SOPA: Delayed But Not Defeated

Good news – somewhat. The extremely dangerous SOPA bill has been delayed. The Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill on Thursday, but the outnumbered opponents of the bill prolonged the process as much as possible, forcing the entire text to be read out loud and bringing up amendment after amendment. The hearing continued on Friday where it was abruptly ended. Initial reports suggested that the bill had been delayed until at least January, but apparently they are going to try to have another meeting this coming Wednesday – apparently the issue of piracy is so important that it cannot wait until after Christmas. (Word on the Internet is that the lobbyists just want to sneak the bill through while no one’s paying attention, just like they did with the Federal Reserve act back in 1913 or something.)

So the fight will continue but at least it’s dragging out longer than expected, giving the entire Internet more time to mobilize defense against it. Also, Lamar Smith – the bill’s uncompromising leader – apparently seems open to letting actual technology experts talk about the potential consequences of the bill.

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The Right To A Lightbulb Has Been Extended

(Update below)

It seems that in the wheeling and dealing to pass a government budget this week, the ban on incandescent lightbulbs has been delayed. The 100W bulbs were supposed to be the first to be illegalized starting next month, but Congress apparently prohibited the administration from “spending any money to carry out the light bulb standards… That means the regs will likely go into effect next fiscal year, which starts in October 2012.”

Well, in the simplest sense, any delay to statism is good news. Of course, there are liberals on the Internet complaining that those dumb conservatives just hate regulation even when it would save them money on electric bills, but I’ve written before about how I’ve struggled to find any available lightbulbs that match the quality of existing incandescents – besides the fact that it’s arguable that the “green” savings from CFLs are offset by their manufacturing processes or the fact that they contain mercury. So a delay is good news. If things get delayed almost to the next presidential election, maybe it will get delayed again.

But it’s a rather hollow victory.

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SOPA: Opposed By The Entire Internet

The entertainment industry is lobbying for a dangerous “anti-piracy” bill that essentially gives the government the power to make websites accused of file-sharing vanish from the Internet – even if the accusation is unfounded or was caused by a random user. It’s a terrible, corrupt, and poorly written bill that will do nothing to solve the piracy problem but has a lot of potential to ruin the Internet. But don’t take my word for it. The founders of Google, Twitter, eBay, Craigslist, Yahoo, PayPal and more have sent a joint letter to Congress in opposition. So did 83 Internet engineers who helped create the original protocols that made the Internet work. Tumblr mobilized its users into making over 87,000 calls to Congress, and thousands of other websites are working with American Censorship to do the same thing. Techcrunch hates it. Gizmodo hates it. The primary editors of Wikipedia, the fifth-most popular website in the world, are considering blacking out the entire site for a day in protest (I really hope they do; it looks like about 89% of them support the idea).

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The Hullabaloo About Muslims and Hardware Stores

When the Florida Family Association called on advertisers to boycott a new TLC show about American Muslim families, they probably didn’t expect to start a big controversy that would end up with more people learning about the show than ever would have otherwise. But Lowe’s pulled its ads from All-American Muslim, and now everybody’s upset that they caved to a social conservative group. Apparently thousands of people want Lowe’s to reinstate the ads (no doubt many of them liberals who otherwise act disgusted by advertising). Personally I think it’s a big hullabaloo about almost nothing.

First, to the conservatives Republicans: You need to get over your obsession with “real Muslims vs. fake Muslims.” You know that some people think Islam is a peaceful religion and some people think it has to do with killing all the infidels. You’ve learned about al-Qeada and the history of Mohammed and seen some verses from the Koran and you’ve been convinced that the “real Muslims” are the killers and the ones that think it’s a peaceful religion are just fooling themselves. The Florida Family Association president, David Caton, declares that “a follower of Islam believes in the radicalization, use of Sharia Law, which provides for honor killings, mutilation of women, and numerous other atrocities to women.” So whenever part of our culture engages in an attempt to present “peaceful Muslims” in a good light, you get riled up because you think they’re trying to deceptively encourage sympathy and support for dangerous murderers.

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The Changing Politics of the Defense Budget

It seems that the Debt Supercommittee is doomed to fail, which doesn’t actually surprise a lot of people. (If you don’t understand what the Supercommittee is, see “Layman’s Terms: What Does The Debt Supercommittee Failure Mean?“) The United States government is still showing an extreme unwillingness to make hard choices about its debt. The Supercommittee only needed to come up with cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years, or an average of $120 billion a year from a deficit of over $1 trillion of a budget in the neighborhood of $3.5 trillion. The members of the Supercommittee couldn’t even agree on a way to trim roughly 5% of our overall budget – cuing lots of political posturing about whether we should blame the Republicans for not accepting enough tax increases or the Democrats for not accepting enough cuts.

But at least we have the “automatic” cuts that kick in since the committee didn’t find a better way to come up with those numbers, right? It’s still a tiny amount in the scheme of the overall budget. It still amounts to a slowed manner of growth rather than legitimate cuts. It still leaves us with an enormous deficit and growing debt. But at least the government has tricked itself into finding a way to save $1.2 trillion, right?

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The Ironies Of Whining For Education As Free As Water

Well Occupiers are now less popular than the Tea Party, but that hasn’t stopped NPR from covering their latest antics every time I’ve been in the car for the past two days. This morning I was treated to students chanting that education should be as free as water and air, and while I hate giving these folks more attention and picking on the low-hanging fruit of the Tree of Progressivism, this statement is full of so much ignorance that I just had to respond.

Look, I understand students’ frustrations with expensive education. A lot of them are racking up debt loads without good job prospects in sight. My personal bias is that it’s the government’s involvement in making student loans more accessible that contributes to college’s soaring costs, and that more government would make things worse, not better. But I understand the frustration. But chanting about a perceived right that education should be as free as water is so ironic on so many levels that it borders on hilarious hysteria.

1. The phraseology about making education “free as water and air” comes from Peter Cooper, the founder of a privately funded college. I think it’s fantastic that this guy believed people deserved free education and set up his own institution where every student has their tuition fully covered from voluntary donations. Of course, the college can only accept about 10% of the students that apply, and it seems to be in financial troubles these days, too. Free college is expensive. But forgive me for assuming that these chanting students aren’t pushing for voluntary philanthropy to fund their college experience, and it’s ironic that they’re stealing the catch phrase of someone who tried to provide free college in the private sector and using it to suggest that the government should mandate this for everyone.

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Big Yellow Taxi Medallions: Regulation in New York City

I heard a fascinating story on my drive home from work this evening, and while I don’t have a complete grasp on it, it’s so interesting that I want to blog my scattered thoughts about it. The NPR story was about these taxi medallions that are required to operate a taxi in New York City, and how these medallions, after rising in value for decades, have now ballooned in value from a couple hundred thousand dollars to a million dollars in just a few years. Regular taxi drivers can’t afford them anymore so there’s a company called Medallion Financial that makes loans. I was waiting for the reason the cost of these medallions has gone up so much, but first I got a hilarious mouthful from Medallion Financial’s president:

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The Ironies Of Taxing Christmas Trees

Well, the Christmas tree tax sprouted and got chopped down before I had time to blog about it, but I’m going to blog about it today anyway. The audacious folks of Fox News almost certainly had a part in destroying the plan before it started by combining the words “OBAMA and TAX and CHRISTMAS” enough times in enough headlines to scare the Administration off. I have a love-hate relationship with those folks; they spend a lot of time, er, barking up the wrong tree (like complaining about Obama visiting a mosque that George Bush also visited), but when I don’t like the tree I’m glad to have them around doing all that barking, if you take my meaning. Though I sympathize with Cato’s disappointment that the GOP also had hands in the history of this proposal and “certain people saw the ‘Christmas Tree Tax’ as an opportunity to further partisan aims rather than provoke a discussion and debate on the proper role of the federal government.”

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A Conservative Reason To Oppose The Drug War (Or, Don’t Track Me, Bro)

Barely more than 24 hours after writing about my opposition to government invasions of privacy, I learned yesterday about a case going before the Supreme Court to determine if police need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on your car:

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Are Governments Worse At Projects Than Businesses?

The L. A. Times notes the latest development in the, er, lack of development on California’s high speed rail program:

The bullet trains from Anaheim and Los Angeles to San Francisco will not cost $34 billion as originally estimated, or $43 billion as the authority insisted just two years ago, but closer to $100 billion….

The original system included Sacramento and San Diego. They are not part of this estimate. They will be added in Phase 2, and the authority does not say what Phase 2 will cost. Critics of the plan estimate the total cost at $180 billion.

It’s not at all surprising to read about a government project that is now projected to cost three times its original budget even after removing some of the original goals. Just a few days ago I was reading about NASA’s latest Mars mission being “24% over budget and… by October 2008 MSL was getting closer to a 30% cost overrun…” The CATO Institute has a dutiful article about the infamous history of government projects (though of course they prefer the more politicized phrase “government schemes”), from the Boston “Big Dig” transportation project that ballooned from $2.6 billion to $14.6 billion to a series of defense vehicles that took millions more dollars and several years longer to arrive than originally estimated.

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