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restaurants

Yesterday I poked fun at a ridiculous piece at HuffPo (apparently written by an undergraduate who was given a byline as a university researcher) claiming that doubling wages at McDonald’s would be no big deal for its prices or business strategy. Well, hats off to HuffPo, which has now withdrawn the piece, apologized for its errors, and substituted a piece that tries to take a more sober look at the issue. I wonder whether Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was completely taken in by the original article, is feeling sheepish now (via Twitchy).

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So McDonald’s Dollar Menu would go up only to $1.17 if the company doubled all wages? Oh, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), you’re so gullible it’s almost cute. [Tom Maguire]

Update: Well, hats off to HuffPo, which has now withdrawn the piece, apologized for its errors, and substituted a piece that tries to take a more sober look at the issue. I wonder whether Rep. Ellison is feeling sheepish now (via Twitchy).

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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]

Now a slip and fall litigant wants a million dollars from the Harlingen, Tex. eatery. [AP/El Paso Times]

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“A Boston Red Sox fan who was harassed and stabbed through the neck by a New York Yankees fan at a restaurant in 2010 has been awarded $4.3 million by a jury. The jury in New Haven reached the verdict Thursday in favor of Monte Freire and against the restaurant, U.S.S. Chowder Pot III, in Branford, attorneys for both sides said.” The plaintiff’s lawyer said the restaurant had been put on notice that the Yankees fan was potentially violent and should have cut him off from further liquor; the restaurant’s attorney said that while the man had previously behaved like a jerk, he was sitting quietly when observed which is why the bartender decided only to monitor him. [ESPN]

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The Underbelly restaurant in Houston offered a “Double Double” burger. When chef Chris Shepherd got a letter from lawyers for the California-based In-N-Out chain, saying it infringed on their similarly named sandwich, he promptly changed the name to “Cease and Desist Burger.” It has sold well, says the restaurant’s marketing manager. [Erica Ho, Time]

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Nick Sibilla of the Institute for Justice says the re-regulation plan has some devilish details:

Portions of the current proposal could cripple entrepreneurship. For starters, food trucks that park at an expired meter could face $2,000 fines for a first-time offense. From there on, fines would escalate quickly, reaching $4,000 for the second infraction, $8,000 for the third, and $16,000 onwards. In D.C., this would be a Class 1 infraction, the same legal category as possessing explosives without a license.

Earlier here; more background, NBC Washington.

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“Plans to ban the pint glass from pubs throughout the Highlands of Scotland have sparked outrage. The traditional vessel is already outlawed in nightclubs in the Highlands, which are forced to serve all drinks – including champagne, cocktails and the finest malt whiskies – in plastic containers after 9pm because of police fears over potential injury.” The Highland Licensing Board is now proposing to extend the scheme further, against objections from pub owners as well as critics of the Nanny State generally. [Telegraph]

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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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Even Brussels can get the message sometimes. The EU agriculture commissioner blamed public “misunderstanding.” [Telegraph via Alexander Cohen, Atlas Society; earlier] More: Kenneth Anderson.

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Traditional refillable open-spouted vessels and dipping bowls will need to give way to “pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labeling in line with EU industrial standards.” [Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph] In perhaps not unrelated news, a new poll finds Euroskepticism strong in the U.K. [Telegraph]:

When voters are asked the exact question Conservatives want to put to the public in the 2017 referendum, “Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the EU?”, 46 per cent opt to come out, a higher figure than in other recent polls, while just 30 per cent want to stay in.

Update: May 23 (proposal dropped).

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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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Ryan Koopmans summarizes a baffling Iowa Supreme Court case in which a 4-3 majority of justices decided a bowling alley owner could be sued for having thrown a customer out for insulting a second customer, who — after reacting calmly at the time — then went out to the parking lot and committed violence on his provoker:

So what are the takeaways from the Hoyt decision? For bar and restaurant owners: It’s not enough to kick out an aggressive bar patron; unless you want to pay the cost of litigation and a full trial, your employees should call the police every time one patron taunts another, or, at the very least, they should personally escort every trash-talker to his car.

The takeaway for police departments: You’re going to need more officers.

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If this account from DNALounge is to be believed, San Francisco police are highly eager for bar owners to install surveillance cameras to monitor everything customers do, and to commit to hand over the resulting footage to police without a warrant. Raise objections, and (according to the report) you might find the requirement being added as a condition to your permit. More: SFBay.ca.

Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on March 26, 2013

  • Doughnut oil and the environment: NYT misses a story of unintended consequences [Ira Stoll, SmarterTimes]
  • N.C.: “Guy Who Runs Wilderness Camp Told to Install Sprinklers, Use County Approved Lumber” [Katherine Mangu-Ward]
  • “With Proposed Policy Change, EPA Fully Embraces Role of ‘Environmental Justice’ Advocate” [Cory Andrews, WLF]
  • “While the taxes… are irritating, what has really killed my interest in expanding in California is the regulatory burden.” [Coyote on SLOLeaks blog; another California Coastal Commission horror story]
  • Natural crop breeding = safe, biotech-assisted breeding = unsafe? Tale of the toxic potato teaches otherwise [Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing] (broken link fixed now)
  • Peak Oil? Welcome instead to Trough Oil, as titanic new fossil fuel supplies begin coming online [Andrew Sullivan]
  • Deregulation of accessory dwellings is a reform both free-marketeers and New Urbanists in search of density can get behind [David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington]

…try opening a wood-fired pizza restaurant just off the gritty Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn [Ira Stoll]

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“A repeat drunken driver convicted in a crash that killed two teenagers has sued his drinking buddy and two Santa Fe restaurants that served him alcohol.” James Ruiz, who has since been convicted and incarcerated, “was out on bond on his fifth DWI arrest” when he slammed into the car of the teens’ family. [AP/WHEC; Albuquerque Journal, with headline above; UPI]

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Fred DeLuca, founder and president of the Subway sandwich chain, doubts he would have made it in today’s business environment [Washington Free Beacon]:

It’s continuously gotten worse, because there’s more and more regulations. It’s tougher for people to get into business. Especially a small business. I tell you, if I started Subway today, Subway would not exist, because I had an easy time of it in the ’60s when I started. I just see a continuous increase in regulation.

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