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There’s a government form for your moon expenses

August 04, 2015, 6:30 AM

As far as government paperwork goes, this might just be the best ever filed.

According to the federal government, employees embarking on government-sponsored missions for which there are billable expenses must fill out expense reports and submit them, including if their government-sponsored mission was to the moon.

Yesterday, former NASA astronaut and noted moon missioner Buzz Aldrin shared the paperwork he filed with NASA in order to get $33.31 worth of fuel expenses back – expenses he accrued driving from Houston to Cape Kennedy, Fla., where he boarded the Apollo spacecraft.

The paper, which is beyond cool and more than a little surreal, lists the mission as a “round trip” for Col. Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin, going from Houston to Cape Kennedy to the moon to Cape Kennedy and back to Houston.

Note that Aldrin was not reimbursed for his expenses from Cape Kennedy to the moon and back. He used a “government spacecraft” for that, and his meals and fuel were NASA provided, of course. That’s good, since, as one commenter on Gizmodo pointed out, at the standard reimbursement rate of $.10 per mile listed, the 472,000 mile journey would have cost the government (and, first, Aldrin) about $48,000, more than twice Aldrin’s yearly salary at the time. There’s no indication as to whether he would have earned a per diem rate (but probably not).

The REINS Act: A constituent’s question receives a vote in Congress

August 04, 2015, 6:00 AM

In Washington, it’s not every day legislation actually begins with a constituent’s idea. The REINS Act is one of those ideas.

The House last week passed H.R. 427, also known as the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act. The measure requires Congress to vote on and the president to sign a resolution explicitly approving federal rules that have an economic impact of greater than $100 million.

We don’t like to talk about it, but many pieces of legislation originate with a lobbyist drafting text and finding a legislator willing to carry the bill. The REINS Act is different. It started as a question from a constituent in Kentucky.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 entered into an expensive consent decree regarding stormwater management issues in Covington, Ky. While discussing the issue with former Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., Lloyd Rogers of Alexandria, Ky., asked who actually was accountable for the regulations average citizens face.

The simple question carried tremendous weight.  Davis realized he really didn’t have a meaningful opportunity to vote on those rules and voters never had the chance to hold bureaucrats accountable, other than a vote every four years for their boss.

Depending on which party is in the White House, members of Congress frequently bemoan the regulatory overreach of the executive branch. From interpretations of the Patriot Act to EPA rules, politicos across the ideological spectrum routinely explain to constituents that they’re powerless to stop the federal regulatory train.

That’s a convenient excuse for lazy politicians. The train doesn’t have any fuel absent congressional authority. The executive branch can make administrative rules to implement law, but it can’t make the substantive legal changes we’ve seen over the last few decades without Congress delegating the authority to do so.

Congress needs to be accountable for the laws we face. If you don’t think federal regulations are laws, just try ignoring them.

Obviously, the REINS Act would make the president less powerful, so we can safely assume that almost any resident of the White House won’t like it.

Who else doesn’t like the REINS Act? Businesses and special interests that use the power of government to smash their competition.

Think about it. Is it easier to secure special favors from a cozy relationship with one regulator or 535 members of Congress? Let’s not kid ourselves; it’s no accident that special interests like to hold up the notion that we should leave the details of laws to regulatory “experts.”

If you have the cash and clout to fashion regulations for yourself, the cumbersome and opaque federal regulatory process is a tremendous tool. You even get the added bonus of being able to complain about it at the same time you benefit from it.

That’s why we have a divided legislature making the laws in the first place. Doing so shouldn’t be easy and it certainly shouldn’t be streamlined for those who plan to use government for their private advantage.

The House repeatedly has passed the REINS Act only to watch it die in the Senate. Democrats have played protectionist politics instead of acting responsibly. Were a Republican in the White House, you can bet the GOP would behave the same way.

The REINS Act didn’t come from an elite industry player or union; it started with a concerned voter. The REINS Act makes sense precisely because it’s not designed to favor any party or policy. It’s about accountability for our politicians—accountability to the people rather than the powerful.

Now that the REINS Act has once again passed the House, we’ll get to see who caves to cronyist pressure first. Will it be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refusing to bring up the REINS Act to protect well-heeled business interests or will it be Democrats blocking a vote in an effort to put partisan politics over the American people?

We’re certainly not going to agree on politics, but maybe we can settle on a simple idea from a concerned voter that the people who write our laws should answer to us.

The three dumbest “conservative” objections to patent reform

August 03, 2015, 6:56 PM

From Townhall:

Zach Graves of the R Street Institute already eviscerated this argument at some length, and some of his choicer passages deserve to be repeated here:

Patent reform enjoys a long tradition of intellectual support from a wide range of right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups. Conservative and libertarian groups that have advocated for patent reform in one form or another include Americans for Tax Reform, the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the MercatusCenter, Americans for Prosperity, Frontiers of Freedom, the Independent Institute, the <href=”#.vxbxbvxvhbc”>Manhattan Institute, the Mises Institute, Institute for Liberty, Hispanic Leadership Fund, the Institute for Policy Innovation, the Latino Coalition, Independent Women’s Forum, Lincoln Labs,the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Individual Freedom, American Commitment,Taxpayers Protection Alliance, the Discovery Institute, Generation Opportunity, Citizen Outreach and others.[…]

The American Conservative Union’s own scorecard ranks members sponsoring patent reform legislation among the most conservative in the nation. This includes members such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah – 100 percent), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa – 84 percent), John Cornyn (R-Texas – 93 percent) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah – 89 percent); and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va. – 94 percent), Darrell Issa (R-Calif. – 89 percent), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah – 92 percent), and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas – 80 percent), among others.

Graves also notes, and this bears repeating, that if patent reform were really such a left-wing idea, you would have expected it to pass the Senate while it was still controlled by Democrats. Yet the bill was blocked, not by conservatives, but by then-Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the grounds that it would offend trial lawyers, who are some of the biggest profiteers from frivolous patent litigation, or patent trolling.

R Street Institute disappointed by President Obama’s energy plan

August 03, 2015, 5:23 PM

WASHINGTON (Aug. 3, 2015) – The R Street Institute expressed disappointment at the energy plan released today by President Barack Obama, noting both the increased costs and unworkable compliance framework established for the states.

“We agree that science demonstrates that the climate is changing because of rising carbon emissions,” said Catrina Rorke, R Street’s director of energy policy. “What we oppose is the idea that science compels irresponsible, expensive policy and aggressive government overreach.”

The plan aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030, largely by reducing the share of coal generation. Coal generation currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of power generation, down from 50 percent five years ago. According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the rule will impose $8.4 billion in costs on all Americans.

“There are other methods to address climate change in a workable framework for both the states and power generators that will not impose nearly these kinds of costs,” Rorke said. “Power generators already have achieved about half of the reductions called for by the president through technological innovation, state initiatives and increases in efficiency and distributed generation. The Clean Power Plan, by design, is less effective in achieving reductions than the private sector has been over the last decade.”

The plan also will be unworkable in some states, notably the four states (representing more than 12 percent of our coal fleet) that will not have a legislative session between now and the time that initial compliance strategies must be submitted in 2016.

“This rule continues to rely on a very shaky legal foundation, requiring technologies and investments far removed from the coal plants the rule ostensibly targets,” said Rorke. “We have reason to be very concerned that states will be required to change law, bear costs and compel carbon reductions for a rule that will later be struck down in the courts.”

Rorke noted that the rule does allow states to rely on a carbon fee approach, a result of comments provided by R Street and other groups to provide a simpler, more market-based strategy.

The Clean Air Act, passed 45 years ago, has been successful in reducing actual pollution emissions levels by 70 percent, while the U.S. economy tripled in size during the same period, Rorke noted. But while the act is well-designed to address certain kinds of pollution, it was never intended to address carbon, she said.

“The best way to fight the negative impacts of climate change is to be much richer in the future,” Rorke continued. “We need a climate strategy that will expand the economy, not impose undo costs on business. Congressional action is necessary now more than ever.”

Alabama facing political gut check, not a budget shortfall

August 03, 2015, 11:09 AM

Listen to any Alabama politician discussing the General Fund budget. You’ll undoubtedly hear the phrase, “budget shortfall.”

The use of those specific words is intentional. It creates the impression Alabama’s governor and legislators face grave fiscal problems forcing them to find more revenue.

It sounds good. Too bad it’s not true.

“Shortfall” isn’t one of those complicated words with many different meanings. It’s simply a deficit of what’s required or expected.  Let’s take each of those in turn.

Are Alabama’s politicians required to spend more than the $1.6 billion in revenue they’re projecting? No.

Are they expecting to have more than $1.6 billion to spend? No.

In case this is lost on anyone, we still don’t have a General Fund budget. That means it’s particularly hard to have a shortfall of said budget.

When a federal mandate unexpectedly causes the state to spend more than appropriated, that’s a shortfall. When the economy tanks after budgets are enacted, that’s a shortfall. We’ve seen what actual budget shortfalls look like in Alabama, but this isn’t one of them.

We are expecting less revenue than last year, but we’ve basically seen this coming since 2012. Remember the multiyear transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund intended to give legislators “breathing room” to solve the General Fund budget issues?

That move basically kicked the budgetary can down the road, but not much actually changed. Now we’re again at the same point, but continuing to write IOUs to ourselves isn’t on the table this go-round.

So we either tighten our belts, move money around or pony up more taxes and fees to grow spending to the levels to which we’re accustomed.

We may not have a conventional budget shortfall, but we’ve clearly reached gut check time in the Alabama Legislature. Are our political leaders dedicated to keeping government within the bounds of current revenues, or will we grow it to match political spending desires?

That’s the choice.

Gov. Robert Bentley has cast his lot. All that’s left is for legislators to decide where they believe his plan is the one they’re willing to defend before their constituents at the ballot box three years from now.

EFF tells federal appeals court: Google subpoena threatens online speech and innovation

August 03, 2015, 9:22 AM

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Shortly thereafter, Google sought protection from a Mississippi federal court, asking the court to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the Attorney General from enforcing the subpoena. EFF filed an amicus brief—joined by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), Public Knowledge (PK), and R Street Institute—in support of Google, arguing that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) clearly protects hosts of Internet content from liability and burdensome discovery based on content generated by third-party users. The district court agreed with us and granted Google’s request for a preliminary injunction.    

The Attorney General was unsatisfied with this result and appealed the district court’s order to the Fifth Circuit.  EFF—again with CDT, OTI, PK, and R Street—filed a second amicus brief in support of Google, voicing our concern that allowing this type of abuse of investigatory powers by state officials would set a dangerous precedent. It would violate not only Section 230 of the CDA—which was intended by Congress to encourage the development of new communication technologies by shielding intermediaries from liability based on third-party content—but also the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects both the right of service providers to exercise editorial control over the third party content they host, and the right of Internet uses to receive and engage with such information online.

New White House report gives states a license to deregulate

August 03, 2015, 8:00 AM

Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on a lot these days. But if a recent report released by the White House on occupational licensing is any indication, we may have to conclude that bipartisanship is not quite dead yet.

Requirements that individuals must obtain licenses before practicing particular occupations have exploded in recent decades. In the 1950s, 5 percent of Americans worked in a field requiring an occupational license. Today it’s more than 20 percent. Getting a license can require thousands of dollars and years of instruction, and is especially hard on groups like military spouses, who may have to get relicensed when they move to a new state.

Lawmakers’ stated motivation for passing occupational licensing laws is to protect public health and safety by ensuring a minimum level of quality among practitioners. We don’t want someone practicing open-heart surgery when his only training is watching a “how to” video on the Internet.

However, while licensing might make sense for professions like doctors, most licensed occupations do not fall into that category. Depending on your state, you may need a license to do anything from braiding hair to arranging flowers.

Not only are licensing requirements burdensome for applicants, but in most cases, the connection between licensing and higher-quality service is pretty thin. Of the more than 1,100 occupations licensed in at least one state, fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50 states. The requirements for getting a specific license also vary greatly from state to state. As the White House report notes:

Michigan requires three years of education and training to become a licensed security guard, while most other states require only 11 days or less. South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska require 16 months of education to become a licensed cosmetologist, while New York and Massachusetts require less than eight months.

These differences allow researchers to see whether stricter licensing rules actually result in higher quality of service. The results generally aren’t pretty. A variety of studies have found that licensing requirements have no impact on quality of services for occupations ranging from floristry to teaching. That might be because many licensing requirements are more about checking a box than they are about ensuring quality. Alternatively, it might be that the need for businesses to provide good service if they want to stay in business does about as good a job of ensuring minimum quality as licensing does.

By contrast, studies have found that licensing does increase the price of services between 3 and 16 percent, and reduces the number of practitioners in the licensed occupation. In other words, occupational licensing often hurts consumers instead of protecting them.

The White House report suggests that states look at certification as an alternative to licensing. Certification is similar to licensing, except that it’s not mandatory. Someone who wanted to cut hair without certification as a barber could still do so, but would have to let customers know that he or she wasn’t certified. This option would serve as a reality check, keeping the requirements for certification from expanding into inanity.

While a number of groups (such as the libertarian Institute for Justice) have been highlighting the problems of occupational licensing, the issue hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Hopefully the administration’s report will help show that occupational-licensing reform is an issue that deserves support from across the political spectrum.

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

Mississippi is on the wrong track with telemedicine

August 03, 2015, 7:00 AM

Recent years have seen plenty of debates about misguided health and safety regulations, but the current one in Mississippi threatens to frustrate one of the brightest trends in all of American health care – telemedicine. Providers who offer this service, against the backdrop of shrinking provider networks and untamed cost curves, have a remarkable record of success in offering treatment and medicine to patients more quickly and more efficiently.

Generally speaking, most efforts to manage health-care costs are focused on chronic-care management, preventative care and keeping people out of emergency rooms. Telemedicine instead offers an alternative for the kinds of care most people most typically receive – visits to doctors. By linking patients with doctors either via telephone or video chat, barriers of distance can be eliminated, which is particularly crucial for rural areas. But the technology also offers promise for many types of routine consultations.

A study of the national firm Teladoc by Harvard University’s Niteesh Choudhry and colleagues, which appeared in the May 2014 edition of Health Affairs, found that, over a 30-day period, use of Teladoc’s telemedicine service saved an average of $191 compared with physician office visits and $2,661 compared with emergency room visits. For employers, the savings were $727 per telemedicine consultation, with annual savings for one employer of more than $5.4 million.

A December 2014 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of telemedicine firm American Well found that 64 percent of Americans said they were interested in remote visits with their doctors. A separate American Well survey of doctors, released in May 2015, found more than 57 percent would be willing to meet with patients via video.

Founded in 2002, Teladoc, whose clients include PepsiCo and Bank of America, claims 298,000 consultations and recently closed its initial public offering. American Well’s Amwell app now has 1.6 million users, up 400 percent from 2013 to 2014. Apple also recently got into the market, which also features such names as Myca Health (makers of the HelloHealth service) and RelayHealth, by launching its own Apple Health app earlier this.

But this emerging market doesn’t sit well with some state regulators. In May, Teladoc won a federal injunction against the Texas Medical Board, which is attempting to enforce a rule that requires physicians must meet face-to-face with patients before they may prescribe them medications. In Mississippi, which in 2013 became the 16th state to pass a law explicitly permitting telemedicine, the State Board of Medical Licensure promulgated new rules in March that likely would make life more difficult for telemedicine firms, requiring they establish formal relationships with in-state providers and disallowing prescribing medications over the phone. The rules state:

A physician may not prescribe medications based on a phone call or a questionnaire for the purpose of telemedicine. Videoconferencing is required as part of the teleconsult if a medication is to be prescribed.

Thankfully, the rules have been delayed, albeit only temporarily, in response to a challenge that noted the board did not conduct an economic impact study before implementing them, as required by the Mississippi Administrative Procedures Act.

These sorts of rules clearly are bad for health-care consumers. Who among us can say we haven’t wished we could just get our own doctor on the phone for a minute or two to get a prescription processed for a common medical condition? What difference should a video picture make for prescribing treatment for an acute respiratory episode or a urinary tract infection? Those were, in fact, the two leading reasons for telemedicine visits by children and adults, according to a 2014 RAND Corp. study of California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s telemedicine program.

The Mississippi rules are simply harassment, and the Mississippi Legislature should rise up and swat the licensing folks down if they decide to try again. The RAND study and others have found that telemedicine consultations produce outcomes sufficiently comparable with office visits. The research also suggests that telemedicine is effective in meeting the standard of care and the error rate of diagnosis is no worse than office visits. Teladoc reports a 95 percent patient satisfaction rate.

One big factor in the future of expansion of telemedicine could be the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards. Last month, Illinois became the 11th state to join the compact, which allows doctors licensed in one state to enjoy certain practicing privileges in other compacting states.

In April 2014, the federation also promulgated a model policy for the appropriate use of telemedicine. While a perfectly reasonable document, it’s faced some pushback from groups like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who argue that telemedicine should only be provided to patients a physician has already met in-person and also that physicians should be compensated the same for telemedicine visits that they would be for in-person visits. Sadly, one suspects fear of competition and lower profits may be playing a bigger role in those groups’ stances than concern for patients.

Mississippi is poised to let a very small group of doctors running an anticompetitive licensure racket dictate that the medical establishment turn its back on tens of thousands of patients who could take advantage of today’s technology to get quality care cheaply and efficiently. Given the environment we already face with the implementation of the Obamacare regime, this is a colossally bad idea.

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

Free-market groups urge International Trade Commission not to assert authority over digital transmissions

August 03, 2015, 6:00 AM

Dear Chairwoman Broadbent,

On behalf of the undersigned free-market organizations, we write to express our deep concern about the International Trade Commission’s April 9, 2014 decision in investigation 337-TA-833. The commission declared in that decision that “electronic transmission of digital data” over the Internet constituted “importation… of articles” subject to regulation under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930. This decision currently is under appeal to the Federal Circuit in ClearCorrect Operating, LLC v. ITC.

We believe treating cross-border digital transmissions as acts of importation is an injudiciously broad interpretation of the Tariff Act and would open a Pandora’s Box of new complaints and investigations that concern a wide range of business activities heretofore untouched by the commission. Proceeding down this path would undermine traditional legal structures and encumber a broad slice of the innovation economy with unnecessary government strictures. The effects would be felt by everyone from Internet service providers, to telecommunications companies, to small businesses and even individual Internet users.

Our specific concerns include:

I. The commission’s decision is an unprecedented expansion of its power, far beyond what the statute contemplated.

Transmission of digital data is not the same as importation of a physical good. It’s clear that electronic transmissions were never intended to be part of the commission’s purview. There are numerous cases, going back to W. Union Tel. Co. v. Pendleton (1887), that debunk the notion that Congress could not have foreseen the need to regulate electronic transmissions of data under the powers granted to the commission.

While the commission argues the Tariff Act was written “at a time when Internet downloads were not in existence,” this argument does not hold water. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge noted in a jointly filed amicus brief, “although Internet downloads did not exist in 1930, plenty of other transmissions of telecommunications data, including cross-border transmissions, did exist and were certainly known to Congress at that time.” Indeed, cross-border radio communications and trans-Atlantic telegraph cables had been in place for decades before the Tariff Act. In addition, there had been widely documented discussion of their use as a form of commerce posing new intellectual property concerns. Thus, the exclusion of electronic communications from the commission’s jurisdiction under Section 337 should be seen as a deliberate choice by Congress.

II. The commission should not defy the will of Congress on site blocking.

An exclusion order, the commission’s primary remedy, cannot easily be applied to the Internet. If the commission were to exercise its enforcement powers through wholesale site blocking, this would have radical implications for global commerce that pose a serious threat to free access to lawful content on the Internet.

Indeed, Congress already has rejected the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), both of which attempted to do just that. If the commission were to implement similar strategies by fiat, it would contradict the will of the legislative branch and the statutory limits of the commission’s powers. It also would open new avenues for abuses that circumvent traditional legal structures for resolving intellectual property disputes, with potentially drastic unintended consequences.

III. There is absolutely no need to manufacture new agency powers over digital data.

Markets for digital goods have thrived for decades without the commission exercising these powers. They represent one of the most vital segments of the U.S. economy. The authority of domestic courts has been more than sufficient to handle disputes over intellectual property rights concerning digital goods. The commission’s entry into this space is a wholly unwelcome and unnecessary government intervention and will only complicate matters concerning digital commerce.

IV. Free-market principles are fundamental to the success of the Internet and ITC-imposed trade barriers would fracture that free market.

The Internet’s explosive growth over the past quarter-century has been due largely to the hands-off regulatory approach taken by governments. The growth of Internet services around the world largely has been a result of “permissionless innovation,” the idea that innovators and entrepreneurs need not ask permission before embarking on new experimental endeavors.

Additional barriers to overcome in “exporting” new ideas and services in digital form will only forestall continued progress in this emergent industry and lead to further balkanization of the Internet economy.

For all of these reasons, the undersigned organizations contend that the commission should reconsider its attempt to regulate the “electronic transmissions of digital data.”


Niskanen Center
R Street Institute

Another case for lowering the drinking age

August 02, 2015, 7:52 AM

From Overlawyered.com:

Very few countries have a national age as high as 21, argues Jeffrey Tucker at Newsweek (originally FEE), and women of college age may be more vulnerable if the only drinking venues available are dorms and fraternities. R.J. Lehmann of the R Street Institute says that even if considerations such as individual liberty make a cut in the age advisable, we should go into the process with eyes wide open about the safety impacts, not all of which will be positive. Earlier here.

R Street applauds challenge to French ‘right to be forgotten’ rules

July 31, 2015, 9:50 AM

WASHINGTON (July 30, 2015) – The R Street Institute applauded today’s request by Google Inc. to the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) of France to withdraw its formal order that Google remove links that mention European Union citizens who have invoked a “right to be forgotten” from all Google websites worldwide.

The French agency in June ordered Google to take down the links in response to individual citizens’ requests, setting a precedent with which would be prohibitively expensive for content companies to comply. While Google has removed links from EU-facing websites in accordance with its interpretation of a 2014 decision by the EU Court of Justice, it is challenging the French demand that it must do so for all Google sites globally.

“Google is doing the right thing by challenging this ruling,” said Mike Godwin, director of innovation policy at R Street.  “Advocates around the world who support freedom of inquiry and oppose needless censorship have been hoping that Google would continue to challenge the broad, potentially unlimited scope of the right to be forgotten, both within the EU and worldwide.”

Godwin noted that other, less-established companies would not have the resources to comply with the potentially millions of requests that could be generated by the rule.

“For smaller startup companies, it’s easiest just to remove links or other content in response to every demand. It’s easy to see how this default impulse will hurt freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry on the Internet in the long run,” said Godwin.”

Clinton emails missing two months, but have plenty of classified information otherwise

July 31, 2015, 8:42 AM

The U.S. State Department has been busy releasing Hillary’s emails, and while they contain a lot of notable insights into her personal development — including, but not limited to, her learning process for fax machines — they are missing some key details from the summer of 2012.

Although they may yet come out, as the State Department turns up the faucet on releases, all emails for May and June 2012 are missing from the cache. They also haven’t been submitted to the Benghazi committee, although records show that Libya was facing a spate of sectarian violence throughout the summer that year, leading up to the eventual Benghazi attack. Even though there were at least three separate terrorist incidents over the course of that summer, any mention of those incidents has been scrubbed from the collection (along with basically everything else).

Also missing? Emails having to do with Huma Abedin’s side job, which she started in the spring of 2012, but which is still a mystery to investigators (along with basically everyone else).

What we do know is that Hillary Clinton did an awful lot of transacting in classified data, as is to be expected from a secretary of state. The problem is that she did it on a server that wasn’t exactly prepared to host information that needed that level of protection.

Intelligence officials who reviewed the five classified emails determined that they included information from five separate intelligence agencies, said a congressional official with knowledge of the matter.

The public Benghazi email contained information from the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a spy agency that maps and tracks satellite imagery, according to the official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The other four classified emails contained information from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA, the official said.

And those are just the emails released to the Benghazi committee — and even then, that’s just a sampling of 40 emails from the 30,000 the committee received. Just last Saturday, Clinton claimed that she hadn’t sent a single email containing classified information. And yet, no one even had to dig to find it. The inspector-general even noted that while Clinton was claiming to have never done so much as typed out the acronym “NSA” on her private email server, her lawyer had every last email she’d turned over to the committee on a thumb drive.

Maybe she should ask him for it.

The next batch of emails will come in the Friday afternoon news dump. I can hardly wait.

Ant-Man: A hero for criminal justice reform?

July 31, 2015, 8:00 AM

Last weekend, I managed to talk my wife into seeing Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest superhero movie. Not exactly at the top of anyone’s superhero pantheon, to the extent the character of Ant-Man has penetrated public consciousness at all, it’s as a punchline. The film makes a virtue of this, treating the superhero genre with a healthy serving of humor.

But despite its lighthearted approach, the film raised serious issues about prisoner re-entry and criminal justice reform (warning: some very mild spoilers follow). At the beginning of the film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison after serving a term for burglarizing a company that had stolen money from its customers. Talking with a friend about his plans, Lang says, reasonably enough, that he will need to find a job. The friend points out that this might be difficult, as “a lot of employers don’t hire ex-cons.” “I have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering,” Lang replies, “I’ll be fine.”

The scene then cuts to Lang working the register at a Baskin Robbins. Even this turns out to be short-lived, as Lang is fired when his manager finds out about his criminal record (“Baskin Robbins always finds out.”) Faced with a lack of job options, Lang is tempted to return to a life of crime… before ultimately becoming a superhero who can change size and talks to ants.

That last part is not realistic, obviously. But the rest is sadly typical. Around 650,000 offenders are released from prison each year. Whether they can find adequate housing and employment are major factors for whether they will reoffend. Yet some employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders, particularly if there are other non-offender applicants for the same position.

In response, a number of activists have been pushing to ban employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history, at least during the early stages of the hiring process. While well-intentioned, placing restrictions on employers is not the best way to deal with this problem. Flexible labor markets have been a major boon to the U.S. economy, helping to keep unemployment lower than it otherwise would have been. And there are some cases, such as crimes of violence, where we would want employers to know that a potential employee has committed a given crime.

Instead, states should focus on limiting their own role in exacerbating the problem.

In some cases, employers that want to hire ex-offenders are prohibited from doing so by state occupational licensing rules. In Illinois, more than 100 occupational licenses either can or must be denied to anyone with a criminal record. In Texas, recent reforms allow ex-offenders to obtain provisional licenses in certain cases.

Employer reluctance to hire ex-offenders also stems from a fear of lawsuits should something go wrong. States could also encourage employers to hire ex-offenders by passing tort reform, limiting their liability for negligent hiring cases.

Finally, we need to be more culturally accepting of second chances for those who have paid their debt to society. Nonprofits like the Prison Entrepreneurship Program pairs offenders with businesspeople to provide advice on finding work or starting businesses. And some businesses even give preference to ex-offenders in employment.

Most ex-offenders aren’t going to save the world from the machinations of HYDRA, but they do have the potential to be positive contributors to society. Regulations that cut off options for offenders’ reintegration back into society not only hurt ex-offenders, but the rest of us too.

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

Green Scissors Coalition letter to former Gov. Jeb Bush

July 31, 2015, 7:00 AM

Dear Gov. Bush:

The Green Scissors Coalition, made up of environmental, taxpayer and free-market groups dedicated to eliminating wasteful spending that harms the environment, applauds your recent comment that we should cut preferences in the tax code directed at oil and gas.

As members of the Green Scissors Coalition, our organizations have devoted ourselves to pursuing reductions in wasteful and environmentally harmful spending and tax provisions. While we have different visions about the proper scope of the federal government, we’re united in the belief that the next president must get serious about reforming the tax code to tackle special-interest provisions that damage the environment and distort markets.

Our research, available at greenscissors.com, has uncovered dozens of wasteful provisions across a wide range of policy areas that we believe will aid policymakers in the difficult work ahead to reform our environmental policy. The list includes policies targeting fossil fuels, alternative energy, nuclear power, public lands, agriculture, transportation and water projects. In total, they amount to more than $250 billion in potential deficit reduction. With our nation now facing a staggering $18 trillion debt, we believe eliminating these policies will help the federal government to protect our natural resources and make a significant dent in our ongoing budget challenges.

We support your call to reform policies that damage our environment. While it’s a tall task, an easy first step should be targeting the ways in which the federal government encourages environmental harm, a cause to which the Green Scissors coalition has been devoted for more than 20 years.

Kind regards,

The Green Scissors Coalition

Friends of the Earth
Taxpayers for Common Sense
R Street Institute

Proposed changes to California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard

July 31, 2015, 6:00 AM

Hard as it may be to believe, we’re beginning to hear rumblings of sensibility from California’s electricity markets. Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison both have written to the state’s Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce to request a smart and much-needed change to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

As the rules are currently defined, power generated from so-called distributed resources – smaller, decentralized sources that produce power at the point of use – does not count as “renewable” for meeting state targets set by the California Energy Commission. The petition from PG&E and SCE would enable utilities to forgo a portion of their own obligations by relying on customers’ investments in distributed generation like rooftop solar. The change would ease the massive pressure utilities currently face to scale up renewables use, while also reducing the risk that meeting state targets would destabilize the grid.

The companies’ request comes in the context of S.B. 350. Sponsored by Senate Pro Tempore Kevin De León, D–Los Angeles, the bill is just the latest attempt to unburden California of the practical realities of power markets. Its ambitious goals include a proposal to generate 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

To reach that target, the state would have to rely on greatly increased generation from wind and solar, which together accounted for less than 12 percent of California’s energy generation in the first quarter. Also problematic is the inconsistent record of hydropower, which over the last decade has contributed as much as 31 percent and as little as 6 percent of the state’s power.

This is a promising avenue for the utilities. According to the latest quarterly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, California accounted for 53 percent of residential solar installations across the country in the first three months of 2015. The vast majority of those were installed without state incentives beyond the net energy-metering program and the federal investment tax credit.

Distributed generation resources are certainly not without faults and policy pitfalls at the state and federal level, but they absolutely should be regarded as a renewable source of power. The California Energy Commission also runs the New Solar Homes Partnership, which promotes solar and energy-efficiency for newly built homes. In 2012, 27 percent of single-family homes built in Southern California included solar capabilities. It seems a foolish endeavor to exclude this significant and growing renewable resource from the state targets.

The RPS targets remain foolhardy, but granting credit for distributed solar would at least make them incrementally more achievable and less damaging. The state aims to generate 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. But renewable generation will have to be curtailed whenever supply exceeds demand, an outcome that’s even more likely under the new S.B. 350 targets.

Moreover, distributed generation consumed at the source isn’t counted in the generation mix. Leaving it out of the accounting tilts both the numerator and the denominator toward a more fossil-heavy calculus. Not including it among the sources of renewable power generation alters the denominator. And because households hooked up to solar consume a disproportionate amount of their power from distributed sources, not counting their consumption has an even larger effect on the numerator.

Allowing distributed sources to count toward the RPS reduces the risk that the state will overbuild renewable resources. This is no idle risk. Wind and solar – the only renewable sources currently growing in their share of the California power supply – produce electricity only when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. On still or cloudy days, production will be way down; a windy clear day boosts production way up.

Demand doesn’t work that way and neither does the power system. Yo-yoing production makes keeping the lights on far more difficult. Californians already are all too familiar with rolling blackouts in the summer months.

If California wants to be in the business of increasing renewable power, it should treat distributed sources no differently than the large renewable installations utilities build. Sustainable energy requires energy markets that are sustainable, too.

Google fights France on extending ‘right to be forgotten’

July 30, 2015, 6:00 PM

From USA Today:

Mike Godwin, director of innovation policy and general council at the R Street Institute, a think-tank whose motto is “Free markets. Real Solutions,” said the “right to be forgotten” runs the potential of being misused due to its “broad, potentially unlimited scope.”

“Privacy-focused advocates do have a point about the hazards of links that may be irrelevant to public discussion and public policy,” Godwin said. “But the right to be forgotten, as currently framed, is already a cure that is worse than the ‘disease.’ .

Je ne suis pas Google

July 30, 2015, 4:58 PM

The French government’s privacy-regulation agency decided in June to order Google Inc. to remove (or “delist”) from all Google websites worldwide – not just those in France or the European Union – links that mention EU citizens who have invoked their so-called “right to be forgotten.” In doing so, the CNIL (in French, Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) demonstrates that the primary liberté it seems to care about protecting is the French government’s liberty to order informational takedowns.

Google has now responded, formally requesting today that the CNIL rescind its order, an appeal the French regulator could take up to two months to review. The move marks just the latest, most expansive phase in the ongoing debate – particularly in Europe, but also in Argentina and even the United States – over the degree to which concerns about privacy, including the appearance of citizens’ names in potentially unflattering search engine results, trump rights to free expression.

That debate has been gathering increasing momentum ever since the EU’s Court of Justice ruled last year that a complainant had the right under European privacy law to demand takedown of certain links from search-engine results. You can find a general discussion of that case here and the official English-language version of the court’s decision here.

Google leadership consistently has expressed reservations and criticisms of the right to be forgotten. Notably, Google CEO Larry Page remarked shortly after the decision that the ruling would “be used by other governments that aren’t as forward and progressive as Europe to do bad things.”

While the court tried to express some guidelines for the RTBF —the opinion states that links should come down if they “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed”— it failed to state any principles that limit when takedown demands are appropriate. As a result, Google has been compelled to strike its own balances in determining whether a takedown demand should be honored.

It should be noted that Google’s search engine is even more widely used in France than it is here. In the United States, the desktop market share for Google search is perhaps 68 percent. In France, by contrast, Google commands a market share of more than 90 percent. (You’d get somewhat different numbers if mobile search were included in the tally.) Google’s share of the French market is particularly impressive, given that Yahoo’s French-language search was offered for years before Google got its foot in the door.

While it may have won the market’s popularity contest decisively among francophones, the French government (like many in the EU) is reflexively anti-corporate and suspicious of commercial enterprises, especially those based in the United States. That anti-corporate sentiment has led to somewhat anomalous pro-censorship decisions by a government that, only a few months ago, made a point of showing free-speech solidarity with the journal Charlie Hebdo.

Even if, as some have argued, Google has the human and financial resources to make case-by-case determinations about whether to honor a takedown demand, not every company has Google’s deep pockets. New startups that hope to be the next Microsoft or Apple or Google can’t hire whole teams of lawyers to review a huge volume of RTBF demands. And those lawyers would be in addition to the legal teams they already need to respond to copyright-infringement takedown demands, not to mention all the other legal work, from trademark-infringement claims to defamation claims to reviewing government orders to remove online listings for companies that sell drugs illegally.

In fact, most technology companies don’t hire lawyers at all in their early phases. The most prudent strategy for such startups is just to remove links or other content in response to every demand. Over the long run, it’s not hard to see how this default impulse would constrain freedom of expression and the equally important freedom of inquiry on the Internet.

On the other hand, if you were seeking to cement Google’s pre-eminence as the dominant search engine for all time, you could hardly do better than to impose the RTBF, and other soon-to-be-discovered rights, in precisely the way France now seeks to do.

Despite CNIL’s claim that it is acting in “accordance with the CJEU judgement,” the judgment stopped short of the new territory into which French regulators are seeking to expand. They’re seeking, expressly, to demand content takedown from anyone on the Internet anywhere in the world. Even France’s ancien régime in the age of Louis XIV did not assert its powers that expansively. Properly, France and the other EU nations should be skeptical of claiming worldwide powers—just as, in other contexts, those nations ask the same of the United States.

As it happens, I’ve been dealing with RTBF issues for about six years, ever since I was general counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation (which runs Wikipedia and other free informational resources). The foundation was sued by German ex-convicts (you can find me discussing the case here) who wanted to suppress archived news reports of their guilt in a highly publicized murder case. It turns out to be hard to get a job when a potential employer looks you up online and the first thing he or she finds is the Wikipedia article about your murder conviction.

I understood and, to some extent, sympathized with the ex-convicts’ concerns; I do believe one should have the opportunity to start over, at least to some degree. But I knew Wikipedia could never survive volume of takedown demands I foresaw would follow if we capitulated to this demand. Wikipedia, although hugely popular, is orders of magnitude less rich than Google Inc. is.

What I opted to do back in 2009 was to take the story of their demands to the press. The result? Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber, the ex-convicts, arguably became more famous as a result of their demands than they would have been if they had focused more on their job hunts than on suing Internet newspapers and encyclopedias.

But that kind of happy outcome can’t be guaranteed all the time. Only a minority of complainants will turn out to be convicted murderers, although some larger number may turn out to have been convicted on other crimes. The public interest in remembering the facts about trials and convictions (and acquittals!) is, in my view, at least as strong as any “right to be forgotten.” Which means that, just as we each should feel free to state “Je Suis Charlie,” each of us should also be empowered to argue, with merit, “I am not Google.”

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

55 orgs to Missouri Legislature: States benefit from right-to-work

July 30, 2015, 1:06 PM

Dear Members of the Missouri State Senate and General Assembly:

We represent organizations from across the country dedicated to promoting worker freedom. Our organizations’ nonpartisan analysis shows that increasing worker freedom produces greater prosperity and growth in state economies, and we urge you to consider these benefits as you contemplate “Right to Work” in Missouri.

The data are clear: Right to Work states outperform their forced-union counterparts. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Right to Work states have experienced greater job growth, population growth, and compensation growth over every significant measured amount of time. Adjusted for cost of living, workers in Right to Work states earn more than workers in non-Right to Work states. And union membership actually grew in many states after they passed Right to Work legislation.

Missouri is surrounded by Right to Work states and continues to lag economically. But it is not just border states benefiting at Missouri’s expense. According to IRS data, from 1992 to 2011, Missouri lost well over $3 billion of income to Florida, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina – all Right to Work states.

In many of our states, citizens have been fortunate to enjoy the benefits of Right to Work, and our economies have prospered as a result. For those citizens in the states that have not yet passed this crucial reform, we continue to advocate for and explain the benefits of increasing worker freedom.

As part of this effort, many of our organizations are participating in National Employee Freedom Week later this summer, in which we educate union workers about the freedoms available to them – how to opt out of the union entirely in Right to Work states, and how to be freed from certain dues in forced union states.

In years past, hundreds of workers across the country chose to free themselves of union obligations. Undoubtedly, there are many workers right here in Missouri who wish to be freed from union membership and all corresponding obligations. We believe every worker in America should be afforded that basic liberty.

The undersigned coalition of public policy research and grassroots advocacy organizations strongly supports Right to Work. Right to Work would mean freedom for workers, accountability for unions, and an enormous boost for the Missouri economy.


Patrick Werner, Missouri State Director
Americans for Prosperity

Dan Greenberg, President
Advance Arkansas Institute

Sean Noble, President
American Encore

Lisa B. Nelson, CEO
American Legislative Exchange Council

Coley Jackson, President
Americans for Competitive Enterprise

Richard Manning, President
Americans for Limited Government

Grover Norquist, President
Americans for Tax Reform

John Mielke, President
Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin

Justin Owen, President
Beacon Center of Tennessee

John A. Charles, Jr., President & CEO
Cascade Policy Institute (Oregon)

Jeffrey Mazzella, President
Center for Individual Freedom

Matt Patterson, Executive Director
Center for Worker Freedom

Kim Crockett, Chief Operating Officer, EVP and General Counsel
Center of the American Experiment (Minnesota)

Matthew J. Brouillette, President and CEO
Commonwealth Foundation (Pennsylvania)

Iain Murray, Vice President of Strategy
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Jonathan Haines, Director
Federalism in Action

Brian Minnich, Vice President
Freedom Foundation

Marc Short, President
Freedom Partners

Andrew Clark, President
Generation Opportunity

Louie Hunter, Chair
Georgia Center Right Coalition

Kelly McCutchen, President
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Burly Cain, Executive Director
GOAL Advocacy (New Mexico)

Wayne Hoffman, President
Idaho Freedom Foundation

John Tillman, CEO
Illinois Policy Institute

Don Racheter, Immediate Past Chairman
Iowans for Right to Work

Sal J. Nuzzo, Vice President of Policy
James Madison Institute (Florida)

Jon Sanders, Director of Regulatory Studies
John Locke Foundation (North Carolina)

Dave Trabert, President
Kansas Policy Institute

Seton Motley, President
Less Government

Tonya Kiper
Liberty Foundation of America (Oklahoma)

Dee Hodges, President
Maryland Taxpayers Association

Pete Sepp, President
National Taxpayers Union

Victor Joecks, Executive Vice President
Nevada Policy Research Institute

Carla J. Sonntag, President and Founder
New Mexico Business Coalition

Jonathon Small, Executive Vice President
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Kevin P. Kane, President
Pelican Institute for Public Policy (Louisiana)

Don Racheter, President
Public Interest Institute (Iowa)

Lori Sanders, Outreach Director & Senior Fellow
R Street Institute

Mike Stenhouse, CEO
Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Paul J. Gessing, President
Rio Grande Foundation (New Mexico)

J. Scott Moody, CEO
State Budget Solutions

Maureen Blum, President
Strategic Coalitions & Initiatives

David Williams, President
Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Judson Phillips, Founder
Tea Party Nation

Joseph Bast, President and CEO
The Heartland Institute

Lisa B. Nelson, CEO
The Jeffersonian Project

Daniel Garza, Executive Director
The LIBRE Initiative

F. Vincent Vernuccio, JD, Director of Labor Policy
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy (Michigan)

Mike Quatrano, Director of Civic Engagement
The Maine Heritage Policy Center

Amy Ridenour, Chairman
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Michael W. Thompson, Chairman and President
Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (Virginia)

Carl Bearden, Executive Director
United for Missouri

Rose Bogaert, Chair
Wayne County Taxpayers Association (Michigan)

Scott Manley, Vice President of Government Relations
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

Carol Platt Liebau, President
Yankee Institute (Connecticut)



Scott Atherley

July 30, 2015, 9:54 AM

Scott Atherley is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at George Mason University and an associate fellow of the R Street Institute.

His research focuses on congressional oversight, bureaucratic decision-making and methods of quantifying the administrative

He has a master’s in political sociology from McGill University and has worked as a professional researcher and data analyst in
Washington for the past several years.

Email: satherle@masonlive.gmu.edu

City of Chicago hits taxpayers with new ‘Netflix Tax’

July 30, 2015, 8:22 AM

From the Heartland Institute:

Steven Titch, a telecommunications policy analyst with the R Street Institute, says Chicago’s expansion of the tax is arbitrary and “an incredible overreach.”

Undefined Terms

“Chicago made the announcement that startups would be exempt from collecting the tax,” Titch said. “Well, that raises [the issue of] equal protection right away. … Which is a small business, which is a startup, and which is an established business? It will have to be legislated.

“We’re getting into arbitrary taxation, and it’s ultimately going to get challenged in court, and there are so many ways that this can get thrown out,” Titch said. “One hopes it will happen soon, but it’s only going to last as long as it’s tolerated, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to collect and enforce because it is so diverse.”

 Titch says the new tax will be nearly unenforceable.

“It’s going to come down to where the address is,” Titch said. “If their mailing address is in Chicago, they will get taxed. Now, that raises all sorts of interesting questions. If your parents live in Schaumburg, and you use their address when you sign up for services, will you get taxed? How are they going to ensure the person being taxed actually lives in Chicago or prove they don’t live in Chicago? It’s another aspect of this that hasn’t been thought out very well.”