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The Nanny State

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Published: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 08:34:43 -0400


There Ought Not Be a Law

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 00:15:00 -0400

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wants limits on virtual currencies, like Bitcoin, that help people keep their financial lives private from folks like him. Senator Dianne Feinstein wants government regulation of political speech by foreign agents—or maybe just by people with whom she disagrees. Gun control activists want more restrictions with which to threaten peaceful gun owners so that violent predators who break laws will have more things to ignore. If ever there was a "there oughta be a law moment," we're living in it. At least, we're living in one of all too many such moments. Because people are forever looking to the law as the solution to the ills they perceive in the world around them—often only to spackle over the failures of the previous round of laws. In the process, they're forever forgetting that laws are usually nothing more than codified prejudices, imposed against resistant populations, by sometimes incompetent and often corrupt enforcers. "The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't," writer Neil Gaiman responded in 2008 to a question about his opposition to the U.S. federal prosecution of Christopher Handley over the possession of erotic cartoons. The writer had been challenged over free speech advocates' claims that it was difficult if not impossible to clearly differentiate between "acceptable" images and those bound to run afoul of the law. Gaiman noted that he was born the day D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover became legal for publication and sale in the United Kingdom after years of bans under obscenity laws. Moreover, one of his publishers nearly went to prison over some of Gaiman's work "that contained a rape and murder, and this was held to have contravened a Swedish law depicting images of violence against women. The case was only won when the defense pointed out that the words were from the King James version of the bible, and that the images were a fair representation thereof." What if the scene was drawn from a source other than the Bible? Would the publisher have still been insulated from prosecution? Maybe even the most careful efforts at applying the law are inherently dangerous. "I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce," Yale Law School's Stephen L. Carter wrote in 2014. "Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they're so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants." Carter pointed out that there are now so many laws that there is no easy way of knowing if any given action is legal or illegal. And even the pettiest law, he emphasized in the wake of the killing of Eric Garner by police during a confrontation over the sale of loose cigarettes, requires violence and the risk of death to enforce. "Don't ever fight to make something illegal unless you're willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way," he wrote in closing. Even that scenario assumes some degree of good faith on the part of prosecutors and enforcers—honest efforts to interpret and apply the law. But what of those police and prosecutors are people just like you and me, subject to all of the incentives, fair and foul, that drive our actions? "Sending the proceeds of forfeiture to the state's General Fund would result in fewer busts of drug and stolen property rings," Brian McVeigh, president of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, and Dave Sutton, president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, cautioned in an op-ed opposing legislative efforts to reform the use of civil asset forfeiture in their state. "What incentive would local police and sheriffs have to invest manpower, resources and time in these operations if they don't receive proceeds to cover their costs?" The implication, apparently perfectly acceptable to the authors, is that police make arrests out of expectation of monetary gain. In fact, in a quarter of asset forfeiture cases in Alabama, no charges[...]

Guns. Booze. War. Abortion. Voting. How Old Is Old Enough?

Wed, 28 Feb 2018 12:00:00 -0500

It is too soon to know whether the Parkland massacre will clarify public attitudes about guns. But we can safely bet it will do nothing to clarify public attitudes about maturity. If anything, the episode has only muddled things further. In the aftermath of the Valentine's Day slaughter, some Parkland students have transformed into gun-control activists. This has elicited sympathetic coverage in the establishment press, polite criticism from the conservative press, and vicious attacks and loony conspiracies from the troglodyte right. Nobody is suggesting the students qualify as experts on public policy. The respectful hearing they have received has more to do with their moral authority as young, traumatized, and idealistic survivors of a horrific event. (And, to be frank, it helps that they have staked out a position with which most of the media already agree.) At the same time, the shooting itself—carried out by a 19-year-old—has elicited proposals to raise the age at which a person can buy a rifle to 21. The notion that teenagers can be wise enough to teach their elders about firearms, but never wise enough to own them, is just one of the ways in which American attitudes about adolescence lack explicable precision. Column continues after map The U.S. already has raised the drinking age to 21. But as is often noted, you need be only 18 to enlist in the armed forces—i.e., to volunteer for missions that could entail not only losing your own life but taking others'. The age of enlistment offers two rationales for not raising the age at which someone can buy a gun. If you're mature enough to enlist, goes one, then you're mature enough to own a gun. (Rebuttal: Enlistees' lives are regimented to a ridiculous degree. Unlike civilian 18-year-olds, they're not being given free rein.) The second rationale holds that if you are old enough to sacrifice your life in America's defense, then you should have access to all of America's constitutional rights. Indeed, that was largely the rationale behind lowering the voting age once the age of conscription had been lowered. Of course, nobody ever died because somebody picked up a ballot in a moment of anger. Nor has an improperly or accidentally used ballot ever killed anyone. People die from gunfire under those conditions all the time. So there might be some sense in leaving the voting age at 18 but raising the age of access to devices that can kill. Except that most states let teenagers drive without supervision at age 16—and sometimes earlier—even though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points out that "teenage drivers have the highest crash risk per mile traveled." In fact, the Institute says, the fatal crash rate for drivers age 16-19 is "nearly three times as high as the rate for drivers 20 and over." So teens are mature enough to handle 3,000-pound machines despite the great risk of harm that entails. Yet colleges across the country strive to make themselves "safe spaces" not only for teenagers but for young adults as well—by imposing speech codes, warning students against "microaggressions," and caterings to those whose tender feelings are often theatrically wounded by the mere presence somewhere on campus of people with whom they disagree. Well. If young adults have not yet developed the capacity to confront difficult ideas, then surely they have not yet developed the capacity to vote, either—let alone to hold forth in public about complicated issues of public policy. And yet: Just about every state has provisions that allow the judicial system to try minors as adults. Seventeen states permit transferring children as young as 14 from juvenile to criminal court; six states permit it for 13-year-olds; and 19 states permit it for children 12 and younger. At the same time, 37 states require a minor who wants to get an abortion to involve at least one parent in the decision—and 26 require parental consent. So, for instance, Mississippi and Wyoming consider 17-year-olds too young to make abortion decisions themselves, but they thi[...]

USDA’s ‘Harvest Box’ Food-Shipping Proposal Is Truly Absurd

Sat, 24 Feb 2018 08:00:00 -0500

When I was around 12 years old, my grandfather, a stockbroker, had a debilitating stroke. My grandmother hadn't worked, so my grandfather had served as the sole breadwinner for the couple. He'd also apparently been in charge of the family's finances and, in this role, had neither saved a dime in his life nor planned for retirement—unless, that is, consuming copious amounts of Budweiser (my dad insists it was Ballantine Ale) was part of some unrealized retirement plan. With my grandfather in a rest home, my grandmother moved from a rented apartment near my family and into an elderly housing complex that was even closer by. (Our house lacked a spare bedroom or else, I like to think, we'd have taken her in.) My grandmother's indigent status meant she qualified not just for housing but also for food aid. It came in the form of government cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Maybe there was more to it, such as other foods or food stamps. I never knew. But I did know about the food aid because my grandmother, who I spent time with every week, would give whatever peanut butter the government provided to her to my family. I guess, in retrospect, that she didn't like peanut butter. My mom didn't know what to do with the peanut butter, which came in a giant tub and wasn't as creamy as our usual Skippy. But I always wolfed it down. I'd spread it on crackers or celery or even spoon it out of the starkly labeled government container while parked in front of our television. As a kid, I never thought even a little about how it was weird that I was gorging on taxpayer-provided peanut butter that my family didn't need—both because we could afford to buy peanut butter and because we in fact did buy it. In more recent years, though, I've often thought about that peanut butter as a metaphor for many of the problems—including fraud and waste—that are evident in government-funded domestic food aid programs. Which brings us to the U.S. Derpartment of Agriculture's plans, proposed last week, to replace its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) with something called Harvest Boxes. Under the plan, the USDA would slash the food-purchasing benefits of SNAP and replace them with delivered packages of canned fruits and meats, cereal, pasta, and the like. A USDA official tried to spin the proposal as akin to Blue Apron, the upscale (and Juicero-level pointless) meal delivery service. That's the spin. But criticism of the proposal has been both widespread and withering. Reason's Eric Boehm likens it to "Amazon Prime, but for terrible canned food selected by bureaucrats." Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the proposal a "'cruel and demeaning and an awful idea' that would strip families of the ability to choose which groceries they buy." USA Today's editorial board dubbed the harvest box proposal "a program fresh from Cold War Bulgaria." "The proposal has drawn widespread criticism from advocates for the poor, who see it as a paternalistic 'nanny state' approach that also happens to favor agricultural producers," reports the L.A. Times. "Retailers who accept SNAP debit cards also worry about lost sales, even as leaders of food banks worry about additional work preparing the meal boxes." The USDA has gone on the offensive and has defended the harvest box idea as a "bold proposal." "It's a real idea. It's not a sham. It's not a silly proposal," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in remarks apparently designed to convince everyone that this wasn't some sort of early April Fools' joke. "It's something that we'd like to see seriously considered, and debated." I'm not a knee-jerk Perdue hater. On school lunch reforms, for example, I'd previously noted he'd "got[ten] all his facts right." But the harvest box idea is truly rotten to the core and unworthy of consideration. Supporters outside the USDA offices have been difficult to locate. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which I refer to in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us[...]

8 Attacks on Freedom, From the Left and the Right

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 12:00:00 -0500

If you look around the country today you will find that, despite the best efforts of their betters, Americans still enjoy a fair amount of freedom to do as they wish. But the nation's busybodies are on the case, and will soon take care of that. Item: Now that Republicans effectively have repealed Obamacare's individual mandate—the decree that every resident shall buy health insurance, whether he wants it or not—states are stepping in and pondering whether to impose their own. So far nine states and the District of Columbia have taken up the idea, even though less than half of Democrats favor the mandate. Item: Numerous cities are now looking with longing at rent control to keep housing costs in check. Irony alert: Many of those same cities also impose tight restrictions on land use, which limits the supply of, and therefore drives up the cost of, living space. This is an economic point so obvious even the Obama administration could see it: "The Obama administration ... is calling on cities and counties to rethink their zoning laws," Politico reported a couple of years ago, "saying that antiquated rules on construction, housing and land use are contributing to high rents and income inequality, and dragging down the U.S. economy as a whole." But why roll back regulations that raise the cost of housing when you can simply impose even more regulations to offset the effects of the first ones? Item: The majority leader of California's state Assembly has introduced legislation that would impose a fine of up to $1,000 on any waiter or waitress who offers a plastic drinking straw to a customer without being asked. The Washington Post notes that this is part of a growing anti-straw movement, which is driven by alarm over the 500 million straws that are used every single day—which is almost certainly a fake number, seeing as how it is based on an unconfirmed phone survey by a 9-year-old boy. (Yes, really.) Item: Two lawmakers in New York have introduced legislation to ban Tide Pods (those little plastic packages of laundry detergent), owing to the "Tide Pod Challenge," in which teenagers chew the things up for the delight of social media. Obviously, we don't want hundreds of children dying from such a phenomenon. Equally obviously, they aren't: From 2012 to 2017, two children died from eating detergent packets, which—as Reason's Christian Britschgi points out—is one-eighth as many children as died from swallowing batteries. Item: The Seattle Times thinks it would be swell for Washington state to follow the lead of California and Hawaii, and raise the legal age for smoking and vaping to 21. Because while you can choose to risk your life in combat at that age, you shouldn't be able to choose to risk your life with Camels. All of the preceding items reek of left-wing market interventionism and liberal nanny-statism, but conservatives often find freedom a loathsome inconvenience, too: Item: New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently suggested that American society would be much improved if we banned pornography. This, he argues, would lead to "better men" who are not "at once entitled and resentful, angry and ... caddish ... and frustrated that real women are less available and more complicated than the version on their screen." Interesting theory—but it runs up against the reality of how men treat women in times and places where porn is hard to come by, such as America in the 1840s or Saudi Arabia today. Item: Republicans used to cheer free trade, but since Donald Trump rose to power they have turned sharply against it: 85 percent now think, wrongly, that free trade costs more jobs than it creates. Consequently, if an American chooses to buy a product from, say, China or Mexico, many Republicans would be happy to have the government step in with as much force as it can muster and say, "Oh no you don't!" Item: Republicans also used to cheer immigration. But since Donald Trump rose to power they have had a change of heart there, too. This i[...]

People Will Eat What They Want, Not What Government Prefers

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 07:55:00 -0500

This month, a pair of seemingly unrelated stories—a story about Chile's crackdown on subjectively unhealthy foods and a bill now before the U.S. Congress—make clear that the legions of do-gooders who want to compel you and others to eat just what they think you should eat are—despite their persistence—failing miserably at their jobs. In Congress, the bill in question seeks to modify and delay the FDA's menu-labeling mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The bill is nothing new. It's been kicking around since at least 2012, shortly after Obamacare became law. Currently, the menu-labeling portion of that law, set to take effect later this year, would require many chain restaurants, vending-machine owners, grocers, theater owners, and others to post total average calorie information for most menu items. The bill to amend the Obamacare menu-labeling law, dubbed the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which passed the House last week, would allow chain restaurants to list calories per serving for menu items intended to be consumed by more than one person, and allow pizza chains and other carry-out restaurants to post calorie information online instead of in stores. It would also delay implementation of Obamacare's menu-labeling provisions for at least two years. Supporters claim the existing law would help people make better and more-informed choices, and oppose the listing of calories per-serving (rather than total calories), along with the other elements of the bill. "[W]e see from the research that actually, when consumers are given this information, they actually can make lower-calorie choices, and restaurants can also come out with lower-calorie options," Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told CNN. Certainly people can actually "make lower-calorie choices." It's just that, with mandatory menu labeling, research shows they most often don't actually make those lower-calorie choices. "Overall, when you are looking at average consumer response to labeling, there doesn't appear to be much difference in calories purchased before and after labeling," said Dr. Jason Block, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, coauthor of a recent study on menu labeling, also in remarks to CNN. But even that's an optimistic take on the impact of mandatory menu labeling. "Research has shown that posting mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus doesn't help people make better choices," I wrote last year. Why don't people just do what the law wants them to do? Well, maybe one reason is that dietary preferences and choices are deeply personal, and laws like this one that seek to change those habits ignore that fact. A 2016 study sheds more light on that idea. In the study, researcher Olga Kozlova looked at food choices made by people in months when they had comparatively more money available (due to lower heating costs). The study found that when low-income consumers have more disposable income, they tend to buy more of the foods they already purchase, rather than spending the additional money on healthier foods. "[I]f you were thinking—or hoping—that low-income consumers look on healthy food as a luxury that they could buy if only they could afford it, the evidence in this study doesn't seem to be in your favor," reads a New Food Economy piece on the study. That has serious implications, writes the New Food Economy's Patrick Clinton, for many people's thinking (though not my own) around policy strategies to deal with the (now mainly debunked) problem of food deserts. So what can be done if both nudgy policies and better economic situations don't lead individuals to make the choices that food policymakers and activists want them to make? Restrict choice! Two years ago, as a lengthy New York Times piece last week detailed, Chile did just that, enacting pervasive and intrusive anti-obesity regulations, inc[...]

California Food Nannies Shutter Startup for Home Cooks

Sat, 10 Feb 2018 08:00:00 -0500

A dozen or so years ago, as my friend Dave was planning a move from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, he used the need to clean out his fridge before the move as an excuse to offer a half-empty jar of homemade kimchi for sale on Craigslist. While I don't think the kimchi sold, Dave's effort opened my eyes to the seemingly limitless possibilities of homemade online food sales. The truth is that while those possibilities are limited theoretically only by imagination, they very often bump up in the real world against—to paraphrase Waylon Jennings—the limits of what the law will allow. That truth was evident last week, when Bay Area food startup Josephine announced it will close its doors in March. As I described in a Sacramento Bee op-ed in support of Josephine last year, the company launched nearly four years ago with a mission to provide cooks who are typically underrepresented in restaurant leadership—including women and immigrants—with a platform by which to sell home-cooked meals with their neighbors. It's a cool idea. And it worked quite well for a time. That is, as I noted, until local health officials "sent cease-and-desist letters to several Josephine cooks." Josephine responded by trying to work with lawmakers and regulators, pushing a bill in the state legislature that would provide some legal avenue for its cooks. Despite the fact that the bill is now moving through the California legislature, the company decided its passage would be too late for Josephine and its funders. Josephine didn't have to die. The regulations that have made it impossible for the company to operate should have died instead. But its fate mimics that of other similar home-food startups. A similar New York-based startup, Umi Kitchen, flamed out last year after just four months of operations. I wrote an appreciation of Forage Underground Market, the inventive San Francisco food swap that was shuttered by California state and local health authorities, way back in 2012. And I predicted at the time the food underground movement was just beginning to blossom. "From underground supper clubs and street lobstah pushas to nonprofit incubator kitchens like San Francisco's La Cocina and for-profit companies like Washington, D.C.'s Feastly that feature accomplished cooks serving meals in their own homes," I wrote, "entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are helping to re-write societal norms around food provisioning in communities around the country on what would appear to be an unprecedented scale." Since that time, foods made by home cooks have indeed become normalized. For example, every state, save one, now has a cottage food law in place that allows home cooks to prepare and sell certain homemade foods. But cottage food laws typically only allow the sale of so-called "non-potentially hazardous" foods—or foods that are less likely to cause foodborne illnesses. That means foods such as jams, popcorn, fruit pies, spices, teas, and the like are generally allowed, while meat pies and Dave's kimchi, for example, are not. A couple states, led by Wyoming, have adopted food freedom laws, which are far more welcoming toward and permissive of home cooks than are any cottage food laws. Unfortunately, the proposed California law, AB 626, the Homemade Food Operations Act, is, though better than the status quo, still flawed. While the bill would allow sales by home cooks, such as those who've worked with Josephine, the law would still place meal and dollar caps on individual sellers, and require home inspections. Each of those requirements raises the specter of government intrusion into the home. It would also allow cities and counties, working together or separately, to continue to ban food sales under the law. For now, Josephine co-founder Matt Jorgensen told me this week that he and his Josephine colleagues will pour their efforts into the C.O.O.K. Alliance—the acronym stands for "Creating Opportunities, Opening[...]

Science Group Calls for a National Crackdown on Booze to Achieve 'Zero' DUI Deaths

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 08:00:00 -0500

A new report issued last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem, urges a host of draconian measures in an effort to eliminate every alcohol-related driving death in the United States. The NAS report suggests that policy approaches expand dramatically from their present focus, preventing drunk driving, "to also encompass reducing drinking to the point of impairment"—the latter, in other words, targeting all drunkenness. Getting to zero, in the report's estimation, means a host of nefarious, neo-Prohibitionist approaches to alcohol regulation, including "lowering state per se laws for alcohol-impaired driving to 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) [from 0.08%, the law today in most states], preventing illegal alcohol sales to... already-intoxicated adults, strengthening regulation of alcohol marketing, and implementing policies to reduce the physical availability of alcohol." It also calls for stepped-up sobriety checkpoints, which can be constitutionally questionable. The means the report recommends to achieve its unrealistic goals are both obnoxious and intrusive. In the case of reducing the physical availability of alcohol, for example, the report recommends specifically that state and local governments restrict the number of establishments allowed to sell alcohol and reduce "the days and hours of alcohol sales[.]" Among its key recommendations, the report also calls for the federal government and state governments to "increase alcohol taxes significantly." Dr. Steven Teutsch, chair of the NAS committee that authored the report, admits that eliminating every one of America's more than 10,000 annual alcohol-related driving deaths "sounds like an overly ambitious goal." It doesn't just sound overly ambitious. The study's title, along with its stated "goal of zero alcohol-impaired driving fatalities" and most of its contents, smacks of bluster, much like previous White House efforts to end poverty or to rid America of childhood obesity—each purportedly capable of being accomplished, at the time of their announcement, "within a generation." Some members of law enforcement have voiced support for the NAS report's recommendations, particularly for reducing the blood-alcohol threshold to 0.05%. "I would agree with it," an Ohio sheriff, Larry Mincks, told the local Marietta Times, speaking of the report. "Any amount of alcohol can affect you. I'm a believer in no drinking and driving whatsoever." Bar owners disagree. "I think it's going back to the days of the prohibition," said Mary Eddy, a Marietta tavern owner. Even some law-enforcement officials are skeptical. "I'm not sure lowering the limit is an effective way to lower deaths from alcohol-related accidents," said Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp. "If our ultimate goals are to reduce driver impairment and maximize highway safety, we should be punishing reckless driving more consistently," wrote former Reason editor Radley Balko in an excellent 2011 article. "It shouldn't matter if it's caused by alcohol, sleep deprivation, prescription medication, text messaging, or road rage." Drunken driving is a serious problem. I support stiff penalties for those found guilty of driving drunk. But if drunk people shouldn't drive, then sober lawmakers also should not dumb down the term "drunk" so much that it loses meaning and puts anyone who's had a sip of alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle in the crosshairs of law enforcement. Despite the fact that most of the NAS committee report's recommendations are both unrealistic and potentially harmful, it's not entirely devoid of reasonable recommendations. For example, it recommends that cities expand transportation alternatives, including allowing smartphone-enabled ride sharing services like Uber. As I detailed in a 2015 column, "restricting adult [...]

Report Warns EU Member State Food Regulations Could Stall Growth

Sat, 20 Jan 2018 07:45:00 -0500

A combination of the impending Brexit and the apparent spread of lousy national food regulations across European Union member states is threatening the growth of Europe's borderless markets in food. That's the conclusion of a new report released last week by FoodDrinkEurope, an industry lobbying group. The EU, as a bloc, has no shortage of awful food laws. For example, Europe's so-called "kebab war" ended late last year only after the EU agreed to let makers of spit-cooked meat use phosphates in their food. But the FoodDrinkEurope report, Implementing the EU Food & Drink Industry Ambition for Growth & Jobs, argues that Brexit and other national regulations are making for a "difficult and uncertain climate" that threatens the "well-functioning Single Market" in Europe. "The Single Market is one of the EU's greatest achievements," the report declares, "but renationalisation, different interpretations and 'gold-plating' of EU laws increasingly lead to barriers for food and drink companies within the Single Market." (Gold-plating is a derisive term that refers to EU laws that are strengthened and become entrenched when EU member nations adopt them as their own.) Food and beverage makers in Europe have been skittish over the looming Brexit and what it will mean for companies that market food and drink both in the Britain and on the continent. But the apparent growth of regulations within EU member countries poses a separate—and perhaps greater—challenge. The FoodDrinkEurope report highlights some of these challenges, including discriminatory national food taxes that have been made under the guise of combating obesity. But there are countless others. In England, EU rules have contributed to food prices that are nearly twenty percent higher than they should be, as a recent report detailed. The EU has an 83-page definition for "Prosciutto di Parma," which I bemoaned here recently. Italy, birthplace of prosciutto, also has (as the headline of one of my columns last year put it) many crappy new food laws. In Portugal, a new law mandates that all public buildings that serve food—prisons, hospitals, schools, and the like—provide vegan food choices. And in Switzerland, the government has banned restaurants from boiling live lobsters for their customers. Speaking as someone who knows a thing or two about lobster, this is an incredibly stupid law. Lobsters likely lack the ability to feel pain. The law was based on the converse of that premise. While the Swiss law doesn't ban lobsters, it will probably make them more expensive, could make customers less likely to order them and, in turn, will make restaurants less likely to buy and serve them. In that way, the Swiss law will resonate beyond the country's borders; it's exactly the sort of law the FoodDrinkEurope report cautions against. Still, the Swiss lobster-boiling ban could have been worse. It was only adopted after another measure—"to ban all lobster imports to the country"—was scrapped. Swiss animal-rights activists are now seeking to ban imports of foie gras. Europe's food and beverage industry is the bloc's largest manufacturing industry, responsible, according to the FoodDrinkEurope report, for more than $1.3 billion in sales and employing more than four million people. It's the EU's largest employment sector and the world's largest food and beverage exporter. It's not difficult to imagine that a combination of overly burdensome EU regulations, a growing number of lousy national food laws in EU member countries, and a post-Brexit climate that includes trade barriers between Britain and the EU could combine to cause serious harm to the region's food and beverage industry. That outcome is one that should be avoided at all costs.[...]

Tobacco Sales Regs Punish Poor People

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 00:15:00 -0500

Store owner Kamal Saleh was just hit with thousands of dollars in fines. His crime? He sold three cigars for $8.89. "Too cheap!" say New York City bureaucrats. "The cigars should have cost 11 cents more." Politicians want you to spend more for tobacco. They decided this after anti-smoking crusader Dr. Kurt Ribisl told the Centers for Disease Control, "Higher prices will deter children from smoking." A pit of socialist micromanagers called the New York City Council quickly embraced the idea. "It's also being considered very seriously in a number of jurisdictions in California," Ribisl told me. When health totalitarians make suggestions, leftist politicians jump. Ribisl also told the CDC, "Very cheap (tobacco) products should no longer be available." So for my YouTube video this week, I asked him, "Why do you get to decide?!" "No, I'm not deciding," he insisted. "I'm a person who studies these policies. I'll let the policymakers decide." OK, I sighed, "Why do the politicians get to decide?" "Cigarettes are the most lethal product ever introduced," he replied. That may be true, although few people realize that half the people who smoke do not die from tobacco-related illness. Fatty foods, swimming pools and cars also kill lots of people. Maybe the health police will raise their prices next. But so far, it's just tobacco. At Ribisl's urging, New York City adopted price floors and taxes to bring the price of a pack of cigarettes to $13 a pack. "People still have the ability to buy it, if they so choose," he said. "Just not poor people," I told him. "You're screwing poor people." "We see much higher smoking rates among poor people," answered Ribisl. "We need policies that are going to reduce tobacco use among poor people." I think all people should get to decide for themselves, but Ribisl wants to engineer "a transition toward thinking more about healthy food and beverage." At the CDC, Ribisl suggested that it should also be government policy to "reduce the number of tobacco stores." That seems cruel to store owners like Kamal Saleh, but Ribisl said, "We're not interested in putting stores out of business ... They're going to find new products to sell." Really? How does he know? New York already has a blizzard of regulations that put little stores out of business. Tobacco sales regulations alone go on for 47 pages—confusing pages filled with fine print like: "the price floor for any package of cigars that contains more than one cigar and that has been delivered to a retail dealer in a package described by subdivision a of section 17-704 shall be computed by multiplying the number of cigars in the package by $1.75 and adding $6.25 to the total." The 47 pages are just for tobacco sales. "For food, refrigeration, deliveries and everything else, the administrative code could be thousands of pages," says lawyer Andrew Tilem. Tilem defends store owners who get fined. Many can barely afford to pay him. Sometimes they pay in "fish and paper plates and tortillas." Those who can't afford to hire a lawyer may just go out of business. City Council meddlers, who often complain about "big business," don't notice that their own rules make the big businesses bigger. "The big guy can hire lawyers," says Tilem. "It's the little guy who's trying to pinch his pennies and make a dollar that has the biggest problem." Playing devil's advocate, I tell him, the government just wants to protect people's health. "I'm not a smoking advocate," Tilem replied, "but I think in this country ... people have the right to do the wrong thing." We should. Watch this week's video: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Chicago Suburb Cracks Down on Man Trying to Provide Shelter for Homeless

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 15:48:00 -0500

(image) Greg Schiller wanted to help homeless people in his area, so last winter he opened up his garage to them as a place to sleep during cold nights. Then an EMT informed him that he wasn't allowed to house people in his garage.

So this winter, Schiller decided to throw "slumber parties" in his basement during cold nights, offering food, beverages, cots, and movies. Schiller said he didn't permit drugs or alcohol in his residence.

The government of Elgin, Illinois, where Schiller lives, didn't like this idea either.

Police officers and city officials showed up at Schiller's home with a warrant Tuesday and inspected the unfinished basement. They then claimed its ceiling was too low and its windows were too high and too small to exit through them. According to Schiller, they told him to shut down his operation and turn his basement back into storage within 24 hours or they would condemn the house.

"While we appreciate those who volunteer to provide additional resources in the community," city spokesperson Molly Center said in a statement, "Mr. Schiller's house does not comply with codes and regulations that guard against potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and insufficient exits in the event of a fire."

The Elgin crackdown is a predictable escalation of a nanny-state culture that's popular at all levels of government. Centering government action around safety (from drugs, from Kinder eggs, from sledding, from whatever) invites that action into our personal spaces—even if, as in this case, the result is to make people less safe. Which is more likely: that a homeless man will die in Schiller's basement, or that he'll die sleeping in the cold?

Related: "Feeding the Homeless? There Could Be a Law Against That"

The 10 Worst Helicopter Parenting Moments of 2017

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 07:00:00 -0500

1. MOM TICKETED* FOR TRYING TO GET HER BABY OUT OF THE CAR An Omaha woman taking her niece out of an SUV when the wind blew the door shut and the car locked with her keys and the child inside. The mom, the aunt and two other relatives tried frantically to open the door using a hanger and screwdriver, and when they couldn't, they called 911. The cops arrived, broke the window, and got the child out, safe and sound. Then ticketed mom on "suspicion of child abuse by neglect." 2. DAD FORCED TO INFANTILIZE HIS KIDS Vancouver dad Adrian Crook taught his kids 7, 8, 9 and 11 how to ride the city bus to and from school and that's what they had done, without incident, for the past two years. Then someone reported these "unsupervised" kids to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which informed Crook that children under 10 years old cannot be unsupervised in or outside the home, for any amount of time. The 11-year-old didn't count as a chaperone. The kids can no longer ride the bus—or even walk to the corner store—without an adult accompanying them. 3. CARTOONIST ORDERED NOT TO DRAW ALIENS WITHOUT LIFE VESTS Cartoonist Nick Confalone released a list of the changes demanded by the "Standards and Practices" lawyers at his television job. These included: "When we first see the aliens waking up on the beach, we should see that they are clearly wearing life jackets." "Please ensure all daredevil tight-ropers are only a few feet off the ground and wearing appropriate safety gear." And "Both characters should be wearing helmets while riding the T-Rex." 4. STUDENTS DENIED ANNUAL D.C. TRIP BY SCAREDY-CAT ADMINISTRATORS The North Ridgeville Academic Center in Ohio cancelled its annual three-day student trip to Washington, D.C. because of the threat of terrorism. Never mind that the terrorists might not know the exact dates and places on the school's itinerary. the students were visiting. "As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our main priority," the principal wrote to parents, "and we feel that the risk of travel to Washington, D.C., is not worth the potential for tragedy." Not only are the odds of dying in a terrorist attack astronomically low, they are far lower than the odds of dying in a car ride to the school. As one commenter asked, "Are there no math teachers at this school?" 5. NEWSPAPER RUNS "ABDUCTION" STORY THAT MOM MADE UP A Reno mom posted on Facebook she was almost certain she, her husband and kids were about to be kidnapped and sex trafficked, because when they went into the parking garage, there was another car there with four people already in it. One had a device in his ear! The mom added: "Just because it didn't happen to us that night doesn't mean it couldn't happen." Which is technically correct…about everything. Not only was her post was shared thousands of times, the Reno Gazette Journal ran an article about the mom's intuition, accompanied by a map pinpointing where the abduction did not occur. (But could have!) David Finkelor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, reports that not only is snatching young children from their parents in a public place for sex trafficking purposes rare, he has never heard of such a crime. 6. DAD TACKLES MAN TRYING TO HELP HIS TOT When a Good Samaritan noticed a little girl wandering by herself near a softball game in Lakeland, FL, he assumed she was lost and started taking her around, trying to help her find her family. Alerted by bystanders that a stranger was walking toward the playground with his daughter, the dad punched the man out. "What would you do?" the father told NBC affiliate WFLA in a phone interview. "I wanted to kill him!" Even after the police explained the stranger had truly been trying to help, the dad went on social me[...]

Canada's Food Laws Ban the Best Burgers

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

My girlfriend and I spent the Christmas holiday in Vancouver, Canada this year. While there, we visited a bunch of nice sites, saw a good band, and ate some great food. On our last day in the city—Tuesday, which was also Boxing Day—we ate at Joe Forte's, an airy steakhouse just off the city's main tourist avenue, Robson Street. I was craving a hamburger and figured Forte's, which bills itself as a chophouse, was the place to go. My girlfriend ordered a steak sandwich, cooked medium. I ordered the burger, cooked medium. My burger was great in every single way possible except for the fact it wasn't cooked the way I'd requested. And that wasn't because the restaurant erred. Instead—as I was warned after ordering my burger medium—it's due to an awful Canadian law that says all restaurant hamburgers must be cooked until no longer pink. Even my response when our great server asked if we had any food allergies—"Overcooked burgers," I replied—got me no closer to a burger cooked my way. I have no doubt this regulation probably prevents some handful of harmful or even fatal cases of foodborne illness, which can occur if pathogens that may appear in ground beef are not killed off by cooking the beef to an internal temperature of at least 160F. But as a regulation, it's as arbitrary a decision as banning raw animal products such as oysters and sushi, raw produce such as sprouts and melons, and countless other foods that are definitely legal in Canada. In other words, the medium-hamburger ban is both dumb and wrong. With respect to its burgers, then, Canada is very different than the United States, where diners ordering a medium burger might notice a menu warning cautioning against eating some raw or lightly cooked foods. But if one looks past the specifics of that law, they'll notice Canada, just like the United States, has lots of terrible food laws, along with its share of food controversies. For example, I wrote last December about an awful proposal by lawmakers in Montreal to ban new restaurants, in a bid to protect existing ones. And in 2011 I blogged about a Canadian Wheat Board monopoly in Western Canada. When—in the course of writing my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable—I was looking for a foreign analog to an awful USDA enforcement action that forced an exceptional American sausage producer out of business, I found I needed look no further than Canada. Those are just a few of Canada's dumb food laws. I also learned this week about one of its stranger ongoing food controversies, which Canada's Globe and Mail reports was just settled after a decades-long fight. The battle concerns Prosciutto di Parma, the tasty cured Italian meat, and use of the word "Parma" to describe the food in Canada. The Italian term "di Parma" literally translates as "from Parma." When used in conjunction with prosciutto, it refers to prosciutto that's both from Parma and that meets the EU definition of "Prosciutto di Parma," a specifically defined term that's known as a protected designation of origin. The truly mind-numbing 83-page EU protected designation of origin rules for what is and isn't "Prosciutto di Parma," adopted in 1992, include the most tedious minutiae about pig breeds, feeding, slaughter, geographic boundaries, altitude, and the like. They also include nausea-inducing language like this: "The envisaged quantitative programming of protected production has to be integrated in a synergetic way with the qualitative classification requirements already introduced by the protection rules (qualitative analytical parameters that uniquely characterize Parma Ham and the production requirements in pig breeding)." Despite these fastidious and obnoxious EU rules[...]

Judge Overrules State’s Seizure of Child from Couple It Deemed Not Smart Enough to Be Parents

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 12:20:00 -0500

A holiday happiness story to share: The Oregon couple who had their two children taken away because the state determined they weren't smart enough to be parents has gotten one of them back. As I highlighted in July, Oregon's Department of Health Services put Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler's boys—one 4 years old and one now 10 months old—in foster homes, not because the parents were abusing or neglecting their kids, but because the state determined that they would be poor parents due to their hampered cognitive skills. Fabbrini and Ziegler both have I.Q.s well below average—66 and 72—and their learning struggles were used as justification to take the children away as a preventative measure rather than as a response to actual harm the children had suffered. Right before Christmas, a judge ruled the couple's limited cognitive ability was not enough to declare them unfit parents for their youngest son, Hunter, who was taken from them right after birth. He ordered the child returned to them. As I previously observed, when the Department of Health Services argued that the children should be removed, they presented every common parenting mistake, due to the parents' disabilities, as a potential crisis. The state declared as "parenting deficiencies" things like not washing thoroughly after using the bathroom, not applying sunscreen sufficiently to their child, or giving the child chicken nuggets to eat instead of something healthier. Circuit Judge Bethany Flint took note, when ordering Hunter returned, that these did not appear to be sufficient reasons for the state government to intervene and take somebody's kids away and that "there's no allegation they're not able to meet [Hunter's] basic needs." Samantha Swindler of The Oregonian, who brought this case to light, was there for the latest decision: "I will affectionately remember this case as the 'chicken nugget case,'" Flint said. "I found it difficult to read that these parents tried this thing and tried that thing and then they are advised that instead of chicken nuggets they should have boiled chicken breast, that giving fried foods is a parenting deficiency. That was hard to read." At times, the state argued that Fabbrini and Ziegler asked too many questions, suggesting they didn't know how to parent. At other times, the state implied they didn't ask enough questions, trying to show they didn't understand their cognitive limitations. "They can't win for losing," Flint said. "I think there's a lot of evidence in the record that whenever they do say things they are attacked for them, which could create a culture of silence around the parents as well." Not for nothing was Reason's most popular story of the year about how our paranoia about potential harms to children are leading to really bad public policies. It's even worse for parents with disabilities, physical or cognitive. In many states it is perfectly legal to use an adult's disabilities as a justification for terminating parental rights, even in absence of abuse or neglect. The fight isn't over for the couple. Their other son, Christopher, has some developmental problems, and Flint isn't sure Fabbrini and Ziegler understand that the boy needs more than typical parental TLC. The couple's fight to get Christopher back will continue into January. Still, given a year of outrage-inducing tales of abuse by government officials, it's nice to head into 2018 with at least one piece of good news.[...]

Santa Calls It Quits

Mon, 25 Dec 2017 07:33:00 -0500

*With apologies to the New York Sun.* DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? VIRGINIA O'HANLON. 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET. Virginia, your little friends are right. There used to be a Santa Claus, but not anymore. Oh, he is real, dear girl. He most certainly exists. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. But he has gotten out of the gift-giving game. It all started a few years ago when agents from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration stormed into his workshop, waving a warrant. An elf disgruntled over Santa's decision not to stock decaf in the break room had dropped a dime, and when the agents arrived they found more than a dozen violations of federal rules. Elves were making toys without proper safety equipment. Melted ice on the floor had pooled, creating a slip-and-fall hazard. There was no eye-wash station or Automated External Defibrilator in the facility, let alone an ADA-compliant sign for one... it went on and on. They walloped Santa with more than $70,000 in fines, those inspectors did, and forced him to come up with a remediation plan approved by a court-appointed special master within 60 days. That sort of took the wind out of old Santa's sails, if you know what I mean. He was just getting over that when he was served with a certified, cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers at Mattel, accusing him of copyright infringement. Some of the trains the elves had been making looked too much like Mattel's Thomas the Tank Engine figure (at least so far as Mattel was concerned), and the company threatened to haul Santa into court for theft of intellectual property. He took it pretty hard, I must say. Still, he probably would have let it go eventually if it hadn't been for the incident with the fighter jets. One of Santa's little helpers had, rather unhelpfully, forgotten to file a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration. So when radar picked up something that looked like a sleigh being pulled across the sky by eight tiny reindeer, a couple of nervous Nellies at the Pentagon grew concerned. Reindeer and sleighs simply do not fly—that is official Defense Department doctrine, Virginia. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. The Pentagon's little minds grew even more jittery when they calculated that this "sleigh," which they figured was probably Russian or Chinese, was transecting the hemisphere at speeds of roughly 1,800 miles per second. That is more than 3,000 times faster than the maximum speed of the F-15 Strike Eagle, the fastest plane in the U.S. military. So they sent up an entire squadron of F-22 Raptors from Tyndall Air Force Base to inform Santa that he was violating U.S. air space and bring him down for a frank heart-to-heart. Well, Santa's droll little mouth drew down in a frown, and his knees shook, but not like a bowlful of jelly. More like a handful of maracas. Santa tried to explain that NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, was tracking him already, but they weren't buying it. Inter-service rivalry. You know how it is. After that everybody seemed to pile on. Animal-rights activists tried to sneak a hidden camera into the reindeer stables to catch Santa doing whatever it was he must be doing to poor Rudolph to make his nose glow red. They were soon followed by a bunch of half-naked women from PETA who objected to making reindeer fly at all. The elves thought the demonstration was pretty spiffy, but Mrs. Claus did not approve, not o[...]

Upstate N.Y. Town Defeats Anti-Farming Bill

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Earlier this month, the town of Fort Ann, N.Y. was embroiled in controversy, the result of a local council member's failed attempt to pass a law that could have seriously curtailed small-scale farming in the town. Residents of the agricultural community turned out in droves to fight the proposal, which appears to have grown largely out of an ongoing personal dispute the councilor had with a neighbor. According to public records in Fort Ann, Councilwoman Deborah Witherell first proposed the Ordinance Providing for the Regulation of Small Farm Operations in the Town of Fort Ann at an October 10 board meeting. It specifically singled out the smallest farmers in this agricultural community. Its language appears to be heavily biased toward aesthetic concerns. It sought to restrict livestock to properties larger than one acre. It would have created burdensome requirements for providing "adequate shelter" and corral space for livestock. It would have required "no less than daily" cleaning of all barns and shelters. It created new requirements for site plan approval. It would have imposed heavy fines of up to $3,000. And it would have expressly superseded all prior laws. That includes, at least in part, the town's right-to-farm law, which the council adopted in 2007. In New York State, many cities or towns have their own right-to-farm laws. The purpose of the law in Fort Ann, which bills itself as "an agricultural community," is clear. "In order to maintain a viable farming economy in Fort Ann," reads, in part, the purpose and intent of the law, "it is necessary to limit the circumstances under which farming may be deemed to be a nuisance and to allow agricultural practices inherent to and necessary for the business of farming to proceed and be undertaken free of unreasonable and unwarranted interference or restriction." The public hearing to discuss the proposed ordinance took place on Dec. 11. Callie Ginter, a reporter with The Post-Star who covered last week's board meeting and the events leading up to it, told me by phone this week that the hearing was contentious. "The meeting was raw and real and people were passionate… and weren't going to hold back," Ginter says. That reaction was predictable. In fact, one of Witherell's fellow board members predicted it. "She realizes that people aren't going to be happy about this because Fort Ann is a farming community," reads a November 11 report by Fort Ann Council Supervisor Richard Moore, referring to Witherell and her proposal. "She has already been contacted by [a resident] that he is very upset about this. [He] asked Councilwoman Witherell if this came about because of one person specifically her neighbor. Councilwoman Witherell responded yes but she would be doing this regardless of whether it was a neighbor or not[.]" When reached, neither Witherell nor Moore were willing to comment for this column. The dispute between Witherell and her neighbor that spurred her to introduce the ordinance stems from claims earlier this year by the council member that manure on the neighbor's farm had likely contaminated her well with E. coli. She first sought to involve the New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in the matter. When the DEC balked at getting involved, Witherell sued the neighbor in civil court. The DEC then agreed over the summer to launch an investigation of the well contamination. But the DEC investigation determined no further action was needed. "DEC has been on-site multiple times regarding this complaint and no violations of the [state Environmental Conservation Law] have been documented," said the DEC in a statement emailed to me this week. "DEC will continue to monito[...]