A New Cabinet Post if Clueless Joe Wins

Clueless Joe is busy backpedaling just now, trying to walk back his latest inane and impolitic remark. This would be the one about how black Americans are not diverse like Hispanic Americans. Who knows what Joe could possibly have meant by this? Clearly he doesn’t know himself. But it certainly sounds bad, thus all the fuss by his handlers. (I can just hear them hustling now: “Damn it, Skylar! I told you to put the locks on the outside of his basement door.” If his handlers have their way, there will be more sightings of Elvis before Election Day than there will be of Joe on the campaign trail. And if Joe winds up on a debate stage, what a forensic dog’s breakfast that will be.)

Reading Joe’s latest without knowing who said it, the clear designative meaning is that black Americans are all alike. They obviously are not, though previous generations of Democrats, many of whose bed sheets featured eye holes, believed this to be the case and had no trouble saying so. But once we know that Joe said this, we can all relax, as we know by now that he says all manner of things about which the dots simply can’t be connected. You could fault him if there were the first bit of evidence that he understood and believed what he says. But he so clearly doesn’t. There was no racial malice intended here. Joe’s not a knave, just a fool.

Should Clueless Joe win in November, and in this increasingly surreal 2020 this is a distinct possibility, a new cabinet office would be required. The title of this demanding post would be Secretary of Clarifications. It would be the task of the luckless soul confirmed in this very difficult job to sort what Joe said from what he meant to say, or what he would have said if he had the slightest idea what he was talking about. Don’t expect anyone to keep this job very long. Teasing out Joe’s meaning, to the extent there is any, from his verbal meanderings would give a snake a backache. And he steps in his own mess kit almost daily. Keeping up with this would grind down the strongest of individuals in short order.

Don’t expect a press secretary to last long either. Trying to project coherence from the agent of chaos that is our Joe would be another Herculean task. As has been noted here before, two of the worst things about Joe are his face. He changes his mind on major issues to suit the moment. In his long and undistinguished political career (he’s been infesting Washington since Tricky Dick was president), Joe has held more positions on the important questions facing our great republic than appear in the Kama Sutra. (And some of his recent ones are even more tortuous.) The motto for the Biden administration would be, “Tomorrow we’ll have a new motto.” Keeping up would not be easy for his fans and advisors. A wind-sock and a mood ring would help.

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Author: Larry Thornberry

EFF Joins SPLC Letter to Georgia High School Expressing Concern Over Restriction to Students’ Free Speech

The First Amendment includes the right to use technology to create and preserve images, and otherwise collect information, of newsworthy events. This issue has arisen in numerous contexts, including the right to record the police performing police-work, and we have filed several amicus briefs that have helped firmly establish that right in the law.

Consistent with this, we joined a letter protesting the actions of officials at a high school in Georgia who suspended a 15-year old student for posting a photograph of the school’s crowded hallways to Twitter. The photograph, of the school’s second day back in operation, illustrated what the student perceived to be the serious public health danger in the school’s reopening. The student tweeted a photograph showing crowded hallways on the first day of school, which was widely circulated on social media. The student was initially suspended for five days, but the suspension was revoked after two days and purportedly removed from her record. According to news reports, at least one other student was also suspended and then reinstated. The school also reportedly warned students over the intercom system that “‘there will be consequences for anyone who sends things out’ that shows the school in a negative light.”

As the letter acknowledges, students have robust First Amendment rights to both make and distribute photographs of their school:

In its landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that students in school have important First Amendment rights that protect their ability to talk about and share information with others, particularly about matters of public concern. “Students in school, as well as out of school,” the Court said, “are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect….” , 393 U.S. 503, 511 (1969).

….

While we understand that emotions around school reopening decisions are charged and that you have faced significant criticism for decisions outside of your control, students, teachers and staff nevertheless have the right to speak accurately and lawfully about their school day, even when that speech may be unflattering to the school. Instead of addressing these concerns, NPHS has sought to impose harsh penalties against those who speak out and chill the speech of others who may have similar concerns. Unconstitutionally prohibiting students from speaking about the conditions of the school does not change the conditions of the school or the concerns they have; it only fosters mistrust and fear.

 We acknowledge that in some situations, there may be countervailing privacy concerns that might justify restrictions on both creating and distributing images of students in school. This privacy concern is acknowledged in the school’s student rules, though the particular rule, requiring the permission of an administrator before using any visual recording device is insufficiently tailored to that interest.

In this situation, however, the student’s right to create and publish the image prevails. The image itself is mostly of students’ backs, with only a few faces visible. The privacy invasiveness appears minimal in light of the high newsworthiness.

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Author: David Greene

Victory! EFF Defends Public’s Right to Access Court Records About Patent Ownership

 The public’s right of access to court proceedings is well-established as a legal principle, but it needs constant defending. In part, that’s because private parties keep asking publicly-funded courts to resolve their disputes in secret. As we and others have written before, this problem is especially great in patent cases, where parties on opposite sides of a case often agree with each other to keep as much of the litigation as possible hidden from view. That deprives the public of material it has every right to see that could affect its rights to engage, like documents establishing (or undermining) a patent owner’s right to bring suit on the basis of a patent which they claim to own.

Although this problem is pervasive, when we looked at a lawsuit filed by Uniloc—one of the most litigious patent trolls in the world—the amount of secrecy the parties agreed to was shocking. In Uniloc v. Apple, important, dispositive motion papers were filed with entire pages of text redacted, including information that could not possibly qualify as confidential, like case law citations. And what were those papers about? Whether Uniloc had the right to sue anyone, including Apple, for infringing the patents in the case. Because Uniloc is a prolific patent litigant—filing more than 170 patent infringement lawsuits in 2018 alone—questions about its right to sue have powerful ramifications on the public, including makers and users of a wide array of technology products.

When EFF saw how egregious the sealing of these court records was, we reached out to the parties and told them the public’s right of access extended to much, if not all, of what had been filed under seal. When it became clear that Uniloc would not modify its sealing requests, we filed a motion to intervene and to unseal everything. The judge in this case agreed with us, ruling that the redactions were wildly improper and ordered everything unsealed.

Instead of appealing that decision, Uniloc tried to modify its sealing requests and asked the court for a second chance. No such luck: Judge William Alsup refused, holding that Uniloc could and should have made a proper sealing request in the first instance, instead of trying to see how much secrecy it could get away with in court. He also granted EFF leave to intervene to defend the decision on appeal if Uniloc chose to challenge it; after all, the other party in the case, Apple, had taken no position on any of Uniloc’s sealing requests. When Uniloc did appeal, EFF stepped in to defend the decision on the public’s behalf.

Last month, the Federal Circuit, in a unanimous decision, overwhelmingly upheld Judge Alsup’s decision. Importantly, it rejected Uniloc’s attempt to winnow the public’s right of access, confirming that “all filings were presumptively accessible, and it was Uniloc’s duty to provide compelling reasons for shielding particular materials from public view.” It also agreed that “Uniloc’s original sealing request was grossly excessive,” and a “particularly flagrant” violation of the court’s local rules regarding sealing requests. In all, Judge Alsup was well within his discretion to deny it in full, without giving Uniloc the privilege of trying again.

The Federal Circuit recognized that district courts need and should exercise their discretion to deny improper sealing requests. The opinion pointedly notes that trial court judges are “heavily burdened with the task of resolving complex legal and factual disputes,” and “should not be forced to spend large swaths of their time struggling to rein in overzealous efforts to seal,” before approving of the message sent by the district court’s decision—“that litigants should submit narrow, well-supported sealing requests in the first instance, thereby obviating the need for judicial intervention.”

However, one aspect of Judge Alsup’s decision was not affirmed: the decision to lump a document containing third-party information into the same category as information about Uniloc. For this document, which identifies companies that licensed certain of Uniloc’s patents and the amounts they paid, the Federal Circuit found the district court had not made enough findings for it to review the decision, and remanded the case to the district court to make “particularized determinations.” We will keep watching—and, if necessary, fighting—to make sure the public’s right of access gets the weight it deserves.

The Federal Circuit’s decision is a victory for the public, which has waited far too long to see court records to which it has a strong presumption of rightful access. It is also a defeat for Uniloc, which tried, but failed, to avoid the default rule of public access throughout these proceedings. We hope this outcome sends a strong message to Uniloc and other patent litigants that their preference for secrecy cannot overcome the public’s right to know what happens in our courts. 

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Author: Alex Moss

The Shadow of Dukakis Looms Over Biden

At this point in the 1988 presidential cycle, it was taken for granted among pundits and professional prognosticators that Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis would defeat Vice President George H. W. Bush by a comfortable margin. Moreover, public opinion seemed to confirm the conventional wisdom. At the end of July, two major polls, Gallup and Harris, had published voter surveys showing Dukakis ahead of Bush by 17 and 18 points, respectively. Meanwhile, the media consistently portrayed the vice president as a dull-witted wimp and represented the Massachusetts governor as a hyper-competent technocrat. Just over 90 days later Bush won the popular vote by seven points and the Electoral College 426-111.

Never mind that the sheer stupidity of the furlough program was first deployed against Dukakis during the 1988 Democratic primary campaign by none other than Al Gore.

Superficially, Biden and Dukakis would seem to have little in common. Yet a closer look reveals some surprising similarities. Most readers have probably forgotten that the governor’s free-fall in the polls began when questions arose concerning the dilatory release of his medical records and whether he had been treated for mental illness. As AP reported at the time, President Reagan was asked about this during an August 3 press conference and responded with an offhand quip that inevitably led to queries from the media: “Dukakis, when asked today if he had ever suffered from depression, said, ‘No.’ Asked if he had ever consulted a psychiatrist, he said, ‘No.’ ” Just a week later, his 17-point lead had shrunk to a mere seven points in the Gallup poll.

Thirty-two years later, the Fourth Estate has been reluctant to ask about former Vice President Biden’s cognitive fitness. On the rare occasions that reporters have raised the issue, his responses have been defensive. In an interview aired this week, for example, CBS reporter Errol Barnett asked the Democratic presidential nominee if he had taken a test measuring his cognitive acuity. Biden became abusive: “No, I haven’t taken a test. Why the hell would I take a test? Come on, man.” He ended his rant by asking Barnett, “Are you a junkie?” Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez also protested too much, “That’s a stupid question, with all due respect.” As Liz Peek points out at the Hill, a large number of likely voters “respectfully” disagree:

A recent Zogby poll found that 55 percent of likely voters surveyed thought it was “much more” and “somewhat more likely” that Biden is in the early stages of dementia.… More worrisome for Biden, perhaps, is that about 60 percent of young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61 percent of Hispanics. The good news is that only 43 percent of blacks doubted Biden’s mental capacity.

Biden may well have ruined his already tenuous grasp on the African-American vote during the same series of interviews with the following remark: “Unlike the African-American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community.” As with most of “working class Joe’s” effusions, this blunder will probably reduce enthusiasm for his campaign among Black and Hispanic voters. This is another bug that the Biden and Dukakis campaigns have had in common. During the 1988 campaign, the lack of enthusiasm among minorities for Gov. Dukakis worried the DNC. The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that there was widespread anxiety among Democrats that African-American turnout would be down:

The decades since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have seen steadily increasing numbers of blacks showing up at the polls.… However, many activists fear that this year could mark a setback in black voter turnout. Preliminary indications are that voter registration efforts produced disappointing results, and black leaders contend that Dukakis has yet to inspire much beyond apathy, disillusionment and even anger in the black community.

The inevitable Democratic response to that dilemma was to accuse the vice president of racism. The pretext was a campaign ad featuring a criminal — who also happened to be Black — in order to demonstrate that Dukakis, like today’s Democratic governors, didn’t understand that releasing convicted killers from prison is a dumb and dangerous idea. Consequently, having been set free pursuant to a prison furlough program supported by Gov. Dukakis, a convicted murderer named Willie Horton was set free for the weekend, whereupon he raped a Maryland woman after he had bound, tortured, and stabbed her boyfriend. The Dukakis campaign, the DNC, and the media were indifferent to the victims yet accused Bush of blowing the fabled racist dog whistle.

Never mind that the sheer stupidity of the furlough program was first deployed against Dukakis during the 1988 Democratic primary campaign by none other than Al Gore. Forget that the ad was run by a Political Action Committee with no formal connection to the Bush campaign. Don’t trouble yourself that the gory details of Horton’s crime had already been widely published in a Reader’s Digest story titled, “Getting Away With Murder.” Never mind that Dukakis had refused to sign several bills that would have placed important limits on the furlough program and prevented the atrocity committed by Horton. Forget the fundamental question of public safety, which the Dukakis campaign dismissed as a “despicable” Bush campaign distraction.

But are Biden and Dukakis really comparable? Most members of the political class would probably say, “No.” Yet the liabilities of the former in 2020 involve the same issues that dogged the latter in 1988 — mental fitness to handle the duties of the presidency, difficulty connecting with the minority voters without whose support he can’t win, and the willingness to brand any opponent a racist who dares to bring up “law and order.” A few weeks ago, Biden led Trump by double digits in the RealClearPolitics average of general election polls. As of Thursday evening, his lead is at 6.4 and falling. Likewise, his lead in the top battleground states is shrinking. Is it possible for President Trump to overtake and soundly defeat him? Ask President Michael Dukakis.

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Author: David Catron

Behind the Pipeline Slowdowns Lurks ‘Big Green’ Money

With the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in limbo and the Atlantic Coast pipeline’s recent defunding-under-pressure, the ability of energy companies to deliver North American fuels to market is being challenged like never before.

Pipeline antipathy now even emanates from the U.S. Capitol. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to a July appropriations package that would have jeopardized new pipelines altogether. The amendment — which did not make it through to the final bill — read, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Corps of Engineers to issue a permit under section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) for the discharge of dredged or fill material resulting from an activity to construct a pipeline for the transportation of oil or gas.” By blocking funding for needed permits, the amendment would have put the kibosh on new pipeline construction.

Something so extreme is not a near-term threat, but the anti-pipeline viewpoint is getting closer to the state’s levers of power. These developments (or, rather, these red lights for development) are some of the first tangible victories for the anti-energy movement known colloquially as Big Green, Inc.

Big Green, Inc. is a network of private foundations holding billions of dollars in wealth that underwrites the anti-pipeline, and wider anti-energy, movement in the United States. The foundations that compose the network do not engage in activism directly, but rather funnel money to activist groups in order to perpetuate the myth that scrappy environmentalists are engaged in a David-versus-Goliath struggle against corporate energy giants. Among the top pass-through operators in the Big Green, Inc. ecosystem is the Tides Foundation.

Tides, a San Francisco-based organization founded in 1976, plays a pivotal role in channeling big money to pet anti-pipeline causes, like the Dakota Access demonstrations of 2016. With annual revenues of around $400 million, Tides is a gargantuan behind-the-scenes force in the anti-pipeline crusade. A review of its publicly available tax documents makes clear the unified, coordinated nature of activist engagement that is commonly touted as local backlash.

Since 2012, Tides has directed at least $200,000 into the state of Nebraska for “organizing on dirty fuels and pipelines,” with the intention, presumably, of undermining the Keystone XL pipeline. Between 2015 and 2017, Tides poured at least $540,000 into projects with the same “organizing” designation across the country. This tally includes only a portion of Tides’ anti-energy contributions, many of which are obscured with more vague language in tax documents. Some of the grant recipients are well-known, national organizations like 350.org and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Other grants, such as one for $10,000 it provided to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation in 2017, go to less visible — and often less scrupulous — actors.

The 2017 grant to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation, for example, was earmarked for “general support” of the Water Protector Legal Collective, which coordinates criminal and civil litigation for Dakota Access demonstrators. The Collective’s internet breadcrumbs lead to a “Solidarity Statement,” published while it billed itself as Red Owl, stating that it values “a diversity of strategies,” that it “is committed to serving the legal defense needs of anyone arrested here as part of the resistance to the pipeline,” and that it “offers its services without personal judgments about the quality, morality, or strategic wisdom of any action, and supports all those involved in the movement.”

To tie these threads together, the tax documents and the Collective’s “Solidarity Statement” indicate that a mega-foundation with annual contributions exceeding $400 million is enabling indiscriminate disruption of energy infrastructure. Yet despite the record showing the intricate funding network, groups like 350.org and Greenpeace continue to gaslight the public by describing the activism offensive as Native-led, organic expressions of pipeline opposition — true to Big Green, Inc. form. Due to this opacity, well-meaning liberals may find themselves unwittingly supporting eco-radicalism. From their checking accounts, to the Tides coffers, to the lawyers collectives defending saboteurs their money flows.

The Dakota Access demonstrations, the continued resistance to Keystone XL, and the lawsuits that hounded the Atlantic Coast pipeline are all Big Green, Inc. agenda items. But thanks to meticulous public relations work, an image of local resistance remains firmly rooted in the minds of many Americans. Though this boulevard of broken pipeline dreams opened to traffic only recently, its paving has been long underway thanks to generous funding by Big Green, Inc.

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Author: Jordan McGillis

No to Blockchain Credentials of COVID-19 Test Results for Entry to Public Spaces

An ill-conceived California bill endorses a blockchain-based system that would turn COVID-19 test results into permanent records that could be used to grant access to public places.

EFF and ACLU oppose California A.B. 2004. The newest version of this bill would create a pilot program for using “verifiable health credentials” to report COVID-19 and other medical test results. The bill defines such a credential as “a portable electronic patient record,” for which authenticity “can be independently verified cryptographically.” The bill’s fact sheet explains that these credentials “use blockchain technology” to create “a provable health record” for purpose of “travel, returning to employment, immunization status, and so on.” Three rounds of official bill analysis provide the same explanation.

This bill is a blockchain solution in search of a problem, and COVID-19 is a problem that will not be so easily solved.

That’s a huge privacy concern. No one should have to unlock their phone and expose their health information in order to gain entry to their office, school, or neighborhood market.

Medical test results are a poor fit for public ledgers. First, per the recommendations of California’s Blockchain Working Group, the “most critical question” when considering adopting blockchain technology is whether “a permanent record [is] warranted.” Here, it clearly is not. A person’s COVID-19 status may change from day to day, and tests are often hard to come by. This system could unfairly punish those who can’t afford to be tested nearly constantly. Second, while verifiable credentials might make sense for reporting a binary fact (such as whether or not a person is 21), medical tests come with strong caveats and significant margins of error. For example, some COVID-19 diagnostic tests have a false negative rate as high as 20 or 30%. The science behind testing for COVID-19 immunity is even less settled. According to the CDC, “we do not know how much protection [COVID-19] antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last.” This nuance is lost when a test result is turned into a credential. In short, this bill is a blockchain solution in search of a problem, and COVID-19 is a problem that will not be so easily solved.

Worse, the bill would take us a troubling step towards a national identification system. It would habituate people to present a digital token as a condition of entry to physical spaces, and habituate gatekeepers to demand such digital tokens. Such systems could be expanded to track every occasion that a person presented their digital token, or to prove other pieces of personal information like age, pregnancy, or HIV status. Further, such systems would create new information security problems when people hand their unlocked phones to gatekeepers, and create new social equity problems given the one-in-five people who don’t have a smartphone.

EFF and ACLU also opposed an earlier version of this bill. You can read here our lengthier explanation of this bill’s many problems. We urge the California legislature to reject A.B. 2004. It will do nothing to address the COVID-19 crisis, and much to invade our digital rights.

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Author: Adam Schwartz

NYT Memory-Holes CCP Propaganda

With American wariness toward China at its highest in recent memory, organizations that once flaunted Chinese patronage are now quietly cutting ties. The Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday that the New York Times had deleted some 200 pro-China “advertorials” that it had run over the last decade. 

The ads, which were placed by China Daily and ranged from videos to texts designed to look like articles, helped to disseminate Beijing’s viewpoints to an American audience. They often focused on downplaying or obfuscating human rights abuses, such as China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, in order to promote tourism. 

China Daily is owned by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, a dedicated propaganda organ. 

The Times is not alone in providing a platform for the CCP in exchange for cash. According to a 2019 report by the Free Beacon, outlets such as Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times have been paid millions of dollars over the past seven years to run over 700 online ads and 500 print articles authored by China Daily. Activity peaked in 2016, when the Washington Post alone printed almost 100 pages of such ads and was receiving more than $100,000 per month. The report notes that the Post does not point out in the advertorials that China Daily is run directly by the Chinese government. 

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a well-known China hawk, praised the Times’ decision to wash its hands of Beijing’s party line, saying, “I hope the other outlets follow suit and start putting American values over Communist bribes.” The Post told the Free Beacon that it had run zero China Daily advertorials since 2019, but did not confirm that its relationship with the Chinese outlet had been formally terminated. 

China’s attempts to shape the views of news readers are only one part of its sophisticated influence campaign in the United States, Europe, and Australia. The financial dependence that most elite universities in the West have on Chinese international students — many of whom retain their ultra-nationalist views despite the purportedly liberal educations they receive — has made it possible for China to pressure critics in academia. On social media, Chinese intelligence has been caught operating bot networks hundreds of thousands strong.

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Author: John Jiang

State and Local Governments Need Some Tough Love From Uncle Sam

State and local governments want more funds from the federal government to patch their budgets. Lack of revenue due to the recession and self-inflicted damage from the COVID-19 shutdowns of their economies, as well as larger-than-ever expenditures on top of their regular overextended budgets, mean that many of them are hurting for cash. And while they’re asking for $500 billion in bailout cash, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants to give them $1 trillion. I, on the other hand, think it’s about time state and local governments start fending for themselves.

As I’ve explained before, there are many reasons to oppose state and local government bailouts. For starters, these jurisdictions have already received large amounts of federal funds to pay for their coronavirus-related expenditures. As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and other relief measures, they’ve received $280 billion for various coronavirus-related expenses and another $150 billion for more flexible needs. The Federal Reserve has also set up a $500 billion program to facilitate short-term borrowing by state and local governments.

That’s on top of the annual handout that the federal government gives to state and local governments. In fiscal year 2020, they received an estimated $790.7 billion in the form of 181 grants to pay for various expenses. In other words, 30 percent of their budgets comes from the federal government annually, which is an amount that has increased 27 percent since 2015.

Then there’s the issue of poor planning on the part of many states. My Mercatus Center colleague Tad DeHaven and I have written about this issue. We highlight the moral hazard that comes from systematically bailing out institutions, whether they are state and local governments or private companies. When bailed out, decision-makers have much-reduced incentives to plan better for the next time around. There’s also the fact that, contrary to the common refrain from journalists and states themselves, these governments have increased spending quite considerably since the last recession and failed to plan appropriately for the next time they’re inevitably in trouble.

But there’s another argument against bailing out state and local governments that has surfaced recently. A report from the National League of Cities in May revealed that the states weren’t very good at getting the money to local governments. Also, a new dataset collected by the Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General that looks at how much the state and local governments have spent of their coronavirus relief bill funds as of June 30 shows that they have spent much less than you might think.

Some states have spent virtually none of the money allocated by Uncle Sam.

South Carolina, for example, has yet to use its $2 billion in relief. Michigan, which is asking for a bailout, spent only 3 percent of the more than $3 billion it received. New Jersey is also asking for a bailout, yet it has distributed a measly 2.1 percent of its federal funds so far.

The states demanding bailouts may likely argue that what they really need is more flexibility in order to be able to use federal funds to address their revenue shortfalls. As matters stand right now, states must use the bailout money on coronavirus-related expenditures. So, when those actual expenditures are lower than the allocated funds, they can’t spend them.

The flexibility argument doesn’t hold water, in my opinion. It’s one thing for state and local governments to ask the federal government for help to cover expenditures they couldn’t foresee, such as those related to the pandemic. But they shouldn’t be asking federal taxpayers to pay for their routine expenditures, especially when these governments have failed to plan appropriately for revenue shortfalls that inevitably occur, as they’re bound to encounter emergencies. Governments should prepare for them. They should cut spending, and, if that’s not enough, they should turn to their own citizens for the funds needed to cover non-coronavirus expenditures. Those funds could be obtained through higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere. Their routine spending should come from their taxes.

State and local governments are always eager to have the federal government solve their financial problems for them. But they will continue to have financial difficulties as long as Uncle Sam continues to cave. The first step toward having healthier and more responsible state and local governments would be no bailout.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. To find out more about Veronique de Rugy and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2020 CREATORS.COM

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Author: Veronique de Rugy

White House: Don’t Hold Your Breath For Stimulus

Trump administration officials and Republican congressional leaders have indicated that the next coronavirus stimulus package may be a distant prospect owing to a lack of progress in negotiations with Democratic leaders. Disagreement over trillions of dollars of potential spending has held up multiple proposals even as unemployed Americans have seen benefits run out. 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows conceded on Tuesday that “We’re a long ways away from striking any kind of a deal,” referring to talks among White House officials, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

The primary points of contention have been about the scale of the stimulus. Democrats have been insistent about pushing their priorities in the form of the HEROES Act, which runs upwards of $3 trillion and includes extending and expanding unemployment benefits, bailing out state and local governments, increasing welfare, offering more loans to businesses, forbidding all evictions, and sending out a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks. 

The Democrat-controlled House passed the enormous package in May only for Republicans to declare it “dead on arrival” in the Senate. With GOP leaders now seemingly resigned to additional stimulus, Pelosi and Schumer have made a point of reviving the proposals in the HEROES Act. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell countered with a much more modest proposal on July 27 in the form of the HEALS Act, which stipulates only about $1 trillion in additional spending. Both the Democratic and Republican proposals would send out stimulus checks, continue small business loans, and bolster health-care resources. The HEALS Act would not, however, expand welfare or bail out state and local governments, and would reduce the recently expired $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefit to only $200 per week. It would also allow eviction bans to lapse.  

Republicans appear to be divided over the act, and its passage through the Senate is not guaranteed. There are also some fault lines between the White House, which wants a payroll tax cut as part of the stimulus, and Republican leadership, which has all but rejected the idea. Trump is reportedly exploring ways of bypassing the congressional deadlock in order to unilaterally extend some expiring stimulus measures. 

The stalemate may ultimately be broken by the looming October 1 budget deadline and the threat of a government shutdown less than 56 days away if lawmakers can’t find a way to see eye to eye. McConnell has signaled that he’s flexible on benefits and would be “prepared to support” $600 per week for unemployed Americans, provided that Democrats could come to an agreement with the Trump administration.

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Author: John Jiang

Californians, Sacramento Needs Your Voice on the State’s Broadband Future

Two bills before the California legislature in its final month of session, S.B. 1130 and A.B. 570, chart very different courses for the state’s broadband infrastructure program. In considering them, the state faces a  fundamental question about how to invest its money: in modern, high-capacity fiber networks, or slow wireless and DSL copper networks. 

EFF has researched—and devoted substantial legal and technical expertise to—this very question. The choice is clear. If we are not spending resources into building, brick-by-brick, and as soon as possible,  21st-century access by extending fiber deeper into communities, we stall efforts to end the digital divide. Spending money on slow speeds and legacy networks will end up costing taxpayers a substantial amount more.  Why? Because they will fail to provide useful access to modern applications and services, let alone next generation Internet products. Worst yet, they do not offer a meaningful way to transition toward the gigabit era. In other words, the “cheaper” option now means that California will still have to replace these networks with fiber eventually, to keep pace with demand and stay competitive with other parts of the United States and the world.

SB 1130 Charts a Course to Equality of Access and Ending Decades of Neglect for Communities that Major ISPs Have Ignored 

Communities that are suffering today do so because, for more than 15 years, neglect from major national ISPs and a lack of government involvement have deprived them of investments in fiber infrastructure. Major national ISPs deployed fiber deep into areas that represented the top half of the income scale and primarily within cities, leaving rural and low-income people behind. This is well-documented through federal data. But the debate as to whether state policy should stand for the proposition that all California residents deserve the same access to the Internet is ongoing. 

Areas of the state that have deep, dense fiber networks have cheaper, faster connections that have allowed them to transition to remote work and education, which have become even more important as the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the communities that lack fiber have seen their Internet connections systemically fail. We predicted this outcome at the beginning of the pandemic, and worked closely with Senator Lena Gonzalez in Sacramento to introduce S.B. 1130, to  end this inequality of access as state law. In partnership with Common Sense Media, which has produced definitive research to show that remote education needs far exceed the federal minimum standard of broadband (established at 25 mbps for download speed /3 mbps for upload speed in 2015), we have been pushing Sacramento to equip the state with a 21st-century infrastructure plan. All roads to the broadband future runs through fiber, and state policy should be focused on extending it to everyone. 

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Tell Your Lawmakers to Support S.B. 1130

AB 570 Funds the Wrong Infrastructure in the Wrong Century and Leaves Too Many Behind. But This Can Be Fixed.

The proponents of A.B. 570—namely its sponsor, the California Emerging Technology Fund—fundamentally do not agree that all communities deserve the same 21st-century ready access to the Internet. If they did, they would not have drafted legislation that is affirmatively anti-fiber in rural markets, and prioritizes DSL upgrades and cell tower deployments that were already happening with private dollars under federal law. They wouldn’t be pushing legislation that affirmatively ignores close to 1 million Californians who lack high-speed access today from receiving help from the state. The common refrain in all of these arguments is that a future where we try to help everyone with high-speed access to close the digital divide is “aspirational.” And that is categorically wrong. Modern economies all around the world, including those that are smaller than California’s economy, all have universal fiber plans. Smaller states with limited budgets such as Utah and North Dakota are rapidly approaching universal fiber. We should be asking ourselves why our current policies of favoring slow networks have failed us, rather than doubling down on them as A.B. 570 would do. 

When the average North American city already enjoys speeds averaging 250/250 mbps for its wealthier residents (which stems from upgraded cable vs fiber competition), Californians should soundly reject attempts to spend 100s of millions of dollars on 25/3 mbps for low-income and rural areas. Such an approach is both wasteful and unfair to those communities. It does nothing to bring us an iota closer to resolving the digital divide problem, it just swaps it with a speed chasm. A.B. 570’s approach is not a bridge to the future, it is a link to the past that will just delay, at great expense, steps to address the undeniable fact that meaningful participation in today’s and tomorrow’s Internet, requires fiber in your community. 

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Tell your lawmakers A.B. 570 Takes the Wrong Path

We Can All be Winners, Especially California Residents, if the Legislature Fixes What’s Wrong with AB 570

The path to fixing  AB 570 is simple, straightforward, and ultimately necessary as it likely lacks the votes it needs to pass with its outdated 25/3 mbps plan. But its outright failure would be bad for Californians, in general, because financing broadband infrastructure is good policy. Lawmakers must simply be thoughtful about what type of infrastructure they fund and who benefits from these networks.

Before moving it forward, the legislature should adjust the type of networks A.B. 570 builds by increasing the minimum speeds offered to 25/25 mbps to push fiber closer to these communities. The federal definition of broadband, set at 25/3, is completely and utterly useless by any metric that measures its application in the modern economy. The state should not bake such a backwards-looking number into its infrastructure plan. California has a history of raising standards above the federal minimum when it has been needed in areas such as wages and environmental standards, and there is no good reason we shouldn’t embrace doing the same  with broadband access. In fact,the Trump Administration’s FCC is already looking to finance gigabit fiber in rural markets and the House majority has approved a 100/100 mbps standard for broadband access.

The most important issue that A.B. 570 correctly highlighted is the difference between the zero-access population, and the population that has Internet access, but not high-speed broadband access. But its current drafting tackles this issue by picking winners and losers, and cuts off far too many people in need of help (close to 1 million Californians). The better approach would be to simply dedicate a majority of the revenues A.B. 570 raises to the zero-access population with their own specialized budget with the state government. Arguably, the communities most left behind will be the most expensive to serve. Dedicating a greater portion of state resources to them—especially if we’re extending fiber—makes the most sense until they are connected. Once that goal is done, revenues can be fully focused on finishing the job of delivering at least one high-speed access point to all Californians who lack it, as laid out in S.B. 1130. 

Lastly, the state is going to have to tackle how it finances these efforts in a sustainable, long-term way. Currently, money collected for the broadband effort comes from in-state telephone calls—which is illogical because we’re building out broadband connectivity, and people are abandoning telephone lines. In the future, the state needs to decide where it collects its revenues to finance the broadband infrastructure program. Relatedly, recent discussions about opening up the bond market to long term debt financing of these types of infrastructure projects hold tremendous promise, and we support that, too. Such an approach would reflect what already happens in the EU and Australia, where long-term, low-interest loans are made available to deploy fiber. If we want to close California’s digital divide within 5-10 years, we need a large infusion of money upfront to get that started to build out fiber. Fiber optics will last decades after even a 30-year loan, and our engineering analysis has found that it will remain useful, potentially even to the advent of the 22nd century.

But the clock is ticking. The legislature only has a few weeks left to make the right calls.  If you live in California, your voice is needed now more than ever.

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Author: Ernesto Falcon