Government regulations: Sometimes the feds get it absolutely right

I read with interest that “Some firms hope for end to Obama-backed rules” (Jan. 23, Business) regarding work required for compliance with federal regulations. One fellow was quoted as saying he spends 10 hours a week on compliance. Although there was no explanation for what the work actually was, it really sounded like a burden for him and his company. I suddenly thought, I guess I have to do the same thing; not every week, but some weeks it is way more than 10 hours. I’m a software engineer and build user interfaces. Part of the demands of my job is to ensure that my components satisfy something called Section 508. A little history: As most people know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, during the first Bush administration, to better accommodate people with disabilities so that they can more fully participate in society. That’s how we got all the wheelchair ramps, braille elevator buttons, big bathroom stalls, and so on. Interestingly, before the ADA, when the IBM PC appeared in 1983, it was a godsend to the sight impaired. Some very smart engineers quickly built the first speech synthesizers allowing blind people to hear their email and other text. This was facilitated by the fact that the operating system, DOS, was inherently simple, character-oriented and operated solely by keyboard. Unfortunately, with the advent in the 1990s of graphical interfaces (GUIs), in Windows and the Mac, disabled users were once again left in the lurch. GUIs were so visual (and operated by a mouse) they were basically impossible to comprehend by the visually impaired. It was a huge step backwards. As a result, the ADA was amended with a set of recommendations, called Section 508, on how to make new computer systems more accessible. Unlike other parts of the ADA, Section 508 has never been universally mandated. But it does come with a bit of a carrot and stick: If you want to sell your software to the federal government, it needs to Continue Reading

Government regulation of social media would be a cure far worse than the disease

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.) Paul Levinson, Fordham University (THE CONVERSATION) Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Russians’ primary tool for meddling was social media, which they used to promote Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and denigrate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The indictment charges that the Russians violated U.S. laws that forbid foreigners from spending money to influence U.S. elections. The charges, and the confirmation that the Russians had used social media in an attempt to influence the 2016 election, is likely to fuel the call for government regulation of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. When tweets and posts can hurt democracy, America should do something, right? Wrong. Late last year, Congress grilled Twitter, Facebook and Google about their role in allowing foreign interests to place ads and articles intended to divide the electorate and spread false information during the 2016 election. People in and out of government are calling for federal regulation of social media. Lay down some rules, the thinking goes, and we would be able to prevent the infestation – now alleged in Friday’s indictment – of bots and fake news from our news feeds and ads. Democracy would be saved – or, at least, foreign interference in our elections kept in check. However, as someone who has studied and taught the First Amendment for decades, I would argue that if such regulations were enacted, the main victims would be not the purveyors of fake news, but our freedom of expression. In my view, the result would do far more damage to our democracy than any foreign misinformation campaign ever could. Free speech being attacked from all sides The First Amendment is under a lot of duress. Arguably, it’s been that way since Continue Reading

Are government regulations bad for America?

Getting rid of government regulations was a centerpiece of Donald Trump's campaign, and he's already signed an executive order that requires federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every one they implement. He and other conservatives argue government regulation hampers business and harms job growth. But others insist Wall Street and corporate America must be regulated to safeguard our economy, protect our environment, and defend the rights of all citizens. What do you think? PERSPECTIVES The president just held a ceremony in which he used a pair of gold scissors to cut a giant piece of red tape. President Trump argues we need to roll back regulations in order to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. "This is what we have now," the president said, gesturing toward stacks of paper that appeared to be more than 6 feet tall. "This is where we were in 1960," he continued, this time motioning toward much smaller, shin-high stacks of paper. Both stacks were connected by ceremonial red tape from the bottom of one stack to the top of the other. Reporters could not tell what was actually on the papers. Trump, gold scissors in hand, cuts red tape at White HouseNo one likes regulations, just like no one likes going to the DMV. But we can't just leave it up to the free market to make sure drivers have licenses, food doesn't contain poison, or bankers don't take risks that threaten the global economy. Many think government regulation is an occasionally annoying but a necessary aspect of living in a capitalist society.What Trump calls "job-killing regulations" others call "life-saving protections."Do fantasy sports really needs to be regulated? Should little kids need licenses to run lemonade stands? Should the government care if people want to sunbathe topless? With the numerous crises facing our nation, many people just want the government to get out of the way. We need to make it easier for people to start businesses, not more difficult. Continue Reading

Republicans Want to Freeze Government Regulation—Forever?

Republicans are pushing a very dangerous bill in the House of Representatives this week that would freeze much of the federal government’s regulatory power until the unemployment rate reaches 6 percent. Well, that’s what they say anyway—an embarrassing error (we hope) in their bill would make the rollback virtually permanent. The “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act” is yet another attempt by Congressional Republicans to use ostensible job creation as a gloss for rolling back government protections. Naturally, the problem with the economy today is that demand is insufficient—companies are posting record profits, and our current malaise is not an issue of corporations being over-regulated but rather lacking strong markets to sell products. Rolling back regulations won’t create new jobs, as even Bruce Bartlett, an economic adviser to Ronald Reagan, has said. But beyond failing to stimulate employment, this “Red Tape” bill would halt a number of crucial regulations during tough times for many Americans. Namely, it would: prevent annual updates for Medicare providers, including hospitals, which could threaten elder care; block anything done by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or other federal agencies to protect Americans from abuses by mortgage companies, credit card companies, debt collectors and other financial firms; block implementation of looming tougher carbon-emission standards; and prevent the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2010 from being finalized, which aims to help veterans with home loans, among other things, and helps injured veterans get special housing and medical benefits. Republicans say all of these regulations, and many more, should be halted until unemployment reaches 6 percent. But the text of their bill, as passed out of the Rules Committee this month, would actually permanently entrench the freeze. In what we will charitably assume for now Continue Reading

President Trump signs executive order targeting government regulations

President Trump signed an executive order Monday morning requiring the elimination of two federal regulations for every new one created. Trump described it as be "the biggest such act that our country has ever seen" shortly before signing it in the Oval Office. "If you have a regulation you want, number one, we’re not gonna approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms,” Trump said. “But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two.” The signing of the executive order requires federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new regulation they propose. Trump said the executive order will also eliminate some government regulations already in place. “Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed,” reads the order itself, which was released more than an hour after Trump signed it. The order also requires that all new regulations for fiscal year 2017 don’t impose any financial cost on people or businesses — a move that effectively eliminates almost all new regulations. The order exempts regulations issued “with respect to a military, national security, or foreign affairs function of the United States.” The order fulfills a campaign promise from Trump, who also reiterated his pledge cut “up to 75%” of federal regulations Monday morning, while taking aim at the Dodd-Frank law that imposed new Wall Street regulations after the 2008 financial crash. Trump promised to “do a big number on Dodd-Frank” Monday morning, calling it a Continue Reading

All hail government regulation

The great taxi war of 2014 is underway. High-flying companies like Uber and Lyft are disrupting the car-for-hire business in New York City. Uber is playing by the rules, in New York at least; Lyft, deeming itself a “ride-sharing” business, not so much. And when it is over, things will never be the same. We will travel by hovercraft and communicate with drivers telepathically and pay for our rides with bitcoins. Ok, so none of that is going to happen. At least not soon. In fact, when the dust settles, we will still be left with cars driving us places — slowly in most cases — and charging us regular money to do it. Meantime, we’ll have the heavy hand of government regulators meddling in almost every aspect of the business. And that’s a very good thing. Don’t get me wrong. Smartphone apps that let you call for and pay for a car are great improvements for a lot of users. And if a company like Uber wants to use their massive venture capital stockpile to subsidize my ride or pay drivers more to work for them, I’m totally for it. Technology has already improved the yellow cab experience. They now take credit cards and have had payment apps for some time, and the GPS tracking of each car has given a treasure trove of data that has improved service and weeded out bad drivers. But one thing that shouldn’t change is the regulated marketplace. Let me be more specific: New York City’s particular, peculiar, hyper-regulated marketplace is very good for consumers. There’s a lesson here for conservative invisible hand fans. The 77-year-old decision to limit the number of cars that can cruise the streets picking people up was a smart one. You can argue about exactly how many there should be, but unlimited isn’t the number. And some may think the medallion system has created an anachronistic oligarchy, but in fact there is some economic genius to treating the medallion as a Continue Reading

Man who fathered close to 400 kids works for better government regulation of sperm donation clinics

He’s one of the most prolific sperm donors in the U.S., believed by his own calculations to have fathered nearly 400 children. And now Kirk Maxey, a 51-year-old graying baby boomer from Michigan, is involved in an innovative project that could go a long way toward helping foster understanding of how genes affect our health, according to Newsweek. He’ll have his genome, or inheritable traits, mapped and the results put on the Internet. Through the Personal Genome Project at Harvard, Maxey - who now is calling for better government regulation of the business of sperm donation - is making his genome public. He hopes whatever information it reveals will help his kids and their mothers someday. "I think it was quite reckless that sperm banks created so many offspring without keeping track of their or my health status," Maxey told Newsweek. "Since there could be [many families] that could have to know information about my health, this is my effort to correct the wrong." Most sperm banks today don’t do genetic testing, and the FDA’s guidelines say only that clinics can’t utilize donors "with a relevant communicable disease agent or disease."  There aren’t rules about how many kids a single donor can father, or any social template for the donors who are located by their children, Newsweek says. Today, clinics are trying to answer some of those questions.  After one young donor passed on a potentially fatal genetic heart condition to nine of the two dozen kids he fathered, including one child who died at the age of 2 of heart failure, that sperm bank now screens for genetic heart disease by giving electrocardiograms to potential donors. When Maxey learned about the Personal Genome Project last year, which is led by George Church, he contacted Church and discussed the health concerns he had for his offspring. "Due to fertility clinic policies, many donor offspring don’t have complete access to medical history, Continue Reading

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac sink on government rescue fears

WASHINGTON - Fears that the government will be forced to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Shares of the government-chartered mortgage finance giants plummeted Thursday and are trading at levels last seen in the early 1990s. If the prices don't recover, it will be harder for the two companies to raise more money through stock sales to compensate for losses from the housing bust. Investors are afraid their stakes will vanish if the government is forced to rescue the companies. "The government has to step in and do something," said Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. analyst Paul Miller. Freddie Mac shares fell $2.26 or 22 percent, to $8, after sinking as low as $6.75 earlier in the day. Shares of Fannie Mae fell $2.11, or 13.8 percent, to $13.20, after earlier falling to $11.70. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sought to calm investor jitters about the financial health of Fannie and Freddie. They are "working through this challenging period," Paulson told lawmakers. Asked whether such companies could pose a risk to the U.S. financial system, Paulson replied: "In today's world, it is not helpful to speculate about any financial institution and systemic risk." James Lockhart, director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, said after the close of trading that the companies' capital levels are "well in excess" of government requirements. Meanwhile, politicians vowed to intervene if necessary. "They cannot and will not fail," presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona told reporters. "If they need additional support, Congress will act quickly," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. The two companies are coping with worries that they won't be able to withstand soaring losses from foreclosures and home loan defaults. Washington-based Fannie Mae raised $7.4 billion in May Continue Reading

Parents: Government oughta curb TV sex & violence

Parents try to control what their kids watch on TV - and see elsewhere - but they admit they might need a little help from the government to curb sex and violence when the tykes are watching. Two-thirds of parents sampled in a study released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they were "very" concerned that kids are exposed to too much damaging material in media.A similar number of parents said they'd favor government regulations to restrict content during family viewing hours. Sixty-five percent of parents interviewed for the survey said they try to control kids' exposure to violent and sexual material on TV and the Internet.Some 18% of those polled felt they should do more."While parents are still concerned about a lot of what they see in the media, most are surprisingly confident that they've got a handle on what their own kids are seeing and doing - even when it comes to the Internet," Vicki Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Foundation, said in a statement.Twenty-three percent of those queried labeled inappropriate media content as one of their top concerns as a parent.On the TV front, a startling number of parents said they still don't understand the TV ratings system put in place several years ago. In fact, only three out of 10 could name any of the ratings used for kids shows. Only one in six parents said they have used the V-chip to block specific TV content. The electronic device, installed in TVs since 2000, allows parents to program their sets to prohibit shows with certain content ratings.Eight in 10 parents said they'd purchased a set since 2000, yet 57% of them said they weren't aware it had a V-chip.Of those who have used the V-chip, 71% said it was useful, said researchers.Based on the survey, advertising images continue to be a concern for parents. One in three said they were "very" concerned kids were exposed to too much TV advertising, while 35% say they're "somewhat" concerned.Parents did have good things to say about Continue Reading

EXCLUSIVE: More than 100,000 rent-regulated apartments may surge to higher rates due to state law loophole

More than 100,000 rent-regulated apartments are on the verge of flipping to higher market rates because of a loophole in the state housing law — setting the stage for housing to become even more expensive in the coming months, according to a new analysis. It’s particularly disturbing, advocates say, because the neighborhoods about to lose the most regulated apartments are some of the priciest in the city, which will likely lead to once-relatively cheap apartments hitting rents of about $4,000 a month. The lower Manhattan/Tribeca area stands to lose the most regulated units. Forty-six percent of the area’s 19,000 regulated apartments are expected to be priced out of the system soon, according to a city analysis of census figures. The market rate for a studio in that area is a whopping $3,888 — and that’s without a doorman. EXCLUSIVE: POLS, ADVOCATES TO PROTEST RENT LAWS AT CUOMO Other neighborhoods in danger of losing close to half of their regulated apartments include the Upper West Side — where market-rate studios on average cost $2,792 a month — and Chelsea, where the average studio price is $3,222 a month. All of the apartments about to be deregulated currently charge rents of about $2,100, which is at the high end for regulated units. Under the current law, once a tenant moves out of a rent-regulated apartment, the landlord is allowed to jack up the monthly rent by 20%. That process is known as vacancy deregulation BILL HAMMOND: HAS GOV. CUOMO LOST HIS WAY? Adding 20% to $2,100 bumps all 100,000 of those apartments out of the program, which cuts off at $2,500. Losing 100,000 relatively affordable apartments — roughly 10% of the city’s total number of rent-regulated apartments — would be a “disaster,” said Michael McKee, a veteran housing advocate and treasurer of the New York Tenants Continue Reading