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Detroit

As we noted in October on the case of Carnell Alexander, once the state’s Deadbeat Dad game starts against you, actual innocence may be only one of many cards in play. [WXYZ]

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Part of a letter to the editor from Bert G. Osterberg of Costa Mesa, Calif. in the December 19 Wall Street Journal:

As a former Detroit resident and former city employee, I can attest to the odious role of overregulation in my hometown’s decline. When Detroit began to racially change, Mayor Coleman A. Young addressed the complaints of home buyers that they were being cheated with undisclosed defects of their home purchases by championing the passage of City Certification before any sale. This regulation not only required disclosure of defects but that all properties be brought up to current city code before the sale could be made. This, of course, led to mass abandonment of older homes as the cost of compliance was often more than the value of the house….

I’m in the early stages of a contemplated writing project on why my home city of Detroit failed, that is, why it has performed so much more poorly in recent decades than many other American cities that have faced serious economic challenge and social conflict. Feel free to send specific explanations, vignettes and suggested readings (not general rants about the city, please) to me at editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com or leave as comments if they are of general reader interest.

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I’m quoted in this Reason TV segment by Zach Weissmueller on the problem of municipalities that stake their finances on overzealous fee collection:

“When you have towns like those in St. Louis County that get in some cases, 40 percent of their municipal revenue in fines and fees, they have chosen a very expensive way of taxing their population, one that creates maximum hassle and maximum hostility,” says Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and publisher of the blog Overlawyered.

Aside from Ferguson, Mo., the piece uses as examples the notorious Los Angeles suburb of Bell, Calif., exposed in a scandal as being run for the benefit of its managers, and — a smart choice — Detroit, a city with a long-time adversarial stance toward its small businesses and others trying to do everyday business in the town:

…what really grants Detroit this honor is “Operation Compliance,” an initiative pushed by former mayor David Bing aimed at bringing all of Detroit’s small businesses up to code through costly permitting. The initiative launched with the stated goal of shutting down 20 businesses a week.

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Perhaps on the theory that socializing losses beats reducing crime and litigiousness: “The high cost of auto insurance has been one of the key reasons residents have been leaving the city for years,” [Mayor Mike] Duggan said in a statement. [Allan Lengel, Deadline Detroit]

International law roundup

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2014

  • Department of surreal headlines: “Detroit Mayor’s Office Disappointed With UN’s Stance on Water Shutoffs” [MLive.com via Deadline Detroit, earlier on customers who don't pay Detroit water bills]
  • “When Mr. Bond first impregnated Mrs. Bond’s best friend, the international Chemical Weapons Convention was probably the furthest thing from his mind.” [Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Cato Supreme Court Review (PDF), earlier on Bond v. U.S.]
  • A case against including investor/state protections in trade negotiations [Daniel Ikenson, Cato] Issue leading leftists, libertarians separately to discover merits of sovereigntism? [Julian Ku, Opinio Juris]
  • Survey of rapidly changing field of transnational antiquities law [ABA Journal]
  • Canada, like U.S., gets periodic U.N. tongue-lashing over its relations with Indian tribes/native peoples [Kathryn Fort, ConcurOp]
  • With U.S. isolated on firearms issues, U.N.’s contemplated Programme of Action on Small Arms not quite so innocuous [Ted Bromund, more, earlier here, here, here, and here]
  • “The U.S. government should be careful about entering into new international agreements and treaties precisely because international laws do have legal force.” [Jason Sorens, Pileus]

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A bankruptcy judge has dismissed a purported human-rights theory outré enough to have drawn interest from both the United Nations and American legal academia, saying the law guarantees no right to draw water from the Detroit municipal system for free or at rates dependent on ability to pay [Detroit News; Aaron Renn/City Journal and more]

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August 4 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 4, 2014

  • Administration tees up massively expensive regulation docket for after election [Sam Batkins, American Action Forum]
  • More on FedEx’s resistance to fed demands that it snoop in boxes [WSJ Law Blog, earlier]
  • Ethics war escalates between Cuomo and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, but is sniping in press suitable role for prosecutor? [New York Post, Ira Stoll]
  • “Mom Hires Craigslist Driver for 9-Year-Old Son, Gets Thrown in Jail” [Lenore Skenazy]
  • One-way fee shifts, available to prevailing plaintiffs but not defendants: why aren’t they more controversial? [New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Watch]
  • Water shutoff woes sprang from Detroit’s “pay-if-you-want culture” [Nolan Finley, Detroit News]
  • “CPSC Still Trying to Crush Small Round Magnet Toys; Last Surviving American Seller Zen Magnets Fights Back” [Brian Doherty]

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So instead it will require private businesses to invest in security measures. I explain in a new Cato post. In January I noted an unsuccessful bill in the Maryland legislature to require gas station owners to maintain videocamera system.

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  • Los Angeles officials push SEIU-backed scheme to fasten unions on nonunion workforce at LAX airport [Brian Sumers, Contra Costa Times]
  • Want to empower cities? Reform binding labor arbitration [Stephen Eide, Urbanophile]
  • “Explainer: What Does President Obama’s Equal Pay Day Executive Order Change?” [Rachel Homer, On Labor]
  • One lawyer’s advice: “when an employee complains about discrimination, or otherwise engages in protected conduct, you must treat that employee with kid gloves” [Jon Hyman on Sixth Circuit retaliation case]
  • Detroit juggles pension numbers to fix deficit, papers over the real problem [Dan Kadlec, Time; Shikha Dalmia, Washington Examiner]
  • No room left to cut budget, part 245,871: federal grants promote labor unions [Examiner]
  • More on EEOC’s campaign to limit employment criminal background checks [Coyote, Daniel Schwartz]

February 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 11, 2014

Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on December 13, 2013

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Headline, from WWJ: “Sterling Heights Gas Station Owner Says IRS Grabbed $70K From His Bank Account For No Reason” Mark Zaniewski, “owner of Metro Marathon in [suburban Macomb County], said the IRS emptied out his bank account twice over the course of a week this spring.” No charges have been filed; Larry Salzman of the Institute for Justice, representing Zaniewski, says the accounts were seized on suspicion of bank “structuring” (knowingly arranging deposits to fall below $10,000), even though some deposits were over that threshold. Salzman says his client has been waiting seven months for his cash and in the mean time is unable to get a hearing before a judge. IJ recently took on a structuring case involving a grocer in nearby Fraser, Mich. Earlier on structuring and its intersection with forfeiture law here, here, here, etc.

Update via Dan Alban on Twitter: “BREAKING: IRS voluntarily dismisses Michigan forfeiture cases, will return seized money to owners of family grocery store and gas station. Doesn’t get feds out of IJ’s separate constitutional lawsuit re: right to prompt hearing, Dehko v. Holder.”

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“…can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes.” Sarah Stillman’s new article in the New Yorker is making a stir, and I write up some of its highlights at Cato at Liberty, including the traffic-stop scandal in Tenaha, Texas, a curious raid on a Detroit art museum, and the plight of a Philadelphia couple whose son sold $20 of pot from their front porch (& Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek).

Bonus: “The Civil Forfeiture Implications of the DEA-NSA Spy Program” [Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform]

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“Detroit had the highest property tax rates of all 50 [largest U.S.] cities” [Chris Edwards/Cato, Alex Tabarrok] Some of the city’s weaknesses go back far enough that Jane Jacobs was pointing them out in 1961 [Urbanophile] How other cities avoided Detroit’s fate, and why, as Boeing shrank, “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?” turned out to be such a misplaced joke [Ed Glaeser, 2011 via Amy Alkon] And in two Cato podcasts on the city’s plight, Caleb Brown interviews Megan McArdle (Daily Beast, Bloomberg) and Emily Washington (Mercatus Center). Plus: Some reasons Baltimore is not Detroit [Frank DeFilippo, Splice Today] And Stephen Eide on the pension-negotiating strategies of emergency manager Kevyn Orr [Public Sector Inc.]

  • Detroit police blasted for arresting Free Press photographer who filmed arrest with her iPhone [Poynter]
  • “The discomfort of principles” in criminal defense matters [Gideon's Trumpet]
  • House Judiciary panel on overcriminalization and mens rea shows genuinely useful bipartisanship [Jonathan Blanks, Cato] One in four new bills these days to create criminal liability lacks mens rea [Paul Rosenzweig/Alex Adrianson, Heritage]
  • Auburn, Alabama: “Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas” [Reason TV]
  • Film project on overturned Death Row convictions [One for Ten] “Forensics review reveals hair evidence was possibly exaggerated in 27 capital cases” [ABA Journal]
  • Critics of Stand Your Ground seem to be having trouble coming up with examples to back their case [Sullum]
  • Maine: “Hancock County prosecutor admits violating bar rules in sexual assault trial” [Bill Trotter, Bangor Daily News]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 29, 2013

  • “Farm Free Or Die! Maine Towns Rebel Against Food Rules” [NPR on "food sovereignty" ordinances]
  • “How much sense does it make for Detroit to be worrying people will open restaurants without enough parking?” [@mattyglesias]
  • Report: undercover cop co-wrote anti-McDonald’s leaflet that resulted in famous UK libel suit [Guardian]
  • Quizzed on food policy, post-Bloomberg NYC mayoral hopefuls offer many bad ideas; Republican John Catsimatidis, grocer, proposes regs “that would require new buildings to rent to grocery stores.” [Edible Geography]
  • Spontaneous consumer discontent over labeling? No, lawyer-driven: consortium of law firms has sued more than 30 food cos. in single federal court [WLF]
  • Private GMO labeling a wave of the future? [Baylen Linnekin]
  • “Eight toxic foods: a little chemical education” [Derek Lowe, Corante "Pipeline", schooling BuzzFeed]
  • Obamacare calorie-count display mandate likely to curb menu variety [Liz Thatcher, RCP, earlier]

Having to watch what bad government has done to my home city of Detroit is a bit like Princess Leia having to watch her home planet destroyed. The fate of the Motor City, writes John Steele Gordon, is America’s “greatest urban disaster that didn’t involve nature or war.” But wait: here’s distinguished New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to inform us that it’s not “fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility … For the most part, it’s just one of those things that happens now and then in an ever-changing economy.” Just one of those things! I reply — with a hat tip to Cole Porter — at Cato at Liberty. (& George Leef (“A tornado is ‘just one of those things’ because is has no human cause. When a city goes bankrupt, it has many human causes”), Ed Driscoll)

P.S. On the role of long-serving mayor Coleman Young, see pp. 12-13 of this Ed Glaeser/Andrei Shleifer paper (PDF). And here’s a HuffPo tag on Detroit corruption.

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