institute, Citizens Against Government Waste, and Freedom Works.

Where taxpayers pay ($100 million a year) but interest groups benefit

November 10, 2015, 11:32 AM

It seemed like a silly question, but as the new guy, I was obliged to ask: “Can I e-mail a copy of my report to my mother?”

Mom had been a local reporter when I was a kid and worked for a county government in Ohio. She has always had a bottomless appetite for politics and government, and her retirement years afforded plenty of time to read. I figured she would find my first Congressional Research Service report interesting. I also thought she would be proud to see her son published by such a prestigious organization.

“Well,” a supervisor told me, “strictly speaking, no. Only Congress may distribute our reports to the public.”

I was gobsmacked. A publisher, Penny Hill Press, already was selling copies of my report to lobbyists and any other takers. Like any other CRS report, it contained no classified information. It was a short, bland primer on Fannie Mae and the other government-sponsored enterprises and Congress’s rationale for establishing them.

Seeing the shock in my face, the supervisor smiled and said, “Of course, I don’t know how anybody could find out if you did send a copy to your mother.”

That was in the autumn of 2003. Over next 11 years at CRS, this secret-but-not-actually-secret policy increasingly struck me as increasingly anachronistic and costly. Which it is.

Despite the official ban, CRS reports are scattered over myriad government and private Web sites. The more than 20,000 congressional staff members, as is their prerogative, give them out to interest groups and constituents. Taxpayers, meanwhile, spend $100 million annually to fund the CRS but have no direct access to the agency’s reports. Nor have they any way to ascertain if the copies they stumble across online are authentic.

Congress is to blame for this bizarre situation. It established CRS a century ago to provide nonpartisan research and reference support to Congress. The agency’s reports are rigorously nonpartisan and cover almost every topic available, from agriculture to medical malpractice to Zip code boundaries. Nothing in the agency’s statute addresses who may disseminate its reports. Each year, however, Congress includes in the CRS appropriation a “Mad Men”-era provision stating:

“[N]o part of such amount may be used to pay any salary or expense in connection with any publication, or preparation of material therefor (except the Digest of Public General Bills), to be issued by the Library of Congress unless such publication has obtained prior approval of either the Committee on House Administration of the House of Representatives or the Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate.”

Its initial rationale was penny-pinching, not a general animus toward transparency. Sen. Karl E. Mundt (R-S.D.) who fought for the rider in 1954, was worried about the cost of making “photostatic” copies. “I can see how [CRS] analysis would be in great demand by newspapers and women’s clubs, and so forth, and unless put on some compensatory basis would run to quite an expenditure.”

CRS reports, then, never have been kept “secret” as a matter of policy or in practice. Congress publicly releases many CRS reports each year. Before the Internet, reports regularly were published in the Congressional Record and as committee prints, which were made available to the public at Federal Depository Libraries all over America. CRS’s annual report from 1979, for example, lists dozens of “CRS studies in the public domain” on all sorts of contentious topics, such as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China and chemical contaminants in food. These days, Congress posts CRS bill digests and its Constitution Annotated on the publicly availableCongress.gov Web site. Every two years, the Senate publishes CRS’s authoritative tax compendium. Last autumn, Congress published a marvelous, 400-page volume of studies titled “The Evolving Congress.” Assorted CRS reports can be found on House.gov and Senate.gov.

Yet the blue law lives on in the Internet age, with, ironically, costs that far outweigh those that worried  Mundt. Congressional staff waste precious time sending copies of CRS reports to citizens who want them but cannot find them online. Libraries must buy subscriptions to CRS reports through private services.

And CRS particularly suffers since it has had to invent policies in a futile effort to try honor the antiquated dissemination ban. CRS employees squander time jumping through bureaucratic hoops to licitly share copies of their reports with fellow experts at universities and think tanks. When media ask CRS for a report, analysts must refer them to the communications office, which then has to assess whether sharing the report would advance the interests of Congress. Agency managers are forced to police staff members to ensure they are not violating the policy by, say, posting links to their reports on their LinkedIn pages.

It is a ludicrous situation that benefits nobody except those who sell access to the reports. (Penny Hill charges subscribers $399 per year.) Which is why 40 groups – along with retired and former CRS employees with 500 years of combined agency experience – recently asked Congress to act.

Congress can easily fix all these problems. CRS produces perhaps 1,200 reports per year, and it updates a couple of thousand others. It would cost little for Congress to post copies of the reports to a publicly available Web site, as Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Leonard Lance, R-N.J., advocate. It would not even require passing a law. The House and or Senate could just do it. Congressional and CRS staff members then could direct the public (including academics, journalists, and moms) to the reports.

Some CRS employees worry that wider public dissemination might produce a tidal wave of calls from members of the public and interest groups. This is unlikely. Both the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office release their reports. Besides, thousands of copies of CRS reports already are out there. (Wikileaks dumped more than 6,700 CRS reports online five years ago.) Nonetheless, employee concerns can be addressed by replacing researchers’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses with hyperlinks to their CRS.gov contact pages, which only congressional staff members can access.

Making CRS reports more equitably available would be good for the CRS, good for Congress and good for the American public. As former representative Chris Shays, R-Conn., stated, “To me this is motherhood and apple pie. … Just do it.”

R Street brief refines principles for the future of work in the sharing economy

November 10, 2015, 11:25 AM

WASHINGTON (Nov. 10, 2015) – Stable and flexible benefits are good for workers, business and society and public policy should encourage firms to compete across all dimensions to attract labor, according to a new policy brief from the R Street Institute.

Authored by R Street Western Region Director Ian Adams, the brief builds on the principles laid out in today’s open letter to policymakers from the Portable Benefits Working Group. R Street took part in crafting the open letter, working with partners from the worlds of business, labor and academia.

“A policy framework that provides workers and firms with much greater flexibility is crucial in light of ongoing litigation,” Adams said. “Legislatures, not courts, are the appropriate venues in which to write the next chapter in the future of work.”

Adams notes that markets could respond to the proliferation of new business models and shifting worker preferences by providing a portable vehicle, such as a benefits exchange, for worker protection and benefits, which would be crucial for non-employee workers. He asserted the importance of addressing flexible benefits now, with an eye toward individual autonomy.

“We believe employer-employee relations should be defined by individual contract, rather that relying on statutory, regulatory and common law definitions,” he said. “If a company or platform passes a number of tests, there should be a strong presumption that the company is not an ‘employer’ under the law.”

Adams warned of the very real risk that litigation will subvert efforts to provide enhanced compensation.

“It’s both timely and necessary for policymakers to examine proposals to facilitate a more flexible future of work. Fundamental change requires a hard-won consensus, but we favor incremental steps to achieve these goals,” he said.

The flexible future of work

November 10, 2015, 10:00 AM

Working with partners from the worlds of business, labor and academia, the R Street Institute recently took part in crafting an open letter to policymakers that lays out broad principles for how a stable and flexible safety net can serve workers in all manner of employment classifications. The ideological diversity of the letter’s signatories highlights the importance of addressing the issues and opportunities presented by flexible models of employment.

The principles offer a starting point, but necessarily demand further thought and structure. This policy brief sketches an outline of how we at R Street intend to flesh out that framework in the months ahead.


Though worker classification issues recently have been elevated in the national conversation, evidence of a fundamental shift in the composition of the American labor market is, thus far, fairly scant. In fact, the proportion of workers operating on a contract basis has remained remarkably stable. Instead, it is the high-profile nature of new firms that either use contract labor, or offer a platform for contractors to advertise their services to the public, that has brought attention to the need to rethink worker classification constructs.

In the United States, state and federal tax and labor law typically treat employment status as a binary. Based on the extent of control and leverage a firm has with respect to laborers or service providers, the worker is defined either as an employee or an independent contractor. As currently constructed, the law simultaneously fails either to apportion proper responsibility to a putative employer or to acknowledge the flexibility demanded by workers who seek to set their own hours and perform for-hire tasks on multiple platforms. The current system also regards the extension of non-cash benefits by a firm to a laborer as evidence of “control.”

A policy framework that provides workers and firms with much greater flexibility is crucial in light of ongoing litigation in California – the home of many “gig” economy firms – that threatens to curtail the emergence of these new opportunities for workers. Legislatures, not courts, are the appropriate venues in which to write the next chapter in the future of work.

Principles for flexible work

  1. Stable and flexible benefits are good for workers, business and society. Supporting stability is best accomplished by furnishing the market with greater flexibility. New opportunities will continue to arise only in an environment that allows firms to compete across all dimensions to attract labor. The option of providing non-cash compensation should be on the table for firms seeking to hire contract workers.
  2. Markets could provide a portable vehicle for worker protections and benefits. Some technology firms already have expressed interest in establishing an alienable, private benefits model, which would be crucial for workers unencumbered by existing employment classifications. Instead of the government requiring certain benefits prescriptively, a benefits exchange could serve as a third-party administrator through which firms would finance worker benefits, either on a pro rata basis or according to terms negotiated between the firm and the contractor.
  3. The time has come for a conversation about flexible benefits. These questions should be answered with an eye toward individual autonomy. Contributions to benefits platforms should be wholly the province of the private relationship between a contractor and a firm. Private providers, instead of state administrators, should be given priority in the administration of new benefit platforms, precisely because many circumstances likely will be unique. A legal safe harbor from existing employment classifications might be needed for these new platforms, particularly as firms and workers continue to experiment with new workplace models.

Further considerations

Part of enhancing workplace flexibility entails reversing existing presumptions about the relationship between a worker and a firm. In California, as in many states, if you hire someone to do work, the presumption is that he or she is an employee. It’s up to employers to demonstrate that they are not. Thus, in a fact pattern in which some factors point one way and some point the other, the tie will go to the plaintiff who charges he or she was misclassified. Even with a safe harbor in place, firms that assert their workers are contractors have the legal deck stacked against them.

One option would be to reverse the legal presumption for firms that elect to contribute to portable benefits platforms. In such cases, the burden would instead fall on the plaintiff to demonstrate that he or she has been misclassified. This would encourage employers to embrace new benefits, despite the increased responsibilities that would entail.

Our vision

We believe that governments (preferably, the federal government) should create a safe harbor that firms which meet certain requirements would not be subject to regulatory action or litigation based on a misclassification argument. This would create a safe harbor that would encourage employers to provide non-cash benefits to contractors – which could include health, life, disability or accident insurance, or a range of retirement products – or to extend reimbursement for expenses or for workplace injuries, without triggering the legal and regulatory tests of “control” that would define the contract as one of employment. Ideally, we believe employer-employee relations should be defined by individual contract, rather than relying on statutory, regulatory and common law definitions.

In short, if a company or platform passes a number of tests — such as working with any individuals who meet certain specified criteria, or giving people who use the platform total control over their own hours — there should be a strong presumption that the company is not an “employer” under the law.


The status quo in labor law fails to reflect the need for greater flexibility within employment arrangements. There is a real risk that litigation will subvert efforts to provide enhanced compensation. Thus, it’s both timely and necessary for policymakers to examine proposals to facilitate a more flexible future of work. Fundamental change requires hard-won consensus, but we favor incremental steps to achieve these goals.

Companies are best equipped to regulate themselves

November 10, 2015, 8:45 AM

The last thing that this nation needs is a more active regulatory state, but once again, an incalculably stupid firm – in this case, Volkswagen – has given proponents of such a policy an opportunity to overreact. We should resist that temptation.

There is an upside to regulation, even for those who believe in a mostly laissez-faire approach. Ideally, regulation serves to make business practices “regular,” thus avoiding excessive reliance on claims of tort to handle disputes, as the latter is an inefficient system.

But the fact is, in practice, most rules are less effective than their promoters imagine. There simply is no way to anticipate all the potential ethical failures, all the ways to cheat or all the ways to conceal that cheating. Introducing further burdensome regulation in the wake of some new disclosure often amounts to locking the barn door after the cow has left.

Regulations serve two purposes: The first is to forestall transgressions before they happen and the second is to punish violators after they’ve been caught. Would more punitive sanctions on Volkswagen or a more thoroughly preventative approach to monitoring their behavior actually been more successful in preventing the company’s transgressions than the fallout the firm now faces?

It’s difficult to see how. After setting aside $8 billion to cover the costs of their initial diesel debacle, it now looks like they’ve been forced to set aside another $2 billion as the problem creeps into the gasoline-powered side of the company’s business.

The primary reason to be skeptical of calls for more extensive regulation is that, more often than not, those rules and their implementation will be dictated by large incumbent firms, like Volkswagen, and wielded against new competitors. More regulation does not equal better regulation. Quite the opposite, businesses are often best equipped to regulate themselves.

Chicago still isn’t giving Uber a fair shake

November 09, 2015, 10:35 PM

Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services will be permitted to pick up passengers at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports under a plan approved by the City Council in a 39-11 vote.

The decision marks a step in the right direction for the city, which has come a long way from the prohibitionist approach it was still taking to the emerging industry just a year ago. Chicago did not start licensing ride-booking drivers until February of this year, but the industry is now expected to contribute $30 million in annual fees to the city.

But contrary to the claims of Chicago cabbies—who in recent weeks attempted to stage strikes at the airports and citywide in protest of the plan; filed suit seeking to revoke the licenses of ride-hailing service drivers, and disrupted recent City Council Transportation Committee hearings with chants of “same service, same rules”—the problems with the new regime are not that they fail to extend regulations to Uber and Lyft but that they explicitly tax the upstarts to prop up their incumbent competitors.

Under the new rules, ride-booking service users will be forced to pay a 30-cents-a-trip fee to the city of Chicago. Those fees will be used, in part, to offset the costs of fingerprinting, background checks, drug testing, driver-training classes and chauffeur license fees, which are expected to drop from $15 to $5.

Moreover, where taxis must pay a 50-cents-a-trip fee for airport pickups, the fee on ride-hailing pickups at the airport will be 52 cents per trip. Where taxis will continue to pay a $4 fee for access to the airports, ride-booking companies will now pay $5 for access to airport pickups, as well as for dropoffs or pickups either at McCormick Place or Navy Pier. The fees alone can be more than the typical ride.

What was that business about the “same rules,” again?

Taxis already have many built-in advantages over ride-booking services. Most important is monopoly access to accept fares hailed on city streets. Beyond that, there are cabstands set aside on city-owned property throughout Chicago where only taxis are permitted to solicit business.

Taxi fleets also can earn money by accepting advertising, something that’s significantly more difficult to pull off in the private cars that work with Uber and Lyft. And finally, there’s the fact that taxis—unlike ride-hailing services—still conduct a significant portion of their business in cash, which has the convenient property of being harder to track by agencies like the IRS.

Given those structural advantages, services like Uber and Lyft never should have stood a chance. That they have grown so rapidly and are so popular is a testament to just how inadequate the existing transportation-for-hire options truly were. Continuing to insulate the industry from this competition, including explicitly robbing Peter to pay Paul, serves no one well in the long run.

Chicago should be commended for liberalizing its regulatory framework and being open and welcoming to new ideas and business models. It is, in that respect, ahead of some of its peers, most notably New York.

Both Chicago and the state government in Springfield also have done important work in setting down consistent standards to address some of the reasonable public health and safety issues that ride-hailing presents, such as minimum insurance requirements and basic background checks.

But tearing down the sclerotic legal and regulatory structures that stand in the way of innovation will require much more work. Only when that task is complete will Chicago’s consumers and its entrepreneurs enjoy the kind of dynamic competitive market that they deserve.