Shared posts

19 Dec 20:18

Not just tolls: E-Z Pass keeping eye on speeders...

Jts5665

I've always wondered if they were doing something like this.


Not just tolls: E-Z Pass keeping eye on speeders...


(Second column, 1st story, link)

19 Dec 16:50

State Science Institute Issues Report on Rearden Metal, err, Fracking

by admin

The similarity between the the text of the recent NY report on fracking and the fictional state attack on Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged is just amazing.

Here is the cowardly State Science Institute report on Rearden Metal from Atlas Shrugged, where a state agency attempts to use vague concerns of unproven potential issues to ban the product for what are essentially political reasons (well-connected incumbents in the industry don't want this sort of competition).  From page 173 of the Kindle version:

[Eddie] pointed to the newspaper he had left on her desk. “They [the State Science Institute, in their report on Rearden Metal] haven’t said that Rearden Metal is bad. They haven’t said that it’s unsafe. What they’ve done is . . .” His hands spread and dropped in a gesture of futility. [Dagny] saw at a glance what they had done.

She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear, though the length of this period cannot be predicted. . . . The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted. . . . Although the tensile strength of the metal is obviously demonstrable, certain questions in regard to its behavior under unusual stress are not to be ruled out. . . . Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”

“We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying slowly. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward.

From the recent study used by the State of New York to ban fracking (a process that has been used in the oil field for 60 years or so)

Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation....

...the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State....

The actual degree and extent of these environmental impacts, as well as the extent to which they might contribute to adverse public health impacts are largely unknown. Nevertheless, the existing studies raise substantial questions about whether the public health risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed.

Why is it the Left readily applies the (silly) precautionary principle to every new beneficial technology or business model but never applies it to sweeping authoritarian legislation (e.g. Obamacare)?

19 Dec 03:50

United States Of Newspeak – Obama Spins Executive Orders As "Presidential Memoranda" To Avoid Scrutiny

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

If there’s one thing we have learned about Barack Obama, it’s that he is a master of deception and absolutely loves to lie to the public. He seems to enjoy conning the plebs to such a degree, I think he actually receives blasts of dopamine every time he does it. The bigger the lie, the better the rush.

The latest example relates to his issuance of executive orders, or lack thereof, something that Obama Inc. has actively attempted to portray as evidence of his restraint when it comes to executive power. Here are a few examples from a USA Today article published earlier today.

First, from the man himself:

“The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years,” Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. “So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did.”

Harry Reid also proudly chimed in:

In a Senate floor speech in July, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “While Republicans accuse President Obama of executive overreach, they neglect the fact that he has issued far fewer executive orders than any two-term president in the last 50 years.”

Finally, the message wouldn’t be complete without some words from Bootlicker in Chief Jay Carney:

“There is no question that this president has been judicious in his use of executive action, executive orders, and I think those numbers thus far have come in below what President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did,” said Jay Carney, then the White House press secretary, in February.

Nice spin, but what’s the truth? Also from USA Today:

WASHINGTON — President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.

 

Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don’t require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda.

 

The Office of Legal Counsel — which is responsible for advising the president on executive orders and memoranda — says there’s no difference between the two.

With that in mind, how does Obama’s record stand up when you combine his issuance of executive orders and executive memoranda? Well, here you go:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 11.31.49 AM

Oh, and let’s not forget this guy still has two years left to further separate himself from the pack.

More from USA Today:

WASHINGTON — President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.

 

Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations. Tuesday, he used a memorandum to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.

 

Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don’t require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda.

 

Obama has made prolific use of memoranda despite his own claims that he’s used his executive power less than other presidents. “The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years,” Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. “So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did.”

 

Obama has issued 195 executive orders as of Tuesday. Published alongside them in the Federal Register are 198 presidential memoranda — all of which carry the same legal force as executive orders.

He’s already signed 33% more presidential memoranda in less than six years than Bush did in eight. He’s also issued 45% more than the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who assertively used memoranda to signal what kinds of regulations he wanted federal agencies to adopt.

 

Obama is not the first president to use memoranda to accomplish policy aims. But at this point in his presidency, he’s the first to use them more often than executive orders.

 

So even as he’s quietly used memoranda to signal policy changes to federal agencies, Obama and his allies have claimed he’s been more restrained in his use of that power.

 

In a Senate floor speech in July, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “While Republicans accuse President Obama of executive overreach, they neglect the fact that he has issued far fewer executive orders than any two-term president in the last 50 years.”

 

“There is no question that this president has been judicious in his use of executive action, executive orders, and I think those numbers thus far have come in below what President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did,” said Jay Carney, then the White House press secretary, in February.

 

Executive orders are numbered — the most recent, Executive Order 13683, modified three previous executive orders. Memoranda are not numbered, not indexed and, until recently, difficult to quantify.

That’s precisely why Obama is utilizing them at a record clip.

Indeed, many of Obama’s memoranda do the kinds of things previous presidents did by executive order.

 

• In 1970, President Nixon issued an executive order on unneeded federal properties. Forty years later, Obama issued a similar policy by memorandum.

 

Presidential scholar Phillip Cooper calls presidential memoranda “executive orders by another name, and yet unique.”

 

The law does not define the difference between an executive order and a memorandum, but it does say that the president should publish in the Federal Register executive orders and other documents that “have general applicability and legal effect.”

 

There are subtle differences. Executive orders are numbered; memoranda are not. Memoranda are always published in the Federal Register after proclamations and executive orders. And under Executive Order 11030, signed by President Kennedy in 1962, an executive order must contain a “citation of authority,” saying what law it’s based on. Memoranda have no such requirement.

 

Whatever they’re called, those executive actions are binding on future administrations unless explicitly revoked by a future president, according to legal opinion from the Justice Department.

 

The Office of Legal Counsel — which is responsible for advising the president on executive orders and memoranda — says there’s no difference between the two.

 

Even the White House sometimes gets tripped up on the distinction. Explaining Obama’s memoranda on immigration last month, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president would happily “tear up his own executive order” if Congress passes an immigration bill.

 

Obama had issued no such executive order. Earnest later corrected himself. “I must have misspoke. I meant executive actions. So I apologize,” he said.

Not to fear, we just found out that Jeb Bush will be running for President in 2016. There’s always something to look forward to. For example:

Here’s your American “democracy.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 11.44.13 AM

19 Dec 00:31

Autoimmune Diseases and the Gut Biome

by Richard Nikoley

After posting this morning about "winding down," I ended up wanting to add a sub-section to the Autoimmune Diseases section in Chapter 8 of the book: The Gut Microbiome In Disease Pathology (html version). Thanks to Tim Steele for his major contributions to this as well. Hopefully you'll see that the intended style is layman accessible, but well referenced for the geeks. Didn't take the time to make it pretty for the blog (the link above has footnote links and links to citations), so here's just a plain text:

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

A well established aspect of the gut microbiome is its close relationship with host immunity, essentially comprising 70% of the immune system.[1] It’s no longer mere speculation that the composition of our gut microbes have a profound effect on the creation, training, maintenance, and actions of our immune system. An imbalance of intestinal microbes can cause an imbalance in our immune system, leading it to attack us instead of the pathogens it’s supposed to eradicate or keep in check. Here’s a partial list of autoimmune conditions that have been linked to disruptions in gut microbes:

* Addison's Disease
* Alopecia
* Ankylosing Spondylitis
* Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS)
* Autoimmune Hepatitis
* Behcet's Disease
* Bullous Pemphigoid
* Castleman's Disease
* Celiac Disease
* Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
* Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Neuropathy (CIDP)
* Churg Strauss Syndrome
* Crohn's Disease
* Endometriosis
* Fibromyalgia
* Infertility
* Giant Cell Arteritis
* Glomerulonephritis (Autoimmune Kidney Disease)
* Graves' Disease
* Guillain-Barre Syndrome
* Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
* Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis
* IgA Nephropathy
* Interstitial Cystitis
* Kawasaki Disease
* Lichen Planus
* Lupus
* Meniere's Disease
* Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD)
* Multiple Sclerosis
* Myasthenia Gravis
* Narcolepsy
* Pemphigus
* Pernicious Anemia
* Polyarteritis Nodosa
* Polymyositis
* Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
* Psoriasis
* Raynaud's Disease
* Reiter's Syndrome
* Rheumatoid Arthritis
* Sarcoidosis
* Scleroderma or CREST Syndrome
* Silicone Immune Toxicity Syndrome
* Sjogren's Syndrome
* Stiff-Man Syndrome
* Type 1 Diabetes
* Ulcerative Colitis
* Vascular Dementia
* Vasculitis
* Vitiligo
* Wegener's Granulomatosis

Those with one or more of these autoimmune conditions are likely to have a diet high in modern, industrial Frankenfoods or one lacking in sufficient fibers our gut bugs recognize as food—but most likely both. The immune system keeps the body healthy by providing a fine balance between attacking invaders and maintaining healthy tissues. In autoimmune diseases, this delicate balance fails and the immune system attacks healthy tissue.

Let’s take a brief look at a few autoimmune conditions positively identified with altered gut microbes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis -

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks membranes that line the joints, causing painful swelling, stiffness, and a loss of function in fingers, wrists, or other joints. Often thought to be triggered by factors such as smoking and stress, it’s now known to be related to gut health; i.e., diet related, ultimately.

A specific type of gut bacteria, Prevotella copri, is found in over 75% of those newly diagnosed. When lab animals were implanted with Prevotella copri, they developed symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While this is not enough for scientists to develop a cure, it does give them clues toward developing new treatments, treatments that will almost certainly target gut microbial dysbiosis.

Ankylosing Spondylitis -

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the spaces between vertebrae in the spinal column, hip joints, and other locations throughout the body. It’s a disfiguring, painful disease that’s closely associated with the gut microbe Klebsiella pneumoniae. Beneficial microbes Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, and other core species prevent Klebsiella from turning invasive.

While Klebsiella pneumoniae is a normal inhabitant of the human gut, it’s often associated with urinary tract infections, upper respiratory tract infections, and wound site infections. When it grows uncontrollably in the respiratory tract it can lead to deadly pneumonia.

The microbe’s association with ankylosing spondylitis has a clear genetic factor, with 90% of patients expressing the HLA-B27 genotype.[2] One hypothesis put forth is that this genetic signal could trigger the disease by enhancing the growth and perpetuation of the Klebsiella microbes in the bowel. In an attempt to slow the growth of the now pathogenic bacteria, the immune system mistakenly attacks the human tissues, thus causing the disease. Strings of protein in Klebsiella bear resemblance to human joint tissue. This molecular mimicry is the underlying mechanism behind all autoimmune disease and a growing number of modern diseases that heretofore had no clear medical pathophysiology—such as essential hypertension.[3] [4]

A common treatment for ankylosing spondylitis is to restrict all fermentable fiber from the diet in order to starve the gut microbes, achieving results similar to the overuse of antibiotics, or the practice of very low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets.[5] [6] This approach may have short-term therapeutic value but an unforeseen drawback may be further damaged immunity and gut health in the long term, leading to unintended consequences. The immune system lines the entire gut and atrophies without butyrate and contact from the beneficial microbes that regularly consume fermentable fiber.[7]

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1D) -

Type 1 diabetes results from autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As has been harped on plenty, factors that influence gut health—for better or worse—are factors that ultimately influence the function of the immune system—for better or worse. It’s so closely tied together, it’s a testament to the intricacies of the gut, gut microbes, and our resulting immune system. Gut bugs modulate its function through what is essentially training the immune system—in particular T cells—as mentioned earlier.[8]

The gut and pancreas also share several critical links and so problems with the gut are often reflected in the pancreas. Altered gut microflora have been linked to T1D in animal and human studies, and are normally thought to be a function of intestinal inflammation, gut permeability, and food allergies.[9] Children with T1D are more susceptible to certain infections and do not normally develop tolerance to cow’s milk. These complex interactions are currently the target of new approaches to prevention and treatment.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis -

“Hashi’s” is a condition where the thyroid gland is attacked by a combination of immune processes that can manifest as high or low thyroid levels, but most usually the latter. It has the distinction of being the very first disease to be recognized as an autoimmune condition.

Mounting evidence suggests that not only intestinal pathogens, but symbiotic ones can influence an overblown immune response against thyroid tissue. And more recent studies reveal that not only the gut commensals, but also oral microorganisms such as periodontal bacteria, may play a role.[10]

To muddy the waters even further, an association between celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and autoimmune thyroid disorders is well established, with about ten times as many with gluten issues also having thyroid issues than is observed in the general population.[11] Curiously but not surprisingly, this link may exist due to a molecular similarity between gliadin, the protein portion of gluten and thyroid tissue.[12] In all, one intuitive way to regard the process is that a leaky gut, as addressed previously, allows gliadin into the bloodstream where it’s attacked by the immune system as a foreign invader, with “similar looking” thyroid tissue getting caught in the crossfire.

What remains to understand is which strains of intestinal flora help, and which hurt. As we’ve seen a number of times thus far, it’s not as simple as good guy vs. bad guy. “Good guys” can be bad if there are too many of them or they’re out of proportion with other “good guys.” And “bad guys” can be non pathologic if still other “bad guys” (or “good guys”) are keeping them in check. A 2012 paper demonstrates just how complex the picture is.

Multiple lines of evidence have demonstrated that probiotic organisms such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus confer health benefits on the host. For instance, oral administration of probiotics to mice induced IL-10 production and prevented the development of autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes and colitis. This probiotic-induced anti-inflammatory effect is reportedly mediated by dendritic cells. However, series of in vivo and in vitro studies have demonstrated that certain probiotic strains exacerbated colitis and encephalomyelitis, enhanced interferon-γ (IFNγ) production and reduced regulatory T cell (Treg) activity, indicating that attention should be paid when choosing a probiotic strain to treat autoimmune disorders. In experimental autoimmune thyroiditis (EAT), a murine model of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, probiotic strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019, which had been shown to enhance splenocyte IFNγ production in mice, exhibited neither stimulatory nor inhibitory effect on the disease development. Taken collectively, the presence and the role of intestinal dysbiosis and the effect of alteration in the gut microbial composition remain to be investigated in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.[13]

Unfortunately, the standard of treatment for low thyroid (hypothyroidism) is effective enough for most people by the administration of synthetic thyroid hormone to treat the symptom, that little has been done in the mainstream to investigate the underlying cause: in order to develop more fundamental therapies or recommended lifestyle changes for better management, or even a cure.
________________
[1] Wu, Hsin-Jung, and Eric Wu. "The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity." Gut Microbes 3.1 (2012): 4-14.
[2] "HLA-B27 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." 2004. 17 Aug. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HLA-B27>
[3] Schwimmbeck, PETER L, DT Yu, and MB Oldstone. "Autoantibodies to HLA B27 in the sera of HLA B27 patients with ankylosing spondylitis and Reiter's syndrome. Molecular mimicry with Klebsiella pneumoniae as potential mechanism of autoimmune disease." The Journal of experimental medicine 166.1 (1987): 173-181.
[4] Tervaert, JWC. "Hypertension: an autoimmune disease[quest] - Nature." 2011. <http://www.nature.com/hr/journal/v34/n4/full/hr201115a.html>
[5] "LOW STARCH DIET." 2012. 3 May. 2014 <http://www.spondylitis.org/about/low_starch_diet_summer2012_spondylitis_plus.pdf>
[6] Ebringer, A, and C Wilson. "The use of a low starch diet in the treatment of patients suffering from ankylosing spondylitis." Clinical rheumatology 15.1 (1996): 62-66.
[7] Rashid, T. "The Link between Ankylosing Spondylitis, Crohn's Disease ..." 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678459/>
[8] Vaarala, O. "Gut microbiota and type 1 diabetes." The review of diabetic studies: RDS 9.4 (2011): 251-259.
[9] Jaimie Dalessio. "Gut Bacteria May Prevent Type 1 Diabetes - Digestive Health Center ..." 2013. 19 Jan. 2014 <http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/gut-bacteria-may-prevent-type-1-diabetes-2306.aspx>
[10] Mori, K. "Does the gut microbiota trigger Hashimoto's thyroiditis?." 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23200063>
[11] Sategna-Guidetti, C. "Autoimmune thyroid diseases and coeliac disease." 1998. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9872614>
[12] "The Gluten-Thyroid Connection - Chris Kresser." 2011. 18 Dec. 2014 <http://chriskresser.com/the-gluten-thyroid-connection>
[13] Mori, K. "Does the Gut Microbiota Trigger Hashimoto's Thyroiditis ..." 2012. <http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Kouki-Mori/2012/11/27/does-the-gut-microbiota-trigger-hashimotos-thyroiditis/>

19 Dec 12:25

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from pages 214-215 of David Landes’s often brilliant but uneven 1998 volume, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations:

At the same time, the British were making major gains in land and water transport.  New turnpike roads and canals, intended primarily to serve industry and mining, opened the way to valuable resources, linked production to markets, facilitated the division of labor.  Other European countries were trying to do the same, but nowhere were these improvements so widespread and effective as in Britain.  For a simple reason: nowhere else were roads and canals typically the work of private enterprise, hence responsive to need (rather than to prestige and military concerns) and profitable to users.  This is why Arthur Young, agronomist and traveler, could marvel at some of the broad, well-drawn French roads but deplore the lodging and eating facilities.  The French crown had built a few admirable king’s highways, as much as to facilitate control as to promote trade, and Young found them empty.  British investors had built many more, for the best business reasons, and inns to feed and sleep the users.

These [British] roads (and canals) hastened growth and specialization.

The British state, in fact, did not build a great deal of ‘that’ – a fact that calls into question the notion that economic prosperity requires that infrastructure be built, or even financed, by government.

18 Dec 21:32

State of the Sanderson: December 2014

by Peter Ahlstrom

Introduction

Hello, all! I recently turned in Shadows of Self, the new Wax and Wayne Mistborn novel. (And, well, something else too. More on that below.) In addition, tomorrow is December 19th—known with fondness as “Koloss Head-Munching Day.” Also my birthday. (I’ll be 39.)

This seemed like a good chance to take a step back and give you all a long-form update on what I’ve been doing lately, and where I am looking for the future. I like to be accountable to you, my readers, for what I’m doing. You are the ones supporting me in this, my lifelong dream of being a professional writer.

2014 was an excellent year for me. Words of Radiance has been very well received, and enthusiasm for the Stormlight books is very high. As this series is my baby, it feels awesome to see people getting to know characters like Dalinar and Kaladin, whom I’ve known for decades. At the same time, I’ve been jumping back into teen books again after the Alcatraz books. (Which kind of fizzled back in 2010 or so, though we’re planning a relaunch.)

Having two publishers made for a very challenging tour schedule. I’ve been away from home far more than I want to be, mostly because of the need to add more touring (along with things like school visits and appearances at teacher/librarian conferences) for Steelheart and The Rithmatist.

I’m still struggling to find a balance I like. On one hand, I enjoy visiting you all and going cool places. On the other hand, my real love is writing the books—and I don’t want to get so busy that the stories fall by the wayside. Anyway, the following is an account of my 2014 writing experience for those who are curious.

What I spent 2014 doing

January–March 2014: Firefight

Though I had hoped to have Firefight (The Reckoners 2) done long before January, the touring last year made that impossible. It snuck over into 2014, which is why you’re getting the book in January 2015 instead of the originally scheduled fall of this year. In March, I also did the Words of Radiance tour, which really cut into my writing time.

April 2014: Legion: Skin Deep

In April, once all the chaos was done, I took the time to finish up Legion: Skin Deep (sequel to Legion from a few years back), which I’d been working on during plane flights the year before. If you haven’t checked these two novellas out, you might want to consider it! They’re very fun, though the second book is not yet out in the UK and associated territories such as Australia and New Zealand. (Note that in those territories, Legion 1 and The Emperor’s Soul were released together in a very handsome paperback.)

We will eventually have regular hardcover copies of Legion 2 available. That will probably come sometime in the first half of next year. Our contract with Subterranean Press, who produced the very attractive limited edition hardcovers of Legion 2, says that we’ll wait until their edition sells out before we release a competing one.

May 2014: The Aztlanian (Rithmatist 2)

Next, I dove into research for a sequel to The Rithmatist. This is going to be a tough book to write, as it takes place in a fantastical version of Central and South America, and deals with things from Aztec (Mexica) mythology. (In The Rithmatist, a lot of the geography is shifted around in bizarre ways.)

Dealing with another group’s culture in this way is rife with opportunities for stuffing my foot in my mouth, and so I wanted to be very careful and respectful. This meant spending time devoted exclusively to doing extensive research. I didn’t actually get any writing on the book done, though I read some very excellent history books.

(As an aside, if anyone out there is an expert in the Aztec/Mexica culture—particularly if you yourself are a Native American—I’d love to have your help on this book.)

At the end of the month, I decided I needed to do way more research than a month afforded, so I put the book off for now. I still intend to write it, but I need more time to do it right.

June 2014: Alcatraz

Having spent a month with no writing, I wanted to jump into something fun and quick to refresh me before moving on to my next book. So, I dug out my outline for the Alcatraz series and at long last did a rough draft of the fifth book. These are fast, fast books to write—as I improvise them—but they are very slow to edit.

I finished the book, and am pleased with it, but I have no firm date yet for when I’ll be publishing it. Tor is rereleasing the series starting next year with new covers and extensive interior art. I believe these launch starting about a year from now. (If you want them before then, your best bet for getting them is the UK omnibus of the first four.)

I’ll want to release the fifth one once the series has been rereleased, so maybe summer 2016. If you’ve never read these, they are very different from my other work. They’re bizarre and sarcastic comedies that are self-referential and offer commentary on fantasy as a genre along the way. Those who love them absolutely love them. Those who don’t tend to find them insulting. That dichotomy alone is part of what endears them to me.

July–December 2014: Mistborn

The last half of the year was dedicated to Shadows of Self, the new Mistborn novel. And I have a confession to make.

I also wrote the sequel.

Now, before you start wagging your finger at me for being a robot, there was a really good reason I did what I did. You see, I was having real trouble getting back into Shadows of Self. I had written the first third of it in 2012 between revisions of A Memory of Light. (I was feeling Wheel of Time overload.) However, it can be very hard for me to get back into a book or series after a long time away from it. (This is another issue with the Rithmatist sequel.)

So, jumping into Shadows of Self was slow going, and I found it much easier to go write the sequel to refresh myself on the world and characters. That done, I was able to move back to Shadows of Self and finish it up.

So a week or two back, I turned in two new Wax and Wayne Mistborn novels. They’re titled Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning, and Tor decided to publish them in quick succession: the first in October 2015, the second in January 2016. So, if you have read the original trilogy but haven’t tried The Alloy of Law yet, you might want to give it a look! From the beginning, I’ve planned Mistborn to be a continuum series, showing off Allomancy in different time periods. I think you’ll find the Wax and Wayne books to be fun, quick reads—and they introduce some very, very big things coming in the Mistborn world.

There will be one more Wax and Wayne (early 1900s-era) Mistborn book. Back after I finished The Alloy of Law, I sat down and plotted out a trilogy with the same characters. The Alloy of Law was more of a happy, improvised accident. The follow-up trilogy is meant to be more intentional. So in the end, we’ll have four total. (The final one is tentatively called The Lost Metal.) From there, I might jump to the second “big” trilogy, which is 1980s tech. Or I might dally a little more in something 1940s-era instead. We’ll see.

Amusingly, doing these two Mistborn books together totaled only about half as much writing as a Stormlight book. Perhaps you can see why it takes even me quite a long time to finish Stormlight novels. (And it’s why you might want to lay off Pat Rothfuss a little. I believe The Wise Man’s Fear was even longer than Words of Radiance.)

Tor did their announcement about these books earlier today. You may now commence wisecracks about me secretly writing extra novels when nobody is looking.

Next Projects

I’ve now begun Calamity, last of the Reckoners series. My goal will be to rough-draft it over the next three months. I have a tour between now and then (for Firefight) and a trip to Taiwan as well, so who knows if I’ll make that deadline. We’ll see.

Once that is done, I will dive into Stormlight 3. I’m still waffling on whether this will be Szeth’s book, Eshonai’s book, or Dalinar’s book. The original outline calls for book 3 to have Szeth’s flashbacks, but I am feeling that another character might match the events better.

I did some exploratory scenes for it this summer, though these may or may not end up in the actual book. I have been tweaking the outline, and am starting to feel very good about it. Writing the book should consume the entire rest of 2015, with a 2016 release. I do plan the Stormlight books to be an every-other-year thing.

Follow along starting next spring as I write the book and post updates on my website. I’ll even try to do some screen capturing with Camtasia as I write, for those who are interested in watching for them.

That wraps up current and finished projects. 2014 was partially about me getting my feet underneath me after finishing The Wheel of Time and going right into Stormlight 2. I’ve caught my breath now, and feel good moving forward.

And, speaking of moving forward, it’s time for a State of the Sanderson tradition—we’re going to play “What about the sequel to this book I love, Brandon!”

Here comes the big list.


The big list of projects I want to do

Elantris sequels

The Emperor’s Soul is now two years old, so it is probably time to get back to Sel and do some more there. We should be releasing a trade paperback of Elantris in the next year or two, with revised (and new) maps and a better Ars Arcanum. (Read: an Ars Arcanum.)

The full sequels will need to be finished before I can do the contemporary (1980s tech) Mistborn novels because of behind-the-scenes Cosmere bits, so I will do my best to find a place to squeeze these in. At the very least, I will write them following the end of Stormlight 5. So, these are distant, but not too distant.

Nightblood (Warbreaker sequel)

This is still on the back burner, but it is coming. Probably after the Elantris sequels. I’ll squeeze it in someplace. I’m very excited about it, but now (while I’m juggling multiple teen series) is not the time.

Dark One

This is a series I’ve talked about for a long, long time about a boy who discovers he’s the “Dark One.” Basically, it’s the classic epic fantasy story told from the eyes of the dude destined to try to destroy the world instead of save it. I’ve made good progress on the setting, which is going to be awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the teen series I do once the Reckoners and the Rithmatist are both done.

As a note for fans, this is a Cosmere story.

Silence Divine (this will be renamed sometime)

I did readings from this on my last tour (you can probably find them on YouTube; it was the Words of Radiance tour). I only have a few pages done, playing with the primary concept. (Diseases grant magical talents for as long as you have the disease—you lose the power when you get over it.) This one has probably been downgraded from full novel to novella, as I feel that something more Emperor’s Soul-esque will do a better job with the themes I want to explore.

Legion 3

Legion 2 is out! Are you tired of me mentioning that yet? I’m sure that someday there will be a third adventure for Stephen and his aspects, but I don’t have an outline or plan yet.

The Lurker (now renamed Adamant)

I’ve finished a novella set in this science fiction world. For those who want more SF from me along the lines of my two novelettes, this should be coming someday. I don’t have time for revisions right now, but I plan to tinker with the story again next year sometime between Stormlight 3 drafts.

White Sand

The graphic novel adaptation of this Cosmere book is coming along very well. The first volume’s script adaptation is finished, and pencils for the first chapter are done. We should have pages to show you before too long. Expect a lot of talk about this on the blog come 2015.

Dragonsteel

Hoid’s backstory series is still going to be one of the last Cosmere sequences I do, so don’t expect this until Stormlight is completely done. (Both sets of five books.)


That’s the list of things people often ask me about. Unsurprisingly, I have other projects in the back of my mind. For example, I have two more Cosmere series that will need to be written before we can get to the third “big” Mistborn trilogy. (The sf one.) But that’s the long, long-term plan.

For now, my goal is to get Calamity and Stormlight 3 finished. As always, I appreciate all of the enthusiasm you show for this crazy thing that I have somehow managed to do with my life. Thank you for sharing my books with others, and for being willing to try the more unusual projects (like Legion) that I do.

I feel humbled to have a great crowd of fans who are willing to put up with my eccentricities as a writer—particularly my desire to not work on just one project, but to have an entire body of varying stories. You guys are awesome. May you have a happy holiday season, and do go munch some heads tomorrow in my name.

Brandon

p.s. If you aren’t on the newsletter mailing list, please consider signing up! In the summer, the newsletter included exclusive looks at some of the Stormlight 3 scenes I was working on. We plan to do more of this sort of thing in the future. As always, if you include your city, we’ll send you notifications when I’m going to be doing signings in the area.

18 Dec 21:26

Comstock Suspends Drilling In Eagle Ford Due To Plunging Oil Prices

by Tyler Durden

Shale 0 - Saudi Arabia 1

Following one after another major and shale company announcing plans to trim capex (even as they miraculously still get to keep their revenue and EPS projections intact, for now), the latest victory handed to Saudi Arabia on a silver platter comes courtesy of Comstock Resources (Total Debt/EBITDA 2.4x, EBITDA $421MM, CapEx $674MM) Comstock Resources said earlier today that in response to low oil prices, plans to suspend oil directed drilling activity in its Eagle Ford shale properties and in Tuscaloosa Marine shale.

It was not immediately clear how many high-paying oilfield jobs would be promptly terminated as a result of this unambiguously good development.

Full press release:

Comstock Resources, Inc. ("Comstock" or the "Company") (NYSE:CRK) announced that it has budgeted $307 million in 2015 for its drilling and completion activities.  In response to low oil prices, the Company plans to suspend its oil directed drilling activity in its Eagle Ford shale properties in South and East Texas and in the Tuscaloosa Marine shale in Mississippi.  Comstock has released its rig in the Tuscaloosa Marine shale and will postpone its drilling activity there until oil prices improve.  Comstock currently has four operated rigs drilling on its Eagle Ford shale properties.  The Company will release two of these rigs in early 2015 and will move the other two rigs to North Louisiana to start up a drilling program on its Haynesville shale natural gas properties. Comstock believes that improved completion technology, including longer laterals, will provide strong returns on drilling projects at current natural gas prices.

 

Comstock has budgeted to drill 19 (18.6 net) horizontal wells in 2015.  The Company expects to spend $161 million for drilling 14 (14.0 net) Haynesville/Bossier shale natural gas wells and $34 million for drilling five (4.6 net) wells on its East Texas and South Texas Eagle Ford shale acreage.  The 2015 budget includes $49 million for completion costs of 13 (11.9 net) Eagle Ford shale wells that were drilled in 2014 but will be completed in 2015 and $63 million on facilities, recompletions and for other capital projects.  Comstock plans to refrac ten of its existing Haynesville shale producing wells as part of the 2015 program.

 

Comstock estimates that the drilling program will generate Company-wide oil production of 3.5 to 3.9 million barrels in 2015 and natural gas production of 55 to 60 Bcf. 

The punchline:

After three years of natural gas production declines, 2015 will mark a turnaround for the Company's natural gas production.  The Company will continue to assess the oil and natural gas markets throughout 2015 and will adjust its drilling program to reflect the appropriate mix of oil and natural gas wells in order to maximize returns.

Good luck.

18 Dec 21:09

New York Bans Fracking Based on Fearful Uncertainties, Not Science

by Ronald Bailey

Andrew CuomoNew York Governor Andrew Cuomo has acquiesced to a ban of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale to produce natural gas in his state based on "uncertainties" concerning the possible effects of the activity on public health. Essentially, the New York Department of Health (DOH) report Cuomo cites defaulted to the precautionary principle:

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

Or as the report asserts: 

Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation....

...the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State.

What sort of "evidence" did the DOH rely on for its ban recommendation? For example, the DOH study cited two epidemiological studies that purported to find adverse effects on birth outcomes near fracked wells. One found infants born closer to fracked wells had lower birth weights, but no increase in congenital defects. The other found an increase in congenital defects, but not lower birth weights. The DOH then noted:

Taken together, the relationship between maternal proximity to HVHF well pads during pregnancy and birth outcomes, if any, is unclear.

Well, yes. The DOH also reviewed a number of studies dealing with possible exposures to air pollutants from fracking and basically could find none in which pollutants exceeded regulatory limits. The DOH of review of the effects of fracking on drinking water supplies uncovered no substantial evidence for increased concerns about human health from that source.

The basic strategy of the DOH review seems to be to cite a bunch of studies - most of which find no significant problems or are inconclusive at worst - and then declare that their non-findings are insufficient to calm the regulators fears. Or as the report notes:

The actual degree and extent of these environmental impacts, as well as the extent to which they might contribute to adverse public health impacts are largely unknown. Nevertheless, the existing studies raise substantial questions about whether the public health risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed.

Pure precautionary principle. A simpler formulation of the precautionary principle is: Never do anything for the first time. Basically, ignorance can be used as an excuse to stop anything of which one disapproves. 

18 Dec 15:38

Someone Is Lying

by Tyler Durden

Yesterday, moments before the North Korea "hacking" tragicomedy escalated into full retard mode with Sony pulling The Interview, or a movie that absent the attention would certainly be a flop, Wired released an article titled: "North Korea Almost Certainly Did Not Hack Sony" (title subsequently changed to the one below as can be seen in the URL alias "http://www.wired.com/2014/12/north-korea-did-not-hack-sony-probs"), which however, and for the better, retains its content as it is quite critical in debunking the latest government "certainty."

 

Continue reading here for the full story, because moments after the Wired piece hit, we got this "confirmation" from the NYT:

 

It is quite clear that someone is lying (we leave it up to readers to decide who). The question is "why"?

16 Dec 16:49

Making Everyone a Criminal

by admin

From Atlas Shrugged:

Dr. Ferris smiled. . . . . ."We've waited a long time to get something on you. You honest men are such a problem and such a headache. But we knew you'd slip sooner or later - and this is just what we wanted."

[Hank Reardon:]  "You seem to be pleased about it."

"Don't I have good reason to be?"

"But, after all, I did break one of your laws."

"Well, what do you think they're for?"

Dr. Ferris did not notice the sudden look on Rearden's face, the look of a man hit by the first vision of that which he had sought to see. Dr. Ferris was past the stage of seeing; he was intent upon delivering the last blows to an animal caught in a trap.

"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

Here is the same thing, Obama Administration style

Major U.S. corporations have broadly supported President Barack Obama's healthcare reform despite concerns over several of its elements, largely because it included provisions encouraging the wellness programs.

The programs aim to control healthcare costs by reducing smoking, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors that can lead to expensive illnesses. A bipartisan provision in the 2010 healthcare reform law allows employers to reward workers who participate and penalize those who don't.

But recent lawsuits filed by the administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging the programs at Honeywell International and two smaller companies, have thrown the future of that part of Obamacare into doubt.

The lawsuits infuriated some large employers so much that they are considering aligning themselves with Obama's opponents, according to people familiar with the executives' thinking.

"The fact that the EEOC sued is shocking to our members," said Maria Ghazal, vice-president and counsel at the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of more than 200 large U.S. corporations. "They don't understand why a plan in compliance with the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is the target of a lawsuit," she said. "This is a major issue to our members."

At the exact same moment, one branch of the Administration is encouraging an activity that another branch is working to criminalize.

07 Dec 12:29

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 118 of H.L. Mencken’s,  A Second Mencken Chrestomathy (1995); it’s reprinted from an article that Mencken wrote for the July 21st, 1935, edition of Manchester, England’s Sunday Chronicle:

The human race detests thrift as it detests intelligence.  The man who accumulates more than he needs and saves the surplus is disliked by all who either can’t or won’t follow his example, and that means the great majority of his fellow men.  He makes them ashamed of themselves and they resent it.

08 Dec 12:32

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 248 of Burton Folsom, Jr.’s 2008 volume, New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America:

Other nations recovered from the Great Depression more quickly than did the United States.  During the late 1930s, the League of Nations collected statistics from the United States and from many other nations on industrial recovery.  Much of that data supports [sic*] the idea that Roosevelt’s New Deal created economic uncertainty and was in fact uniquely unsuccessful as a recovery program.

Yep.  Robert Higgs has the details.  (See also here.)

* “Data” is plural, not singular.

07 Dec 16:59

Welcome to the American Republic, William Windsor

by David Boaz

David Boaz

The royals are coming, the royals are coming! In this case, the grandson of the Queen of England, along with his wife, who took a fairytale leap from commoner to duchess by marrying him. (Just imagine, Kate Middleton a duchess while Margaret Thatcher was only made a countess.) And once again Americans who have forgotten the American Revolution are telling us to bow and curtsy before them, and address them as “Your Royal Highness,” and stand when William enters the room.

So one more time: Americans don’t bow or curtsy to foreign monarchs. (If you don’t believe me, ask Miss Manners, repeatedly.)

This is a republic. We do not recognize distinctions among individuals based on class or birth. We are not subjects of the queen of the England, the emperor of Japan, the king of Swaziland, or the king of Saudi Arabia. Therefore we don’t bow or curtsy to foreign heads of state.

Prince William’s claim to such deference is that he is a 24th-generation descendant of William the Conqueror, who invaded England and subjugated its inhabitants. In Common Sense, one of the founding documents of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine commented on that claim:

Could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, that we should find the first [king] nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtility obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his depredations, over-awed the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions….

England, since the conquest, hath known some few good monarchs, but groaned beneath a much larger number of bad ones; yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very honorable one. A French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.—It certainly hath no divinity in it.

Citizens of the American republic don’t bow to monarchs, or their grandsons.

 

06 Dec 17:14

Some thoughts about Eric Garner’s death, over-criminalization, the regulatory superstate and the violence of the state

by Mark Perry

Here are what I think are three examples of especially insightful commentary about the death of Eric Garner, and what it teaches us about over-criminalization, government force, police brutality, the regulatory superstate, and the violence of the state (emphasis mine).

1. J.D. Tuccille writing on the Reason blog, “Eric Garner’s Murder Reveals the Ugly Core of Government and Law Enforcement“:

And also, let’s be clear, because when you unleash armies of thugs on the population to enforce every petty law, they’re soon going to acquire an attitude. Eventually, telling a cop, “Please just leave me alone,” as Eric Garner told the cops rousting him, becomes an unacceptable act of defiance. It’s interpreted as an invitation to swarm a man suspected of selling handfuls of untaxed cigarettes and wrestle him to the ground.

You want a society taxed and regulated toward your vision of perfection? It’s going to need enforcers. Those enforcers are going to interact on a daily basis with people who don’t share that vision of perfection, and who resent the constant enforcement attempts. They’ll push back to greater or lesser extents. And the enforcers will twist arms in return to frighten people into obedience. People will be abused and some will die.

Government, at its core, is force. The more it does to shape the world around it, the more it needs enforcers to make sure officials’ wills are done. “The law is the law,” says New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, but it’s creatures like him who make so much damned law. And then they send the likes of Officer Daniel Pantaleo to make sure we comply. Or else they might kill us.

2. Randy Soave also writing on the Reason blog “Listen Up, Liberals: Make Everything Illegal, Create More Eric Garners“:

Look, police brutality has many underlying causes. One of them is undoubtedly racism; black people are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned. Another cause is the police incentive structure. Police have far more legal protections than non-police. They can get away with so much more. It’s difficult—often impossible—to punish police for bad behavior, which gives the bad apples free rein to abuse people.

You know what’s also a cause? Over-criminalization. And that one is on you, supporters of the regulatory super state. When a million things are highly regulated or outright illegal—from cigarettes to sodas of a certain size, unlicensed lemonade stands, raw milk, alcohol (for teens), marijuana, food trucks, taxicab alternatives, and even fishing supplies (in schools)—the unrestrained, often racist police force has a million reasons to pick on people. Punitive cigarette taxes, which disproportionately fall on the backs of the poorest of the poor, contribute to police brutality in the exact same way that the war on drugs does. Liberals readily admit the latter; why is the former any different?

If you want all these things to be illegal, you must want—by the very definition of the word illegal—the police to force people not to have them. Government is a gang of thugs who are paid to push us around. It’s their job.

3. Jonah Goldberg writing for National Review Online:

When you pass a law, you authorize law enforcement to enforce it. That’s actually why they’re called “law enforcement.” New York City declared war on tobacco a long time ago, and in the process City Hall has become addicted to Brobdingnagian cigarette taxes. That’s why law enforcement is enforcing the laws against bootleg smokes.

Without laws making cigarettes more expensive, Eric Garner would be alive today, period.

In the war on tobacco, like the war on drugs, if politicians will the ends, they must will the means. This is something that libertarians understand better than everyone else: The state is about violence. You can talk all day about how “government is just another word for those things we do together,” but what makes government work is force, not hugs.

If you sell raw-milk cheese even after the state tells you to stop, eventually people with guns will show up at your home or office and arrest you. If you resist arrest, something very bad might happen. You might even die for selling bootleg cheese.

Everyone agrees: No one should die for selling bootleg cigarettes. But if you pass and enforce a law against such things, you increase the chances things might go wrong. That’s a fact, whether it sounds callous to delicate ears or not.

The post Some thoughts about Eric Garner’s death, over-criminalization, the regulatory superstate and the violence of the state appeared first on AEI.

05 Dec 03:36

Zenefits in Utah: A classic case of regulatory capture causing government to protect producers at the expense of the public interest

by Mark Perry

A recent ruling by the Utah Insurance Department to protect traditional brick-and-mortar insurance companies by banning online competition from innovative startup Zenefits provides a classic case study example of what Marc Andreessen described on Twitter as “regulatory capture causing government to penalize consumers for the benefit of incumbents.” Here are some background facts:

1. Zenefits offers a free, online HR platform for small businesses to manage payroll, hiring, and benefits like health insurance. Without any obligation, Zenefits also offers its users health insurance for a fee through its HR platform, and it has quickly become one of the fastest growing insurance brokers in the country.

2. Traditional health insurance brokers have complained to state regulators, arguing that Zenefits online platform is “unfair competition.” In three states – Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington – state insurance regulators have sensibly closed their investigations without taking action against Zenefits.

3. Unfortunately for small businesses in Utah, the state’s Insurance Department recently sided with the traditional insurance brokers against Zenefits. Utah’s insurance commissioner Todd E. Kiser (himself a former insurance broker with 25 years of experience) has issued a decision to shut down Zenefits in the state. In his ruling, Kiser cited the need to protect “fair competition,” and he argued that the “ease of using Zenefits” to purchase health insurance made it “unfair” to traditional insurance brokers.

In other words, it’s classic government-enforced protectionism that protects existing, incumbent high-cost industries from the competition of efficient, low-cost startup rivals. And it’s also a classic case of “regulatory capture” defined here as:

The process by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating. Regulatory capture happens when a regulatory agency, formed to act in the public’s interest, eventually acts in ways that benefit the industry it is supposed to be regulating, rather than the public.

See the response from Zenefits’ president here and a related report from Tech Crunch, here’s an excerpt:

It turns out the Utah insurance community doesn’t like competing with free, and the commission there is pushing back as a result. The letter from Kiser (embedded below) states that by providing free, up-front services to all, Zenefits is violating Utah inducement and rebating laws for those who choose to have it manage their insurance as well.

For violating those laws, the department claims Zenefits can be assessed a penalty of $5,000 per violation and twice the profit gained from those violations. But the penalty itself is a small amount compared to the change in its business model if the local insurance department were to have its way. To comply with state laws, the department is urging Zenefits to stop advertising that it offers free HR cloud management services. More importantly, however, the regulator argues Zenefits should have to charge a “fair market value” for its services to ensure fair competition with other insurance licensees in the state.

That’s not something Zenefits wants to do, of course, and the company says it will fight the department’s ruling in the courts to ensure it isn’t shut down in the meantime. Zenefits is also urging Utah Governor Gary Herbert to intervene as part of his commitment to support tech innovation in the state.

This is a perfect opportunity to invoke the timeless wisdom of French economist Frederic Bastiat, who wrote this in 1850 four days before his death:

Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race.

Regrettably, Utah Insurance Commissioner Kiser has ruled against the interests of the human race and the citizens and businesses of Utah in favor of an entrenched special interest group, to the great overall detriment of his state. Hopefully, Governor Herbert will side with the public interest and with Bastiat.

The post Zenefits in Utah: A classic case of regulatory capture causing government to protect producers at the expense of the public interest appeared first on AEI.

05 Dec 00:30

How To Get Elected In America (In 1 Cartoon)

by Tyler Durden

Divide & Conquer...

 

 

Source: Investors

04 Dec 15:15

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 229 of Michael Huemer’s 2013 book, The Problem of Political Authority (original emphasis):

Predatory behavior does not occur merely because human beings are selfish.  It occurs because human beings are selfish and some human beings are much more powerful than others.  Powerful, selfish people use their positions to exploit and abuse those much weaker than themselves.  The standard solutions to the problem of human predation all start by cementing the very condition most likely to cause predatory behavior – the concentration of power – and only then do they try to steer away from its natural consequences.  The alternative is to begin with an extreme decentralization of coercive power.

Of course, this alternative is ridiculed as ‘unrealistic’ by those who wield coercive power, as ‘unscientific’ by those who fancy themselves to be the intellectual sherpas of those who wield coercive power, and as ‘unfeeling’ by those naïve enough to believe the false promises to work for the public welfare typically issued by those who wield coercive power.

03 Dec 21:12

S&P 500 ties 1929 with 48 record closing highs...


S&P 500 ties 1929 with 48 record closing highs...


(Second column, 11th story, link)

03 Dec 16:06

Government regulation vs. the market

by Russ Roberts
(Russ Roberts)

Here is everything wrong with government regulation captured in a single story of how Nevada handles cab service from the airport. Amazing. Do not miss it. (HT: https://twitter.com/webbmedia)

02 Dec 09:16

No Joke: China's Broadcasting Authority Bans Puns And Wordplay

by Glyn Moody
Techdirt has often reported on the Chinese authorities' overt attempts to control the flow of information in the country, but this latest example in the Guardian seems to show a rather different approach:
The State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: "Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms."

Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms -- and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said.

"Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values," it added.
That last comment is rather ironic, because as David Moser, academic director for CET Chinese studies at Beijing Capital Normal University, is quoted by the Guardian as saying, wordplay too is an important part of Chinese heritage. So banning it seems as likely to damage Chinese culture as to protect it. The article gives an example of what the new regulation wants to stamp out:
Replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned “brook no delay” into “coughing must not linger” for a medicine advert.
If this move were merely about stopping such harmless wordplay in broadcasts, it would be of little significance -- it's hard to imagine the Chinese authorities coming down hard on someone who makes a pun in this way. But the Guardian reports Moser's guess as to what's really going on here:
"I wonder if this is not a preemptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient."
That makes a lot of sense. Repeated crackdowns on Chinese blogs and social media have seen postings on "forbidden" topics erased almost as quickly as they appear. In response, the Chinese have developed a subtle and witty metaphorical approach, whereby the forbidden topics are replaced by apparently innocuous terms. One of the best examples of this is the "empty chair" meme, explained here by China Digital Times:
Writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power" on December 25, 2009, was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Unable to attend the award ceremony in Oslo, the laureate was represented by his empty seat. Shortly thereafter, the term "empty chair" became a sensitive word in Chinese cyberspace.

Some bloggers who used the term "empty chair" in their posts had their accounts blocked, while others who participated in a campaign to post images of empty chairs saw their posts censored. Some accounts were deleted simply for posting the image.
As that shows, even using the phrase "empty chair" could get people into trouble. But for a while, this oblique reference provided a way for people in the Chinese online community to discuss extremely sensitive topics, and this trick is used quite widely to circumvent censorship. The new restrictions on puns and wordplay would give the Chinese authorities yet another way to clamp down on this technique, while claiming that they were simply enforcing a law about language purity.

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02 Dec 13:40

Carbon Dioxide Enrichment of Peach Trees: How Sweet It Is!

by Craig D. Idso

Craig D. Idso

In our all-too-politically-correct world, carbon dioxide (CO2) frequently gets a bad rap, demonized for its potential and unverified effects on climate. However, if the truth be told, carbon dioxide is a magnificent molecule, essential to nearly all life on Earth. It is the primary raw material from which plants construct their tissues and grow during the process of photosynthesis. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, therefore, that plants perform this essential function ever better as atmospheric CO2 levels climb ever higher, a fact demonstrated in literally thousands of laboratory and field studies (see, for example, the Plant Growth Database of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change). And because plants are the ultimate food source for animals and humans, we are all indebted to CO2 for its role in sustaining and promoting the growth of plants everywhere.

But there are other benefits to atmospheric CO2 enrichment beyond enhancing plant growth, as illustrated in the recent study of Xi et al. (2014). Publishing in the professional journal Food Chemistry, the six-member team of Chinese horticultural and food scientists “investigated the effectiveness of CO2 enrichment for improving fruit flavor and customer acceptance of greenhouse-grown peaches.” 

The rationale for their study stems from the fact that peaches are widely cultivated in greenhouses throughout northern China. Under such controlled conditions, the trees are afforded protection from the natural environment, including damaging low temperatures and high winds. But this protection does not come without a price—plant photosynthesis can cause CO2 levels inside closed greenhouses to decrease during daylight hours to values below 200 parts per million, which values are half or less than half the CO2 concentration of normal outside air. As a result, Xi et al. state these “low CO2 levels may be a limiting factor for the productivity of fruit trees cultivated in greenhouses,” and they may negatively impact the “development of fruit flavor quality” and aroma, which is not good for those in the peach growing business! Thus, the six scientists set out to explore how enriching greenhouse air with CO2 might mitigate these potential problems.

For their experimental design, Xi et al. (2014) divided a greenhouse into two parts using a hermetic barrier wall, supplying one side with CO2-enriched air and the other with ambient air to be used as the control. The enriched side of the greenhouse was maintained at an atmospheric CO2 value of 360 ppm (approximately twice that of the control) from 12:00 to 16:00 each day during the main CO2 shortage period, while “fruit sugar, organic acids, volatile contents and consumer acceptability were investigated, focusing on the period of postharvest ripening.”

With respect to their findings, the Chinese researchers report that net photosynthesis was significantly increased in the trees growing in the CO2-enchanced portion of the greenhouse despite their receiving only a mere 4 hours of CO2 enrichment per day above those growing in the ambient or control portion of the structure. Elevated CO2 also improved fruit flavor and aroma, significantly increasing dominant sugar levels (sucrose and fructose), fruity aroma compounds (lactones), and floral scent compounds (norisoprenoids), while decreasing compounds that contribute to fruit sourness and undesirable aroma volatiles (Table 1). 

Table1. Percent difference of various peach fruit compounds from trees grown in CO2 enriched air, relative to trees grown in ambient air, as measured in fruit picked on the day of harvest and five days after harvest.  Data derived from Table 1 of Xi et al. (2014).

Table1. Percent difference of various peach fruit compounds from trees grown in CO2 enriched air, relative to trees grown in ambient air, as measured in fruit picked on the day of harvest and five days after harvest. Data derived from Table 1 of Xi et al. (2014).

As a result of their findings, the authors conclude that “CO2 enrichment can significantly improve the flavor quality of ‘Zaolupantao’ peach fruits grown in greenhouse and their consumer acceptance.” And if it can do that from a mere four hours of CO2 enrichment per day in a greenhouse, imagine what 24 hours of enrichment might promise for other fruiting plants growing out-of-doors, in natural environments, under present-day global atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 400 ppm and above? Hinting at the possibilities, Xi et al. cite the work of researchers studying other fruits, where similar CO2 benefits have been reported for tomato (Shahidul Islam et al., 1996; Zhang et al., 2014), strawberry (Wang and Bunce, 2004; Sun et al., 2012), and grapes (Bindi et al., 2001).

Yes, truth be told, atmospheric CO2 is a magnificent molecule, and those who continue to demonize it based on potential and unproven climatic effects, should wake up and smell the peaches—or they should at least eat one and taste how sweet its biological benefits can be!


References

Bindi, M., Fibbi, L. and Miglietta, F. 2001. Free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) of grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.): II. Growth and quality of grape and wine in response to elevated CO2 concentrations. European Journal of Agronomy 14: 145–155.

Shahidul Islam, M., Matsui, T. and Yoshida, Y. 1996. Effect of carbon dioxide enrichment on physico-chemical and enzymatic changes in tomato fruits at various stages of maturity. Scientia Horticulturae 65: 137–149.

Sun, P., Mantri, N., Lou, H., Hu, Y., Sun, D., Zhu, Y., Dong, T. and Lu, H. 2012. Effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on yield and fruit quality of strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa Duch.) at two levels of nitrogen application. PLoS ONE e41000.

Wang, S. Y. and Bunce, J. A. 2004. Elevated carbon dioxide affects fruit flavor in field-grown

strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa Duch). Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 84: 1464–1468.

Xi, W., Zhang, Q., Lu, X., Wei, C., Yu, S. and Zhou, Z. 2014. Improvement of flavor quality and consumer acceptance during postharvest ripening in greenhouse peaches by carbon dioxide enrichment. Food Chemistry 164: 219-227.

Zhang, Z.M., Liu, L.H., Zhang, M., Zhang, Y.S. and Wang, Q.M. 2014. Effect of carbon dioxide enrichment on health-promoting compounds and organoleptic properties of tomato fruits grown in greenhouse. Food Chemistry 153: 157-163.

02 Dec 14:20

Google's Search "Monopoly"

by Simon Lester

Simon Lester

Last week, while we Americans were “unbundling” the various parts of our turkeys, the European Parliament was talking about unbundling Google’s various features:

Members of the European parliament voted overwhelmingly on a measure aimed at keeping companies, such as Google, from dominating the search engine market.

The motion “calls on the [European] Commission to consider proposals with the aim of unbundling search engines from other commercial services as one potential long-term solution” to ensure fair competition.

While the vote was largely symbolic, its outcome could put EU anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager under pressure to pursue complaints against Google, which critics say squeezes out its competitors using unfair advantages.

The Economist weighed in with a bit of criticism:

The European Parliament’s Googlephobia looks a mask for two concerns, one worthier than the other. The lamentable one, which American politicians pointed out this week, is a desire to protect European companies. Among the loudest voices lobbying against Google are Axel Springer and Hubert Burda Media, two German media giants. Instead of attacking successful American companies, Europe’s leaders should ask themselves why their continent has not produced a Google or a Facebook. Opening up the EU’s digital services market would do more to create one than protecting local incumbents.

The good reason for worrying about the internet giants is privacy. It is right to limit the ability of Google and Facebook to use personal data: their services should, for instance, come with default settings guarding privacy, so companies gathering personal information have to ask consumers to opt in. Europe’s politicians have shown more interest in this than American ones. But to address these concerns, they should regulate companies’ behaviour, not their market power. Some clearer thinking by European politicians would benefit the continent’s citizens.

Building on these points, I’d go even further.  It seems to me there is pretty clear demand for a privacy-focused internet company.  But I don’t see why governments need to get involved here.  Instead, companies – European ones, and others, too – just need to recognize this demand, and jump into the market with some competing products.  There are fewer barriers to entry in this market than most other markets; someone just needs to be willing to take a risk.

24 Nov 19:29

Government Supply-Side Health Care Restrictions that Raise Costs

by admin

One of the least reported issues related to health care cost inflation is the existence of artificial government restrictions on health care supply, often called "certificates of need".

The COPN [certificate of public need] law is supply-side Obamacare: top-down, command-and-control restrictions on which providers can offer which services. A certificate of public need is, essentially, a government permission slip. Without one, a Virginia doctor can’t put an MRI machine in his clinic. A hospital can’t build a new wing. A hospital company can’t add a satellite campus. And so on.

Getting such permission slips is a long and costly process. The owner of a Northern Virginia radiology practice, for example, spent five years and $175,000 asking permission to buy a new MRI machine. The state said no.

One reason the process takes so long is that competitors often fight such requests. When Bon Secours proposed the St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield, rival chain HCA fought it vigorously, arguing there was insufficient demand. The hospital was approved and enjoys a robust business. You’d think state regulators would laugh off competitors’ arguments, but sometimes they’re actually taken seriously. When a Richmond radiology practice wanted to move—not add, but move—a radiation device to its Hanover offices, the state said no in part because Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center worried the project “could take some of their business.”

This is cronyism and protection of incumbent competitors, pure and simple.  It is often justified by the economically-ignorant as reducing costs because it reduces expenditures on expensive machinery.  But in what industry can you think of does restricting supply ever reduce costs?

In any other industry, the proper response to that would be: So what? If Kroger sets up across the street from Food Lion, we consider that good for consumers: They have more choice. And if they migrate from Food Lion to Kroger, that’s not a bad thing. It means they’re getting more utility for their grocery dollar.

Studies of the COPN system around the country have confirmed what seems intuitively obvious. A joint examination by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission found that COPN regulations hurt competition, fail to contain costs, and “can actually lead to price increases.” Restricting supply raises prices? Imagine that.

17 Nov 20:19

Government Shutdown Theater: Republicans Should Not Surrender to Obama's Blackmail

by Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell

Notwithstanding the landslide rejection of Obama and his policies in the mid-term election, I don’t think this will produce big changes in policy over the next two years.

Simply stated, supporters of limited government do not have the votes to override presidential vetoes, so there’s no plausible strategy for achieving meaningful tax reform or genuine entitlement reform.

But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be important fiscal policy battles. I’m especially worried about whether we can hold on to the modest fiscal restraint (and sequester enforcement) we achieved as part of the 2011 debt limit fight.

Part of that victory was already negotiated away as part of the Ryan-Murray budget deal, to be sure, but there are still remaining budget caps that limit how fast politicians can increase so-called discretionary spending.

According to the Congressional Research Service, budget authority for defense is allowed to rise from $552 billion in 2014 to $644 billion in 2021. And budget authority for domestic programs is allowed to climb from $506 billion to $590 billion over the same period.

I think that’s too much spending, but the interest groups, lobbyists, cronyists, politicians, bureaucrats, and other insiders in Washington would like much bigger increases. And you won’t be surprised to learn that the Obama Administration also wants to bust the spending caps.

This is why I’m very worried that some Republicans are undercutting their negotiating position by saying that there will be no government shutdowns.

Let me explain how these issues are connected. At some point next year, Republicans on Capitol Hill will be responsible for putting together spending bills for the following fiscal year. They presumably (or am I being too optimistic?) will put together budget bills that comply with the existing spending caps.

Obama will then say he will veto such legislation and demand that Republicans unilaterally surrender by enacting bigger spending increases and also gutting sequestration. The GOP will then have two options:

A) they can surrender.

B) they can continue to send the President spending bills that comply with the law.

But if they go with option B and the President uses his veto pen, then the government shuts down. And even though the shutdown only occurs because the President wants to renege on the deal he signed in 2011, Republicans are afraid they’ll get blamed.

The Washington Post reports on this fearful attitude, citing the anti-shutdown perspective of the incoming Senate Majority Leader.

A day after he won reelection and Republicans retook the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) left no doubt… “Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns…,” McConnell said in a valedictory news conference in Louisville.

But that view irks some lawmakers who worry Obama will then have a blank check.

The first battle may revolve around immigration, but - as noted above - I’m more focused on fiscal fights.

But McConnell could be tripped up by the same conservative forces that have undercut Boehner since he became speaker in 2011. The issue this time is Obama’s expected executive action to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. …conservatives…have urged McConnell and Boehner to fight back by allowing only a short-term budget bill that would keep government agencies open until early next year. These conservatives believe that once Republicans hold both chambers of Congress next year, they can force Obama to accept a budget bill that would prohibit him from implementing his executive order on immigration.

At this point in the article, the reporter, Paul Kane, engages in some anti-factual editorializing.

…the days of brinkmanship could return with a vengeance, and the government could once again be shut down. That could provide a devastating blow to Republicans, hurting their chance to win back the White House and hold on to their relatively slim Senate majority in 2016.

Huh?!? Republicans just won a landslide, so why are we supposed to believe last year’s shutdown was “a devastating blow”?

Mr. Kane also refers to a shutdown later in the article as a “fiscal calamity” even though he shows no evidence (because there wasn’t any) that government shutdowns cause any damage.

But there is at least one person who is convinced by this narrative. And that person, Senator McConnell, is preemptively trying to convince other GOP Senators to give Obama the upper hand in any fiscal negotiations.

McConnell’s advisers are worried enough that by Friday evening they were circulating a memo showing how damaging last year’s shutdown was to the Republican Party — an effort designed to counter conservatives who point to this month’s triumphant election as proof that the shutdown did little damage. …The memo showed that in Gallup polling from late 2012 until this month, …Republicans held steady just a couple of points lower through 2012 and most of 2013 — until the 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October 2013. In just a few weeks, the McConnell chart shows, Republican favorability plummeted 10 points. It has taken a year for it to climb back to where it was before the shutdown.

But who cares about “favorability” ratings. The poll that should really matter to Republicans is the one that takes place on election day.

And that seemed to be good news for the GOP.

Here’s some of what I wrote in my post about lessons that could be learned from the 2014 elections.

Back in 2011, I explained that Republicans could play hard ball, largely based on what really happened during the 1995 government shutdown. And in 2013, I again defended a shutdown, pointing out that voters probably wouldn’t even notice that some government offices were closed, but they would remember that the GOP was branding itself as the anti-Obamacare party. The establishment, by contrast, thought the shutdown was a disaster for Republicans. …many…Republicans felt the same way, excoriating Senator Cruz and others who wanted a line-in-the-sand fight over government-run healthcare. The moral of the story isn’t that shutdowns necessarily are politically desirable, but rather that it’s very important for a political party to find visible ways of linking itself to popular causes (such as ending Obamacare, fighting big government, etc).

At least one person agrees with me. Jeffrey Lord, writing for the American Spectator, points out the GOP establishment was wrong about the political impact of the 2013 government shutdown.

The whole event was giving prominent Republicans in and out of office the political willies. …Republican senators, congressmen, governors, ex-office holders, potential presidential candidates, lobbyists and pundits…were spreading the word. That word? …it was some version of curtains for the GOP. The party would be toast. …they all got it wrong. Not just wrong, but Big Time Wrong. A week ago the Republican Party — barely a year away from the government shut down these folks were bewailing in various terms as bad strategy that “will lose more” for Republicans than Democrats — won a blowout election. …Will Republicans learn anything here?Do you think Mitch McConnell makes the connection between the government shutdown of 2013 and the fact that he is about to become Senate Majority Leader?

To be fair, we don’t know what would have happened if there wasn’t a shutdown in 2013, so maybe the GOP still would have taken the Senate.

But there’s also no doubt that the GOP benefited by having a big public fight about Obamacare. Voters didn’t remember the shutdown, but they did remember that Republicans were against the President’s government-run healthcare scheme and they remembered that Democrats were for it.

I have no idea whether that made a difference in one Senate race of six Senate races, but Obamacare clearly was an albatross for Democrats.

In closing, I want to point out that there are limits to a shutdown strategy.

Picking a fight (or, more accurately, refusing to surrender to Obama) in 2015 is almost surely a winning strategy. But having the same fight in October of 2016 probably wouldn’t be very smart, particularly since the establishment press would do everything possible to spin the fight in ways that advance Hillary Clinton (or some other left-leaning presidential nominee).

In other words, context matters. Pick the right fight.

But the bottom line is that Republicans - assuming they don’t intend to acquiesce on every single issue - must be prepared to let Obama veto spending bills and shut down the government.

Returning to the American Spectator story, Ted Cruz may not be very popular with some of his colleagues, but I think he made an unassailable point about what happens if the GOP unilaterally disarms.

Cruz…asked them for their alternative. Cruz paused, then said that the response he got was “the sound of crickets chirping.”

P.S. One reason why Republicans are skittish about shutdowns is that they think they last the 1995 fight with Bill Clinton. But if you lived through that battle (or if you look at contemporaneous news reports), it’s clear the Republicans had the upper hand.

P.P.S. Here are the five lessons I shared immediately after the 2013 shutdown fight.

P.P.P.S. If you want to enjoy some shutdown humor, click hereherehere, and here. And if you prefer sequester cartoons, click here, here, here, here, here, and (my favorite) here.

16 Nov 10:34

James Grant on The Forgotten Depression

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

At lunchtime on Tuesday, Jim Grant will speak at the Cato Institute headquarters about his new book, The Forgotten Depression.  If you’re in the DC metro area, do consider attending.  I’ll be there.  Here’s the announcement:

Featuring the author James Grant, Publisher, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer; with comments by Jim Powell, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute; and Lawrence H. White, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and Senior Fellow, Cato Institute; moderated by George Selgin, Director, Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, Cato Institute.

What happens if you throw a depression and nobody from the government shows up? No Quantitative Easers or fiscal stimulators or financial-firm rescuers? And what would happen if, instead of lowering interest rates and spending more to spur recovery, the government did nothing? The answer, in 1921 at least, is that the economy not only recovers but is “roaring” in less than two years. Was “The Crash that Cured Itself,” as the subtitle of James Grant’s fascinating new book refers to it, a fluke, or does it offer useful lessons for today’s erstwhile depression fighters?Join us to hear James Grant, Jim Powell, and Lawrence H. White discuss this and other important questions raised by Grant’s stimulating new book.

If you can’t make it to the Cato Institute, watch this event live online at www.cato.org/live and follow @CatoEvents on Twitter to get future event updates, live streams, and videos from the Cato Institute.

20 Nov 12:46

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from pages 428 of H.L. Mencken’s indispensable 1949 collection, A Mencken Chrestomathy; specifically, it’s the final paragraph of Mencken’s spectacularly good May 27, 1935, essay in the Baltimore Evening Sun entitled “The New Deal”:

Of such sort are the young wizards who now sweat to save the plain people from the degradations of capitalism, which is to say, from the degradations of working hard, saving their money, and paying their way.  This is what the New Deal and its Planned Economy come to in practice – a series of furious and irrational raids upon the taxpayer, planned casually by professional do-gooders lolling in smoking cars, and executed by professional politicians bent only upon building up an irresistible machine.  This is the Führer’s inspired substitute for constitutional government and common sense.

20 Nov 19:10

Environmentalists Break the Establishment Clause

by admin

Skeptics like myself often see parallels between environmentalism (as practiced by many people) and religion.  Now, they are going one step further to actually establish a state church:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made national news last year when he fought to pass and signed a tax bill that levied a tax on Marylanders, businesses and churches for the amount of “impervious surface” they have on their property.

Though the O’Malley administration calls it a “fee,” it is commonly called the “rain tax” throughout the state. It is wildly unpopular and the promise to fight to repeal the tax was a large factor in Maryland electing Republican Larry Hogan governor this month.

Now Prince George’s County is offering a way for churches to avoid paying the tax, which is estimated to be an average of $744 per year for them — preach “green” to their parishioners.

So far 30 pastors have agreed to begin “‘green’ ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations” to avoid being hit with the tax, The Washington Post reports.

20 Nov 07:00

Uber Gets the Buzzfeed Treatment

Recently a dipshit editor named Ben Smith over at Buzzfeed ambushed Uber executive Emil Michael by taking out of context something Michael said at a private dinner and publishing it under a misleading headline.

It was such a clever ambush that Emil Michael couldn't hope to explain himself without inflaming things further. So he wisely issued a half-assed non-apology-sort-of-apology to make it all go away.

But he's stained. That stuff lives forever on the Internet. It was a total hit job and Buzzfeed pulled it off. As Buzzfeed's own article explains, they have a grudge with Uber over some privacy issues. I assume this was either payback or a . . . coincidence?

If only there was some independent observer of this outrage who once cared what the public thought of him but no longer does. Perhaps that person could say some of the things that I imagine Emil Michael wants to say but can't. And what if that independent observer woke up in a bad mood? How fun might that be?

Well, it's your lucky day.

Let's start with Buzzfeed's totally manipulative and misleading headline:

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists

Holy shit! Uber must be evil! They are trying to suppress freedom of the media!

Except. . . that isn't what happened, according to Buzzfeed's own reporting in the article with the misleading headline.

Michael didn't "suggest" doing anything. Nor did he - then or now - even want to dig up dirt on journalists. Assuming Buzzfeed's reporting of the details is accurate, all he did was make a dinner party intellectual comparison between the evil of the media that was unfairly attacking them (which I assume is true) and their own civilized response to the attacks.

Michael's point, as Buzzfeed reports it, was that horrible people in the media mislead readers and there is nothing a victim can do about it within the realm of reasonable business practices. The Buzzfeed business model is totally legal. But, as Michael explained, probably over a cocktail, the only legal solution to this problem would be to use freedom of the press to push back on the bad actors by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

But it was just private cocktail talk. It wasn't a plan. It definitely wasn't a "suggestion." It was just an interesting way to make a point. The point, as I understand it from Buzzfeed's own reporting, is that Uber DOES play fair in a fight in which the opponents (bad actors in the press) do not. I find that interesting. It is also literally the opposite of what the headline of the story "suggests" happened.

And Michael made his point in a room full of writers/media people. Obviously it wasn't a plan.

It's not as if Michael was talking about manipulating the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Those publications might get some facts wrong now and then, but they don't have a business model that involves intentionally taking things out of context to manufacture news. No one suggested trying to strong-arm the legitimate media. Michael was talking about the bottom-feeder types that literally manufacture news, hurt innocent people, damage the reputation of companies, and hide behind the Constitution and freedom of speech. You can't compare the bad actors in the press with the legitimate press. And in my opinion it makes interesting dinner conversation to speculate how one can stop the bad actors without breaking any laws.

And then Buzzfeed proved Michael's point by taking his words out of context and showing that Michael could do nothing about it but apologize for . . . Buzzfeed's misleading description of what he said.

That's called "news."

[Update: A commenter points out that this ugly situation is even uglier than I thought. An executive at Buzzfeed is in investor in Uber's competition. See this take on it.]

Disclaimer and biases
: I don't own any Uber stock. I had lunch with the founder once.

------------------------------------------------------
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com     
Author of this book 

Twitter Dilbert: @Dilbert_Daily

Twitter for Scott: @ScottAdamsSays

 

 

20 Nov 12:08

Tennessee Drug Interdiction Officers Stomp All Over Traveling Couples' Rights En Route To Seizing Nothing At All

by Tim Cushing
More asset forfeiture to report on, albeit of the rarely-reported "attempted robbery forfeiture" variety. (via Overlawyered)

A couple (Lisa and Ronnie Hankins) traveling through Tennessee on their way home (to California) from a funeral was stopped by Tennessee drug interdiction agents as they traveled west on I-40 out of Nashville. What followed was a long fishing expedition, during which officers separated husband and wife in hopes of getting permission to search their vehicle without a warrant.
"You say there's not anything illegal in it. Do you mind if I search it today to make sure?" the officer asked.

Lisa responded, "I'd have to talk to my husband."

[...]

The agent continued, "I am asking you for permission to search your vehicle today -- and you are well within your rights to say no and you can say yes. It's totally up to you as to whether you want to show cooperation or not."

[...]

"You have to either give me a yes or no," he continued. "I do need an answer so I can figure out whether I need a dog to go around it or not."
Because the agent was unable to obtain consent from the couple, he decided to ask a dog. A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to examine the vehicle and, go figure, it alerted near the driver's side window (after ignoring the open passenger's side window). Finally having obtained "permission" for a warrantless search, the two agents went to work. An hour later -- and having disassembled the dashboard of the couple's new car -- they were unable to recover anything incriminating. But hey, no one's rights were violated because the drug dog told officers the car contained drugs, even though it didn't.

It also didn't contain any cash, which one agent told the Ronnie Hankins was far more likely to be hidden somewhere in the vehicle.
[W]hen Ronnie insisted there were no drugs, the agent confided he wasn't really expecting any.

"Well, I'll be honest with you, with you going this direction, I wouldn't think you'd have drugs in the car -- you would have a large amount of money," he said.
Apparently, drug interdiction agents are far less interested in stopping the flow of drugs than they are in intercepting outgoing cash. Otherwise, as Nashville's News 5 (which has been investigating the state's out-of-control asset forfeiture program for years) points out, it wouldn't be performing a majority of its stops on roads leading out of the state.
While drugs generally come from Mexico on the eastbound side of Interstate 40 and the drug money goes back on the westbound side, the investigation discovered police making 10 times as many stops on the so-called "money side."
The frustrated officers finally let the Hankins go, but not before making a last-ditch effort to redeem their futile efforts. The police report claims the interdiction agents found "marijuana debris" or "shake" on the floorboards of the vehicle. The Hankins claim the only thing on the floorboards was grass from the cemetery where Ronnie Hankins' grandfather was buried. Whether it was "grass" or grass, neither of the Hankins were charged or cited.

Tennessee's asset forfeiture laws are far worse than those in many states. 100% of the proceeds of any seizures go to the department that performed it. Legislative attempts to overhaul these laws have been mostly fruitless. A bill introduced in early 2013 aimed to eliminate this abuse by making seizures contingent on convictions. By the time the House and Senate had amended the bill, the only net gain was the prohibition of ex parte hearings. If Tennesee interdiction officers seize your money or other property, they now (the law went into effect at the beginning of this year) have to give you a date when you can show up and defend "forfeited" property from the accusations of law enforcement -- something of limited utility considering these officers tend to prey on drivers with out-of-state plates. Depending on what has been seized, it may be cheaper to allow the state to claim its ill-gotten goods rather than spending even more money to participate in a largely ceremonial process that often results in the state paying out only pennies on the dollar.

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14 Nov 02:16

And The Nation That Increased Prosperity The Most In The Last 5 Years Is...

by Tyler Durden

...Rwanda.

 

 

And the biggest collapse in prosperity since 2009 has occurred in Greece - stunningly outpacing war torn, sanctioned Syria to the downside.

 

Source: Prosperity.com