Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on December 8, 2014

  • National Education Association has spent estimated $35 million on politics this year [Jason Hart, Watchdog]
  • Not everyone in academia admires the federal law entitling tenured professors to stay on “until they’re carried out of the classroom on a gurney” [Laurie Fendrich, Chronicle of Higher Ed; my earlier]
  • Montgomery County, Md.: “The School Religious Holidays Problem is Really a Public Schooling Problem” [Neal McCluskey]
  • “Concussion Lawsuits Hit High School Level” [AP; Cook County, Ill.]
  • Reminder: much-quoted “one in five college women is raped” statistic is not real [Christina Sommers, Time; the Washington Post's contribution (not to forget this); and a very important new piece by Emily Yoffe in Slate]
  • Ousting bad cops, ousting bad teachers: parallel obstacles [RiShawn Biddle, Dropout Nation]
  • George Leef on federal pressures behind Minneapolis school-discipline initiative [Forbes, earlier here and here]
  • DoJ “feigning concern about access for disabled children” in suit challenging Wisconsin school choice [George Will]

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No, the Constitution’s Article 4, Section 4 “Republican form of government” clause doesn’t forbid the voters of Colorado from enacting a ballot measure (the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” or TABOR) that bars representatives from raising taxes without permission of a popular plebiscite [Ilya Shapiro and Julio Colomba, Cato, SCOTUSBlog, earlier]

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Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:

The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.

As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.

I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]

In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner's frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]

Yale’s Stephen Carter: “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.” [Bloomberg View via Ilya Somin]

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“Fox Business Network’s John Stossel interviews US Consumer Coalition’s Brian Wise and Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition LLC, on the Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point.” The Gaithersburg-based ammo seller was cut off from credit card processing services and suspects that the federal Choke Point program was the reason. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; earlier on Operation Choke Point].

P.S. There are signs that House Republicans may move to rein in Operation Check Point. Let’s hope so. [USA Today/Fond du Lac Reporter; HalfWheel (cigar news and reviews)]

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“A chimpanzee is not entitled to the same rights as people and does not have be freed from captivity by its owner, a US court has ruled. The appeals court in New York state said caged chimpanzee Tommy could not be recognized as a ‘legal person’ as it ‘cannot bear any legal duties'”. [BBC, earlier]

More: Adam Kolber, PrawfsBlawg, and comments (“speciesism”).

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Young v. United Parcel Service, in the Supreme Court, which has been built up as a cause celebre, turns on whether the courts should feel free to re-interpret a 1978 federal law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, so as to include evolving ideas of a right to accommodation akin to the ADA. The alternative position is that if such a right to accommodation is now thought to be a good idea, advocates should get Congress to enact it into law explicitly. [Lyle Denniston and related SCOTUSBlog, USA Today, Bloomberg/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with auto-play, The Economist]

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Great moments in warnings

by Walter Olson on December 5, 2014

From the United Kingdom:

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on December 5, 2014

  • Furious over EEOC attack on wellness programs, CEOs threaten to suspend their support for ObamaCare [Reuters] Had it been common knowledge that CEOs covertly support ObamaCare, then? And isn’t the EEOC formally an independent agency not answerable to White House directives?
  • If more editors handled situations this way, readers would think better of the press: Annalee Newitz of io9 offers “apology and analysis” for running tendentious, ill-reported article attacking animal-based research;
  • Success of personal injury litigation is reshaping nursing home business in some states [WSJ]
  • “With the Advent of Mandatory Paid Sick Leave in California, Here are a Few Sick Leave Excuses” [Coyote, related Massachusetts]
  • Really, it’s not a shock-scandal that rules for human-subjects research might be written by actual scientists [Zachary Schrag, IRB Blog]
  • In combating diseases of poverty, you’d think economic growth would top the list of remedies [Bryan Caplan]
  • Judge slices $9 billion punitive Actos award against Takeda and Lilly by 99% [Bloomberg, earlier]
  • “Grubergate, the Mini-Series” [Michael Cannon; more from Cannon on Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in King v. Burwell ObamaCare case]

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Even when it’s all caught on video, in daylight, with witnesses. Even when the cop blatantly broke the NYPD’s very clear ban on chokeholds. Even when the victim was heard “gurgl[ing] that he could not breathe” and the cop was heard bantering afterward with colleagues.

The confrontation between officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. had several elements that worked to bolster Wilson’s defense, including evidence that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his car and contradictions in the testimony of eyewitnesses. By contrast, the case for a Staten Island grand jury to return at least some charge in the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo would seem considerably stronger. (Garner had tried to break up a sidewalk fight before police intervened, then argued with police and was uncompliant when they intervened; in accounts after the death, police said he had frequently tangled with law enforcement because of his habit of hanging out on the sidewalk selling “loosies” — single cigarettes out of their packages, a tax violation.)

Some of yesterday’s Twitter discussion:

(This morning, New York Post columnist Bob McManus does defend it.)

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Lenore Skenazy in Time:

Today it is a sin — and sometimes a crime — NOT to imagine your children dead the moment we take your eyes off them. The moment they skip to school with a Chapstick, wait in the car a minute, or play at the park.

We think we are enlightened in this quest to keep kids completely safe. Actually, we have entered a new Dark Ages, fearing evil all around us.

If we want the right to raise our kids rationally, even optimistically, it’s time to call the Cult of Kiddie Danger what it is: mass hysteria aided and abetted by the authorities. But as earlier holy books so succinctly instructed us, there is a better way to live.

“Fear not.”

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The library in Duluth, Minn. may need to discontinue its seed sharing program, popular among local gardeners. “State agriculture regulators say the exchange — one of about 300 in the United States — violates the state’s seed law because it does not test seeds. … ‘The last thing you’d want to have is somebody goes in the library, picks up seed, and it doesn’t come up,” said Steve Malone, a supervisor in the department’s Plant Protection Division.'” That would be anarchy! [Minnesota Public Radio]

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  • At least twelve Baltimore cops sought workers’ comp for stress after using deadly force on citizens [Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun/Carroll County Times]
  • “D.C. Council votes to overhaul asset forfeiture, give property owners new rights” [Washington Post]
  • A different view on Ferguson: Richard Epstein defends grand jury outcome [Hoover]
  • “The House GOP leadership is blocking a police militarization reform bill from even getting a vote.” [Zach Carter, HuffPo, via @radleybalko]
  • Will potential cost of citizen public records requests sink police body-camera schemes? [Seattle Times, ABA Journal]
  • Marissa Alexander case, cited by critics of mandatory minimum sentencing, ends in plea deal [Brian Doherty, earlier, CBS Sunday Morning on mandatory minimum sentencing]
  • Forensics guy hired by Michael Brown’s family: “If they want to think I’m a physician, then more power to them.” [Radley Balko]
  • St. Louis County fines/fees: “Municipal courts charge $100 for Christmas gift of fake amnesty” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial]

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After receiving a complaint of health-status discrimination from a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines employee, followed by a response from the company saying that the employee was a foreign national working on a foreign-flagged ship and therefore not subject to EEOC authority, the agency launched a massive fishing expedition:

(1) List all employees who were discharged or whose contracts were not renewed [from August 25, 2009, through the present] due to a medical reason.
(2) For each employee listed in response to request number 1, include the employee’s name, citizenship, employment contract, position title, reason for and date of discharge, a copy of the separation notice and the last known contact information for each individual.
(3) For each employee listed in response to request number 1, include their employment application and related correspondence, any interview notes, the identity of the person who hired the employee, how the employee obtained the position (i.e., online, in person, recruiter), the location where the employee was interviewed, and the identity and location of the person who made the final hiring decision.
(4) List all the persons who applied for a position but were not hired within the relevant period due to a medical reason
(5) For each person listed in response to request number 4, include their citizenship, employment application and related correspondence, any interview notes, the identity of the person [who] hired the employee, how the employee learned of the position (i.e., online, in person, recruiter), the location where the employee was interviewed, and the identity and location of the person who made the final hiring decision.

The cruise line complied in (massive) part, but not fully, “providing records for employees and applicants who were United States citizens” but not others. The agency took the dispute to court and proceeded to lose at every stage, the Eleventh Circuit being the latest to find its information demands burdensome and irrelevant: “The relevance necessary to support a subpoena for the investigation of an individual charge is relevance to the contested issues that must be decided to resolve the charge, not relevance to issues that may be contested when and if future charges are brought by others.” [Hunton and Williams; Phelps Dunbar]

Meanwhile, the commission has issued its fiscal 2014 performance report; in explaining a drop in resolved complaints, its public statement cites the “lingering effects of sequestration and the government shutdown” but not the marked skepticism that judges repeatedly showed toward EEOC positions through the year.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on December 3, 2014

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It’s like a parody of one’s worst expectations: President Obama refuses to curtail the federal police militarization program, instead calling for a big hike in federal spending on aid to local departments with the usual micromanaging strings attached. [The Guardian] The administration has now gathered some useful information on the Pentagon’s 1033 surplus-gear program, but still has no plans to improve data gathering on police use of lethal force [Washington Post editorial] More from USA Today: “The Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, has waged an intense lobbying campaign to keep the surplus equipment flowing,” and its executive director specifically speaks up in favor of the transfer of armored vehicles and personnel carriers. More: Trevor Timm.

Related: Conor Friedersdorf gathers stories of cops reinstated in union arbitration from Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Sarasota, and other cities. He concludes:

I’d rather see 10 wrongful terminations than one person wrongfully shot and killed. Because good police officers and bad police officers pay the same union dues and are equally entitled to labor representation, police unions have pushed for arbitration procedures that skew in the opposite direction. Why have we let them? If at-will employment, the standard that would best protect the public, is not currently possible, arbitration proceedings should at a minimum be transparent and fully reviewable so that miscarriages of justice are known when they happen. With full facts, the public would favor at-will employment eventually.

You can’t tackle the excessive force problem credibly unless you tackle the power of the police unions. Period.

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Register here for the 5 p.m. Cato event. Description:

Featuring Walter Olson, Senior Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute & Editor, Overlawyered.com (@walterolson); Stacia Cosner, Deputy Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (@TheStacia); Michelle Minton, Fellow in Consumer Policy Studies, Competitive Enterprise Institute (@michelleminton); moderated by Kat Murti, Digital Marketing Manager, Cato Institute (@KatMurti).

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies.

Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 81st anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Panelists will discuss modern prohibitions—from the Drug War to blue laws; tobacco regulation to transfats—drawing connections with their earlier antecedent.

Alcoholic beverages and other commonly restricted refreshments (bring on the trans fats!) will be served following the discussion.

#CatoDigital (formerly #NewMediaLunch) is a regular event series at the Cato Institute highlighting the intersection of tech, social media, and the ideas of liberty.

This event will be live-streamed and questions may be submitted via Twitter using #CatoDigital.

If you can’t make it to the Cato Institute, watch this event live online at www.cato.org/live and follow @CatoEvents on Twitter to get future event updates, live streams, and videos from the Cato Institute.

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[reposted from Cato at Liberty]

Economic sanctions, when they have an effect at all, tend to inflict misery on a targeted region’s civilian populace and often drive it further into dependence on violent overlords. That truism will surprise few libertarians, but apparently it still comes as news to many in Washington, to judge from the reaction to this morning’s front-page Washington Post account of the humanitarian fiasco brought about by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law’s “conflict minerals” provisions. According to reporter Sudarsan Raghavan, these provisions “set off a chain of events that has propelled millions of [African] miners and their families deeper into poverty.” As they have lost access to their regular incomes, some of these miners have even enlisted with the warlord militias that were the law’s targets.

Congress added the provisions to Dodd-Frank in a fit of moral self-congratulation over making sure Americans had the chance to be ethical and thoughtful consumers of such products as jewelry and cellphones (as well as thousands of other products, as it turned out, from auto parts to the foil in food packaging). Publicly held companies would be required to report on their supply connections to “conflict minerals” such as tin, tungsten, and gold mined in war-torn areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lawmakers assigned enforcement of the law to the Securities and Exchange Commission – a body with scant discernible expertise in either African geopolitics or metallurgy – and barbed it with stringent penalties for disclosure violations, to which are added possible liability in class-action shareholder lawsuits.

Reactions to this morning’s Post account frequently employ words like “unintended” or “tragic” to describe the effect on miners of the law, which people in the Congo soon came to call “Loi Obama” – “Obama’s law”.  Unintended and tragic? Maybe. But not unforeseen, because the signs that the law would backfire this way have been in plain sight for years now – as in this 2011 account by Prof. Laura Seay (via) of how “electronics companies now have a strong incentive to source minerals elsewhere, leaving Congolese miners unemployed.” Or this 2011 account by David Aronson in the New York Times of the “unintended and devastating consequences” that he “saw firsthand on a trip to eastern Congo.” Or this more recent paper by law professor Marcia Narine.

But although the evidence has been there for years, the will to believe in the law was too strong – a will fueled by anti-corporate campaigners who take it on faith that when brutalities in the underdeveloped world occur within two or three degrees of separation of the activities of multinational businesses, the right answer must be to blame and shame the businesses.

You might call it an expensive lesson for Americans too, if you assume that anything has been learned. A recent Tulane calculation found that the costs in business compliance have already topped $700 million, with billions more ahead should nothing change. Just this September, the U.S. government conceded that it “does not have the ability to distinguish” which refiners and smelters around the globe are tainted by a connection to militia groups. That is to say, the government has demanded of business a degree of certainty that it cannot achieve itself.  Courtesy of UCLA corporate law professor Stephen Bainbridge, here’s a flowchart of what complying might involve for a given business.

If the new Republican Congress wants to be taken seriously about fixing counterproductive regulation, it should make the repeal of this law an early priority. (& Bader)

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December 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 2, 2014

  • “Lying to a Lover Could Become ‘Rape’ In New Jersey” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason, Scott Greenfield]
  • “A $21 Check Prompts Toyota Driver to Wonder Who Benefited from Class Action” [Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog]
  • On “right of publicity” litigation over the image of the late General George Patton [Eugene Volokh]
  • HBO exec: “We have probably 160 lawyers” looking at film about Scientology [The Hollywood Reporter]
  • Revisiting the old and unlamented Cambridge, Mass. rent control system [Fred Meyer, earlier]
  • Lawyers! Wanna win big by appealing to the jurors’ “reptile” brain? Check this highly educational offering [Keenan Ball]
  • “Suit claims Google’s listings for unlicensed locksmiths harmed licensed business” [ABA Journal]

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