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Michael Bloomberg

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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You can watch here (earlier). Related videos, including those of the other panelists, at the American Bar Association site.

Meanwhile, even former enthusiasts are beginning to give up on the “food deserttheory — opening a supermarket nearby does little to change unhealthy diet habits. So guess what’s next? Yep, calls for more and stronger intervention [Ann Althouse].

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Stephanie Francis Ward at the ABA Journal covers the panel discussion I participated in yesterday on local paternalism at the ABA Midyear in Chicago. The other panelists were Prof. Sarah Conly of Bowdoin College, author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, and Chicago Alderman George Cardenas, sponsor of a proposal to tax soft drink sales in the city. It was hosted by the ABA’s Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division and moderated by Hawaii land use lawyer Robert Thomas, who has much more at his Inverse Condemnation blog.

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The phrase “evoked the ‘military-industrial complex’ about which President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned the nation in a speech days before he left office in 1961.” [Times-Union]

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Following through on earlier rumblings, New York City’s mayor proposes a citywide ban on Styrofoam cups and plates [New York Post, earlier, Baltimore, suburban Boston]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 8, 2013

I’m back from a speaking swing through Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, I spoke about food and drink paternalism as exemplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiatives in New York, with Prof. Steven Willborn providing a counterpoint from a more liberal perspective. At Creighton University Law School in Omaha, I spoke (as I often do) on the ideological state of the law schools, drawing on my 2011 book Schools for Misrule, with commentary from Profs. Ralph Whitten and Sara Stadler.

Both events were well attended but I was especially pleased at the strong turnout for the talk in Lincoln on food and the nanny state, a new speech I hadn’t tried out before on a general audience. Here’s a description:

The public is increasingly in revolt against “nanny state” interventions, from Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in New York, to efforts to ban Happy Meals in San Francisco. Some thinkers dismiss concern about paternalism as merely trivial and personal, not on a par with issues acknowledged as “serious” such as police abuse, free speech, surveillance, and the proper functioning of the legal system. Left unchecked, however, the project of paternalism quickly generates very serious problems in each of those other areas: it gives police and enforcers great arbitrary power, hands a special government megaphone to some speakers while stifling others, funnels uncomfortably personal information into government hands, and fuels abusive litigation. No matter what you think of potato chips, if your interests are in liberty and good government, you should be paying attention.

I’m next scheduled to speak on the food police Sept. 23 at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion with Baylen Linnekin, Nita Ghei, and J. Justin Wilson, hosted by Daren Bakst. Details here. More on my fall speaking schedule here.

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Operationally, it may function that way, if Barton Hinkle’s analysis is right. That would at least explain why Mayor Bloomberg would feel confident about his consistency in favoring both, though it leaves unexplained why the left-right polarities in so many other quarters should reverse so sharply between the one issue and the other.

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The new four-judge decision is unanimous, which means every judge to consider the matter has now agreed that the NYC Department of Health overstepped its legal powers. And they’re right, as I explain here at Cato. Earlier here, here, here, etc.

One person who presumably had not expected today’s result is Emily Bazelon at Slate, who has claimed that Judge Milton Tingling’s trial-court decision was somehow a venture into conservative activism. None of the New York appellate judges heard from today give evidence of sharing that view.

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Guns roundup

by Walter Olson on June 24, 2013

  • Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns blurs lines between 501c(4), New York City government sponsorship [Politico]
  • “Ordinary purposes” of derringer include carrying it around routinely with safety not engaged, argue lawyers in product liability case [Abnormal Use]
  • Connecticut’s confiscatory law: “State took guns of man for mischief night egg fight” [Greenwich Time]
  • “This kind of insurance doesn’t even exist.” Concern over D.C. councilor Mary Cheh’s proposal for mandatory $250K coverage for gun owners [Washington Times]
  • $60K New York City fine for tourist shop that sold gun-shaped lighters [Reason]
  • And more annals of gun hysteria: “Suspension over gun-shaped toaster pastry is now permanent mark on kid’s record” [Eric Owens, Daily Caller] Episode of Lego-sized toy gun ends more happily [LtB] “‘Playing with Toy Guns Desensitizes Children to Using Real Guns…’ Uh, Sez Who?” [Free-Range Kids]
  • “Defense of mass surveillance = defense of more gun control: To get bad guys, treat EVERYONE like a criminal.” [@ABartonHinkle]

Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2013

  • New ACA regulations from the feds restrict employer wellness programs [Jon Hyman; Leslie Francis, Bill of Health]
  • Frequent-flyer defense medical examiner comes to grief in New York [Eric Turkewitz]
  • Fecal transplants (that’s not a misprint) appear to hold out hope of saving a lot of lives, except for the mountain of FDA paperwork blocking them [Amar Toor/The Verge, Maggie Koerth-Baker] Enter the grey market [Beth Skwarecki]
  • Why can’t the FDA catch up with Europe on sunscreens? [Alex Tabarrok]
  • “The banning of catastrophic-only plans infuriates me the most…. the only plans that are actually financially sensible for a healthy individual to purchase.” [MargRev comments section]
  • More on the recent study of malpractice suits by a group of Johns Hopkins researchers [Christopher Robinette]
  • For all his public health pretensions, Michael Bloomberg “has no idea what he’s talking about” on medical marijuana [Jacob Sullum]
  • Another look at asylums? [James Panero, City Journal]
  • Feds’ war on Google pharma ads reflects no credit on D.C. [Brian Doherty]

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Did you know that the Affordable Care Act creates an enormous, multi-billion-dollar slush fund — in the out years, it will raise $2 billion a year in perpetuity — for the federal government to spend on more or less anything that might “improve health and help restrain the rate of growth” of health-care costs? That the spending can bypass the Congressional appropriations process, and is rife with expenditures for the purposes of lobbying government itself, which is supposed to be an unlawful use of federal funds?

Somehow it didn’t sink in until I read this excellent investigation in Forbes by Stuart Taylor, Jr., the distinguished commentator and journalist now associated with the Brookings Institution. Because almost any cause arguably advances health, the administrators end up with close to unlimited discretion as to how to spend the money, which results in the usual array of goofy-sounding grant activities ranging “from ‘pickleball’ (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.”

It’s tailor-made for log-rolling and rewarding local friends, but the dangers go beyond that. In particular, as outraged Republicans from Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in the House to Susan Collins (R-Me.) in the Senate have been documenting, large sums from the program have been devoted to the purpose of lobbying for the passage of legislation at the local and state level — notwithstanding specific statutory language making that an unlawful way of spending money raised from federal taxpayers.

To quote Taylor:

* In Washington state, the Prevention Alliance, a coalition of health-focused groups, reported in notes of a June 22, 2012 meeting that the funding for its initial work came from a $3.3 million Obamacare grant to the state Department of Health. It listed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), “tobacco taxes,” and increasing “types of outdoor venues where tobacco use is prohibited” as among “the areas of greatest interest and potential for progress.”

* The Sierra Health Foundation, in Sacramento, which received a $500,000 grant. in March 2013, described its plans to “seek local zoning changes to disallow fast food establishments within 1,000 feet of a school and to limit the number of fast food outlets,” along with restrictions on fast food advertising. A $3 million grant to New York City was used to “educate leaders and decision makers about, and promote the effective implementation of. . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.”

* A Cook County, Ill. report says that part of a $16 million grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” More than $12 million in similar grants went to groups in King County, Wash. to push for changes in “zoning policies to locate fast-food retailers farther from . . . schools.” And Jefferson County, Ala., spent part of a $7 million federal grant promoting the passage of a tobacco excise tax by the state legislature.

These aren’t isolated flukes: they look very much like the normal and planned operation of the program. A $7 million grant to activists in the St. Louis area went in part toward lobbying for the repeal of a state law barring municipal tobacco taxes. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported on how it used a $1.5 million federal grant: “210 policy makers were contacted . . . 31 ordinances were passed . . . there were 26 community presentations made to local governments .. . and 16 additional ordinances were passed this quarter, for a cumulative total of 47.”

This is outrageous. Congress has enacted and reiterated the ban on lobbying with federal funds because of the obvious unfairness of requiring taxpaying citizens to support political efforts of which they disapprove. Now a combination of the most politicized sector of public health activism (which likes to dictate how people live) and a cross-section of the local political class (which likes to find new ways of raising taxes) is getting massive federal subsidies to pursue such lobbying, often on a scale that can bulldoze disorganized local opposition. If you were wondering why some bad new ideas for local legislation (e.g., zoning to keep fast-food restaurants out of big-city neighborhoods) seem to be everywhere despite a tepid level of voter enthusiasm, now you know. You’re paying for them to be everywhere.

I joined host Ray Dunaway on Hartford’s WTIC this morning to talk about the issue.

P.S. Thanks to commenter gitarcarver for pointing out this April report on the problem by the investigative group Cause of Action. (& David Catron, American Spectator)

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on April 29, 2013

  • Colony collapse disorder, the honeybee ailment, was expected to have a dire effect on U.S. agriculture. Market-driven adjustments have helped prevent that [Walter Thurman, PERC]
  • Adieu, Mimolette? Feds may be readying crackdown on imports of artisanal cheeses [Baylen Linnekin] “Food Safety Modernization Act Far More Costly Than Supporters Claimed” [Hans Bader, earlier here, here]
  • “There may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy” [Harvard Law School, quoted by Baylen Linnekin] New book, haven’t seen yet: Jayson Lusk, “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate” [Amazon]
  • Further thoughts on hot coffee injuries and lawsuits [Ted Frank]
  • The gain in plains is mainly due to grains: residents of mountains and high-altitude areas have less obesity [Edible Geography] Restaurant labeling: per one study, “some evidence that males ordered more calories when labels were present” [Tim Carney] NYT’s Mark Bittman endorses tax on prepared food [SmarterTimes] “Michael Poppins: When the nanny acquired a police force” [Mark Steyn, NR on Mayor Bloomberg]
  • Who’s demonizing Demon Rum these days, together with Wicked Wine and Baleful Beer? Check out an “alcohol policy” conference [Angela Logomasini, Open Market] Scottish government lobbies itself to be more prohibitionist [Christopher Snowdon]
  • Bill filed by Rep Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would cut off taxpayer funding of food-bashing propaganda [Michelle Minton; earlier here, etc.]

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“This amendment would prohibit federal regulation of the size and quantity of food and beverages,” the Texas senator’s office explained of his budget proposal, which was not adopted by the Democratic majority. [Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner]

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March 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 22, 2013

  • $10 million judgment “won’t hit Albuquerque property owners on their tax bills because it’ll come out of [city's] self-insurance fund” Say what? [Albuquerque Journal via Ed Krayewski, Reason]
  • Latest Bloomberg scheme: ban display of tobacco products [Jacob Sullum, Patrick at Popehat, Patrick Basham/Daily Caller, Ira Stoll, Elie Mystal/Above the Law]
  • Female? Hispanic? Planted a backyard garden between 1981-2000, while wishing you could have gone bigger with the hobby? Feds’ ag-bias settlement may have bucks for you [James Bovard/WSJ, earlier on Pigford black-farmer settlement here, here, here, etc.]
  • Newly published, includes blurb by me: Mark White, The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism [Amazon]
  • “NYC adopts nation’s toughest law against refusing to hire unemployed” [AP, earlier here, etc.]
  • Estate of judge is suing prominent Philadelphia class action lawyer over fall at party in home [Legal Intelligencer]
  • For Wisconsin’s left, Roggensack/Fallone judicial contest might be the last hope for derailing Gov. Walker’s labor reform [Rick Esenberg]

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I respond at Cato to a remarkably lame piece by Slate’s Emily Bazelon. Earlier on the case here and here.

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[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

I’m at the Commentary magazine blog this morning with a second bite (second gulp?) at the NYC soda ban ruling. This time I look at the separation-of-powers angle, and at the way Judge Milton Tingling, Jr.’s ruling addressed the overgrown ambitions of some in the “public health” community to control more and more of life. Although the decision did not forestall the New York City Council from adopting nanny-state regulations in the future should it see fit, I argue,

…yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

Under separation of powers as generally understood at the time of the Framers, an executive agency cannot enact new legislation on its own, that being a role constitutionally reserved for the legislature. Especially during the Progressive Era and New Deal, these barriers were eroded as administrative agencies claimed a power to issue regulations that looked more and more like traditional legislation, under powers deemed to have been delegated by the legislature. Still, there are some limits, both under the U.S. Constitution and in New York (which under a 1987 case called Boreali v. Axelrod applies its own, quirky standard in evaluating whether a regulation oversteps the separation of powers.) And those limits to delegation were at the heart of the soda case.

The New York City Health Department was asserting a breathtakingly broad definition of its powers, on the grounds that successive city charters give it sweeping authority to address all matters relating to health. Under the interpretation advanced by Bloomberg’s lawyers, this vague charter language would empower the department to issue pretty much whatever diktats it pleases for New Yorkers to obey on any topic somehow related to advancing health….

Looking at cases where the agency’s authority to act had been upheld, the judge noted instances of emergencies, particularly those relating to epidemics of contagious or communicable diseases. … In that legal finding is the germ of a much-needed rebuke to some actors in the public-health movement, who have taken the centuries of moral and practical authority originally built up by their colleagues from the fight against epidemic infectious disease and dubiously sought to apply it to a dozen other health-related questions of life and lifestyle, including not only doughnuts, soft drinks and salty snacks but also such supposed “disease vectors” as gun ownership and overreliance on cars for commuting.

Read the whole thing at Commentary here. Background in yesterday’s post here (& Alex Adrianson, Heritage).

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My new op-ed at the Daily Caller is their “most shared” this morning. Excerpt:

On Monday, Judge Tingling struck down the soda ban in a sweeping opinion that does everything but hand Mayor Poppins his umbrella and carpetbag. This wasn’t just a temporary restraining order putting the regulation on hold for a few weeks. The judge struck down the ban permanently both on the merits (“fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences”) and as overstepping the rightful legal powers of the New York City Department of Health…

[For] the mayor and his public health crew… the biggest reproach in the decision isn’t in being found to have gotten the facts wrong, it’s being found to have violated the law.

And if anyone is expected to know and play by the rules, it’s a nanny.

Michael Grynbaum, New York Times:

[Bloomberg's] administration seemed caught off guard by the decision. Before the judge ruled, the mayor had called for the soda limits to be adopted by cities around the globe; he now faces the possibility that one of his most cherished endeavors will not come to fruition before he leaves office, if ever. …

The measure was already broadly unpopular: In a New York Times poll conducted last August, 60 percent of city residents said it was a bad idea for the Bloomberg administration to pass the limits…

Ross Sandler, a professor at New York Law School, said city laws deemed “arbitrary and capricious” had frequently been reinstated upon appeal.

The Times also profiles Judge Tingling and reports on reactions by New Yorkers in the street (not favorable toward the ban). Coverage from yesterday, including my podcast with Cato’s Caleb Brown, here. NYU’s Rick Hills, as often happens, takes a different view. (& Point of Law; and more) Update: as of March 15 my Daily Caller piece has been recommended on Facebook 3,700 times, surely a record for me.

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