Tag: media

Journalists Warn of Regulation’s Costs

All too often, news stories about proposed new regulations mention all the supposed benefits of the regulation while ignoring such potential costs as higher prices, reduced service, or even the demise of the business. Today I’m glad to see journalists noting those costs right up front in their discussions of a new regulation proposed by Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. Public radio WAMU says:

Currently there are 21 abortion clinics in Virginia. Abortion service providers say at least 17 of those might shut down if state officials use their authority to regulate those clinics.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says abortion clinics provide many other medical services beyond abortions, so they’re subject to the same regulations as larger medical facilities.

That opinion was issued in response to a request from Virginia State Senator Ralph Smith, who says his only interest is to protect the health of the patient.

“I certainly feel that for the safety of all involved that they should be as regulated as other procedures,” says Smith.

For most clinics, meeting a higher regulatory standard could mean additional equipment or space renovation.

Tarina Keene director of NARAL Pro-choice Virginia says the cost involved could drive some clinics out of business.

Yes, indeed, they noted those potential costs right there in the first line. And so did the Washington Post, front page, third sentence:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has concluded that the state can impose stricter oversight over clinics that perform abortions, a move immediately decried by abortion-rights organizations and others as an attempt to circumvent the General Assembly, which has repeatedly rejected similar measures.

Cuccinelli’s legal opinion empowers the Board of Health, if it chooses, to require the clinics to meet hospital-type standards. Abortion-rights advocates say that could force some clinics to close because they would be unable to afford to meet the new requirements.

Now if only we could get journalists to take such prominent note of the costs that new regulations impose on other kinds of services, from lemonade stands to local restaurants to for-profit colleges to internet service providers.

It Depends on What the Meaning of “Tax” Is

The print edition of the Washington Post and the online Real Estate home page feature this headline:

Debunking rumors of a housing sales tax

The article begins:

Rumors are flying that the health-care legislation Congress passed this year will impose a sales tax on all real estate sales.

So I’m thinking, OK, more crazy Glenn Beck tea-party stories about mythical Obama tax hikes, and the Post is going to debunk them. Then I keep reading:

But the rumors are based only partly on fact. Although there is a new tax, it will not apply to everyone, and existing tax breaks for home sales will remain in place.

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which President Obama signed into law March 30, is comprehensive and complex. Section 1402, “Unearned Income Medicare Contribution,” imposes a 3.8 percent tax on profits from the sale of real estate – residential or investment.

But the levy is aimed at high-income taxpayers, leaving most people untouched. And it will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.

Let’s look at the facts of this new law.

First, it is not a sales tax, nor does it impose any transfer or recordation tax. It is called a Medicare tax because the money received will be allocated to the Medicare Trust Fund, which is part of the Social Security system.

Next, if your adjusted gross income is less than $200,000, you are home free….

How is the tax calculated? Through a complex formula that could be called “the accountants’ protection act.” As a taxpayer, you (or your financial adviser) must determine which is less: the gain you have made on the sale of your house, or the amount by which your income exceeds the appropriate threshold.

So let’s recap here. Post contributor Benny Kass promises to “debunk” the “rumors” that “the health-care legislation Congress passed this year will impose a sales tax on all real estate sales.” And he concludes, “In the meantime, don’t believe the rumors.” But in fact the health-care law did include a new tax on real estate profits. It’s not exactly a sales tax, and it won’t apply to most people. But the only real inaccuracy in the “rumors” that he said “are flying” was the word “all.” It’s only a 3.8 percent tax on some real estate sales, no doubt only a minority of sales, though perhaps affecting more readers of the Washington Post Real Estate section than people in less-affluent regions where housing prices didn’t soar and then remain high. Frankly, I’ve seen more effective debunkings.

This “rumored” real estate tax is also discussed on page 20 of Michael Tanner’s new study “Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law.” But if you’re really going to try to understand the new health-care legislation, you may want to clip the Kass article to keep with your copy of the Tanner paper, as no one study can guide you through every detail of a 2000-page law. Journalists and HR experts will be kept busy for years tracking down every sub-reference and interaction in the bill.

The Not-So-White Tea Party

USA Today is out with a new poll on Tea Party supporters. Near the top of both the article and the accompanying graphic is this point, also singled out by Howard Kurtz in his Washington Post report on the study:

They are overwhelmingly white and Anglo,

Not too surprising, perhaps. Economic conservatives, we hear, are more white than the national average. But wait — here’s the rest of Kurtz’s sentence:

although a scattering of Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans combine to make up almost one-fourth of their ranks.

“Almost one-fourth of their ranks” is “a scattering”? Sounds like a pretty good chunk to me, especially in a country that is after all still mostly white. Let’s go to the tape. The data-filled graphic says that 77 percent of Tea Party supporters are “non-Hispanic whites.” And this 2008 Census report says that the United States as a whole is 65 percent non-Hispanic white. So the Tea Party is indeed somewhat more “white” than the country at large, but not by that much. Twelve points above the national average is not “overwhelmingly white,” and 23 percent Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans is not “a scattering.” At a rough estimate, it represents about 14 million non-Anglo Americans who support the Tea Party movement.

How does this compare to the demographics of other movements? Strangely enough, I can’t find any real data on the demographics of the enviromental movement. Maybe pollsters and mainstream journalists don’t want to know. But here’s a report that 84 percent of the visitors to the Sierra Club website are Caucasian. Similar implication here. And here’s a story on the environmentalist movement’s desperate attempt to seem not so “overwhelmingly white.” Yet somehow journalists don’t focus on that obvious fact about the environmentalist movement.

Instead, they keep describing the Tea Party movement as “overwhelmingly white,” even when the data suggest a different conclusion.

Guns Save Lives, Part XXXIVXX

John Lee still has his life and four children still have a father because Mr. Lee  had a handgun when three criminals tried to kill him and take his money.

When John Q. Citizen takes out a gun and the criminals flee, reporters don’t consider the incident “news” (at least when there are no injuries)–so guns are typically on the evening news when they are used by criminals.  As a result of that skewed coverage, it is no wonder that many people have a negative view about firearms.

On June 17, Cato will be hosting a forum about guns, crime, and self-defense.  Speakers include John Lott, Jeff Snyder, and Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign.

For related Cato scholarship, go here.

Advice to Tea Partiers

The Tea Party movement may endure, but its endurance will be a testament to its ability to understand that cutting government means having a long-term focus, says John Samples, author of the Cato book The Struggle to Limit Government.  In a new video, Samples outlines an assessment of what Tea Partiers should do if they want to sustain an effort to cut government.

He offers five pieces of advice for members of the Tea Party movement:

1. Republicans aren’t always your friends.

2. Some tea partiers like big government.

3. Democrats aren’t always your enemies.

4. Smaller government demands restraint abroad.

5. Leave social issues to the states.

Dealing with Police

Yesterday Cato hosted the premiere screening of the new film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, produced by our friends at Flex Your Rights. The Washington Post has a nice piece about the film and event here. And the Washington Examiner covered the event here.

10 Rules is a gold mine of useful information (both legal and practical) for handling police encounters.  Legal books are too often impenetrable and just too time-consuming for laypersons. 10 Rules is a media-savvy vehicle that can alleviate the problem of constitutional illiteracy in America.

In less than 45 minutes, you acquire the information you need to know.  Get the dvds and encourage others to show them at high schools, colleges, and other venues.

Catch the trailer below:

Annals of Unhelpful Polling: Internet Access Edition

A new BBC poll is garnering plenty of press attention for its striking finding that 78% of global respondents believe that Internet access “should be a fundamental right of all people.” Fascinating!  Except… what exactly does that mean?

The obvious problem here is that, at least as it’s worded in English, the question is ambiguous between two equally plausible readings.  Especially when juxtaposed with another question about whether the Internet should be regulated by government, it could be understood as asking whether there’s a fundamental negative right to be free to use the Internet – to read and communicate free of government censorship or other onerous barriers.  That’s probably how we’d interpret a parallel question about whether people had a “fundamental right” to “access” information via newspapers or books.

Many folks, though, seem to be reading it as a measure of support for a fundamental positive right to be provided with (broadband?) Internet access. And that just seems a bit silly, frankly. There’s a decent case to be made that it’s desirable for governments that can afford it to make some kind of public Internet access available to citizens who can’t.  You can even imagine that, a few years down the line, some states in the developed world might have moved so heavily toward interacting with the public online that it would become more or less necessary for full political equality.  But a basic human right? Something that governments are “violating fundamental rights” if they don’t do? It’s not just that I don’t believe this; I have trouble imagining that much of anyone literally thinks so.  A few of my friends at Free Press, maybe, but 4/5 of the world’s population?  Color me dubious.

I’ll confess being startled at the response to a much less ambiguous question: A global majority agreed that “the Internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere.” While I find this pattern of responses congenial enough, I can’t take it much more seriously.  After all, what falls under the category of “regulation of the Internet”?  Censorship, of course, which I expect is what most people immediately thought of.  But in reality, of course, there are a whole panoply of laws and rules that at least arguably “regulate” the Internet in some sense, some of which even I would approve of. I have many, many issues with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for instance, but there’s nothing wrong with the idea that there should be a basic protocol that provides both a safe harbor for service providers hosting user content and a mechanism for complaining about copyright-infringing or libelous or otherwise tortious material.  Probably there are other “regulations” I’d approve too, but I’d have to sit and think about it for an hour to even enumerate all the different kinds of rules that might be considered to “regulate the Internet” in one way or another.

Because it’s at least not susceptible to such dramatically divergent readings, this response might be more useful as a kind of big-picture attitude check. But the reality is that almost none of the respondents can really mean it because even someone steeped in tech policy would have to sit and think about the question for a half hour to really get a grip on what it entails. Or might entail. If the BBC were engaged in some kind of serious social science, they probably would have worked up better questions.  But of course, that’s not the business they’re in.  They’re in the business of asking the sort of question that will let them run exciting headlines that get re-tweeted and drive page views. And 100% of respondents in my poll of myself agree they’ve succeeded.