Free Markets, Free People

regulation

Quote of the Day: Pro-market edition

From Professor Luigi Zingales:

“There is not a well-understood distinction between being pro-business and being pro-market. Businessmen like free markets until they get into a market; once they are in it they want to block entry to others. Pro-marketeers want free markets at all times. The more conservative pro-marketeers are fearful of criticising business, because they assume they will be seen as criticising the free market. But we need to stand up and criticise business when business is not helping the cause of free markets.”

We talk a lot about crony capitalism.  Well what the good professor is talking about when he says that businessmen like free markets until they get in one and then they try to “block entry to others” is part of what we’re talking about.

One aspect of cronyism is where businesses attempt to use the power of government, if they can so influence it, to give their company sweetheart regulations, raise artificial barriers to entry and to otherwise impede competitors to the point that they have an advantage.  I’d like to say advantage in the “market”, but the market, at that point, no longer exists as a free one.  It is now a distorted market due to government cronyism.

That’s something that badly needs to stop.  Whether at this point that’s even possible and if it is, how we’d actually go about it are some interesting questions to discuss.

However, the primary point is being pro-business does not necessarily being pro-market and it certainly doesn’t mean you are necessarily for free markets.

We need to change the way we discuss this.  We nee to talk about free markets and roundly condemn any business that attempts to use the coercive power of government to it’s advantage in markets as well as condemning those in government who use its power for such things.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Facebook: QandO

Taxes, energy, health care and spending–what we should be talking about

Pete DuPont does a little analysis of what should be major issues in the upcoming  election.  They don’t bode well for the current administration if, in fact, Republicans can get the media to actually pay attention and address them:

Taxes. Big tax hikes coming in January will serve as dampers on economic growth.ObamaCare imposes a new 3.8% tax on investment income. On top of that, if the Bush tax [rates] aren’t extended, the top income tax rates will rise to 23.8% from 15% on capital gains and to 43.4% from 15% on dividends.

But beyond the economic impact, the Obama administration’s focus on class warfare fuels the nation’s dissatisfaction and plays on an unwise resentment towards successful businesspeople. Mr. Obama continues to push for higher taxes and does so in a way that is an attack on those who are successful–demanding that higher-income taxpayers pay their "fair share," when they already pay more than that.

The economic impact shouldn’t be waved off.  When and if both capital gains and dividend incomes are taxed at a higher rate, they will effect both investment and retirement incomes.  Don’t forget those” rich folks” whose retirement income is structured to depend on dividends from blue chip stocks they’ve methodically bought in small quantities over their working years.  It obviously doesn’t matter that their incomes really don’t reach the “rich” threshold that the Democrats want you to envy, their retirement incomes will take an almost 200% tax increase hit regardless if the current rates aren’t extended.  Apparently to collect less than a trillion dollars over 10 years taxing the “rich” (so they’ll pay their “fair share”) vs. spending $46 trillion Democrats are happy to sacrifice those folks.

As for investments, there’ll be a recalculation given the increase on capital gains and it will dampen investments, thus business expansion and finally job growth.

Energy. The American people hear Mr. Obama talk about a broad energy strategy, but they see an administration that has attacked the coal industry with onerous regulations, done little or nothing to assist the natural gas boom, done what it can to slow down oil production, and wasted money on other initiatives that please green supporters but don’t lower the cost of energy.

This administration’s energy policy is a joke, but unfortunately it’s a very expensive joke.  Its priorities are completely backward, but purposefully so.  To call what they are doing a “policy” is simply absurd.  This is agenda fulfillment with the people’s money on pie-in-the-sky projects that have yet to yield (nor do they even promise to yield) the energy required to make them viable.  Meanwhile they’ve done everything humanly possible to retard the fossil fuel industry’s growth at a critical time for our economy.  On the issue of energy, this administration gets an F-.

Health care. Although ObamaCare remains unpopular, the Supreme Court ruling upholding it means that a 17% transfer of our economy from the marketplace to the control of the federal government is coming unless Congress and a President Romney can stop it. At a time when our nation needs lower taxes and more flexibility in health-care decisions, ObamaCare has increased taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars and allowed government to regulate most of our health care decisions.

The secretary of health and human services can now set rules that constrain doctors and hospitals and mandate prices. Mr. Obama once promised us all that if you were happy with your current health plan, you’d be able to keep it. The more we learn about ObamaCare, the unlikelier that looks–and the more the government will intrude in the relationship between doctor and patient.

Despite the disapproval of a majority of Americans, Democrats and this President rammed the legislation through anyway.  That should tell most Americans what they really think of their opinion.  It is a classic “we know what’s best for you” elitist move.

The second paragraph gives a hint though to the powers this legislation has given an unaccountable government bureaucrat.  The Secretary of HHS now has tremendous power to make unilateral decisions that will effect everyone’s health care.  Of course, that’s been discussed by some on the right, but for the most part the level of intrusion these powers will confer won’t really begin to be felt until, conveniently, after the election.

Finally:

Spending. Federal expenditures under Mr. Obama is both unparalleled and unsustainable. As National Review’s Jonah Goldberg notes, from the end of World War II until the end of the George W. Bush administration, federal spending never exceeded 23.5% of GDP, and the Bush years’ average was around 20%. The Obama spending rates have stayed above 23.5% in every year of his presidency. In the past four years, America has added $5 trillion in federal debt, and around $4 trillion of that was from Obama policies, according to The Wall Street Journal. Federal debt held by the public was 40.5% of gross domestic product in 2008. It’s now 74.2% and rising.

Despite the attempts by Democrats using fudged numbers and trying to spin it so Bush gets the blame, the spending by this administration is, as DuPont points out, “both unparalleled and unsustainable”.   And, don’t forget, the President hasn’t signed a budget in over 1,000 days because the Democratic Senate has refused to pass one, despite the Constitutional requirement it do so. 

Those are the things we ought to be talking about.  Not whether or not Romney pissed off the Palestinians (who doesn’t piss off the Palestinians when they take a principled stand on Israel?  How is this even news?).

These are where Obama’s skeleton’s are to be found.  He’d prefer to keep this closet door firmly closed.  The media, for the most part, seems content to help in that endeavor.

This election isn’t about anything but his administration’s abysmal record.  Spending time talking anything else is simply a distraction.  Unfortunately, given its unprecedented level of economic intrusion, we’re going to live or die economically with the policies that government applies.  Talking about whether a candidate may or may not have insulted the London Olympics isn’t going to change that fact one iota.  But it sure does distract from examining the previous administration’s record, doesn’t it?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

The most underreported energy related story?

Did most of you know about this?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) June energy report says that energy-related carbon dioxide fell to 5,473 million metric tons (MMT) in 2011.

That’s down from a high of 6,020 MMT in 2007, and only a little above 1995’s level of 5,314 MMT.

Better yet, emissions in the first quarter of 2012 fell at an even faster rate — down 7.5% from the first quarter of 2011 and 8.5% from the same time in 2010. If the rest of 2012 follows its first-quarter trend, we may see total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions drop to early-1990s levels.

Wow.  Victory for the enviro crowd, yes?  Regulation has succeeded, right?  The government has turned the tide?

Nope.  In fact it has nothing to do with the enviro crowd, government or regulation.

Two dirty words: Hydraulic fracking.  Two more for good measure: Natural gas.  And the dirtiest word of all: Markets.

Those three have combined, via a price point that has stimulated demand and made the conversion of coal plants economical to drive down emissions as they produce electricity more cheaply and efficiently.  This trend began in 2007 and is now having a real effect:

Increasingly, power plants are turning to natural gas because it has become abundant, and therefore cheap. And though technology is improving our ability to reduce emissions from coal usage, natural gas is still a much cleaner source.

Natural gas, given the extensive finds and the exploitation, is much cheaper than coal now.  In fact:

Indeed, natural gas has just passed an important milestone. As noted by John Hanger, energy expert and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: "As of April, gas tied coal at 32% of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal’s 100-year reign on top of electricity markets."

That’s how it works in markets, or is supposed too.  The fact that emissions are down is an actual side benefit of the process.  And it is a process that has managed to work despite government and environmental groups like the Sierra Club’s interference or attempted interference in the process (the Sierra Club has declared war on natural gas and fracking after accepting millions in previous years from the natural gas industry). 

It is a part of the creative destruction of the capitalist process.  Coal will still have its uses, but just as it was replaced as a primary fuel for heating homes last century, it is now being replaced as a primary fuel for generating electricity for the same reason – there is a cheaper and more efficient fuel (which also happens to have fewer emissions) that is easier to produce and deliver than coal. 

At some point coal producers will either have to reinvent themselves or find something else to do.  And on the other side, opportunities will expand within the natural gas industry as more and more demand builds.

But shhhhh.  Don’t want anyone knowing this all happened because of markets.  Why that would hurt the argument that it requires government intrusion, regulation and the pressure of environmental groups to make things like this happen.

Can’t have that.

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

ObamaCare: It just gets better and better

And, of course, I say that facetiously.   As it stands now, it has fostered more government regulation, more bureaucrats and more intrusion in epic proportion:

"There’s already 13,000 pages of regulations, and they’re not even done yet," Rehberg said.

"It’s a delegation of extensive authority from Congress to the Department of Health and Human Services and a lot of boards and commissions and bureaus throughout the bureaucracy," Matt Spalding of the Heritage Foundation said. "We counted about 180 or so."

So, minimally (we all know they’re not nearly done) 13,000 new pages of regulation, 180+ boards, commissions and bureaus and, of course, scads of bureaucrats to fill them.

Then there are the new broad powers granted HHS and the IRS.

Yes, friends, that’s right, this is how you make health care less expensive and better, not to mention making government less intrusive.

Probably the funniest thing, in a sad and ironic way, is the fact that there are still millions of people out there who believe the propaganda that sold this crap sandwich to the public.    Someone among them I’m sure will someday be able to explain how adding costly regulations and layers upon layers of bureaucracy somehow helps reduce the cost of health care delivery.  

According to James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, federal powers will include designing insurance plans, telling people where they can go for coverage and how much insurers are allowed to charge.

"Really, how doctors and hospitals are supposed to practice medicine," he said.

Wait, wasn’t one of the primary problems with the old system, per the Democrats, a problem of insurance companies telling doctors how to practice medicine?

See, solved by government, right?

In fact, one master has been replaced by another one, the newest master being the most inept, inefficient and corrupt of the two.  And, of course, no one has yet explained how all of this is going to ensure people have better access to a doctor.  Why?  Because, quite simply, having insurance doesn’t guarantee care.  And with the disincentives provided by massive increases in regulation (and the increase that will cost for compliance) and oversight via these board, commissions and bureaus, my guess is there will be fewer doctors in the future.

So prepare to enjoy the dawning of the age of ObamaCare and the attendant disappointment, shock and anger it will eventually engender among the public.  There are some things that one shouldn’t mess with, and people’s health care is one of them.

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Nanny state update

It’s a bit of a mixed picture with both state and federal nannies doing their best to get the proles under control.  The base premise, of course, is only government can save you from yourself since you’re too freakin’ dumb to handle it yourself.  And since you’ve been so kind as to put these people in power they find it only fair that they exercise the power they’ve accumulated to ensure you live the life they deem best.

First a local example from NYC:

The New York City Board of Health showed support for limiting sizes of sugary drinks at a Tuesday meeting in Queens.  They agreed to start the process to formalize the large-drink ban by agreeing to start a six-week public comment period.

At the meeting, some of the members of board said they should be considering other limits on high-calorie foods.

One member, Bruce Vladeck, thinks limiting the sizes for movie theater popcorn should be considered.

"The popcorn isn’t a whole lot better than the soda," Vladeck said.

Another board member thinks milk drinks should fall under the size limits.

"There are certainly milkshakes and milk-coffee beverages that have monstrous amounts of calories," said board member Dr. Joel Forman.

Ye gods.  When government is given the okay to manage your health care, this is what you can expect to happen.  Update on the drink ban – refills, according to Bloomberg, will be “ok”.  Yeah, so what’s the purpose of the drink ban? 

Moving on to a federal example of drink ban stupidity:

The vending machines are unplugged at a Utah high school after a violation of federal lunch rules. Davis High School was fined $15-thousand dollars for selling carbonated beverages during the lunch hour.

Vending machines in the hallways at Davis High School normally sell carbonated beverages and candy, but to receive federal nutrition funding, they can’t sell it during lunch. Students say it doesn’t make sense.

"Everyone goes out to lunch anyways and drinks them so it’s pretty dumb."

District officials say the policy can be confusing too. Chris Williams, the Davis School District Spokesperson, says there are definite rules about how, and when carbonated beverages can be sold. “It is challenging when you can buy a Coke before lunch, and consume it during lunch, but you can’t buy a coke during lunch."

It’s not just soda sales that are a problem; candy can be too, depending on what kind it is. Davis High School’s Principal, Dee Burton, says Snicker Bars are considered nutritional and legal, but other candy is not. "We are not allowed to sell anything that is carbonated or any candy that sticks to your teeth”

“Snickers” is considered “nutritional?”  And you can buy carbonated drinks before and after lunch but not during?  Oh, and the $15,000 fine?  Any guess where that comes from?  Yeah, Mr.Taxpayer – you.

Finally, the FDC is going after cigars:

Though the agency has yet to lay out its new regulations in detail, industry insiders speculate that it could ban flavored cigars, require ugly warning labels or graphic pictures on cigar boxes, bar customers from entering store humidors, or require that cigars be kept out of the reach of potential buyers, who typically handle and examine them before choosing which ones to buy.

“Banning that experience would be crippling,” says Gary Pesh, the owner of Old Virginia Tobacco in Richmond, Virginia, and executive officer of Cigar Rights of America. “Making a customer pick their brand of cigars from a black-and-white catalog — that destroys the way we’ve done business.”

Pesh says some speculate that the FDA would also bar shops from letting their products be visible to anyone outside the store.“That means I’d have to put blacked-out windows on my storefront,” he explains. “Like a porn shop or something.”

Well let’s be honest, among the zealots it is akin to a porn shop.  Well, with one exception – they’d likely support the right of a porn shop to exist with much less regulation.

Real effect:  if (and they say a number of times that they’re speculating) these sorts of regulations are indeed passed, then they will negatively impact jobs at a time that this economy can’t afford to lose more:

New FDA regulations could result in the immediate closing of many cigar shops, most of which employ only three to five people and operate with slim profit margins. About 85,000 people work in the premium-cigar industry — jobs that would be in jeopardy if the FDA’s regulatory power grab succeeds.

“To jeopardize 85,000 jobs in today’s economic times is absolutely unconscionable,” says Bill Spann, CEO of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.

Pesh thinks small shops could also be hurt by user fees the FDA can charge to the businesses it regulates. “I’d have to pay to put me out of business,” he explains.

But that’s not the real problem.  We’re talking about a voluntary transaction between consenting adults.  Why is government involved in any other way but to prevent the use of force or fraud?

Freedom?  Forget about it.  Choice?  Not if the FDA does this the right way. 

There’s a bill in Congress right now to stop this overreach.  By the way, has anyone noticed that instead of being involved in oversight of many agencies, Congress has been reduced to the role of reactive legislation to remove or prevent the most egregious examples of regulatory overreach?

Folks, freedom means the freedom to consume bad things if that is your desire as long as you doing so doesn’t violate the rights of others.  What we see with these examples are attempts to violate that freedom of choice and use the power of government coercion to prevent you from making choices it deems harmful.

Not. The. Job. Of. Government. In. A. Free. Society.

Period. 

Yet certainly the growing trend is to do more and more of that.

And in the case of the NYC soda ban, a good portion of the left is just fine with it.

It’s frightening.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Three examples of government intrusion where it has no business

Yes, just three.  You’re right, I could probably make it 30 or 300.  3,000 even!  But for brevity sake, three current examples where government has no business yet feels somehow justified in intruding or regulating in a manner that limits freedom.

First is an example of excessive regulation which in reality is an example of crony capitalism, where a regulation or mandatory licensing creates a state enforced bar to entry into an industry.

Louisiana has a plethora of such laws which regulate or license all sorts of things that few of the other states do.  An example?  The manufacture of caskets is illegal unless, well, you read it:

Brown, a soft-spoken man who is only the fifth leader of a monastery that dates to 1889, said he had not known that in Louisiana only licensed funeral directors are allowed to sell “funeral merchandise.”

That means that St. Joseph Abbey must either give up the casket-selling business or become a licensed funeral establishment, which would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display area for the coffins, the employment of a licensed funeral director and an embalming room.

“Really,” Brown said. “It’s just a big box.”

Indeed it is.  And buyers should have a choice as to whether to buy it or some other casket.  They likely could pick up the Abbey’s “big box” for much less than it might cost to buy a similar casket in a "licensed funeral director’s” place given the required overhead that the regulatory mandate places on such entities.

In effect, the mandate acts as a high bar to entry.  It is likely the existing funeral industry in LA helped write the law.  That’s called “crony capitalism”.  The Abbey simply provides the illustration of the result.  If freedom equals choice, LA is in the choice limiting business with regulatory and licensing regime like this.

Some good news on that front:

The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana’s restrictions unconstitutional, saying “the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.”

As you might imagine, the other side is not happy.  So is it the state that is appealing?  Well not the state, exactly:

The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which has argued that the law protects consumers, has appealed, and the circuit court in New Orleans will hear the case in early June.

That’s right … the protected want to continue to have their state protected industry … protected.  Good lord, if consumers have real choice, well, they might not buy the crony capitalist’s overpriced “funeral merchandise”.

And, of course, that state isn’t the only one with choice limiters working to cut down on your freedom.  Our next two examples come from the state of New York.  I know, shocking.

Case one – Mayor Bloomberg of NYC has decided that you fat folks just shouldn’t have the right to decide (there’s that choice thing again) on the size of “sugary drink” you can buy.

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid  ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in City Hall’s sprawling Governor’s Room.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

Nanny Bloomberg assumes New Yorkers need a mommy.  That they’re fat because of their diet of sugary drinks of a certain size. He’s sure if he limits you to 16 fluid ounces of such belly wash they’ll slim right down.   Nanny Bloomberg also assumes that the public wants him to intrude into every deli, fast-food franchise, food cart and sports arena to save them from themselves.

Because that’s a nanny’s job – limit choice.  Limit freedom.  All for the common good, of course.  (added: here’s a distant cousin’s view – “Sixteen Ounces of Bull”.  Amen, cuz).

Case 2?  Well it seems a couple of state legislators in NY want to outlaw anonymous posting on the internet.  A couple of Republicans, by the way.

New York State Senator Thomas O’Mara recently proposed legislation that would ban anonymous postings on websites in his state.  The bill requires citizens posting on any blog, social network, message board or other forum, to turn over their full names, home addresses and IP address to web site administrators for public posting.  Supposedly it is being pushed as an “anti-bullying” step.

His cohort in this nonsense, however, reveals the real purpose.  State Assemblyman Jim Conte released a statement saying:

…the legislation will help cut down on the types of mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate and merely seek to falsely tarnish the opponent’s reputation by using the anonymity of the Web. By removing these posts, this bill will help to ensure that there is more accurate information available to voters on their prospective candidates, giving them a better assessment of the candidates they have to choose from.

Or, the “let’s limit free speech to protect politician’s reputations” bill.

As the Center for Competitive Politics points out:

Anonymous speech has played a part in our political process since the very founding of our nation.  Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers, which where primarily targeting voters in New York, under various pseudonyms.  The Supreme Court upheld this precedent in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, noting:

“[u]nder our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995)

and:

“But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.” McIntyre, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995)

Everyday in just about every way, our freedoms are under assault at all levels of government in this country.  I spend a lot of time recording those at a federal level.  But just as pernicious and certainly just as dangerous are those at local and state levels. 

The cumulative result is we live in a much less free society than we did 100 years ago.  50 years ago.  in fact, 20 years ago.

These three examples can indeed be multiplied by hundreds if not thousands.  They are fairly common unfortunately.  They cost a lot to enforce.  They’re unnecessary.  Most important though,  in each case they limit choice and thereby freedom.

Frog.  Pot. Rising heat.

Time to start getting serious about turning off the freedom limiting burner.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

To My Friends In Maryland

Q: Why doesn’t Delaware fall into the ocean?
A: Because Maryland sucks.
Q: Why doesn’t California fall into the ocean?
A: Because Maryland really sucks.

Dear Marylanders:

I see that your financial picture is looking rather dicey again. Sorry to hear that. Who could have guessed that high taxes, profligate spending and a general hostility to business would lead to such things? No worries, though. I’m sure political leaders will continue to work hard at righting the ship and get Maryland sailing along smoothly again (how is that plan to repeal the laws of economics coming anyway?).

On a related note, I understand that the Maryland legislature, in collaboration with Gov. O’Malley, has passed a new tax on all six-figure income earners in Maryland. Well, bully for you! That’ll teach those nasty capitalists to stop being so productive. And Gaia knows that they really need to pay their fair share (I mean, how is it that the top 20% of earners only pays about 68% of the income taxes? How’s that “fair”?). So, here’s hoping that works out for you (fingers crossed!).

Of course, I seem to recall that the last time you all did something like this (with that “Millionaires Tax” thingy), we here in Virginia experienced a bit of an influx of former Marylanders. Not too many that we couldn’t handle it, mind you, and probably fewer than some thought. But it does raise an issue, especially since the latest tax scheme stands to affect a much larger portion of Maryland’s population. While we’re always happy to welcome you all into the Commonwealth, we’d really appreciate it if you’d leave things here the way you found them.

You see, all too often when Virginia takes in refugees of high tax and high regulation states, they tend to bring a lot of those policies with them. They seem to really like our neighborhoods, schools and business environment, but for some reason they get all worked up about the fact that our government doesn’t spend as much money as they’re used to (in fact, we’ve actually had a budget surplus the past couple of years, and look to do so again this year!). They also tend to push for more state intrusion into our lives. Thing is, we really don’t like that. (In fact, it’s a fairly common complaint in the South.)

You see, before they came, we were doing just fine. Sure, some of us moved to places like New York and California so that we could enjoy that wonderful embrace of the Nanny State, but for the most part it’s been the other way around: people moving from high-tax/high-regulation states to places like Northern Virginia. We completely understand why you would want to leave a place whose policies increase your costs of living, impair your livelihoods, and generally intrude on your lives in unwanted ways. That’s why we try not to do that sort of thing here (albeit, with some annoying exceptions). Problem is, when you all move in, you start enacting all the same policies that made the place you left so bad. We’d all really appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that.

So, like I said, I really hope that whole tax-the-hell-outta-the-rich thing works for you. If it doesn’t, and your looking for change of scenery, you’ll always be welcomed with open arms on this side of the Potomac. Come on over, make yourselves comfortable and set a spell. Just don’t go touching anything.

Yours Truly,

Michael J. Wade

Cell phone jamming: violation of civil rights or good law enforcement tactic?

I come down on the side of the former – a violation of my civil rights.  When does the government unilaterally get to decide  if I’m able to talk to someone (or communicate by other means, such as Twitter) on a device I’ve contracted with a private company and for which they provide service?  When it sees a compelling public safety risk. 

And what would define that public safety risk?    Well that’s kind of up in the air.  Take the expected riots in Chicago for the NATO summit.

Apparently that qualifies

According to the Daily Beast, a little known Bush era regulation gives law enforcement the ability to jam cell phones … you know like they did in Tehran when the people attempted to stand up to their government.  Or Syria?

Not only do the FBI and Secret Service have standing authority to jam signals, but they along with state and local authorities can also push for the shutdown of cell towers, thanks to a little-known legacy of the Bush administration: “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 303," which lays out the nation’s official “Emergency Wireless Protocols.”

The protocols were developed after the 2005 London bombings in a process that calls to mind an M.C. Escher work. First, the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) formed a task force— composed of anonymous government officials and executives from Cingular, Microsoft, Motorola, Sprint, and Verizon—that issued a private report to President Bush. Another acronym-dragging committee, also meeting in secret, then approved the task force’s recommendations. Thus, according to NSTAC’s 2006–07 annual issue review, SOP 303 was born.

"In time of national emergency," the review says, SOP 303 gives “State Homeland Security Advisors, their designees, or representatives of the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center” the power to call for “the termination of private wireless network connections… within an entire metropolitan area.” The decision is subject to review by the National Coordinating Center, a government-industry group responsible for the actual mechanics of the shutdown. The NCC is supposed to “authenticate” the shutdown via “a series of questions.” But SOP 303 does not specify, at least not publicly, what would constitute a “national emergency,” or what questions the NCC then asks “to determine if the shutdown is a necessary action.”

“[T]he termination of private wireless network connections …”.  That should send a chill up your spine.  This is the realm of dictatorship. 

What if I have nothing to do with whatever the disturbance in the area might be?  What if I have an emergency?  What if I can’t get to a land line?  Who in the hell are these people to deny me access to a private service I pay for and they don’t?

And all for their convenience, because that’s the point.  Protesters use wireless services and social media like Twitter to organize.

Instead of Law Enforcement learning to monitor that and react sufficiently well to blunt its effect, they prefer to use the sledge hammer approach and shut down service to all in an area.

I have a contract with a provider.  That provider agrees to provide me uninterrupted service for payment.  I pay.  Government decides to void that contract at its own whim and possibly endanger my life and safety by doing so.

Oh, and here’s a little ground truth:

“It’s the nature of law enforcement to push the envelope,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police instructor and professor of police practice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s act first and litigate second.”

Understatement of the year.  For instance:

While it’s against the law for individuals or nongovernmental organizations to sell or use jammers, the devices are easily found online. The U.S. military was among the first to use communications shutdowns, and local government demand for the technology has been building for years, even as the legal rules for its use have remained ill-defined. Prison wardens want to snuff out the use of smuggled cellphones by inmates; school officials hope to disable students’ phones; the National Transportation Safety Board wants to disable all “portable electronic devices within reach of the driver” while cars are in motion.

I’m sure you can dream up many more rights abusing nanny state scenarios (yeah, jamming illegal prison cell phones actually seems legit) than those listed.  Imagine a state banning cell phone use in cars and installing jammers along all major highways.  Imagine a car wreck with injuries.  Imagine the law suits to follow.

For once the ACLU and I are on the same side:

The ACLU, Verizon, and a coalition of public-interest groups noted that cellphone blackouts would, with few exceptions, violate the Constitution and federal communication law, as well as threaten public safety by eliminating the means to share vital information or call 911.

But:

Now other efforts to cut through the legal haze have emerged. In response to the wireless shutdown in San Francisco last summer, California State Sen. Alex Padilla introduced what would be a first-of-its-kind bill stipulating that to cut off service a judge must sign off that the move is necessary to avert “significant dangers to public health, safety or welfare.” If approved, the bill, which has the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, could become the gold standard for state policy. San Francisco transit officials codified their own policy, which remains quite vague, after the public backlash to their shutdown. It calls for “strong evidence” of dangerous and unlawful activity, a belief that an interruption will “substantially reduce the likelihood of such an activity” and that the interruptions are “narrowly tailored.”

No.  That agrees to the premise that government should have that power and then tries to define it “narrowly”.  I don’t agree with the premise of government’s right to do this.  If they want to talk about an exceptional power in time of a declared National Emergency, I’m willing to listen.  But we all know how wide “narrowly” becomes when law enforcement is given an ability to use such a power.  They’ll use it for their convenience, screw your rights.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Perhaps Romney ought to talk about what he stands to inherit from Obama

It would seem that would be a fairly potent means of campaigning and keeping the issues most important to the forefront.  It might take care of this.

Look, one of the reasons we’re going through this “I killed bin Laden” self-congratulatory orgy right now is a day spend doing the bin Laden back pat is a day not spent on having to discuss this awful economy.

It wouldn’t be hard to compile a list of problems a new president would “inherit” from Obama.  That was (and still is) an Obama strategy – blame Bush.  It may be time for Romney to begin to blame Obama:

-For 8.2% unemployment

-For doubling the debt

-For anemic GDP growth

-For large increases in major regulations

-For ObamaCare

-For green energy boondoggles based in crony capitalism and a nonexistent energy policy

-For increasing dependency on government

-For the first credit downgrade in US history

And, that’s just a short list.

I like the “inherit” scheme.  It’s a good way to frame the debate and put the Obama campaign on the defensive.  If and when the Romney campaign and certain elements of the GOP can stop shooting themselves in the foot over gay spokespersons that is.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Why the EPA’s new regulation will increase electricity prices significantly

Because, as you know, the laws of supply and demand can’t be repealed, no matter how much some want that to be true.

Today, the EPA will act to make electricity more expensive.

How?

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as Tuesday, according to several people briefed on the proposal. The move could end the construction of conventional coal-fired facilities in the United States.

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

If you can’t get Congress to pass a “cap and tax” law, then simply go it alone and direct executive agencies to implement regulation which will cap CO2 by making it too expensive to operate if the plant produces CO2 above the arbitrary limit you set.

“After Congress refused to pass carbon caps, the administration insisted there were other ways to skin the cat, and this is another way — by setting a standard deliberately calculated to drive affordable coal out of the electricity market,” Popovich said.

And that’s precisely what Obama’s done here.

Result?

Well it gives lie to the “all-of-the-above energy plan” that Obama has been pushing in stump speeches around the country:

Industry officials and environmentalists said in interviews that the rule, which comes on the heels of tough new requirements that the Obama administration imposed on mercury emissions and cross-state pollution from utilities within the past year, dooms any proposal to build a coal-fired plant that does not have costly carbon controls.

“This standard effectively bans new coal plants,” said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton and Williams and represents several utility companies. “So I don’t see how that is an ‘all of the above’ energy policy.”

Nor do I.

And it will have a significant effect:

The proposal does not cover existing plants, although utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation — nearly 13 percent of the nation’s coal-fired electricity — rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the new rule “captures the end of an era” during which coal provided most of the nation’s electricity. It currently generates about 40 percent of U.S. electricity.

So the war on coal continues apace despite claims of an inclusive energy policy.

This is a preview of a 2nd Obama term.  As mentioned yesterday, public opinion will be of no consequence in January 2013 if he’s re-elected.  Hence, there’ll be no need to concern himself with it again.  4 years of unilateral action by agencies such as the EPA can certainly be expected:

The EPA rule, called the New Source Performance Standard, will be subject to public comment for at least a month before being finalized, but its backers said they were confident that the White House will usher it into law before Obama’s term ends.

“The Obama administration is committed to moving forward with this,” said Nathan Willcox, federal global warming program director for the advocacy group Environment America. “They’re committed to doing it this, and we’re committed to helping them do it.”

Fair warning.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO