Odds & Ends

OPINION

KENNETH ROGOFF: “Innovation Crisis or Financial Crisis?
“Recently, a few writers, including internet entrepreneur Peter Thiel and political activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, have espoused a fairly radical interpretation of the slowdown. In a forthcoming book, they argue that the collapse of advanced-country growth is not merely a result of the financial crisis; at its root, they argue, these countries’ weakness reflects secular stagnation in technology and innovation. As such, they are unlikely to see any sustained pickup in productivity growth without radical changes in innovation policy. Economist Robert Gordon takes this idea even further. He argues that the period of rapid technological progress that followed the Industrial Revolution may prove to be a 250-year exception to the rule of stagnation in human history.”

ERIKA & NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS: “Whither Goes Free Speech at Harvard?
“Is a satirical flyer distributed a few days ago at Harvard with joking references to anti-semitism, ‘coloreds,’ and sexual assault worth defending? We think so. The protection of free speech is meaningless if what we really mean is ‘free speech we find appropriate.’ When we prohibit or punish certain kinds of statements, even vile ones, then we are protecting speech only insofar as we agree with it or it does not offend us. This is not only a logically inconsistent position, but it is also one that harms our students.”

TIM CARNEY: “Regulations protect entrenched businesses — and the New York Times is ON IT
“The Gray Lady is on a streak of good articles noting how big government accrues to the benefit of the special interests. After two days of in-depth pieces on state-level subsidies, the Times comes out with an item on how local governments are trying to protect their cabbie industry from the threat of consumer choice.”

OPINION

DEREK THOMPSON: “If You Don’t Watch Sports, TV Is a Huge Rip-Off (So, How Do We Fix It?)
“If you watch sports, millions of pay-TV households who never click on their ESPN channels are subsidizing your habit. If you don’t watch sports, you’re one of the suckers paying an extra $100 a year for a product you don’t consume. [...] Maybe DISH will decide it won’t pay the high costs that ESPN and regional sports networks demand and will become synonymous will “cable for people who hate sports.” That way, households in an area served by DISH and Comcast can choose between sports and not-sports, and if more people choose not-sports, then sports networks will necessarily slow their inflation rate to keep from upsetting sports fans who suddenly get stuck with a higher bill.”

PHIL PLAIT: “Congress Promotes Dangerous Anti-vaccine Quackery
“Virtually every claim made by antivaxxers is wrong. And this is a critically important issue; vaccines have literally saved hundreds of millions of lives. They save infants from potentially fatal but preventable diseases like pertussis and the flu. So why did Congress hold hearings this week promoting crackpot antivax views?”

DESMOND LACHMAN: “Gushing about America’s Energy Future
“In November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognized the remarkably positive developments in the U.S. energy sector of the past few years. Not only did the IEA project that U.S. oil production would exceed that of Saudi Arabia by 2020, it also projected that the United States would become virtually energy independent by 2035. However, what the IEA did not do was emphasize how much of this good news has occurred as the result of market forces rather than government planning aimed at securing energy independence.”

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OPINION

DAVID KRAVETS: “Internet Hangs in Balance as World Governments Meet in Secret”
“There’s a lot of sky-is-falling doomsday predictions about the World Conference on International Telecommunications, which opens Monday in Dubai with some 190-plus nations discussing the global internet’s future.”

KEN PAULSON: “Futile fight on student tweets
“High school is all about preparing the next generation for citizenship. We teach them civics, history, a smattering of math and science and hand them a diploma. But we too often also try to control their every move. That’s literally the case with the news last week that a sophomore at John Jay High School in San Antonio was expelled after refusing to carry an ID with a computer chip designed to track the movements of every student in the school. Students have constitutional rights long before someone hands them a high school diploma. While those rights grow with age, the free speech rights of high school students are not inconsequential.”

NICK GILLESPIE: “Please read this if you think deficits don’t matter and that spending doesn’t drive deficits.
“At the same time that more people are out of work and receipts go down, demand for various welfare programs (unemployment, food stamps, etc) increases. What was different in many ways during the thick of the Bush years was that spending continued to increase during the good times, too. In 2001, Bush took the reins of a government that was spending 18.2 percent of the economy. By 2008, government spending equaled 20.8 percent of the economy. It then spiked to 25.2 percent of GDP in 2009 (a budget year for which some expenses were Obama’s but most were Bush’s). That sort of massive divergence is explainable in light of the fiscal crisis and the Bush and Obama administrations’ responses to it. In my my view, those responses were both hysterical, counterproductive, and at least in regard to the auto bailout, illegal.”

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OPINION

VIRGINIA POSTREL: “A Free-Market Fix for the Copyright Racket
“While most of the punditocracy was chattering earlier this month about Mitt Romney’s “gifts”gaffe, another Republican took an unexpectedly bold stand about a huge and controversial special-interest handout that largely benefits Democratic constituencies. A young Capitol Hill staff member named Derek S. Khanna published a Republican Study Committee policy brief titled ‘Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix It.’ The paper attacked the current copyright system, particularly the continual and retroactive extension of copyright terms at the behest of entertainment-industry lobbyists.”

ADI ROBERTSON: “New World Order: is the UN about to take control of the internet?
“The future of the web will be decided in a dark room by UN politicians and authoritarian governments — at least according to Google and some other opponents of the International Telecommunication Union’s plan to reform its 25-year-old guidelines. Leaked documents have shown that ITU members are interested in adding more internet regulations to the ITU’s mostly telecommunications-focused rules, something critics worry will let countries justify repressive filtering of the internet or upset the current balance of power by pushing more regulation.”

PAUL HOWARD & YEVGENIY FEYMAN: “The Obamacare bait and switch
“Democrats sold -and continue to sell the ACA – as a way to cover the ‘millions of people’ with pre-existing conditions who can’t get affordable insurance. For instance, in defending their recently released guaranteed issue regulations, HHS claimed that 129 million Americans have pre-existing conditions. This is a huge bait and switch. The vast majority of Americans with ‘pre-existing conditions’ already have insurance. Why? Age is strongly correlated with developing a chronic illness – and seniors are covered by Medicare.”

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OPINION

NATE SILVER: “In Silicon Valley, Technology Talent Gap Threatens G.O.P. Campaigns
“Companies like Google and Apple do not have their own precincts on Election Day. However, it is possible to make some inferences about just how overwhelmingly Democratic are the employees at these companies, based on fund-raising data. (The Federal Election Commission requires that donors to presidential campaigns disclose their employer when they make a campaign contribution.) Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama received about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, compared with only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama collected almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates. Apple employees gave 91 percent of their dollars to Mr. Obama. At eBay, Mr. Obama received 89 percent of the money from employees.”

JULIAN SANCHEZ: “Adventures in FOIA-Land (or: Red Tape Is Not Transparent)
“The Justice Department’s Inspector General has just completed their most recent review of surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which is set to expire at the end of this year. The report, however, is classified—meaning the public is unlikely to see it before Congress votes to reauthorize the law for another five years during the lame duck session. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is trying to get a declassified version released—but he’s probably got a long wait ahead of him.”

BLOOMBERG NEWS EDITORIAL: “Cheaper, Better Air Traffic Control
“As U.S. President Barack Obama and lawmakers scavenge for mutually acceptable spending cuts in order to strike a budget deal by Jan. 1, here’s an easy one: The $10 million a year wasted on overstaffed and unneeded Federal Aviation Administration facilities.”

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OPINION

SPENCER ACKERMAN: “Pentagon: A Human Will Always Decide When a Robot Kills You
“The Pentagon wants to make perfectly clear that every time one of its flying robots releases its lethal payload, it’s the result of a decision made by an accountable human being in a lawful chain of command. Human rights groups and nervous citizens fear that technological advances in autonomy will slowly lead to the day when robots make that critical decision for themselves. But according to a new policy directive issued by a top Pentagon official, there shall be no SkyNet, thank you very much.”

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: “Why Are Hotel Rooms So Expensive?
“There’s not a single reason why hotel rooms are so much more expensive on a per night basis than ordinary housing. But one place to start is taxes. Local tax codes tend to treat homeowners relatively favorably. There are some ideological and substantive reasons for this, and also crass politics. Homeowners, as a class, are more likely to be stable long-term members of their community who vote in city council elections. A hotel guest is just the reverse—a transient who can’t vote. So in addition to the underlying commercial real estate taxes that are probably higher than what’s levied on residences, hotel guests need to pay sales taxes and special excise taxes.”

MEGAN MCARDLE: “Why Can’t Walmart Be More Like Costco?
“With depressing regularity, you see pundits and activists asking ‘Why can’t Walmart be more like Costco’, which is a little like asking why Malcolm Gladwell can’t be more like Michael Jordan. I mean . . . um . . . where do I even start?  [...] Costco has a more highly paid labor force–but that labor force also brings in a lot more money.  Costco’s labor force, paid $19 an hour, brings in three times as much revenue as a Walmart workforce paid somewhere between 50-60% of that. [...] This is not because Costco treats its workers better, and therefore gets fantastic productivity out of them, though this is what you would think if you listened to very sincere union activists on NPR.  Rather, it’s because their business model is inherently higher-productivity.”

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A labor demonstration orchestrated by the Service Employees International Union brought delays of up to 90 minutes to Thanksgiving travelers at Los Angeles International Aierport.

According to the Orange County Registe, union leaders say the demonstration was a consequence of the “400 airport workers [that were] left without a contract earlier this year when Aviation Safeguards, a unit of Command Security Corp. of Parsippany, N.J., terminated contracts with the Service Employees International Union and withdrew all health insurance.”

But there may be other motivations on the part of SEIU. Aviation Safeguards employees voted to sever their affiliation with the union and were not part of the planned demonstration. According to Frederick McNeil of the contractor group:

We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended. And now they’re bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays. It’s ridiculous. People need to understand that SEIU doesn’t speak for the employees at Aviation Safeguards.

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OPINION

PAUL HOWARD and STEPHEN PARENTE: “ObamaCare Faces the Implementation Iceberg
“Defenders of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, can be forgiven for some post-election triumphalism. But their joy is likely to be short lived. Because the law put off implementation of most key provisions until after the 2012 election, voters cast their ballots on November 6 without knowing what Obamacare’s true effect will be on their tax bills, insurance costs, or access to care.”

BENJAMIN WALLACE-WELLS: “The Truce On Drugs
“Marijuana has remained mostly illegal, even as many Americans have come to consider it harmless and normal, and so it now occupies a uniquely ambiguous place in American law and life. There are a few places in the United States that have been known for decades for marijuana—far-northern California, Kentucky—where people are comfortable with sedition, and willing to live outside of the law. But during the last decade, as growing and selling marijuana began to edge out of the shadows, these places have become the sites of this country’s first experiments with tacit decriminalization. And so the business has shifted, too. ‘We have to face facts,’ says a veteran California grower named Anna Hamilton. ‘We are in a commodity business.’”

WILL OREMUS: “That Facebook Copyright Notice Is Still a Hoax”
“Back in June, the hoax capitalized on people’s uncertainty over Facebook’s debut as a publicly traded company, which in itself had no bearing on users’ privacy rights or copyright protections. This time it’s playing on people’s confusion about Facebook’s proposed changes to its terms of service. The proposed changes are real, but no status update that you post will have any bearing on how they affect you.”

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OPINION

DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH: “With Ethanol, Obama Ignores Common Sense
“Since being re-elected, in a triumph of political loyalty over consumer protection, President Obama has refused to waive the federal requirement that 13 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol be blended in 2013 with gasoline. In making that decision on November 16, Mr. Obama brushed aside evidence that dedicating corn to ethanol, rather than to animal feed and other food uses, has contributed to a rise in prices.”

AMITY SHLAES: “2013 Looks a Lot Like 1937 in Four Fearsome Ways
“Will 2013 be 1937? This is the question many analysts are posing as the stock market has dropped after the U.S. election. On Nov. 16, they noted that industrial production, a crucial figure, dropped as well. In this case, ’1937′ means a market drop similar to the one after the re-election of another Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1936.”

DEREK THOMPSON: “The Other Economic Cliff: Why Business Investment Is Really Nosediving
“For the moment, imagine two American economies. The Home Economy and the Away Economy. In the Home Economy, there is mostly good news to report, so long as Washington doesn’t screw it up. [...] Meanwhile, in the Away Economy, there is a world of precarious, scary, and outright depressing news, which is weighing on large corporations that tend to make more than half of their income from customers outside the U.S. GE and Pfizer, for example, are listed in U.S. stock indices.”

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OPINION

JORDAN BLOOM: “An Anti-IP Turn for the GOP? (UPDATE: RSC disowns and pulls the brief)
“A Republican Study Committee policy brief released today to members of the House Conservative Caucus and various think tanks lays out ‘three myths about copyright law’ and some ways to go about correcting what many see as a broken system. Derek Khanna, the RSC staffer who authored the paper, acknowledges an important role for intellectual property while also pointing out how badly the current system has gone off track. [...] [UPDATE Saturday 4:48 pm]: The RSC has now taken down the brief and disowned it via this memo from Executive Director Paul Teller.”

EDWARD J. PINTO: “The Next Housing Bailout? Big Trouble Brewing at the FHA
“While these are welcome trends, figures released today from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) throw a sobering splash of cold water. FHA’s FY 2012 Actuarial Study for its main single family program shows that its capital position has turned negative, by $13.5 billion. That’s a shift of $23 billion in economic value in a single year, and it puts the 78-year-old agency $34.5 billion short of its legal capital requirement.  If it were a private company, it would be shut down.”

GREG BEATO: “Big Brother’s Border Blindness
“Long before Google Street View existed, long before we started sending out alerts every time we breached the perimeter of Starbucks, the U.S. government embarked on an epic quest to establish a ‘virtual’ fence along the Mexican border. The year was 1997. And while the U.S. Border Patrol’s surveillance technology then consisted primarily of sunglasses, border hawks and bureaucrats dreamed of a thin technological line of motion sensors, infrared cameras, and video-driven command centers producing the same sort of omniscience we now exert over 7-Eleven parking lots. To realize this bold but improbable vision, Congress approved funds for a pilot project called the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System, or ISIS.  Thus began a long stretch of failure[.]”

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