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“the greatest threat to our liberty is the slow erosion of our rights, in steps so small that we barely notice.”

Attorney Richard Dietz writes an interesting piece about an exception in a Winston-Salem ordinance that should give us pause. 

The new ordinance, which took effect July 1, requires door-to-door salesmen in Winston-Salem to obtain a license and city-issued ID before making sales pitches to city residents. The law applies to all forms of commercial sales except one — it exempts newspaper salesmen.

There are, of course, obvious reasons why Winston-Salem’s print newspapers, struggling to maintain their subscriber base in the digital age, would want an exemption from this ordinance and the resulting registration fees. And there are obvious reasons why politicians in the city might want to give preferential treatment to the newspapers that report on them to the public.

But that is little comfort to other salesmen — of, say, encyclopedias, or cable TV, or anything else — who must comply with sales laws from which the newspapers are exempt.

In light of McCullen and other recent cases, this preferential treatment raises serious constitutional concerns. But whether it is constitutional or not, it is certainly bad policy. One of the greatest benefits of free speech is the competition that is created through the open exchange of information and beliefs. Scholars call this the “marketplace of ideas.”

It works like any other free market. Just as competition among businesses benefits consumers, competition among differing viewpoints benefits the public discourse — it helps society separate the strong ideas from the weak ones. And as in any other marketplace, we should be wary of government intervention in the marketplace of ideas.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens aptly summed up this concern in an opinion years ago: “The First Amendment directs us to be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good.”

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Want More Diversity Among Lawyers? Support A Free Market For Legal Education

Law school enrollment is down and the cost of earning a law degree is up. George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy writes that it is well past time for a free market in legal education.

The ABA’s power comes from laws in most states that either prevent people who have not graduated from an ABA-accredited law school from taking the bar exam, or severely delaying them.

Those needlessly high costs must be paid by students, who often incur heavy debts while taking lots of courses they will never put to the least bit of use. (The ABA also mandates that law school programs take three years to complete, which means that students have to take many courses they will never need in order to get enough credits.) People who can’t afford the high costs and heavy debt load are unlikely even consider law school and a career as an attorney. That has a far greater impact on minority students.

Furthermore, students who can get through law school are often so burdened with debt that they can’t afford low-fee clients.

Instead of worrying about diversity among law students, I think it makes more sense to worry about the how the inordinately high cost of getting through law school affects the diversity of people who can afford an attorney when they need one. After all, when someone needs legal help, he probably isn’t concerned with the race or gender of the attorney, but only with his competence and affordability.

The goal should be legal competency, not three years in law school.

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Is Raleigh On Its Way To Banning Or Taxing Plastic Bags?

Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord has asked city staff for information about taxing plastic bags. Carolina Journal’s Dan Way has the story of what may be coming to capital city shoppers.

Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord raised the possibility of a nickel or dime tax on plastic bags in a June 18 query to the City Manager’s Office. Gaylord asked whether a “rational nexus” existed to charge a nickel or dime per bag to raise money for stream cleanup.

“The council hasn’t asked us to take any action on this,” said Dan Howe, assistant city manager. “Mr. Gaylord asked for some information on where this is taking place, and how it works, and we provided that information, and that’s pretty much where it’s sitting right now.” City Council next meets Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Gaylord said family matters prevented him from keeping a scheduled interview for this story. In the city’s e-mail response to Gaylord’s query, Howe said the Solid Waste Services Department has discussed the matter.

Attached to Howe’s e-mail was a list compiled by the Earth Policy Institute of 172 local governments representing some 20 million Americans where plastic bag bans or taxes are in effect.

The Outer Banks already bans plastic bags, so what is the impact? Dan asked Andy Ellen of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.

A study by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “has shown no decline in plastic bags found on the beaches or in that area, but what you have seen is a tremendous increase in costs to the retailers, which ultimately get passed on to the consumers,” Ellen said. Those include higher costs for paper vs. plastic bags.

Merchants also had to update cash register software at their own expense to account for the reusable bag rebate, and chain stores must adjust their bookkeeping systems to account for differences unique to their Outer Banks stores, Ellen said. One retailer paid more than $40,000 to adjust its computer software while issuing only two reusable bag credits the first year.

Retail Merchants Association surveys of members on the Outer Banks found “less than 3 percent or 4 percent of the transactions actually involved someone bringing in a reusable bag to a grocery store, even after all the publicity and hype,” Ellen said. And visitors continue to bring plastic bags from elsewhere. Merchants believe recycling is a better option, he said, and where recycling bins are set up they “are overflowing.”

Stay tuned. Carolina Journal is following this story very closely.

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IRS Employee Told Callers To Vote For Obama, Only Suspended, Not Fired

I have only one question: why does bureaucrat still have a job?

An IRS help line worker has been suspended for 100 days without pay for urging callers to reelect President Barack Obama in 2012, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced on Thursday.

The employee, who was not named, “acknowledged that he had used his authority and influence as an IRS customer service representative for a political purpose and did so while at work,” according to a news release from the ethics watchdog agency.

If this doesn’t get you fired, I wonder what does.

 

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Double Trouble: 2nd Judge Tells IRS To Explain “Lost” E-Mails

The plot thickens.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton told Obama administration lawyers on Friday he wants to see an affidavit explaining what happened with Lerner’s hard drive. The IRS claims her computer suffered a crash in 2011 that wiped her email records at the time clean.

But at a hearing examining a lawsuit against the IRS by conservative group True the Vote, Walton said he wants to know what happened to Lerner’s hard drive, which allegedly was recycled. He asked for an affidavit from those involved in handling the crashed drive.

The order is another boost for those questioning the agency’s claims that many Lerner emails from that time period are not recoverable.

A day earlier, in a separate case brought by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave the tax agency 30 days to file a declaration by an “appropriate official” to address the computer issues involving Lerner.

 

 

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Orange County Spends $1 Million On Giant Recycling Carts

Earlier this year I blogged about Orange County’s “Big Brother” recycling program that features recycling carts that contain radio frequency monitors. From the county news release:

The carts will also be equipped with an RFID tag (or “radio-frequency identification”) that will tie the cart to each address and will help measure participation rates.

Now we find out that the carts are not only causing problems, even to those who want to use them, the county spent $1 million on the bright blue eyesores.

Give your big, blue recycling roll cart a chance, Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson says.

The last of more than 18,000 95-gallon recycling carts were rolled out last week in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. Wilson said they ordered roughly $1 million worth of carts, including some extras for future customers. Items left curbside in the old 18-gallon bins won’t be collected.

And now you have an idea of what the progressives who run the county deem to be a vital local service.

 

 

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$1.2 Billion Down The Drain

From the Federal Times:

A Senate report lambastes the Air Force for poorly managing the acquisition of a logistics management system the service canceled after spending $1.2 billion.

The report also warns the Defense Department faces similar problems with the procurement of a system intended to improve financial management in the Air Force and other DoD agencies.

The logistics management system, the Expeditionary Combat Support System, aimed to overhaul hundreds of computer systems to better manage global logistics and supply chain networks. Procurement, in the works from 2004 to 2012, was canceled after the Air Force admitted that continuing would cost another $1 billion and the system would not be capable enough to field until 2020.

“The Air Force’s billion-dollar ECSS failure is the most egregious example of mismanagement at the Department of Defense in recent memory,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement.

 

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Will Advocate Against Raced-Based Preferences Find A Plaintiff To Sue UNC-Chapel Hill?

Harry Painter reports on efforts by Ed Blum of UNCNotFair.org to find plaintiffs to sue UNC-Chapel Hill over its use of racial preferences in admissions. 

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is the ongoing case of Abigail Fisher, a young woman who claimed in 2008 to have been rejected from UT-Austin because she is white. While the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her lawsuit, the Supreme Court overturned the decision and sent Fisher back to the 5th Circuit. The justices ruled that in approving UT-Austin’s admissions policy, the lower court had not applied the standard of “strict scrutiny” required in affirmative action cases.

The court did not reverse previous decisions upholding racial preferences, but it said Texas’ policy was unconstitutional. That is, the courts still allow universities that receive federal money to have racial preferences in admissions, but there is a point at which such preferences become illegal. The exact line is being drawn.

The 5th Circuit in November heard oral arguments in Fisher, but has not issued its ruling. In any event, Blum, whose one-man Project on Fair Representation recruited Fisher, has named UNC-Chapel Hill as one of his next targets. He intends to bring a lawsuit highlighting Carolina’s admissions practices.

Why Chapel Hill?

In UNC-Chapel Hill’s Fisher brief, the university said that if it had adopted a race-neutral plan similar to the University of Texas plan, its racial diversity would increase by 1 percent, but its median SAT score would drop by 55 points.

Blum says the brief shows that UNC is unwilling, as required, to try a race-neutral plan — such as a “top 10” plan — before implementing a plan including racial preferences.

Blum said he is “swamped,” and that his three websites, as of April 25, had nearly 20,000 visits and hundreds of responses. He added that there are “dozens and dozens of individuals who we believe” may have a legitimate case. He readily admits, however, that finding the next Abigail Fisher is not easy.

“People don’t like lawsuits, people don’t like courtrooms, and they don’t want to be in courtrooms with lawyers.”

 

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More Tax Dollars Wasted: City Bike-Sharing Programs A Bust

It’s another idea from the “green” crowd that sounds great when you talk about it, but which proves to be a bust in the marketplace. This time we’re talking about bike-sharing programs that have cropped up in cities around the country. Many are, at least in part, publicly funded. Which means, of course, that when reality hits, the hard-earned tax dollars are gone — and the bikes are sitting in the corner. From the Wall Street Journal:

Bike-sharing programs are spreading across the U.S., with more than 21,000 shared bikes in at least 36 urban areas from Boston to Fort Worth, Texas, to Denver, up from just six programs in 2010, according to researchers.

More than half of the programs have stumbled, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal. Several had to delay their launch because of technical snafus or trouble securing funding from government or the private sector.

In several other places, supplier woes have thwarted plans to add bikes and stations needed to rev up rider revenue. And some bike-share systems are scrambling for money needed to keep them rolling or help them expand.

“The only macro trend is chaos,” says Ryan Rzepecki, chief executive of Social Bicycles Inc., of New York, which supplies bikes and other equipment to the 16-month-old program in Buffalo. “The industry is kind of a mess.”

Despite this economic reality, some cities continue to live in dreamland — which is a very comfy place to be when you’re spending OTHER people’s money.

Bike Chattanooga was billed as a new mass transit system in a car-centric city once known for its industrial pollution. Residents and tourists visiting the Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel can avoid using cars, buses or free electric-powered shuttles with a rented bike.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says the 300-bike program boosts downtown businesses, the city’s tourism industry and Chattanooga’s outdoorsy brand. “People enjoy it and love it,” he says. “I understand there are things in the community which we need that don’t make money.”

So far, though, only about 540 riders have signed up for $75-a-year memberships, about one-tenth of the initial target, says Philip Pugliese, one of the city officials who oversees Bike Chattanooga.

And so it goes.

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Gray: Energy-Related Reforms Boost N.C. Economic Prospects

JLF’s Becki Gray weighs in on steps taken by legislative reformers and the governor to continue the state’s economic recovery by safely unleashing North Carolina’s energy sector.

Natural gas development is occurring in 32 states. With the potential for rich gas deposits in at least 10 counties, North Carolina needs to become one of those states. Hydraulic fracturing and natural gas exploration measures advanced during the short session.

Under Session Law 2014-4, the moratorium on fracking was lifted, the deadline for fracking rules is Jan. 1, 2015, permits can be issued soon after all rules are in place, and a new Oil and Gas Commission will adopt rules and oversee the development of any oil and gas resources that are uncovered. The new fracking regulations protect the environment, the industry, and property owners, and ensure the health and safety of citizens.

Extracting natural gas can have a significant impact on state and local economies with job creation, capital investments, and tax revenues. Just as 31 other states have done, North Carolina has established a severance tax to ensure that costs of natural gas extraction are paid for by the industry and that taxpayers receive benefits from production.

Many states are seeing game-changing boosts to their economies. Perhaps most significant is that natural gas development can reduce energy costs.

A little-reported provision in the fracking bill could have long-term and significant impacts on energy costs in North Carolina. Section 27 orders the State Energy Office to study and make recommendations on comprehensive long-range energy policy, looking at not only environmental impacts but also the economic effects of different sources of energy.

The study will revisit a 2007 requirement mandating that 12.5 percent of our energy come from efficiency measures and renewable energy sources — a requirement that is proving impractical and expensive. Too often the costs associated with energy and the economic impact on consumers and businesses are overlooked.

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