Nick Gillespie on How to Make Obamacare Less Totally Awful

Last month, even as President
Obama touted the “8 million people” who signed up for individual
coverage under the Affordable Care Act, he granted that
the program was far from perfect—or even complete. “There are going
to be things that need to be improved,” he told the press,
insisting that there wouldn’t be “any hesitation on our part to
consider ideas that would actually improve the legislation.”

“OK then,” writes Nick Gillespie. “Even though I think Obamacare
is a truly epic mistake (more on that later), here are three
obvious ways to make the president’s signature legislative
achievement better, cheaper, and more cost-effective.

View this article.

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Is the ‘Sharing Economy’ a New Paradigm for American Capitalism?

Last week, the nonprofit organization Peers co-hosted a two-day conference all about the
“sharing economy” at the Marines’ Memorial Theater in San
Francisco. About 400 people attended. “The sharing economy is at a
Members of Peers at last week's conference ||| Instagram photo by Natalie Fostercritical inflection point,”
Peers noted on its website. “This rapidly evolving model has global
and local implications that are changing markets, cities, and
lives.”

So what’s the “sharing economy?” As I argued in
an article
last week, even the movement’s big thinkers aren’t
quite sure what the phrase means, but it’s often used to refer to
businesses like Airbnb,
Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Getaround, RelayRides, and EatWith. These companies are also
sometimes described as “peer-to-peer” because they connect buyers
and sellers through online marketplaces.

In a
series
of four videos, I looked at how these companies are
providing consumers a way around bad government policies. They’re
also demonstrating how regulation often serves no purpose other
than to protect existing players.

Click below to watch the stories.

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Brent Skorup on Net Neutrality

In January, for the second time in recent years, a federal court
told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its net
neutrality enforcement was illegal, sending the agency back to the
drawing board. Last week the FCC proposed new rules, though these
haven’t yet been made public.

But dozens of major news outlets have been trying to read the
tea leaves, with several pro-net neutrality writers warning that if
the FCC’s rules are inadequate it will be the death of the Internet
and free speech. Ignore the hyperbole, writes the Mercatus Center’s
Brent Skorup. It’s nonsense—and here’s why. 

View this article.

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A Retiree Digitizes 27 Million Old Newspaper Pages in His Livingroom (and Libraries Fight to Catch Up)

Last March, I profiled Tom Tryniski, an eccentric retiree who
has digitized (so far) about 27 million newspaper pages working
alone in his living room and has made them free for anyone to search. (Click
above to watch the video or
click
here
to read the article.) The story offered an example of
Tryniski’s prowess: In 2003, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL)
spent $400,000 digitizing The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1947. |||the first 62 years of the Brooklyn Daily
Eagle
,
which was among the most widely read and
influential papers in 19th century America. A decade later, the
library was still raising money to finish
the remaining 52 years of the Daily Eagle‘s
run. In the meantime, Tryniski digitized all 115 years of the paper
in about five months working alone.

The BPL has caught up. The entire run of the paper is now
digitized and the library just launched a beautiful new
portal
that makes it easy to search. The BPL Daily
Eagle
site is far more limited than Tryniski’s—he’s digitized 639
newspapers including several other Brooklyn titles—but it’s quite a
bit faster and easier to use. 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1906. |||So how much did the BPL pay to finish the job?
Absolutely nothing.

Here’s how the deal worked: Newspapers.com, which is a
subsidiary of the genealogy-titan Ancestry.com, runs
a subscription-based newspaper site that allows users to search
nearly 69 million newspaper pages. The company, which has a highly
evolved workflow for digitizing microfilm, agreed to complete the
Daily Eagle job at no charge and provide the
BPL with a free portal. In exchange, Newspapers.com got to include
the paper in its own subscription-based site. Patrons of
Newspapers.com have the advantage of searching over 3,000 titles
(including the Daily Eagle) with just one click; BPL’s
patrons get to search just the Daily Eagle, but
there’s no subscription required. If only media companies could
come up with such an elegant arrangement for monetizing and giving
away the veryThe Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1878. ||| same content.

Brian Hansen, Newspapers.com’s general manager, told me that his
team is actively pursuing similar deals with newspaper publishers,
historical societies, and regional libraries all over the country.
Already, Newpapers.com is doing free digitizing for the Texas’ Hood
County News, the Kansas Historical Society, and the University of
North Carolina. Its competitor, NewspaperArchive.com, has adopted
the same strategy; last month, it offered to digitize the
Wilson Daily Times (North Carolina) at no cost in
exchange for permission to included the paper in its own
database.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1883. |||Libraries and historical societies can also apply
for grants through the National
Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP)
, which is run by the Library
of Congress and financed through the National Endowment for the
Humanities (NEH). But working through the NDNP is slow and
expensive for taxpayers. The NEH awards come to about $300,000 per
title, and as of last year the agency had given away about $22
million for newspaper digization. As I reported in
my original story
, the NDNP’s “high technical standards” drive
up costs in ways that don’t improve the experiences of researchers.
By working with a company liked Newspapers.com, libraries can get
their titles online quickly and at no cost. Or they can work with
Tryniski, whose site offers users the ability to search more than
just one title at a time just like the subscription sites. As long
as they don’t mind the occassional live stream of squirrels eating
corn in Tryniski’s backyard. Or the occassional spider walking
across the screen with Tryniski’s head grafted on top.

Want to know more about your great grandparents? Allegedly, one
in seven Americans can trace their ancestry back to Brooklyn. Give
the wonderful
new Daily Eagle site a whirl
.

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Zach Weismueller on Another Drug Bust Gone Bad

On a sweltering
summer morning in the California desert, deputies looking for
methamphetamines and bearing automatic weapons barged into the home
of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year-old retired engineer living a quiet
life in the small community of Littlerock. Moments later, Mallory
lay in his bed bleeding to death from six bullets fired from an MP5
9mm submachine gun. The officers found no meth on the property. As
Zach Weismueller of Reason TV writes, the murky circumstances that
led to the shooting are now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

View this article.

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The Inside Story on How the Feds Are Failing Veterans

Today’s yak shows have been
rightly dominated
by the news that the Department of Veterans
Affairs has been doing a terrible job at treating wounded and
disabled vets.

Last November, Reason TV’s Amanda Winkler (a former service
member herself) looked at the terrible treatment—and lack therof—of
soldiers returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here’s the original writeup.
Go here
for more links and downloadable versions.

Over the last 12 years, more than two million Americans have
been deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for thousands
who return home with injuries, another battle is just
beginning – this time, with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs
(VA).

Upon enlistment, service members are promised that, should a
service-related injury occur, the US government will provide them
with care and financial compensation. The VA is responsible
for providing this care but have been unable to render these
services in a timely manner. The average wait time for a veteran to
receive his or her benefits is one year.

President Obama sounded the alarm during a speech in August
2010, stating that it was the country’s “moral
obligation”
 to provide veterans with timely compensation.
Under VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Obama administration promised
that all claims would be processed within 125 days and with a 98
percent accuracy rating by the year 2015.  

Despite Obama’s speech, the backlog continued to grow, reaching
a peak of nearly
900,000 pending claims with 70 percent backlogged
 in March
of 2013. This past August, the numbers dipped slightly: nearly
800,000 pending claims with 63 percent backlogged.

The administration points to the August numbers as a sign of
improvement, but reports of
processing errors reveal a poor quality
of work
, with mistake in 30 percent or more of the claims
that they process. Unfortunately for those waiting for assistance,
when a mistake is made, the veteran must appeal. Once an appeal is
filed, the average waiting time for the veteran is another four
years. 

About 4 minutes. 

Produced by Amanda Winkler. Camera by Joshua Swain and Winkler.
Narrated by Todd Krainin. 

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Swiss Voters Overwhelmingly Reject World’s Highest Minimum Wage

Voters in Switzerland, which currently has no
minimum wage, overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to create a
minimum wage of at least 4,000 Swiss francs a month. Fully 77
percent said no, according to
Businessweek
.

Traditionally, wages in Switzerland have been negotiated by
collective bargaining, with agreements covering pay, vacation days,
and even retirement age. The median wage in the Swiss private
sector was 6,118 francs last year. A gas station shop worker in
Lucerne is paid 3,570 francs a month, while a 62-year-old music
teacher in the city of Winterthur gets a monthly salary of 9,758
francs and six weeks of vacation, according to a 2014 study
published by the Canton of Zurich Labor Ministry….

When adjusted for purchasing power, the Swiss wage would amount
to $14.01 an hour, compared to $10.60 in France and $10.20 in
Austria, according to OECD data for 2012….

Other reports say the wage
would have been the equivalent of $25 an hour (presumably without
adjusting for purchasing power).


More here.

Late last year, Swiss proponents of a guaranteed minimum income
pushed for a vote on that.
Nothing on that score
has been scheduled yet,
although here’s an April 2014 PBS report
on the concept that
includes Reason contributor and Mercatus Center economist
Veronique de Rugy, the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles
Murray, and Bloomberg View‘s Megan McArdle. Last year,
Swiss voters
did pass a law
limiting golden parachutes and other
compensation issues for executives.

After Luxembourg and Norway, Switzerland has the highest
per-capita GDP in Europe.

Last year, I wrote about American unions’ attempts to double the
wages of fast-food workers, to a minimum of $15 per hour:

Regardless of how much solidarity or sympathy you might feel
about the people who assemble your Triple
Steak Stack
 or your Cheesy Gordita Crunch,
this sort of demand is economic fantasy at its most delusional and
counterproductive. Doubling the wages of low-skilled workers during
a period of prolonged joblessness is a surefire way not just to
swell the ranks of the reserve army of the unemployed but to
increase automation at your local Taco Bell.

Read
whole thing here.

Reason on the minimum wage here.

Reason TV checked out last December’s “Fast-Food Strike” in New
York. You’ll be surprised by what we found.

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Greg Beato Asks, Are Slacker Gamers the New Philanthropists?

In the old
days, you couldn’t combat global hunger just by buying an imaginary
vegetable. Back then, if you wanted to make a trivial but virtuous
gesture of pop-culture consumerism you had to make a trip to Tower
Records and purchase a copy of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” or
“We Are the World.” Casual philanthropy required at least some
effort. Today, it’s a different story, writes Greg Beato. Log in
to FarmVille, shell out $5 for some cartoon corn seeds that
you can plant in your virtual field, and a genuine 3D family in
Haiti may get a chicken, goat, or micro-loan from one of several
nonprofit organizations that are partnering
with FarmVille developer Zynga.

View this article.

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The Government’s Bogus Lawsuit Against Buckyballs’ Creator Craig Zucker Ends In a Settlement

Last November, Reason TV contributor Naomi Brockwell interviewed Craig
Zucker, the creator of the super-charged tiny magnets known as
Buckyballs, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
forced off the market in 2012 because they
allegedly posed a danger to children. When his company’s
trouble began, rather than suck up to the federal regulators who
controlled the fate of his firm, Zucker went on a mediablitz to get
the word out that the agency’s accusations were profoundly unfair.
In December 2012, with sales plummeting because of the CPSC’s
actions, Zucker gave up and dissolved hiscompany.

As I wrote in a follow
up article
, what happened next was extraordinary:

A couple of months later, the CPSC added Craig Zucker to its
complaint, holding him personally liable for the cost of recalling
Buckyballs. If the CPSC has its way, Zucker will have to personally
reimburse retailers for their costs, notify all distributors and
local public health officials of the recall, and submit monthly
progress reports to the commission. (The CPSC initially estimated
the cost of the recall at $57 million, but an agency spokesperson
says the actual cost would be significantly less.)

The case has drawn widespread attention in legal circles because
it is extremely unusual for the CPSC to hold a former officer
personally responsible for the actions of a defunct corporation.
Zucker opposed the CPSC’s motion, and three trade groups—the
National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail
Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association—filed a
joint brief on his behalf.

Last week, Zucker and the CPSC announced they had reached

a settlement
. Zucker agreed to hand over $375,000 that will go
to pay for a recall of the product. The CPSC will spend the first
$75,000 publicizing the recall, but Zucker gets any unused portion
of the fund returned to him. So if nobody turns in their old
Buckyballs, Zucker’s only out the $75,000.

“After nearly two years of fighting, it’s good to finally have
this case behind me,” said Zucker in a prepared statement. “The law
does not support an individual being named in a case like this and
I hope that this settlement will discourage the CPSC from
wrongfully pursuing individual officers and entrepreneurs again in
the future.”

Buckyballs |||All the
negative publicity surrounding this case might discourage the CPSC
from attempting similar actions, but a court victory could have
settled the issue of whether the agency can apply the Park Doctrine
in future product recalls. The Park Doctrine, which is based on a

1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision
, says the government can hold
officers responsible for the misdeeds of the corporations they
represent even when they’re unaware of those misdeeds.

It turns out the complaint against Zucker violated the CPSC’s
own rules. After the settlement was reached, Commissioner Ann Marie
Buerkle
released a statement
expressing concerns about how this case
“unfolded,” arguing that the CPSC’s rules require it to vote before
broadening a complaint to add a new respondent, which it never
did.  After the CPSC came after his company, Zucker boldly mocked the agency's Chairman Inez Tenenbaum |||

“I believe the case against Mr. Zucker should never have gotten
started without an affirmative Commission vote approving the
issuance of a complaint against him,” she wrote. This lawsuit
consumed two years of Zucker’s life and will cost him as much as
$375,000 plus more in legal fees; now, after the case is settled,
she speaks out?

With the announcement of a settlement, the government
accountability law firm Cause
of Action
is dropping the countersuit it filed on Zucker’s
behalf, but will continue
its efforts to uncover
why the agency went after him in the
first place through Freedom of Information Act litigation. It’ll be
interesting to see what Cause of Action can uncover.

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Sheldon Richman on Non-Aggression, Natural Rights, and Human Flourishing

What do libertarians mean by
“non-aggression principle” (or axiom, or maxim, or principle) and
how do we arrive at it? Sheldon Richman looks back on economist
Murray Rothbard’s comprehensive popular presentation For a
New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto
. Rothbard claimed that
natural rights are the basis for non-aggression and “in one form or
another, has been adopted by most of the libertarians, past and
present.” This is key to the ultimate good—human flourishing— which
is, so to speak, baked into the very enterprise of doing ethical
and political theory, and indeed of all action.

View this article.

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