Out of the Storm News
Hoping to capture the same grassroots outcry that successfully blocked ham-handed anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA two years ago, a number of organizations on both the left and right have set Tuesday, Feb. 11, as a day to “fight back” against the NSA’s massive Internet and telecom surveillance.
It’s a worthy initiative that deserves attention and support from anyone who values the Internet and World Wide Web as the resources they are and should continue to be. Although the effort lacks the focal point of impending legislation—in 2012, the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act both looked poised to barrel through Congress—the Day We Fight Back has an international scope the SOPA/PIPA protests didn’t.
Events are scheduled in cities from Belgrade to London to Bogota, Colombia. In the United States, demonstrations are planned in deep blue enclaves such as Minnesota and California as well as red states such as Texas and Utah. Both the Libertarian Party and FreePress.org have lent their names to the cause.
Participating organizations are appealing for support, ranging from placing banners on web pages to organized demonstrations and street protests. In Chicago, there will be a downtown march against in favor of Fourth Amendment rights and against warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency. In Austin, Texas, participants are being urged to take to the streets dressed as NSA agents and act as if they are recording the day-to-day activities of passers-by. In San Francisco and Bluffdale, Utah, there will be demonstrations outside data centers where the NSA is active. A full list of events can be found at the Day We Fight Back website.
As I wrote last week, we should not dismiss the NSA’s massive Internet surveillance program with a sigh and a shrug. The tech community, which once could afford to snicker at the establishment’s inept attempts to block, regulate or ban each new Internet paradigm (Napster, Craigslist, Skype, BitTorrent, etc.), has come to realize that governments have become sufficiently knowledgeable and proficient to truly pose a threat to the very freedom of information the Internet facilitates. We should take a cue from them.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
WASHINGTON (Feb. 10, 2014) – As a growing chorus of states in the American West stand up to claim shared or sole sovereignty over federal lands within their borders, lawmakers and agency officials should seriously explore ways to shift more responsibility to local decision-makers, a new paper from the R Street Institute argues.
In the western states, nearly half the land is owned and controlled by the federal government, compared with only 4 percent in the East. About 57 percent of all federal land is in the contiguous western states, with another 35 percent in Alaska.
“The consequences include limited revenue for state coffers, declining recreation access, increased restrictions on commodity production and, in some cases, poor environmental stewardship,” R Street Associate Fellow Holly L. Fretwell writes.
Disputes over how best to manage these hundreds of millions of acres have prompted state efforts in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming to insist the federal government divest its lands and transfer most of them to state jurisdiction.
Fretwell argues that federal-to-state transfers should be studied as one of a host of potential policy options for the federal estate to make better use of local knowledge and better align management incentives. Others she proposes exploring include expanding public-private partnerships, streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act and extending the lands-in-trust concept on federal lands to allow private parties and nonprofit groups the right to bid for use in competitive auction.
“To be sure, there is no one-size-fits-all reform that would be appropriate for all or even most federally owned lands,” Fretwell writes. “Rather, different reforms – ranging from outright privatization to devolution of decision-making authority – may be appropriate in different circumstances.”
The full paper is available for download here:
The United States might indeed be one nation, indivisible, but there are huge differences between its eastern and western halves when it comes to federal lands. In the West, nearly half the land is owned and controlled by the federal government, compared with only 4 percent in the East. That difference affects the ability of western states to determine their own destiny.
In March 2012, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed H.B. 148, legislation that insists the federal government divest its lands in the state, transferring most of them to state jurisdiction. Utah is not alone in the desire to bring federal acreage under local control. At least four other western states (Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming) have passed similar legislation and still more are considering similar bills.
Proponents of the measure argue that this sort of decentralization would place control in the hands of those with the most to gain or lose from effective land stewardship. They also point to enabling legislation passed by Congress when each of these states joined the union, noting that they typically have included clauses providing that the federal government would extinguish its title to any unappropriated lands.
Indeed, what were once public lands in eastern states largely have been transferred to the private sector, where they generate revenues for those states. Conversely, in the West, hundreds of millions of acres of federal land remain. The consequences include limited revenue for state coffers, declining recreation access, increased restrictions on commodity production and, in some cases, poor environmental stewardship.
These pieces of state legislation undoubtedly will face constitutional challenges, but regardless of their legal standing, if federal land management was to be reassigned, who would mind the estate? What rules would reign? What sort of arrangements would best steward America’s lands to ensure they are managed to bring recreational and environmental value, while also providing the revenues and resources needed for a productive society?
This paper provides a glimpse of some of the institutional and management problems that face America’s public lands and suggests reforms that policy-makers should consider to improve management of the federal estate.
From the Tallahassee Democrat:
Don Brown, a former legislator, an expert on insurance and now a senior fellow with R Street’s Florida project, tells of a trick he sometimes plays.
He’ll ask a group to whom he’s speaking to recommend the best restaurant in town. He’ll mention that he’s bringing some friends, and then invite the person whose suggestion he chooses. Oh, he’ll say, and would you mind paying? You can imagine the reaction.
Then he says he was just joking and tells the person that he will pay. Suddenly, the invitation is accepted…
…Still, in a report suggesting ways to reform Florida’s property-insurance marketplace, R.J. Lehmann of the R Street Institute wrote late last year that the state has “a dysfunctional property insurance system that has distorted pricing, undermined competition, and placed a heavy burden on the state’s taxpayers.”…
…This legislative session, this alliance has a number of goals. Companion bills sponsored by Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, and Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would reduce the exposure of the CAT Fund. Reformers also would like to take the risk of commercial property out of Citizens, move more Citizens policies to the private market and end Citizen’s wind-only insurance. The James Madison Institute offers Mr. Lehmann’s “Ten Reforms to Fix Florida’s Property Insurance Marketplace — Without Raising Rates” (http://bit.ly/1jjbiel)…
…Mr. Brown tells another story, of a grocery store bag boy driving home and seeing a new Corvette for sale.He asks the price, but realizes this is not the car for him. “Price does far more than compensate a seller,” Mr. Brown said. “It sends a signal on the appropriateness of human behavior.”
On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner told members of the press that though immigration is “an important issue in our country” (thanks for that, John), it will be difficult to move immigration legislation this year. According to Boehner, the chief stumbling block is that Republican lawmakers simply don’t trust the Obama administration to implement a new immigration law in an aboveboard way. It is also true, however, that conservatives in the House doubt Boehner’s instincts on immigration, and worry that following his lead will do them more political harm than good. I tend to think that the skeptics are right, and that the GOP ought to put immigration reform on the back-burner.
But just because we can’t agree on immigration reform doesn’t mean that we can’t agree on emigration reform, a subject I’m guessing you’ve never heard about. Believe it or not, the question of how easy we make it for Americans to live and work outside of the United States will be almost as important in the decades to come as the question of who we should let live and work in the United States is now.
Though you’d hardly know it from our domestic political conversation, U.S. migration doesn’t just involve foreigners moving to the United States. It also involves Americans moving to foreign countries. And I’m not just talking about the troops stationed in southern Afghanistan, Okinawa, or Germany. The State Department estimates that 6.3 million U.S. citizens live outside of the United States, a number that explicitly excludes military personnel. Granted, as a share of America’s gargantuan population of 314 million, the American diaspora is an awfully modest 2 percent. Some will no doubt see this as cause for celebration, particularly sentimental Americans who can’t stand the thought of having loved ones move to distant locales. While I hate the thought of losing friends and family to Montevideo or Marrakech as much as the next guy, the truth is that the American diaspora enriches us all, and the United States would be much better off if it were much larger.
If you’re reading this column, you’re probably aware of the fact that there are and have long been handfuls of American professionals living in global financial capitals like London, Hong Kong and Singapore, and that intrepid young Americans will head to emerging market boomtowns like Nairobi, Yangon, and Manila to take advantage of new economic opportunities. What you might not know is that the United States sends far fewer skilled professionals abroad as a share of its population than other rich countries like Britain or Germany.
As a jingoistic American, I acknowledge that some of this reflects the fact that the United States is a really awesome place to live and work, and that moving from New York City to Minneapolis to Miami to Memphis to Los Angeles is enough to gain exposure to many different cultures and ways of life. It is also true that unlike British or German professionals, Americans who live and work abroad have to pay taxes on the income they earn outside of the United States. There is, to be sure, a credit that shields some of the income Americans earn abroad from U.S. taxes. Frankly, if you’re not a high-flying entrepreneur or business executive earning large sums, you probably won’t pay all that much. Even so, it is a huge pain in the neck that is causing many almost-Americans — i.e., lawful permanent residents, many of whom studied at U.S. colleges and universities, or who grew up at least part of the time in the United States — to surrender their green cards rather than deal with this hassle. Consider the China-born software coder who speaks unaccented American English after a stint at Harvard Business School, and who loves the United States as much as she loves her native country. She could be a great asset to America over the long-run, and if the terrifying complexity of the U.S. tax code causes her to sever ties with our country, we all lose.
Moreover, the fact that taxes on income earned abroad hits high-flying American entrepreneurs and executives living abroad is actually a pretty bad thing in itself. These Americans are, in effect, our informal ambassadors. They build commercial relationships that redound to the benefit of all Americans. When they return home, which most of them eventually do, they bring with them relationships and know-how that contribute to economic growth. Think of them as the honeybees who collect pollen from around the world and eventually bring it back to the hive.
And we really need the pollen. America has long been home to the world’s most innovative firms. Yet as the rest of the world gets richer and smarter, innovation is bubbling up in surprising places. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese surpassed U.S. firms in sectors like steel and automobile manufacturing, and U.S. firms raced to catch up. We’re now seeing a similar dynamic take hold in other domains, like retail and health services. “Reverse innovation,” according to business professor Vijay Govindarajan, involves “developing ideas in an emerging market and coaxing them to flow uphill to Western markets.” It is often easier to add bells and whistles to a super-cheap product aimed at poor consumers in the developing world than it is to reverse-engineer a super-expensive product aimed at poor people for more affluent consumers. This is a tremendously exciting opportunity, and it is expatriates who can help us realize it.
Revitalizing American innovation is just part of what emigration reform can do for us. In The Upside of Down, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, makes many arguments I find profoundly unconvincing, on the virtue of increasing less-skilled immigration and shrinking the U.S. military budget, among other things. Yet in a chapter on “Global Nomads,” he makes a compelling case that Americans ought to stop being so solipsistic and appreciate how much we can all benefit from encouraging people to live abroad. Among other things, Kenny observes that American students can often get a much cheaper education in other countries. Once Americans start to appreciate this fact, domestic educational institutions might wise up and appreciate that they have to offer better value for money.
Then there is the fact that U.S. retirees can stretch their savings much further in warm-weather middle-income countries like Mexico or Costa Rica then they can at home. By allowing U.S. retirees to access their Medicare benefits abroad, we might lighten the load of caring for older Americans while also giving workers in poor countries a big economic boost. The costs associated with caring for Americans suffering from dementia already exceed $157 billion per annum, according to a 2013 study by the Rand Corporation, and that number will soon climb to dizzying heights. Most of this amount reflects the cost of care-giving, a field that has plenty of qualified labor in poorer countries. Can you think of a more pleasant form of entitlement reform than allowing U.S. senior citizens to live out their lives in beachfront splendor? I certainly can’t.
Nicole Roeberg is director of communications for the R Street Institute, heading up the institute’s media and public relations efforts.
She joined R Street in February 2014 from the Daily Caller, where she served for two years as director of communications and public affairs, booking the site’s reporters and editors on Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CNBC, MSNBC and major syndicated radio shows like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Michael Savage. In addition, during her time with the Daily Caller, she served as the company’s spokesperson; pitched Caller stories for attention at major online and print publications; and oversaw outreach to groups like Americans for Tax Reform, the Heritage Foundation and congressional groups.
Nicole’s previous experience includes six years in Hollywood, serving as a publicist with Prime Public Relations and a media and publicity director with the Endeavor Agency and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.
Earlier in her career, she served as a legislative associate with the Financial Services Coordinating Council and as director of federal affairs with the American Insurance Association, where she worked on the legislation that would become the Bunning-Bereuter-Blumenauer Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004.
Nicole is a 2000 graduate of George Washington University, with a degree in business administration. She lives in Washington, D.C.
Holly L. Fretwell is a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, an adjunct instructor of economics at Montana State University and an associate fellow of the R Street Institute.
She is author of the book “Who is Minding the Federal Estate: Political Management of America’s Public Lands.” She has presented papers promoting the use of markets in public land management and has provided congressional testimony on the state of the U.S. National Park Service and the future of the U.S. Forest Service.
From the Mackinac Center
While the Congressional Budget Office says the bill will reduce federal spending by $16.6 billion, the R Street Institute notes that only $8.6 billion of that comes from trimming farm subsidies. Comparably, the 2014 White House budget wanted $37.8 billion in net cuts to farm subsidies. So the GOP, which provided most of the votes on this bill, will soon be campaigning on fiscal prudence but could not manage to cut less than the president.
“The Obama administration is not exactly known for austere budgets, so the fact that the White House would cut $29.2 billion more in wasteful agriculture spending than the farm bill Congress approved underscores just how terrible this legislation is,” R Street Senior Fellow Andrew Moylan said.
Design patents, pioneered in the late 19th century to address advancements in industrial manufacturing, create a legal protection for “any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” Put simply, a design patent protects an item’s unique and novel “look.”
But recently, design patents have been at the center of a number of lawsuits involving high-tech products. The most notable recent example is the “look” of Apple’s iPhone graphical user interface, or GUI, which was awarded protection because of its “new and not obvious” design elements, allegedly “knocked off” by the Samsung Galaxy. Because of similarities in color, look and feel, a court awarded Apple a 14-year span of protection against any similar GUI that shared the iPhone’s unique user experience, characterized by soft colors, blunted lines and animation.
The recent expansion of consumer fashion – and the booming industry in designer “knockoffs” peddled by discount retailers like Forever 21, H&M and Zara – has caused concern among designers, however, that their hard work in developing ready-to-wear looks for a clamoring marketplace is being co-opted by sellers who steal designs and manufacture pocketbook friendly versions that are indistinguishable from their originals. Celebrity designers like Diane von Furstenberg, who pioneered the iconic “wrap dress” design that has populated the front windows of work-wear stores for decades, shoe kingpin Christian Louboutin, and indie darling Alexander Wang have all launched efforts to protect work they consider to be their property. Diane von Furstenberg, in fact, is one of the forces behind a measure in Congress to extend copyright protection to fashion design: an unprecedented change in the way American industry does business.
Like any industry, the fashion industry is a hotbed of technological development. We might shun more recent developments, like leggings for men or the return of the iconic “Hammer pant” that bags at the waist and thighs and narrows at the calves and ankles, but any student of fashion’s history will tell you that fashion’s timeline is a story of revision, engineering and design that has existed since man sewed together the first fig leaves to protect his modesty.
But an extension of copyright protection to mimic that provided by design patents may not be the protection designers are looking for, and certainly not in such a crowded ready-to-wear market. First of all, the fashion industry’s top designers do not exist in a vacuum. Fashion is an inherently self-referential industry and most, if not all, of today’s notable fashion figures have built on the work of those who went before them. They’ve created their clothing from blueprints laid out by fashion’s earlier greats: Givenchy’s little black cocktail dress, Chanel’s iconic boucle suit and quilted shoulder bag, Christian Dior’s feminine mid-century silhouette, Louis Vuitton’s pioneering fabric choices, among others. Fashion’s biggest influence is, by far, the past.
Instituting a regime of fashion copyrights would force new and upcoming – and existing independent – designers into an endless cycle of litigation as they work to improve and re-engineer the past, and to prevent claims of infringement from being leveled at any design that borrows any element from an existing garment, no matter how minor. Chilling creativity in the fashion industry, as copyrights would do, would stagnate an industry that places an incredible value on its own history and ignores that even small designers are able to create a foundation on which to build a fashion empire.
Of course, it is not as if much of what passes for innovation in the fashion industry is true innovation, anyway; design details on a purse, a color on a shoe or a novel take on slacks or a dress are hardly the same as a new form of garment, altogether.
With any field where constant redevelopment and redefinition is necessary to progress, an expansion of intellectual property can have a demonstrably cold effect on innovation. Fashion is but one example. In order to make technology newer and better, it is necessary to build on the work of the past, and that includes design elements that give certain technological innovations their personality. When society looks to those in the field of innovation to “build the better mousetrap,” they are implying that the ones that came before were somehow inadequate to their needs. But if a designer were barred from improving on the mousetrap entirely because of a patent or copyright that protected esoteric and cosmetic elements, and were forced to build the initial invention from scratch – or worse, were required to endure years of tedious litigation over the minor details – innovation and development would take much longer. That’s something that no firm can afford in this age.
Expanding the availability of design-based intellectual property would only hold back the field of fashion, as expanding the use of patents and copyright in any field would inevitably slow that field’s forward movement. While knockoffs do have some impact, the quality and design of even the best knockoff is visibly inferior to the real thing. Let consumers continue to purchase discount versions – they are not fooling anyone – and focus on making fashion better.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
R Street’s Dr. Joel Nitzkin testified yesterday before the Oregon Legislature regarding bills that would ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors and ban their use in areas where smoking is already prohibited. His full testimony is here. A few highlights follow:
Restrict minors’ access to e-cigarettes:
There are two reasons to implement and enforce prohibition of sales of nicotine delivery products to minors. The first has to do with adverse impacts of nicotine on the still-developing adolescent brain. The second is the documented fact that, if a person does not initiate tobacco use until after about 24 years of age, he or she is unlikely to ever become addicted to nicotine. With this in mind, not only should you to extend the age restrictions currently in place to e-cigarettes, you should also consider moving the age cut-off from the 18th to the 21st birthday. Upping the age of purchase would remove cigarettes from the high school environment.
Don’t ban e-cigarettes in public places
There is no credible public health justification for banning e-cigarettes in no-smoking areas. An estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of the indoor air pollution from cigarettes is due to side-stream smoke – the smoke that curls off the end of the cigarette when no one is sucking on it. The smoke exhaled by the smoker contributes relatively little to this pollution. E-cigarettes have no side-stream smoke…Banning e-cigarettes in no-smoking areas could do harm from a public health perspective by signaling to smokers that e-cigarettes pose the same risk as cigarettes and, by that means, inhibiting smokers from switching to these far less hazardous products.
Work for “smoke free,” not “tobacco free”
Tobacco harm reduction is an educational initiative by which smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit are advised that they can lower their risk of a potentially fatal tobacco-attributable illness by 98 percent or better by switching to any one of the smokeless products now on the American market…Since e-cigarettes are basically a nicotine-only product with only the smallest traces of the carcinogens and other toxins found in smokeless tobacco product, e-cigarettes likely carry even less risk. “Harm reduction” does not mean “harmless.” All of these products, including the pharmaceutical nicotine products, pose more of a potential health risk than usually accepted in other consumer products. None are risk free. It is only in comparison to cigarettes that they can be considered very low risk. Nicotine addicts, but it is the other toxins in cigarette smoke, when inhaled deep into the lung, that kill.
All of the 480,000 estimated tobacco-attributable deaths each year in the United States are due to a single tobacco product – the cigarette. Deaths from all other tobacco products are so low in number and so hard to distinguish from background that they are not tracked by our federal agencies. Simply changing the mantra from a “tobacco-free society” to a “smoke-free society” would align tobacco control policy with the science and evidence base.
Harm reduction could save millions of lives.
Right now, the best we have to offer current smokers is a set of pharmaceutical-based smoking cessation protocols that we know will fail about 90 percent of smokers who use them, under the best of study conditions, with results measured at six to twelve months. The flaws in the current “evidence-based” policies are fairly obvious. They do not satisfy the urge to smoke in the majority of smokers, the dose is too low, the duration of treatment too short and there is no built-in provision for self-reinforcement when the urge to smoke returns.
A modestly successful tobacco harm reduction initiative, if added to current tobacco control programming, would satisfy the urge to smoke in a majority of smokers, and would likely save the lives of 1.5 to 4.8 million current adult American smokers, with the numbers depended on the rate of switching to lower-risk, smoke-free products. In Year 20 of such an intervention, again, depending on switch rates, the annual numbers of smokers and deaths would likely be down 30 percent to 80 percent from current levels.
Interested? The entire testimony and all of the supporting materials are well worth a read. Check them out here:Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
From the Winston-Salem Journal:
Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and a smokeless-tobacco advocate, said CVS’ decision “is not simply about health or profits, but rather about joining a moral crusade that is hooked exclusively on the promotion of pharmaceutical nicotine.”
“If CVS embraced this thinking storewide, it would yield to abstinence-only advocates and stop selling condoms, promoting penicillin sales instead. That would be one more win for Big Pharma, and another loss for science-based rationality.”
An open letter to appropriators in Congress: End the budget gimmicks and cut the Pentagon’s slush fund
An Open Letter to Appropriators in Congress:
End the Budget Gimmicks and Cut the Pentagon’s Slush Fund
February 6, 2014
We are writing you today as a diverse coalition of organizations to express our shared disappointment at the continued use of a “slush fund” to circumvent the very spending caps that Congress itself put in place. Specifically, we are deeply concerned that the recently enacted omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 3547, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014) shifted more than $10 billion from the Pentagon’s base budget accounts into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
Since 2002, the Pentagon has separated funding relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and counter-terrorism activities from other military programs not associated with U.S. contingency operations. With the United States drawing down its military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is time to end use of the OCO account. This would enhance transparency and accountability in the military budgeting process and help restore much needed fiscal restraint at the Pentagon.
As you know, in 2011, Congress enacted the Budget Control Act (BCA) to constrain spending and reduce the size of the budget deficit over the coming decade. But, a significant loophole in the law has allowed the Pentagon to escape some of the budget pressure mandated by the BCA. Late last year, Congress passed the Ryan-Murray Budget Deal (Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013), which increased the defense spending cap to $520.5 billion. However, this revised spending cap still required that Congress find $30 billion in additional
savings from the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request.
Unfortunately, one of the ways that Congress met the new cap was by shifting more than $10 billion from the Pentagon’s base accounts into the OCO account, representing an end-run around the new spending cap Congress implemented just two months ago. While this was not a new gimmick, it continues one of the worst budgeting practices of the past decade, whereby Congress has obscured the true costs of the Pentagon’s “regular” budget as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – all while avoiding the hard choices our military leaders have called for us to make.
According to the Pentagon, from FY 2013 to FY 2014, approximately 39 percent fewer personnel will be deployed to Afghanistan. Yet, as a result of the omnibus spending bill, “war funding” in the OCO account will actually increase from FY 2013 to FY 2014. This disconnect from reality only highlights the absurdity of continuing to use the OCO account as a slush fund for the Pentagon.
Just last year, the House of Representatives voted to cut the OCO account—reversing House appropriators’ decision to include billions of dollars above the Pentagon’s request in the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014. The vote was the result of an amendment offered by Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., which cut war spending by roughly $3.5 billion and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Similarly, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported its Fiscal Year 2014 defense appropriations bill with significantly less appropriated in the OCO account than the omnibus ultimately provided.
Padding the OCO account in the omnibus appropriations bill ignored not only Congress’ prior actions but also the desire of the American public to see our war spending come down as our troops come home. At a time when the Pentagon is just beginning to exercise fiscal restraint following more than a decade of heavy spending, OCO funding ought to be shrinking.
As you begin the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2015, you have an opportunity to end the budget gimmicks and realize genuine savings at the Pentagon. We urge you to end the use of the OCO account as a slush fund, and instead methodically address wasteful, ineffective, or low-priority expenditures.
American Friends Service Committee
Americans for Prosperity
Campaign for America’s Future
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Foreign and Defense Policy
Center for International Policy
Citizens Against Government Waste
Coalition to Reduce Spending
Come Home America
Council for a Livable World
Foreign Policy in Focus
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Kitchen Table Patriots
National Priorities Project
National Security Network
National Taxpayers Union
A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Peace Action West
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)
Project on Government Oversight
R Street Institute
Republican Liberty Caucus
Take Back Washington
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
US Labor Against the War (USLAW)
Win Without War
Women’s Action for New Directions
From Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
As nothing but a replacement product for existing smokers, e-cigarettes seem like a public-health win. Widespread adoption by current smokers “could potentially reduce smoking deaths by more than 90 percent,” says Joel Nitzkin, a public-health physician who is a senior fellow at free-market think tank R Street in Washington.
From the Register-Guard:
“E-cigarette vapor as exhaled by the user does not contain any toxic chemicals that are detectable above background levels in indoor environments,” said Dr. Joel Nitzkin, a tobacco expert with R Street, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.
Over at the Vice Podcast, R Street’s Reihan Salam interviews Anya Kamenetz, staff writer for Fast Company and a columnist for Tribune Media, about the state of higher education and student debt, as presented in her books “Generation Debt,” “DIY U” and the forthcoming “The Test.”
“It’s unconscionable what we’re doing to people under the guise of offering them opportunity,” Kamenetz says.
Watch the full interview below.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Fred Campbell, executive director of a new group called the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, had a curious piece on retransmission consent on The Hill’s Congress Blog earlier this week. Campbell — the former head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Communications Liberty & Innovation Project — says a couple of very peculiar things that I thought were worthy of a response, given my own history working on this issue.
The oddest thing about Campbell’s piece is its characterization of the Rep. Steve Scalise-sponsored Next Generation Television Marketplace Act as an effort to add regulatory burdens for broadcasters. He repeats this claim in various forms throughout the piece, but I simply cannot see how it is justified. The purpose of the Scalise bill is to eliminate existing regulations that have been layered over top of one another to create the incomprehensible thicket we have today. There’s not a single thing in there adding new restrictions on anyone in any portion of the television market.
To refresh your memory, the bill has five major deregulatory planks: elimination of retransmission consent rules; ending “network non-duplication” and “syndicated exclusivity” mandates; repealing “must carry” designations; eliminating compulsory licensing of content; and ending media ownership restrictions.
Some of Campbell’s criticism is rooted in conflation (hopefully not intentional) between the Scalise bill and another related to the issue from Rep. Anna Eshoo, which Campbell also mentions in his piece. Her bill, the Video CHOICE Act, takes precisely the opposite course from Scalise by prescribing yet more government intervention into a market that isn’t serving consumers as well as it could. It does this in several ways, most notably by further empowering the Federal Communications Commission to act as arbiter between negotiators and by manipulating channel placement for those electing a must carry designation.
To be perfectly clear, I am no fan of Eshoo’s approach and some of Campbell’s assertions are perfectly true of that flawed legislation, but they’re simply not true of the Scalise bill. Via Twitter, Campbell pointed me to a piece he wrote in December that further explains his views, which is quite interesting, but also, in my opinion, inadequate to the task of justifying a defense of retransmission consent regulations from a free-market perspective.
For example, he asserts that “the existence of ‘must carry’ wouldn’t provide the broadcaster any pricing advantage in negotiations with for-pay video distributors, whose goal is to carry the programming at the lowest possible cost (which must carry sets at zero).” But this overlooks the fact that “must carry” denies the right of a service provider to withhold the use of its distribution system which broadcasters seek to disseminate their programming in order to get ads in front of eyeballs. If they’re forced to carry programming, distributors have less leverage than they otherwise might.
Campbell also gives short shrift to the Scalise bill’s elimination of the onerous compulsory licensing regime, which forces broadcasters to deal their content at government-mandated prices. He says this is “an issue that merits additional discussion,” but that hardly captures the importance of ending a regulatory scheme that has been the bane of many a broadcaster’s existence for three decades. This provision was put into the bill specifically to address concerns that simply eliminating re-trans without proportional deregulation of broadcasters would be unfair.
He also suggests two ways the Scalise bill doesn’t go far enough: it does not eliminate must-carry for religious and educational broadcasters, and most importantly, it doesn’t eliminate the public interest obligations with which broadcasters must comply. But here we find out just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.
The public interest obligations exist because Congress gave away valuable spectrum (good for broadcasters!) and demanded certain kinds of programming in return (bad for broadcasters!). Then Congress instituted a compulsory licensing regime (bad for broadcasters!) forcing them to deal their content at government-mandated prices and later layered on top of it the myriad regulations of re-trans/must carry/territorial exclusivity/etc. (good for broadcasters!). Needless to say, this is a gross simplification of decades of legislative and regulatory interventions that have created the tenuous status quo, but you get the idea.
I, too, would like to see a bill that goes further in a deregulatory direction, given how much more competitive and vibrant both sides of the television market are today they were when most of these rules were crafted. For example, I’m enough of a libertarian that I’d love to address what I see as overbearing responses to indecency, like the ongoing saga of “fleeting expletives” and fines associated with airing them. But frankly, I’m not sure it’s possible to completely unwind the ways in which government has screwed things up over the years in one piece of legislation.
I want to emphasize that, though I don’t really know him personally (I think we shared a lunch table once at a conference), Campbell and I agree on the vast majority of policy matters. This is not the sort of personal or political food fight one normally sees, just an honest disagreement about an important issue. The Scalise bill is certainly imperfect in the sense that it doesn’t solve every last problem, but it has that in common with virtually every piece of legislation ever introduced. What the Scalise bill does is address a known problem in a consistent, deregulatory, free market manner without inappropriately advantaging or disadvantaging one market participant over another. I’d like it to go further, sure, but it’s a good bill that I hope sees action soon.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Tobacco control advocates have for years pressured pharmacies to stop selling tobacco. Today, CVS, the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain, announced it will end all tobacco product sales effective Oct. 1.
I respect the decision by CVS to stop selling cigarettes. It is immeasurably preferable to the actions of cities like San Francisco and Boston, which have banned tobacco sales in pharmacies. Retailers should have the right to determine which products will meet their customers’ needs while satisfying their investors’ interests. It’s perfectly appropriate for a firm to drop a product in long-term decline (but still generating $2 billion in sales) in the interest of promoting public health. As CVS CEO Larry Merlo put it: “We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered.”
But why stop selling smokeless tobacco and why not offer e-cigarettes? These products are effective harm reduction alternatives for current smokers, and sales of both are increasing. The CVS decision is not simply about health or profits, but rather, about joining a moral crusade that is hooked exclusively on the promotion of pharmaceutical nicotine. (CVS is suggesting that those products may get more exposure at the checkout counter.)
If CVS embraced this thinking storewide, it would yield to abstinence-only advocates and stop selling condoms, promoting penicillin sales instead. That would be one more win for Big Pharma, and another loss for rational and science-based policies.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.
— Ronald Reagan
Reagan loved nature, and always considered himself an environmentalist. He probably also had super powers like Captain Planet. Here are some reasons why…
1) He helped fix the hole in the ozone layer by championing the Montreal Protocol treaty banning ozone-depleting CFCs.
3) Ambient levels of airborne lead fell 85 percent during Reagan’s presidency, largely due to his administration’s push to phase out leaded gasoline and commercial lead production. Reagan also established the Air Resources Board to fix California’s awful smog problem.
And we can all breath deeply.
4) He pushed for conservation compliance requirements in the farm bill to save wetlands and prairies.
5) He signed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982, to protect coastal barriers and prevent taxpayer dollars form subsidizing the development of these risky and environmentally sensitive areas.
It’s saying something when National Security Agency data collection becomes a reference point in the sports pages.
In an article in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, reporter Roy Bragg begins by quipping that the scope of the NSA’s PRISM program is nothing when compared to the depth of data college football scouts gather on talented high school prospects.
Bragg may be engaging in standard sportswriter hyperbole. Still, I find it disconcerting when he and his editors are now so comfortable alluding to the most intrusive electronic surveillance program in history so casually. It signals a frighteningly routine social acceptance of the NSA activities.
Last June’s initial revelation of the NSA PRISM program—the interception of metadata from millions of wireless phones—remains top-of-mind for the general public. Even so, the disclosures that followed in the ensuing months were even more alarming.
- There was mining of social networks for keywords and of email accounts for address books.
- There was news of the placement of “back doors”—programming code designed to defeat firewalls and security software—in U.S.-made infrastructure sold to foreign businesses and governments.
- There were projects to defeat private encryption.
- There were attempts to remotely activate embedded PC cameras for surreptitious recording.
- There was a plan to use radio waves to access data on devices not connected to the Internet.
By January, when it came to light that the NSA had infiltrated innocuous online games like Angry Birds to gain location data on users, the whole program seemed to be becoming a parody of itself.
Humorous perhaps, but grimly so. NSA spying appears likely to extract a high price from the U.S. technology industry. As I noted in a paper the R Street Institute published last week, Forrester Research estimates that the revelations about NSA spying could cost the global industry $180 billion over the next three years.
But the damage from loss of basic trust in the Internet could be incalculable. Steven Levy takes a deep dive into the question in this month’s Wired. The bottom line is that, for a long time, the global community saw the United States, despite some occasional policy bumbling, as basically on the side of the angels. Now Washington’s activities—and to some extent, the tech industry’s compliance—is giving cover to far more repressive regimes who want to wall off their own Internets.
President Obama’s response has been terribly weak. He offers neither a satisfactory justification for the NSA’s sweeping program nor any indication of where he thinks the boundaries should be. He repeats the NSA’s claim that its surveillance program has stopped “dozens” of terrorist attacks, yet offers no specifics. In sum, the presidential attitude comes across as: “Living in a world of asymmetrical warfare sucks, but there it is.”
It shouldn’t be so. Fortunately, there’s an opportunity for others to take the lead. In my R Street paper, I discuss that rewriting the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to extend Fourth Amendment rights, especially regarding search and seizure, to personal data stored in the cloud would be a great place to start. But truly, the entire legal infrastructure that was rashly created in the wake of 9/11 needs a top-to-bottom re-evaluation.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see conservatives and liberals on the House Judiciary Committee, such as Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, agreeing that there needs to be strong legislative response to what they both see as NSA overreach. What the NSA revelations tell us is that, institutionally, the government believes privacy is expendable—that government has a right to investigate and question every intimate detail of your life. And if you are too circumspect on Facebook, Twitter or in your routine email, it has the wherewithal to hack your hard drive to fill in the any gaps in your digital dossier.
It would be sad if Americans simply resign themselves to this. It’s not how life in our constitutional republic is supposed to be.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
The U.S. Supreme Court laid down the legal standard for what constitutes infringement of a design patent in the 1871 case Gorham v. White. The court’s decision, which remains law of the land today, set out what is known as the “ordinary observer test,” offering:
If in the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives, two designs are substantially the same, if the resemblance is such to deceive such an observer, inducing him (or her) to purchase one supposing it to be the other, the first one patented is infringed by the other.
The first design patent ever issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was granted to George Bruce – owner of a type foundry, a company that designs and distributes typefaces – for the use of fonts in type-casting machines. A quick search on the USPTO site will only produce a hand-written copy of this patent, “D1.” Interestingly enough, the document doesn’t include an image or drawing – staples for today’s design patents – instead including a written description by Bruce explaining the ornamental and unique attributes of his design. Most of today’s design patents don’t include a written description, although they could if the inventor so desired, because the drawings are the most important feature of the application. Once issued, a design patent will be defined by its drawings.
When Bruce was awarded his design patent in 1841, the enforceable length was seven years. This was the case until 1861 when the USPTO adopted a system that gave inventors a choice between three and a half, seven or 14 years, with longer enforceability periods requiring a patent applicant pay larger fees. In 1982, the Patent Fee Act abolished the inventor’s choice and ushered in the 14-year term for design patents that is still used today.
Going down the list of patented designs for jewelry, utensils, car parts and even cases to transport wine, one can’t help but stumble upon the nagging portfolio of absurd design patents that grace the files of the USPTO today. Design patents that some would venture to say are erroneous are being used to stifle innovation and monopolize markets.
Most notable are the design patents that encompass portable electronic devices. There are design patents to cover the rounded edges of a smartphone and tablet; the rounded home button on smartphones; and even a design patent to cover the wedge-shape of a computer. With segments of the technology market trying, and succeeding in most cases, to corner design patents on just about any ornamental design they can dream up, it makes one wonder if this will be the new normal.
One well-known high-tech company was awarded a design patent for the glass staircase in their Palo Alto, Calif. office. Let’s repeat that – a patent for a staircase. And what about the patent for the packaging on a smartphone? Yes, it exists. Perhaps the most absurd one I’ve seen in the past couple of years is titled, “Display screen or portion thereof with animated graphical user interface.” Or, in simple terms, the turning of a page on the interface of an e-reader. Yes, the very interface that has been around in physical form for centuries is now a patented animation on your portable electronic device.
These design patents are broad; too broad, in some people’s estimation. But the U.S. Patent Office is continuing to hand out design patents like candy. In turn, innovation will continue to be stifled because of inventors’ fear of litigation. For consumers, absurd design patents may diminish our choices and cause the prices of our beloved tech items to increase dramatically.
It remains to be seen if design patents are going to help one competitor force its way into being the only option for portable device users in the future, but it is clear that reform in this area can’t come too soon. This wasn’t what the patent system was designed to achieve, and I’m sure wasn’t what Bruce imagined for the system when his design patent was issued. He was actually quite candid in his application, noting he was not alone in his industry:
I do not pretend that I am the first who have cast the Types called Script, nor the first who have cast them of the size called Double Small Pica, nor to originality in the outlines of any of the types for which I now ask a patent, nor do I wish to prevent other founders from cutting and casting similar and better articles.
If only all inventors and assignees could be so humble.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.