May 28, 2014 10:25 AM
Yesterday, Chris Urmson, director of Google's Self-Driving Car Project, wrote a post for the company blog describing Google's newest prototype: fully automated vehicles that lack manual steering, accelerating, and braking functions:
It was inspiring to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What should be different about this kind of vehicle?” We started with the most important thing: safety. They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections. And we’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph. On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seatbelts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop, and a screen that shows the route—and that’s about it.
Here's a short video of the prototype in action:
Google's announcement of a low-speed, non-highway vehicle is not surprising. As Stanford Law's Bryant Walker Smith noted last fall at The Volokh Conspiracy,
Congress Must End Department of Transportation's Abuse of "Unfair and Deceptive Practices" AuthorityMay 21, 2014 10:29 AM
The Department of Transportation is opening a rulemaking proceeding to, among other things, require airlines and ticket agents to include ancillary fees (for, e.g., checked bags, seat assignments) in any fare comparison. More troubling is its expansion of "ticket agent" to "apply to all entities that hold out airfare, schedule, and availability information to consumers," including meta-search engines such as Google Flights and KAYAK. But most troubling is the Department's summary of its preliminary regulatory analysis, reproduced in full below:
The quantifiable costs of this rulemaking exceed the quantifiable benefits. However, when unquantified costs and benefits are taken into account, we anticipate that the benefits of this rulemaking would justify the costs. It was not possible to measure the benefits of the proposals in this rulemaking, except for the benefits for provision 2. For example, there are a number of unquantified benefits for the proposals such as improved on time performance for newly reporting carriers and code-share flights of reporting carriers, improved customer goodwill towards ticket agents, and greater competition and lower overall prices for ancillary services and products. There are also some unquantified costs such as increased management costs to improve carrier performance, increased staff time to address consumer complaints, and decreased carrier flexibility to customize services, though we believe these costs would be minimal. If the value of the unquantified benefits, per passenger, is any amount greater than one cent and the unquantified costs are minimal as anticipated, then the entire rule is expected to be net beneficial. (Emphasis added.)
May 21, 2014 8:51 AM
This week, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government, will score a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in its consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 4435). The defense authorization is one of the largest bills considered each year. The vote below pertains to employment considerations for America’s labor force, both governmental and private. The score will be incorporated into CEI’s Congressional Labor and Employment Scorecard, which can be seen in full on CEI’s labor and employment policy website, WorkplaceChoice.org.
May 20, 2014 6:17 PM
CEI Fellow Marc Scribner supports the FCC's attempt to lift a ban on in-flight cell phone use.
May 19, 2014 8:45 AM
Politico tallies the rising costs for "four failed Obamacare exchanges," reporting:
Nearly half a billion dollars in federal money has been spent developing four state Obamacare exchanges that are now in shambles — and the final price tag for salvaging them may go sharply higher.
Each of the states — Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada and Maryland — embraced Obamacare, and each underperformed. All have come under scathing criticism and now face months of uncertainty as they rush to rebuild their systems or transition to the federal exchange.
The federal government is caught between writing still more exorbitant checks to give them a second chance at creating viable exchanges of their own or, for a lesser although not inexpensive sum, adding still more states to HealthCare.gov. . .The $474 million spent by these four states includes the cost that officials have publicly detailed to date. It climbs further if states like Minnesota and Hawaii, which have suffered similarly dysfunctional exchanges, are added.
CNS News and KMOV TV describe how Obamacare is hiring hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of employees to do nothing for weeks on end in largely-useless application-processing centers (such as processing virtually non-existent types of paper applications).
May 16, 2014 11:00 AM
There are "rate hikes for all" coming due to Obamacare, predicts The Daily Caller, citing state insurance filings:
Virginians will see upped health insurance premiums in 2015 . . . according to the filings from the first state to release any information about what Obamacare could bring next year. The premium proposals were submitted to the state insurance office for official approval and were made public Monday. Each health plan expects to increase its prices in 201 past nominal increases for inflation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Anthem HealthKeepers, run by WellPoint, expects to up its premiums on and off Virginia’s Obamacare exchange by an average of 8.5 percent. . . others will see increases up to 16.6 percent. The fees are due to a multitude of Obamacare worries, including sicker new customers, an influx of demand for health care services from the newly insured and a plethora of new Obamacare taxes.
Big increases in premiums and deductibles are coming after the November election, notes The Fiscal Times. As we noted earlier, Washington, D.C., recently imposed a one-percent health-insurance tax in the city to pay for the ballooning costs of its Obamacare health insurance exchange, increasing costs for both employers and individuals. Obamacare has increased the cost of employer-provided health insurance in the District of Columbia, as predicted by experts, who warned that small employers especially “may see their rates increase” in the city. Hot Air proclaims, “get ready for the next round of Obamacare price spikes."
Many people will be plunged into the individual health insurance market as they lose their employer-provided coverage due to Obamacare. An NPR report "profiled AmeriMark, a catalog retailer with 700 employees that has long provided coverage for employees. However, the premiums for their 2013 plans escalated 30 percent for 2014, so they switched carriers and forced employees to pay a higher share of premiums with higher deductibles and co-pays."
May 13, 2014 2:06 PM
Yesterday evening, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee's "big four" (Democrats Barbara Boxer and Tom Carper, and Republicans David Vitter and John Barrasso) released their draft highway bill reauthorization proposal. It basically calls for six more years of the status quo, with some nice gimmicks thrown in for good measure. You can read the full thing here. There's also this handy summary for people who don't have too much time on their hands.
As was expected, EPW's proposal has been met with crickets. Observers knew it would fail to address the core problem facing the Highway Trust Fund: that Congress spends more money than it takes in. Not only that, but it failed to include President Obama's excellent suggestion of removing the present federal prohibition on states tolling their own Interstate segments. The Senate Finance Committee handles surface transportation reauthorization revenue, so Boxer and Vitter will now wait for their colleagues to produce about $100 billion in needed bailout money out of thin air.
May 8, 2014 2:54 PM
Marc Scribner talks about his new paper, "Self-Driving Regulation."
May 8, 2014 2:23 PM
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently considering whether or not it will honor its EU-U.S. open skies treaty in the case of Norwegian Air Shuttle's Norwegian Air International (NAI), a low-cost airline seeking to expand service throughout Europe and the United States.
European regulators have already approved NAI operations, rejecting the protectionist outrage from domestic airlines and their unions who have been alleging bogus labor violations. Regulators in Ireland, where Norwegian is domiciled, are fuming at the Obama White House's apparent anti-consumer protectionism that has led to these delays. The European Cockpit Association, having lost its case in Europe, is now lobbying the FAA to kill NAI's expansion plans.
But the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents over 50,000 mostly high-paid pilots in the U.S. (the median annual wage is $129,600, excluding generous benefits) and Canada, has sunk to a new low. ALPA is airing a radio ad that largely relies on xenophobic language to make their "case" against Norwegian. A sample line: "NAI calls itself Norwegian, but it registers its airplanes in Ireland, hires its pilots in Singapore, and bases its flight crews in Thailand." Ireland, Singapore, and Thais, oh my! (Then again, this isn't the first time ALPA has tolerated rank bigotry from its officials.)
May 7, 2014 1:41 PM
The costs of Obamacare keep rising. The Council of the District of Columbia has imposed a one percent tax on all health insurance policies to pay for costs associated with the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post reports that this “first in the nation tax on all health insurance products is needed to cover the costs of D.C.'s health insurance exchange." (This tax is in addition to the fee of $63 per insured person already imposed nationwide by the Obama administration. Obamacare already contains many other taxes at the federal level, including seven taxes that apply to people that apply to people making less than $250,000 a year.)
The Wall Street Journal notes that D.C.'s new Obamacare tax, which was designed
by the city's DC Health Link insurance exchange, gives the city the power to tax all health-insurance carriers inside the district . . . The council opted for taxing all carriers, not just those selling in the exchange . . .
The proposal had the backing of Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and was approved unanimously by the council. The plan will fund the exchange starting next year, when it has a budget of $28.8 million. Beginning in 2015, the exchanges that 14 states and the District of Columbia set up under the law won't have federal funding and have to become self-sustaining. Exchanges got hundreds of millions of dollars in federal startup funds.The district's exchange had said that around 45,000 residents signed up for private coverage and Medicaid through the exchange in its first enrollment window, which ended April 30. The relatively small number of participants in private plans meant that just charging them for the operating costs of the exchange would increase the costs of their insurance coverage significantly. The assessment would likely be 1% on the amount of money each carrier took in from health-insurance premiums . . .
Insurers have previously indicated that they have met the cost of new fees under the health law by increasing premiums. The exchange says the funding plan has the backing of two insurers selling on the exchange, Kaiser Permanente and Aetna, but has been criticized by other carriers. The national insurance industry trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans, has questioned the legal basis for the proposal and described it as open-ended and inappropriate because it is being applied to carriers not selling on the exchange. Those carriers include ones providing products such as disability income insurance and long-term care coverage, which "derive no direct or indirect benefit from the exchange," said Geralyn Trujillo, regional director for the association.
Several state and local Obamacare health insurance exchanges, such as those in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Maryland, have failed, while costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.