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All articles with the "Regulation" tag.

Published: Sun, 21 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2018 17:06:39 -0500


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.[...]

Government-Approved Workouts? The Fight Against Fitness Licensing.

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 14:54:00 -0500

Almost everything the federal government has told the public about healthy diets over the past three decades may have been wrong. The U.S. Surgeon General suggested avoiding saturated fats and prioritizing grains and other carbohydrates. Low-fat products started filling the aisles at grocery stores, as families tried to follow the government's infamous food pyramid. Obesity rates continued to climb, and some dissenting scientists and started questioning the consensus. The U.S. government and major health organizations were slow to react, but in recent years have finally started updating the official recommendations. Is the exact same scenario about to play out in the fitness industry? "All of these government agencies, all of our universities, they've all sat silent through one of the worst declines in health the modern world has ever seen," says Greg Glassman, who's the founder of Crossfit, which runs more than 14,000 gyms around the world. "And their response is still exactly wrong." (Crossfit is a corporate donor to the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.) Crossfit's explosive growth was made possible in part by the lack of regulation in the fitness industry. While many states require licenses for occupations as innocuous as trimming trees, tending bar, braiding hair, or even arranging flowers, personal trainers can work without government oversight. Crossfit was free to run its own certification program, which flouts most of the conventional nutrition and exercise advice championed by government and academia. The company regularly spars with fitness credentialing organizations with different exercise philosophies, like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Several of them have united under the banner of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREPS), an industry group that regularly lobbies for regulation of the fitness industry. The fight is occuring largely behind-the-scenes at state legislatures across the country, where licensing laws have been introduced on 26 separate occasions since 2005. Crossfit supporters have pushed back just as hard, at times showing up in person to speak out against the bills. The one place Crossfit lost is Washington, D.C., which passed the nation's first fitness trainer licensure law in 2014. "It's an attempt to silence Crossfit on the subjects of nutrition and exercise," says Glassman. Mark Rippetoe, a weightlifting coach and creator of the fitness program Starting Strength, has also been fighting licensure efforts. While Starting Strength differs from Crossfit in important ways, there are some commonalities, like promoting training with barbells and encouraging movements that aren't approved by establishment players in the fitness industry. "The state legislature that would adopt a statewide licensure program for exercise is composed of people who do not understand anything about the squat," says Rippetoe, who advocates a "full squat" where participants dip below parallel as opposed to the less dramatic version promoted by ASCM. Rippetoe and Glassman both believe that their unorthodox training methods would be imperiled by licensing regimes. "The intersection of policy and politics is a very problematic one," says Holden MacRae, a professor of sports medicine at Pepperdine University and a Crossfit member. In 1995, the U.S. Surgeon General shifted the emphasis from vigorous, high-intesity physical activity to moderate-to-low intensity activity in the early '90s based on shaky scientific evidence. In 1995, it issued a report that shifted the recommendations away from vigorous activity towards low-to-moderate intensity and de-emphasized certain fitness markers like strength, agility, speed, power and coordination while emphasizing cardiorespiratory fitness. The guidelines were adopted by the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Sports[...]

This California City Is Threatening a Family Over Property Fines Sent to a Dead Woman at the Wrong Address

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 13:25:00 -0500

Not even your death will keep the government of Coachella, California, from trying to nickel-and-dime you out of every last cent. Just ask the family of Marjorie Sansom, who died in 2016 at age 91. The city levied thousands of dollars in fines on the woman due to code violations on a lot she abandoned. It tried to collect them by mailing bills to an empty house where she hadn't lived for years. Samson, meanwhile, was suffering from dementia and being cared for by her family, which says it never received any of those mailings. Now the city is demanding that the family cough up $39,000 to cover the back fines and to pay for the cleanup for the empty lot. That's more than the value of the property itself. Worse still, officials are being dismissive of evidence that the city knew its complaints were not reaching the woman or her family. The government just wants its money. The whole outrageous story was carefully investigated and reported by Brett Kelman of the Palm Springs Desert Sun. It's a follow-up to a heavily researched piece he published in November, which documented how Coachella and a private legal firm the city had contracted with were abusing code enforcement regulations to extract huge sums from property owners. The city would cite property owners for typical code violations, like having damaged property or for unapproved home upgrades. Months later, the property owners would get massive bills from the legal firm, charging them for the cost of prosecuting them in the first place. That law firm, Silver & Wright, is in the thick of the Sansom case. It sent the woman invoices (still mailed to the wrong address) demanding thousands of dollars in fines, court fees (even though there were no court hearings), prosecution fees (nobody was prosecuted), and reimbursement to the city for the time spent cleaning up the lot. In Kelman's story, neither the city nor the law firm shows any signs of worry that they've gone too far. Despite threatening this family with liens of thousands of dollars for fines they didn't even know existed, the city and the firm insist they're doing everything above the board: When asked to comment on the Sansom's property this month, Coachella officials and a city attorney said that they were unaware of the owner's advanced age, mental state, true address or death at any point during the nuisance property case, but still stood by the actions taken by the city. Luis Lopez, Coachella's development services director, said the city presumed the citations and legal notices it had mailed to Sansom were received—even though they were notified twice by the U.S. Postal Service that the documents were sent to a vacant house. Lopez also defends holding Sansom's heirs responsible for her debt, saying her legal guardian should have been maintaining her land and that funds collected from the lien would "go towards replenishing the public's money" that was spent to inspect and clean her property. After The Desert Sun noted that a majority of Sansom's debt came from punitive fines, which are not reimbursement of public money, Lopez said the family should still pay because of their negligence. "The city believes these fines are justified in this case due to the willful, or at least reckless, disregard for the public safety of the community which includes an elementary school as evidenced by the nuisance on the property," Lopez wrote in an email statement. "Additionally, the fines are justified because there was no 'good faith' effort by the owners or successors in interest to contact the city, pay part of the citations or abate the nuisance." Reminder: The family says they never saw the citations because they were sent to an abandoned house, not to them. Kelman even has a photo of the certified letter that was returned to the city, informing them that the address they were mailing was vacant. The family found what has happening from the Desert Sun itself, which tracked the family down while investigating the city's use of the law firm. Speaking of the firm,[...]

Georgia City Wants to Penalize Stores When Their Carts Are Stolen

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 12:15:00 -0500

The City of Savannah, Georgia, wants to crack down on shopping cart theft by punishing the businesses that have their carts stolen. On Thursday, the Savannah City Council will consider a proposed ordinance to fine businesses $375 each time one of their carts is found off their property. The ordinance would also require businesses to establish a cart theft prevention and retrieval plan. Businesses that fail to establish or abide by such a plan would be fined an additional $500. Taking a shopping cart off the property of the retailer it belongs to is already a misdemeanor criminal offense in Georgia. But not enough people think of taking a shopping cart home as stealing, says Margret Williams, the city's customer service administrator. "In citizens' minds, they're not really stealing it, they're just borrowing it," Williams told the local Fox affiliate in November, when the ordinance was first being floated. "They just want to take it home, and they're just not thinking that they need to take it back." The new law details the menace that free-range carts pose to the City of Savannah. According to the text of the ordinance, these carts "create conditions of blight" wherever they roam, interfering with vehicular traffic and even costing lives, since they could "impede emergency services." Discussions of how to penalize shopkeeps for their lost or stolen property have been in the works for years, but they have faced opposition from retailers and trade associations. Kathy Kuzava of the Georgia Food Industry Association says that adding penalties to grocery stores will only discourage them from expanding in neighborhoods that already have few retail options. "You don't want to overregulate the stores you want to come into the area," Kuzava told Savanah Morning News. Savanah Alderman Julian Morris claims that the bill—by encouraging stores to offer cash returns in exchange for returned carts—would create jobs in the community. "If it's $1 to return a cart, or even fifty cents to return a cart, there are people who would get those carts and turn them in for the money," he told the city's Fox affiliate. Savanah is hardly the first city in America to take this approach to stolen shopping carts. Glendale, California, led the way in 1988, collecting carts taken from store property and charging the stores a free to get the carts back. Unlike Savannah and its $375 charge, Glendale levies a more modest $92 penalty. Fresno, California, may have the strictest controls on shopping carts. Not only does the city require that a business owner maintain a "cart containment program" or otherwise contract with a cart retrieval business, it also threatens fines up to $1,000 and sentences of up to a year in jail for those caught in possession of a cart outside the appropriate business's propery. All these bills operate under the ludicrous premise that stores need new incentives to prevent their own property from being stolen. Whatever visions you might conjure of shopping carts clogging up roads and blocking ambulances, stores are the real victims of shopping cart theft. The measures they take to retain and retrieve their carts is going to depend on how likely it is their carts are stolen and whether the cost of getting them back is actually worth it. By mandating that businesses invest in additional security for their carts when they otherwise wouldn't, the City of Savannah would only be piling on a costly regulation that serves the interests of neither businesses or their customers.[...]

Cato Unbound Symposium on "The Captured Economy"

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 15:03:00 -0500

The Cato Unbound website is hosting a symposium on Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles' important new book, book The Captured Economy, which argues that the "capture" of government regulation by wealthy interest groups has slowed economic growth, increased inequality, and reduced opportunity for the poor. Here is a brief excerpt from Lindsey and Teles' lead essay: Our book The Captured Economy is small, but it addresses a big topic, which is the confluence of sluggish growth and spiraling inequality. Most of the book gets down in the weeds of regulatory policy, showing the ways that financial regulation, intellectual property protection, occupational licensing, and zoning have redistributed income upward while inhibiting economic dynamism. But underneath all the wonkery is an argument for moving away from the current left-right divisions that have characterized our politics for the last few decades, and toward what you could call "limited big government..." [P]olitics can usefully be understood along both a "scope of government" and a "character of governance" dimension. The Captured Economy fits in the space that accepts the normative case for big government, but recognizes that the potential pathologies of governance call for constitutional and other limits on state action that push public policy toward the most effective, public-spirited, and democratically comprehensible forms. In this vision, the most important limits on government are not those that try to constrain the size or scope of government but those that shape the character of state action. Here is an excerpt from my response essay: Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles have written an excellent book that outlines several ways in which we can simultaneously help the poor and disadvantaged and increase economic growth by reducing government regulation. Lindsey and Teles also correctly diagnose a major cause of harmful government policies in these areas: widespread public ignorance makes it difficult for voters to effectively monitor complex regulatory policies. Unfortunately, they too quickly reject what is often the best strategy for combating regulatory capture: reducing the size and scope of government. We can also empower people to make better decisions by giving them greater opportunities to "vote with their feet." Some of the reforms advocated by Lindsey and Teles can greatly expand foot voting.... Lindsey and Teles explain how capture has led to harmful regulatory policies in the fields of finance regulation, intellectual property, zoning, and licensing.... Lindsey and Teles argue that we can make government simpler and more transparent without reducing the range of its functions. But this is highly unlikely. So long as local, state, and federal governments continue to spend nearly 40 percent of GDP and regulate nearly every aspect of society, it is inevitable that their activities will be highly complicated and provide many opportunities for interest groups to exploit public ignorance. There just isn't any simple and clear way to regulate and control so much. And voters cannot effectively monitor more than a small fraction of all this government activity. Over the next few days, there will also be response essays by Brookings Institution scholar Richard Reeves and political scientist Henry Farrell. I previously reviewed The Captured Economy here. Part of my Cato Unbound response essay is adapted from the earlier review.[...]

Florida Couple Fined $50 Per Day for 'Illegal' Treehouse on Their Own Property

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 16:45:00 -0500

(image) A private treehouse overlooking the ocean should have been a source of relaxation and fun for Florida couple Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen. But the hideaway, built on beachfront property they owned on Anna Maria Island, wound up rooting them in a prolonged legal battle with local authorities.

After exhausting their options in Florida, Tran and Hazen appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court—which rejected the case on Monday. The Second District Court of Appeal rejected the case in 2015. That means the couple has no recourse but to respect a circuit court judge's initial ruling to take the treehouse down.

Tran and Hazen built their treehouse in 2011, after local authorities informed them that no special permit would be required to built it. The structure cost them about $25,000.

But in 2013, an anonymous complaint to Holmes Beach city officials noted that the treehouse had actually been built on land where such structures were prohibited. A subsequent inspection from Holmes Beach code enforcement determined that Tran and Hazen's treehouse was in multiple violations of the city code. It also faulted the couple for failing to get proper building permits.

Now the city is fining the couple $50 every day the treehouse remains up.

The kicker? Tran and Hazen can't start tearing down the treehouse until they get the proper permits for tearing down a Holmes Beach home.

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">[...]

Deregulatory Successes Point to Direction for Trump Administration

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 00:15:00 -0500

Even as CNN talking heads remain in shock that Donald Trump is actually president, and the man himself apparently sees social media as a means to go full drunk-uncle on an international scale, millions of Americans continue to support the current resident of the White House. FiveThirtyEight has Trump's approval ratings at 38.8 percent as I write, and an insight into why many Americans continue to put their faith in this president landed last week in the form of a Washington Post article on the relief felt by Iowa farmers over the Trump administration's push to roll back much-resented regulatory red tape. "Obama set aside millions of acres of undeveloped land as national monuments—more than any other president—preventing huge areas from being mined, logged or farmed. Obama also implemented more regulations with a significant economic impact than any president in three decades, according to the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center. Those actions were cheered by many Americans but widely viewed in rural areas as killing jobs." Iowa, a farming state, notably went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 after supporting Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. The Obama administration's controversial Waters of the United States rule received particular criticism for extending federal jurisdiction over unlikely wet patches of ground in ways that burdened the use of private property. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a nationwide stay against the rule in 2015, but memories linger. And so does resentment of politicians and regulators who seem clueless or even actively hostile to whole ranges of economic activity. "The overwhelming number of proposed regulations on the nation's food system is unprecedented and promises profound effects on both the structure and competitiveness of all agriculture," Carl Shaffer of the American Farm Bureau Federation noted in congressional testimony during 2011 hearings. "EPA proposals are overwhelming to farmers and ranchers and are creating a cascade of costly requirements that are likely to drive individual farmers to the tipping point." Business people who never touch a plow have similar concerns about regulation. "The average small-business owner is spending at least $12,000 every year dealing with regulations," National Small Business Association President and CEO Todd McCracken commented upon the release of a survey of small business owners last year. "This has real-world implications: more than half of small businesses have held off on hiring a new employee due to regulatory burdens." In that survey, 58 percent of small business owners said federal rules were the most burdensome to their business, with a specific emphasis on the tax code and the Affordable Care Act. Unsurprisingly, USA Today reported as Trump took office that "small businesses are hoping to see some high-profile Obama administration regulations scrapped." The federal government was equally tough on the energy industry, issuing rules regarding hydraulic fracturing that were sufficiently overreaching that they were quickly blocked by the courts as being "in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law." Those rules were officially rescinded at the end of December, prompting the market-friendly Las Vegas Review-Journal to exult, "President Donald Trump's deregulation agenda has perhaps been the defining accomplishment of his first year in office. " Which is an interesting point. Largely lost in headlines about Russians, campaign dirty tricks, and Trump's alleged shock at his own victory is his administration's follow-through on deregulatory promises. Soon after taking office in January 2017, Trump ordered federal agencies to make sure that "for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed an[...]

'Food Police' Thriving Under Alleged Deregulator Trump

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 08:00:00 -0500

Last week, a fantastic front-page New York Times article looked at the phenomenon of regulatory fatigue, set against the Trump administration's claims to be focusing huge attention on many of the rules that lie at the heart of that fatigue. The in-depth Times piece looked at regulations impacting apple growers—including everything from water and labor rules to the "assortment of rules, guidances, standards and training requirements associated with ladders, including how to achieve proper angling and how to prevent falling when filling produce bags." The ladder issue was particularly apropos because of the name of an apple farm profiled in the story, Indian Ladder Farms in upstate New York. Many of the rules the article discusses are inane, costly, and unhelpful. Together, these rules, put in place by faceless acronyms—including the EPA, FDA, USDA, OSHA, and other state and federal agencies—can crush small apple growers, as I told the Times in the piece. "So many of the farmers I've spoken with tell me that stricter and stricter regulations have put many of their neighbors and friends out of business, and in doing so cost them their homes, land and livelihoods," I say in the Times piece. "For many farmers, rolling back regulations is the only way they can survive." Coincidentally, just days before the Times piece was published, President Donald Trump used remarks he made in the White House's Roosevelt Room to tout his purported deregulatory fervor and successes, touting his administration's first year as the "most far-reaching regulatory reform" efforts ever by a U.S. president. "We have decades of excess regulation to remove," Trump said. "To help launch the next phase of growth, prosperity and freedom, I am challenging my cabinet to find and remove every single outdated, unlawful and excessive regulation currently on the books." I have no doubt there are "decades of excess regulation to remove." There are. But I have no faith whatsoever either in the will or abilities of Trump or his appointees to carry out this rollback. Consider, for example, that Trump made a campaign pledge to kick the "FDA food police" out of Washington. His controversial executive order mandating that agencies revoke two regulations for every new one they seek to adopt could be used as a tool to accomplish just that. But like seemingly everything else Trump, his pledges and orders resemble little more than some sort of chintzy window dressing. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, appointed by Trump, appears not even to share the Trump administration's purported zeal to cut food regulations. As a Regulatory Affairs Professional Society post noted recently, the Trump administration "has yet to take a saw to its regulations, and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seemed to walk back Trump's pledge" to do so. The website Food Dive also described Gottlieb's position on food regulations as almost entirely nebulous. "It hasn't been easy to get a clear sense of where the new FDA director stands on many food safety and nutrition issues," it reported. There's good reason to be skeptical of the willingness of Gottlieb's FDA to cut food regulations. For example, he doubled down last fall on awful Obama administration menu-labeling rules, part of the Affordable Care Act, saying the FDA will act in part because Gottlieb is a "doctor" and "father." He's also continued the Obama administration's nannying pursuit of all things "Loko," going after the snortable chocolate Coco Loko with the same gusto Obama's FDA targeted the caffeinated alcohol beverage Four Loko. It's not just Trump's FDA that stinks. His USDA has also been lousy. The Trump administration rolled back Obama administration rules on USDA school lunches—so that the rules are different than they were recently but still awful like they were before that—with the embarrassing claim to be[...]

Regulations at 'Lowest Count Since Records Began Being Kept in the Mid-1970s'

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:15:00 -0500

As the economy and stock market continue to chug along nicely, many analysts and presidents are giving at least partial credit to the Trump administration's aggressive regulatory reform efforts. Dow just crashes through 25,000. Congrats! Big cuts in unnecessary regulations continuing. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018 Unsurprisingly, this is driving some commentators insane. "Trump's Deregulatory Binge Makes the Bush Years Look Like Stalinist Russia," runs the headline in The Daily Banter, a website that was "started in 2007 when Editor in Chief Ben Cohen got fed up with watching the corporate news not doing its job properly," and that further claims "not do viral content" or "trick readers with misleading headlines." (Cohen's misleading subhed, by the way, begins: "The Bush years were characterized by a deregulatory binge that saw deep cuts to virtually all aspects of government with little to no reasoning behind them," despite the fact that people who actually study this stuff will inform you that Bush increased the reach, budget, and staffing of the administrative state—including on financial regulation—at a far greater clip than his Democratic predecessor, while overseeing an eight-year government spending bender.) An infinitely better reported, yet ultimately even more unintentionally amusing effort came in Monday's New York Times, which contained plenty of now-hold-on-there sentences like "The evidence is weak that regulation actually reduces economic activity or that deregulation stimulates it," and "There is little historical evidence tying regulation levels to growth," and "Regulatory proponents say, in fact, that those rules can have positive economic effects in the long run, saving companies from violations that could cost them both financially and reputationally." Why is that funny? Because much of the rest of the article is composed of quotes and data from actual business humans about why they're investing so much more money during the Trump presidency. Stuff like, "That [regulatory] burden has slowed down economic growth, it's slowed down investment in infrastructure [in the past]. And what we've seen over the last year is a big deregulatory environment." The preponderance of feel-good evidence is such that the Times headlined the piece "The Trump Effect," and began it with these two almost startlingly upbeat paragraphs: A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly. While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration's regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming. As you can imagine, this conclusion by the Gray Lady could not stand. "The front-page story is so egregious," thundered Think Progress, "that one of the the paper's leading columnists, Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, eviscerated it in a series of tweets on Tuesday morning." You should always take bold assertions of political cause and economic effect with massive grains of salt, particularly at a time when almost the entire global economy is doing pretty well in unison. You can, however, make at least some preliminary measures of Trump's regulatory reform activities. And what you see there will indeed make a progressive recoil and a libertarian smile. As the year closed out last week, the deregulators over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute took a look at the final page- and regulation-count in the 2017 [...]

'Economists Say' a Lot of Things. Many of Them Are Wrong

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 00:30:00 -0500

"A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation—and may finally raise wages significantly," opens a recent New York Times article surveying the state of the American economy. One imagines that readers of the esteemed paper were surprised to run across such a rosy assessment after having been bombarded with news of a homicidal Republican tax plan for so many weeks. But not to worry! Over the next few thousand words, the authors do their best to assure readers that neither deregulation nor tax cuts are really behind this new economic activity—even if business leaders keep telling them otherwise. For example, they claim that "There is little historical evidence tying regulation levels to growth." A few paragraphs later, we again learn that "The evidence is weak that regulation actually reduces economic activity or that deregulation stimulates it." A reporter without an agenda might have written that evidence was "arguable," because I bet I could corral a bunch of economists to tell you that lowering the cost of doing business spurs economic activity quite often. And though the Trump administration somewhat overstates its regulatory cutbacks, it has stopped hundreds of Obama-era regulations from being enacted. Even better, it has stopped thousands of yet-to-be-invented regulations from ever being considered. There's plenty of evidence, in the article and elsewhere, that this kind of deregulation has plenty to do with investment and job growth. There is also plenty of evidence that econ reporters at major publications have spent the past decade propping up economists who tell them what they want to hear. That is to say, they prop up economists who obsess over "inequality" rather than economic growth, who worry about the future of labor unions or climate change or whatever policy liberals happen to be plying at the moment. There are plenty of economists out there making good arguments for the free market who will never be member of the "economists say" clique. For eight years, we consistently heard about how "economists say" everything Democrats were doing was great (even when hundreds disagreed). Unsurprisingly, "economists" were wrong about a lot. The rosy predictions set by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers regarding the "stimulus," the administration's prediction of 4.6 percent growth by 2012 and the Congressional Budget Office predictions about Obamacare were all way off base. There are thousands of unknowns that can't be quantified or computed, including human nature. But after decades of using data to help us think about goods, services, jobs, consumption and our choices, "economists say" is now used to coat liberal policy positions with a veneer of scientific certitude. And since Democrats began successfully aligning economics with social engineering, we've stopped seriously talking about the tradeoffs of regulations. A good example of this trend is the push for a $15 minimum wage—an emotionally satisfying, popular and destructive policy idea. Most cities that have passed the hike have experienced job losses. When researchers at the University of Washington studied Seattle's $15 minimum-wage hike, one of the largest in the nation, they found that thousands of fewer jobs were created and thousands of people lost hours of work, making them poorer. No doubt a lot of people were surprised. Vox, a leading light in the liberalism-masquerading-as-science genre, ran an article headlined "The Controversial Study Showing High Minimum Wages Kill Jobs, Explained." You might wonder why incessantly quoted studies from liberal "nonpartisan" groups that falsely predicted minimum [...]

The Best Sex Work Writing of 2017

Sun, 31 Dec 2017 07:30:00 -0500

As 2017 comes to a close, I want to highlight some of the year's best writing, reporting, and research on sex work. Traditional media is not known for its nuanced and accurate portrayals of erotic industries, but more than a few fair accounts managed to slip through the mainstream cracks this year, in the form of both commentary and original reporting. Meanwhile, sex-worker blogs, platforms like Medium, and indie press outlets have continued to allow current and former sex workers to tell their own stories. I hope the list below provides some idea of the awesome breadth of sex worker experiences in 2017, the outlets and writers capturing them, and the devastating toll that current cultural panic and government policy responses are taking on people in a range of "adult" occupations and circumstances. "Surviving As Working Class After Backpage" Most of this list comes in no particular order, but the top placement of this post from Kelly Michaels is quite intentional. It's the piece that has most stuck with me, out of a range of powerful contenders. "In the last four months, I have been in the most unusual employment circumstances of my life," writes Michaels at the sex-work blog Tits and Sass. "I am kept in a small box with no access to even basic human needs like hot meals and showers. I am forced to stay there until my employers are ready to use me again. I am only permitted to shower when my employers are not using me. Up to a week in between showers has passed." In "Surviving As Working Class After Backpage," Michaels details the way the criminalization of prostitution has closed so many outside opportunities for her and the degradation she now faces in "respectable" work as a cross-country truck driver. "I am left now in a worse situation than I ever felt I was in as a sex worker," she writes. "I feel terribly exploited, and there is no 'Truckers Against Trafficking Truckers' to help me safely return to the freedom and independence of sex work." In general, Tits and Sass—which offers its own best-of-2017 list here—is invaluable for interviews with sex workers' of all stripes about their work; highlighting sex-worker art and activism; reporting on policy that will affect sex workers; and publishing first-person accounts on aspects of the industry that most people rarely encounter. To get started, I recommend this August interview with SWOP Behind Bars organizer Alex Andrews; Jay St. James on how "Working While Pregnant Is About Survival"; and Caty Simon on the Department of Homeland Security's November raid of the headquarters ("no matter what security measures we take, no matter how many layers of privilege might mitigate our gray market or black market status, at any point, criminalization can strip us of all of them and leave us economically and legally exposed"). "Why the Stripper Strike Is So Relevant and So Long Overdue" "Public perception often shapes law and policy, and vice versa. Without legal precedent or social acceptance we become prey to shoddy business practices," writes "BlackHeaux" MF Akynos in an illuminating post on the origins and potential of the recent New York City stripper strike. "An Arresting Gaze: How One New York Law Turns Women into Suspects" In this August article, Vanity Fair magazine delves into the unfairness of New York's law against loitering for the purposes of prostitution. (For Georgia's version of the same, see "Profiling and Prostitution Pre-Crime.") "Since 1976, New York Penal Law Section 240.37 has criminalized loitering in a public place by anyone the police determine is present for the purpose of prostitution," the magazine notes. But because of the law's vagueness, "the reason for one's presence is ultimately decided by the opinions of arresting officers." And "poli[...]

New London, Connecticut, Prosecutes Local Artist for Bamboo It Deems a Blight

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 13:31:00 -0500

Carlos Carrion, an artist who lives in New London, Connecticut, has been growing bamboo on his property for 30 years. Only recently has the city deemed it a crime. Depending on whom you ask, the city's sudden concerns about Carrion's bamboo patch stem from his failure to maintain it properly or from his outspokenness as a critic of eminent domain abuse and arbitrary land use regulation. Carrion was an opponent of the misbegotten redevelopment plan that led to the 2005 Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, which upheld the use of eminent domain to condemn homes that supposedly stood in the way of an economic revival that never materialized. More recently, he has turned his attention to the city's blight ordinance, which authorizes criminal fines of up to $250 a day as well as civil fines of up to $100 a day. Carrion defended Maggie Redfern, deputy director of the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London, who was accused of creating blight by designing an "ecological landscape" featuring native plants in her yard. A blight hearing officer sided with Redfern, declaring her yard "exactly the opposite of a 'neglected or abandoned property.'" Carrion has had less success defending his bamboo grove, which he says he keeps as a memorial to the Vietnam veteran who gave him the original plants. "I eat it, construct's a home for the birds," he said at Redfern's blight hearing. "The bamboo I grow is not invasive. I maintain the plants. It stays within the perimeter of my property, and yet it's considered to be a blight?" The city deems the bamboo a blight under Section 302.4 of the New London Property Maintenance Code, which prohibits "all grasses, annual plants and vegetation," aside from trees, shrubs, and "cultivated flowers and gardens," that are more than 10 inches high. Because the city says Carrion has failed to comply with the code after repeated warnings, he has been hit with $13,500 in fees and civil penalties, and the cost will climb higher if the criminal prosecution is successful. Carrion's lawyer, former New London Mayor Daryl Finizio, argues that the bamboo grove does not actually violate the property maintenance code, presumably because it qualifies as a cultivated garden. Carrion says he keeps the plants trimmed back so they do not invade other people's property, a point the city seems to dispute. According to the city's complaint, "Carrion's entire lawn is covered with a thick growth of bamboo, the height of which extends at least 20', extending above the power lines. The bamboo has also crept into the yard of other homes and was coming into contact with power lines themselves. The bamboo is so thick, it's nearly impossible to traverse through." Impingement on neighbors' property and entanglement with power lines are legitimate issues that could be addressed by trimming the plants. But the sheer height, breadth, and density of the bamboo seem like purely aesthetic concerns. Whether Carrion's plants constitute a cultivated garden or a bunch of weeds is in the eye of the beholder. Finizio suggests Carrion's prosecution is punishment for his activism. "It seems inexplicable that suddenly Carlos Carrion and his bamboo have become public enemies No. 1 of the City of New London," he told The Day, a local newspaper. "My client also believes that as an outspoken critic of eminent domain during those public debates in our city, and because of his outspoken involvement in other city blight cases, that he is being targeted in a retributive way by the City of New London."[...]

Can States Reimpose Net Neutrality?

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 10:00:00 -0500

With "net neutrality" rules dead at the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), several politicians are looking to bring them back on the state level. The day before last week's FCC vote to repeal the Obama-era internet regulations, Washington state Rep. Brian Hansen (D–Bainbridge Island) introduced a bill to reinstate many of the provisions the feds were about to undo. This effort was quickly endorsed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who on the same day published a hodgepodge of policy proposals all designed to keep net neutrality alive in the Evergreen State. Meanwhile, California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), published a post on Medium vowing to fight the regulatory rollback. "Now that the FCC has repealed net neutrality, let's adopt it in California," he wrote. Is that legally possible? A plain reading of the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom order suggests that it is not. Says the commission: "we...preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing." Hansen rejects this preemption. The FCC is adopting a double standard, he tells Reason, by lessening federal authority over the internet but also increasing federal authority over state attempts to regulate the internet. "The FCC is declaring that a certain set of federal statutory provisions do not give it the authority to regulate standards of conduct on the internet," Hansen says. "Yet somehow, as if by magic, that same statute gives them the authority to preempt state attempts to regulate standards of conduct on the internet. I'm not sure how that can coexist." Last week's FCC order addresses this by saying that federal communications law establishes "competitive, deregulatory goals," that its repeal of net neutrality services these goals, and that preempting states from reestablishing net neutrality regulation is part of this approach. Thus, "an affirmative federal policy of deregulation is entitled to the same preemptive effect as a federal policy of regulation." Hansen maintains that the state-level net neutrality provisions contained in his bill are justified under a state's "historic consumer protection authority." Hansen's bill prohibits any blocking or throttling of "lawful content" and bans paid prioritization—that is, charging consumers higher rates to prioritize faster service for, say, online gaming or video streaming. Hansen's bill is on shaky ground here too, says Tom Struble, an attorney and analyst at the R Street Institute. States do have pretty wide latitude to pass their own consumer protection laws to guard against what they find to be "unfair or deceptive" practices, says Struble. What they can't do is define "unfair or deceptive" to mirror the recently repealed net neutrality regulations. "Any state laws that conflict with this deregulatory approach, this federal approach, are unlawful," says Struble. That would include an explicit ban paid prioritization, a practice the FCC consciously deregulated in its order. Gov. Inslee concedes this point, saying that "the FCC's vote will preempt states from ensuring full net neutrality." What Inslee recommends instead is a series of workaround which will allow Washington to reimpose some form of the net neutrality regulations. This includes restricting access to the state's utility poles to ISP's that adopt net neutrality practices. Wiener makes a similar suggestion, saying that California should restrict access to utility poles and public rights of way to businesses that stick to those same net neutral practices. This too would be run afoul of the FCC's state preemption ruling, says Struble. He cites AT&T v. Portland, a 2000 case in which the Orego[...]

Holiday Cheer Means Reasonably Priced, Smuggled Booze

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Keeping the old punch bowl filled can get spendy at this time of year, so you can't blame Juncheng Chen for making an epic party run to try to keep costs down. Unfortunately, officials in his home state of New York don't like it when their captive subjects drive across the border to stock up in jurisdictions where the booze prices are cheaper. They arrested him earlier this month and issued a press release about law enforcement's great blow against frugal scofflawry. "Juncheng Chen, 45, of 136-18 64th Road, Flushing, Queens, was arrested by investigators with the Tax Department's Criminal Investigations Division after his vehicle was stopped by New York State Police in Rye, NY. The vehicle was packed with 757 liters of liquor, which Chen allegedly purchased at five different liquor outlets in New Hampshire." "Alcohol-related tax evasion, as this case clearly shows, is on our radar," tutted Acting Commissioner Nonie Manion of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Officials estimated they lost out on about $1,288 in liquor taxes because of Chen's shopping trip—money, that is, that the man had planned on saving himself, his friends, and his customers by making purchases in a jurisdiction where the government was less sticky-fingered. New York, as it turns out, taxes booze at $6.44 per gallon. Hefty as that sounds, that's only somewhere around the middle of the pack, as U.S. states go. But people are natural comparison shoppers, and bargains abound. "Spirits are taxed the least in Wyoming and New Hampshire, where government-run stores have set prices low enough that they are comparable to having no taxes on spirits," notes the Tax Foundation. With such a price differential at hand, why not make a long-distance party run and split the savings with some lucky customers? Well, except that state officials get pissy if they catch you. In fact, smuggling booze from lower-taxed states is quite the cottage industry in New York. "Anytime you order a cocktail or buy a bottle of liquor in New York, there's a one in four chance that the booze has been smuggled in from out of state," Crain's New York Business estimated last year. The state's claimed loss from smuggling—or, more accurately, the revenue officials anticipated but that never materialized because people went shopping across the state line—is estimated at $1.6 billion. Oddly enough, state officials do actually seem to have a clue as to why people would drive all the way from Queens to New Hampshire to purchase their seasonal cheer. "The New York State tax on liquor is relatively high compared to other forms of alcohol and to other states," the New York State Division of the Budget acknowledged in its 2011-2012 Executive Report. "The State continues to suffer tax avoidance and evasion due to the bootlegging of liquor from other states." The report raised hopes about higher fines and enforcement provisions "moderating year-over-year declines in State alcoholic beverage tax receipts." Yet here we are half a decade later, and enough people see the same potential profit that Jungchen Chen saw in making a party run to New Hampshire or elsewhere (Maryland, Delaware…) that a quarter of the booze in the Empire State is smuggled in. You'd think that New York officials might learn that lowering taxes so that prices in the state aren't so dramatically higher than elsewhere would be the best way to deter smuggling, but there's really no evidence that officials are capable of learning. After all, New York is the state that prides itself on having the highest cigarette taxes in the country ($4.35 per pack statewide, and $5.85 in New York City), but has never seemed to understand why the inev[...]