Topic: Government and Politics

A Federal Ban on Texting While Driving?

text-messaging-while-drivingIn response to claims that texting-while-driving (TWD) causes traffic accidents, Congress is considering “a federal bill that would force states to ban texting while driving if they want to keep receiving federal highway money.”

This approach to forcing a particular policy on the states mimics the 1984 Federal Uniform Driving Age Act, which threatened to withhold federal highway funds unless states adopted a 21-year-old minimum legal drinking age. The justification for that law was reducing traffic fatalities among 18-20 year olds.

A federal ban on TWD is not compelling:

1. Federal imposition of the 21-year old minimum drinking age did not save lives.

2. A ban on texting might increase other distractions: adjusting the radio, putting on makeup, eating a sandwich, reading a map, and so on. Relatedly, the evidence that TWD causes accidents is far from convincing. Traffic fatalities per vehicle mile travelled have declined substantially over the past 15 years, despite the explosion in text messaging.

3. TWD has benefits, not just costs. Truckers, for example, claim that

Crisscrossing the country, hundreds of thousands of long-haul truckers use computers in their cabs to get directions and stay in close contact with dispatchers, saving precious minutes that might otherwise be spent at the side of the road.

4. If the benefits of banning TWD become clear, most states will ban on their own.

Thus laws that penalize TWD might make sense. But this is an issue for states, not the federal government.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z.

Nanny State Doesn’t Like Competition

“A Michigan woman who lives in front of a school bus stop says the state is threatening her with fines and possibly jail time for babysitting her neighbors’ kids until the bus comes,” CNN reports.

Lisa Snyder of Middleville, Mich., says she takes no money for watching the three children for 15-40 minutes each day so that the neighbors can get to work on time.

The Department of Human Services, acting on a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home, demanded she either get a license, stop watching the kids or face the consequences, WZZM says.

Snyder calls the whole thing “ridiculous” and tells the Grand Rapids TV station that “we are friends helping friends!”

A DHS spokesperson tells the station that it has no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.

She’s not getting paid. She’s possibly not even letting the neighbor kids into her house. The kids are waiting for a school bus in front of her house, and she’s told her neighbors she’ll keep an eye on their kids. And the government wants her to get a license. (Something similar is happening in Britain.)  This is what people mean when they warn that an ever-expanding government threatens the values of neighborliness and community. When the government provides services for free, or when it erects obstacles to individuals’ providing those services, it reduces private provision and simultaneously increases the demand for government services. If you make it illegal for neighbors to watch one another’s kids, you weaken ties of neighborhood and community.

Our nanny-state government not only wants to take care of us from cradle to pre-K to K-12 to homebuying to medical care to retirement to grave, it not only considers adult Americans “just like your teenage kids, [not] acting in a way that they should act,” it not only wants to “nudge” us into acting the way it thinks we should, now it thinks that neighbors should have to get a license to keep an eye on the kids congregating in front of their homes. It’s enough to make you think we have too much government.

Climate Change and Health Care: Free Lunches?

In the debate over health care reform, advocates of expanded government health insurance suggest we can pay for this by making Medicare and Medicaid more efficient.

In Paul Krugman’s most recent column, he makes a similar claim about reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

The evidence suggests that we’re wasting a lot of energy right now. That is, we’re burning large amounts of coal, oil and gas in ways that don’t actually enhance our standard of living — a phenomenon known in the research literature as the “energy-efficiency gap.” The existence of this gap suggests that policies promoting energy conservation could, up to a point, actually make consumers richer.

Both claims of a “free lunch” are heroic, at best.

In the case of health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid are inefficient, but to make them more efficient we have to reduce government subsidy for health insurance, not expand it.

In the case of energy efficiency, more energy-efficient practices exist (e.g., replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs), but they are expensive: if they actually made consumers richer, most would be using them already.

Now the fact that expanded government health insurance and increased energy efficiency would cost more, not less, does not prove they are bad ideas (that’s a separate discussion). But it means society must evaluate a tradeoff, not just assert we can have something for nothing.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Under Current Law, Can the Government Ban Books?

The Citizens United case currently before the Supreme Court may radically reshape campaign finance law for years to come. Former FEC commissioner Bradley A. Smith spoke at a forum on the case a day before the rehearing before the high court.

According to Smith, who is also the founder of the Center for Competitive Politics,  under current law, the government does have the power to ban certain books  if those books are published by a corporation, as ruled by the Supreme Court in 1990.

Watch:

The Seat-Warming Senate

With Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of longtime Kennedy courtier Paul Kirk to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate, there are now at least three close aides holding on to Senate seats while their states go through the formality of an election. The governor of Delaware appointed Joe Biden’s longtime friend and former chief of staff to fill the rest of his term in the Senate. Can you name him? It is generally thought that he is obligingly holding on to the seat until Biden’s son Beau gets back from National Guard service and is able to run to succeed his father. And in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez until the 2010 election in which Crist is running for the seat. There are more seat-fillers in the Senate than at the Oscars.

Of course, Kennedy himself took his seat when he attained the age of 30, after it was kept warm for him by family retainer Benjamin A. Smith III.

Meanwhile, as of 2005 there were 18 senators who gained office at least partly through their family ties – sons, daughters, wives, nephews of former senators, governors, presidents, and so on.

The Founders envisioned the Senate as an assembly of wise and accomplished men, chosen for their experience and judiciousness. Political campaigns that favor the handsome, the glib, the panderers, and the best fundraisers are bad enough. But a Senate full of legacies and seat-warmers is especially unfortunate.

New Report: Honduras Acted Constitutionally

A new report by the non-partisan Law Library of Congress now publicly available reviews the legal and constitutional issues surrounding Honduran President Zelaya’s removal from office. The report concludes that both the Supreme Court of Honduras and the Congress acted in full accordance with the constitution in removing the president from power. The study, first reported by Mary O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal this Monday, is consistent with the point she, Juan Carlos Hidalgo, and others have made with regard to Washington’s unbelievable policy of undermining Honduras’ rule of law by insisting on Zelaya’s return to power, calling his removal a coup, and otherwise sanctioning the small nation’s Supreme Court by suspending the visas of its justices.