Published: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 20:28:01 -0500
Mon, 13 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) In Florida, a panel appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering whether to recommend that canoes, kayaks, and other water craft that don't require a motor to be licensed.
Wed, 01 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) France has banned restaurants and other places that sell drinks containing sugar or other sweeteners from offering free refills of those drinks. Some restaurants have already removed or moved their drink fountains, while Five Guys has placed microchips on drink cups that switch off their drink fountains if someone tries to refill a cup. The ban is aimed at fighting obesity.
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) Two Washington state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it illegal even to touch your phone while driving. The bill would also more than double the fine for distracted driving to $350 from $124.
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A New York law supporters said would protect boxers is killing the sport in the state. The law, passed last year, requires $1 million insurance for each boxer on a card to cover life-threatening brain injuries. Promoters say they can afford that for big championship fights but not for the small, local shows that are the lifeblood of the sport.
Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:05:00 -0500Donald Trump may have won in the presidency in part because of a backlash against the perception of tyrannical political correctness from the left, but progressives are not the only political group seeking to legislate the terms of civilized debate. Case in point, a new bill introduced by two Arizona Republican state legislators—Rep. Bob Thorpe and Rep. Mark Finchem—which would ban courses or events promoting "social justice" or anything focused on the interests of any political or identity group. Thorpe told Tuscon.com his primary targets with this bill are a University of Arizona "privilege walk" and a Arizona State University class on "Whiteness and Race Theory": "If you then look at an individual whose ancestors, because of their race, for example, they are linked to people that did something 100 or 200 years ago, that person who's living today has little or no association with what happened 200 years ago," he said. "So let's not have a wedge issue and cause that person to be vilified when they absolutely had nothing to do with some event that happened in the past." Finchem, the bill's co-sponsor, tells AZCentral.com, "Pure and simple, this is an anti-discrimination bill" against what he called a "very perverse agenda." Finchem says he believes social justice advocates want to "slice up and dice up all of these people into groups and cater a particular message to each one of them, and all that does is advocate hate." If passed, HB-2120 would affect public primary and high schools, community colleges, and state colleges. The ban would also extend far beyond just curriculum, it also applies to "events and activities" on campus. Schools found in violation would be subject to losing up to 10 percent in state aid. Arizona passed a law to ban a specific Mexican-American studies high school class in 2010, which is now being challenged with a lawsuit filed by students. Section 1 of this is exceptionally broadly-written bill (which even Thorpe has conceded needs to be revised) reads as follows: A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses, or classes, EVENTS OR ACTIVITIES that include DO any of the following: 1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government. 2. Promote DIVISION, resentment OR SOCIAL JUSTICE toward a race, GENDER, RELIGION, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, SOCIAL CLASS or OTHER class of people. 3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group. 4. Advocate ethnic solidarity OR ISOLATION BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, RELIGION, GENDER OR SOCIAL CLASS instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. 5. VIOLATE STATE OR FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS. 6. NEGATIVELY TARGET SPECIFIC NATIONALITIES OR COUNTRIES. The clause banning classes or events promoting "the overthrow of the United States government" would probably not be of great benefit to the free speech rights of Second Amendment die-hards who frequently argue that the right to bear arms was always meant as a bulwark against a tyrannical government. If the Arizona Republicans pushing this bill think they can defeat the arguments of their arch-nemesis social justice warriors by fiat, on what principled high ground can they claim to stand when other schools shut down conservative arguments about abortion, guns, or immigration? As I recently wrote at Vox, allowing authorities to legislate what is and what isn't acceptable speech on campus—especially public campuses which are required to respect the First Amendment—is a terrible idea and inevitably comes back to harm whichever party the speech restrictions were designed to protect. The authors of HB-2120 might think they're taking a stand against P.C. culture run amok, but all they're really doing is legitimizing the concept of hiding from challenging ideas rather than confronting them.[...]
Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:00:00 -0500The English, wrote George Orwell in 1941, are characterized by their hatred of interfering officialdom: "The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker," a British colloquialism referring to "a persistently nosy, prying person" or "busybody" The English countryside was once particularly self-reliant, a place where people organized events or sorted out disputes without much recourse to state bodies or rules. No longer. The English countryside today is awash with busybodies and red tape. The organizers of a simple village festival would find themselves occupied with petty form-filling: public liability insurance, risk assessments for the home-made cakes and bouncy castle, criminal records checks for any adult running kids' events. Nosey parkers are in the ascendance, complaining about their neighbors to the authorities who then rush in with punishment slips and rule-books. The more bucolic aspects of village life are becoming controversial and highly regulated. Take church bells. Churches whose bells have tolled for over a century are now being slapped with "noise abatement notices" because their bells are judged too loud. A church bell in Hertfordshire which had rung every 15 minutes for 140 years was silenced, after environmental health officers threatened the church with fines (the bell was recently reinstated, after some locals raised the money for a device to allow it to ring more quietly). The chime at a church on the Isle of Wight was canceled after a noise complaint from a single resident. Even picturesque wildlife has become subject to moaning and state interference. A lady in an Essex village is under threat of a fine and criminal record after complaints about free-roaming peacocks that issued from her farm. The council has issued her with a legal order that requires her to remove the birds by January. At one point the council sent a ranger down to spend a whole day sitting outside her house "monitoring peacock activity." She says birds are basically wild and cannot be caught: "It would be like catching pigeons — they just fly away. I'm worried that the council will send someone to spend 6 weeks trying to catch them, and bill me by the hour." All this interference means that long-established customs are being upset. In the Forest of Dean, in the West of England, sheep have roamed freely for centuries and are an essential part of the local land management. But they were also under threat of criminalization when some locals complained about sheep droppings and the fact that sheep could be heard "baaing loudly" outside their houses. The council set up an "irresponsible shepherding task group," which recommended that sheep be banned from the village and that a warden be employed to monitor straying sheep and fine their owners, at the cost of £28,000 a year. It seems that officialdom is targeting the one defining feature of an area, the thing that gives a place its character: the sound of bells or sheep, or the sight of that most beautiful of birds. This was the case in Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, which is known for the annual cheese-rolling event in which locals run down a steep hill chasing a roll of (Gloucester) cheese. In 2010 the event was canceled on health and safety grounds, although hundreds defied the ban and the event now continues on an unofficial basis. The authorities keep trying to stop them, with the police one year warning cheese makers that they could be sued if anyone is injured chasing their cheese. Orwell said that English culture "centers round things which even when they are communal are not official — the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the "nice cup of tea.'" Now the official world is even poking its nose into the back garden. Councils have ordered people to stop feeding birds in their gardens, to cut their grass or trim their shrubs, even to clean their windows. How did we get here? English e[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 00:01:00 -0500"Record number of fake ID seizures," New York's government boasted at the end of last year, presenting the Empire State's residents with a (not unfamiliar) holiday-season gift of arrests and petty law enforcement. "Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that underage drinking sweeps conducted by DMV investigators in 2016 resulted in the seizure of 862 fraudulent licenses and the arrest of 818 individuals for underage drinking, both single year records." Great going, guv! Your intrepid investigators managed to slap cuffs on bunches of 19-year-olds for sneaking beer two years earlier than politicians would allow. How about some medals for your brave enforcers? This is an old dance. Identification documents don't always present convenient information to prying officials, so there's wide demand for forged and altered documents to bypass legal restrictions and evade monitoring. Now, with restrictions and monitoring a growing threat, more than ever we need fake ID. This year, after years of shifting deadlines on the federal government's effort to create a backdoor national ID card, the TSA began posting signs at airports warning travelers that, as of January 22, 2018, they'll need identification documents compliant with the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, to be allowed to fly. "The REAL ID Act sought to strengthen each step in the process by which people are identified using ID cards," notes the Cato Institute's Jim Harper, "and it would tie state IDs together as a national ID." The scary signs are meant to apply pressure to those states balking at making their driver's licenses compliant with federal requirements—a list including eight states that have flat-out refused to comply, and others that are dragging their feet because of concerns over privacy and meddling from Washington, D.C. "Montanans do not want or need REAL ID," that state's Governor Steve Bullock (D) announced in 2015. "REAL ID raises real concerns about the unnecessary collection of Montanans' personal and private information by the federal government." The feds hope that travelers panicked by the prospect of being turned away at the airport will bring recalcitrant state governments to heel. The move may work—Arizona caved under pressure last year. That's unfortunate because, as Harper points out, "If the United States is to avoid having a national ID, all states should cease implementation of REAL ID." Too few seem willing to follow that advice, so it looks like we're on our way to having that national ID. But as the underage drinkers making Democrat Andrew Cuomo so upset could testify, identification documents are only controlling and restrictive to the extent that they're accurate. If they show birth date different than what reality might reflect, then age limits are less of a concern. If they display names different than those that holders use in their everyday lives, then travel might be undertaken with a modicum of privacy. And if they claim residency status without regard to where somebody was actually born, they expand employment prospects for people looking for opportunity. That last point is especially important as we await the inauguration of a president who vows to build on the current administration's record deportations of illegal immigrants with threats to deport millions more. John Sandweg, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calls the scheme "impossible," but any raids and arrests attempting to implement the plan could be incredibly disruptive to people's lives. They could also be brutally damaging to the economy—even as far from the Mexican border as Idaho, where 43 percent of all farm workers are in the country in defiance of the law. Well, they could be, unless people subject to deportation have access to good-quality bogus ID saying they have legal residency in the U.S. And where there's demand, somebody also rises up to make sure there's[...]
Mon, 09 Jan 2017 12:15:00 -0500One California state legislator wants to expand the state's apparent desire to treat grown adults like teens by restricting their driving rights. California last year passed legislation increasing the legal age for residents to purchase cigarettes to 21. Now Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier of Oakley has introduced legislation to treat adult drivers like they're still teenagers until they reach 21. Frazier has introduced AB 63, which expands California's provisional driver's licensing program to all drivers under 21. What does that mean? We'll let Frazier's bill speak for itself: Existing law, the Brady-Jared Teen Driver Safety Act of 1997, establishes a provisional licensing program and generally requires that a driver's license issued to a person at least 16 years of age but under 18 years of age be issued pursuant to that provisional licensing program. During the first 12 months after issuance of a provisional license, existing law prohibits the licensee from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and transporting passengers who are under 20 years of age, unless he or she is accompanied and supervised by a licensed driver, as specified, or a licensed or certified driving instructor. Existing law provides limited exceptions to these restrictions under which a licensee is authorized to drive under specified circumstances, including a school or school-authorized activity or an employment necessity, and requires the licensee to keep certain supporting documentation in his or her possession. A violation of these provisions is punishable as an infraction. This bill would expand the scope of the provisional licensing program by extending the applicable age range for the program to 16 to under 21 years of age. By expanding the scope of the provisional licensing program, the violation of which constitutes an infraction, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would authorize a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age to keep in his or her possession a copy of his or her class schedule or work schedule as documentation to satisfy the exceptions for a school or school-authorized activity and employment necessity, respectively, and would provide that a signed statement by a parent or legal guardian is not required if reasonable transportation facilities are inadequate and the operation of a vehicle by a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age is necessary to transport the licensee or the licensee's immediate family member. The bill would make other technical and conforming changes. The bill would also include specified findings and declarations. The law would put a statewide curfew in place for adult drivers between the ages of 18 to 21 for one year, just like the state has for teens. Adults who fit in this category will have to carry around paperwork to show government officials (police officers) that they have the authority to be driving "after hours" for reasons that the state permits. It's a grotesque violation of the right for adults to travel freely, all for the name of public safety, of course. Frazier cites all sorts of demographic data about young people behind the wheel. From the East Bay Times: Frazier cited research from the Governors Highway Safety Association that found that over the last 10 years improvement in fatal crash rates were better among drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 than among their 18- to 20-year-old counterparts. Additionally, the GHSA found that older teens were twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash between midnight and 6 a.m. and attributed this to provisional licensing programs. "Some folks say it is very restrictive to teens and folks who don't have experience driving," Frazier said. "The most restrictive part is the part where they end up in a casket." It might not surprise readers to learn that Frazier tragically lost a daughter in a car crash in 20[...]
Wed, 04 Jan 2017 12:00:00 -0500Del. Robert Marshall and his liberal critics might be appalled by the suggestion that they share anything in common. Marshall ferociously opposes abortion, he co-sponsored Virginia's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and he once even tried to prohibit single women from getting pregnant through artificial insemination. But while he and those on the left differ on policy specifics, they share a core assumption. This year the Prince William delegate wants the General Assembly to take a stand against porn. He has drafted a resolution declaring pornography a public health hazard and advocating a "policy change . . . to address the pornography epidemic." The resolution is problematic, and not just because it draws no distinctions between, say, airbrushed Playboy centerfolds and stomach-turning torture porn. It makes a variety of declarations that vary from debatable to patently false—e.g., that pornography "normalizes violence," that it leads to "low self-esteem," that it produces "dissatisfaction in marriage" and has a "detrimental effect on the family unit" and that "overcoming pornography's harms is beyond the capability of the afflicted individual to address alone." Well now. It's true that, thanks to the rise of the Internet, the volume and availability of pornography have grown exponentially. One study in 1998 pegged the dollar value of the "adult content" industry at no more than $1 billion. By 2015, the estimated value had risen to $10 billion in the U.S. and $97 billion worldwide (inflation over that period was 45 percent). If porn were as harmful as Marshall and others contend, then one would expect its attendant harms to have increased as well. Yet just the opposite has happened. For instance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the rate of rape and sexual assault has fallen by more than half since 1995. And at the same time porn has spread, divorce in the U.S. has fallen—and is now at close to a four-decade low. But let's say Marshall is right. For the sake of argument, let's assume erotic material degrades the spirit and erodes the soul and leads to, as his resolution puts it, "emotional and medical illnesses . . . deviant sexual arousal, and . . . difficulty in forming or maintaining intimate relationships." Even assuming all that, the question still remains: Why is this the government's business? Conservatives claim to believe in limited government. Some matters, they say, are best left to other institutions such as the church, social-improvement societies like the Boy Scouts, and nonprofit civic groups. To the extent that porn is a problem, it is a problem for those groups to solve - not the government. Marshall's desire to involve the government with your sexual appetites sounds much like the progressive interest in involving it with your gastronomic appetites. The "food police," as they are sometimes called, have decided that your diet is their concern. They have imposed soda taxes, banned fast-food restaurants in certain locations, and even proposed regulating the aisle placement of products in grocery stores. The FDA is trying to reduce the amount of salt in prepared foods—even though scientists have raised serious doubts about the case against salt. The nation has been subjected to endless hectoring about an "obesity epidemic." First Lady Michelle Obama preaches the virtues of vegetable gardens and their utility in "growing a healthier nation." Marshall compares pornography to cigarettes: "Before smoking was identified as a problem, at least the recognition that it led to certain pathologies was a starting point to put restrictions on it." Likewise, food scolds are drawing frequent comparisons between the sugar industry and big tobacco. But government is not supposed to police everything somebody considers harmful—not unless government is meant to be infinite. [...]
Wed, 04 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A teen in Turin, Italy, whose name wasn't released, was suspended from his school during the previous school year for 10 days after teachers found he had a thriving business bringing snacks and drinks to school to sell to other students. They recently found he was still at it and suspended him for another 15 days. When the story broke of his latest suspension, several companies offered him a job and he got at least one scholarship offer because of his entrepreneurship. In turn, that led about 500 of the school's 1,700 students to stage a protest outside the school, saying the boy should not be rewarded for "illegal" activity and demanding scholarships for themselves.
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:45:00 -0500The end of the year brings the whole host of reminders about the new laws that state legislatures have passed through the last term and are finally coming into effect. California is fertile ground for legislative meddling in lives, and the start of every year brings stories about the hundreds of new rules coming into play. January will see new reasons for police to extract money from citizens—I mean, "protect public safety." A new state law makes it illegal to even hold your smart phone while you're driving. The Sacramento Bee (which opens its piece by simply asserting without evidence that "distracted driving has reached dangerous levels") explains AB 1785: The law is designed to stop people from holding their phones for a variety of uses that have become popular in recent years, including checking and posting on Facebook, using Snapchat, scrolling through Spotify or Pandora playlists, typing addresses into the phone's mapping system, or making videos and taking photos. A California Office of Traffic Safety study this year determined that 1 out of 8 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road. State road safety officials estimate that some form of distracted driving is a factor in 80 percent of crashes. That's prompted numerous education and enforcement efforts in California aimed at reducing distracted driving. Note the subtle shifting of facts in the second paragraph. More drivers are paying attention to their smartphones, causing distractions. Distractions factor into 80 percent of all crashes. But there is a huge failure there to actually connect smartphone use to an increase in crashes. Crash stats had been going down in recent years but the trend had recently started reversing. A very, very relevant contributor to the shift is that more people are driving more miles as the economy has recovered. That's naturally, statistically going to lead to more collisions. Ed Krayewski looked over the fatal collision stats back in September and found the evidence that phones are making driving more dangerous underwhelming. But politicians see little downside or negative consequence in passing laws that make people feel safer even if they don't, so here we are. The law does allow use of smartphones with voice activation and to touch the phone simply for the purpose of activating or deactivating an app, but the phone must also be placed in a mounted spot inside the car. So anybody sitting there with the smartphone in their lap while having their GPS recite instructions to them is going to be breaking the law, even if they aren't holding it up to their ear or being "distracted" by it. California drivers could face additional fines if they get pulled over even when they aren't using a phone in a way that distracts them simply because it doesn't comply with the very restrictive rules on how the state says you should attach the phone to your car: "either a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side, or a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield to the driver's left." The fine is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense. If only there weren't some sort of way for police to evaluate and cite people for behavior behind the wheel that is dangerous to others that is not attached to an absurdly overbroad ban on a piece of technology, blaming it for the behavior and not the driver. Maybe something about those who engage in reckless driving habits without regard to others? Something like that? Read more about the new law here and wonder if it'll still apply when we're all using self-driving cars.[...]
Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:30:00 -0500
(image) Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) has decided the lives and property rights of homeless people will temporarily be prioritized ahead of the city's ban on "unauthorized camping," which has been in effect since 2012.
Hancock suspended the police practice of confiscating blankets, tents, and other survival gear when enforcing the camping ban for the duration of Denver's cold weather season after a number of videos showing police engaging in sweeps of property confiscation went viral.
In a statement announcing the suspension of confiscations through the end of April, Mayor Hancock said, "Urban camping — especially during cold, wet weather — is dangerous and we don't want to see any lives lost on the streets when there are safe, warm places available for people to sleep at night." Hancock added, "We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm."
The Denver PD can still issue fines of up to $999 for sleeping outside.
Homelessness is never an easy issue for cities to try to solve, but punitive theft of private property isn't exactly going to endear the homeless to law and order, nor is it going to make the concept of going to a homeless shelter — often more violent and dysfunctional environments than the streets themselves — more appealing.
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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.
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.
Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500Colleges 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,[...]