Category: Technology and Regulation

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, December 26, 2013

utopiaShannon Love reminds us that what great-great-grandparents would consider utopia is what we consider modern life:

Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.

Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.

How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.

Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.

I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.

Read more . . .

ENERGY COMPANIES DRILL FOR OIL IN THE NIOBRARA FORMATION IN NORTHEASTERN COLORADOThere is much nostalgia about America’s agricultural past that many seem incapable of releasing. But the reality is forcing a new narrative about the family farm. In an era of globalization and government subsidizing large agribusinesses, family farmers have no choice in the near future but to diversify the use of their land and do something that is actually profitable. In the light of these realities, family farming is slowly becoming more of a hobby than a means of making a serious contribution to the U.S. food supply. The farmland owned by families in the past must continue to be developed for new and better uses if families want to still remain connected to that land.

For example, the New York Times today reports on the growing trend of North Dakota farms opening their land to oil drilling in order to remain viable. John Eligon reports that North Dakota family farmers, Mike and Kim Sorenson, receive royalties from oil that is produced on their land and from allowing drilling, which accounts for about 10 percent of their income. In fact, North Dakota has slowly become the second-largest oil producing state in the country and helped the state build a surplus of more than $1.6 billion. With this growing industry comes all of the ancillary markets needed to maintain oil production like waste management. North Dakota farmers with land that is drilled for oil are now wrestling with the realities that oil production requires a management infrastructure that will forever change the landscape.
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healthcare.gov-crash-1As everyone from political pundits to late-night talk show hosts have pointed out, HealthCare.gov, the flagship technology portion of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), went live a couple of weeks ago — and was a complete failure.

A very, very expensive failure.

Andrew Couts points out that taxpayers “seem to have forked up more than $500 million of the federal purse to build the digital equivalent of a rock.”

Clouts puts that figure in perspective by comparing it to other websites:

Facebook, which received its first investment in June 2004, operated for a full six years before surpassing the $500 million mark in June 2010. Twitter, created in 2006, managed to get by with only $360.17 million in total funding until a $400 million boost in 2011. Instagram ginned up just $57.5 million in funding before Facebook bought it for (a staggering) $1 billion last year. And LinkedIn and Spotify, meanwhile, have only raised, respectively, $200 million and $288 million.

Why did the government spend a half-billion on the equivalent of a 404-page? Because of crony capitalism. Mike Masnick lists the political cronies who were hired to build the site despite having a “long history of screwed up giant IT projects”:
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, August 23, 2013

bait-switch-jpg_004208When a business advertises a particular product in a particular way but secretly delivers something different, it’s considered fraud. When a government agency advertises a particular product in a particular way but secretly delivers something different, it’s considered . . . what, a necessary evil?

Huffington Post’s Jason Cherkis spent two days at the Kentucky State Fair with workers from Kynect, the state’s health marketplace.

A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare.

The man is impressed. “This beats Obamacare I hope,” he mutters to one of the workers.

“Do I burst his bubble?” wonders Reina Diaz-Dempsey, overseeing the operation. She doesn’t. If he signs up, it’s a win-win, whether he knows he’s been ensnared by Obamacare or not.

Sarah Kliff, who approves(?) of this bait-and-switch, adds:

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umcWhen the Obamacare legislation was rushed through Congress in 2010, Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the Council of Bishops for The United Methodist Church (UMC), said he “rejoiced” at the passage of the bill because it aligns with the denomination’s values. But now, many Methodists bishops — and other Christian clergy — are wishing they hadn’t waited for the bill to pass to find out what was in it.

According to a statement released by the UMC’s General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, clergy and lay employees of United Methodist churches may soon lose their health care coverage due to some coming Obamacare provisions:

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h-armstrong-roberts-1930s-magician-hands-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hatPulling a rabbit out of a hat is a classic magic trick. But if a magician wants to do it nowadays he also needs to be able to pull out a license for the hare and a USDA-approved “rabbit disaster plan” that details how the bunny will hop to safety in case of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, flood, or sharknado. Or even if the air conditioning goes out.

This Kafkaesque regulatory requirement started over forty years ago — with a dog named Pepper.

In 1965, Pepper disappeared from the yard of her home. Shortly after the disappearance, the owner recognized his missing dog in a picture taken of an animal dealer’s overcrowded truck featured in a local newspaper. The owner’s wife, children, and even his congressman tried to locate and retrieve the dog but were denied entrance to the “dog farm.” Unfortunately, the family never got the dog back: Pepper had been euthanized in an experimental procedure at a New York hospital. The incident led the congressman to introduce H.R. 9743, a bill that would require dog and cat dealers, and the laboratories that purchased the animals, be licensed and inspected by the USDA.

According to the USDA, the 1966 law, which was primarily concerned with dogs and cats, was restrictive in regards to its coverage of the types of animals and regulated facilities. Research facilities only had to register if they received government funding and the dogs or cats had to have crossed state lines. But as David A. Fahrenthold notes, “the letter of the law was broad. In theory, it could apply to someone who “exhibited” any animals as part of a show.” And indeed it does:

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screen-shot-2013-07-02-at-5-02-09-pmBoth the working poor and small businesses got some welcome, albeit temporary, news yesterday: the Treasury Department announced it is delaying what’s called the “employer mandate” under the Affordable Care Act until January of 2015.

That mandate requires companies with more than 50 full-time employees to offer health insurance or pay a $2,000 penalty. Most businesses with more than 50 employees already offer insurance, but smaller companies and startups often cannot afford the cost.

Even some supporters of Obamacare admit this mandate was a bad idea. As the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein says, “it creates an incentive against hiring more full-time workers, and for cutting the hours of some of the full-time workers you already have. This was obvious from the day it was introduced.”

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Health_Shetty-MainIndia’s best-known heart surgeon was interrupted during surgery to make a house call. “’I don’t make home visits,’ ” said Devi Shetty, “and the caller said, ‘If you see this patient, the experience may transform your life.’ ” The request came from Mother Teresa, and the experience did change his life. Shetty’s most famous patient inspired the cardiac surgeon and healthcare entrepreneur to create a hospital to deliver care based on need, not wealth.

In 2001, Shetty – who the Wall Street Journal has given him the title of Henry Ford of heart surgery — founded Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH), which Fast Company magazine describes as “Walmart meets Mother Teresa.” Today, NH is one of India’s largest multi-specialty hospital chains and has created a record of performing nearly 15,000 surgeries on patients from 25 foreign countries. The hospital group believes it can soon cut the cost of heart surgery to a mere $800 per procedure.

If it can be done in India, why can’t it be done in the U.S.?

It could — maybe — but we’d need to learn the following lessons from India’s most innovative hospital:
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Red-TapeA new study estimates the cost of regulation in the U.S. at $14,768 per household:

For two decades, Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has tracked the growth of new federal regulations. In his 20th anniversary edition this week, he’ll report that pages in the Code of Federal Regulations hit an all-time high of 174,545 in 2012, an increase of more than 21% during the last decade.

Relying largely on government data, Mr. Crews estimates that in 2012 the cost of federal rules exceeded $1.8 trillion, roughly equal to the GDP of Canada. These costs are embedded in nearly everything Americans buy. Mr. Crews calculates these costs at $14,768 per household, meaning that red tape is now the second largest item in the typical family budget after housing.

There are numerous government regulations that are beneficial to human flourishing and are worth the cost we pay. But many—perhaps nowadays even the majority—of federal regulations are a drain on our economy and an unjustifiable restriction of freedom.

While it would difficult to determine the value of worthy regulations, let’s say that we could reduce it in half. Households wouldn’t get the money directly, of course, but since the cost of regulations is embedded in almost everything we purchase, living expenses would be reduced dramatically. Imagine the effect of an economic surplus equal to $7,000 per household. Although $900 billion may not seem like much in an economy of $15.7 trillion, it’s more than we spend each year on Medicare/Medicaid ($802 billion), Social Security ($768 billion), or Defense ($670 billion).

Because we live in such a heavily regulated country we tend to forgot that regulations come with a price. Some regulations are worth the cost, while others are not. Determining the good from the bad is therefore not just a duty of good governance but a moral obligation. We aren’t merely wasting money on bad regulations, we are wasting resources that could be used to improve the lives of all citizens. And that’s too high a price to pay for waste.

There are currently two sets of laws in America: laws that apply to everyone and laws that apply to everyone except for friends of the Obama administration.

In January I wrote about how the executive branch had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 should be broadly interpreted in order to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death. The administration used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.

american-bald-eagleThe U.S. District Court of North Dakota rejected this sweeping interpretation of the MBTA and dismissed the charges, noting that the words “kill” and “take” in statute should be interpreted narrowly to mean actions taken with the intent to kill or take a bird, not actions that merely happen to kill or take a bird. The ruling seemed fair-minded but the Department of Justice appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While one section of the Obama Administration is arguing that they should be able to prosecute energy companies (oil and gas) for killing birds another section of the Obama Administration is arguing that energy companies (wind) should be exempt from prosecution for killing birds.

According to the Associated Press:
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