Every year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) releases a report on the costs and benefits of the previous year’s new regulations. This year’s report was just released. Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews points out that the report ignores three quarters of all agencies and includes the costs of fewer than one half of one percent of last year’s regulations. Even so, the reported costs are double the previous year’s.
In today’s Investor’s Business Daily, Wayne Crews and I point out that the higher deficits go, the more tempting it becomes for Congress to resort to unfunded mandates:
For example,instead of funding a new federal job training program from federal coffers, Congress could mandate that all firms above a certain size provide such training at their own expense.
The first option appears on the federal budget; the second does not. For politicians, it’s the perfect scheme. The government can spend — or, rather, force others to spend — as much as it wants without adding to the deficit.
She has just re-introduced the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act to improve UMRA. It would require all agencies, not just some of them, to conduct UMRA analysis. And it would require these for all new final rules, not just some.
Foxx’s proposed reform would not curtail Congress’ power to regulate; it only requires increased disclosure as to how that power is exercised.
More needs to be done to end the abuse of unfunded mandates. But first, we need more transparency so the public can find out just how bad the problem is.
The U.S. isn’t the only place in need of some regulatory housecleaning. Nor is it the only place that has some good ideas for doing so. Over at The Daily Caller, Christian Rice and I take a look at a successful model in the UK: the Red Tape Challenge:
Every few weeks, the British government publishes regulations on a government website focusing on a specific area of the economy. The public then submits comments as to which regulations in that sector are unnecessary or overly burdensome. People can also recommend ways to improve the rules or even eliminate them entirely.
The departments that administer these regulations then collect these Red Tape Challenge comments and use them to develop specific regulatory policy proposals.
There are a few more steps after that. The point is that adding public participation to a sector where there is currently almost none has worked out quite well. Read the whole thing here.
Why not Moody’s? Why not Fitch? Of all the questions raised about the U.S. government’s strange case against Standard & Poor’s—a lawsuit that actually asserts that some of the nation’s largest banks were S&P’s “victims,” and that the credit rating firm somehow fooled these banks about products the banks actually created—the lack of similar actions against S&P competitors still rings the most alarm bells.
S&P, Fitch and Moody’s all gave AAA rating to many packages of subprime mortgages that imploded. But of those three, only S&P downgraded the U.S. government from its decades-old AAA credit rating.
Floyd Abrams, the attorney representing S&P’s parent company McGraw-Hill in the litigation and a veteran First Amendment lawyer (and yes, the First Amendment is a strong concern here, as I will get to in a second), has said that the government ramped up its investigation of S&P shortly after the downgrade in 2011. “Is it true that after the downgrade the intensity of this investigation significantly increased? Yea,” Floyd Abrams, S&P’s lead attorney, told CNBC in an interview last week. “We don’t know why.”
The Justice Department’s civil suit against S&P looks even more suspicious when paired with the action a few weeks ago by another arm of the government against a small, upstart credit ratings firm that also had the temerity to downgrade the U.S. In late January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stripped rating agency Egan-Jones of its accreditation as a “nationally recognized statistical rating organization” (NRSRO) in rating the creditworthiness of government or asset-backed securities. This was the first time the SEC had ever stripped a rating agency of its NRSRO status, an action that effectively bars financial institutions from relying on the rating agency to meet capital requirements.
Ironically, Egan-Jones’ rating had been widely praised as an alternative to that of the “Big 3″ of Moody’s, Fitch and S&P. Receiving its funding through investor subscriptions, rather than payment of the entities being rated, it avoided the conflicts of interest that “Big 3″ critics say led to inflated ratings for mortgage securities. The firm also turned out to be prescient in its early downgrades of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the first institutions to implode in the mortgage crisis.
In the ongoing debate over the Senate’s Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 3414), one major point of contention is whether the bill adequately safeguards individuals’ private data from governmental abuses. While CEI praised recent changes to the bill’s information sharing provisions, we remain seriously concerned about the bill’s implications for privacy competition and trust in cloud computing.
Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a flurry of amendments to S. 3414, some of which are available here. One smart proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Daniel Akaka, would amend the Cybersecurity Act and several existing laws to better ensure the federal government doesn’t abuse the information it acquires and maintains about private individuals.
Among other positive changes, Sen. Akaka’s amendment would deter the federal government from willfully abusing private data and require the government to notify persons whose data is breached.
Deter Government From Willfully Abusing Private Data – The amendment would amend the Privacy Act of 1974 to ensure that individuals who suffer actual harms due to certain willful or intentional privacy violations by government can obtain meaningful recourse. This statutory change would address a gaping hole in the Privacy Act created by the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in FAA v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1441 (2012), which held that victims of certain privacy violations by government cannot recover damages caused by mental and emotional distress—even where victims can prove they suffered severe mental anguish.
In Cooper, the Social Security Administration violated the Privacy Act by disclosing the HIV-positive status of Stan Cooper to the FAA and Department of Transportation. Even though the trial court concluded the SSA willfully violated Cooper’s privacy, the Supreme Court held that he couldn’t recover proven emotional damages. The Court reasoned that because waivers of sovereign immunity must be made explicitly by Congress, the reference to “actual damages” in the Privacy Act should be construed narrowly and, therefore, only encompasses pecuniary losses.
So it turns out that Penn State has covered up wrongdoing by one of its employees to avoid bad publicity.
But I’m not talking about the appalling behavior uncovered this week by the Freeh report. No, I’m referring to another cover up and whitewash that occurred there two years ago, before we learned how rotten and corrupt the culture at the university was. But now that we know how bad it was, perhaps it’s time that we revisit the Michael Mann affair, particularly given how much we’ve also learned about his and others’ hockey-stick deceptions since.
To review, when the emails and computer models were leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia two and a half years ago, many of the luminaries of the “climate science” community were shown to have been behaving in a most unscientific manner. Among them were Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Penn State, whom the emails revealed had been engaging in data manipulation to keep the blade on his famous hockey-stick graph, which had become an icon for those determined to reduce human carbon emissions by any means necessary.
A breakthrough by researchers at Northwestern University is giving hope to millions of amputees that they might eventually regain some of the ability they lost. While most prosthetic limbs utilize a motor in order to achieve motion, the Northwestern prosthesis can be controlled by the wearer’s own mind.
Jesse Sullivan was an electrical lineman until 2001 when he was electrocuted so severely that both of arms needed to be amputated. But Jesse wasn’t ready to give up. Eight years ago, he underwent surgery and was fitted with experimental prosthetic limbs, developed by a team of biomechanical engineers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) through the Northwestern University. The prostheses utilized a system that interprets brain signals. By connecting the arms to nerves in Jesse’s stump and connecting those nerves to nerves in his chest, the system is able to “amplify” his brain signals, giving Jesse him more control than any previous generation of prosthetic limbs.
Amazingly, the studies in the years after Jesse’s surgery have shown that the nerves in his stumps have become stronger over time. This has astounded doctors since the nerves of amputated limbs usually become weaker over time as they are not used. Nate Bunderson, a researcher on the project who is now at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a presentation at the Society of Neuroscience conference in San Diego last November that he believes this may be due to Jesse’s brain becoming accustomed to the new path. ”If you transfer the nerves [from the stump] to healthy muscles, then you can amplify the brain signals used to control the arm,” said Bunderson.
Todd Kuiken, MD, PhD, the man who created Jesse’s prosthetic arms and the RIC’s Director of Amputee Programs, said that their next step is to continuing exploring how patterns of brain activity may be used to control prosthetic limbs and to make the technology available for more patients — including those whose prosthetic limbs are older and less sophisticated.
See video here:
My colleagues David Bier and Ryan Radia contributed to this post.
Per the scenario in a previous post, it’s April 2012. You are a conscientious congressional staffer who still takes seriously the need to be a steward of taxpayers’ money. (Yes, I know for a fact, there are more than a few of these folks around on Capitol Hill.) You are watching closely events surrounding an “omnibus” or “minibus” spending bill deemed even by conservative Republican members as “must-pass” because it funds the military as well as other parts of government.
Suddenly, you hear about an outrageous earmark about to be slipped into the bill that would enrich a Fortune 500 company. You decide to alert a network of fiscal watchdogs you’ve met with over the years to wage an instant campaign against this piece of corporate welfare.
You have all the information in the e-mail and are about to hit “send.” But then you remember something from a briefing you attended a couple days ago. The subject was the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act – aimed at stopping “insider trading” by members and employees of Congress – that your boss and nearly every other member of Congress voted into law in February.
At the time, you didn’t think the law would affect you since the only trading you do is indirect, through your mutual funds and pension. You were surprised to learn, however, that you now have a broad “duty of confidentiality” that encompasses not just trading on “material, nonpublic information,” but disclosing information to those who might.
You sit back and think, “It is indeed possible that someone I send this to could buy stock in the company, or could short the company based on the coming outrage.” You stare at the computer screen wondering how virtually no one noticed how this law could have potentially criminalized an act of whistleblowing as abetting “insider trading.”
Such a scenario is almost certain if House and Senate versions of the STOCK Act are not modified before a final bill is sent to President Obama. The House passed the bill yesterday with a 417-2 vote after a similarly overwhelming 96-3 Senate vote last week. Both bills must go to “conference” to produce a final identical bill to be voted on by both houses, giving members an opportunity for a fix to help make sure that whistleblowing and routine communication with outside groups from being caught in the law’s web.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wants banks and credit unions to know that he’s all about transparency and “honesty” in consumer fees.
In his recent letter hectoring the Illinois Bankers Association and the Illinois Credit Union League, Durbin proclaimed that ”consumers in Illinois and across America have made clear their desire for honest information about banking fees.” He urged the banks to “be transparent about fees” by adopting a checking account disclosure form he favors.
Yet when it comes to disclosing to consumers what’s causing these bank fees to rise, Durbin has told these same institutions to just shut up. That’s because honesty and transparency would require that banks and credit unions disclose to consumers the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial “reform.” That measure by Durbin puts price controls on the interchange fees banks can charge merchants for debit card purchases, shifting the costs of debit card processing to consumers.
The contrast is evident in two of Durbin’s interactions with financial firm JPMorgan Chase. Late last week Durbin and many others lauded the firm’s Chase bank unit for adopting a simplified checking account fee disclosure form based on a model developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Safe Checking” project. The new form contains an upfront three-page schedule of different types of fees. Though there are still lengthy disclosures of terms and conditions — which are effectively mandated by longstanding regulations from laws like the Truth in Lending Act and from excessive litigation — these will now be embedded in Internet links on online copies of the form, a Chase spokesman tells Reuters.
President Obama ran on a platform of transparency. He praised whistleblowers. “Such acts of courage and patriotism,” he said, “should be encouraged rather than stifled.” He was intensely critical of the Bush administration that “ignored public disclosure rules.” The president and his staff have both said, “This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.” Yet his administration has been even more secretive and hostile toward public disclosure than the previous. He has cracked down on whistleblowers (and the journalists who they leak to) more than any other administration in history. He has brought nearly double (5) the number of indictments against whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined (3), and is currently working on another.
On top of this war on whistleblowers, the president has fought Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. “Two years into its pledge to improve government transparency,” the Associated Press reports, “the Obama administration handled fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information.” In November, Obama’s Justice Department proposed a rule that would allow them to lie about the existence of documents that were of national security concern. Last month, CEI’s Chris Horner called the administration the “most secretive ever,” and listed many ways in which under Obama, FOIA requests have been thwarted in the most underhanded ways.
Today, Horner has reported new outrages in Obama’s transparency war. He writes that “the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Criminal Division, is working with United Kingdom police to pursue the leaker of the 2009 and 2011 ‘Climategate’ emails. I have learned that last week DOJ sent a search-and-seizure letter to the host of three climate-change ‘skeptic’ blogs. Last night, UK police raided a blogger’s home and removed computers and equipment.” He continues:
The leaked records derailed “cap-and-trade” legislation in the U.S. and, internationally, as well as talks for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The emails and computer code were produced with taxpayer funds and held on taxpayer-owned computers both in the US and the UK, and all were subject to the UK Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and state FOIA laws.
They also were being unlawfully withheld in both the UK (by the University of East Anglia) and the U.S. (Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including stonewalling me for two years, and three other requesters for longer).
The hunt involving U.S. and UK law enforcement agencies is now escalating. On Wednesday night UK time, six detectives with the UK police (Norfolk Police Department) raided the home of at least one blogger, removing his equipment to look for clues to the identity of leaker “FOIA 2011.”
On December 9, DOJ sent a preservation letter under 18 U.S.C 2703(f) to the publication platform (website host) WordPress. This authority authorizes the government to request an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to preserve all records of a specific account for 90 days while the feds work on a warrant.
Norfolk PD affirmed to the subject of at least one of their raids that this international law enforcement hunt is for the leaker, meaning not for those whose acts the leaker exposed by making public emails containing admissions in their own words.
View the whole article here.