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Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace
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Virginia DMV Reportedly Reversing Uber and Lyft Ban

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:27

Matthew Feeney

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.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Hobby Lobby’s Aftermath—and Its Implications for Freedom

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:11

Roger Pilon

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.

Categories: Policy Institutes

RIP Christian Führer, East German Peace Activist

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 09:49

David Boaz

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:

David Boaz Discusses the Heroism That Hastened the Fall of Communism
Categories: Policy Institutes

Dear ISIS, Welcome to State-building…

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 08:48

Jennifer Keister

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.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Should We Expect Fewer Hurricanes in the Near Future?

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 08:38

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels

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).

Hermanson and colleagues identified the “North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre” (SPG) as a key factor which influences a variety of weather patterns from North America to Europe. The SPG is a collection of processes most readily manifest in the variability of the average sea surface temperature in an area extending in latitude from 50°N to 66°N and in longitude from 60°W to 10°W. Variability in the SPG has been associated with precipitation and temperature patterns across the in the U.S., Europe, and North Africa, as well as hurricane frequency in the Atlantic Ocean.

The relationship between the SPG and hurricanes was pointed out back in 2001 in a prominent paper in Science magazine by a team of leading hurricane researchers including Stanley Goldenberg, Chris Landsea and William Gray.  This team countered the prevailing (in the popular press anyway) and rather shrilly-delivered hypothesis that the upturn in hurricane activity which began in the mid-1990s was caused by anthropogenic global warming.  In their paper, Goldenberg and colleagues pointed out that, no, it wasn’t. Rather than global warming, the patterns of hurricane frequency were driven by naturally occurring variability in the patterns of sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic (related to the SPG).  And since this variability takes place over multidecadal timescales, conditions conducive to elevated hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean would be with us for a while (a couple of decades or so beginning in the mid-1990s).  Despite this explanation/warning from these prominent scientists, determined parties did not stop blaming each and every hurricane on global warming.

Now, according to the DePreSys model run by Hermanson and colleagues, this favorable hurricane environment is projected to start to draw to an end—a result of a forecasted weakening of the SPG leading to cooler sea surface temperatures in the upper the North Atlantic.

Figure 1 below shows the 5-year running average of tropical cyclone numbers in the Atlantic Ocean since 1960 along with the DePreSys model hindcasts and forecasts.  The model projects that the elevated hurricane numbers characteristic of the past two decades will fall back towards normal over the next few years.

Figure 1. Tropical storm counts for storms in the latitude band 5°N-25°N in the Atlantic that last more than two days (HURDAT2 are the observations). The year indicates the central year of the five-year mean. The 50% probability spread of the hindcasts/forecasts is indicated by the vertical lines (from Hermanson et al., 2014).

The authors note that the decline in hurricane numbers occurs as a result of a combination of internal (natural processes) as well as a bit of an influence from anthropogenic climate change—an influence which is projected to mount a downward pressure on Atlantic hurricane numbers going forward.

Now we know—a near normal numbers of hurricanes for the next couple of years would be “consistent with” model forecasts including the influence of global warming.

So in the event of above normal hurricane counts during the next couple of years, one thing we know a priori, is that such an occurrence is NOT consistent with anthropogenic climate change.

Make sure to remember this when reading all the stories that will certainly proclaim the contrary. If history is any guide to the future, it is likely that some such stories will emanate from the White House in its zeal to dredge up support for its Climate Action Plan and any carbon dioxide restrictions that it can squeeze out—despite the ineffectiveness of any such restrictions on altering the course of future climate, including Atlantic hurricanes.

References:

Hermanson, L., et al., 2014. Forecast cooling or the Atlantic subpolar gyre and associated impacts. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.002/2014GL060420

Goldenberg, S. B., Landsea, C. W., Mestas-Nunez, A. M. & Gray, W. M., 2001. The recent increase in Atlantic hurricane activity: Causes and implications, Science, 293, 474–479.

Categories: Policy Institutes

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