Posts by author:

Walter Olson

Piano keys descending

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2014

Further reading on the federal regulations forcing destruction of ivory keys when old pianos are sold across state lines [Sally Phillips, Piano World, Piano Buyer (Sen. Alexander, Rep. Daines introduce relief bills), Doug Bandow, Cato, earlier here (violin bows), here, etc.] Miscellaneous on ivory and antiques: John Leydon/WSJ (“Grandma’s Cameo Becomes Yard Sale Contraband,” related here (raid on auction by “heavily-armed” California agents) and here.

{ 2 comments }

Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2014

  • “Shaneen Allen’s prosecutor might be having second thoughts” [Radley Balko, earlier] Sequel: Indeed.
  • “If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent …. And that’s worked well for us.” — “senior” Washington, D.C. government official [Washington Post quoting inspector general report; also includes details on traffic camera protocols]
  • Not an Onion story: Eleventh Circuit chides use of SWAT methods in Florida barber shop inspections [ABA Journal ("It's a pretty big book, I’m pretty sure I can find something in here to take you to jail for"), Volokh, Balko, Greenfield] Militarized cop gear is bad, routinized use of SWAT tactics is worse [Jacob Sullum]
  • New England Innocence Project looking at several shaken-baby cases [Boston Herald, background]
  • Innocence commissions like North Carolina’s not a big budgetary line item as government programs go, alternatives may cost more [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • New evidence continues to emerge in Ferguson police shooting, but is nation still listening? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Prosecutors arrayed as organized pressure group is very bad idea to begin with, and more so when goal is to shrink citizens’ rights [AP on "Prosecutors Against Gun Violence"; Robert H. Jackson on prosecutors' power and role in society]

{ 1 comment }

For Reason TV. On a pending New Jersey case: “I think it’s the first case of letting a kid wait in a car that’s going to any state supreme court.” Lenore’s now-classic appearance at Cato, “Stop Bubble-Wrapping Our Kids!,” can be viewed here.

{ 1 comment }

Lawyers vs. their competition

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2014

Organized lawyerdom is gung-ho for stringent enforcement of UPL (unauthorized practice of law) laws — their own version of occupational licensure — but consumers fare less well when paralegals, automated forms providers, accountants and others are kept from offering competitive services [George Leef, Forbes] As I’ve argued before, part of the key to sorting out the UPL issue is to distinguish between lawyerly capacities which involve the power to wield compulsion or force against others — the capacity to initiate litigation being paramount among these — and less coercive capacities such as the performing of research and giving of client advice.

{ 3 comments }

Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2014

  • Down comes the pediatrician’s wall of baby pictures, another HIPAA casualty [Anemona Hartocollis/NY Times, resulting letters to the editor, earlier, NPR with somewhat different slant]
  • Had the Washington Post stayed on story of Maryland health exchange fiasco, it might have held power to account [my Free State Notes]
  • FDA rules requiring that certain drugs be kept out of hands of anyone but patients may inadvertently establish monopoly for some off-patent compounds [Derek Lowe via Alex Tabarrok]
  • Richard Epstein argues Hobby Lobby right result, wrong reasoning [new Cato Supreme Court Review, more]
  • Defensive medicine: so much easier to go ahead and order the ultrasound [White Coat]
  • Fate of melanoma-scanning device and the FDA [Alex Tabarrok via Elizabeth Nolan Brown] Can agency learn from European private certification? [more]
  • Seredipitous offshoot of study on rats helped premature infants; but would this have been quite as likely to appear in HuffPo if framed as “what we owe lab-animal research” rather than “what we owe federal research”? [Sam Stein; related, first volunteer given new trial Ebola vaccine, and a hat tip to lab-animal research on that too [Wellcome, U.K.]

{ 0 comments }

Last week Cato held its annual Constitution Day celebrating the publication of the new 2013-14 Cato Supreme Court Review, with articles from such contributors as Roger Pilon, David Bernstein, Eric Rassbach, Andrew Pincus, Richard Epstein, and P.J. O’Rourke. They discuss most of the big and a few of the not-so-big cases of the past term, including Hobby Lobby, Canning, Schuette, Bond, McCutcheon, and Harris v. Quinn. The panel above (also available as video and podcast download) looks forward to the upcoming October term; it’s moderated by the review’s editor, Ilya Shapiro, with panelists Michael Carvin, Tom Goldstein, and Richard Wolf. The review concludes with an essay on the same general subject by Miguel Estrada and Ashley Boizelle.

This year, the contents of the review are available for immediate download (although we also encourage buying hard copies, of course.) As I’ve said while singing its praises before, it’s distinguished from conventional law reviews not only by its Madisonian point of view, and by its extreme speediness (published only three or so months after the conclusion of the Court’s last term) but also by its unusual readability and style, pitched to intelligent readers whether or not they are specialists in the law.

{ 0 comments }

According to an international study, nations that announce a constitutional right to education have on average a lower caliber of schooling: “the relation between the strength of constitutional educational rights and the quality of education is negative and statistically significant.” [Sebastian Edwards and Alvaro Garcia Marin, National Bureau of Economic Research via Tyler Cowen]

{ 1 comment }

…and the right to volunteer one’s labor (earlier), from frequent Overlawyered commenter Gitarcarver at his blog [Raised on Hoecakes]:

Volunteers serve in National Parks around the country without ever being paid for their labor.

Why does the government encourage people to labor without pay for some activities and not others? …

We think that volunteering is noble, rewarding and educational independent of whether the cause is “for profit” or not.

Our issue is not with volunteering.

The issue is what right does the government have in saying where a free citizen of this country can donate his or her time and efforts to?

If you have a friend who is starting a business and you want to help him succeed, why can’t you volunteer your time, efforts and expertise? If a neighbor wants to build and extension onto their offices and you donate a set of architectural or engineering plans because that is your area of expertise. what right does the government have to say “you can’t do that?” If you design web pages and do some work on a web page for a fellow parishioner at your church, what concern is that of the government? How many small businesses have “friends” who donate time to repair or maintain the business’ computers?

The bottom line is the application of the labor of a person is the individual’s choice – not the government’s.

P.S. Small though it was, Westover “produce[d] the greatest variety of ports in the United States,” reports Baylen Linnekin. More from Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom. And in our comments section a reader identifying himself as William Smyth, owner of Westover Winery, comments here.

{ 51 comments }

Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on September 21, 2014

  • SEC regs suppress small business capital formation and that’s a shame [Commissioner Daniel Gallagher via Bainbridge]
  • Federally sponsored gripe site for financial institutions not likely to end well [Hester Peirce and Vera Soliman, Mercatus via Kevin Funnell]
  • Alleged terror payments “routed through” sued bank also went through major New York banks, which shouldn’t be surprising [Fisher]
  • Did mid-level managers in securitized mortgage finance know they were in a housing bubble but cynically go ahead? Evidence against [Cheng et al., American Economic Review via MR]
  • Shareholder litigation: “New ‘loser pays’ standard could curb abusive lawsuits” [Examiner editorial] Delaware take note: corporate by-law changes that cut off fee-seeking opportunism deserve acclaim [Keith Paul Bishop via Bainbridge]
  • NYT was hot on “Goldman Sachs manipulated aluminum market” allegations but judge wasn’t [Reuters, July 2013 NYT]
  • CFPB might shrug off discrimination and retaliation charges, but many of the firms it regulates could not afford to [Hans Bader]

{ 0 comments }

Roger Parloff at Fortune reviews the two new Chevron-Ecuador books by Paul Barrett and Michael Goldhaber (earlier here, etc.), and also asks where ubiquitous S.D.N.Y. federal prosecutor Preet Bharara is in a case where he might appropriately take an interest. Meanwhile, Paul Barrett recounts being on the receiving end of a P.R. campaign to tear down his book, and an excerpt from his book recounts the fall of celebrated law firm Patton Boggs after it was tripped up in the dispute; and actress Mia Farrow reveals at least one way in which she might be thought to resemble former education secretary Bill Bennett.

{ 0 comments }

Canadians should be careful of carrying large sums of currency on their trips south of the border, warns the CBC’s senior Washington correspondent, Neil MacDonald, since “U.S. police are operating a co-ordinated scheme to seize as much of the public’s cash as they can. … if you’re on an American roadway with a full wallet, in the eyes of thousands of cash-hungry cops you’re a rolling ATM.”

{ 2 comments }

“California has a state law that prohibits for-profit companies from using volunteer labor.” That spelled doom for little Westover Winery in Castro Valley, which cleared around $11,000 in profits a year for its owning couple and used unpaid volunteers, many of them amateurs who wanted to learn the wine business. The state hit the business with $115,000 in fines and wiped it out, to the unhappiness of some of the displaced volunteers. [Scott Shackford, Reason; Rebecca Parr, Daily Review/San Jose Mercury News] More: A Debra Saunders column. And I mention this episode, along with the one linked below about a California law combating off-books contractors, in a new Cato post about how licensed and compliant businesses often support making government more powerful and invasive so as to go after the other kind.

{ 10 comments }

The Sacramento Bee editorializes against the state’s well-established ADA racket, which has been going for many years now and is not being cleaned up through legislative reform because too many people find financial or ideological advantage in keeping things the way they are:

California law puts a $4,000 fine on each violation and directed the proceeds to “aggrieved” parties, even if they weren’t harmed or inconvenienced by the violation. A business could be sued for faded paint on an open handicapped parking spot, a ramp 2 degrees too steep, incorrect wording on a sign. A practiced eye can spot half a dozen violations most anywhere, and that’s a $24,000 jackpot for a scammer. …

ADA rules change constantly. Two years ago, signs next to handicapped parking spaces had to read “No parking.” Now, signs must warn that the fine is $250. That’s not a barrier to a disabled person, but still could be treated like one when it comes to fines. That’s ridiculous. If a business owner hasn’t put up a new sign, he should be given an opportunity to fix it before having to pay some lawyer $4,000.

{ 2 comments }

If you hire some consenting but unlicensed neighbor for a not-very-big repair or construction job in California, there’s now a greater chance he or she will be headed for jail, no matter how happy you may be with the quality of the work. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed S.B. 315 (text, progress, promotional fact sheet), described by its sponsor, Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Beverly Hills), as a measure “to help curb California’s underground economy.” The measure would step up penalties and enforcement against persons who advertise for, or perform, repair and construction work with a value of $500 or more, counting parts and material as well as labor. (By its terms, the bill appears to apply to someone who offers to do a $500 job for your office that consists of procuring a $400 item and adding $100 for the labor of installing it.) First offenses are subject to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine, and subsequent offenses are treated yet more harshly.

There’s more. The bill, according to its legislative summary, “would additionally require that the enforcement division, when participating in the activities of the Joint Enforcement Strike Force on the Underground Economy, be granted free access to all places of labor,” at least in business locations. (Yes, “all”; you only thought your property was private.) And although the literature on the bill refers repeatedly to the need to curb “cheating” contractors, the penalties apply no matter how satisfied you may be with the contractor’s work.

That’s because protecting customers isn’t actually the point. Such is the political grip of occupational licensure lobbies that the bill passed unanimously in both houses of the California legislature with support from licensed repair and construction contractors. Lieu: “Groups supporting SB 315 are: Contractors State License Board (sponsor); Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Association; Air Conditioning Sheet Metal Association; American Subcontractors Association, California Inc.; California Chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; California Landscape Contractors Association; California Legislative Conference of the Plumbing, Heating and Piping Industry; California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors; United Contractors.”

In short, this is the sort of thing the California legislature does when it wants to think of itself as pro-business: it extends criminal liability for doing business in any other than the authorized way.

More: I’ve got some further thoughts at Cato at Liberty: “The costs of occupational licensure are many. Not least is that it gives established businesses a stake in making government more powerful and invasive.” And am I the only one who interprets the bill as aimed at Craigslist and at sharing-economy interfaces that match odd jobs with persons willing to do them, even if it is not announced as such? More on the law from Steven Greenhut (who was on the story before I was).

{ 4 comments }

Via p.r. agent Karen Hinton, William Langewiesche has now responded in our comments section (as well as elsewhere) to Glenn Garvin’s critical Miami Herald column (linked here) regarding Langewiesche’s 2007 Vanity Fair piece on the Chevron-Ecuador litigation. Garvin has in turn contributed a rejoinder.

{ 0 comments }

There’s an element of self-interest involved: when foreign states arrange to participate in the seizure of property of alleged wrongdoers even absent proof that can withstand trial, it can redound as a revenue source to U.S.-based law enforcement under various cooperation schemes. But remember the days when the U.S. sought to export the rule of law, property rights and strong constitutional protections to other lands? [Eapen Thampy, Forfeiture Reform]

{ 3 comments }

“The Justice Department has a suggestion for banks hoping to avoid criminal charges: Rat out your employees.” By agreeing to throw individuals under the bus, the company as a whole will qualify for valuable cooperation credits. [Ben Protess, New York Times "DealBook"] On a similar culture-of-informants theme, Eric Holder is proposing to further boost bounties for Wall Street informants into more massive contingency-fee territory: “Mr. Holder will urge Congress to allow bigger whistleblower rewards under the 1989 Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act…. Current law caps any Firrea whistleblower payment at $1.6 million.” [Wall Street Journal, earlier coverage and specifically]

{ 2 comments }

Labor and employment roundup

by Walter Olson on September 18, 2014

{ 0 comments }