Archive for the ‘State’ Category

One of the most exciting new technologies that has been steadily gaining steam is 3D printing. Much like the advent of file sharing music and video files, it is a technology poised to completely upend the manufacturing industry as well as countless others as new uses for the technology are being discovered; NASA even recently did experiments with 3D printed pizzas! And with companies like Staples planning to offer cheap and accessible 3D printing, we will soon see people from all walks of life using the technology in innovative ways. One of those innovations occurred just this month, and already has been making waves: the first functioning 3D printable gun.

The design and first working model was made by a Texas law Student who was inspired by early anarchist writings to make the design and distribute it for free online. Within a couple days of announcing this, the design was downloaded more than 100,000 times before the U.S. State Department intervened and demanded the designs be taken down while they examined their legality. While they have yet to issue a decision, it seems highly likely that the schematics violate the U.S. ban on undetectable firearms as well as international arms laws. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the printed firearms are undetectable to most metal detectors and have no serial number or other traceable information, making them the perfect weapon for criminals. This concern was only exacerbated when within a week, a modified version of the schematics that made the guns sturdier and more accurate was revealed (though thankfully not posted online) as well as the production of the first 3D printed bullets.

Luckily, people have taken notice. Homeland Security issued a nationwide alert about the firearms, warning that metal detectors would be insufficient to detect them and that in the long run it would be impossible to keep the files from spreading online (even as we speak, they are being hosted and downloaded on file sharing sites all over the world). Senators and congressmen at the state and federal level immediately proposed bills explicitly banning the firearms and their production, and unlike most gun control legislation these have little to no opposition; in fact, it’s expected that the NRA will take a stand against them. On top of all of that, the technology is still prohibitively expensive as 3D printers are not widely available yet, and most companies that offer such services either outright refuse to make printable firearms or charge prices far in excess of buying a regular firearm.

While this new innovation is alarming, we have plenty of time before it manifests as a real threat, and it seems that everyone from  government to private industry wants to address this long before that time comes. Still, better safe than sorry, so I’d recommend sending an email or making a phone call to your local congressman or senator to let them know that you want to see this threat taken care before it goes from possibility to reality.


Airport Parking Fees Could Rise After State Takeover

by ISRAEL BALDERAS Bio    | Email   | Follow: @israel_balderas       by PHOTOJOURNALIST TIM MULLICAN

Story Created:            Mar 18, 2013 at 11:04 PM EDT

Story Updated:        Mar 19, 2013 at 12:33 AM EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Parking rates at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport are quite lower than other similar size airports. Those fees, in turn, help to partly fund operations.

But under a profit-sharing arrangement with U.S. Air, millions of dollars also flow to the airport’s largest tenant.

To get higher revenues, fees could go up. But for that to happen, city council oversight would also have to be removed.

“Charlotte used to be great to fly out of,” said Mooresville resident Chuck Fogle. “With this, it’s really made business travel difficult.”

Fogle says construction plans for a new hourly parking deck are lacking. Most travelers have to use the long term area, which can be a hassle on a rainy day.

“You have to walk a long distance from your car to the bus stop,” said Fogle.

For those returning back to their cars after a flight, there’s confusion about which bus to take.

“This is the fourth bus already, and its not ours yet,” said Greenville, S.C. resident Dave Overbaugh. “We’ve never seen a daily north before.”

But the parking headaches are worth it, as long as it’s cheap to park and fly, and fares don’t go up.

“I hope not,” said Overbaugh with a laugh. “It’s a whole lot cheaper to fly out.”

Currently, U.S. Air receives almost $10.5 million from the airport budget in “non airline terminal revenue.” That is money travelers spend, such as buying coffee or parking their cars.

A spokesperson for U.S. Air says they supported raising parking rates, along with other airlines. But, U.S. Air adds, “we did not initiate, drive or influence the actual rates.”

Keep in mind, the airline accounts for 90% of the airport’s 700 daily flights.

Right now, Charlotte City Council is fighting the Republican controlled General Assembly over a proposed takeover of the city’s airport.

By turning it over to a regional authority, Charlotte would have its management oversight taken away by state legislators.

“There’s clearly an issue of political accountability,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Any increase in concession costs and parking fees ultimately has to go through the city. But with a regional authority, citizens would have no one to address their concerns.

FOX Charlotte sources say airport manager Jerry Orr has researched parking rates in other markets. To raise them, Orr would have to appear before city council and make such request.

If that were to happen, council members would be the first ones getting the phone calls.

State legislators who propose a regional authority say the move would take away any politics from airport decisions.

“Today citizens can call and complain about various things that have to do with the airport,” said Foxx, “and we have to manage that.”

Republican State Senator Bob Rucho wrote the legislation that turns Charlotte-Douglas from a city managed airport to a regional authority.

Section 5 of the bill states future board members will receive free parking.

Officials in Britain’s National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as well as local governments and businesses are considering raising parking rates in an attempt to force people to walk more and get more exercise. The goal is to curb the rising obesity rates in Britain’s population which have increased nearly fourfold over the past 30 years to 24% as of 2009. Still, the UK pales in comparison to the US which still holds the number one spot for fattest asses on the planet with a whopping 36% obesity rate. NHS research has shown that Britons are walking less and less, which is one of many contributing factors to the rising UK obesity rate (McDonald’s is undoubtedly taking a top spot on that list of causes though).

So how do you get people walking more? Apparently, NICE decided to go with “Make them!” as an answer. The idea is that by raising parking rates they will effectively price people out of driving unless absolutely necessary. On paper, this could almost make sense. After all, many cities are adopting demand-based electronic parking meters that change prices based on availability, raising rates as available parking fills up so that there’s almost always open parking in a given area. The success of using a free-market system like this for parking to meet both consumer and municipal goals (convenient parking and positive revenue flow respectively) has been well researched and documented; in fact, nearby San Francisco has implementing this system with great success as part of a case study run by Professor David Shoup (and as all you Shoupistas know he is THE authority on parking systems and economics). And there’s no denying that folks aren’t getting enough physical activity these days. But once you look beyond the surface, the gaping holes in this idea become clear.

The first logical fallacy in this plan is the idea that many people are CHOOSING to drive rather than NEEDING to drive. It’s the same type of thing that happens when celebrities talk about how everyone can take a little time out of there day for yoga or a workout or a colon cleansing or whatever, they have no concept of how much easier having an army of servants and personal assistants and personal trainers and nannies make the minutia of life, and how much harder it is to find not just the time but the mental energy and motivation to put some time into yourself during the day. It’s the same thing for many people that are driving, particularly those who are working class. It’s been proven that the poorer you are, the farther away you’ll be from fresh sources of food such as a grocery store; for example, there are no actual grocery stores within the city limits of Detroit! So there really is no other option for many working class folks than to drive to get their groceries. Same goes for a lot of other everyday things; a significant amount of people have to pay their bills in cash for instance, or don’t have buses that can take their kids home, or are working two jobs and simply don’t have the time to walk somewhere. For these folks, who don’t have the luxury to forgo driving as part of their day to day routine, this parking hike is going to place an undue burden on them, essentially just making it more expensive for the less affluent to go through their day.

This will also hurt businesses anywhere a policy like this is in place. When a parking market system is used to raise or lower parking rates so that there is always available parking in a commercial area, this benefits everyone. Businesses make more money because their customers can always find parking to reach them, and customers are only looking at paying a little more for convenient parking if it’s a busy day. By contrast, the NICE plan of essentially pricing people out of parking so that they have to walk will leave numerous empty spaces in front of businesses that won’t get filled, thereby driving away customers that might have shopped there. Which ironically will lead to people shopping at home online more, and only increase their lack of physical activity. And of course on top of all of that, the truly obese will hardly be affected by this at all because they’ll still have access to convenient handicap parking and rascal’s waiting for them at the entrance of the grocery store.

So at the end of the day, all this policy would do is make life harder and more expensive for the working class while having virtually no effect on the wealthy or those who are desperately in need of more exercise. And let’s not forget that all these parking rate revenues go into government coffers, making this yet another way that big government is trying to pay it’s bills by taking money out of the back pocket of the working class. But hey, what are they supposed to do, actually provide basic nutritional education to children in school and revamp the school lunch program to have healthier, balanced meals?

Now, those of you reading this who are stateside like myself may be thinking “Why should I care about the British nanny state?” Well let me tell you why. As you may or may not know, New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a ban on sodas larger than 16 oz a little while ago, in the interest of combating obesity. Some have been calling for Mayor Bloomberg to implement a similar parking program in the projects of New York, both by raising rates and literally eliminating some parking spaces in the projects and reducing the number of NYCHA issued parking permits. So we could be seeing these same misguided, nanny-state policies coming to the U.S. because apparently government, not willpower and motivation, is the solution to too many people being fat and lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that Americans are way too fat and need to exercise more, but that will take a concerted, across the board effort that addresses the many root causes of the obesity epidemic in this country, not by trying to price our waistlines into shrinking at the meter.

At least when it comes to their parking authorities. I already detailed the fiasco of the city of Scranton and how their mismanaged and allegedly corrupt parking authority dragged the entire city into near bankruptcy, but unfortunately Scranton is not the only city to suffer from a bad parking authority. Yesterday, the city council of Montclair, NJ voted to disband their parking authority and turn over control of the city’s parking to the city council (who will in all likelihood contract out the control to a parking management company) after a scathing report commissioned by the city council. On top of that, in mid-October the State of New Jersey announced they were doing an investigation into the MPA and its finances going back to 2007. So just what was going on to prompt all of this?

Well, there’s a laundry list of reasons. Despite accusations of the council’s report being a “hatchet job”, the numbers don’t lie. The parking authority had virtually no budgetary controls or oversight; they held cash for the authority in an unsecured office, which led to more than $1300 of it going missing; until just a few months ago, the MPA commissioners were completely unaware that not one but two different parking decks were THREE YEARS behind on their utilities bills, which now amount to $100,000 each; they have no purchase order or expense system, no financial controls, and no materials requisition system; a full 10% of the city’s meters were consistently broken; and multiple outside audits found that the MPA was violating state law by not having a purchaser/voucher system in place due to “management being unaware of the requirement”, an excuse which I believe only works after the FIRST audit pointing that out, not the second.

You can call that a hatchet job if you like, but in my experience pointing to your head and saying “It’s all in here” is not the most effective or reliable way to run a business, let alone a multi-million dollar parking authority. And despite claiming that the reports are untrue, the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the parking commission all resigned in short order just ahead of the state finance board approving the dissolution of the MPA; hard not to think that the rats are fleeing the sinking ship. Unlike Scranton, it doesn’t appear that it was corruption and cronyism that brought down the MPA so much as just laziness and a laissez faire management approach by the commissioners. Considering that part of what triggered the state’s investigation into the MPA was their travel expenses, you get the distinct impression that at least some of the commissioners were just enjoying the free ride on the city’s tab for as long as it lasted.

As the state’s investigation continues and the city goes through the process of dismantling and cataloguing the MPA, I’m sure more details will emerge  so that we get a more complete picture of what went wrong and who is ultimately accountable, but even without that future insight it’s clear that the city council is making the right move. $200,000 in unpaid bills is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a far cry from the millions that the the Scranton Parking Authority was saddled with. By taking these steps now, the city of Montclair is saving themselves from being added to the list of communities dragged down by their parking services. Hopefully, other cities will learn from these examples and not wait until something goes wrong or a debt collector shows up at a city doorstep thanks to their parking authority; you can’t operate without oversight, even if it is something as mundane as parking! Just like a private enterprise can’t operate without oversight and budget control, public sector “businesses” like parking authorities can’t either. And yet as I’ve shown, time after time they are allowed to run wild with an entire city on the hook for any mistakes they make.