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Building Resilience From the Community Up

Greta Byrum - October 30, 2014

When disaster strikes, we tend to think big. What will the city do to help the affected population? The federal government?

But in fact, many of the innovations that have helped communities respond to and recover from disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and the Boston Marathon bombing have originated in living rooms, community centers, and town halls, rather than city halls. And so have many of the most promising ways to address longer-term disasters like climate change and economic shocks.

In other words, almost all resiliency is local. And that means our centralized disaster-response infrastructure requires a rethink: Instead of only sending out federal personnel to disaster sites to lead and manage local officials and first responders when a crisis hits, it's becoming clear that we need to build and support a network of local and small-scale, long-term resiliency organizing.

One key reason that large-scale, centralized solutions aren't the future: Disasters affect neighborhoods in a city or state differently -- and that requires us to examine our policy response. When Superstorm Sandy swept the entire Eastern Seaboard, it created a tale of (at least) two cities just within Manhattan -- the dark city below 40th Street and the lit one above -- and isolated those less fortunate in their apartments or housing projects without heat, electricity, or any way to contact the outside world.

Sandy, like Katrina and other emergencies, made visible underlying social disparities that had been ignored or not well understood. Zooming in, we see the worst instances of isolation and harm in vulnerable places with weaker physical infrastructure, fewer resources, and less investment -- for instance, areas of Brooklyn and Queens with big public-housing developments, or the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans during Katrina. When the large communications networks we rely on fail due to network overload and power losses in a disaster, local neighborhoods become islands unto themselves, relying solely on existing resources and local connections.

This isn't always a bad thing; the localized experience of disaster often inspires neighbors to, quite literally, weather the storm together. People find their local storm shelters, and they visit the local library branch for heat, for help with their insurance forms, to get online, or to charge their devices. They bring their neighbors food or water or blankets. Eric Klinenberg's work has shown that communities with strong social ties and denser, more connected urban fabric have lower mortality rates and better recovery in a crisis. In her book A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit talks about how people behave altruistically and resourcefully in disasters: "Normal roles and boundaries that confine people are removed, and it's absolutely necessary that people connect with each other, that they make strong decisions, that they take care of each other. And that's what they do."

The federal government is starting to realize that it may have something to learn from local disaster-response efforts. In May, the Department of Homeland Security released a report called "The Resilient Social Network" laying out the lessons that traditional response and relief organizations should take from grassroots efforts. One of the main conclusions: Efforts by Occupy Sandy, the self-organized grassroots disaster relief network that emerged to provide "mutual aid" to affected communities (especially where FEMA was unable to), should have been better integrated with the official federal response. In fact, FEMA has begun to call for a "Whole Community" approach -- though it has not explained how power sharing would work, or how roles would be designated.

This is a far cry from the uncoordinated and sometimes downright hostile treatment that non-governmental responders received from federal officials during the 2005 Katrina disaster. Most if not all experts seem to agree now that resilient systems can and should be built at every scale.

This matters for efforts like the Red Hook Initiative's Red Hook WiFi project -- itself a self-organized effort that became an essential part of FEMA's response to Sandy. (The initiative is a partner of the Open Technology Institute, or OTI, where I work.) As a local community resource run by a trusted neighborhood institution familiar with local needs, RHI WiFi was able to organize a digital response and provide aid in a way that federal, state, or even city-level agencies could not.

This project, and OTI's current proposal to scale it organically from the ground up in additional NYC neighborhoods, are not just a response to immediate threats and sudden shocks, but are also intended to build everyday resilience through workforce development, knowledge transfer, participatory methods, and community ownership. Most importantly, they do this at the local level.

Thinking local may also be key to growing the innovation economy across a city, in all of its neighborhoods. Rather than scaling innovation from designated "innovation districts" outward, could we take a "resilient" approach to innovation and scale up by neighborhoods, blocks, or communities? After all, transformative innovation doesn't just happen in special zones or in downtowns. True innovation is distributed -- it comes from the grassroots and the edges, and spreads organically by virtue of the power of its ideas.

The most innovative approach to scaling up resilience efforts is to keep them local, distributed, and in conversation -- person-to-person, neighborhood-to-neighborhood -- to ensure that models are adaptable and intentional. As I once wrote with Diana Nucera of Detroit's Allied Media Projects, "When individuals are invested in growth, a symbiotic relationship occurs between the systems designed and those that use the systems, allowing growth to emerge organically. This type of symbiotic relationship, which is present in healthy ecosystems, is less likely to occur when a system is simply placed into a new environment without consideration of existing knowledge, relationships, and efforts that already exist there."

In the field of resilience, response, and recovery overall, we should be pushing to understand and develop local capacity and knowledge, and acknowledge and support local leadership -- and innovation -- in local places, right now, before crisis hits. Key steps that policymakers at all scales, innovators, and organizers can take:

1. Learn from survivors. Local librarians, Occupy Sandy volunteers, and city-council members in places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, all have stories to tell about what people needed, what worked, and what could have been done better. Document and share these.

2. Start building relationships now. Facilitate workshops and conventions for local community groups, HAM operators, librarians, interested residents, FEMA's Citizen Corps, etc. These coalitions can collaborate to make contingency plans or work on hands-on resiliency projects like local wireless networks or landscaped stormwater swales that have peacetime as well as crisis benefits.

3. Find out what's already happening in your city, town, or neighborhood. What are people already up to that could help in an emergency? Community gardens and tech meet-ups, for example, can be integrated into resiliency planning.

4. Don't separate economic development and innovation investments from resilience efforts. Greater stability and reduction of vulnerability create economic benefits too. Distribute funding and incentives broadly, not just in designated zones or districts.

Once crisis hits, we should rely on the relationships we have built with local leaders and partners and officials, as well as new tools and platforms and traditional coordinated central response teams. We'll need our relationships, and organizers at every scale, to support and build more diverse, efficient, autonomous, strong, interdependent, adaptable, collaborative, equitable, and innovative communities for a more resilient future.

Greta Byrum is an urban planner and a senior field analyst with the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute. Her work focuses on digital access, disaster response, and the community development and resilience potentials of small-scale local infrastructure such as low-power FM radio and local wireless networks.

Reed Jordan - October 30, 2014

African Americans share a uniquely high exposure to poverty in the U.S. Through a century of various explicit public and private housing-discrimination practices, African Americans of all socioeconomic classes live in higher-poverty neighborhoods than whites of similar income. Living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty is a phenomenon relatively common to African Americans, but almost unknown among white populations.

Exposure to concentrated neighborhood poverty harms kids' life chances. But it's not just African-American kids' neighborhoods that expose them to concentrated poverty. Black kids are also uniquely exposed to concentrated poverty in their public schools.


Black Students Are More Likely to Attend
High-Poverty Schools
According to 2011-12 school year data from the U.S. Department of Education, about 33 percent of all white students attend a low-poverty school and a mere 6 percent attend a high-poverty school. In other words, white kids are about five times more likely to attend a low-poverty school than to attend a high-poverty school.

It is precisely the opposite pattern for African-American kids, for whom attending a high-poverty school is commonplace. Over 40 percent of black students (about 3.2 million) attend a high-poverty school and only about 10 percent attend a low-poverty school. This means black students are four times more likely to attend a high-poverty school than to attend a low-poverty school and over six times more likely than white students to attend a high-poverty school.


Segregation by Poverty, Segregation by Race
This "poverty segregation" in public schools tends to go hand-in-hand with racial segregation. Many African-American students attend highly racially segregated schools, and when they do, they are more likely to end up in high-poverty schools, too.

When African-American students attend a segregated school where the majority of students are kids of color, over half are attending high-poverty schools (53 percent), compared with 42 percent of all black students. About 65 percent of black students in a school with a population that is three-quarters or more students of color are attending a high-poverty school.

At the extreme end of school segregation are schools with almost no white students (at least nine out of ten kids are students of color). Among black students attending these schools, 73 percent are in a high-poverty school, and remarkably few (5 percent) attend a low-poverty school.

What's more, it's not a small number of black children attending such poor and racially isolated schools: over 2.1 million black students (or about 28 percent of all black students) attend schools that are both high-poverty and 90 percent students of color.


Schools Can't Address Segregation and Poverty on Their Own
The effects of exposure to concentrated poverty are large and long-lived and should be of concern to all institutions and systems responsible for the livelihood of black children. But it is not the responsibility of our school system to reduce poverty.

Poor, segregated schools are a symptom of a broader array of racial-equity issues that flow from neighborhood segregation and housing discrimination, legal barriers to school desegregation, and inequitable policies that precluded African-American upward economic mobility in the past 40 years and precipitated recent significant downward mobility, with many falling out of the middle class.

Addressing how such class immobility and neighborhood stagnation manifest in poor, segregated schools requires comprehensive housing- and school-policy solutions so that black children are not inheriting concentrated disadvantage from one generation to another.

Housing programs can alleviate the concentration of race and poverty in schools. Promising initiatives include mobility programs with information for parents on neighborhood and school quality, rigorous enforcement of fair-housing policies, and assistance with locating affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods with high-quality schools.

Regional school policy can also recognize that poor, racially isolated schools and neighborhoods are damaging to regions as a whole -- because the health of cities and their suburbs are intimately linked -- and then redraw school district lines (which often reinforce inequality) to cross suburb and city lines or incentivize resource-rich suburban schools to accept low-income transfers.

These are not untested, abstract ideas or fiscally burdensome initiatives, but proven policy and programs that can reduce the concentration of race and poverty in our schools and neighborhoods. The best solutions leverage existing policies and funding to promote sustained racial and socioeconomic diversity. But the neighborhood school cannot solve these problems alone. No school should be expected to systematically outperform its neighborhood and overcome generations of compounded disadvantage.


Reed Jordan
is a research assistant with the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

The Fight Over GMO Labeling

Thomas A. Hemphill & Syagnik Banerjee - October 29, 2014

Much has changed in the agricultural marketplace since Flavr Savr, the first genetically engineered tomato, first appeared in America's supermarkets in 1994. The Department of Agriculture reports that in 2014, 94 percent of soybean acreage, 89 percent of corn acreage, and 84 percent of cotton acreage in the U.S. comprise genetically engineered, insect-resistant crops. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry group representing over 300 major food, beverage, and consumer-product companies, estimates that 70 to 80 percent of processed food consumed by Americans contains plants that have been genetically engineered.

While critics continue to question the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products, the scientific evidence for GMO foods has been evaluated by the European Union, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, Health Canada, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, among others. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society, reports that these established organizations have all come to the same conclusion: "Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques."

In recent years, anti-GMO activists have re-focused their public-policy lobbying and advocacy efforts from health and safety concerns to emphasizing enhanced transparency of food ingredient information. Advocates of mandatory labeling argue that American consumers have a right to know what specific ingredients are in their processed foods. Furthermore, they emphasize consumer choice, as consumers with ethical or religious concerns have the right to decide what ingredients they ingest.

Pro-GMO advocates cite both cost and choice problems with mandatory-labeling edicts. A 2014 Cornell University study concludes that New York's proposed labeling bill would cost families in the state an average of $500 per year; earlier studies in Washington State and California reached similar conclusions. Also, previous experiences with mandatory labeling in the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand have resulted in grocery retailers' eliminating GMO food products from their shelves, largely due to consumer aversion to these products after mandatory labeling requirements were implemented.

Over the last 25 years, a majority of American-consumer surveys on GMO foods reveal that more than 90 percent want GMO retail food labels to be mandatory. However, Americans' opinions about GMO labels depend on their beliefs about GMO foods, their actual knowledge and awareness of GMO foods, and the inferences they draw from these labels.

According to William Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute (FPI) at Rutgers University, when the FPI undertook a major survey of American consumer attitudes toward GMO foods in November 2013, asking what information should be included on food labels that is not already there, only 7 percent of survey respondents mentioned GMO ingredients. When presented with a list of possible information to include on retail food labels, 59 percent of survey respondents included GMO ingredients. When asked specifically whether GMO ingredients should be labeled, 73 percent of survey respondents said yes. Obviously, the response is dependent on how you word the question.

At the federal level, anti-GMO lobbying and advocacy efforts to mandate labeling in the past 15 years have had no substantive effect on the status quo. Recently, however, anti-GMO public-policy efforts have made progress at the state level. On May 9 of this year, Vermont became the first state to mandate the retail labeling, effective July 1, 2016, of certain foods containing GMOs. Unlike Connecticut and Maine, whose legislatures passed labeling laws last year, the Vermont legislature did not include any "trigger" provision making the law contingent upon other state governments' requiring GMO labeling.

Anti-GMO interest groups have also introduced state ballot initiatives mandating GMO labeling. In November 2012, California's Proposition 37 was narrowly defeated, and in another closely contested vote, Washington State's Initiative 522 was defeated in November 2013. This year, the State of Colorado has Proposition 105 on the ballot, and Oregon has Initiative 44.

Recent anti-GMO state-level success has elicited a federal legislative response supported by the pro-GMO food lobby. U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) recently introduced H.R. 4432 ("Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act"), which amends the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The bill authorizes the FDA to require labels disclosing material differences (but not all differences) between GMO and non-GMO food. The bill also preempts any state or local government requirement concerning GMO food labeling and establishes standards for any label claiming that bioengineering was or was not used in the production of the food.

While H.R. 4432 is sequestered in the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Health and not likely to emerge in the 113th Congress, the 114th Congress will likely see a reintroduction of this or similar legislation. Also, on June 12, 2014, a coalition of pro-GMO food and manufacturing associations, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, filed suit in the District of Vermont court challenging on constitutional grounds the state's labeling law. If Republicans gain control of Congress in November, and if Vermont's law isn't struck down, passage of this legislation could prevent a costly patchwork of state level regulatory compliance from emerging.

Thomas A. Hemphill is an associate professor of strategy, innovation, and public policy in the University of Michigan-Flint School of Management, and Syagnik Banerjee is associate professor of marketing and digital media in the University of Michigan-Flint School of Management.

Do Kids Get an 'Intact-Family Premium'?

Robert VerBruggen - October 28, 2014

Today, Robert I. Lerman and W. Bradford Wilcox have a new paper out through the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies. They argue that marriage is economically beneficial for adults and children alike and offer some policy ideas for shoring it up.

They are no doubt correct that family structure is important, but this is an exceedingly difficult topic to study, and I suspect their estimates of what they call the "intact-family premium" are high. Here I'll focus on their chapter "The Role of Childhood Family Structure in Future Economic Success."

Before getting to the nitty-gritty of the new study, let's start at the beginning: the breakdown of the American family. Out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce were quite rare a half-century ago, and it's not hard to understand why. Women had few economic opportunities, and the government did little to help women who had children they couldn't support. If a woman wanted to have children, the only real option was to secure the economic support of a man first. Cultural norms reinforced this reality: Society looked down on unwed mothers and men who left their families.

None of that is true anymore. About 40 percent of American children are born out of wedlock, and divorce is common. And what makes this difficult to study is that the process didn't unfold at random -- it targeted specific parts of the population. For example, people who have children out of wedlock are disproportionately poor and less-educated: precisely the demographic of parents whose children have worse outcomes anyway, for reasons ranging from genetics to parenting. And even among the poor and less educated, the decision to have children out of wedlock is just that -- a decision -- meaning that it depends on a host of personal traits.

If we want to figure out what effect non-intact families have on kids, we need to account for all of these differences without also washing away differences that actually do stem from family structure. That's a tall order.

Lerman and Wilcox compare children using a model that takes into account "age, race/ethnicity, mother's age at birth, mother's education, and respondents' scores on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT), which measures intelligence and knowledge of a range of subjects." Some of their calculations also control for the child's own education, household size, and whether he lives with his parents. The authors find that, with these variables removed from the equation, kids from intact families still have much higher personal incomes (to the tune of around five grand a year, depending on gender), better high-school graduation rates, and so on and so forth.

Two variables in particular highlight the pitfalls of this type of analysis. First, the AFQT: Intelligence is highly genetic, and (as we'll see in a second) it varies between married and unmarried parents, so controlling it is justifiable. But no one says academic ability is completely genetic, and it's possible that kids score somewhat better on tests if they have two parents to support their intellectual development. So by controlling away the kids' AFQT scores, the authors might have nibbled at the effect they were trying to find.

On the flipside is parental income, which the authors deliberately exclude from their analysis: "The higher income that children enjoy in a two-parent home is part of the benefit of being raised in an intact family." Indeed, two incomes are better than one (assuming the second parent works instead of staying at home), and in a different chapter the authors give some good evidence that marriage itself increases income. But it's also likely that people who form non-intact families have lower earning potential, on average, than those who get married and stay married -- and that this would affect their children to some degree regardless of family structure.

In other words, including a variable can wipe out the actual effects of family structure, but leaving it out can blame family structure for problems that kids would have had to deal with no matter what. There's no telling for sure, but my best guess is that the authors excluded far more of these kinds of variables than they included, and overestimated the impact of family structure. In particular, their results are hard to square with those from the field of behavioral genetics, which suggest that children who share genes tend to be similar in countless ways, even if they're not raised together, while unrelated children raised in the same home do not.

Importantly, I'm not so much disagreeing with the authors as emphasizing problems they admit are there: In their introduction, they concede that "both marriage and economic well-being may be the result of some third factor, such as unobserved differences in personality or character, like the capacity to delay gratification."


I'm a journalist, not a social scientist, so take the following with a grain of salt. But I have spent some time with the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, one of the data sets Lerman and Wilcox use. To show what I'm getting at, I used it to look at two groups of non-black, non-Hispanic parents: those who got married the same year they started having kids or earlier, and those who did not. What's great about the NLSY is that, because it interviews the same people over and over again (the most recent data being from 2011), it allows us to time-travel and see how these groups compared when their members were as young as 12-16. With the caveat that my analysis was crude -- no fancy weights or controls -- it turns out that they were quite different in a lot of ways.

To start with, I looked at some numbers collected when these parents were in their school years. On one part of the AFQT, the math and verbal sections of the ASVAB, those who'd become married parents averaged around the 58th percentile nationally, while those who'd become unmarried parents averaged around the 40th percentile. Similarly, on the NLSY's GPA measure (designed to standardize scores across different schools), married parents averaged about a 3.0 while the unmarried were around a 2.6.

The members of these two groups grew up in different types of homes as well. Married parents came from families with a median income of about $50,000 in 1997, while the typical unmarried parent came from a family earning a little under $40,000. And unsurprisingly, those in the married-parent group were more likely to come from intact families themselves -- nearly 60 percent lived with both biological parents at age 12, compared with a little under 40 percent for those in the unmarried-parent group -- raising yet another slew of questions about nature and nurture. (A different chapter in the new study addresses people who grew up in intact families and went on to form intact families themselves.)

Moving beyond high school -- and into territory Lerman and Wilcox don't cover -- probably the most striking thing I found was a serious criminality gap, to the point that women who had children out of wedlock were roughly comparable to men who had children after getting married. Those in the unmarried-parent group were much more likely to report being arrested at least once: 69 vs. 31 percent for males and 40 percent to 16 percent for females. (Click here if these numbers seem far too high to you.) Ditto for reports of incarceration: 22 to 6 percent for men and 8 to 2 percent for women.

And here's a more salacious time-traveling comparison: Among those who had not married or had a child yet when they were asked in 2003, men in the unmarried-parent group were much more likely to say they'd had sex with a stranger since the date of the last interview, 18 vs. 9 percent. (The difference for women was similar in magnitude, 7 vs. 4 percent, but it was not statistically significant.) Morality aside, this is certainly indicative of personality traits that can affect other aspects of a person's life too.

Perhaps all we're seeing here is the fact that the unmarried-parent group grew up poorer -- after all, there's evidence that poverty can sometimes swamp the effect of genes in shaping outcomes. But most of these results held up when I excluded all respondents whose parents earned less than $30,000, or whose parents reported the respondent had experienced "hard times" as a child -- and even when, on top of that, I restricted the sample to those who'd lived with both biological parents at age 12. (None of the differences disappeared completely, but some fell out of statistical significance as the sample sizes shrank.)

You can see my spreadsheet and R Code for yourself, and download additional variables here. The NLSY is a treasure trove of data on all sorts of traits, and there's much I didn't look at. In fact, the differences -- including those not even measured in data sets like the NLSY -- may be so varied and complex that the tools of social science don't equip us to sort them out. Anything that differs between married and unmarried parents could affect children's outcomes through genetic transmission or parental influence, regardless of family structure. 

It's obvious enough that family matters -- the simple, stable presence of another adult in the household makes everything easier, an extra income can bring a child out of poverty, and science is constantly uncovering ways that humans evolved to fill the roles of parent and child. And the benefits of a two-parent household can stay with children as they become adults. It's just difficult to quantify the precise extent of this "intact-family premium."

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

ITC: The New Digital Cop?

Mytheos Holt - October 28, 2014

Do you know where your e-mail account is located? No, "the Internet" is not a valid answer. More specifically, do you know on which of Google's many servers your Gmail account is physically located?

If you're a U.S. user whose account is hosted in, for example, Singapore, then congratulations: Every time you download an e-mail, you're "importing" digital goods that are subject to the authority of the International Trade Commission. That's the precedent set by a recent ITC decision, currently under appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as Clearcorrect v. ITC.

The case stems from an obscure patent lawsuit over teeth-straightening technology. But hidden in its inaccessible tangle of legal minutiae is a broad assertion of authority by the ITC -- namely, that the 1930 Tariff Act, which gives it the authority to regulate "articles of importation," covers digital goods and not just physical ones. If upheld, the "electronic transmission of digital data" would fall under the same rules as crates full of knock-off jeans.

It isn't that the ITC has never enforced intellectual-property rules. If a Chinese company were found trying to export to the United States bootleg DVDs of U.S.-made films, the ITC very clearly could and would intervene. But what if, instead of trying to sell copies of Gone Girl, the company instead wired (via telegram or telegraph) across international borders the text of the movie's script?

According to a more-than-century-old precedent, regulations pertaining to physical goods are "entirely inapplicable" to electronic messages. As the Supreme Court put it in the 1887 commerce-clause case Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Pendleton:

Although intercourse by telegraphic messages between the states is thus held to be interstate commerce, it differs in material particulars from that portion of commerce with foreign countries and between the states which consists in the carriage of persons and the transportation and exchange of commodities, upon which we have been so often called to pass. It differs not only in the subjects which it transmits, but in the means of transmission. Other commerce deals only with persons or with visible and tangible things.

But the telegraph transports nothing visible and tangible; it carries only ideas, wishes, orders and intelligence. Other commerce requires the constant attention and supervision of the carrier for the safety of the persons and property carried. The message of the telegraph passes at once beyond the control of the sender, and reaches the office to which it is sent instantaneously. It is plain from these essentially different characteristics that the regulations suitable for one of these kinds of commerce would be entirely inapplicable to the other.

So why is the commission suddenly meddling in an area that's traditionally been off-limits? The ITC argued in its original decision that, because the Tariff Act of 1930 was written "at a time when Internet downloads were not in existence," its authors could not have foreseen the idea of data as commerce -- and the interpretation of the term "articles of importation" must change with the times.

Charles Duan at Public Knowledge eviscerated this argument in an amicus brief:

First: although internet downloads did not exist in 1930, plenty of other transmissions of telecommunications data, including cross-border transmissions, did exist and were certainly known to Congress at that time. Trans-Atlantic telegraph cables were laid and sending messages as early as 1858. Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio transmission from the United States to the United Kingdom in 1903. A telephone call between Arlington, Virginia and Paris, France was completed in 1915. . . .

Second: These developments in technology were certainly recognized as within the scope of commerce when section 337 was enacted. Numerous cases in the Supreme Court recognized telegraphy as a form of commerce. Between 1910 and 1933, telephone, telegraph, and cable companies were within the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission -- a commission with the very word "commerce" in its name. . . .

Third: concern for intellectual property rights in the face of electronic transmissions is no new problem, contrary to the Commission's view. Radio broadcasts posed the same problems to intellectual property owners in the early 1900s as music files do today.

Duan has also noted that treating digital data as "articles of importation" would open the door to the ITC fielding complaints -- and opening investigations -- relating to all phone calls, audio streams, television broadcasts, and other telecommunications that could cross borders, with the potential for Internet-service providers, phone companies, or even individual Internet users' being called before the commission as importers or exporters.

Considered in this light, it's no surprise that actors such as the Motion Picture Association of America love the ITC's decision. IP owners can always can go to a regular district court if they think infringement has taken place. But the ITC's involvement is desirable for IP owners because the procedure is faster and stricter, the remedies are stronger, and the body's charter is trade protectionism. Thus, putting patent cases before the ITC when they don't belong there gives unnecessary favors to IP owners and upsets the expectations of existing businesses.

The courts should cut this kind of abuse off at the knees. What's good for phone calls, radio, and telegrams is good for downloads, e-mail clients, and every other form of data transmission. Otherwise we might all soon be asking, "Where's my e-mail account?"

The answer just might be, "the ITC has it."

Mytheos Holt is an associate fellow of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C. 

How California Could Lose a Generation of Doctors

Zachary David Skaggs - October 27, 2014

When California voters go to the polls on November 4, they won't just be choosing their members of Congress. They'll also be making a decision on Proposition 46, a three-part ballot measure that could have profound effects on the cost of their health care and the privacy of their medical records.

The primary provision -- though not the first listed on the ballot -- would hike the cap for "pain and suffering" reimbursements in medical-malpractice cases from $250,000 to $1.1 million. It is important to note that such damages are not the only method of recompense in these unfortunate cases. Monetary damages to pay for the patient's loss of future income are unlimited and can easily run into the millions of dollars.

The present caps were instituted in the 1970s after doctors in Los Angeles County went on strike to protest skyrocketing medical-malpractice premiums. Pain-and-suffering damages in California were out of control, often in the tens of millions of dollars. The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, was passed to limit these settlements.

Proposition 46 would adjust the MICRA reforms for inflation -- which after almost 40 years means more than quadrupling them. These increased costs would not be borne solely by doctors. They would be passed on both to patients and to employers who pay for health plans, including state and local governments. The California Medical Association has estimated that raising the cap to $1 million would increase health costs by $9.9 billion per year -- or more than $1,000 for a family of four.

While increasing the cap on non-economic damages is the centerpiece of Proposition 46, the general public is largely not even aware of it. Instead, television jingles urging "Yes on 46" ask, "Shouldn't Doctors Pee in a Cup Too?" -- a provision described as "the ultimate sweetener" by Proposition 46 supporter Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog. While it is a worthwhile goal to ensure that physicians be of sound mind when treating patients, urine drug screens are an extremely problematic method of achieving this.

Toxicologists decry the use of urine drug tests due to their frequent false positives and false negatives, not to mention the fact that the presence of drugs in someone's urine does not indicate acute intoxication. Under Proposition 46, a physician who took cold medicine (known to cross-react with the amphetamine screen) the morning of a random urine drug screen would suffer an immediate suspension pending further investigation by the California Medical Board. While this measure polls well with the public, its practical effect will be to make practicing medicine in California a perilous proposition.

The third provision of Proposition 46 would mandate that doctors and pharmacists check a state-run database every time they prescribe Schedule II or III drugs to a new patient. Unfortunately, there is no additional funding to increase cybersecurity on this newly developed database, even though mandating its increased use leaves this private medical information more vulnerable. When a tech giant like Apple can't reliably guard its customers' private photos, trusting an underfunded state program to keep its newly minted database secure in the face of a radical uptick in usage could result in unforeseen privacy issues.

As a native San Diegan in my final year of medical school, I would like to stay in my home state to practice medicine. But spiraling malpractice premiums and regulatory uncertainty would make that dream much less attractive. Should Proposition 46 become the law of the land, young doctors may decide to hang their shingles in another state.

Zachary David Skaggs is a medical student at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

Beyond the 'Private Option' for Medicaid Expansion

Christine Vestal, Stateline - October 25, 2014

Less than a year after low-income Arkansans started receiving health coverage under the Affordable Care Act's controversial Medicaid expansion, the state is declaring its so-called "private option" experiment a success. 

Hospitals saw fewer uninsured patients, state coffers were spared millions in health care costs and private insurers reported record-low premium hikes. Most important, Arkansas' uninsured rate fell from 23 percent to 12 percent, the sharpest drop in the country.

But lawmakers in Arkansas, where Gov. Mike Beebe is a Democrat and the legislature is controlled by Republicans, have already asked the federal government for adjustments to their groundbreaking plan, under which Arkansans used Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance on the insurance exchange created under the ACA. Meanwhile, other states are customizing their own alternative approaches to expanding Medicaid to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual). 

"It's an iterative process," said Matt Salo, director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. "States are probing the defenses of the HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) fortress to see what they can get approved," he said.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court made the federal health law's Medicaid expansion optional for states, the debate over expansion has become a proxy for supporting or opposing Obamacare. 

After the November elections, more states are expected to reconsider their largely political decisions to pass up millions in federal dollars that can be used to improve the health of their residents.

"This is a fight within the Republican party," said Joan Alker, director of Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families. "After the election, when governors and lawmakers feel less threatened, we should see more movement," she said. Alker and others cite Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Florida as possible converts. 

So far, 28 states and the District of Columbia have decided to expand Medicaid and 22 have not. Of the 28 states that have expanded the federal-state program, 19 have Democratic governors and nine -- Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- are led by Republicans. 

Six states have asked HHS for special permission to put their own stamp on the way beneficiaries receive and pay for care, instead of simply adding them to the rolls of traditional Medicaid. Arkansas was first to get approval in 2013 for its private option, which this year allowed 210,000 Arkansans to use Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance on the state's insurance exchange.

Iowa was next, receiving permission to substitute private insurance for Medicaid for a portion of its newly eligible adults, charge copays and eliminate nonemergency transportation; Pennsylvania got approval in July to take a similar approach with enrollment starting next month. Michigan chose not to switch to private insurance, but got federal approval to charge newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries copays that can be reduced as a reward for engaging in healthy behaviors. New Hampshire and Indiana are next in the queue. 

Utah is among a handful of states actively considering an alternative Medicaid expansion, and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to be the next to announce a plan. He will then have to ask approval from state lawmakers and the federal government. Tennessee and Wyoming, both led by Republican governors, are also considering alternatives to traditional Medicaid expansion.


A GOP Debate
The debate within the remaining nonexpansion states is largely between conservative Republicans, who oppose Medicaid expansion in any form, and moderate Republicans, who are open to alternative ways to use federal money to cover more people. The Obama administration is so eager for more states to expand Medicaid that it is offering significant flexibility in the way states implement the health law's historic expansion of the nearly 50-year-old Medicaid program.

At stake is $424 billion in federal money through 2022 to cover 6.7 million uninsured adults, according to a new study by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 5 million of them are ineligible to receive federal tax credits on the insurance exchanges because their incomes are below the federal poverty level ($11,670 for an individual).

For states that choose to expand Medicaid -- no matter what approach they take -- the federal government will cover the entire cost of coverage in 2014, 2015 and 2016. After that, full federal coverage declines each year, tapering to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

Given the administration's flexibility, all new expansions are expected to include some type of customization. So far, states are seeking permission to charge copayments to cover part of the cost of visiting a doctor's office or hospital emergency department. Other common requests include policies that reward consumers for adopting healthy lifestyles and "health savings accounts" designed to encourage consumers to sock away money for future health expenditures.

Most of the requests reflect decades-old Republican principles that low-income Medicaid beneficiaries should take personal responsibility for their health by making healthy lifestyle choices and more economical decisions about their care.

In addition, most states are seeking to bring Medicaid benefits in line with the benefits received by middle-class people who pay for private insurance. For example, most states are asking to eliminate special services such as nonemergency transportation and regular diagnostic screenings for 19- and 20-year-olds, which are covered under traditional Medicaid.

Alker and other consumer advocates are hopeful that more states will choose expansion, but they are closely watching states' negotiations with the federal government. The worry is that too much administrative complexity combined with even minimal copays could result in lower sign-ups and less use of the health care system.

For example, copays may make sense in the private insurance market, Alker said, but research shows the introduction of even nominal fees in the Medicaid program in the past has resulted in some low-income consumers missing needed care. 

As for nonemergency transportation, studies show that their most common use is for kidney dialysis and behavioral health therapy, both of which are considered essential services. Consumer advocates argue that eliminating rides to important medical appointments could increase overall costs in the long run.


Good for the Market
One of the biggest benefits of Arkansas' private option has been its effect on the commercial health insurance market, said Robin Arnold-Williams, senior health care adviser with health care consultants Leavitt Partners. Early estimates indicate next year's insurance rates in the state will be an average of 2 percent lower than this year, and the statewide insurance market now includes five carriers, compared to just one statewide carrier in the past.

Under the Arkansas plan, residents with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty were allowed to sign up for private health insurance on the exchange starting in October 2013. But in approving its proposal, the federal government required the state to exclude anyone who self-attested to being in poor health or "medically frail." About 10 percent did so. As a result, the sickest and costliest patients were served under traditional Medicaid.

Furthermore, as a group, the people using Medicaid dollars to purchase insurance on the exchange were younger and healthier than other exchange customers, and they made up 75 percent of the total. In a small state with scant insurance competition, adding that low-cost population to the exchange pool might have rescued the state's fledgling exchange from a "death spiral," Williams said. 

The private option also was expected to improve patients' access to health care providers, because doctors in private networks are paid higher fees than those who bill Medicaid, and to reduce administrative difficulties for consumers whose rising incomes force them to switch from Medicaid to private insurance, by allowing them to maintain their health cards and doctors. In the coming months, Arkansas Medicaid officials will report on whether those hopes came to fruition.


Christine Vestal is a senior writer at Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, where this piece originally appeared.  

Niam Yaraghi, Brookings Institution - October 24, 2014

Disclosure of the financial relationships between the medical industry and health care providers is a very important step toward transparency. Patients heavily rely on the recommendations of their doctors to make any kind of decision regarding their health and thus should have full awareness of payments between their doctors and the medical industry. Patients have a right to be informed about possible conflicts of interests.

A not so well-known provision of the Affordable Care Act is the Sunshine Act. The purpose of this act is to increase the transparency in the health care market by requiring doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device manufacturers to disclose their financial relationships. Mandated by the Sunshine Act, on September 30th, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) publicly released the first set of data, under the Open Payments title. This data includes $3.5 billion paid to over half a million doctors and teaching hospitals in the last five months of 2013.

A subset of Open Payments data that is individually identifiable includes two categories of payments. The first category are the payments that are made for other reasons such as travel reimbursement, royalties, speaking and consulting fees and the second are payments which are made as research grants. These datasets together include more than 2.3 million financial transactions which amount to a total of more than $825 million.


Total Payments by Manufacturers of Drugs, Medical Devices, and Biologicals

General Payments
Teaching hospitals and physicians together received $669,561,563 in general payments from 949 different medical manufacturers. Interestingly, close to 70 percent ($460,369,403) of this amount was paid to individual physicians and the rest was paid to teaching hospitals. More than half of the total general payments were made by only 20 companies led by Genentech, which paid $130,065,012 in general grants to various hospitals and doctors and in particular, City of Hope National Medical Center.

Research Payments
Two hundred and ninety-four manufacturers awarded 23,225 research grants to teaching hospitals and physicians. The total value of these grants was $155,815,828. About 70 percent ($107,969,961) of these grants were awarded to teaching hospitals and the rest were awarded to physicians. The top 20 manufacturers contributed more than 75 percent of the total value of these grants. By awarding $17,973,563 in research grants Bristol-Myers Squibb, leads the pack.

The following chart breaks down the payments of the top 20 most generous manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and biologicals to teaching hospitals and individual physicians.

Not surprisingly, the release of the payments data was not immune from criticism. The harshest ones were from the American Medical Association (AMA). In particular, the AMA cited "inadequate opportunity for physician review" and "inaccuracy of the data" as the main problems with the release of open payments data. Moreover, AMA was so concerned about the "misinterpretation" of the data that it released an official "Guide for Media Reporting" in which it "strongly encourage[s] members of the media to ... help the public understand the important role that appropriate relationships between physicians and industry has in advancing the practice of medicine."

It's critical to interpret financial transactions between different medical providers in context. Obviously, accurate and complete data is preferable to inaccurate and incomplete data. However, it's not possible to avoid any of these problems by withholding data any longer.


Misinterpretation of the Open Payments data is an unfortunate yet inevitable problem. Given the volume and inherent complexity of this data, patients and media will have a steep learning curve ahead of them before they fully understand the nuances of the open payments. The AMA argues correctly that medical providers are best suited to educate patients and media representatives about this data. The Open Payments data may create questions but the lack of response to these questions will result in misinterpretation.

The AMA claims that the technical problems with the website inhibited physicians to verify this information in the 45-day window provided by CMS. This may be true, but it's worth noting that a subset of hospitals and physicians accounted for 75 percent of the total payments. The window (which was then extended) may not have given all medical providers enough time to adequately check this data and inform CMS about possible errors, but this still allowed enough time to audit those limited instances of doctors and hospitals that were paid the largest sums of money. Moreover, CMS has already adopted a conservative approach and has removed data for about one third of the payments due to possible errors. Those providers who received eye-popping sums of money from the pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers have already had abundant opportunities to verify this information and possibly provide the context to media outlets.


Grants Awarded to Teaching Hospitals

General Payments
Approximately 1,110 hospitals received $209,192,160 in general payments. Twenty hospitals received 82 percent ($173,032,320) of these payments. City of Hope National Medical Center received a total of $122,586,713 and received more in general payments than any other hospital.

Research Payments
Six hundred and sixty different teaching hospitals were awarded in $107,969,961 in research grants. Sixty-one hospitals or 9 percent of the total were awarded more than 75 percent ($81,241,699) of the total research grants. Dana Farber Cancer Institute received $14,455,932 in research grants from various companies, which is more than any other teaching hospital.


Grants Awarded to Individual Physicians

General Payments
Nearly 466,000 physicians received $460,369,403 in general payments. About 10 percent ($42,555,940) of this amount was paid to the top 20 doctors, mainly as royalties and licenses. At the top of the list is Dr. Stephen S Burkhart, orthopedic surgeon from San Antonio who received $7,352,788 in royalties from Arthrex, a manufacturer of orthopedic surgical supplies.

Research Payments
he 3,744 doctors in the database received $47,845,867 in research grants. The top 10 percent of doctors received about 71 percent ($33,917,206) of these grants. Dr. Stuart S. Winter, the pediatric hematologist/oncologist from the University of New Mexico, received $2,886,844 from GlaxoSmithKline, for conducting two research projects on Arranon, a brand name drug for treating specific types of cancer.

This provision of the ACA offers valuable insight into data that was not previously shared with the American public, which is an important step toward broader transparency into the U.S. health care system.


Niam Yaraghi is a fellow in the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings Institution's TechTank blog.

Why College Students Don't Learn Much

Michael Poliakoff, ACTA - October 24, 2014

"What Will They Learn?" asks the American Council of Trustees and Alumni's (ACTA) annual study of college core requirements. And given what we uncovered this year, it is no surprise that -- as famously documented by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses -- many students graduate without having learned much of anything.

Our methodology is simple. We look at whether an institution requires its students to study seven basic subjects: literature, U.S. government or history, foreign language, mathematics, economics, science, and composition. And what have we found? Only 13 percent of the nearly 1,100 schools ACTA evaluated require the equivalent of three semesters of foreign-language study. With all the national buzz about our need for more STEM education, fewer than two-thirds of schools require college-level math. In a globalized economy frequently beset by economic crises, just 3 percent require even a single course in basic economics.

In total, only 23 schools require at least six of these seven subjects.

What are students taking instead? There is a cornucopia of the enticing and nugatory. For example, at Harvard, students can fulfill their literature requirement with "American Dreams from Scarface to Easy Rider." At the University of Colorado-Boulder, students can take "Horror Films and American Culture" or "America Through Basketball" in lieu of an American-history course. The absence of strong general-education requirements has allowed too many students to replace intellectual rigor with the academic equivalent of junk food.

This curricular decline comes at a cost, producing citizens unable to compete globally or exercise responsible citizenship. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) surveyed its member nations to determine the level of quantitative and verbal literacy that adults demonstrate. While America spends substantially more per student on higher education than any other OECD nation, we are far from the top when it comes to performance. The literacy level of four-year college graduates is below the average of our international peers. And numerous surveys have confirmed that American college graduates have stunning gaps in their knowledge. Nearly 62 percent could not identify the correct length of congressional terms. Thirty-nine percent didn't know Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II.

And while the purpose of a liberal education is not merely to produce effective workers, employers have repeatedly emphasized that they wish college graduates possessed greater knowledge of foreign languages, science, and civics.

Given these facts, why are colleges consistently failing to provide the broad-based liberal-arts education Americans need? There is plenty of blame to go around. Students and parents have looked for prestige and reputation instead of educational quality in making college choices. Professors often prefer to teach courses in niche subjects that interest them, rather than in the subjects that are vital to students' success. Administrators use open curricula and catchy course titles to attract applicants in the fierce competition for students and their tuition dollars. And trustees fail to exercise oversight over their institutions.

The time has come to say enough is enough. It is time for every higher-ed stakeholder to reaffirm the value of a strong core curriculum. Students, parents, and donors need to vote with their feet and wallets, attending institutions and handing over money to schools that provide a solid curricular foundation. Professors need to remember that they are charged with molding informed citizens as well as with conducting research. Administrators and trustees need to insist on a course of study that will ensure every student learns the essential subjects that will prepare him or her for career and community. And policymakers need to insist that institutions which receive taxpayer dollars are equipping young people to be productive members of society.

The time for mediocrity is over. America's colleges and universities have been called the "envy of the world." If we restore the core, they can keep that moniker.

Michael Poliakoff is vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Replacing the ACA: What Women Want

Grace-Marie Turner - October 24, 2014

Americans are angry about the manifest failure of Obamacare. Many have felt the impact directly, from the millions who lost their health plans after being promised they could keep them, to those facing sky-high deductibles and premiums, to those -- including some in the midst of cancer treatments -- who are losing access to their family doctors.

But at the same time, Americans want insurance that is secure and covers treatments they need. They want the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions to have access to coverage, and they know costs are rising dramatically. They know a safety net is needed for those who lose coverage, particularly those undergoing treatments for serious diseases.

Americans also know the uninsured, those on Medicare and Medicaid, and workers who have insurance through their jobs have different needs and require different solutions. And they know some ideas -- eliminating mandates on employers and individuals to give them greater flexibility, devolving power to the states when it comes to managing Medicaid, allowing patients to select their own coverage, cost transparency, and genuine competition on benefits and price -- show real promise.

Those who want to repeal and replace Obamacare need to understand what Americans -- and especially key demographics like politically independent women -- want from health-care policy. Toward that end, my organization, the Galen Institute, is conducting a series of focus groups, each comprising about a dozen women. We begin with a 20-minute summation of our ideas and goals, during which the participants communicate their response through "dial tests" in real time. Then the presenters go behind the two-way glass to watch as the moderator elicits feedback and reactions.

Women are very open to new ideas that could give them more choices when it comes to doctors, hospitals, and care. But the vein of compassion is strong, and our solutions will be buried if we don't show we care.

A young woman participating in the most recent focus group said she had had health insurance for her family through her husband's job, but "because of Obamacare," premiums soared: The policy's price tag rose from $400 to $900. The woman decided to keep her husband and children on the policy, but to go without herself. She's uninsured because of Obamacare, but -- and here is the most important message -- she said that's okay with her if it means a child with cancer now can get treatment who otherwise couldn't have. Most of the other women nodded in agreement.

These women understand the damage that Obamacare is doing, but they do not want to see people left behind. Talking of "repeal" alone won't work. If millions of people are getting health coverage now through Obamacare subsidies, our policies must have a safety net that continues to protect them.

We definitely have ideas to do that. People should be able to select the benefit packages that they want, not those they are forced by the government to buy. Americans would have a much broader choice of more affordable plans if there were genuine competition among health plans and insurers on benefits and price.

Health insurance should be portable so people don’t lose their policies when they lose or change jobs, and people should have guarantees that if they get sick, their premiums won’t soar.

Employers should have more, not less, flexibility to offer the coverage that suits their workers and their budgets without the threat of huge fines and penalties if they don’t comply with an avalanche of government regulations. And governors should be given more authority to structure their Medicaid programs to make sure their most vulnerable citizens have access to care.

A poll of voters in swing states taken by Public Opinion Strategies for Independent Women’s Voice found that 58 percent voters report that either they (21 percent), a member of their family (35 percent), or a friend (24 percent) have been affected by the ACA. Among the 58 percent who report an impact, negative impacts (60 percent) outnumber positive impacts (38 percent).

Voters will be looking for new solutions. But it doesn’t matter how right our policy ideas are if people don't understand them and if people don't think we care about how they have been harmed. Conservatives must explain our ideas in positive, human terms so people can see that freedom, not government, provides their ultimate security. Our ideas connect when we talk about the real needs of people, including the power of choice and competition to put the American people in charge of health reform that works for them.

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a think tank specializing in free-market ideas for health reform.

Blended Families Pose Challenges for States

Teresa Wiltz, Stateline - October 23, 2014

The Great Recession walloped almost every segment of American society. Millions lost their jobs, homes and businesses. Families lost trillions in household wealth. But a new study by a U.S. Census demographer finds that one group was hit hardest by the big downturn: "multiple-partner fertility" families, or families in which a woman has conceived children by more than one man.

The number of families with multiple-partner fertility, or MPF, is growing across all class and education levels. But they are more likely to be poor, uneducated and minority. They are people who have started life with significant disadvantages—and they tend to stay disadvantaged.

The complexity of their lives poses interesting challenges for state policy. A few state legislators are just starting to grapple with how to best help these families, from tweaking child support requirements to encouraging fathers' involvement in their children's lives.

The census study, conducted by Lindsay Monte earlier this year, found that MPF families spent significantly more time in poverty during the downturn and relied on food stamps much more than single-partner families did. "MPF families did experience disproportionate difficulties during the Great Recession," wrote Monte, a demographer with the Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Statistics Branch. (These families were not more likely during the recession to rely on welfare payments such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the study found.)

MPF families have been around forever, largely the result of divorce and remarriage. But the phenomenon is growing across the U.S. as fewer Americans decide to marry, a trend that is particularly pronounced among millennials. More than half of all births to parents under age 35 are outside of marriage. Twenty-eight percent of all U.S. women with two or more children have children by different men, according to Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University.

"Today, we postpone marriage, but we don't postpone children. That's different from 50 years ago, when you got married and then you had your kids. That's not the case anymore," said Dorius, who conducted a national study of women at or near the end of their childbearing years to assess the impact of multiple-partner fertility on their lives.

Elizabeth Peters, director of the Urban Institute's Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, said multiple-partner fertility puts kids in households that are more chaotic, and sometimes makes contact with the noncustodial parent more difficult. That makes it less likely they will receive the kind of parental investment that will help them grow into productive, happy adults. "These kids are just inherently more disadvantaged. That's a policy issue. I don't know what the policy solution is. You can't legislate how people build families."


Portrait of an American Family
Researchers first began studying multiple-partner fertility in 2005, almost by accident. They started out by exploring how some men "swap families" after they have a child with a new partner. These men sometimes limit their financial support of their previous children or stop spending as much time with them. They also might limit involvement with their children that live elsewhere when their ex-partners move in with or marry someone new.

Most of the emerging research is on the lives of mothers who bear children by more than one man, rather than on the fathers who have children with more than one woman. The vast majority of MPF women in their late 20s and early 30s live with all of their children, while the vast majority of MPF fathers do not live with all of their children, according to research conducted by Karen Guzzo, associate professor of Sociology at Bowling Green State University.

MPF is more common among minority women, with 59 percent of African-American mothers, 35 percent of Hispanic mothers, and 22 percent of white mothers reporting having children by more than one partner. But the issue is less tied to race than it is to class, Dorius said. Black families are more likely to be poor, for example, and African-American men experience a much higher incarceration rate than any other racial or ethnic group, leading to a shortage of available men.

"Very rich women and very educated women also have children with more than one man," Dorius said. "This isn't necessarily a racial story. (MPF) is really concentrated in early disadvantage and in America today, that's caught up in race."

According to Dorius, women who conceive children with multiple partners often get pregnant at a younger age and are not living with their partner when they give birth. They are also less likely to have support from their families, have less access to child care and report poorer quality relationships, according to Dorius.

MPF mothers also have more health problems and depression as they reach middle age. Stress tends to breed more stress: Young couples faced with early parenthood are at risk for breaking up and meeting someone else, and then having children with their new partners.

MPF impacts families across generations as well. Teens growing up in a home with half-siblings are more likely to use drugs and start having sex earlier than other children, according to Dorius.

"These children have to juggle across households. Every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every holiday" is complicated," Dorius said. "It makes family life really confusing. You can imagine a scenario where you have a mother and a father living together and with one child, he's the (biological) father and with the other, he's the stepfather. It makes for really complicated family life."

Family scholars are trying to uncover whether having children with more than one person magnifies inequalities over the course of the mothers' lives, Dorius said.


Fewer Marriages
The higher your educational level, the more likely you are to have a child while married—and stay married. Couples faced with economic insecurity are less likely to want to stay together or marry, according to Arielle Kuperberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

"It makes it harder for people to plan for the future; it makes them less willing to settle down. Marriage is something that happens after they achieve financial stability. In the past, marriage was the path to financial security," said Kuperberg.

The rocky economy and the erosion of stable manufacturing jobs have contributed to the low marriage rates. A few decades ago, a recent high school graduate could easily find a good job paying a living wage, one that allowed for buying a home and raising a family.

Today it's much harder for young people to find steady work, even if they have college degrees. As the manufacturing sector has shrunk, more of the jobs that are available are seasonal or have irregular hours or don't pay much, none of which are conducive to stable family life, according to Kuperberg. Full-time jobs with benefits are becoming more elusive as workers on the lower end of the job ladder have to cobble together multiple jobs and multiple shifts to make ends meet.

"If the economy continues to be very restrictive for young adults, as it gets harder and harder for young adults to establish themselves, we'll see more unwed fertility, and more multi-partner fertility," Kuperberg said.


States' Response
Economic policies that work to ease the unemployment rate would help to raise marital stability, Kuperberg said. Legislation that curtails erratic, "on-call" schedules for shift workers also would increase family stability, she said.

State policies tend to focus on some of the issues surrounding MPF, rather than the phenomenon itself, according to Rochelle Finzel of the National Conference of State Legislatures. MPF families often rely on child support, which is an important source of income for custodial parents, specifically those with low incomes, Finzel said.

"States play a strong role in child support from the beginning of the process to establish the order to collecting and enforcing those orders. The child support program is continuously evolving to meet the needs of custodial parents and is increasingly looking at ways to better engage with noncustodial parents to ensure they are able to provide consistent and reliable support," Finzel said.

Still, cautioned Dan Meyer, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "child support policy is particularly difficult. It's not just how to divide up the payments that are made; it's how much we should expect" noncustodial parents, usually fathers, to pay under child support orders.

Often, a father with children by different mothers will end up paying a disproportionate share of child support: if a father has two noncustodial children by the same mother, he would pay less for the second child. A father with two different children would be required to pay the same amount for each child.

While the bulk of legislation has focused on collection and enforcement measures, many states have taken a direct look at military families to make sure the child support program meets their unique needs, according to Finzel. Legislators are also talking more about how child support program can better help noncustodial parents (often fathers) to help them find employment so they are able to pay their child support obligations, she said.

There are limits to what policy can achieve, Dorius said, and could potentially run the risk of needlessly interfering in how people choose to build their families. Ultimately, she said, most women who've had children with multiple men end up marrying one of their partners and forming stable marriages.

"We tend to think of women with MPF as being only poor single women with little education and money, and it is true that they tend start out that way," she said. "But these women represent a large segment of American society, and over the decades that we studied these families, most of the women married, went to school, and held full time jobs; basically, doing all the things you're supposed to do to live the American Dream."


Teresa Wiltz is a staff writer at Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, where this piece originally appeared

The International Tobacco Tax

Michi Iljazi - October 22, 2014

Earlier this month in Moscow, the World Health Organization (WHO) Conference of the Parties 6 (COP6) was held, with officials from around the world discussing a wide range of issues. One of those issues was an attempt to impose international taxes. We at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) signed on to a coalition letter urging the attendees to stay away from any new tax proposals that could harm the economies of nations across the globe.

What happened at the conference has given rise to even more concerns, both about taxation and about transparency. While the United States is not bound to anything being proposed, the tone being set on the international stage should worry taxpayers.

The attendees adopted a proposal for a 70 percent global excise tobacco tax -- after ensuring that tobacco farmers and media observers had been removed from the conference. Both the World Farmers Organization and INTERPOL were denied access prior to the vote actually taking place. No record was kept of what was said.

As Washington Times columnist Drew Johnson reported:

A tobacco reduction conference hosted by the World Health Organization, the United Nation's public health agency, took a hostile and alarming turn on Monday when the public was kicked out of the meeting. . . . Delegates from more than 175 countries who are part of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a UN global anti-tobacco treaty, agreed unanimously to boot spectators. Delegates then voted to ban the public from the Moscow conference center where the event is taking place for the duration of the week-long meeting.

"We don't need the public here!," proclaimed Uganda's representative. Libya's chief delegate Mohamed Ibrahim Saleh Daganee gritted his teeth as he demanded other delegates join him in voting to close the meeting to the public. "We don't know who these people are," complained Mr. Daganee, a former health information director under Muammar Gaddafi.

TPA has reported on tobacco taxes both here and abroad. Imposing (and increasing) tobacco taxes incentivizes black-market activity, costs businesses sales, and often generates far less revenue than expected. The recent coalition letter summed up the position of taxpayer groups from nations all over the world:

These international threats to tax sovereignty are real and they are expanding. Such policies would disproportionately hurt lower income people across the globe as the cost of consumer products would increase. Attempts at establishing international tax regimes would inordinately expand the reach of the EU and the UN. As leaders of groups that support free and open markets and tax competition, we oppose any effort on the part of any international body to levy further taxes on hardworking families.

Meeting secretly to plot to increase taxes is not the way to ensure a thriving global economy and robust participation from the United States and other countries. This is more a recipe for economic disaster.

TPA has been wary of the COP6 from the start. Unfortunately, some of the worst fears about the agenda were confirmed as the conference unfolded. Decisions on taxation should be left to individual nations, not to the World Health Organization.

Michi Iljazi is communications and policy manager for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Robert VerBruggen - October 21, 2014

Last week, we reprinted a ProPublica piece analyzing police killings in detail. It made the striking claim that, on a per capita basis, black males in their late teens are killed at a rate 21 times that of their white peers.

This is a different picture from the one painted by Vox earlier this year using some of the same data. Vox found that blacks were 32 percent of those killed by police -- right in between blacks' proportion of the general population (about 13 percent) and blacks' proportion of homicide offenders whose race is known (52 percent).

The key variable is age: The ratio of blacks to whites killed by police is much higher among teens than among older adults. And so is the ratio of blacks to whites identified as homicide offenders, a decent measure of involvement in serious violent crime.

I downloaded all of the FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports (the data set used by both ProPublica and Vox) from 2007 through 2011, and pulled the ages, races, and ethnicities of those killed by police or identified as homicide offenders. (For offenders I excluded justifiable homicides, accidents, and negligence. Also, in some cases more than one offender is listed, but hunting those secondary offenders down through computer code would have been fairly elaborate, so I left them off.) I focused on those who were identified as white but not also as Hispanic, and those identified as black. The ethnicity data are spotty, so this probably still counts some Hispanics as white.

As usual, I should caution that I majored in journalism and as a result kept the analysis as simple as I could. You can see my data and R code for yourself, and please e-mail or tweet me if you have questions or comments.

Here's how the ages shake out for those killed by police:

Note that these are raw numbers; they are not adjusted for the fact that there are nearly five times more non-Hispanic whites than blacks in the U.S. So even among older Americans shot by police, blacks are disproportionately represented. But that disproportion is far greater among the young, to the point that blacks outnumber whites significantly.

The same thing is true of homicide offenders, though higher sample sizes make the data look more orderly:

Finally, here's the ratio of those killed by police to homicide offenders by age and race. If anything, the white ratio is higher:

Or, to look at the question differently, the ratio of blacks to non-Hispanic whites is .82:1 for police killings and 1.5:1 for homicides.

Two conclusions here. One, while this certainly doesn't prove police bias is irrelevant, it does call into question how important it is. And two, when it comes to the interaction between age and violence, there are very different patterns for whites and blacks. These patterns should be taken into account when we look at statistics in specific age ranges -- and they might deserve more study in themselves.

[Update: In the first paragraph, I changed "blacks" to "black males" to accurately reflect the calculation ProPublica did. Also, over at Fox News, John Lott has an interesting analysis of the data as well. He highlights some issues with the FBI's statistics, and reports that a criminologist ProPublica quoted had asked not to be quoted. ProPublica disputes what the criminologist told Lott.]

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

Restarting Nuclear Power

Derrick Freeman - October 20, 2014

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has endorsed the restart of the nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric's Sendai power plant in southern Japan. This is a remarkable turnaround -- considering all of Japan's 48 nuclear reactors were shut down after an earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 -- with lessons for policymakers here in the U.S.

Japan's decision comes after its newly formed Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) issued a more than 400-page safety report in July showing that Kyushu Electric's safety assessment met the new regulatory standards, followed by a month-long public comment period. The NRA replaced the patchwork of bureaucrats who had been responsible for oversight of the nuclear industry before the accident and is widely viewed as much stricter than the previous regime. The Japanese government has worked hard to restore confidence in the nuclear-power industry, for example by requiring all communities within 30 kilometers of a plant to submit evacuation plans for approval.

Tokyo's green light, however, is the first of many hurdles the nuclear industry must clear to get back on line. The next for Kyushu Electric is to gain consent from the governor of Kagoshima Prefecture and the mayor of Satsumasendai, where the plant is located.

Interestingly, support for the restart of Japan's nuclear reactors runs highest in the communities that host them. Overall, however, the public remains wary. Before the accident, nearly two-thirds of the public supported building new nuclear reactors; a national public poll taken in July and published by the Asahi newspapers found 59 percent opposition to the restart at Sendai.

Nonetheless, there are compelling reasons for Japan to flick the "on" switch for nuclear energy. Since the mothballing of its reactors, the Japanese economy has been in decline, and the country's utility sector has experienced tremendous losses each year. Nuclear power, once 30 percent of Japan's electricity generation, has had to be replaced with other fuels, primarily fossil. Resource-poor Japan has been obliged to depend more on imported natural gas, coal, and oil to meet its electricity needs. This reliance comes at a very heavy price for both Japan and its citizens. Natural-gas prices in Japan hit a record high of $20.125 per million BTU earlier this year, whereas the United States' Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price has averaged $4.675 through August 2014. Higher import prices for fossil fuels and a weaker yen have led to Japan running trade deficits for the first time in three decades.

Imported fossil fuels generated 88 percent of Japan's electricity last year, compared with 62 percent in 2010, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Household consumers have felt the pinch of these expensive imports as their electricity rates have soared rising 19.4 percent, while industrial users were hit with a 28.4 percent rise.

Along with prices, greenhouse-gas emissions are also soaring. They are up 7.4 percent since fiscal year 2010 despite a decline in manufacturing production, the aggressive implementation of efficiency measures in households, and a significant ramp up in renewable energy. Last November, Japan announced that it would target a 3.8 percent emissions cut by 2020 versus 2005 levels. This amounts to a 3 percent rise from the U.N. benchmark year of 1990, rather than the 25 percent cut Tokyo previously promised to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment. "Given that none of the nuclear reactors is operating, this was unavoidable," Nobuteru Ishihara, Japan's Environment Minister, has said.

The Sendai plant restart is months away if it happens, and uncertainty still surrounds Japan's energy future. But it appears that, almost four years removed from the devastation at Fukushima, Japan is turning the corner and moving to restore public confidence in its nuclear power infrastructure.

The United States is 35 years removed from Three Mile Island, a much less dangerous accident, yet the anti-nuclear backlash it engendered has yet to abate. However, there are some bright spots in the U.S. nuclear-power sector, with five reactors under construction including the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 2 plant, which will be the first unit to come online in America since Watts Bar 1 came online in 1996. Watts Bar 2 should begin operation in the latter part of 2015.

Ironically, Japan appears to be doing a more expeditious job of dispelling public fears in large part by installing a strong, U.S.-style nuclear regulatory system. This suggests that Germany may have acted too hastily in announcing the shutdown of all its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident. In any event, let's hope Japan's example inspires the United States to proceed with building new nuclear plants -- and restoring U.S. global leadership in safe nuclear technology.

Derrick Freeman is a senior fellow and director of the Energy Innovation Project at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Search Engines, Free Advertising, and the Content Industry

Mytheos Holt, R Street - October 17, 2014

In 1925, a music industry professional complained to the New York Times that the new medium of radio was destroying the industry's business model by making songs too widely available to the public for free. The Times quoted the unnamed professional saying:

The public will not buy songs it can hear almost at will by a brief manipulation of the radio dials. If we could control completely the broadcasting of our compositions we would endeavor to prevent this saturation of the radio listeners with any particular song. . . .

We are striving to have the copyright law, which protects us from the free use of our compositions by the makers of phonograph records and music rolls, construed to cover broadcasting. The law specifies that we must be compensated if any of our songs are used by some one else for profit to them. We contend that the radio station is an enterprise founded for gain. It is not controlled by those purveying sets or parts, it is employed by organizations which use it as a medium of institutional advertising.

The music industry professional got his wish as far as copyright, and has turned out to be right in another way as well, though surely not in a way he would have expected. Radio is treated as free advertising -- and primarily for music producers! This is, in fact, the main reason why terrestrial radio stations are presently statutorily exempt from paying royalties.

Today, the story of radio's transition from content industry bete noir to one of its core advertisers is being replayed in the case of another medium that content industry professionals once lambasted as nothing but a gateway for pirates: search engines,

In a report released today by Google, the company lays out the case that search engines aren't major driver of piracy.The report claims that search is responsible for just 16 percent of the traffic to sites that host pirated content. By contrast, studies have shown that 64 percent of the traffic to legitimate sites comes from search engines.

To take one example, "katy perry" gets searched for 200,000 more times on Google than "free katy perry mp3." What's more, under new changes to the company's search algorithm, legitimate sources of Katy Perry's music will show up first on both searches, at no cost to Perry herself (though individual content salesmen such as Apple, Amazon or Spotify can pay to have their digital storefronts advertised prominently).

Starting in 2012, Google began "downranking" sites that receive a high volume of Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down complaints, meaning that those results automatically are ranked lower in Google's search algorithm. The new tweaks will go further to prioritize results forlegitimate sources of film, music and other copyrighted content, as well as offering users multiple sources from which that content can be purchased, rented or streamed. This would apply even for obvious piracy-oriented searches, such as "the big lebowski torrent."

In short, for content producers, search engines serve as a form of free advertising, paid for either by middlemen online retailers, or by the search engine itself. As the Google report puts it:

Piracy often arises when consumer demand goes unmet by legitimate supply. As services ranging from Netflix to Spotify to iTunes have demonstrated, the best way to combat piracy is with better and more convenient legitimate services. The right combination of price, convenience and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.

Consumers have a huge appetite for content, and there's evidence that they're willing to pay a lot for it. A report from May 2013 found that the most frequent consumers of pirated digital files actually spend 300 percent more on content than so-called "honest" consumers. This tendency for piracy itself to serve as a form of free advertising is why savvy media producers, such as the makers of HBO's Game of Thrones, find high piracy rates flattering, rather than alarming. Once HBO's new stand-alone streaming service launches, these users of pirated content easily could turn into legitimate consumers.

Search engines thus have a huge opportunity to exploit a market with an above-average appetite for content and expose it to more ways to purchase that content. This benefits search engines like Google, but it also benefits the content industry itself.

Of course, as the 1925 Times quote demonstrates, the content industry hasn't always been eager to embrace innovation. The disruptive effects of the Internet have shaken a lot of established content industry business models, which has led some of those industries into efforts at outright censorship, both through abuse of the DMCA's take-down system and through attempts to bake censorship into the Internet itself, via new legislation and trade agreements.

Google's report provides some truly lurid examples of what that "abuse" looks like, such as a film company allegedly trying to get a major newspaper's review of their film blocked in search results. Techdirt has also outlined some truly ridiculous examples of DMCA takedown requests. In view of these shameless attempts at censorship, Google's decision to protect against DMCA abuse from both directions is prudent. It remains to be seen whether these safeguards will continue to hold, but the proliferation of information about fair use on the Internet suggests reason for optimism.

Distinguishing between fighting piracy as an industry, and fighting individual pirates, who are rarely the hardened criminals that content industry advocates paint them as, could be a major step toward a better Internet both for consumers and producers.

This piece originally appeared at the R Street Institute's blog. Mytheos Holt is an R Street associate fellow.

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