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Mindy Finn Project

April 12, 2016, 10:14 PM

From Politico

Empowered Women, founded by Mindy Finn (formerly of Twitter and the RNC), [will announce] today it will host its first Leadership Retreat, #OwnYourPower, June 6-8 … featuring U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, Elise Whang of SnobSwap, Katie Biber of Thumbtack, Poppy MacDonald of National Journal, and many more. The Retreat will focus on women leading change in politics, media, and the new economy. Empowered Women also announced its new board with Lee Carosi Dunn … Laura Cox Kaplan … Diane Tomb … Jessica Dahl … Amy K. Mitchell … Lori Sanders … and Bettina Inclan.” Retreat info http://bit.ly/23qKfp8 … Board announcement http://bit.ly/1qFlBiM

Mississippi AG to ‘re-evaluate’ Google probe after 5th Circuit vacates injunction

April 12, 2016, 10:13 PM

From Washington Internet Daily

Hood will need to make a “political decision” whether to continue to pursue his office’s Google investigation, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz told us. Stoltz filed a pro-Google amicus brief for EFF, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge and R Street Institute. Hood will need to carefully consider his office’s investigation given what critics view as damaging documents made public in the 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment data breach (see 1412170050) that claimed to show MPAA influenced Hood’s criticism of Google’s practices, Stoltz said. Google claimed in its lawsuit that a “substantial lobbying effort” by MPAA prompted Hood’s subpoena (see 1412190045).

Regulatory Dark Matter: Why Regulatory Reform Efforts Must Address Interpretive Rules

April 12, 2016, 8:00 AM

WASHINGTON (April 12, 2016) – While increased national debate surrounding regulatory reform is commendable, recent discussions have focused largely on the traditional rulemaking process that includes publication in the Federal Register and a requisite period of public comment. But a new R Street policy brief suggests that, if true reform is the goal, policymakers need a broader perspective.

Noting that reform efforts like the REINS Act and SCRUB Act focus on traditional “legislative rules,” report authors Kevin Kosar and Daniel Richardson write that “much federal regulatory activity happens outside the formal procedure these reforms presuppose.”

“This other activity has gone by many names. Agencies refer to these actions as guidance documents, ‘no action letters’ and public notices,” Kosar and Richardson write.

The belief that these “interpretive rules” are largely inconsequential is misguided, the authors contend. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued in an opinion penned shortly before his death: “If an interpretive rule gets deference, the people are bound to obey it on pain of sanction, no less surely than they are bound to obey substantive rules, which are accorded similar deference. Interpretive rules that command deference do have the force of law.”

In light of this reality, the authors urge a more comprehensive approach to regulatory reform that recognizes and seeks to alleviate the current lack of a unifying standard governing interpretive rules.

“Congress should take steps to move interpretive rules out of the realm of regulatory dark matter,” the authors write. “This can be done by setting government-wide standards for the formats of interpretive rules and by requiring such rules be deposited in a central, searchable online repository. Individuals and firms regulated by such guidance should be able to locate such rules, and to comment on them.”

Interpretive rules are missing piece in regulatory-reform debate

April 12, 2016, 8:00 AM

The attached policy short was co-authored by Daniel J. Richardson.

Regulatory reform has garnered significant attention lately, both in Congress and on the campaign trail. Republican nominees for president each have released plans to tackle regulatory overreach, while congressional Republicans have advanced a variety of reform bills.

Much of the attention to this issue is driven by research finding an increase in the overall federal regulatory burden. In arriving at this conclusion, researchers have used different measures of regulatory activity. Some have looked to the number of pages published in the Federal Register. Others have considered the number of major rules promulgated in recent years or the total costs of regulations as a monetary sum. Most scholars recognize that none of these measures are perfect, given the wide disparity in effects different sorts of rules have and the disparate reasons that agencies publish in the Federal Register.

However, there is a more fundamental reason these numbers do not paint the full picture. Many regulatory-reform initiatives focus on the traditional rulemaking process, which includes publication in the Federal Register, opportunities for public comment and codification in the Code of Federal Regulations. Rules promulgated through this process often are referred to as legislative or substantive rules. For instance, legislation introduced in recent sessions of Congress as the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act would require reviewing current regulations captured in the CFR, while the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act would raise the procedural hurdles before agencies could implement a subset of legislative rules that are shown to have significant economic impact.

While these steps certainly would erect barriers to new regulations and could help cull some old ones, much federal regulatory activity happens outside the formal procedure these reforms presuppose. This other activity has gone by many names. Agencies refer to these actions as guidance documents, “no action letters” and public notices. Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has labeled this kind of activity the “dark matter” of the regulatory state. Regardless of the label applied, the impact of these rules comes through their classification as “interpretive” in nature.

Testimony on ‘raising the age’ in Louisiana

April 12, 2016, 7:30 AM

Thank you Chairman Gary Smith, Vice Chairman Ronnie Johns and the rest of the committee for allowing me to submit the following testimony in support of S.B. 324, the Raise the Age Louisiana Act of 2016. My name is Nathan Leamer and I am a policy analyst with the D.C.-based think tank the R Street Institute. We work alongside federal and state legislators to develop conservative, free-market solutions to a wide array of issues in a number of different policies areas, including the juvenile-justice system.

Before my work in the policy, I earned a secondary education degree and taught high school history in Michigan. My experience with teenagers has informed my understanding of the obstacles they face, as well as the challenges faced by communities in guiding them to fulfill their potential. In or out of the classroom, I never treated 17-year-olds differently from fellow students who happened to be 16 or 15. I didn’t give them more or less classwork, grade on a curve or approach classroom behavior standards differently because of my students’ age. Instead, I collaborated as best I could with each student, their parents, other educators, coaches and/or community mentors to help each kid achieve their full potential. I feel the state justice system could benefit from this approach employed by educators.

Instead of subjecting 17-year-olds to the one-size-fits-all approach of the adult penal system, “raising the age” would end the arbitrary practice of treating of 17-year-olds in a class all themselves, in which they are adults only in the eyes of the court but in no other aspect of their lives. It would give all of Louisiana’s minors access to the holistic rehabilitative services of the juvenile-justice system. Passing S.B. 324 is an opportunity to make legislative reforms with long-lasting financial benefits to taxpayers, while also improving public safety.

Before I continue, I should note that there is a danger to going too far in the other direction. In a limited number of cases, teenagers really do commit adult crimes. Those individuals should serve adult time. However, the default approach should not be to ship all teens to the adult court but to utilize the multiple tools available through the juvenile system.

Raising the age will reduce recidivism and improve public safety

Automatically prosecuting youths charged with criminal offenses as adults originally was thought to improve public safety. But an overwhelming body of research shows the emphasis on harsh measures as a form of deterrence has not accomplished its intended purpose. Across the nation, a steady stream of research unequivocally demonstrates that trying and sentencing children in adult court does not reduce crime. In fact, it does just the opposite.

Juveniles prosecuted in adult court are more likely to recidivate than their counterparts in the juvenile-justice system. Over the long term, this leads to more victims of crime, not fewer. Children under the age of 18 who are in the adult system are, on average, 34 percent more likely to be rearrested for a felony than youths who stay in the juvenile system. The adult system does not provide the age-appropriate programming and interventions critical for youth rehabilitation. Trying youths as adults has both a detrimental impact on children and harms public safety.[1]

Raising the age is fiscally sound policy

While the annual per-detainee cost of juvenile facilities is generally higher than comparable facilities for adults, other associated costs tend to more than cancel out the differences. In one of the more comprehensive studies of the topic, a 2012 University of Texas analysis found that Texas would save about $90 million a year by ending the automatic sentencing of offenders under age 18 as adults.[2] Louisiana is much smaller, but plausibly can expect savings in the tens of millions of dollars.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 established federal mandates to ensure the safety of all inmates. This law makes it more costly to house children in state prisons and parish jails.[3] Compounding the cost is concern over the long-term effects of solitary confinement[4] that makes housing juveniles in adult facilities an expensive tightrope to walk. States like Rhode Island, which attempted to lower the age of adult jurisdiction from 18 to 17 in hopes of saving money, have found the change had the opposite effect, forcing the state to spend more on 17-year-old offenders than it was previously.[5]

Collateral consequences of a criminal record

As participants in the adult system, 17 year-olds lose confidentiality in court proceedings and typically cannot generally have their court records sealed or their offenses expunged. Information about their offenses is also, in practice, often searchable on the public Internet. The Vera Institute of Justice estimates that youths with adult criminal records could lose more than $61,000 in lifetime earnings. They may face denial of jobs, vocational licenses, educational loans and access to public housing as a result of a criminal court conviction. Some collateral consequences like these are appropriate for some adult offenders but they are deeply unfair for people who can’t buy tobacco, much less alcohol; cannot exercise their Second Amendment rights; cannot sign most contracts; and cannot serve in the military or vote.

Raising the age is supported by research on adolescent development

A significant body of scientific research supports the idea that we should establish a developmentally appropriate and informed juvenile-justice system. Over the past decade, research on adolescent brain development has shown the teen years to be marked by distinct characteristics that differentiate them from childhood and adulthood, including cognitive and behavioral traits such as poor self-control, sensitivity to peer influence and a tendency to be especially responsive to immediate rewards, while failing to take into account long-term consequences.[6]

The combination of these traits can lead adolescents to engage in high-risk behavior, with little consideration of the long-term consequences of their actions. Studies have also demonstrated that during emotionally charged situations with limited time to react, adolescents are most prone to poor decision-making. Typically, this behavior peeks during the late teenage years and dramatically reduces by the time a young person is age 21, with rates of offenses dropping continually through age 25.[7]  So-called “desistence” studies support these data, pointing to a natural “aging out” of criminal behavior by the mid-to-late twenties.[8]

In short, 17-year-olds are not the same as adults, in terms of their culpability. They are much more likely, if treated properly, to “age out” of criminal behavior and become productive, successful adult citizens. Research on adolescents that identifies environmental factors likely to enhance their healthy development suggest that youth who are connected to a positive, authoritative adult; who have access to healthy and positive peer groups; and who have access to activities that promote critical thinking and autonomy are more likely to come through adolescence successfully.[9]  The design of the juvenile-justice system, while not perfect, better supports these environmental factors than the adult criminal-justice system.

Conclusion

Louisiana’s 17-year-olds face a deeply unfair situation under current law. They have none of the rights typically accorded to adult citizens, but are treated as adults when they commit crimes. Policymakers should change this status immediately. Increasing the age for trying individuals in an adult court is an evidence-based approach that holds the promise of changing the behavior of juvenile offenders who would otherwise be lost in the adult system. “Raising the age” is a win-win approach, saving taxpayers money and increasing public safety.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007) Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System: A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on Community Prevention Services. Richard E. Redding, Juvenile transfer laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency? (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (June 2010).

[2] http://ajclonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/40-1-Deitch.pdf

[3] http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2013/10/mandatory-sentencing-17-year-olds-in-adult-court/

[4] https://www.aacap.org/aacap/policy_statements/2012/solitary_confinement_of_juvenile_offenders.aspx

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/us/30juvenile.html?_r=0

[6] National Research Council (2013). Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach.  Committee on Assessing Juvenile Justice Reform, Richard J Bonnie, Robert L Johnson, Betty M. Chemers and Julie A Schuck, Eds. Committee on Law & Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p89.

[7] Ibid. page 92.

[8] Mulvey, E.P., Steinberg, L., Piquero, A.R., Besana, M., Fagan, J., Schubert, C.A., and Cauffman, E. 2010. Longitudinal offending trajectories among serious adolescent offenders. Development & Psychopathology 22:453–475.

[9] Steinberg, L, Chung, HL, and Little, M (2004) “Reentry of young offenders from the justice system: A Developmental Perspective.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 2 (1), 21-38.

Iowa’s ridesharing bill is good for bankers, bad for Iowans

April 12, 2016, 7:00 AM

When I was a child, the notion of “staying up all night” was a sort of Holy Grail. In my elementary school-aged mind, successfully doing so was tantamount to attaining adulthood – a state that, as I understood the rumors, consisted primarily of never having to go to bed and eating pizza whenever one so desired.

My dad, being as supportive as he was, had no qualms about my grand vision. There was only one caveat: I had to agree spend my sleepless night lying down on a bed of blankets and pillows carefully assembled by my mom in the living room. And the lights had to remain off, while I watched TV. I never made it past midnight.

As anti-ridesharing forces around the country have sought to stymie companies like Uber and Lyft, their approaches often resemble my dad’s sinister ingenuity: stipulations that initially seem benign ultimately turn out to be significant barriers to entry, intended to lead to the failure of the entire initiative. The latest example has appeared in Iowa, where pending legislation in the state House of Representatives would require ridesharing drivers with liens on their vehicles to maintain comprehensive and collision insurance policies.

Like most examples of its kind, the regulation doesn’t initially sound all that egregious, until one realizes that no other driver on the road has to abide by such a standard – not even limousine and taxi drivers. Nor is there any particularly good reason for the arbitrary distinction between ridesharing drivers, who are simply using their own vehicles as a means of additional income, and other drivers.

But like other logically inconsistent measures around the country, including Massachusetts’ duplicative inspection requirements and cab-only airport access; Corpus Christi, Texas’ onerous background-check requirements; or Austin, Texas’ call for fingerprinting of rideshare drivers, the clear purpose behind the regulation has nothing to do with public safety. Instead, it has everything to do with lining the pockets of various interests and impeding the growth of ridesharing.

Iowa’s new measure has been vocally supported by the banking industry, which wishes to use the sledgehammer of legislation to protect the loans they issue, rather than the much more relevant scalpel of negotiating the terms where they belong: in the contracts that already exist between lender and lendee.

Some estimates suggest that nearly three in four Americans currently finance their vehicles, so the bill’s effect would impact the vast majority of individuals driving for ridesharing services. And the difference between the legally mandated level of coverage and a plan that also includes comprehensive and collision coverage isn’t trivial. A recent Nasdaq article highlighted just how significant the cost can be:

A 25-year-old woman living in Oakland, Calif., would pay about $610 a year for minimum liability coverage on a paid-off 2002 Ford Taurus, assuming a clean driving record and no accidents. But upgrading to a shiny 2013 BMW 3-series and appropriate full coverage (comprehensive, collision and 100/300/50 liability) would cost her about $3,285 a year.

It thus should come as no surprise that Iowa’s insurance industry also has chimed in their support, given the significant increase in revenue they could expect under such a proposal.

It is also important to note that a significant percentage of Iowans – perhaps one in four – leases their vehicles. All leasing companies already require not only comprehensive and collision insurance policies on their vehicles, but policies that usually far outpace state requirements. As Nasdaq notes:

Some states require as little as $12,500 in bodily injury liability insurance and as little as $5,000 in property damage liability. But leasing companies demand much more, usually $100,000 per person to cover those injured and $50,000 to repair damage to other cars or property.

For some ridesharing drivers, the position is an opportunity to bring in extra money and pay a few bills. For others, it’s a livelihood. Such an egregious increase in the out-of-pocket expenses necessary to become a driver has a dramatic impact on the net financial benefit for hard-working Iowans looking to make ends meet.

Uber, for its part, has promised to cease operations in Iowa, if the measure is successful, just as the company did in Kansas when that state’s Legislature sought to enact a similar requirement. That’s an outcome that’s great for cab companies, and soothing, perhaps, for fretful bankers. But it’s very bad for the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who will end up losing beneficial options as consumers, and entire sources of income as workers, due to their Legislature’s decision to find out just how much it can squeeze out of a burgeoning new industry.

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

Encryption: Balancing the needs of law enforcement and the Fourth Amendment

April 12, 2016, 6:30 AM

My name is Mike Godwin and I’m director of innovation policy and general counsel for the R Street Institute, a free-market public-policy think tank based in Washington. I’m also a native Houstonian, and I like to think my commitment to liberty on the internet has grown out of my strong Texas roots. I want to thank the Congressmen for giving me the opportunity to come back to Houston to talk about encryption and the Constitution.

As we all know, encryption and digital-security measures have been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the recent disagreements between the FBI and Apple I want to stress at the outset that, for the most part, neither Apple nor anybody else who disagreed with the FBI’s insistence that Apple help hack their own digital security in the San Bernardino terrorist case believes that particular case represents a Fourth Amendment issue. The owner of the iPhone in that case was not the suspect, but the suspect’s employer. That employer gave consent for the phone’s search. So there’s no Fourth Amendment issue with regard to that particular phone.

But the larger issues raised by the case do implicate the Fourth Amendment. Speaking as a constitutional lawyer, I naturally want to talk about what those implications are. Please forgive me in advance—I may talk about other amendments today as well, but we’re here to talk about the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

These days, I often hear the argument that the Fourth Amendment is just about warrants and the requirement that they be particular, and not so-called “general warrants.” But let’s diagram the Fourth Amendment, as my Houston Independent School District teachers required me to do with a lot of sentences when I grew up here. The Fourth Amendment turns out to be two independent provisions. The first provision, which is about security and reasonableness, is arguably more important than the second, which is just about warrants.

Given the breadth of the first part of the Fourth Amendment—which uses words like “secure” and “unreasonable” that are meant to be understood broadly – we can reasonably guess that what the FBI wants now is something the Fourth Amendment’s authors never contemplated.

Should our government mandate the kind of profound, extensive backdoor access to every aspect of our personal lives that would be made possible when companies are compelled to hack our security for the FBI?  Should we give our police secret keys that unlock everything we might say or do on our smartphones?

And here, I’m not just talking about Apple, Facebook and Google, but also about smaller companies that provide us with a range of digital-security tools we may use with our devices. These companies may not have the muscle to challenge an insistent FBI, even when they think they’re in the right to provide citizens with real digital security.

But the FBI, and other government agencies at the state and federal level, have argued in court—and likely will continue to argue in court—that the need to investigate crime or thwart terrorism requires us to give the government guaranteed access to the backdoors of our digital lives. What’s more, they are asking Congress to step in and establish those rights as a matter of statutory law. This is what the anti-encryption draft legislation introduced last week by Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein would do.

We at the R Street Institute believe Congress should act now, as it has before, to secure our rights against government demands to access our every secret thought. As intimately connected as we are to our smartphones today, it’s likely that we’ll be even more intimately connected to whatever technologies help us in our daily lives in the future. There are people in this room today who will live to see digital technologies in their very bodies, helping them recover from injuries or illnesses. Do we really think the FBI or a federal magistrate should have the power to enable government to hack these digital devices inside us?

The FBI and some other law-enforcement agencies seem to believe the Fourth Amendment grants the government a fundamental right to succeed in every investigation on which it embarks. This is wrongheaded; the amendment is supposed to operate as a limit on government power, not to grant a right to investigatory success

Remember, the amendment protects:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects

It’s a right “of the people,” not a right belonging to the FBI, the IRS, the Securities and Exchange Commission or to local or state police. It’s not a right that disappears when there’s a big, important case or investigation going on.

Should Congress mandate that our digital devices be made hackable and snoop-able by every government entity in this country? One reason they shouldn’t is that doing so would effectively empower every other government entity in the world that might have jurisdiction over Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. to compel the same intrusion. Why should any of us ever trust digital tools and digital commerce if our government insists that any company we buy from must be able to create burglar tools for the FBI? In the digital age, when we keep our whole lives on our computers and phones, this mandate meets every definition of “unreasonable.”

 

Now, please note: I’d mention briefly that other Bill of Rights protections are raised by the question of whether government should be able to compel companies to provide backdoors into the digital-security technologies that all of us use.

Obviously, the First Amendment is important when it comes to encryption, because it’s well-established that the freedoms of speech and association sometimes require privacy in order for each of us to exercise them.

And I would argue the Second Amendment is relevant too, since both the right to keep and bear arms and the common-law right of self-defense suggest that government can’t and shouldn’t be able to hobble our ability to keep our digital lives and internet homesteads secure.

Not many people talk about the Third Amendment—it prohibits the forcing citizens to provide quarters in their homes for soldiers in peacetime. But maybe that’s relevant too—if Apple has to build its own forensics lab in California for the purpose of giving government agents a place to get access to encrypted data—that starts looking quite a bit like quartering of soldiers, or at least quartering of policemen. And giving government agents a backdoor to our digital lives, looks a bit too much like the mandatory quartering of soldiers in our homes.

Finally, although I could mention other constitutional rights and legal doctrines, I want to stress that Apple and others have argued that Fifth Amendment due-process requirements and prohibitions against compelled testimony apply, as well. No person or company should face a categorical mandate to declare to the world of devices that this particular software—the FBiOS that the government may want—is a trusted update, when its actual purpose is not to protect us but to reveal our secrets.

Now, the argument from government has always been that the warrant requirements and due-process requirements in court ought to be satisfy us—that we shouldn’t rely on unbreakable security technologies to make our digital data, and our digital lives, secure. But their assumption here is that the primary way we vindicate our constitutional rights is to go to court and assert them, or to rely on a judge to assert them for us.

But that’s not the American tradition—we believe in our citizens’ right to protect themselves. As the poet Robert Frost put it, “good fences make good neighbors.” We’re all better off if we’re allowed to use good fences rather than rely on the sheriffs and judges to be the first and only way we make sure we have good neighbors.

When did the Imagineers lose their imagination?

April 11, 2016, 9:50 PM

In a recent storyline of FX’s “The Americans,” the show’s protagonists – Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, and their children Paige and Henry – were set to take a trip to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. Alas, fate intervenes in the form of a deadly bioweapon, and the Jennings family’s vacation plans are scuttled indefinitely.

So it goes for characters in period dramas – at least, those who also happen to be undercover Russian spies.

The Epcot episodes of “The Americans” were set in March 1983, at which point the Florida theme park was just five months old. Even still, it so happens that my own real-life family beat them to the punch. We first visited Epcot in November 1982 – equally five weeks after the park opened and five weeks before my ninth birthday. I remember not just the experience, but the interminable buildup: months and months of awaiting the pilgrimage to this magnetic mecca of modernism, which had been calling to me ever since I first saw the concept designs in The Weekly Reader.

I will say it did not disappoint. Indeed, every single detail was nothing short of pants-shittingly cool, down even to the icons that adorned each pavilion. I still don’t quite know why these perfectly efficient examples of clean modernist commercial design were so appealing to my young brain. Perhaps even without knowing the first thing about design, I appreciated how they managed simultaneously to be both nearly inscrutable and to illuminate abstract concepts with just a few simple lines. For a sense of just how lasting an influence even that small touch could have, check out the topic buttons we use on the front page of RStreet.org:

And compare them to these Epcot originals:

Needless to say, there was more to the place than just iconography. It was at Epcot that I got my first glimpse of a real-life robot, the automotive manufacturing arm that co-starred in “The Bird and the Robot” show at the World of Motion pavilion. It’s also where I used my first real-life videophone, on display at the wonkily named cathedral of technological miscellany called “Communicore.” Within The Land pavilion, I ate at my first rotating restaurant, overlooking a boat ride through a Space Age greenhouse where I first learned the mysterious term “hydroponics.”

In the Germany pavilion, I had my first taste of sauerbraten, while in the Italy pavilion’s original restaurant – L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante – I first sampled the decadent fettucine dish that made Alfredo di Lelio famous.

There was the Universe of Energy, where one’s senses were assaulted by a preshow movie displayed on a “screen” composed of 100 turning cubes – an effect its creator called “the kinetic mosaic.” From there, the very theatre in which you were sitting started to move, as you were drawn into a “primeval diorama.” You felt the humidity, smelt the swampy water and, when you looked up, there he was 60 feet above your head – a brontosaurus munching on some leafy greens. Ten years before “Jurassic Park,” this was as close as one could get to communing with what appeared for all the world to be real dinosaurs.

I remember the tenebrous atmosphere of the Mexico pavilion where, through marvels of forced perspective and meticulous matte paintings of a tropical nighttime sky, a visitor was made to feel he was looking at a real volcano erupting off in the distance behind some genuine ancient temple ruins. I remember the whimsical airborne arcs of water that “hopped” from fountain to fountain outside the transcendent glass pyramid called “Journey to Imagination.”

And in the center of it all, there it stood. Impossibly large and impossibly intricate, just as it was in my Weekly Reader – the 11,520 isosceles triangles that form the perfect geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth.

The names Ray Bradbury and Buckminster Fuller would come to loom large for me later in my life, but they didn’t mean anything to me then. Thus, I didn’t know that the former helped to design Spaceship Earth and to write its original storyline, nor that the latter – the apostle of the geodesic dome – had given it its name and developed its underlying structural mathematics. What I did know was that — walking out of the park each evening, the smell of orange blossoms on the warm Florida air, every color of the rainbow reflected off its thousands of shimmery surfaces – my not-quite 9-year-old brain could not fathom anything more beautiful.

My family would return to Orlando – and thus, to Epcot – in 1985 and 1989 and 1995. Naturally, it was difficult for subsequent visits to recreate the magic of that initial exposure. Though it remained my favorite theme park in the world, it’s unquestionably true that, by 1995, much of Epcot’s “futuristic” predictions from 1982 were already looking decidedly dated and many of the attractions were very much worse for wear.

As a journalist, I also covered the opening of the park’s brief-lived “Millennium Village” in 1999 (more on that later). But I had not been back in more than 20 years until this past Friday, when my wife and I took a day trip to visit.

What I can report is that a lot has changed at Epcot in the past two decades. Most of the recent changes were probably predictable. Disney Corp. understandably wants to leverage its intellectual property across all its theme parks, and Epcot is no exception. The costumed Disney cast members who once were limited to the Magic Kingdom are now ubiquitous. A number of Epcot attractions and pavilions – in both the Future World and World Showcase parts of the park – have been rejiggered to tie in more directly with other Disney properties.

Corporate synergies of this sort need not necessarily be too much of a damper on the experience, were they not deployed in a way so contrary to the original spirit of the place – as somewhere that would inspire children to learn more about the world in which they live and the future they stand to inherit. What remains, while arguably more entertaining than their original incarnations, is a World Showcase no longer terribly interested in showcasing the world and a Future World no longer even the slightest bit interested in imagining the future.

Cultural appropriation for fun and profit

The biggest problem with the World Showcase isn’t so much what has changed as what hasn’t. There were nine national pavilions when Epcot opened in 1982: Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, China, Mexico and, as the centerpiece, the American Experience. Morocco (contrary to common belief, the only one of the pavilions actually sponsored by a national government) was added in 1984, while Norway joined in 1988. Despite having the room to accommodate as many as six to 10 more attractions, there have been no additions to the World Showcase lineup in the past 28 years. Planned pavilions for Spain, Israel and Equatorial Africa (announced in the 1982 brochure below) never materialized. A planned Rhine River ride for Germany and other planned attractions for Italy and Japan also never got off the ground.

Israel would eventually make an appearance in the aforementioned Millennium Village, a temporary attraction that ran from October 1999 through the year 2000, and that also included exhibits for Brazil, Chile, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Sweden and even Easter Island. As many as a dozen other countries were represented in some fashion in either the pre-show presentation, in an area for indigenous artisans or in what was, I can testify, a fairly impressive food court. The space is now used primarily for conventions and other one-off purposes.

Taken as a whole, the World Showcase is light on rides, heavy on restaurants and gift shops. All are staffed with natives of the respective countries, who generally are outfitted in some sort of laughably stereotypical indigenous garb (thus, fezzes and disha dashas in Morocco, lederhosen in Germany). The restaurants range in quality from the more-or-less passable (Morocco, France) to incredibly overpriced versions of the same sort of heavily Americanized cuisines (China, Mexico) that most visitors will find in their local strip mall back home. The gift shops offer an experience akin to what my wife describes as “visiting the duty-free stores of each country’s national airport.”

But these are not new quibbles. They were true right back to opening day. What has changed is largely the effect of a creeping Disneyfication of the park. Mulan now hangs out at the China pavilion. Aladdin and Jasmine do the same at Morocco. In 2007, the Mexico pavilion’s original “El Rio Del Tiempo” boat ride was revamped to feature The Three Caballeros, stars of the 1944 Donald Duck film of the same name that Walt Disney produced as a goodwill gesture toward the South American market. A similar revamp is currently underway in the Norway pavilion, where the excellent “Maelstrom” boat ride, which had a Viking theme and was almost unquestionably the best attraction in World Showcase, is being replaced with one devoted to the 2013 smash “Frozen.”

To be sure, Edward Said would have a field day with World Showcase’s representations of the Constitutive Other. This is perhaps inevitable with any attempt to offer capsule versions of entire (and in many cases, ancient) cultures as cheap entertainment for mass consumption. That is not primarily my battle here, though it bears mentioning that whatever risk of inappropriate stereotyping is inherent to the enterprise becomes magnified several hundredfold when such cultures are literally represented by cartoon characters (for WDW’s worst offender on this score, see the Magic Kingdom’s “It’s a Small World,” an attraction that comes off as mind-blowingly racist by modern sensibilities).

Bearing all of that in mind, an argument can be made that perhaps it’s fortunate the World Showcase didn’t have the chance to extend that same insensitive treatment to even more cultures. One shudders to think how the Equatorial Africa pavilion might have turned out.

But even as I acknowledge the many ways in which Disney’s fast-food versions of world cultures are problematic, I also think its heart is in the right place. For many middle-class families – and particularly those with small children – a European vacation (much less one to more far-flung destinations like Morocco or China) isn’t financially within reach. Even with all its flaws, the World Showcase introduces tens of thousands of children every year to the ideas of world travel and cultural exploration. One of the park’s best features is the ersatz “passport” it offers to families, which visiting kids can have stamped in each new “country” they visit. I therefore find it a disappointment that so many of the world’s great cultures – yes, Israel and Spain and “Equatorial Africa,” whatever that would have been, but also Russia, India, Ethiopia, Greece, Brazil, Egypt and so many others – still aren’t here for the sampling.

No future, no future, no future for you

If Epcot’s World Showcase suffers from stagnation, its Future World has taken multiple steps backward. It isn’t just that the park’s vision of the future is outdated, which would be understandable and, perhaps, inevitable. It’s that Disney clearly has employed the intentional strategy of making sure any vision of the future – even the past’s vision of the future, or what’s sometimes called “retro-futurism” – is fully scrubbed from the park.

Where The Living Seas once invited guests to take a “hydrolator” down to Seabase Alpha and board “seacabs” for a tour of the coral reefs, the pavilion has since ditched all the science-y trappings in favor of a “Finding Nemo”-themed ride.

Where the Wonders of Life pavilion once offered “Body Wars” — an “Innerspace”-style journey inside the human body — the physical space it once occupied now serves as Epcot’s Festival Center, where patrons instead test how much alcohol their own bodies can retain during the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (thus making it perhaps the park’s most profitable real estate, even if it isn’t used most of the year).

Those perfect little pavilion icons are gone, having been replaced by sad and neglected directional signs. “The Bird and the Robot” is gone, too, as is the entire World of Motion pavilion. In its place is TestTrack, arguably the park’s most popular attraction (its only real competition is “Soarin’,” a hang-glider simulator imported from the Disney California Adventure park). TestTrack dispenses with all of World of Motion’s ruminations on the past and future of human transportation systems. But it does give the people what they really seem to want most – a car ride that goes “zoom.”

Indeed, as evidenced by the loss of World of Motion and changes made over the years to exhibits like Spaceship Earth and Universe of Energy, it isn’t just the future that’s been stripped from Future World – Disney isn’t all that interested in the past or present either. The Universe of Energy still has its primeval diorama (albeit looking far creakier than it did 30 years ago), but the kinetic mosaic is long gone. In its place is a rather stilted 1996 intro film starring Ellen DeGeneres (along with costars Bill Nye, Jamie Lee Curtis and Alex Trebek) that is every bit as much frozen in amber as any of Jurassic Park’s DNA-hording mosquitoes, if for no other reason than how little resemblance these still-recognizable stars have to their Clinton-era selves.

But of all the lost and forgotten attractions I miss from the Epcot of yore, the one whose absence best illuminates how the park has changed is Horizons. Sponsored by General Electric, Horizons served as a spiritual sequel to the “Carousel of Progress” Disney built for GE’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The dark ride invited visitors to imagine daily life in any number of contingent futures – in the desert or under the sea, in towering urban skyscrapers or off into the farthest reaches of outer space.

In Horizons’ old spot today is Mission: Space, a space-flight simulator that’s more or less a revamp of the Magic Kingdom’s old Mission to Mars ride. The subject of space exploration is, of course, a natural fit for Future World, but Mission: Space boils all of it down to the dumbest possible element – daring riders not to vomit even as they are spun in centrifuges that simulate 2.5G.

Horizons, which closed permanently in 1999, came the closest of any Epcot attraction to fulfilling Walt Disney’s original vision — as hubristic and totally batshit crazy as it was — for the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, which he outlined in this short 1966 film shot just weeks before his death:

The central problem with Horizons, and with Future World more generally, can perhaps best be understood by examining its predecessor, the Carousel of Progress, which for reasons that elude millions of visitors each year, does continue to churn on at the nearby Magic Kingdom.

When it debuted in 1964, the Carousel’s four acts showed the progress of consumer items in a typical American home, spread out over roughly regular 20-year intervals: the turn of the century, the 1920s, the 1940s and “today.” But of course, what constitutes “today” is an ever-shifting paradigm. Even just three years after its debut, when the attraction was moved to California’s Disneyland in 1967, the final act already had to be updated. It was updated again when it moved to the Magic Kingdom in 1975 and has seen three subsequent updates in 1981, 1985 and 1993.

The problem is that the gap from act three to act four continues to grow larger and larger. We are now roughly as far away from the original “today” of 1964 as those in 1964 were from the turn of the century. This lends the entire attraction something of a ludicrous feeling now. Disney eventually just passed the point of no return where they no longer considered it worthwhile to update the show. Other than some minor tweaks, such as replacing the television screens with HDTV flat panels in 2011, the current show is still essentially that 1993 version.

In other words, the Disney Imagineers eventually just gave up, just as they have at Future World. Keeping up to date with visions of the future is a costly process, bound for futility. Disney, after all, is in the business of selling admission tickets at a profit, not indulging the pitiful nostalgia of childless 40-somethings looking to recapture their youth.

And I’m well aware that my own rose-tinted glasses have led me to gloss over how much Epcot’s shortcomings go back to opening day. Just as with World Showcase, some of Future World’s problems were baked in to its DNA. The fact that all of the original pavilions were corporate-sponsored meant that many essentially were just extended commercials — “better living through chemistry” style propaganda.

Nonetheless, in this era of heightened xenophobia and diminished work skills, amid talk of a Great Stagnation and a giant wall on our southern border, I contend we need Epcot now more than ever. We need dozens more pavilions exposing our children to overly simplistic treatments of foreign cultures. We need hokey dark rides about nanobots and 3D printing and driverless cars, need Elon Musk to build a mini-Hyperloop and Google to sponsor a pavilion about the Internet of Things. We need just ONE amusement park whose goal is to inspire children to DO, not just to receive.

All is not lost. Spaceship Earth is still there, waiting for a new, more visionary captain to pilot it. Here’s to hoping that whatever form Epcot takes in the near or distant future, that big gleaming golf ball will continue to serve as a source of inspiration to all of the not-quite 9-year-olds, that they might still look up at it with awe and wonder.

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

Al Gore’s climate gestapo seeks to punish political dissent

April 11, 2016, 4:45 PM

AG’s United for Clean Power should embrace the more appropriate moniker, “Climate Gestapo.”

The coalition assembled by former Vice President Al Gore and 17 state attorneys general appears set to punish companies, think tanks and other climate change “heretics” to the fullest extent of the law.

But that’s just it. Rather than actually enforcing the laws of their respective states, the group is embarking on a political witch-hunt designed to intimidate their opposition.

The global climate is indeed changing. We can measure transformations like sea-level rise as they happen, and the general scientific consensus accepts that humans have a meaningful impact on the environment. For those who share the perspective of Gore and AGs United for Clean Power, that consensus requires strong, immediate political action.

But not everyone accepts this scientific consensus, and even among those who do, some believe it isn’t a large enough problem to warrant political action. Those conclusions are matters of perspective and policy. Whether correct or not, they don’t merit state-supported legal attacks.

If attorneys general are willing to form the Climate Gestapo, will they soon attack groups who assail GMOs? What about people who link autism to vaccines? Why not go whole-hog and pursue people of faith who believe that God created the heavens and the earth?

In each of those cases, the very idea of investigation and prosecution by public officials seems laughable.

Unfortunately, those examples aren’t markedly different from the instant case. The majority of the scientific community backs a clear position on each of those topics, but 17 attorneys general and a former vice president aren’t about to prosecute pastors for fraud based on “established” science.

There’s a big difference between articulating or acting upon scientific consensus and enforcing it as a matter of unassailable fact. We don’t need government bullies and political opportunists defining acceptable science. That’s not how science works in the first place. It’s a process that seeks to answer the fundamental questions of our existence rather than an immutable set of concrete facts we use to pummel each other into political submission.

This isn’t about a reasoned debate over application of current scientific research to public policy. That robust dialogue is already happening across the country. We’re also making great strides in reducing pollution —including carbon emissions—and even opening up conversations about better environmental policies across the political spectrum.

Al Gore’s climate gestapo intends to use the legal process to intimidate and harass dissenting perspectives. That’s the only reason why the attorney general of the Virgin Islands feels legally entitled to donor and internal information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative Washington think tank. Mere opposition to CEI’s policy conclusions doesn’t give attorneys general—or anyone else for that matter—the legal right to fish for their private internal information or thumb through their donors.

The Supreme Court directly addressed this type of state-driven intimidation in NAACP v. Alabama (1958). There, the court found that maintaining private information immune from the prying eyes of the state was directly related to the NAACP’s constitutional right to “pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so.”

That holding has stood for more than a half-century. It shouldn’t change now simply because Al Gore and a minority of state attorneys general have a political ax to grind.

If Al Gore and AGs United for Clean Power want a broader base of support to engage the climate conversation, building a new gestapo is decidedly the wrong approach.

Better ways to handle unwanted animals

April 11, 2016, 10:52 AM

The last time I was in an animal shelter, I adopted a furry 8-year-old puss named Gus. The shelter was clean but depressing: It was filled with whelping dogs (mostly pit-bull mixes) and terrified cats that, most likely, were not long for this world. It was one of the nicer shelters I’ve been to, but it had the charm of a county jail.

That shelter had a novel program. On Fridays, it sold its elderly cats for five bucks. That’s a great deal, since the cats are spayed or neutered, have shots and come with coupons for a free veterinary visit. That’s the first time I recall any shelter offering such a market-based approach. Most people want kittens, and the lovable old fellas often go begging.

This came to mind after reading about the latest travails at the Orange County Animal Services Department. According to news reports, animal activists and a city council member accused department officials of underreporting their “kill rate” – the percentage of animals put down. Official estimates previously put that number at 6 percent, but the Voice of OC reported that “it’s actually been a far higher rate of around 35 percent, according to data later provided by the county in response to a legal settlement” with an animal rescuer.

(In fairness, either kill-rate figure is lower than what it had been a few years ago.)

County animal-care officials had no response to the allegations, according to that report. And – big surprise here – the union that represents the animal-care workers defended the agency and argued it provides a “valuable public safety function” because of the many times it refers animal-related criminal cases to the prosecutors. A subsequent Board of Supervisors meeting was filled with debate over possible reforms. Let’s face it: Nothing will change. The animal shelter has been plagued by problems for many years.

I love the quotation from the late commentator Paul Harvey cited at the beginning of the Orange County grand jury’s 2014-15 report on the state of the county animal shelter: “Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animal suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Because animals do not vote.”

Animals don’t vote. Government agencies don’t have customers. They too often operate for the good of those who work for them. They ultimately are funded through tax dollars. If this were a business, there would be all sorts of promotions to discount less-sought-after merchandise (e.g., old cats and hard-to-place pit-bull-type dogs). They would be open the hours that shoppers prefer. The facilities would be comfortable and cheery.

“The grand jury has concluded that the county’s lack of leadership, lack of commitment to animal care, and the prioritization of other Orange County Community Resources Department functions ahead of Orange County Animal Care are the primary reasons for failure to address the need of new animal shelter facilities,” according to the report. Ouch.

An ABC News investigation from May detailed allegations of problems at the agency. A Los Angeles Times article from 2004 was headlined, “Grand Jury Blasts Animal Shelter Again.” Shelter officials disputed the report, as have officials during the most recent reports. But, last year, the Register’s Teri Sforza detailed the county’s long-running animal-control problems. “Red rust eats at kennel frames. Partitions have frozen in place. Wet, black noses poke between what look like prison bars,” she wrote, noting the county’s “fusty facility” dates to 1941. She quotes a supervisor complaining about it in 1983.

In 2000, the OC Weekly criticized Santa Ana’s shelter (e.g., “paperwork screw-ups lead to dead animals.”), which it used to show that private shelters are as bad as government ones. Sure, privatized agencies have many of the same flaws as government (they are funded by public contracts, not by luring customers in a competitive environment), but at least bad contractors can be fired.

Defenders of the current system say the problem lies in the nature of the situation. It’s hard to have a true private business model dealing with unwanted animals. Or is it? The grand jury found that the agency “is virtually self-supporting through fees generated from the 18 contract cities.” Those are fees from local governments, but it’s hard for me to believe no one can come up with a way to buy and sell and treat unwanted animals for a profit.

In my view, we let the government handle such things because we’re too lazy – or uncaring – to think more deeply about alternatives. Future boards and grand juries likely will be debating the same problems in the same agency. Those of us who think a cuddly old fellow like Gus should be purring on a loving family’s sofa rather than awaiting euthanasia ought to put more effort into finding private ways to solve this endless public problem.

ADAPTATION: Republicans open to working on climate resilience

April 11, 2016, 8:45 AM

From ClimateWire

“It’s a mom-and-apple-pie issue. How could anybody say, ‘It’s a bad idea to make people safer against extreme weather’?” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank. Focus on economics, not climate Past and current systems to mitigate against extreme climate events aren’t particularly ideological or controversial, said Lehrer. These include measures like the Stafford Act, which gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency responsibility for coordinating governmentwide relief efforts. Preparing oceanfront communities before the storm hits, said Lehrer, is also smart spending. This includes property-level measures like installing storm shutters; structural mitigation like building levees; and nonstructural measures like preserving wetlands to absorb sea surges. In combination, these methods have gotten near-universal acceptance on both sides of the aisle, said Lehrer. The White House could benefit from playing up the fiscal merits of its initiatives, Lehrer believes. Some of Obama’s efforts, like a floodplain management standard, are being undersold on their economic impacts and oversold on their climate change significance, Lehrer said. And where Republicans are concerned, spending is a big issue.

Cyber Insurance: A functioning free market

April 11, 2016, 7:00 AM

When a few high-profile hacking incidents hit household-name firms like Target and Home Depot in 2014 and 2015, some in the insurance industry – and more than a few in public life– said that cyber risk required an expensive new government solution.

The threat of a major Internet outage caused by hackers, they said, was an “uninsurable” systemic risk that would impact all economic sectors at once and more-or-less required government protection in the form of a “backstop” that would pay high-end losses.

Certainly, some firms had reason to think that their bills for internet-related coverage were going to soar. May 2014 changes made by the industry advisory firm ISO to its standard commercial general liability policy (used by many private companies) included much broader exclusions of the kinds of cyber risks that general-purpose commercial insurance policies once covered. Companies now usually have to buy separate cyber insurance policies in what’s called the “standalone” market. More than a few firms experienced a degree of sticker shock when they had to buy these new policies for the first time in 2014 and 2015 and the market for them remains very fluid.

But as firms with cyber insurance renew their policies (often for the first time), something is happening that ought to warm any free marketer’s heart: The market is working and driving prices down. Even though many kinks remain to be worked out, Marsh Inc., the world’s largest insurance broker, reports that prices have fallen about 13 percent in the highest-risk industries. Meanwhile, existing players in the cyber-insurance market continue to see significant business growth.

The market still isn’t stable (brand new markets seldom are) but the evidence indicates that insurers are willing to sell coverage at a price that buyers are willing to pay. Prices might drop further still.

This doesn’t rule out the possibility that there could be some risks somewhere with which the private sector just can’t deal. But the ones easiest to conceive remain those that involve physical destruction of infrastructure. These would be either acts of terrorism (which an existing $100 billion federal backstop covers) or war (which has never been insurable).

In any case, there’s no law of nature that says cyber insurance is the only way to manage risks associated with the Internet. Firms might find it better to hold larger reserves, invest in security or use alternative financial arrangements like bonds to manage their risks.

This doesn’t rule out the idea that there might one day be a need for some expanded government role. But the latest news makes one thing clear: The burden of proof ought to remain very much on those calling for more government intervention.

Court’s rebuke to FSOC was well-deserved

April 11, 2016, 6:30 AM

Patrick Jenkins, in “MetLife ruling poses threat to drive towards global financial stability” (Inside Business, April 5), says that the court’s decision in the MetLife case is “a rebuke” to the Financial Stability Oversight Council. So it is, and a well-deserved one.

Mr. Jenkins’ agonizing over the decision suggests that bureaucratic agencies should be given unchecked powers because he believes they know how to recognize and control systemic risk. For this belief, there is no evidence, and a lot of evidence to the contrary. The bureaucratic bodies concerned all failed to foresee the housing and sovereign-debt crises of this century and failed to foresee the more recent oil-price collapse.

Their record in the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s is equally bad. A fundamental weakness they cannot overcome is that governments themselves are major creators of systemic risk. This cannot be controlled by a committee of government appointees — especially one chaired by a principal political officer, the secretary of the Treasury. What the FSOC does have is a strong urge to extend its control over private institutions by its own diktat. This should not be allowed in a democratic system of checks and balances.

The bureaucratic will-to-power is the real core of the Dodd-Frank Act, which is best understood as the Faith in Bureaucracy Act.

 

 

Don’t just get kids off the sex offender registry. Abolish it.

April 08, 2016, 3:09 PM

From CounterPunch

For instance, CYRR is collaborating with Eli Lehrer, of the free-market think tank R Street; he is also a signatory of the conservative Right on Crime initiative. Flagged on the CYRR site is an article by Lehrer, published this winter in National Affairs, that argues for taking kids off the registry. But the piece also concludes that ending the registries would be “unwise” and suggests they’d be really good with a few “sensible” tweaks. Lehrer also proposes hardening policies—such as “serious” penalties for child pornography possession and the expanded use of civil commitment—that data reveal to be arbitrary or ineffective and many regard as gross violations of constitutional and human rights.

 

Anaheim targets people using homes as short-term rentals

April 08, 2016, 3:02 PM

From Reason

I first got to know Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait in the early 2000s, when we were battling a perverse city ordinance that forced low-income people—typically, folks one step ahead of homelessness—to move out of grubby old motels every 30 days. Local residents were upset that one-time tourist lodging had become permanent homes and were seeking to use the government to force the motels to remain devoted to tourism.

Read more…

Burr-Feinstein anti-crypto proposal would undermine digital security everywhere

April 08, 2016, 1:53 PM

We at R Street have known for a while that Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. were planning to propose anti-encryption legislation that would be truly terrible both for American citizens and for American businesses. But the senators’ “discussion draft,” released last night, exceeded our worst expectations.

Misleadingly named the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016,” the proposed law would actually impose wide-ranging obligations on telephone companies, online-service providers and manufacturers of smartphones, computers and other digital devices that would weaken and perhaps cripple your digital security, including your use of encryption to keep your communications and data private.

Essentially, the proposal would require any company that provides you with digital security either to be able to give the government the keys to unlock your data or else to provide “technical assistance” to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (or the Internal Revenue Service or any other state or federal agency that obtains a court order) to help hack your data and devices. It’s the equivalent of requiring a company that makes safes, like Diebold or Sentry Group, to sell only safes that government safe-crackers can break into.

Well, actually, it’s worse. As I’ve written, we find ourselves increasingly keeping far more self-revealing information on our phones or computers than we do even in our houses or apartments—the sheer scope of the digital information that we may use encryption to protect (for now!) is massive. If Congress can mandate digital insecurity for your phone, a state or city entity may not even need to do a physical search of your house or car to prosecute you. Sens. Burr and Feinstein take the view that if you’re foolish enough to use a smartphone or computer, government ought to be able to have access to anything you use those devices to communicate, process or store.

Here’s what the Burr-Feinstein proposal would require:

Any “covered entity” (more on that in a moment) that receives a court order placed by any government entity shall be responsible for “providing data in an intelligible format if such data have been made unintelligible by a feature, product or service owned, controlled, created, or provided by the covered entity or by a third party on behalf of the covered entity.” In short, if you use a feature like Microsoft’s or Apple’s full-disk encryption on your digital devices, the Redmond and Cupertino industry giants will have to either provide government with “backdoors” to your data or else provide hacking assistance.

But wait: how do we know that the Burr-Feinstein proposal will reach so much further than smartphones (although it’s bad enough that the senators want to weaken smartphone security)? Simple: the proposed law defines “covered entity” (that is, the companies that are included in the mandate) as “a device manufacturer, a software manufacturer, an electronic communication service, a remote computing service, a provider of wire or electronic communication service, a provider of a remote computing service, or any person who provides a product or method to facilitate a communication or the processing or storage of data.” So it’s not just your phone company, but also your computer vendor, the maker of your phone and any online service that stores anything on your behalf (this could include Amazon’s cloud services, as well as Google, Apple and Microsoft).

We at R Street are as sympathetic as anyone to the government’s need to provide both national security and law enforcement. But requiring companies that provide ever-stronger digital security to enable the weakening of digital security is simply perverse.

It’s also based on a misunderstanding of the balances struck in our Bill of Rights that aim to limit the scope of government power. Oddly, the senators, like the FBI, seem to believe that the Fourth Amendment is a grant to government of a fundamental right to succeed in every investigation upon which it embarks. But the plain language of the Fourth Amendment makes it clear that the amendment is supposed to operate as a limit on government power, not a grant to government of a right to investigatory success:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It’s a right “of the people,” not a right belonging to the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, or to local or state police. Yes, there’s a provision for “Warrants,” but John Adams and the other framers of the Bill of Rights didn’t just limit the Fourth Amendment to situations involving warrants and court orders. Instead, they framed the Fourth Amendment more broadly, to prohibit “unreasonable” searches and seizures.

Should Congress mandate that our digital devices be made hackable and snoop-able by every government entity in this country (and, as a result, to every other government entity in any other country around the world that might have jurisdiction over Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.)? In the digital age, when we keep our whole lives on our computers and phones, this new mandate meets every definition of “unreasonable.”

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

Senate could sneak wasteful energy subsidies into FAA reauthorization

April 08, 2016, 7:30 AM

What does the Federal Aviation Administration have to do with renewable-energy subsidies? Not much, except that senators are trying to sneak extensions of expiring green-energy tax credits into the bill reauthorizing the aviation regulatory agency.

R Street long has advocated for ending renewable-energy subsidies, which protect the interests of energy-industry insiders over those of taxpayers and consumers. At the close of budget negotiations last year, R Street was dismayed that some wasteful and harmful renewable-energy subsidies were extended, yet we remained cautiously optimistic that their phase-out might be in sight.

Now we’re frustrated to learn about new efforts in the Senate to extend an additional $1.4 billion in green-energy subsidies through sneaky, last-minute add-ons to an unrelated bill. We agree with many in the conservative movement that the renewable-energy provisions have no place in the FAA legislation.

As members of the Green Scissors coalition, R Street has a longstanding commitment to identify and eliminate programs that are both wasteful and environmentally harmful. Not only do green-energy tax credits waste billions of taxpayer dollars, they also prevent innovation and investment in the energy industry that could make sources like wind and solar viable in the long term.

We should not waste taxpayer dollars on industries that—despite decades of being propped up by generous government subsidies—can’t stand alone as competitive energy sources in the market economy. We hope members of the Senate will oppose this amendment, as well as any new efforts to grant a lifeline to renewable-energy subsidies that have continued well-past their expiration dates already.

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

No adults left in the State Capitol

April 08, 2016, 7:00 AM

After his first incarnation as California governor in the 1970s and ’80s, Jerry Brown spent a few years in the 1990s as a radio talk-show host. His Oakland-based “We the People” programs showcased “Gov. Moonbeam’s” oddball philosophical self, as he interviewed left-leaning guests and hashed out ideas that still remain outside the political mainstream. They were pretty entertaining, sometimes infuriating and often a little strange.

In one article posted on the radio show’s website, Brown said this about Disney World: “Like the triumph of McDonaldization, Disney-fication of existence promises certainty, predictability and wonderfully sanitary conditions. Few will worry about soil loss or global warming or an overcrowded world haunted by hungry people if they are infantilized and soothed.”

When Oakland Mayor Brown ran for California attorney general in 2006, this columnist questioned him about some of the viewpoints he expressed in those shows. It was his role as a radio host to explore ideas, he explained, which seemed reasonable enough, although it was clear Brown tended to explore only certain ideas. He often focused on looming ecological destruction and consumerism. He talked of economics in moral terms.

Fast forward to earlier this week. “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense,” he said, as he signed into law a measure that boosts the bottom-rung wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Brown had previously opposed the hike, for the obvious nuts-and-bolts reasons, but then dressed up his change-of-heart in “We the People”-like grandiosity: “Morally and socially and politically, they make every sense because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way,”according to the Sacramento Bee.

“Work is part of living in a moral community,” he added. “And a worker is worthy of his or her hire and to be worthy means they can support a family.”

American Spectator readers surely understand theperils of a minimum-wage increase. It drives up the cost of labor and makes it tougher for people who need a foot in the door — young, unskilled people and minorities in particular — to find work. It will exacerbate business flight and put a damper on those who would otherwise start new enterprises. It will accelerate the use of self-service kiosks. It will drive up wages for everyone else, thus increasing the cost of goods and services. It will put more pressure on local governments and on welfare rolls.

Best-case scenario: In six years, the real market-driven wage will top 15 bucks and the policy will have had no impact whatsoever. But that’s a likelihood mainly in urban areas. Smaller towns and cities will no doubt bear the brunt of this policy. If a policy designed to help people doesn’t make sense economically, then how can it make sense morally or socially? Unemployment and welfare use don’t help parents better take care of their children or bind communities together.

In his latest incarnation as governor, Brown has reinvented himself as the last adult in Sacramento — someone who puts the brakes on the Legislature’s insatiable desire to tax and spend and regulate. But his increasingly unhinged rhetoric and recent actions suggest there’s nothing new under the dome.

Last Monday, Brown held a news conference with labor-union leaders and some Democratic legislators announcing that wage deal. With the deal struck, the measure flew through the legislative process. Brown signed the law this week. It applies to businesses with 26 or more employees, while smaller companies get an extra year to comply. It gradually increases the wage until it hits $15 and, from that point on, ties it to the inflation rate.

On the surface, Brown portrayed himself as someone who negotiated a middle way. “The law’s most immediate practical effect will be to end a pair of union-backed initiative drives that appeared headed for November’s general election,” reported City Journal’s Ben Boychuk. “Brown, ever the cautious progressive, thought the union’s proposal went too far, too fast.”

In reality, the difference between the union measures and the Brown law are slim. The unions would have kicked in the raise sooner and the Brown measure has a provision that allows the state to suspend increases during economic calamity. That’s window dressing. The governor simply caved to his closest allies, the state’s public-sector unions. At least his minimum-wage rhetoric isn’t as loopy as his global-warming talk.

At a Vatican climate-change event last July, Brown stated: “We have to take measures against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants. We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.” And there’s nothing to suggest the governor’s environmental policies have moderated in any way.

On Wednesday, Brown was standing by the Klamath River near the Oregon border to announce the latest step in an ongoing plan to demolish four dams. “This historic agreement will enable Oregon and California and the interested parties to get these four dams finally removed and the Klamath River restored to its pristine beauty,” he said, regarding this long-controversial idea. Critics say the dam removal will undermine the local economy — a rural area already devastated by the continuing loss of resource-based jobs.

This is nothing new. “Left standing, a redwood grove is a miracle of beauty and home to an incredible variety of beings; laid low by chain saws and the commodified minds of our time, it is transformed into tangible returns on investment — the economy, stupid!” Brown wrote years ago regarding a protest against a lumber company.

Economically speaking, removing dams and shutting down logging, mining, and resource industries might do even more destruction than a minimum-wage boost. But it certainly makes “social and political sense,” especially to California’s urban-based liberal political constituencies. The governor still is perceived as the last adult in Sacramento, and that’s true on some limited budget issues. But that’s mainly a better reflection of the dismal state of California’s politics.

Mississippi and West Virginia governors both sign ridesharing laws

April 07, 2016, 12:48 PM

Mississippi and West Virginia have become the 30th and 31st states to pass legislation to create a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing services offered by transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Mississippi is the most recent state to join the club, as Gov. Phil Bryant on April 4 signed into law H.B. 1381. Somewhat unusually, the measure establishes the Mississippi Insurance Department and the state’s elected insurance commissioner as regulator of TNCs, who each would have to pay a $5,000 license fee to the department.

The law, which takes effect July 1, requires TNCs to maintain at least $1 million of liability coverage for their drivers from the moment a ride is arranged until a passenger is dropped off at his or her destination. Any time a driver is logged in to the ridesharing app, but not actually engaged in a ride, he or she will be required to maintain third-person bodily injury coverage of at least $50,000 per person and $100,000 per incident and physical damage coverage of at least $25,000. This so-called “Period 1″ coverage could be provided by the driver, the TNC or a combination of the two.

Drivers also would be required to undergo criminal background checks, which could be conducted by the TNC or by a third party. The legislation also specifically defined TNC drivers as independent contractors, so long as the TNC and driver both agree in writing, the TNC does not prescribe specific work hours or territories and the TNC doesn’t impose any noncompete clauses on drivers.

H.B. 4228 – West Virginia’s ridesharing effort, which we covered a bit back in February – was signed March 15 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It sets identical insurance requirements to the Mississippi bill, as both were based on last year’s major interindustry compromise between TNCs and major insurers. It also includes very similar language defining drivers as independent contractors, stipulated that TNCs therefore are not responsible for drivers’ workers’ compensation. It also takes effect July 1.

The law passed the state Senate unanimously and passed the House of Delegates in a 94-4 vote. An earlier attempt to pass statewide ridesharing legislation in 2015 had been hung up by a provision that would have required companies to include protections barring companies and drivers from refusing service or otherwise discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender riders. The signed bill requires companies to adopt nondiscrimination policies, but limits the protected classes to those already covered under existing state anti-discrimination law. However, companies can choose voluntarily to adopt more stringent nondiscrimination policies that do include LBGT consumers.

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