Archives: 07/2014

London Transport Regulator Gives Uber the Green Light

Today London’s transport regulator, Transport for London (TfL), said that Uber can legally operate in the U.K.’s capital. The news comes after drivers of London’s black cabs deliberately congested traffic last month in protest over how Uber, the San Francisco-based transportation technology company, was being regulated.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said that it believed Uber was operating in violation of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, as I explained when writing about the protest last month:

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) believes that Uber, the San Francisco-based transport technology company, is operating illegally in London. Thanks to the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, it is illegal for a London vehicle with a private hire vehicle license to have a taximeter. Up until yesterday Uber’s website stated that anyone who wanted to be an Uber driver in London must have a private hire vehicle license. Today those requirements remain the same, however in response to the London protest Uber has opened to licensed black cabs.

TfL does not, unlike the LTDA, consider the smartphones used by drivers using Uber to be taximeters:

TfL’s view is that smart phones that transmit location information (based on GPS data) between vehicles and operators, have no operational or physical connection with the vehicles, and receive information about fares which are calculated remotely from the vehicle, are not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation.

TfL said it intended to have the High Court rule on the legality of Uber’s operation in London. However, TfL noted in its statement that the High Court would not consider the issue while separate criminal proceedings involving Uber drivers brought about by LTDA were being dealt with in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, although it did say that the High Court would probably rule on the issue eventually:

… the LDTA (sic) has issued summonses in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court against a number of Uber drivers under s.11 of the 1998 Act. This now prevents TfL proceeding as we had intended as the High Court will not consider the issue whilst there are ongoing criminal proceedings on the same issues of law.

TfL is therefore now unable to seek early clarification from the High Court. In due course the LTDA summonses will be heard in the Magistrates’ court. The Magistrates’ decision is not binding, will almost certainly be appealed (by someone), which inevitably means the matter will end up, rather later than sooner, in the High Court.

It looks as if the LTDA has scored at least two own goals in its dealings with Uber. Firstly, the protest it supported was great free advertising for Uber, which reportedly enjoyed an 850% increase in sign-ups in the U.K. thanks to the demonstration. Secondly, LTDA’s actions against Uber drivers have prevented the High Court from considering Uber’s legality.

Supreme Court Grants Cert In Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act Case

Should courts allow the federal government to ignore time deadlines for filing suit on the grounds that there’s a war on, even though it’s been 70 years since the end of the war on which such a delay was premised? On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case raising that question, Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter. I wrote about the issue last year; an excerpt:

War is the health of the state,” wrote Randolph Bourne a century ago—from the special war taxes that can linger for a century, to the mohair subsidy program from Korean War days, to New York City’s wartime emergency rent controls, to the many incursions on civil liberties that don’t get rolled back afterward. War, it now turns out, can even give a boost to the lawyers who represent the federal government in civil litigation, magically transmuting losing cases into winners….

In 1942, not long after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (WSLA), providing that the statute of limitations would be suspended (or “tolled”) on claims of defrauding the federal government until hostilities had ended. When the Japanese surrendered three years later, Congress left WSLA on the books, where nearly everyone forgot about it. …

A few years ago the U.S. Department of Justice decided that the old law entitled it to file various civil fraud lawsuits for which the ordinary statute of limitations had passed, because we were after all at war in Iraq and Afghanistan – even though the original statute applied on its face to criminal rather than civil cases, although the newer wars unlike World War II do not call for all-consuming national focus that might pre-empt the ordinary course of business, and although the subject matter of most of the cases has nothing whatever to do with national defense or war or Afghanistan or Iraq. A couple of appeals courts have agreed with DoJ’s excuse, which has emboldened the government to roll out the theory to many other cases. That leaves business lawyers to fret, as I wrote last year, about “when, if at all, they can safely advise clients that a potential dispute is too old to worry about. If truth is the first casualty of war, perhaps the fairness of dispute resolution is the next.”

The Supreme Court now offers them a ray of hope – and in a more sensible world Congress would do so as well, by agreeing to revisit WSLA.

Virginia DMV Reportedly Reversing Uber and Lyft Ban

Yesterday the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) issued a news release praising the Virginia DMV and Gov. Terry McAuliffe for reversing the ban imposed on Uber and Lyft last month:

We are encouraged by reports that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is taking steps to allow innovative transportation network providers Uber and Lyft to operate in the Commonwealth.

CEA’s news release comes ahead of an official announcement, but if confirmed the news would mark a victory for Uber and Lyft, both of which offer rideshare services via their apps. The DMV had issued both companies cease and desist letters, saying that they were violating Virginia law.

Towards the end of the news release CEA urges lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow ridesharing companies to operate in Virginia in the long term. Perhaps Virginian lawmakers will look to ridesharing legislation passed in Colorado earlier this year, which was praised by Uber and Lyft.

Although a repeal of the ban should be welcomed, it does not mean that Uber and Lyft do not still face problems in Virginia, as Eric Hal Schwartz explained in InTheCapital:

Uber and Lyft aren’t totally out of the woods yet. Talks are ongoing about finding a solution to the regulatory issues presented by how the companies operate, but it’s definitely a positive sign for those who are fans of the ride-share app system.

As I noted shortly after the Virginia DMV sent cease and desist letters to Uber and Lyft, lawmakers should consider repealing regulations related to taxis:

Rather than hinder the growth of innovative livery companies that are taking advantage of new technology, lawmakers in Virginia and elsewhere across the country should consider repealing current taxi regulations that restrict innovation, strengthen established market players, and stifle competition.

Although the CEA news release is encouraging, it comes soon after Uber and Lyft were ordered to halt operations in Pittsburgh.

I spoke to Caleb Brown about the Virginia Uber and Lyft ban on the Cato Daily Podcast, which you can listen to below.

Hobby Lobby’s Aftermath—and Its Implications for Freedom

Not to be missed, the Wall Street Journal offers us two house editorials this morning plus the always colorful online thoughts of James Taranto, all on the Left’s hysterical reaction to Monday’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. With his usual wit, Taranto presents a rich catalog of the “aggressively ignorant commentary” while the first of the editorial board’s offerings is a clear-eyed statement of the raw politics behind this “ignorance.” It starts with White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s initial remarks—conveniently ignoring that the decision rested not on the Constitution but on a statute that Congress passed all but unanimously—then continuing to Hillary Clinton’s remarkable outburst—likening the result that flows from the statute her husband promoted as president to the treatment of women that we see in the worst Middle Eastern despotisms.

But it’s in its second offering, “The Political Ginsburg,” that the Journal takes off the gloves. The justice’s “hyperbolic dissent is a political call to arms unworthy of a junior judge, much less the nation’s highest Court,” the editors write. Indeed,

The excess begins with her first sentence: “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations … can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” She goes on to say that the Court’s “radical purpose” may unleash “havoc,” among other flourishes that distort the opinion to the point of intellectual dishonesty.

Summing up its assessment:

Justice Ginsburg’s dissent is so far removed from the legal reality that it doesn’t qualify as a judicial opinion. It is a political opinion whose purpose seems to be to mobilize opposition to the Court and perhaps even motivate Democrats to turn out at the polls. Justice Antonin Scalia sometimes unleashes his rhetorical ferocity on decisions he dislikes, but his dissents are rooted in the law. Justice Ginsburg’s is a flight from the law.

And yet, for all her gross distortion of Justice Alito’s narrow, statutory opinion for the Court, Justice Ginsburg has pointed, doubtless unwittingly, to how far we’ve strayed from our first principle, freedom—something to reflect on as we prepare to celebrate our independence. As I wrote in this space a while back, after oral argument in Hobby Lobby, religious liberty is treated today as an “exception” to the general power of government to rule—captured, indeed, in the very title of the statute on which the Hobby Lobby decision rests: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That Congress had to act to try to restore religious freedom—to carve out a space for it in a world of ubiquitous, omnipresent government—speaks volumes. So completely have we come to assume that it’s government first—supplying us with all manner of goods and services—liberty second, that Justice Alito himself was at pains to stress how narrow his opinion was (properly, from a consideration of the scope of judicial authority).

Yet that was not enough for his critics, who have so distorted his opinion. Although most don’t say it, their real beef is with the Act itself. They pit a woman’s “right” to “free” contraceptives, including the abortifacients at issue in this case, against the claim of an employer that he has a right not to provide those (in principle, on religious or on any other grounds). And they add that employers have no right to “interfere” with a woman’s reproductive choices—as if that’s what employers are doing. It’s “reasoning” like that that has undermined our freedoms. And no one has employed it more often than the man now in the White House, who repeatedly tells us that “We’re all in this together.” If we are, then it’s far more than religious liberty that needs restoring.

RIP Christian Führer, East German Peace Activist

In the early 1980s a church in Leipzig, East Germany’s ­second-­largest ­city, began holding “peace prayers” on Monday night. Two young pastors, Christian Führer and Christoph Wonneberger, at the Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church, led the services. As Andrew Curry wrote in the Wilson Quarterly, it was a dangerous undertaking, but the church was the only place where any dissent could be cautiously expressed. “The church was the one space someone could express themselves,” Führer said. “We had a monopoly on freedom, physically and spiritually.”

Through the 1980s, as Curry reported, the Monday meetings grew. Gorbachev’s reforms gave Eastern Europeans hope. But they knew their history.

In 1953, workers in 700 East German cities declared their opposition to the Unified Socialist Party of Germany, or SED, the party that was synonymous with the East German state, and demanded the reunification of the country. Soviet soldiers fired on demonstrators, and more than 100 were killed. In the years since, all opposition movements in the Soviet bloc had met the same fate: “’53 in Germany, ’56 in Hungary, ’68 in Prague, ’89 in ­China—­that’s how communism dealt with critics,” ­Führer says. 

Suddenly in 1989, with a breach in the Iron Curtain between Hungary and Austria, and Solidarity winning an election in Poland, more people started showing up for peace prayers, more than the small church could hold. People started flooding out of the church and marching with candles through Leipzig. Week by week that fall, more people joined the marches – hundreds, then thousands, then 70,000, 150,000, 300,000. And then, unbelievably, the Communist Party fell, the Berlin Wall opened, and East Germans were free after more than 40 years. As a Leipzig politician told me in 2006, “As it says in the Bible, we walked seven times around the inner city, and the wall came down.”

I was saddened to read that Christian Führer died Monday in Leipzig at 71. “Führer” is a German word meaning “leader.” Christian Führer was truly a Christian leader.

I talked about the Monday prayers and the fall of communism in this 2012 speech:

Dear ISIS, Welcome to State-building…

ISIS’s public declaration that it has restored the caliphate has been noted as a bold move, potentially changing some elements of their revolutionary calculus.  Even without such a pronouncement, however, rebel groups like ISIS always share some of the same challenges as states do—broadly speaking, both rebels and states are better off if the majority of their residents comply with their demands.  Far from a declaration of outright victory, ISIS’s announcement has simply underscored a number of interrelated challenges that all rebels and states face.

In other words, ISIS now faces the same problems as its enemies.

  1. Factionalization, and disarmament:  The very Sunni militias who facilitated ISIS’s sweep into Iraq may now pose a similar threat to ISIS control as they did to the Iraqi state.  Elements of the Iraqi military scattered in the face of ISIS’s most recent onslaught, due to a variety of factors, including commanders who were incompetent or had other loyalties, and lack of local support.  The strength of the partnership between ISIS and local discontents seems variable at best.  Tension is already showing in these partnerships, which may fracture entirely if ISIS does not undertake serious efforts to solidify these alliances—efforts which may well involve negotiating and compromising around contradictory aims, and tensions between grander ideological goals and local dissatisfactions.
  2. Disarmament: ISIS now faces the same risk as the Iraqi state—erstwhile allies, if left out of the group’s internal processes, or holding different goals or religious/political preferences may resist ISIS control.  Seemingly well aware of this possibility, ISIS is now attempting its own version of DDR (the practice of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating combatants that often bedevils post-conflict resolution), demanding local fighters swear allegiance to ISIS, and lay down their weapons.
  3. Territorial control: Factionalization also gives ISIS the same challenge of territorial control as the Iraqi state.  The loss of Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq was a political and military setback for the Iraqi state.  Even before the pronouncement, ISIS touted much of its claims to victory in territorial terms, and has certainly sought to retain the control it has gained in Syria.  In Iraq, participation of local Sunni resistance aided ISIS’s territorial sweep.  Loss of local allies may yet cost ISIS some of this control.   After all, many of these local Sunni forces are the same that first joined in resistance to American forces, and welcomed, but then expelled ISIS’s precursor Al Qaeda in Iraq.
  4. Running the caliphate:  As the BBC’s Jim Muir notes, “if the caliphate project is to take root, it will need administrators and experts in many fields, whom Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is clearly hoping will flood to heed his call.”  ISIS has demonstrated some capacity to do this in Syrian cities like Raqqa, where observers note its extensive and coercive reach into residents’ lives.  But as any administrator will tell you, competent technocrats are not necessarily easy to come by.  For ISIS, much may depend on how its declaration of the caliphate is taken among well-qualified individuals elsewhere, and the group’s willingness to engage in the compromise and politicking to build alliances.  It is possible well-qualified personnel may find ISIS’s announcement attractive (augmented by the group’s ability to pay them, at least for now).  But such individuals often bring with them their own political and religious preferences.  If ISIS refuses to compromise, it will be fishing for administrators in a doubly shallow pool of those with sufficient competence and affinity for its particular ideological brand.  Moreover, if ISIS does attract quality personnel, using them for administrative demands means the group cannot simultaneously use their skills in leading or planning attacks to expand or defend ISIS territory.

ISIS’s breathtaking victories and their proclamation that it has reestablished the caliphate have produced widespread alarm.  But this headline-ready proclamation simply emphasizes a wider irony—ISIS’s conquests saddle them with the same challenges of state building as the Iraqi state they’ve pushed back.  The past decade has ample evidence that proclaiming, “mission accomplished” vis-à-vis Iraq does not guarantee success.

ISIS’s success, and the weaknesses of the Iraqi state it highlights, cannot be dismissed.  But neither can their military and media victories indefinitely paper over the hard realties of governance. 

At the moment, ISIS has the advantage of momentum, cash, and an internally dysfunctional adversary.  But it is early days yet, and it remains to be seen how ISIS will fare against these challenges.  It must decide how much it is willing to compromise and negotiate to build robust alliances out of partnerships that may thus far have been more opportunistic.  It must recruit and allocate both financial and personnel resources to managing the territory it holds, and in which its pronounced caliphate resides.  ISIS’s ability to further expand its territories or pose a threat to other states depends in large part on its choices and abilities to address these challenges.

Should We Expect Fewer Hurricanes in the Near Future?

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”


With hurricane Arthur headlining the news as throwing a possible wet blanket on 4th of July fireworks shows along the Northeast coast and with a new record being set each passing day for the longest period between major (Category 3 or greater) hurricane landfalls anywhere in the U.S. (3,173 days and counting), we thought that now would be a good time to discuss a new paper which makes a tentative forecast as to what we can expect in terms of the number of Atlantic hurricanes in the near future (next 3-5 years).

With every storm post priori blamed on global warming (or at least being “consistent with expectations”), we thought it would be interesting to actually establish a priori what the expectations really are.

To this end, a new paper authored by a team led by Leon Hermanson has just appeared on-line in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that describes a decadal forecasting model developed by the U.K. Met Office and called, rather unimaginatively, the Decadal Prediction System (DePreSys).