4 months ago

Are you afraid to answer the phone?

Millions of Americans fear answering their phone due to a plague of billions of robocalls. These calls have made a mockery of the national Do Not Call Registry and touch on several public policy questions.

We had seemingly ended the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls. Congress authorized the Do Not Call Registry in 2003 after more than a decade of calls disrupting the peace and quiet of our homes. Fines of $11,000 per violation largely put telemarketing companies, with hundreds of thousands of employees, out of business.
Why have unwanted calls returned? VOIP technology (voice over internet protocol) allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to make thousands of calls. A handful of responses can make thousands of calls worthwhile when the cost is almost zero. Furthermore, technology makes robocallers mobile and elusive.

By contrast, telemarketing firms employed hundreds of people at call centers. The authorities could find and fine telemarketers. Firms had to comply with the Do Not Call registry, even if forced out of business.

Technology further frustrates the control of robocalls. Spoofing makes a call appear to be from a different number. Spoofing a local number increases the chance of someone answering, defeats caller ID, and makes identifying the calls’ source difficult.

By contrast, technology allowed the elimination of spam email. It’s easy to forget that fifteen years ago spam threatened the viability of email. Email providers connected accounts to IP addresses and eventually identified and blocked spammers. Google estimates that spam is less than 0.1 percent of Gmail users’ emails.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned almost all robocalls in 2009 (political campaigns and schools were excepted). Yet the volume of calls and complaints from the public rise every year. And the “quality” of the solicitations is lower: legitimate businesses employed telemarketers, while most robocalls seem to be scams.

Telephone companies and entrepreneurs are deploying apps and services to block robocalls. The robocallers then respond, producing a technological arms race. The technology of this arms race, however, is beyond me.

I’d rather consider some issues robocalls raise. The root of the problem is some people’s willingness to swindle others. Although we all know there are some bad people in the world, free market economists typically emphasize the costs and consequences of government regulations over the cheats and frauds who create the public’s demand for regulation. People can disagree whether a level of fraud warrants regulation, but free marketers should not dismiss the fear of swindlers.

Robocalls also highlight the enormous inefficiency of theft. Thieves typically get 25 cents on the dollar (or less) when selling stolen goods. Getting $1,000 via theft requires stealing goods worth $4,000 or more. In addition, thieves invest time and effort planning and carrying out crimes, while we invest millions in locks, safes, burglar alarms, and police departments to protect our property. America would be much richer if we did not have to protect against thieves or robocallers.

Finally, having the government declare something illegal does not necessarily solve a problem. Our politicians like to pass a law or regulation and announce, “problem solved.” Identifying and punishing robocallers is difficult; the FTC had only brought 33 cases in nearly ten years. And less than ten percent of the over $300 million in fines and relief for consumers levied against robocallers had been collected. Government has no pixie dust which magically solves hard problems.

The difficulty of enforcing a law or regulation does not necessarily imply we should not act. The Federal Communications Commission, for instance, recently approved letting phone companies block unwanted calls by default, and perhaps this will prove effective. We should weigh the costs of laws and regulations against a realistic projection of benefits and laws failing to solve problems as promised should be revised or repealed.
Still, a law that accomplishes little can have value. Cursing robocalls accomplishes little yet can be cathartic. A law that costs little might provide us satisfaction until technology solves the problem.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

7 hours ago

Roby: U.S. service academies nomination deadline is quickly approaching

It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the month of October. November will be here before we know it, and with it comes Veterans Day. This is a uniquely special holiday, and as it approaches, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the endless sacrifices made by those who have worn the uniform.

It is a tremendous honor to serve the Second District, which is home to two of our nation’s finest military installations, thousands of active duty and reserve personnel, and a large veteran population. Working on behalf of our service members and veterans has always been a top priority of mine in Congress, and it continues to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job. With Veterans Day on the horizon, I am personally reminded of the great debt of gratitude we owe the men and women of our military.

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As this important holiday nears, I believe now is an appropriate time to remind high school seniors in the Second District that the deadline to apply for nomination to the United States service academies through my office is less than one month away on November 8 at 5:00 p.m. Central Time. If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing this fantastic opportunity, please remember to submit all necessary materials to my Montgomery office by the deadline.

As a member of Congress, one of my distinct privileges each year is to nominate candidates for appointment to four of the five service academies: The United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy. The fifth service academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy, does not require a congressional nomination for appointment.

I can nominate up to 10 individuals for each vacant slot allotted to the Second District. If you are pursuing entry to one of our nation’s distinguished service academies and endeavor to serve our country, I would like to offer my sincere gratitude and wish you the very best. It is because of our veterans, active-duty personnel and young leaders with hearts for serving this nation that we enjoy our uniquely American freedoms.

In the spirit of the upcoming Veterans Day holiday, I offer my sincerest thanks to all who have served our country in uniform. It is an honor to represent you in Congress, and I hope you will call on me if I can ever be of assistance to you. If you are a high school senior in the Second District and are interested in learning more about obtaining a nomination to the service academies from my office, please contact my staff in Montgomery by calling (334) 262-7718. Additional application information is also available on my website: www.roby.house.gov/student-resources/service-academy-nominations.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

8 hours ago

Tide continues to top AP poll, Auburn No. 11

The Associated Press released their weekly college football poll on Sunday, with the Crimson Tide holding on to the top ranking after a 48-27 win at Texas A&M and Auburn moving up one spot following a bye-week.

Alabama (6-0) received 1,503 total points and 30 first-place votes, while LSU (6-0) moved up to number two with 1,449 points and 12 first-place votes after beating Florida.

Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma rounded out the top five, followed by Wisconsin, Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida.

Georgia fell from third to number ten after a stunning home loss to unranked South Carolina. The top seven teams are all undefeated.

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LSU and Bama will play in Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 9.

One conference has held both the top two spots 75 times since the AP poll started in 1936, none more than the SEC. Incredibly, this is the 27th time the SEC has simultaneously had the numbers one and two teams in the rankings since 2000. Ten of those times have involved the Tide and LSU Tigers at the same time.

RELATED: Return of ‘rat poison’: Saban warns players about listening to buzz about draft stock, records

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

VIDEO: Almost everyone wants impeachment, Sen. Doug Jones feels the pressure, Alabama Democrats’ chaos continues and more on Guerrilla Politics

Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Can President Donald Trump and other Republicans force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) hand on impeachment?

— What happens if U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) votes for President Trump’s impeachment?

— Will Alabama Democrats ever end their infighting and unite as a party?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by Lt. General Jim Link (U.S. Army – Retired) to discuss foreign policy matters in Syria and Hong Kong.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he talks about how the NBA’s hypocrisy on Hong Kong will undermine all their social justice preening they do on American political issues.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

10 hours ago

Rain barrels helping Alabama city combat flooding

Patsy Stallworth loves her rain barrels.

“I didn’t understand it at first, but after my husband explained it to me, I like it.”

Stallworth has two 55-gallon rain barrels installed at her home in the Mobile suburb of Prichard, catching up to 110 gallons of rainwater for her to use to water her flowers, wash her cars and wash the dirt off the house.

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“I was amazed at how it worked,” Stallworth said. “When it rains it fills up really quickly. This is a new adventure for me.”

Rain barrels helping alleviate flooding issues in Prichard from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The rain barrels were installed at Stallworth’s home, free-of-charge, thanks to a stormwater mitigation program organized by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Christian Miller, Watershed Management Coordinator for the Mobile Bay NEP, said the rain barrels are a big help in reducing flooding in Prichard, which is part of the Three Mile Creek Watershed.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with residential street flooding and some issues with sanitary sewer runovers, so some of the ways to combat this are to put in these rain-catchment devices,” Miller said. “These two 55-gallon drums aren’t going to solve all of our problems, but as we get more of these out it will hopefully help to reduce these localized issues with residential flooding.”

An inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000-square-foot roof yields more than 600 gallons of water which, in urban areas like Prichard, ends up washing down streets and other hard surfaces, picking up and carrying pollutants into waterways. Miller said increased rainwater harvesting will help reduce impacts associated with residential stormwater runoff.

“The residents have been the biggest champions,” Miller said. “Once we get them in and see what utility they have, they go around and tell their neighbors, the neighbors come to see them and we get phone calls at the office. People really like them and want to have them installed at their house.”

Miller said dozens of rain barrels have been installed in Prichard thanks to donations of materials and labor, including 98 barrels at 46 homes installed by volunteers from Alabama Power Service Organization.

“We’ve got a really good partnership with several different entities,” Miller said. “Greif Packaging and Soterra LLC have donated the barrels and Alabama Power has been really helpful providing supplies and labor to help install. With those folks and Mobile Bay NEP, we’ve really had a good combined effort to put all of these rain barrels out around the community.”

To learn more about the rain barrel program, visit mobilebaynep.com or call the Mobile Bay NEP at 251-431-6409.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Return of ‘rat poison’: Saban warns players about listening to buzz about draft stock, records

Two years ago in College Station, Texas, one of University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban’s most famous lines was born.

After a 27-19 victory at Texas A&M, one in which the Tide led 24-3 and did not close to Saban’s liking, he lamented that positive media headlines about the team were “rat poison” to the players.

It must be something about the Aggies — or maybe it’s just this time of the season — but Saban brought the phrase back after Saturday’s 47-28 win on Saturday.

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Speaking to reporters post-game, Saban was asked about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa becoming the school’s career passing touchdowns leader, moving ahead of A.J. McCarron with four touchdown tosses for the top-ranked Tide against No. 24 TAMU.

Saban gave a hat tip to how Tagovailoa handles himself before pivoting to talking about what really is important.

“Well, it means [Tagovailoa] had a great career to this point and we certainly appreciate his competitive spirit, the way he prepares for games, his leadership, the way he practices, his ability to help us score points on offense,” Saban answered. “He’s very instinctive, so it means a lot from that standpoint, but it also doesn’t mean much when it comes to, ‘What are you going to do in the future?’ And I think he has an opportunity, based on the type of offensive team we have, to have great production if he can continue to just stay focused on what we want to do.”

The legendary coach then referenced the genesis of the “rat poison” line two years ago in the same location, before explaining how it is relevant today.

“I mean, this is where — this very seat is where ‘rat poison’ was born,” Saban continued. “So I remember that two years ago, all right? And when I hear things in the media about whether guys are first-round draft picks or they’re setting great records and all that type of thing, that’s not really what I like for players to be focusing on right now.”

He emphasized, “You’ve got to focus on what are you doing right now, not what’s going to happen in the future, not really what happened in the past, but, ‘What can I learn from what’s happened in the past? How can I affect what’s going on right now?’ Because that’s what’s going to affect the future in a positive way. So, that’s how we want our players to think regardless of how difficult y’all make it for us sometimes with some of our players.”

RELATED: Yellowhammer Power Poll after college football week seven

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn