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The Nanny State

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Published: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 03:23:35 -0500


61-Year-Old Ban on Pinball in Indiana City Set to be Repealed

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:10:00 -0500

(image) An long-unenforced "dead law" banning pinball machines in Kokomo, Indiana, is set to be officially repealed by the city council next week, the Kokomo Tribune reports.

While the legalization of pinball could be seen as an odd curiosity, the move is actually part of a larger push by the city to modernize and streamline its municipal code.

Kokomo's pinball ban came about in 1955, when the mayor declared the machines to be "games of chance" that "tend against peace and good order, encourage vice and immorality and constitute a nuisance." The Tribune also cites an editorial from the time that warned "Wives whose husbands have gambled away their entire pay checks on pinballs have complained against the devices."

Punishment for possessing or operating a pinball machine in Kokomo entailed up to a $300 fine and six months in jail.

My Reason colleagues Scott Shackford and Jesse Walker have written about the moral panics behind pinball and video game arcade bans in other cities. Walker's feature story "A Short History of Game Panics" from Reason magazine's June 2014 issue is an essential view into the minds of vice-fearing moral guardians who take their crusades into the realm of criminal law.

Brickbat: Don't Be a Doormat

Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Ashley Tofte and Jade Bunce came home to their council-owned home in England to find their doormat missing and a note from the Dacorum Borough Council saying it had been removed because the council has a "legal duty to keep areas clear of hazards and combustible materials." The note demanded £40 for the return of the doormat. The couple thought it was a joke. But after calling council offices they found out it wasn't.

Anti-Smoking Paternalism Infantilizes Adults

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500

Colleges and universities are not the only institutions infantilizing young adults these days. State and local governments are, too. The latest example is the District of Columbia, which is about to raise the smoking age to 21. In doing so it will join California, Hawaii and more than 100 cities, including New York, Chicago and Cleveland. At least those measures try to protect young people from something actually harmful—unlike the speech codes, trigger warnings and safe spaces that colleges use to protect students from ideas that might hurt their feelings. But both sorts of measures apply to people who are, legally, adults. They can vote, join the military, own firearms, even hold public office. But in large parts of the nation they can't hold a cigarette. Many of those places also happen to be heavily Democratic, and their increasingly Puritanical approach to the Devil's weed sits in uncomfortable tension with the orthodox liberal position on other questions of personal autonomy, such as sexuality and abortion. In California, D.C., and other progressive realms, it is deemed holy writ that a woman has a right to control her own body - unless she wants to smoke. (Or at least if she wants to smoke tobacco. California and the District have legalized recreational marijuana.) The anti-tobacco crusade emanates from two sometimes competing motives. One is to improve public health. As a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser put it last week, "This legislation will build on previous administration efforts to promote healthy and active lifestyles and improve health outcomes for District residents for years to come." In Washington, as in many other places, the notion that government should steer people toward certain lifestyles and away from others is taken as a given, and suggesting otherwise is like suggesting that rain should fall up. That's just crazy talk, man. Governments often turn to excise taxes to discourage smoking, and frequently note that such taxes can prove particularly effective in deterring tobacco use by young people, who have limited income. Once they try tobacco taxes a few times, though, states and localities soon find themselves hooked on the revenue. Then they build up a tolerance, and find themselves hiking taxes more just to get the same effect. However, a recent study for the Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Institute, conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute at Boston's Suffolk University, finds that tobacco taxes often reduce rather than increase revenue. When the town of Vinton, Va., doubled its cigarette tax from 20 cents a pack to 40 cents a pack in 2014, municipal leaders expected to see a 43 percent increase in revenue. Instead, income from tobacco taxes dropped 17 percent. Other localities saw similar effects. Sometimes revenue fell, and sometimes it went up—but it went up less than officials expected it to. This is partly because of the price elasticity of demand for cigarettes. According to a health policy brief by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a 10 percent hike in the cost of a pack of coffin nails cuts overall cigarette consumption by 4 percent, on average. The other reason taxes bring in less revenue is that consumers aren't stupid. If the cigarette tax in Springfield doubles, smokers will just drive over to Shelbyville. They might load up on cigarettes only. Or they might make their grocery and gasoline purchases there while they're at it. Consumers also can avoid the taxes by substituting something else for cigarettes, such as spit tobacco or nicotine gum—or vaping. Vaping provides a vastly safer method of delivering nicotine than cigarettes do— 95 percent safer, according to British health authorities, who actually encourage e-cigarette use to help wean smokers off tobacco cigarettes. As Reason's Jacob Sullum put it, "Vaping is a gateway to quitting." Yet here in the U.S., governments mostly are treating e-cigarettes as if they were just as harmful as t-cigarettes. The anti-tobacco measures passed in D.C., like those in Cal[...]

Politicians vs. Tasty, Delicious Food: Q/A with "Food Freedom" Advocate Baylen Linnekin

Mon, 14 Nov 2016 15:32:00 -0500

As our world becomes more hyper-individualized, our taste in food is following suit. From cooking in our own kitchens to finding new creative dishes at restaurants, we're all becoming artisanal chefs and demanding gourmands. Yet politicians and activists, often in a misguided attempt to keep us safe, are passing increasingly bizarre and counterproductive laws to keep us from buying, making, and eating the food we want.

In Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, lawyer Baylen Linnekin gives readers a view of the overlooked consequences of the many absurd rules baked into America's food system. Since at least the New Deal, he writes, overreaching buttinskies on the federal and local level have tried to shut down entrepreneurs, charities, and even home gardeners who are just trying feed themselves and others. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture dictating how butchers cure meat to New York City's then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg banning food donations to homeless people to banning berry-picking in public parks, no food practice seems too small to regulate in the name of safety.

A solution, says Linnekin in an interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, is to simply emphasize good outcomes rather than rigid processes. Linnekin, who founded the nonprofit Keep Food Legal and has served as an expert witness in an ongoing federal First Amendment food-labeling lawsuit, also writes about "food freedom" at every Saturday (check out his archive here).

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Biting the Hands that Feed Us: Food Laws vs. Culinary Reality

Mon, 14 Nov 2016 15:25:00 -0500

As our world becomes more hyper-individualized, our taste in food is following suit. From cooking in our own kitchens to finding new creative dishes at restaurants, we're all becoming artisanal chefs and demanding gourmands. Yet politicians and activists, often in a misguided attempt to keep us safe, are passing increasingly bizarre and counterproductive laws to keep us from buying, making, and eating the food we want.

In Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, lawyer Baylen Linnekin gives readers a view of the overlooked consequences of the many absurd rules baked into America's food system. Since at least the New Deal, he writes, overreaching buttinskies on the federal and local level have tried to shut down entrepreneurs, charities, and even home gardeners who are just trying feed themselves and others. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture dictating how butchers cure meat to New York City's then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg banning food donations to homeless people to banning berry-picking in public parks, no food practice seems too small to regulate in the name of safety.

A solution, says Linnekin in an interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, is to simply emphasize good outcomes rather than rigid processes. Linnekin, who founded the nonprofit Keep Food Legal and has served as an expert witness in an ongoing federal First Amendment food-labeling lawsuit, also writes about "food freedom" at every Saturday (check out his archive here).

Edited by Joshua Swain. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Swain. Music by Podington Bear.

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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. T[...]

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, crypt[...]

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 techn[...]

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 [...]

#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.[...]