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The Nanny State

All articles with the "The Nanny State" tag.

Published: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 17:34:34 -0400


Oregon is Cracking Down on Smoking Patios

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:00:00 -0400

(image) Oregon health authorities are forcing many of the state's bars to close their outdoor smoking patios, creating inconvenience for customers and financial hardship for business owners.

Oregon has long prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants, with the state's Indoor Clean Air Act (ICAA) banning the practice in "enclosed spaces." However, the ICAA does not define what exactly an "enclosed space" is, leaving it to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to make that determination.

Since 2009 the OHA has operated under the definition that anything with three or more walls and a roof was an "enclosed space" where smoking was prohibited. This forced smokers outside, but gave businesses enough freedom to create comfortable and secluded patios where patrons could enjoy a smoke in peace.

But now that peace is being disturbed, thanks to a tweak the OHA made in how it considers "enclosed."

Last year, the OHA drastically expanded what an "enclosed space" was to include anything with more than two walls, roof or no. Given how the OHA defines walls, this change meant that if a bar has an open-air patio with no roof and a waist-high fence on three sides, it could not allow smoking.

While the rule went into effect back in January of this year, many business owners are just now learning of it. This is in large part the doing of OHA itself, which has gone out of its way to avoid attracting attention to its changes to the ICAA.

For instance, when the agency sent out notifications of public hearings on the proposed rule change they declined to mention anything about smoking patios or "enclosed spaces," instead saying only that definitions to the ICAA were to be updated at meetings largely about new vaping laws. When the expanded definition of enclosed spaces was approved following those hearings, OHA failed to notify businesses.

As a result, bar owners have been taken completely by surprise as notifications from OHA have started to appear, telling them to shut down their outdoor smoking areas or risk massive fines.

One owner told The Portland Mercury that his business had declined 20 percent since the OHA told him he had to shut down his smoking patio. Another owner reports losing out on hundreds of dollars a night since the change, and frets that he'll be out of business in six months if the revenue drop-off continues.

Why the World Health Organization is Wrong on Soda Taxes

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 08:00:00 -0400

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report, "Fiscal Policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases," that suggests countries around the world should enact exorbitant taxes on soda—as high as 50 percent—"and other foods and beverages high in sugar, salt and fat" as a means of combating obesity and other diet-related diseases. The report also urges governments to adopt subsidies to make fruit and vegetables less expensive to purchase. The WHO report suggests these subsidies and taxes can "create incentives for behaviours associated with improved health outcomes and discourage the consumption of less healthy options." Similar, far smaller taxes are on the books in a growing number of local and international jurisdictions. Berkeley, Calif. was the first U.S. city to pass such a tax. Philadelphia adopted a soda tax earlier this year, though that tax, a cash grab on the part of the city—and one for which the city's been sued by beverage makers and distributors—was intended to add to the city's coffers rather than to combat obesity. San Francisco, Boulder, Colo., and several other cities around the U.S. will vote on local soda taxes next month. Globally, Mexico is one of several countries that has enacted a soda tax. The regulatory momentum, it seems, is on the side of soda taxes. Why, though? A Los Angeles Times piece this week on the new WHO report notes several popular and on-point critiques of soda taxes, including issues of "fairness (consumption taxes are a bigger burden for poor than rich people), freedom (the government shouldn't interfere with your personal choice of what to drink), trust (officials won't spend the tax revenue the way they say they will) and economics (small business will be harmed if taxes discourage sales)." Earlier this year, in an April bulletin, the WHO seemed far less certain of the impact of soda taxes on obesity, arguing that "pricing policies can influence purchasing patterns and have an impact on dietary behaviour," without claiming that such taxes could or would lessen obesity rates. "Time will tell whether the tax helps to reduce obesity prevalence as well," the WHO wrote at the time, of Mexico's tax. It could be a long time. One of Mexico's chief soda tax proponents, Dr. Juan Rivera Dommarco, director of the Mexican Research Centre in Nutrition at the National Institute of Public Health, admitted that soda taxes—even if they work—won't be impacting eating habits or health anytime soon. "The results in terms of a real reduction in obesity and increase in healthy consumption habits will not show immediately," he said. A WHO expert, Dr. Gojka Roglic, WHO medical officer, said it could take "five years or more" for any potential changes in obesity rates to appear. These less-than-impactful predictions about the impact of soda taxes on obesity occurred as data showed soda consumption in Mexico had fallen in the wake of the tax. But, as I wrote earlier this year, if soda consumption fell after Mexico's law took effect, it began to rise again shortly afterwards. That's not what a successful policy looks like. What's more, while the new WHO report calls for "economic tools that are justified by evidence," the report admits there's "[l]imited evidence"—or what the report charitably characterizes as an "evidence gap"—that "target[ing] sugar-sweetened beverages" will impact non-communicable disease outcomes. So just what did the WHO recommend, earlier this year, as an effective strategy to combat obesity? It wasn't soda taxes. "WHO recommends other price policies such as subsidies for, or lower taxation of, healthy food as well as initiatives to encourage people to eat a healthier diet, avoid tobacco and be more physically active," the body wrote in its April bulletin. The need to combat obesity using methods other than soda taxes echoes an independent 2014 report from McKinsey. That report, which notably used WHO methodologies, found that a tax on foods that are high in sugar or fat ranked near the bottom in term[...]

Brickbat: Candy from Babies

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Parents of students in Ontario's Durham school district are furious that teachers are taking food they have sent to school with their children away from them. They say foods including raisins, chocolate milk, granola bars, banana bread and Animal Crackers have been taken away from their children because a teacher said those foods are unhealthy. And since it's individual teachers making the decisions about what is and isn't healthy, foods that are OK in one school may be banned in another and foods that may be OK in one classroom of a school will be confiscated in another classroom in the same school.

Brickbat: How Can You Have Any Pudding?

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In the United Kingdom, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has directed restaurants to cut the portion sizes or reduce the sugar in desserts and other sweets. Their efforts will be tracked on a government website and those who don't comply with the government's demands will be publicly named.

Cash Means Freedom, Which Is Why So Many Officials Hate It

Tue, 06 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Cash—the familiar, anonymous paper money and metallic coins that most of us grew up using—isn't just convenient, it's also a powerful shield for our autonomy and our privacy. That's the argument of cash advocates of course—but also of those economists and government officials who want to abolish the stuff. Cash's power to protect people from meddling and tracking motivates both parties, either to shore up our defenses against the state, or to squish them under their thumbs. And yes, you need to follow this debate. That's because the elimination of physical cash isn't some hypothetical possibility for the distant future; it's a goal actively sought by many international movers and shakers, and one that's nearing fruition in several countries. Arguing that cash "facilitates crime" and "is also deeply implicated in tax evasion" Harvard University's Kenneth S. Rogoff, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, favors"moving to a society where cash is used less frequently and mainly for small transactions." Rogoff likes the power that eliminating bills larger than $10 would give the government over the economy, including manipulating people's spending and saving habits. "Take cash away, however, or make the cost of hoarding high enough, and central banks would be free to drive rates as deep into negative territory as they needed in a severe recession." Such negative interest rates, he and other economists believe, could be used to spur people to spend their money rather than keeping it in the bank. Peter Bofinger of the German Council of Economic Experts agrees. "Stand up for the abolition of cash, since coins and bills are obsolete and only reduce the influence of central banks," he proposed last year. Citigroup chief economist Willem Buiter also goes along with the belief that abolishing cash is a necessary step for giving governments the economic power they need to monitor and control economic activity. There's a price for abolishing cash, as you'd expect. In a world without the stuff, "You'd have no choice but to conform to the intermediaries' automated bureaucracy, giving them a lot of power, and a lot of data about the microtexture of your economic life," Brett Scott warns at OpenDemocracyUK. "To eliminate cash is to say to hell with financial privacy," cautions Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. "An end to cash would mean that every financial transaction is exposed to a third party." Cash is "printed freedom," German economist Lars Feld pithily offered as a direct rebuttal to his Council of Economic Experts colleague. People "should be entitled to an escape from all-out state control," Deutsche Welle clarified with regard to Feld's views. There's really no argument here. Cash abolitionists fully understand that cash shields individuals from the state—and they hate that protection. "But where does one draw the line between this individual right and the government's need to tax and regulate and to enforce the law?" objects Rogoff, whose book, The Curse of Cash, came out last week. He knows where he would draw it—to encompass a lot more enforcement and much less privacy. Buiter also acknowledges charges that abolishing cash would be "shockingly illiberal"—and dismisses them. "[T]he net benefit to society from giving up the anonymity of currency holdings is likely to be positive (including for tax compliance)." "I confess to not being surprised," sniffed former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, "that resistance [to eliminating high-denomination euro notes] is coming out of Luxembourg, with its long and unsavory tradition of giving comfort to tax evaders, money launderers, and other proponents of bank secrecy." Any resistance should be suppressed, Rogoff emphasizes, as he notes that people may try turning to substitutes, such as foreign currencies, cryptocurrencies, and gold coins. "Won't the private sector continually find new ways to make anonymous transfers that sidestep government re[...]

How Safe Is Our Food Supply?

Sat, 20 Aug 2016 08:00:00 -0400

A recent survey published by the International Food Information Council found that Americans are concerned about food safety. Foodborne illness resides as the top concern of survey respondents. These facts may sound worrying. Thankfully, they don't tell the whole story. The survey also reveals that fully two-thirds of Americans are confident in the safety of the nation's food supply. Data support that confidence. For example, the number and severity of foodborne illnesses appears to be trending downwards in many places, including California. Part of our confidence in our food supply no doubt stems from regulations. But rules can (and often are) imperfect, something I detail at length in my forthcoming book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. And, as I wrote about in a 2012 law-review article, regulations intended to make our food safer often impose new costs but fail to improve safety. Earlier this week—keeping the above facts in mind—the FDA published final rules to clarify and update its "GRAS" classification system. The acronym "GRAS," which stands for "generally recognized as safe," refers to the status of permissible food additives. GRAS rules have been controversial for some time. On the one hand, critics have viewed the self-policing approach favored by the rules as too heavily weighed in favor of food producers and, ergo, bad both for consumers and food safety. On the other hand, the rules may give consumers a false sense of safety. Even then, the FDA is hardly handcuffed by GRAS. In 2015, for example, the agency effectively banned partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, declaring these oils "are no longer GRAS." Many, me included, viewed the ban as a foolhardy attack both on food freedom and on the food industry, and an overstepping of the agency's powers under the GRAS rules. It probably comes as no surprise that the new rules have also proven controversial, and for some of the same old reasons. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) blasted the updated rules, which include continued voluntary reporting by the food industry, as the equivalent of "a self-graded take home exam that industry doesn't even have to hand in." Food Safety News reported "publication of the final rule has generated opposition from some of the so-called food police groups." But a group of toxicologists surveyed by Food Navigator, a source of news on the food industry, argued "critics have not provided any evidence that the GRAS system is putting the public at risk." Neither is the food industry. And it's America's food producers who I believe are rightly due a great deal of credit not just for the safety of the nation's food supply but also for our confidence in that food supply. Take McDonald's. The company, which has seen its stock rebound after it switched to an all-day breakfast menu, has been testing out fresh beef in some restaurants. (The company's burgers are currently made from frozen beef.) Though that's something consumers appear to want, many of the company's franchisees worry that the switch could lead to increased incidents of foodborne illness. Competitors, including Wendy's and In-N-Out Burger, already use fresh beef. Whatever the ultimate decision is from McDonald's, it's likely one that will strive to balance consumer demands with food safety. Businesses outside the food industry are also working to make food safer. A recent study by IBM researchers on the use of "big data" to mitigate outbreaks of foodborne illness found promising results. "IBM announced its scientists have discovered that analyzing retail-scanner data from grocery stores against maps of confirmed cases of foodborne illness can speed early investigations," reports the website Thanks to a combination of technological fixes and innovations, consumer demands, and regulations, better reporting, food-safety litigators, and other measures, our nati[...]

Philly Chinese Restaurants Looking to Get Late Night Curfew Lifted

Mon, 08 Aug 2016 18:00:00 -0400

(image) The Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association is looking to get a 2005 ordinance requiring commercial establishments in residential areas to close by 11 p.m. repealed, as reports. The association was formed after the ordinance was first passed. The ordinance called businesses like take-out spots, Stop'n'Gos, and convenience stores "nuisance retail shops" that had "become a haven for drug activity, crime and underage drinking," a common refrain in some cities. Community leaders in Camden pushed for a curfew in 2011, saying patrons at take-out spots were "more interested in buying drugs than Chinese food or fried chicken," as reported at the time. My favorite pizzeria growing up in Newark was targeted by local community leaders for being an alleged drug hotspot. It eventually co-located with a liquor store and then finally shut down.

As for crime, Philadelphia homicides hit a nationwide high in 2011 but has been down recently. Most tellingly, the ordinance that forced businesses to shut down at 11 p.m. didn't offer any specific data about crimes occurring near such establishments, even though such data likely existed. One restaurant owner talked to, however, said his busiest hours were between midnight and 2 a.m. Now after 24 years he is looking to sell his business but no one is looking to buy.

Elsewhere in Philadelphia, the Office of Property Assessment appears to be reneging on tax abatements that have attracted new homeowners, specifically targeting those that appear to live in "wealthy" neighborhoods, as one such homeowner wrote at

Monster Win Is Good For Energy Drink Makers and Consumers

Sat, 30 Jul 2016 08:00:00 -0400

July has been a bad month for those leading the foolhardy charge against energy drinks. Earlier this month saw the quiet but welcome dismissal of a set of lawsuits against Monster, the maker of popular energy drinks. The suits, filed earlier this year by Morgan & Morgan, a Florida-based law firm, claimed just two cans of Monster could be deadly. "When the Monster lawsuit started earlier in 2016, the law firm Morgan & Morgan claimed two 16-ounce cans of Monster Energy contained a 'lethal dose' of caffeine and that 'overconsumption of energy drinks has led to heart attacks, strokes and even death,'" reported the news website Inquistr this week. "The Florida-based personal injury law firm has now asked the courts to dismiss their lawsuits." The news is particularly noteworthy because the media loudly trumpeted the purported dangers of energy drinks in the wake of the lawsuits. A Daily Beast piece on the lawsuits, typical of the tone of some reports, described the lawsuits' target under an ominous (and false) heading: "death juice." Most reports on the lawsuit's withdrawal, when they have appeared, have been of the demure, three-sentence variety. Ominous-sounding lawsuits make for good headlines. Dismissals no so much. As part of its campaign against Monster, Morgan & Morgan had launched a website seeking potential plaintiffs to challenge the energy-drink maker. "If you or someone you know has experienced heart problems, seizures, an irregular heartbeat, kidney failure, or any other adverse effects after drinking Monster Energy drinks," the firm's website advertises, "you may be entitled to compensation." Maybe not. "The voluntary dismissal of these lawsuits, we believe, speaks volumes," Marc P. Miles of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, counsel for Monster Energy Company, said in a company press release. "We believe fairness dictates that the media now write about the dismissals." In addition to the demise of the Morgan & Morgan litigation targeting energy drinks, fairness suggests the need to cite the rising tide of research demonstrating that energy drinks aren't the threat many critics claim. In an excellent Food Safety News piece on the dismissal of the lawsuits, Dan Flynn points to a recent peer-reviewed study by University of Texas-Austin researchers, which, in the words of the study authors, concluded that the impact of "consumption of a commercially available energy drink.... was similar to the effect of coffee and water consumption." Nothing to see here. Move on. But the news isn't all rosy for energy-drink makers and consumers. The lawsuit was just the latest threat against energy-drink makers. An effort by a Chicago city councilman to ban energy drinks failed several years ago, a story I detailed here. And the recent dismissal of the case against Monster doesn't spell the end of litigation over energy drinks, as other lawsuits are ongoing. Monster is still embroiled in at least one caffeine-related lawsuit with the city of San Francisco. A class-action lawsuit in California, while recently scaled back by a federal court, is still proceeding. A lawsuit involving Monster and the New York State attorney general is also pending. These lawsuits take place against an ominous backdrop, as the FDA has spent several years quietly "investigating 'any and all products with added caffeine" since I first wrote those words in 2013. The good news? That investigation hasn't singled out energy-drink makers. The bad news? It's targeting all foods and beverages that contain added caffeine—from caffeinated gum and beef jerky to sodas and energy drinks. The FDA's ongoing investigation raises the specter of the agency's campaign against Four Loko and similar caffeinated beers, which resulted in the agency banning the direct addition of caffeine to alcohol beverages in 2010. Targeting energy drinks and energy-drink consumers has been[...]

#SaveMarinaJoyce and the Fickle Nature of ‘Compassionate’ Meddlers

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 14:09:00 -0400

(image) This week many fans of YouTuber Marina Joyce, who posts videos on her channel about make-up and fashion tips, decided she must be in danger. Joyce didn't say so, and even told fans multiple times she was not in danger, but internet users, as internet users are wont to do, began to pull details from her recent videos to concoct a theory about Joyce being abused or kidnapped, possibly even by ISIS for use as a lure in an upcoming terrorist attack. There were so many calls to local police (Joyce lives in England) that they went to her house to check on her and tweeted that she was fine.

Eventually, Joyce's mother revealed she was suffering from schizophrenia. Joyce herself had repeatedly expressed surprise at people's concerns, and in a livestream described it as a "publicity stunt started by my viewers, not me." So the online mob that formed to dish out some collective "compassion" turned on her. The quote was passed around Twitter and the internet with the "by my viewers" part cut out. People who had spent days reading about Joyce and trying to "figure out" what happened were now angry, not with themselves for wasting time and bothering a stranger they might like to watch on YouTube based on their interpretations of her life, but with Joyce.

A Twitter search of the #SaveMarinaJoyce hashtag will find some sympathetic comments, and a lot of folks with no connection to Joyce except possibly subscribing to her YouTube channel or following her on Twitter (both of which they are always free to stop doing) expressing anger that Joyce wasn't clearer about not having been kidnapped or held hostage. How much clearer could she be?

The story of #SaveMarinaJoyce, which started less than a week ago, is illustrative of the same emotional inputs involved in bad policies pushed in the name of helping someone or something, from the drug war to the effort to "rescue" sex workers to "humanitarian" interventions like the one in Libya. They begin under the guise of compassion, and when it turns out a lot of people aren't necessarily interested in the kind of "compassion" that comes with coercion, the boot comes down. The widely reviled 1994 crime bill, which contributed to rising incarceration rates, is still defended under the premise lawmakers had to do something to "help" with crime. Hillary Clinton eventually started to blame an "obstructionist" Libyan government for the aftermath of the U.S.-backed intervention. The changing mob reaction captured in #SaveMarinaJoyce is as good an example of any why "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" can be such a dangerous phrase. Government is just a word for the meddling we want to do together.

No President Should Be ‘Shaping’ the Lives of Children for Four or Eight Years

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:20:00 -0400

First Lady Michelle Obama was granted the task last night of making Hillary Clinton seem like a human being other people should aspire to emulate and not a lifelong politician who for some reason is less able to conceal her mercenary maneuvering than her peers. Part of Obama's speech was about the role of parents and parenting, and in particular, being good role models, suggesting that Clinton is such a person.  The speech was also heavy on the idolization of the politician as substitute parent and very creepily the idea that the president is and should be shaping who your children are: With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to children across this country — kids who tell us, "I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school." Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, "Is my hair like yours?" And make no mistake about it, this November, when we go to the polls, that is what we're deciding — not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, this election, and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives. And I am here tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be President of the United States, and that is our friend, Hillary Clinton. Who can forget the time Obama half-joked/half-lectured Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas because she ate an Egg McMuffin at McDonald's, even though such a breakfast is healthy enough when you're an extremely active young athlete. Obama no doubt thinks she's being a "role model" by pushing her healthy food and activity agenda, but there is a lot of evidence out there that the government doesn't know what the heck it's talking about when it lectures Americans on food. Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin frequently notes how terrible the government's analysis is on issues related to nutrition (read his takedown on the Food and Drug Administration's unscientific meddling in the salt content of products here). Obama herself as our nation's nutrition nanny back in 2013 pushed forward the discredited idea that Americans need to be drinking more water to improve health. Likewise, the government's attitude toward child-rearing, as Reason contributor Lenore Skenazy regularly highlights, is to fill parents with a constant fear that risks to children's safety are much higher than they actually are. When government officials decide that they play a role in shaping the lives of children, it seems to end up wanting to replace the judgment of adults (and also expand government regulation of goods and services). One doesn't have to believe that Clinton is exactly as amoral and self-serving as Donald Trump (she is, though) in order to be repulsed at the idea that we should be viewing the president or public officials in general as role models. Clinton's ideas for raising children properly have involved attacking pop culture and calling for government-endorsed censorship. No American should be looking to the president to shape children's lives (that's what parents are for), and certainly nobody should be looking for a dreadful scold like Clinton for that sort of guidance.[...]

Congressman Demands Pokémon Go Makers Tell Him What They Do About Data Usage

Wed, 20 Jul 2016 19:53:00 -0400

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), sounds like he doesn't know how a smartphone works or what the role of Congress is. The ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee fired off a letter along with two Democratic colleagues demanding Pokémon Go explain what it does about how much data its users use playing the game. "We are writing to better understand what measures Niantic has undertaken to ensure consumers are informed of Pokémon Go's effect on their mobile data usage," the letter begins, continuing by explaining that the app had been downloaded 7.5 million times in its first week out and earned "an estimated $2.3 million day on the iOS and Android platforms. The reference to revenue is totally gratuitous and unrelated to anything else Pallone brings up. He does not mention that Pokémon Go is a free app or that he has no business getting involved with Pokémon Go and data usage in the first place. Amazingly, while trying to whip up fears over Pokémon Go and data usage, Pallone cites a Wall Street Journal article titled "Relax, Pokémon Go Isn't Eating Your Data Plan," which reports that according to Verizon the app takes up less than 1 percent of its total data traffic. Pokémon Go, like any sophisticated app, can drain battery life, but it does have a setting for "battery saver." Battery usage is a problem for many smartphone users and one smartphone makers have long been working to improve. Like data usage, battery usage isn't any of Pallone's business either. It's up to individuals how much they want to consider their data usage when playing Pokémon Go. Most smartphones allow you to check data usage by app—I've used about 300MB of data on Pokémon Go in the last two weeks, hardly my most data-taxing app—and there are even apps to help monitor data usage instead. But Pallone could relax even if that weren't the case, because issues like data usage on Pokemon Go are outside the purview of Congress. It's notable too that the concept of net neutrality, which Pallone and Democrats tend to support, make it harder for service providers and app operators to minimize the cost of data usage because "net neutrality" doesn't permit treating data spent on Pokémon Go to be treated differently than data used on any other program or internet service. If Pallone is interested in contributing, he could work to roll back net neutrality controls. Frank Pallone ends with four questions he asks Niantic to answer, none of which it should feel compelled to answer and none of which are intelligent enough to be worth asking. He wants to know whether there are "best practices" Niantic follows to minimize how much data is used (their code is none of Pallone or the government's business), whether it works with carriers to "ensure that consumers are not unexpectedly hit with large overage charges," (this is non-sensical as other apps use even more data), whether it warns consumers about data usage (again, nonsensical given that Pallone has overblown the data impact), and most incredibly, whether it had "any mechanisms in place to make sure consumers are made whole in the event they are hit with an unexpected overage charge resulting from the use of your app." Why would anyone but the user of a phone be responsible for the data they use? I wouldn't even say Congress has more important things to concern itself about. Even if Congress didn't have anything to concern itself with—no self-created foreign policy, fiscal and other messes to get itself out of—Pokémon Go would still not be something that's appropriate for Congress to concern itself with. If Frank Pallone has concerns about Pokémon Go, he should free to quit his job in Congress and work on developing an augmented-reality game he thinks is superior. Otherwise he should shut up and not use the pul[...]

Sen. Feinstein Will Not Be Giving Up the Drug War Anytime Soon

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 11:25:00 -0400

(image) Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will absolutely not stand around and just let Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) snatch away her title of "The Absolute Worst." Feinstein announced Tuesday afternoon that she will oppose California's ballot initiative legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Feinstein is a well-worn drug warrior, and last year was the only Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to vote no on legislation to stop the feds from interfering with states that have legalized medical marijuana use.

She opposed California's previous attempt to legalize recreational marijuana and she's doing so again under the claim that it would harm kids and make the roads more dangerous. Her arguments, though, lack foundation. As Jacob Sullum recently noted, adolescent marijuana use in Colorado is holding steady, not increasing. And Sullum has also looked at the crash statistics and found that drug warriors have been exaggerating the impacts. A Heritage Foundation analyst claimed that fatal crashes in Washington State had increased dramatically since recreational marijuana use was permitted. But in fact, there was a mere increase of seven fatal crashes between 2010 and 2014, and while there was a small increase (10 percent) in the number of fatal collisions in which a driver tested positive for marijuana, there was actually a decline in the total number of people killed in crashes involving all drugs or alcohol. The number of cases where drivers tested positively for marijuana and nothing else rose from nine to 20. Clearly drug warriors want to present numbers like that as percentages to disguise the fact that the flat figures wouldn't and shouldn't inspire fear.

Like a lot of political positions that use fear to justify nanny state authoritarianism, her positions don't have a foundation. Her hostility to marijuana legalization puts her at odds with nearly all of her peers in California (including gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is pushing Prop. 64). As late as last year she was still claiming that marijuana was a "gateway drug."

But while her drug nannying may put her out of step with Democrats, it's certainly keeping with her view as a government that rules over its citizens rather than answers to them. Her desire to regulate everything from guns to video games to drugs to even attempting to legislatively draft tech companies into helping the federal government violate encryption illustrates the mentality that made her one of Reason's "45 enemies of freedom." It doesn't look like she'll be evolving any time soon.

New York City Drives Street Vendors to Operate Illegally—Century After Century

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Dirty water dogs bought from a cart aren't just a gut-busting lunchtime treat—they're a living for the vendor slapping on the mustard and onions and taking your cash. Pushcarts are a traditional entry-level business in the United States, as elsewhere. They have relatively low startup costs and allow sellers to go to where the customers are, rather than counting on buyers to seek them out. But it's a tough business, and long hours, sparring over locations, and dragging a cart from place to place are only half the story. Places like New York City have created their own cottage industries out of lassoing entrepreneurs—often immigrants—with obstructionist rules that make it ever-harder to make a buck while driving cart operators underground and into the clutches of illegal facilitators who can navigate through a sea of red tape. Last month, Crain's New York Business detailed how mobile food vending permits have become barriers to entry for people trying to earn a living, with the law breeding an illegal market for pieces of city-issued plastic that grant permission to do business. "A generation ago, after a few years of hard work and saving, Zamir could have become his own boss. Sidewalk vending was long an option for immigrants eager to improve their lives," reported Jeff Koyen. "That's no longer the case. Today's mobile food vending business is one of day laborers and shift workers who, despite hustling all week long, may not earn minimum wage." Zamir's boss, a cart operator named Sharif, has been working the same corner for 17 years, owns a cart that he built himself, but rents the use of his permit from its official holder. Permits aren't supposed to be transferrable, but the number available is capped at 3,000 in the cold season, plus 1,000 more from April to October, and there's a waiting list to get one. That creates a market for the permits, dominated by savvy underground permit holders who rent them out to the actual vendors—the going rate was $15,000-$20,000 for a two-year lease, according to a 2013 New York Times piece by Adam Davidson. The official price charged by the city for the permits is $200, but since "an estimated 70% to 80% of permits are illegally in use by someone other than the permit holder," according to Koyen, most vendors are paying a bit more. The reason for the cap and the underground market it creates is snobbery, pure and simple. People who have already made it don't like the sight of those who are scrambling to climb the economic ladder. "This is not supposed to look like a souk," then-Mayor Ed Koch complained in 1988 about the lines of carts and customers on midtown streets. He ordered a strict crackdown on pushcart vendors that inconvenienced hungry customers but economically crippled struggling entrepreneurs, some of whose carts were confiscated. "Souk" is just a word for marketplace, which is where people buy and sell goods and create prosperity. If a city isn't supposed to look like a souk, it's hard to visualize how it should look. The limits Koch put in place are still in effect. But he was hardly the first offender—or the first person to express contempt for the sight of largely immigrant vendors working hard to feed their families. "[T]he practical disadvantages from the undue congestion of peddlers in certain localities are so great as to lead to a demand in many quarters for the entire abolition of this industry, if it may be dignified by the term," sniffed the Report of the Mayor's Push-Cart Commission in 1906. Back then, the immigrant vendors were mostly Jewish and Italian, rather than Middle Eastern, so the term "souk" wasn't yet in wide circulation. For a hint of the foreign, the report instead turned to the "padrone" system "by which one man has[...]

War on Vaping an Effort To Prop up Tobacco Taxes?

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 00:01:00 -0400

The last time I wrote about tobacco-related measures, I concluded that California legislators and health advocates have let a bit of Puritanism get the better of them. Why else would the governor sign a law that makes no distinctions between smoking dangerous, combustible tobacco products (cigarettes) and puffing on vaping devices that are a safer, alternative product? I still think some Puritanism is at work—it bothers activists that smokers find vaping enjoyable, as opposed to arm patches, nasal sprays and ten-step programs. But some readers reminded me of an even bigger and more cynical reason for the state's approach: officials are addicted to their cut of tobacco-related revenues. Smoking rates are declining. As smokers give up their bad habit, anti-smoking programs lose tax dollars. Taking dollars from government agencies and government-addicted nonprofits makes them as grumpy as taking the last pack of cigarettes from a habitual smoker. Even though the state passed several new laws—raising the smoking age to 21 and regulating e-cigarettes like tobacco, for instance—anti-tobacco activists have qualified an initiative for the November ballot that would go even further. The "California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016" is, as its name suggests, all about hiking tax rates. California has one of the nation's lower tobacco taxes. The initiative provides a $2 per pack tax boost on cigarettes (from 87 cents to $2.87). It raises taxes on other tobacco products by an equivalent amount. I'm no fan of tax increases. And sin taxes are regressive—they impose a particularly high burden on the poor. But at least advocates are trying to do something that might improve public health by discouraging the use of a dangerous product. But this line in the initiative suggests the anti-vaping craze is mainly about the money: "Tobacco products also shall include electronic cigarettes." To be clear, the liquid that is heated and "vaped" is not tobacco, even though most—but not all—liquids contain nicotine. The nicotine is the point. Smokers are addicted to it. These products provide a safer way to get that fix—95 percent safer, according to Public Health England. If the initiative passes, the state will have another way to get its fix of taxes. In fact, the measure would boost taxes on vaping products by 320 percent, according to industry estimates. The Legislative Analyst's Office explains the $1 billion a year in expected new revenues will go to replace lost tobacco-related revenues. A small portion will go to the Board of Equalization to administer the tax. Law enforcement will grab $48 million. The University of California will grab $40 million for "physician training." The Department of Public Health will get a $30-million cut and the state auditor will get some money to conduct audits. "Many believe this misguided measure is driven more [by] money than protecting California's public health due to the fact that tobacco tax revenues are declining as adult consumption rates continue to fall," Joshua Kane, president of the California chapters of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, argued in his recent testimony to the Legislature. Only 4.3 percent of the current $1.52 billion in smoking-related excise taxes and settlements actually are spent on smoking prevention and cessation programs, he added. That reinforces the cynics' view: The government wants its dollars. And so does the tobacco industry, of course. The Los Angeles Times obtained an email from a tobacco lobbyist suggesting the industry would pay up to $10 per signature to place a possible referendum on the ballot overturning the age-21 measure. It would have driven up signature c[...]

FDA: Never Eat Raw Cookie Dough Ever. (Except Ben & Jerry's, That's OK)

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 17:20:00 -0400

(image) This week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an official recommendation that no one should ever eat raw cookie dough. Ever. Also, Christmas is canceled. And your puppy is dead went away to a farm.

Turns out, it's not just the eggs that'll get you with salmonella, it's the E. coli in the flour. "The bottom line for you and your kids is don't eat raw dough," the FDA website declares. "And even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with. Why? Flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that cause disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials, is investigating an outbreak of infections that illustrates the dangers of eating raw dough."

"Outbreak" sounds bad, and 10 million pounds of flour were subject to a recall last year. In the end, though, the CDC reports that 38 people were sickened by the flour in a 2015 incident, only 10 of whom were hospitalized. No one died, as far as I can tell. As always, the delight and happiness of millions of children (and adults, let's be honest) are not factored anywhere into the equation. 

Ben & Jerry's spokesman Lindsay Bumps says that "food safety is a top priority for Ben & Jerry's. In addition to a rigorous food safety program, the supplier of our cookie dough uses heat treated flour in the production of our cookie dough therefore there is no bacterial contamination. Ben & Jerry's cookie dough is unaffected" by the 2015 recall or, presumably, the current panic. 

My prediction: Some time in the not-too-distant future, you will be able to easily buy (probably at Whole Foods) heat-treated flour explicitly for use in home baking and kid projects where the dough might be consumed. Entrepreneurs: I expect my cut when you make your first billion with this idea. I accept payment in raw cookie dough.