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College football: An effort to win at the cost of progress

December 01, 2014, 4:43 PM

Every fall, on campuses across the nation, fans journey to watch collegiate athletes take the field to play America’s most popular amateur sport, football. The appeal of college football lies not only in the intensity of its fans, but in the on-field product itself. The reason is simple. Even though college athletes lead lives that other students would find unrecognizable, they are, in the final calculation, amateurs. Random mistakes that are unthinkable for, or at least less common among, professionals routinely lead to upsets and outcomes that confound even the closest followers of the sport.

A college football program’s success seemingly is predicated on the ability of the coaching staff to overcome the randomness of its sport. They attempt to do so through personnel decisions and strategic innovation.

Programs compete intensely to attract the best high school personnel available. Schools host prospects for lavish recruiting visits and generally do everything within their power, and often within NCAA rules, to make the visiting student feel special. Some programs trade on their tradition of excellence (Notre Dame); some programs can tell of recent successes (Alabama); and still others offer something entirely different, sartorial superiority (Oregon). Yet, talent is only a portion of the formula necessary to foster a winning program.

Successful recruiting is not enough to build a winner because, more than in other sports, the involvement of a football coaching staff is determinative of the in-game success of a team. For this reason, a great deal of attention is paid to a team’s strategy and play-calling. Teams that innovate can succeed in spite of talent deficits.

The evolution of football strategy has moved, seriatim, from days in which blocking patterns exclusively set-up running plays, to the development of forward passing options, and now to a point where play calling occurs from the sideline and requires no pre-play huddle on the field.

That last development is a revolution that has the conservative, old-guard making a goal-line stand. The “no huddle offense” has raised the cadence of the game dramatically. Some programs, in fact entire football conferences, perhaps out of a sense of tradition, have failed to adapt.

For instance, with some exceptions, the Big Ten Conference, well-known for a grinding, slow, and deliberate playing style, has failed to effectively embrace new offensive strategies. Unsurprisingly, in 2013, the Big Ten posted the worst out-of-conference winning percentage of the five major conferences. A repeat of that ignominy is a real possibility. Perhaps it’s tradition that keeps many Big Ten teams mired in futility. It’s not so much that innovation has been considered and rejected… it’s as if it never arrived.

More curious is the case of one of the nation’s top programs, the University of Alabama, that is coached by one of the nation’s most successful coaches, Nick Saban. In 2012, a year that the Crimson Tide would win a national championship, Coach Saban made a point of decrying the use of “no huddle” offense.

I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety.

Later that season, Alabama would lose to Texas A&M, a team well known for its use of a speedy no-huddle offense.

Outside of its humane, laudable and situational concern over player safety (and isn’t football an affront to human safety simply by the acts required to play it? Micro-aggressions be damned, smash-mouth subtleties rule in football!) why in the world would a successful program take such a public stand against innovation that has made the game much more exciting and entertaining? Would only an embittered cynic suggest that, perhaps, the program fears more nimble competition and would rather defeat it through regulation than on the field?

Nope. From a conservation of a dominant organization’s resources standpoint, to reduce competition’s chances of overtaking the dominant organization, this retrograde strategy makes excellent sense. Even outside of the walls of athletic academia, one does not have to look far to find real-world examples of protectionism. The dimensions of such protectionism change from the massive, in international trade disputes, to the local in situations where taxicab stakeholders fight to stifle ride-share innovations, and hotel owners fight to kill accommodation-sharing innovations.

Hopefully, for the sake of innovation, Saban’s campaign to enshrine go-slow football will fail.  Should Alabama fail to win the national crown this year, he might find himself available to assist his anachronistic soulmates as they selfishly but understandably try to buck progress. One can imagine the very-well-qualified-to-do-so Mr. Sabin speaking out to limit private sector innovation with noble sounding expressions of concern about car rider and house guest safety. In the meantime, the public pays more and is limited to services it no longer wants, by such efforts.

 

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

R Street is seeking a Director of Innovation Policy

December 01, 2014, 3:53 PM

The R Street Institute, a free-market think-tank located in Washington, D.C., is seeking a law and technology wonk to serve as our Director of Innovation Policy. We’re looking for a super smart, super productive person who can write, research, educate, and learn about a wide variety of issues related to innovation, intellectual property, and the Internet, consistent with R Street’s brand of pragmatic libertarianism.

The job will, initially, focus on two major areas where we’re already working: intellectual property reform (particularly with regard to copyright and patent reform) and the sharing economy. While we’d ideally like someone with experience working in both of these areas, it’s particularly important that the person we hire be able to establish him or herself as a thought leader in the area of intellectual property reform. We don’t need candidates to agree with every word everyone at R Street has written. It’s important, however, that candidates familiarize themselves with the gist of R Street’s past work. Other interests in technology policy broadly will be considered a plus and anyone we hire will be able to spend some time working on technology-related projects and intellectual ventures of his or her choice. Candidates should be willing and able to learn about new areas quickly and keep apace with new developments in Congress, the courts, and the executive branch.

On a day-to-day basis, the person we hire will be expected to produce op-eds, magazine articles and white papers, participate in broad cross-ideological coalitions and engage in educational outreach to policymakers and potential allies. He or she will also be expected to help organize events and conferences.

While proven ability to do the job we’ve described is, of course, absolutely mandatory, we also put a great deal of emphasis on finding people who fit in with our institutional culture. We’re an office with no dress code, no set hours, little formal reporting, and very few meetings, but we take a very serious attitude towards our work. People who haven’t at least sometimes felt that they were more productive than the great majority of their colleagues probably won’t fit in.

Candidates should be able to demonstrate experience working on at least some of the issues we’re dealing with but we’re open to people with a range of different backgrounds. People with less than three years of experience in these fields probably won’t cut it. An advanced degree and record of published work are highly desirable. In general, we believe that highly qualified candidates will have some combination of experience with Capitol Hill, academia, or non-profits working on technology policy.

Salary will be commensurate with experience and we take pride in paying better and providing better benefits than most other think tanks in Washington, D.C. If you’re on the Hill or at another non-profit, it’s highly likely we can pay you more than you currently make.

Our benefits package includes health insurance fully paid for by the employer (including families), an employer-funded HRA to cover health insurance co-pays and deductibles, employer paid disability insurance, unlimited free snacks and drinks at the office, gym membership reimbursement, an automatic employer contribution to a 401(k) plan, bike sharing reimbursement, and an exceptionally generous vacation policy.

We don’t discriminate on the basis of sex, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran status, gender identity, taste in music or anything else that’s illegal, immoral or stupid to use as a basis for hiring.

To apply, please send a resume, a cover letter, and a writing sample dealing with some aspect of intellectual property law or policy. A published writing sample is strongly preferred.

Here’s how the process will work going forward: We’ll look at all resumes we receive and reach out to candidates we want to interview remotely within a week of receiving their resumes. Candidates who believe they are highly qualified and don’t hear back within a week should drop us a line. Based on remote interviews, we’ll invite a few candidates to our offices for in-person interviews with our entire team.

We currently intended to accept applications until close of business on Monday January 12, 2015 and schedule in-person interviews during the week of January 19th, 2015, probably on January 20th, 2015. In-person interviews will take place in Washington, D.C. at our new office near Farragut square. We typically make hiring decisions within 24 hours of these in-person interviews. This timeline, however, may change.

Applications should be sent to employment@rstreet.org.

 

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

Keeping the Texas budget lean

December 01, 2014, 1:56 PM
Mark Twain famously observed that the two things you don’t want to see being made are laws and sausages. But when it comes to the state budget, an occasional tour through the sausage factory is necessary.

Virginia vs. the EPA?

December 01, 2014, 11:23 AM

The Obama administration’s recently announced Clean Air Act power-plant rules, advertised as helping to control the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, have almost nothing to recommend them. Complex, clunky, and burdensome, they’re likely to spike energy bills while doing almost nothing to control pollution or stop global warming.

Despite some pleasant-sounding talk about flexibility and choice, as currently drafted, the rules offer states few options beyond heavy-handed command-and-control oversight of fixed source carbon-dioxide emitters (coal-fired power plants and the like). Even the awful Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2009 suspended authority to issue regulations like the ones the Obama administration has now imposed.

That’s why it’s more than a bit heartening that a few states are fighting back in a constructive way, one that neither accepts the administration’s bureaucratic meddling nor ignores greenhouse gas emissions. In language that only a bureaucrat could love, the Commonwealth of Virginia has asked that it be allowed to interpret “40 C.F.R. §60.21 and §60.24(b)(1) permit §111(d) emission guidelines to . . . devise broader, more creative, and more effective options to address compliance from affected [power plants] than now contemplated.” The EPA, Virginia says, should also “remove any doubts that novel approaches will be encouraged and accepted.”

In plain language, this is an important if cheeky request: If the EPA will allow it, Virginia regulators would like to kick the agency out for all intents and purposes and replace command-and-control regulation with a better system of its own devising.

While a piecemeal state-by-state approach probably doesn’t make for the best possible economic policy—economists from both the left and right agree it would be better to tax greenhouse gas emissions at a single national rate—the politics of what Virginia may want to do are great. With one fell swoop, state officials could kick out federal regulators, end the burdens they impose, and follow any number of courses, ranging from the state’s own carbon tax (which could be used to cut other taxes) to a lighter-handed, more localized approach to regulation. Having such options is particularly important to Virginia, which, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, has done a lot to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in ways that current centrally planned rules just don’t acknowledge.

Virginia is currently under a Democratic governor who implicitly accepts that the Obama administration is trying to confront a real problem, albeit in a ham-handed way. Thus, the Virginia approach isn’t likely to win many conservative plaudits. But if the EPA can be convinced to say “yes” and allow Virginia to go forward, it will present a path that turns a burdensome regulatory framework into an opportunity for policy innovation.

What happens in Vegas… can’t happen in an Uber — for now.

December 01, 2014, 10:54 AM

From United Liberty:

The R Street Institute recently published a study on the regulatory framework of the taxi, liousine, and ride-sharing industry in 50 of America’s top cities. At the time, Las Vegas received the lowest rating possible.

 

Portland’s “F” Doesn’t Stand for “Transportation Friendly”

December 01, 2014, 10:52 AM

From Oregon Catalyst:

R Street Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, released its Ridescore website last week. The site grades 50 large U.S. cities based on taxi, limo, and transportation network friendliness. Portland received an F, making it the second-most transportation-hostile city in the survey. Why did Portland rank so poorly?

Think Tanks: Your mail isn’t safe from Big Brother

December 01, 2014, 10:49 AM

From the Washington Examiner:

Kevin Kosar for the R Street Institute: By law, first-class mail is sealed against inspection, meaning that government officials may not open it without first getting a warrant from a judge. A citizen would be forgiven for imagining that this law ensures his or her mail is private, but that’s not quite true.

A New Climate? How A Utility, Germany, Elon Musk And Falling Oil Prices Are Conspiring To Fight CO2

December 01, 2014, 10:46 AM

From Forbes:

Simpler rules equals less government. Ian Adams of the R Street Institute expressed similar sentiments in The Oregonian: “This could be done while simultaneously complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in a much less economically destructive way,” he wrote.

Rounding up NCOIL’s San Francisco meeting

November 28, 2014, 9:00 AM

The National Conference of Insurance Legislators is an organization founded with the goal of helping legislators make informed policy decisions. Over the course of three yearly meetings, members of NCOIL, including state legislators, regulators, and stakeholders, evaluate and discuss the nation’s most pressing insurance issues. At 2014’s final meeting, held Nov. 19-23 in San Francisco, a record 99 legislators from 32 states attended.

R Street was well represented in San Francisco, with both myself and Ian Adams, our California director, in attendance.

The major agenda item for R Street was a transportation network company panel on Saturday morning. The panel featured representatives from Uber, the California Department of Insurance, the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America, James River Insurance Co. and the Taxi, Limousine & Paratransit Association.

The consensus position among the insurance-related panelists was that there is no desire to frustrate new technology, but that insurance questions need to be answered in as uniform a manner as possible. For this reason, the panel focused largely on a recently passed California law which is being touted as a model for other states to follow.

“Period one” of the TNC ride, the point from which the TNC app is tuned on until a connection with a fare is made, was of particular concern. Because TNC services are so new, there is not a great deal of actuarial information concerning activity during that period. The representative of the CDI speculated that California’s law may need to undergo revisions, because period one might be more dangerous than the subsequent periods.

The position of the taxi representative was a marked departure from his fellow panelists. He stated emphatically that the period-based construct for insurance liability is unnecessary because, in his view, TNC activity is commercial and should be subject to commercial livery insurance standards.

The sparks that flew during the TNC panel were in stark contrast to many of the more staid, though similarly informative, proceedings. One such panel focused on federal health care insurance exchanges.

Panelists hailed from three states to discuss the varied implementation challenges faced by California, Nevada and Idaho. The different scales of the exchanges were immediately apparent. For instance, California has a 700-person staff and does all of its “navigation” and enrollment plus marketing and “market shaping” in-house. Meanwhile, Idaho functions with a four-person staff responsible for everything from providing consumer information to qualifying insurance companies for inclusion in the exchange.

Not surprisingly, the cost of Idaho’s exchange infrastructure is substantially less than California’s. Per policy, Idaho charges a 1.4 percent fee while California makes an assessment of 4 percent.

In addition to hosting panels, NCOIL also develops model legislation. The major model under consideration by the Property-Casualty Committee for the past three meetings has concerned lawsuit lending practices. What was touted as a compromise model was taken under consideration. That version contained language specifying that transactions are not actually loans. It also included a cap of 45 percent per-year for repayment (hardly a relief, given that a transaction repaid from lawsuit proceeds after a year and a day would carry the equivalent of 90% interest as a fee).

Opposition to the model was based on existing practices that border on unconscionable. A State Farm representative gave several real world examples of actual cases, including a recovery of more than $100,000 where the plaintiff ended up with roughly $100 after  attorney and transaction fees were paid

Ultimately, the “compromise” version failed to be adopted, in a very close vote.

NCOIL model acts require periodic renewal. NCOIL’s credit scoring model was a renewal candidate. Interestingly, the act’s renewal was delayed for further study due to concerns about data mining and other privacy issues that have surfaced since the model was developed and adopted several years ago. A claim that Internet search histories are being used to impact credit scores, while dubious, prompted lawmakers to pause to investigate.

The final foremost concern of the November meeting was about the extent to which international bodies are usurping the regulatory sovereignty of states. Recently, the United States failed to present a unified voice on the topic at an International Association of Insurance Supervisors meeting. There was a great deal of conversation, and even a sense of betrayal at NCOIL, about the Federal Insurance Office voting with the European bloc to close international discussions to stakeholder engagement.

In her presentation to the NCOIL legislators, a representative of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners expressed the position that insurance regulators feel they are fighting a losing battle to avoid the imposition of, essentially, international banking regulation on the insurance industry. Everybody agreed that reigning in the FIO and pursuing a unified “Team USA” approach is going to be necessary to prevent that from happening.

The proposed topics for next year include: insurer ownership of pharmacy benefit managers; telemedicine liability; skyrocketing air ambulance charges; another look at credit scoring; and a fourth bite at the litigation financing apple. For our part, R Street will continue to follow all of these issues closely by attending NCOIL meetings and engaging closely with its participants.

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

Six ways to spice up your Thanksgiving dinner…and conversation

November 27, 2014, 10:36 AM

For most Americans, Thanksgiving looks less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like a cat rodeo. Embrace the strange and wonderful world of family, friends, and that person at the table that might possibly be related to you. Traditions are important, but sometimes we need to shake things up a bit. Here are six ways to spice up your time around the dinner table today:

  1. Truly Deviled Eggs – Deviled eggs are a Thanksgiving staple for many families, but they have lost much of the spiciness that gives them their name. It is high time for a return to former glory. Many deviled eggs are topped with a healthy sprinkling of paprika, but cayenne pepper makes for an especially interesting substitute. Consider preparing some of the eggs each way. Whether you tell your guests or not is up to you.
  2. Pop a Fly – After everyone is seated, begin incessantly swatting at a fly that does not exist. Note the size and speed as you discretely slip a raisin in your hand. Loudly declare that you have caught the fly. Briefly open your hand, just long enough for people to see the black dot and pop it in your mouth. Watch the horror on the faces of your guests, as they believe you have just eaten a fly.
  3. Never a Bad Time for St. Crispin’s Day – The St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V is one of the most stirring speeches of all time. Lightly modified, it can make for an interesting opening to any blessing prior to the meal:We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he today that shares this meal with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in America now abed
    Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That dined with us upon Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Remote Uncontrolled – After dinner, everyone has the handful of relatives who battle for control over the remote as they digest the meal. Generally it means a day of college and NFL football. Who says there should only be one remote control? Programming another remote to operate the television and discretely using it to tune to C-SPAN at every commercial break has the potential to be quite entertaining. Just make sure that your guests do not try to “repair” the television.
  5. Develop Creative Political Issues – Politics is undoubtedly on the menu for many families this Thanksgiving. One lighthearted and entertaining idea is to argue for or against political issues that sound familiar but do not actually exist. For example, defend President Obama’s plan to deport violent criminals to Iran. Express outrage over Harry Reid’s efforts to undermine age neutrality for the Internet by requiring senior citizens to be licensed before surfing the web. Finally, raise questions about whether or not we should privatize Congress.
  6. The Magic of Palms Down – Pick your favorite relative to demonstrate a magic trick at the conclusion of dinner. Ask them to place their hands on the table palms down. Fill two glasses with any available liquid and balance them on the backs of their hands. Inform them that they are responsible for producing the magic and removing their hands without spilling the glasses. Leave them there for as long as necessary.

Some of us have many reasons for giving thanks while others might find it a little tougher this year. Be mindful of that reality, and be thankful for the relationships in your life and enjoy your time together.

Time to shuck the big corn giveaway

November 27, 2014, 9:59 AM

By most reasonable measures, America’s corn farmers have had a fantastic year. Their 14-billion-bushel harvest represents the largest yearly haul of any crop by any single country in world history.  Corn farmers are the last people who should need your tax money, but that’s exactly what they’re getting.

Good weather and innovative new seeds have allowed modern farmers to produce more corn per acre than ever before. In contrast to the image of the struggling family farm that prompted Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp to start Farm Aid 30 years ago, farm family incomes are actually higher than the American average, as they have been for nearly three decades.

That’s why it ought to outrage taxpayers that the government’s crop “insurance” program — originally intended as a safety net for family farms — is going to pay out $10 billion this year to these same hugely successful corn growers.  Largely because of the success of the harvest, corn prices per bushel have declined, thus triggering automatic payments.

This is just one perverse outcome of America’s broken farm subsidy system. It’s also a sign that the supposedly money-saving bipartisan farm bill President Barack Obama signed in February won’t work as advertised.  American farm policy remains very far from any free-market ideal.

But all is not lost. Though debate on the next farm bill likely won’t start in earnest until sometime in 2018, there are constructive steps that both Congress and the administration could take to improve farm policy now.

The new conservative majority in the Senate could work with fiscal hawks in the House to make some tweaks. One option is a minimal transparency measure that would require the names and addresses of the crop insurance program’s biggest beneficiaries to be published, a requirement that is already in place for other agricultural subsidies. Using the USDA’s database, the Environmental Working Group found that at least 15 members of Congress received farm subsidies in 2013, 13 of whom supported the bill. There are about 1.2 million crop insurance policies that benefit over 1 million farms, but the great bulk of subsidies go to the very biggest players.  Twenty-six truly enormous farms received subsidies over $1 million in 2011 according to an analysis conducted by the Environmental Working Group.

For its part, the Obama administration should work to implement one of the good changes in this year’s farm bill, requiring that farmers who take crop insurance premium subsidies be accountable for their conservation practices. The 2014 bill extended and expanded a policy that President Ronald Reagan first signed into law in the 1980s, that agriculture subsidies shouldn’t pay to destroy wetlands and prairies in ways that impose hidden costs on taxpayers.

Under this program of “conservation compliance,” if farmers take subsidies and grow crops on highly erodible land, they need to do have plans to prevent the loss of soil. If they destroy wetlands to begin new farming, those lands are ineligible for subsidies. Farmers who don’t like the government’s rules are free to ignore them, so long as they give up the subsidies.

This is a perfectly fair policy that makes intuitive sense. However, the administration is sure to be lobbied by some farm groups who favor weak rules that let farmers continue to do the wrong things and collect government checks anyway. During the battle over renewal, many farm groups, indeed, tried to end conservation compliance entirely.

Over the long term, subsidizing the cultivation of wetlands and prairies isn’t just bad environmental policy; it also sets the stage for fiscal disaster. These lands are particularly sensitive to floods, droughts and other extreme weather, and subsidizing their conversion to farmland will result in big claims on the Treasury. Strong conservation compliance rules can save hundreds of millions of dollars and protect many environmentally sensitive areas.

Even though they make up a rather small share of the federal budget, farm subsidies deserve a high place on any list of the most profligate federal programs. In the long term, a system that has turned row crop farmers into welfare recipients should be eliminated outright. Market forces, not government bureaucrats, should determine what gets grown and who grows it.

Responding to Ferguson by building bridges across the racial divide

November 27, 2014, 9:01 AM

As the dust, smoke and gunfire in Ferguson, Mo., subside, Americans are left with realities that many of us would rather not confront. The circumstances surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent grand jury decision not to indict the officer who shot him may be the focal points of the media, but they also force us to consider our own attitudes on race.

The rioting, looting and violence are unacceptable activities. Period. Looting an auto parts store before burning it to the ground does absolutely nothing to advance justice and racial equality. In a 1966 interview with Mike Wallace, Martin Luther King Jr. remarked, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” In the same interview, he also noted, “Riots are self defeating and socially destructive.” Those who suggest that rioting in Ferguson is somehow an extension of Dr. King’s mission are guilty of rewriting history.

At the same time, there are many Americans who view Michael Brown’s death as a symbol of continuing racial disparity in our nation. Their non-violent protests and sincere comments across the country beg for a thoughtful response.

Much of the institutional and government-sanctioned racism in America has been effectively dismantled and, in most social and professional settings, racist comments or actions are not tolerated. We have witnessed the first black president and attorney general. This year, we saw the first African-American senator elected in the South since Reconstruction.

Many Americans focus on the positive progress our nation has made, but what has transpired in Ferguson may not fit as conveniently in that narrative. The institutions of slavery and government-sanctioned racism were horrible evils that targeted generations of people solely on account of the color of their skin. Those structures attempted to subjugate people, families and communities under false assumptions of racial superiority.

The disparities raised in connection with Ferguson matter deeply because they represent genuine perspectives and concerns about the role of race in America. Regardless of whether a grand jury should have indicted the officer that shot Brown, far too many African-Americans are able to identify with bias in law enforcement. That alone should be enough for those of us who have not had those experiences to ask questions, learn and support our fellow Americans.

Racial progress in America may have ended the engines of discrimination that created tremendous harm for so many. Unfortunately, putting an end to racist institutions and viewpoints is far different than intentionally and personally repairing the damage that they have caused.

Regardless of the color of our skin, we have the option of simply disavowing racism or intentionally building bridges outside of our immediate circles. Our past has heavily influenced our present, but how we respond to events like those in Ferguson will shape the future of our communities and nation.

Britain: E-cigarettes almost exclusively used by smokers and ex-smokers

November 26, 2014, 10:00 AM

The British government has just released statistics on e-cigarette use. The Office for National Statistics reports that e-cigarettes were used by 12 percent of smokers and 5 percent of former smokers in the United Kingdom during the first quarter of this year, but the rate of use among never-smokers was only 0.14 percent.

This is direct evidence that it is predominantly smokers who are using e-cigs, and some of them are becoming ex-smokers.

Release of the British data underscores the distressing fact that the United States neither collects nor publishes similar information, which is vital to intelligent public health policymaking.

It is disgraceful that 10 years after the introduction of e-cigarettes, and five years after a rapid acceleration in sales, the U.S. government — particularly the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention — collects almost no e-cig data in its many national surveys.

I emphasize “almost,” because the CDC has collected usage information among youth for the past three years, using it to mislead the public about an unsubstantiated new childhood tobacco epidemic.

When my son killed the TV, I understood its role in our home

November 26, 2014, 9:00 AM

Last Friday, I received an ominous message from my wife during a meeting, asking me to call her quickly. Given the immediate nature of her request, I assumed that someone had either become gravely ill or passed away. At any rate, I excused myself from the meeting and rang her phone.

“Are you sitting down?” she asked. At that moment, my fears were confirmed. Something terrible had happened.

“I have some bad news,” she said, “Your middle son killed the television.”

I was tremendously relieved to hear that everyone was safe and sound. The sense of relief dissipated when she explained that my son had thrown a wooden block at the seven-year-old television mounted on our living room wall and shattered the screen.

The irony of having a child destroy my TV in the same week that I had written a column declaring the importance of fathers staying calm in the face of child-induced frustration was not lost on me. Thankfully, I followed my own advice.

I generally like to think of our family as relatively detached from the television. We have one television in the house, and my wife and I monitor the content and amount of time our children spend watching it. We play sports, enjoy the outdoors and have plenty of activities outside of the house. Maybe that is why I was so surprised at our response to the loss of the television.

The first telling reaction was from my eldest son, who offered the entire contents of his piggy bank to replace the television as soon as possible. He has amassed quite a collection of quarters that he dutifully guards. His complete willingness to part with all of them demonstrated how much he valued the television.

I quickly discovered the significant impact of television as a result of its absence. First, I noticed that the house was much quieter. It dawned on me that we often have the television on in the background, making noise even though nobody is watching. With the many important voices already competing for attention in my home, the television needlessly adds many more.

I also found some of that time I always seem to be missing. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey released in June, Americans watched TV for 2.8 hours per day in 2013. If we spend a total of 16 hours between sleep and work, we are burning 35 percent of our discretionary time parked in front of the TV. In a world where I am pressed to find time for my friends, my church and even my family, dialing back my television consumption further could be a game changer.

When we are tired at the end of a long day, the TV can provide the feeling of friendly conversation or relational engagement without the effort. Some nights I sit next to my wife on the couch watching TV for an hour or two and fail to exchange even a handful of words. We may be together, but it hardly counts as quality time.

I am not against television, and we will replace the broken one. There are shows and movies that challenge our perspectives, that entertain us and even help us learn. At the same time, I have come to realize that my television is a powerful influence that demands both time and attention in my home. It creates a relational quality and feel without providing any actual relationships.

All of us have friends, spouses or children that need us to spend time and effort on our relationships with them. Most of us have obligations that already limit the time we have to do that. As a result, we must ensure that we touch the lives of the people we value and love before we turn on the TV.

I learned plenty on the day the TV died. Now I am just praying that it does not happen to my smartphone.

The Uber fight comes to the South

November 25, 2014, 4:57 PM

You’d think the GOP would side with ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar over the taxi cartels and the local governments that are trying to protect them. After all, the Republican party campaigns on smaller government, less regulation, and entrepreneurship. And this summer, the Republican party and RNC chairman Reince Priebus issued a petition on the GOP’s website calling on readers to support the ride-sharing company Uber against “taxi-unions and liberal bureaucrats.”

However, as Josh Barro noted in a recent article at The New York Times, Republicans have not always lived up to their rhetoric when it comes to legalizing ride-sharing. He pointed to a recent study by the R Street Institute (where I work) and Engine, a group that promotes policies that favor start-ups, that graded 50 cities on how friendly they were to ride-sharing services and for-hire transportation more broadly. The study found no correlation between how friendly cities were to ride-sharing and the direction they leaned politically. For example, the three cities that earned A grades (Washington, Fresno, and Minneapolis) and the two that earned F grades (Portland, and Las Vegas) are all decidedly blue in their voting patterns.

As for the South, the scores ranged from B+’s for Virginia Beach, Louisville, and Raleigh, to D-’s for San Antonio and Kansas City, Mo. As the battles over ride-sharing heat up all over the South, here’s an opportunity for Southern Republicans to prove that they really are for limited government and that it’s not just a catchphrase.

Lawmakers, regulators, and city officials are discussing or have recently discussed ride-sharing in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Most of these states are solidly Republican on the state — and in many cases the local — level. But the reaction to ride-sharing has been mixed, with some regulators and lawmakers wanting to ban the practice and others supporting a lighter touch that reflects the unique nature of these services. For example, both Uber and Lyft use smartphone apps to schedule and dispatch riders, whereas traditional taxis are dispatched by telephone and can be hailed off the street.

All too often, state and local officials have been quick to place ride-sharing services in the box of unlicensed taxi operators. Major cities across the country restrict the supply of taxi licenses, sometimes forcing operators to buy taxi “medallions” from the local government. In New York City, medallions have topped $1 million and an entire industry has sprung up around financing them. Traditional taxi operators also accept massive regulations from local governments on everything from where stickers are placed to how much they can charge for fares. Ride-sharing companies argue that they are already much more transparent than taxis, both in terms of the prices they charge and in offering a rating system for every driver and every passenger.

If Republicans in the South want to show they’re truly for free markets and limited government, they should support efforts both to avoid overregulation of these new services and to repeal the anti-competitive measures already on the books for taxis and limos. They should work to ensure that all segments of the for-hire driver market compete on an even playing field. For example, there should be uniform minimum requirements in regards to such things as background checks and liability insurance.

Bold Southern Republicans should even consider abolishing taxi medallions entirely. Let taxis compete with ride-sharing services (and each other) on rates, and loosen the numerous regulations companies have to comply with that have nothing to do with public safety.

The American people are right to ask whether conservative politicians stand for less government, or for cronyism and big business. If Republicans in the solid-red South decide to lead the way in creating a level playing field for ride-sharing companies and traditional taxi cabs to compete, it would go a long way toward proving conservatives can walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

Collection of CRS reports released to the public

November 25, 2014, 3:07 PM

Something rare has occurred—a collection of reports authored by the Congressional Research Service has been published and made freely available to the public. The 500-page volume, titled “The Evolving Congress,” was produced in conjunction with CRS’s celebration of its 100th anniversary this year. Congress, not CRS, published it. (Disclaimer: Before departing CRS in October, I helped edit a portion of the volume.)

The Congressional Research Service does not release its reports publicly. CRS posts its reports at CRS.gov, a website accessible only to Congress and its staff. The agency has a variety of reasons for this policy, not least that its statute does not assign it this duty. Congress, with ease, could change this policy. Indeed, it already makes publicly available the bill digests (or “summaries”) CRS produces at Congress.gov.

The Evolving Congress is a remarkable collection of essays that covers a broad range of topic. Readers would be advised to start from the beginning. Walter Oleszek provides a lengthy essay on how Congress has changed over the past century. Michael Koempel then assesses how the job of congressman has evolved (or devolved, depending on one’s perspective). “Over time, both chambers developed strategies to reduce the quantity of time given over to legislative work in order to accommodate members’ other duties,” Koempel observes.

The Evolving Congress’ 20 remaining essays are devoted to close-up looks at Congress (e.g., members’ demography, congressional staff) and how policy gets made (e.g., the rushed establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the perennial extension of tax breaks). Altogether, the essays inform the reader how Congress, despite its evident dysfunction, does get some things done—often in creative ways.

If anything, The Evolving Congress provides further evidence that CRS’ reports should be released to the public. Congress and federal policy are complex, often maddeningly so. Freeing CRS’ reports would give the public something tangible in return for the $107 million it pays for CRS’ operations: an oasis of unbiased information in an Internet awash with half-truths and outright buncombe. And unlike most political science research, CRS’ work tends to be easy to read.

Hopefully, the 114th Congress will end this policy and post CRS reports online at Congress.gov.

CRS The Evolving Congress (December 2014) by Kevin R. Kosar

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

Austin gets a C on taxi alternatives

November 25, 2014, 10:00 AM

Austin enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a vibrant, tech-friendly metropolis. But when it comes to the vehicle-for-hire market, the city could be doing a lot better.

A new report released by the R Street Institute gives Austin a grade of C+ when it comes to how the city regulates vehicle-for-hire companies. The report, which ranks and assigns letter grades to the nation’s 50 largest cities, looks not only at how cities regulate traditional taxi and limo services, but also how restrictive they are towards transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. TNCs, which use smartphone apps to connect drivers and riders in real time, have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Many cities initially have been wary of the TNC model, which does not always fit comfortably into existing 20th century regulations.

Austin’s C+ puts it in the middle of the pack. That’s not great, but it’s actually a significant improvement over recent practice. It was only last month that the city reversed its prior TNC ban, and instituted a sensible regulatory framework requiring liability insurance and other requirements for driver and passenger safety.

Prior to that, the attitude of the Austin government to these companies was downright hostile. During South by Southwest, the Austin Police Department tweeted warnings about the illegality of Uber, urging people to take traditional taxis instead. This despite the fact that Austin’s taxis were clearly overwhelmed by the influx of 30,000 festival-goers that had turned Austin’s ordinarily annoying traffic congestion into a sea of gridlock. Congestion can get so bad downtown that rickshaws have made a come back as a mode of transportation. In that environment, prioritizing anti-Uber attacks seemed like an odd choice for the city.

The city’s action legalizing TNCs raised Austin’s score from an F to an A on the relevant subsection of the R Street report. Yet the city’s overall grade still suffers from overregulation of traditional taxi and limo services. For example, Austin imposes a fleet cap on taxis, limiting supply and keeping the prices artificially high.

Austin’s regulation of limos is even worse. The city imposes a minimum fare requirement of $55 an hour, and a minimum wait time of at least 30 minutes between order and pick up. There is no safety justification for such requirements. They are pure protectionism. In practice, the restrictions mean limos do not compete directly with taxis. A wealthy family might hire a limo for a wedding or to send their kids to prom, but no one is going to use a limo service to make a business meeting across town or after a night out. This lack of competition means that traditional taxis often don’t provide as high a quality service as they could.

The emergence of TNCs provides Austin with a chance to reassess how it treats transportation-for-hire companies in general.

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

U.S. regulators, insurers skeptical of global capital standards

November 25, 2014, 9:00 AM

A new report commissioned by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies has found there would be significant economic costs associated with imposing global capital requirements on U.S. property and casualty insurers.

This cost is particularly important in light of the report’s other conclusion: that the industry already is exceedingly well capitalized. More specifically, the trade groups find the resources set aside by the industry are enough to cover a 100-year even more than twice as large as those of the record 2005 hurricane season, including Hurricane Katrina.

Insurance is an international business. Standards and trade practices span not only time zones, but also regulatory jurisdictions. To introduce conformity to the practice of insurance regulators around the world, globe-spanning organizations like the Financial Stability Board and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors were founded.

While the rules promulgated by the FSB and IAIS do not bind U.S. jurisdictions directly, they do foster frameworks of considerable persuasive authority. As a result, U.S. regulators and associations monitor their products closely.

Last week, at a hearing of the U.S. House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners expressed concerns similar to those articulated in the PCI/NAMIC study, particularly when it comes to steps taken by international organizations that could have a deleterious impact on U.S. policyholders.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine, the NAIC’s president-elect, focused his testimony on three issues: transparency, capital standards and the IAIS common framework, also known as “ComFrame.” The theme of his testimony was “too much, too soon.”

On transparency: a decision by the IAIS to disallow the involvement of both consumer advocates and the industry itself has NAIC regulators worried that the IAIS has precluded the kinds of stakeholder engagement that is crucial to the development of consensus-based regulatory practices. The IAIS approach is predicated on a concern that transparency will lead to regulatory capture. For its part, the NAIC believes such issues can be addressed by maintaining balance between confidentiality in the ultimate decision-making process and openness in the preceding steps.

On capital standards: IAIS is currently working on a collection of capital standards for insurers. Standards for globally systemically important insurers, standards for basic capital requirements and standards for risk-based global insurance capital are all under consideration.

The purpose of these kinds of standards is to see that insurers do not slide into insolvency or otherwise threaten the viability of the global insurance market. Yet, standards also run the risk of ossifying parts of the insurance industry, by limiting growth and circumscribing the universe of products that can be offered.

Further, the NAIC believes that capital standards, insofar as they treat insurers like banks, may actually encourage risky behavior.

On ComFrame: ComFrame has been an ongoing project of the IAIS since the start of the decade. The project’s goal is to develop a foundation to establish better oversight of international insurance groups. In its testimony, the NAIC expressed concern that the approach creates a “one-size-fits-all” set of requirements, rather than a flexible approach that accounts for shared objectives, if not specific practices.

By the hearing’s end, it was evident that the NAIC, while eager to continue to participate in the development of global models, is decidedly reluctant to devolve any of its jurisdictions’ regulatory sovereignty to the IAIS. In light of the findings of the PCIAA/NAMIC study, particularly the potential cost implications for domestic policyholders, U.S. reluctance to submit to international standards is understandable.

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

How to talk about climate change at Thanksgiving: Recipes for good conversations

November 25, 2014, 8:31 AM

From The Equation:

If someone’s objections are rooted in conservative politics, it’s worth learning about Bob Inglis and the R Street Institute. They have sensible ideas for addressing climate change based on conservative values and they have good-faith criticisms of liberal policies, too.

Ride-sharing revolution receives lukewarm welcome in Ohio

November 24, 2014, 11:51 AM

From Watchdog Wire:

Though no Ohio cities have issued “cease and desists” to newcomers Uber and Lyft, they recently scored unimpressively on R Street Institute’s Ridescore Report Card.

R Street Institute graded 50 large cities on their friendliness to a variety of for-hire vehicle services, includes taxis, limos and TNCs (i.e. Uber & Lyft). “Ride scores” were graded on a curve, and devoted 40 percent of score to TNC friendliness, 40 percent to taxi friendliness, and 20 percent to limo friendliness…

…Two Ohio cities graded on the scorecard, Cleveland and Columbus received a C+ and a C overall. Cleveland, however scored better on its TNC regulations, receiving a B- over Columbus’ C.

Both cities also regulate the number of taxi medallions, creating a limited number of taxis permitted in the city.