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alcohol

Last month the Cato Institute hosted a panel celebrating Repeal Day
with me, alcohol policy expert Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Stacia Cosner of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cato Digital Marketing Manager Kat Murti as moderator.

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….

Some links related to the discussion:

  • All the panelists quoted from Daniel Okrent’s excellent history of Prohibition, Last Call. You can find out more about the book at the author’s site.
  • I quote from a speech by the late Christopher Hitchens delivered ten years almost to the day before our panel. It is excerpted in this David Boaz post.
  • Radley Balko wrote a 2003 Cato Policy Analysis, “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking“. More: The federal Centers for Disease Control, as I noted, has been an agency of choice for public health campaigners because of its legacy of scientific credibility, yet this credibility is itself put increasingly at risk as the CDC lends its name to propaganda. Jacob Sullum provides examples from the agency’s elastic application of the term “binge drinking” to the trouble it seems to have acknowledging that minor alcohol consumption does not seem to correlate with poor health outcomes;
  • As I mention, the Prohibition episode was important in eroding constitutional protections against various law-enforcement tools, especially search and seizure, the law being inherently aimed at contraband goods. The same is true of the nascent Drug War undertaken following the Harrison narcotics act of 1914. You can read about one of the resulting Supreme Court cases here.
  • The role of exorbitant cigarette taxes in contributing to New York’s giant black market in cigarettes came to wider public notice following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island; more here, here, etc. The New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city law department to refrain from filing an intended press release over a would-be landmark suit filed over untaxed cigarettes the week of the Garner grand jury decision, because it interfered with City Hall’s efforts to downplay the role of the tobacco black market.

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Food and beverage roundup

by Walter Olson on December 26, 2014

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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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 25, 2014

  • Hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama trends on Twitter after high schoolers tweet it with pics of unappetizing lunch trays, provoking “shut up and eat what’s put in front of you” reactions from some who support the new federally prescribed rules. Maybe better to listen instead? [Kevin Cirilli, The Hill, Rachel Zarrell, BuzzFeed]
  • “After suing a small California company for calling its eggless product ‘Just Mayo,’ Hellmann’s maker Unilever tweaked references on its websites to products that aren’t exactly mayonnaise either.” [AP/Tulsa World]
  • Mark Bittman/Michael Pollan scheme for national food policy? Send it back to the kitchen, please [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • Johnny Appleseed, substance abuse enabler [Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian]
  • One factor behind drive for new GMO non-browning potato: legal pressure against acrylamide, naturally forming browning component, by way of Calif. Prop 65 lawsuits and regulations [Guardian, New York Times]
  • Costly, fussy, coercive: Minneapolis micromanages convenience food sales [Baylen Linnekin]
  • No, FSMA isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to food variety and smaller producers [same]

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Hans Bader has some clarification on one issue on which there’s been widespread confusion, on which the California law does not go to the extreme some would have liked [San Francisco Chronicle letter to the editor; earlier]:

“New law redefines consent at college” (Sept. 29) claimed that California’s new “affirmative consent” law regulating college sex “says that a person cannot give consent if they are intoxicated.” But it does not say this. What it actually says is that “consent” is absent when “the complainant was incapacitated” due to alcohol.

Most intoxicated people are not legally deemed “incapacitated” and can consent, as law professor Anne Coughlin and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have noted.

Many happily married people have sex after drinking. While some liberal Democrats who sponsored SB967 wanted to ban sex between intoxicated people, the final version of the bill does not do so.

Admittedly, the new law is disturbingly vague in other ways. Its co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), said, “Your guess is as good as mine,” when asked how an innocent person could prove “affirmative” consent.

Hans Bader, Washington, D.C.

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“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.

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Alcohol roundup

by Walter Olson on August 22, 2014

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George Leef reviews a new book by John Compton, political scientist at Chapman University, on how evangelical anti-vice campaigns against gambling, liquor and other social ills helped undermine the Constitution’s curbs on centralized power, paving the way for later Progressive gains.

The tension between moral reformers who insisted on a virtually unlimited view of the “police powers” of government (i.e., to regulate in ways intended to protect the health and morals of the citizenry) and the Constitution’s framers, who feared the results of allowing factions to use government power for their ends, was crucial in shaping constitutional law during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The book shows that by the time the New Deal’s aggressive expansions of federal power came before the Supreme Court, its earlier decisions in favor of approving legislation against liquor and lotteries had so undermined the defenses of property rights, contract, and federalism that it was nearly inevitable that the Court would cave in.

For example, when the Court decided the 1934 case of Blaisdell v. Savings and Loan, gutting the former understanding of the impairment of contracts clause, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes cited an earlier decision on interstate shipment of lottery tickets which had acquiesced in a new extension of the police power, on the grounds that a previously sacrosanct constitutional barrier could be “qualified” when a state needed to “safeguard the interests of its people.” [Forbes]

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Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah ban package sales on Independence Day. [Reid Wilson, Washington Post] Whether or not you live in one of those states, have a happy Fourth of July.

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on June 16, 2014

  • The federal school lunch initiative as experienced by school districts in rural New York [Sarah Harris, North Country Public Radio]
  • Europe’s Ugly Fruit movement wants to reclaim for consumers tons of food rejected for appearance, sometimes by marketers and sometimes by regulators [NYT]
  • Expect uptick in food labeling suits after Supreme Court decision approving suit in Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola [Glenn Lammi, WLF; FedSoc Blog; more, Mayer Brown]
  • “Biggest secret” of glutamic acid, of umami and MSG fame, “may be that there was never anything wrong with it at all” [BuzzFeed]
  • Cottage food win: New Jersey lawmakers unanimously back right to sell homemade goodies [Institute for Justice]
  • Celebrity-driven “Fed Up” film is “strident stalking-horse for a Bloombergian agenda” [Jeff Stier, Baylen Linnekin]
  • Young persons, especially college students, drink much more than they used to. Right? Wrong [Michelle Minton, Andrew Stuttaford]

Works for me: “Started by Kathleen Belfont, Blotto Gelato is a small ice cream business that includes alcohol in all of its products. Belfont reached out to Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, when she realized she could not get a liquor license.” [WBOC via Laura Collier]

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  • Blockbuster “web accessibility” issue, with potential for massive disruption of online life, continues to drag on without action in Washington despite urgings from academics; but at Ninth Circuit’s behest, California Supreme Court will decide whether state’s Disabled Persons Act covers websites [David Ettinger, Horwitz & Levy] More: Amy Alkon and commenters;
  • Federal district judge (E.D.N.Y.), suspecting foul play in multiple ADA filings, sends staff to investigate, but that’s a no-no as the Second Circuit reminds him [Josh Blackman]
  • Noting “continuing paranoia and obsession,” Vermont Supreme Court rebuffs bar applicant claiming discrimination on basis of mental illness [ABA Journal]
  • Just fine and dander: optician’s shop in suburban Detroit turns down worker’s request to bring service dog for generalized anxiety disorder, will pay $53,000 in settlement [EEOC]
  • Attack on “sheltered workshops” fits into multi-front effort to extend reach of federal wage-hour law: “Landmark DOJ settlement with RI provides road map to disability-law compliance for 49 other states” [ABA Journal]
  • Coalition politics counts: prominent disabled-rights groups [AAPD, DREDF, Bazelon Center, etc.] favor driving up cost of at-home attendants at expense of their own putative constituents [Benjamin Sachs, On Labor, on Harris v. Quinn amicus]
  • “Alcoholism and the ADA: Not as clear-cut as you think” [Dan Wisniewski, HR Morning, on Crosby v. F.W. Webb Co.] “Playing golf and having sex are major life activities under the ADA” [Eric B. Meyer]

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Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on May 3, 2014

  • Correctional Officers Bill of Rights (COBR) of 2011, developing out of AFSCME efforts to defend prison guards in western Maryland, and role it played in Baltimore jail scandal. Vital reading [Charles Lane, City Journal, Sasha Volokh; earlier; related Kevin Williamson on incident at NYC's Riker's Island in which mentally ill inmate was permitted to roast to death, responsible officer drawing 30-day suspension]
  • Narrowly defeated effort to enact state False Claims Act becomes issue in Senate GOP primary [Frederick News-Post, earlier here, here]
  • Citing federal guidelines, Howard County schools restrict special-event food [Ellicott City Patch]
  • Judge rebuffs lawsuit by Montgomery County police union seeking to invalidate legislative measures inconsistent with its contract [WaPo] County council race “a ‘battle royale’ between the government employee and school system unions” [Seventh State]
  • “Maryland Puts Up Roadblocks to Online Ed” which just happens to protect the state’s UMUC (University of Maryland University College) [The American Interest, Arnold Kling]
  • Will Montgomery County finally get out of the liquor distribution business? [Bethesda magazine]
  • And speaking of MoCo monopolies, its taxi near-cartel needs to go: “Uber provides a better service even without the regulation” [David Lublin, The Seventh State]

“The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Congress was stampeded into this puritanical law by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” — Camille Paglia in Time on why the national minimum drinking age law “must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust.” Related: “A drinking age of 21 infantilizes adults who are otherwise able to serve in the military, marry without permission, enter into business contracts, buy tobacco, vote and run for public office. It forces college administrators to be babysitters rather than educators. And it doesn’t achieve its stated goals.” ["ABC debacle should stir debate on Virginia’s drinking age," Rick Sincere, Richmond Times-Dispatch] Earlier here, here, here, etc. Plus: Relevant political thoughts from Glenn Reynolds last year.

Related, if distantly: study in Britain finds liberalization of bar closing hours associated with decline in traffic accidents [Jeffrey Miron, Cato]

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I spoke on Thursday to the Bastiat Society chapter in Charlotte with some observations rooted in public choice theory about the “three-tier” system of state liquor regulation familiar since Prohibition. A few further links for those interested in the subject:

Fraternities and liability

by Walter Olson on February 23, 2014

Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic is getting quite a build-up, but Glenn Reynolds concludes that “overall … [it] doesn’t deliver insight commensurate with its length.”

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2014

  • Reminder: SB 353, which would ban bringing of knives and other weapons onto private school property whatever the school’s wishes, up for hearing at 1 p.m. Wed. Feb. 26 [text, Senate, related Virginia] With Ninth Circuit’s Peruta decision, Maryland now one of only six holdout states to resist any recognition of gun carry rights [David Kopel]
  • Slew of labor proposals moving through Annapolis would require employers to offer paid sick leave, push unionization on community college employees, and require employers to pay interns’ transportation costs. Study finds boosting state’s minimum wage would cost jobs [WaPo]
  • Supremely irresponsible: state already hobbled by nation’s slowest foreclosure process, but NAACP, Casa de Maryland and Legislative Black Caucus demand six-month foreclosure moratorium on top of that [Washington Post; earlier on Maryland foreclosure law here, here (couple spends five years in million-dollar home without making mortgage payment), here, etc.]
  • Review of recent developments in asbestos litigation in the state [Lisa Rickard, Chamber Institute for Legal Reform]
  • Goodbye to another Free State tradition? Senate votes ban on sale of grain alcohol, with urging from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg nanny crew [Washington Post]
  • Just say no to the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority [Mark Newgent, Baltimore Sun]
  • Sen. Zirkin “litigates dog-bite cases on behalf of plaintiffs” and is player on dog bite bill [Insurance Journal]

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Farm and food roundup

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2014