Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Info (November/December 1987)

Info (November/December 1987)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Government Does Not Belong in Our Shower

Government Does Not Belong in Our Shower

Government Does Not Belong in Our Showers

When I write about regulation, I usually focus on big-picture issues involving economic costs, living standards, and competitiveness.

Those are very important concerns, but the average person in American probably gets more irked by rules that impact the quality of life.

That’s a grim list, but it’s time to augment it.

Showering with Disapproval

Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education explains that the government also has made showering a less pleasant experience. He starts by expressing envy about Brazilian showers.
…was shocked with delight at the shower in Brazil. …step into the shower and you have a glorious capitalist experience. Hot water, really hot, pours down on you like a mighty and unending waterfall… At least the socialists in Brazil knew better than to destroy such an essential of civilized life.
I know what he’s talking about.

I’m in a hotel (not in Brazil), and my shower this morning was a tedious experience because the water flow was so anemic.

Why would a hotel not want customers to have an enjoyable and quick shower?

The answer is government.
…here we’ve forgotten. We have long lived with regulated showers, plugged up with a stopper imposed by government controls imposed in 1992. There was no public announcement. It just happened gradually. After a few years, you couldn’t buy a decent shower head. They called it a flow restrictor and said it would increase efficiency. By efficiency, the government means “doesn’t work as well as it used to.” …You can see the evidence of the bureaucrat in your shower if you pull off the showerhead and look inside. It has all this complicated stuff inside, whereas it should just be an open hole, you know, so the water could get through. The flow stopper is mandated by the federal government.
The problem isn’t just the water coming out of the showerhead. It’s the water coming into your home.
It’s not just about the showerhead. The water pressure in our homes and apartments has been gradually getting worse for two decades, thanks to EPA mandates on state and local governments. This has meant that even with a good showerhead, the shower is not as good as it might be. It also means that less water is running through our pipes, causing lines to clog and homes to stink just slightly like the sewer. This problem is much more difficult to fix, especially because plumbers are forbidden by law from hacking your water pressure.
Bureaucratic Design

So why are politicians and bureaucrats imposing these rules?

Ostensibly for purposes of conservation.
…what about the need to conserve water? Well, the Department of the Interior says that domestic water use, which includes even the water you use on your lawn and flower beds, constitutes a mere 2% of the total, so this unrelenting misery spread by government regulations makes hardly a dent in the whole. In any case, what is the point of some vague sense of “conserving” when the whole purpose of modern appliances and indoor plumbing is to improve our lives and sanitation? (Free societies have a method for knowing how much of something to use or not use; it is called the signaling system of prices.)
Jeffrey is right. If there really is a water shortage (as there sometimes is in parts of the country and world), then prices are the best way of encouraging conservation.

Now let’s dig in the archives of the Wall Street Journal for a 2010 column on the showerhead issue.

Apparently bureaucrats are irked that builders and consumers used multiple showerheads to boost the quality of their daily showers.
Regulators are going after some of the luxury shower fixtures that took off in the housing boom. Many have multiple nozzles, cost thousands of dollars and emit as many as 12 gallons of water a minute. In May, the DOE stunned the plumbing-products industry when it said it would adopt a strict definition of the term “showerhead”…

A 1992 federal law says a showerhead can deliver no more than 2.5 gallons per minute at a flowing water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. For years, the term “showerhead” in federal regulations was understood by many manufacturers to mean a device that directs water onto a bather. Each nozzle in a shower was considered separate and in compliance if it delivered no more than the 2.5-gallon maximum.

But in May, the DOE said a “showerhead” may incorporate “one or more sprays, nozzles or openings.” Under the new interpretation, all nozzles would count as a single showerhead and be deemed noncompliant if, taken together, they exceed the 2.5 gallons-a-minute maximum.
You've Got to Be Kidding

And here’s something that’s both amusing and depressing.

The regulations are so crazy that an entrepreneur didn’t think they were real.

Altmans Products, a U.S. unit of Grupo Helvex of Mexico City, says it got a letter from the DOE in January and has stopped selling several popular models, including the Shower Rose, which delivers 12 gallons of water a minute. Pedro Mier, the firm’s vice president, says his customers “just like to feel they’re getting a lot of water.” Until getting the DOE letter, his firm didn’t know U.S. law limited showerhead water usage, Mr. Mier says. “At first, I thought it was a scam.”

Unsurprisingly, California is “leading” the way. Here are some passages from an article in the L.A. Times from almost two years ago.

The flow of water from showerheads and bathroom faucets in California will be sharply reduced under strict new limits approved Wednesday by the state Energy Commission. Current rules, established in 1994 at the federal level, allow a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute from a shower head. Effective next July, the limit will fall to 2.0 gallons per minute and will be reduced again in July 2018, to 1.8 gallons, giving California the toughest standard of any U.S. state.

Though “toughest standard” is the wrong way to describe what’s happening. It’s actually the “worst shower” of any state.

P.S. I forget the quality of shower I experienced in South Korea, but I was very impressed (see postscript) by the toilet.

Reprinted from International Liberty.

Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Patent Troll and the Scavenger Hunt

The Patent Troll and the Scavenger Hunt

Ken Cooper runs a small business out of his home. Unfortunately Ken’s business was not so small that it avoided the notice of a patent troll.

Ken has been writing code since 1973. His life in programming has ranged from small personal projects to founding a software company that was acquired by Microsoft. Today he runs a company called Coopercode. The company’s main project is a mobile scavenger hunt app for the iPhone and iPad called Klikaklu. Ken created the app to do scavenger hunts with his kids. It ended up being featured by Apple as a ‘New and Notable’ app and became popular with teachers. The app has been used at conferences, college orientations, and institutions like the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art. What began as a hobby project turned into a real business.

But Ken’s new business hit a roadblock. On January 6, 2017, a patent troll called Locality Leap, LLC, sued Coopercode alleging that Klikaklu infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,320,495 (the ’495 patent), entitled “Treasure Hunt Game Utilizing GPS Equipped Wireless Communications Devices.” The patent claimed a method of playing a game that involves receiving a message, generating a message, and then having a player move to a location based on those messages. It didn’t involve any new technology. Rather, it suggested using messaging and GPS technology to assist with the age-old pastime of treasure hunts.

Ken was stunned by Locality Leap’s patent. He’d had some experience with the patent system from his time at Microsoft. In fact, Ken is a named inventor on six patents. But his first thought on reading the ‘495 patent was: “Wow, you can patent that?” The patent seemed trivial. All it did was combine things Locality Leap didn’t invent – like GPS and wireless messaging – with an ancient game.

Even though the patent seemed frivolous, Ken faced the prospect of ruinous costs from the litigation. Locality Leap filed its suit in the Eastern District of Texas. That made no sense to Ken. Coopercode is based in Washington State and Locality Leap is incorporated in California. Then Ken learned that the Texas forum had a reputation as being both patent-friendly and expensive for defendants. Instead of spending time growing his business (with marketing or creating an Android version of the app), all of Ken’s time was sucked into the litigation. Ken soon realized that the case might force him to close his business entirely.

Fortunately, thanks to Alice v. CLS Bank, Ken was able to fight back. Locality Leap’s patent was likely invalid under Alice because it simply applied well-known computer functionality to an old practice. Since Alice can be raised early in a case on a motion to dismiss, it also offered Coopercode a way to defend itself without going through ruinous discovery and trial. As Ken described it, Alice was “manna from heaven.”

With EFF’s help, Ken was able to find an experienced patent litigator who took the case for a reduced fee. Ken’s lawyer wrote to Locality Leap explaining that its patent claims were invalid under Alice and also invalid as obvious. She explained that if Locality Leap didn’t dismiss the case voluntarily, Coopercode would file a motion to dismiss raising Alice and would also seek attorney’s fees.

Facing a defendant willing to fight back, Locality Leap folded completely. It dismissed its claims with prejudice and Ken did not have to pay any money. Instead of closing his company he could return to it full time and work on growing the business. Without Alice, he likely would have faced a very different result.

Source: The Patent Troll and the Scavenger Hunt | Electronic Frontier Foundation

How the STRONGER Patents Act Would Send Innovation Overseas

How the STRONGER Patents Act Would Send Innovation Overseas

Senator Chris Coons introduced a bill this week called the STRONGER Patents Act [PDF]. The bill contains many terrible ideas. It would gut inter partes review (a valuable tool for challenging bad patents). It would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. Mercexchange (thereby allowing patent trolls to get injunctions to shut down productive companies, even though the patent infringed is only on a tiny piece of the larger product). Perhaps most strikingly, the bill includes a provision that would discourage companies from doing research and development in the United States. The STRONGER Patents Act shows how far the certain patent owners are willing to go to serve their narrow interests at the expense of everyone else.

The general rule in patent law is that each country has its own patent system. This means that companies can only be found liable for infringing a U.S. patent for manufacturing or sales that occur within the United States. The Supreme Court has issued a number of sensible decisions affirming this rule. Senator Coons’ bill would upend this principle by making companies liable for foreign sales whenever they conducted the research and development for that product in the U.S.

Section 108(3)(A) of the bill says:
Whoever, without authority, supplies or causes to be supplied in or from the United States a design for a product embodying a patented invention in such manner as to actively induce the making of that product outside the United States in a manner that would infringe the patent if made in the United States, shall be liable as an infringer.
In plain English, this means that if you design a product in the U.S., you can be sued for sales around the world. Worse, a separate provision the bill would have this rule apply even if you independently invented your product, and had no idea you were infringing a patent.

To see the impact of this provision, we can consider how it would apply to fabless semiconductor companies based in Austin, Texas or Austria. The Austin company designs chips in Texas then has them manufactured in Taiwan and sold around the world. The Austrian company designs chips in Salzburg then has them manufactured in Taiwan and sold around the world. If these chips are found to infringe a U.S. patent, the Austin company would be liable for all of its global sales. The Austrian company, however, could be found liable only for its U.S. sales. In this way, Coons’ proposal punishes the Austin company for investing in research and development in the United States.

You might think that the STRONGER Patents Act balances this big disincentive to innovate in the U.S. by making U.S. patents stronger. But that is wrong. You do not need to perform research and development in the U.S. to get a U.S. patent. As long as you meet the criteria for getting a patent, it doesn’t matter if your laboratory is in Austin or Austria. Indeed, in recent years more than half of issued U.S. patents were of foreign origin.

Under Senator Coons’ proposal, the most sensible business model is to do research outside the United States. Foreign companies will have their overseas sales protected. Yet they can still get U.S. patents and use those patents to attack the global sales of U.S.-based companies. As Josh Landau suggests at Patent Progress, it’s hard to think of a more effective way to use patent policy to convince companies to shift their investment in research and development overseas.

Patent owners often insist, without evidence, that “stronger” patents will always mean more innovation. The STONGER Patents Act shows why that is not true. The bill would “strengthen” the U.S. patent system in ways that actively discourages doing research and development here. It makes this choice solely to benefit patent owners. We hope that Congress rejects the terrible ideas in the STRONGER Patents Act and turns to patent reform that would actually promote innovation.

Source: How the STRONGER Patents Act Would Send Innovation Overseas | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Wico Command Control

Wico Command Control

Friday, June 23, 2017

Colorado Challenges Police to Serve and Protect, Not Fine and Collect

Colorado Challenges Police to Serve and Protect, Not Fine and Collect

Colorado Challenges Police to Serve and Protect, Not Fine and Collect

Colorado was ahead of the national curve when it legalized sales of recreational marijuana in 2012. Now it is yet again on the verge of being the standard bearer for another set of issues that are dear to the hearts of liberty movement: challenging law enforcement protocol that is more interested in generating revenue through onerous fines for victimless crimes than revenue raising.

The man behind this effort is a Colorado resident, entrepreneur, and political activist. Based in Colorado Springs, Steve Kerbel is a former CEO and Libertarian Party presidential candidate. An activist at heart, Kerbel has never backed down from a fight with a government entity, including a legal fight with his state’s securities office.

“When government unfairly shakes down business and private citizens, the only winner is government,” Kerbel states. “The people lose every time.”

Ahead of the midterm elections, Kerbel is preparing to launch “Stop the Shakedowns”— a campaign which seeks to introduce a unique statewide measure in Colorado that will likely set off alarms in the law enforcement community. If successful, his efforts would create a template that can be used in other states.

A Charitable Alternative

The ballot measure is creative and straightforward: all fines issued against Coloradans can be satisfied with donating to a registered charity of their choice.

The goal of this measure is painfully obvious: to wean government off of what is causing it to be oversized and bloated. The hope is that the shift in funding will consequently create a seismic shift in priorities for the enforcement of the law.

“The main objective of ‘Stop the Shakedowns’ is more judicious enforcement, based on the spirit of the law, rather than opportunistic enforcement that is more interested in revenue than justice,” adds Kerbel.

Restitution to victims will, of course, be the first priority but—as many who follow this issue know—often there is no victim involved.

The incentive to generate revenue through the enforcement of victimless crimes would be flipped on its head—all but removing the motivation for speed traps or other LEO activities that distract from actual criminal investigations and public safety. 

This measure would also remove the more than apparent conflict of interest that arises from enforcing laws as a revenue stream. In a recent investigation, it was uncovered that many Colorado municipalities rely heavily upon ticketing, fines and penalties as a primary source of revenue. Mountain View, Colorado generated 53 percent of its budget from citations. The most commonly cited violations were (in order) seat belt violations, red light violations, and “obstructed view” (usually, cracked windshields). Criminalizing such victimless offenses while financially benefiting from the endeavor provides an unsettling perception that the law enforcement community is only self-interested and not concerned in maintaining public safety. Neutralizing this conflict of interest can only improve perceptions of law enforcement.

“It should be ‘serve and protect’, not ‘fine and collect,’” Kerbel asserts.

The Time is Right

Colorado is on the verge of being on the forefront of another hotbed political issue: civil asset forfeiture.

While Kerbel was toying with language for another proposal—one that would have put the abolition of civil asset forfeiture on the ballot—Colorado legislators were already in the midst of addressing that very same issue.

In April, House Bill 1313, titled simply “Civil Forfeiture Reform”, was introduced to the floor of the Colorado General Assembly. Far from abolishment, the bill requires that law enforcement agencies report asset seizures to the state government, which will, in turn, publish and maintain the information on a public database. HB-1313 merely brings more transparency to the process

Sponsored by a diverse collection of legislators, the bill was passed with a resounding majority. Of the 100 Colorado legislators, only 14 opposed the bill. HB-1313 was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper on June 9th.

Unsurprisingly, this bill received vocal dissent from the Colorado law enforcement community, who urged the Hickenlooper to veto it.

“It’s a difficult process for them to work their way through in the first place,” laments Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, referring to prior asset seizure protocols. “I just simply see a lot of agencies—they will abandon forfeitures.”

This is an ironic choice of words by Sheriff Smith because that’s exactly the point. With added transparency, Colorado residents will have a better understanding of civil asset forfeiture, which amounted to $13.5 million worth of seizures in 2014 alone.

Though a moderate reform, this new law is being applauded nationally. “Colorado now has the best laws in the nation, hands-down, for seizure and forfeiture transparency,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through its comprehensive disclosure requirements, this law will play a vital role in keeping both the public and the legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Colorado.”

Law enforcement rent-seeking is facing some significant challenges in Colorado, so Kerbel is tapping into something unique at a pivotal time. This may be a “right time, right place” scenario for 'Stop the Shakedowns'.

Call to Action

To move the needle, work needs to be done.

Kerbel is meticulous in his management of 'Stop the Shakedowns'. He is currently organizing an issues committee that will serve as the primary decision-making body of the campaign. With governance in place, the group can start accepting donations and directing volunteers. Kerbel is also working on recruiting partnering organizations who can bring added clout to his cause.

Getting the ballot measure finalized is another key step. Kerbel is working closely with Colorado’s Secretary of State to fine-tune ballot language. To do so, hearings with the SOS will need to be scheduled.

Once all of the legalese is completed, then comes the next obstacle: signature gathering. To get on the ballot, over 98,500 signatures of verified registered voters will need to be gathered. To be on the safe side, Kerbel is setting a goal of 150,000 signatures. Kerbel and team will have six months to complete this task. Once on the clock, volunteers will need to pound the pavement to push this forward.

“The signature part is the hard work,” Kerbel smirks. “Once on the ballot, I predict that this will be fun.”

For more information on Kerbel’s efforts, visit If interested in volunteering, Kerbel can be contacted at

Jay Stooksberry

Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer with passions for liberty, skepticism, fatherhood, humor, and whiskey. His work has been published in Newsweek, Independent Voter Network, Fatherly, and other publications. When he's not writing, he splits his time between marketing consultation, outreach work for his local Libertarian Party affiliate, and enjoying his spare time with his wife and son. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.