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OpenMarket: June 2008

  • Would they also have Castro rum and Stalin vodka?

    June 30, 2008 5:24 PM

    My friend Tom Palmer says that whenever he sees somebody sporting a Che Guevara t-shirt, he likes to ask the wearer, "That's a great t-shirt; do you have the entire collection?" The wearer usually responds either with a blank stare or by asking Tom what does he mean, to which Tom then responds: "You know, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot..."

    Now I can happily say that the disgusting Che is in the right company in at least one type of merchandise. The photo below was taken recently by a friend in vacation in Italy.

    It's also morbidly fitting that Che's wine bottle would be decorated with a Cuban flag. He was Argentine, not Cuban, but Cuba is the country upon which he visited the most hell, so his crimes there are for what he should be most remembered. And as long as there are pinheads who would wear a communist mass murderer on their chest, the world will need constant, unremitting, badgering reminding of what Che really did. (Thanks to Philip Blumel for the photo.)

  • Hands-Free Driving: Bootleggers and Baptists

    June 30, 2008 5:15 PM

    This article from CNET News does a (perhaps unintentionally) brilliant job of describing the Bootleggers and Baptists forces behind California's new law banning using cell phones while driving, unless using a hands-free device. The first paragraph sums it up perfectly:

    A good number of Californians think the state's new hands-free cell phone law will bode well for public safety, if a random sampling of consumers by CNET is any indication. But gadget retailers have their own reason to cheer--they're reaping the cash benefits.

    Mike Masnick writes an excellent post at TechDirt about the folly of such a law. Why single out particular unsafe driving practices, instead of just banning unsafe driving in general? Maybe because Bluetooth manufacturers have a strong incentive to legitimize using their devices while driving...

  • RIAA Attacks Safe Harbor

    June 30, 2008 4:50 PM

    Ars reports that the RIAA is lobbying the government to sneak rules mandating web filtering into the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The proposed regulations would mandate that ISPs filter out copyright-infringing materials - and, in fact, all services that facilitate infringement, even those that also have legitimate uses. Killing P2P software in such a way would violate net neutrality principles far more than anything any ISP has yet tried. It would also gut the safe harbor provision of the DMCA, which sensibly argues that only actual copyright infringers - not the ISPs that transmit their data - can be held liable for infringement.

    While we here at CEI oppose mandating net neutrality, we also oppose mandating violating it. The market - not government - is best-suited to decide which network management tools work best against congestion while providing what customers want.

  • Terms of Service Criminally Actionable?

    June 30, 2008 2:11 PM

    Wired reports that:

    In their eagerness to visit justice on a 49-year-old woman involved in the Megan Meier MySpace suicide tragedy, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are resorting to a novel and dangerous interpretation of a decades-old computer crime law - potentially making a felon out of anybody who violates the terms of service of any website, experts say.

    Apparently, the terms of service were violated in this case by registering under a false name - a pretty minor offense that many of us, seeking anonymity, commit regularly. At most, such a violation may be grounds for banning the user from the site. (Perhaps in cases of terms of use violations that are extremely harmful to the website, the site should be able to sue for breach of contract in civil court.) But instead, the feds are trying to prosecute the defendant criminally.

    The article quotes Jennifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as saying, "This is a novel and extreme reading of what [the law] prohibits... It's probably an unconstitutional reading of the statue." Criminal law is normally reserved for actions prohibited by the state and is not used to enforce private contracts.

  • Affordable Housing Fetish Devastates Chicago Housing

    June 30, 2008 1:16 PM

    Congress is now pushing for the creation of a taxpayer-subsidized "affordable housing trust" in mortgage bailout legislation nearing passage.  The Boston Globe has a story on how the fetish for "affordable housing" resulted in dangerous, costly, wasteful subsidized housing units in the Chicago region, that enriched corrupt developers.  Federal obsessions with "affordable housing" and "diversity" in homeownership also helped spawn the mortgage crisis.

  • The Bell Tolls for Local Franchising

    June 30, 2008 11:24 AM

    Broadband Reports has news:

    The FCC made changes to cable franchise rules last year which prevent "local franchising authorities from unreasonably refusing to award competitive cable franchises". Those changes have faced an ongoing battle in court by various city and state franchising agencies which argued that the FCC had usurped their power when changing the rules. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the FCC was within its authority to make those changes. FCC Chief Kevin Martin issued a statement about the ruling saying that he was glad that the court had recognized the fact that the new rules are pro-customer, reducing delays in cable service provision and increasing competitive pricing in the market.

    It is rare that we here in the Technology and Regulation department at the Competitive Enterprise Institute stand by the FCC, but in this case, kudos to Chairman Martin! Local franchising has been stifling cable competition for years, leading to our country's decline in international broadband rankings. It is time for the federal government to stop local governments from creating monopolies and outlawing competition in the cable market. The Sixth Circuit's ruling will allow the government to do so. Freedom is more important than federalism.

  • AIDS Subsidies Used to Subvert Anti-AIDS Message

    June 30, 2008 10:42 AM

    Taxpayer-funded AIDS subsidies are being used to subvert successful anti-AIDS programs in African countries like Uganda that succeed by instilling a politically-incorrect truth: fidelity saves lives.  That's what Sam Ruteikara, Chair of Uganda's National AIDS Prevention Committee, explains today in the Washington Post, in an editorial, "Let My People Go, AIDS Profiteers."   He laments, "In the fight against AIDS, profiteering has trumped prevention. AIDS is no longer simply a disease; it has become a multibillion-dollar industry."

    Western governments (and charities subsidized by them) have spent billions on anti-AIDS programs in Africa and elsewhere.  They spend the money largely on expensive treatments for those who already have AIDS, rather than on preventing the spread of AIDS, which can be done far more cheaply.    

    In poor African countries like Lesotho, “H.I.V.-infected children are offered exemplary treatment, while children suffering from much simpler-to-treat diseases are left untreated, sometimes to die,” notes an AIDS researcher quoted in a post at Reason entitled “Too Much Money for AIDS.”

    And when they do try to prevent the spread of AIDS, they do it the most expensive and ineffective ways possible, like using expensive anti-retroviral drugs, and importing condoms that have little chance of consistently reaching remote villages.

  • The U.S. versus Undersize Lobsters

    June 29, 2008 9:10 PM

    I just criticized the ditzy Europeans for banning the sale of undersize kiwifruit. But now as I go through accumulated emails I come across this story by my friend Quin Hillyer on undersized lobster imports. I'm afraid it's a close contest on which set of regulators is more idiotic.  But since people were actually sentenced to jail in the U.S. case, I think America wins the foolishness contest.  You decide.

    Reports Quin:

    When the story first broke in 1999, the Mobile Register played it tongue-in-cheek. “The defendants,” wrote reporter Mike Wilson, “have proved model prisoners, detained at present at minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit.” And building, and building. Because all of the lobster, not just the tails adjudged too short, was in the wrong packaging, that bumped up the “value” of the amount in violation.

    And if it were an illegal import, well, that made it “smuggling,” right? And if the importers used the money they earned to buy any goods in the United States, well, that turned the case into “money laundering.”

    Suddenly, the allegation of minor civil violations became a major criminal case. Three defendants were given sentences of — get this! — eight years each. In federal prison. To enforce a foreign regulation. About undersized lobsters.

    The originally named defendants were 70,787 pounds of spiny lobster tails. Less than 5 percent of them were, horror of horrors, too short — which may or may not have been a violation of Honduran sea-harvest laws.

  • Better Be a Dog than A Human for Canadian Health Care

    June 29, 2008 5:44 PM

    Because you'll get treatment sooner as a dog!  Reports Macleans magazine:

    Dr. Danny Joffe is only half joking when he says that if he'd fallen asleep on the last day of vet school in Saskatoon and woken up some two decades later in his current workplace, he would not have believed it was an animal hospital. Joffe is one of 11 specialists at the C.A.R.E. Centre, a 28,000-sq.-foot palace of veterinary medicine built two years ago in Calgary by a consortium that owns 23 vet clinics and animal hospitals across British Columbia and Alberta. It has four operating theatres, a $100,000 CT machine, two ultrasound machines, a digital X-ray unit, an endoscopy centre, a lab and 16 examination rooms. Its intensive care unit boasts 20 cages and eight dog runs, staffed 24/7. "It's just like an emergency centre at a tertiary care human hospital," Joffe says.

    There is almost no pet illness that can't be treated here. For eye problems, C.A.R.E. provides ophthalmologists who perform cataract surgery. Orthopaedic surgeons do hip replacements or arthroscopy — minimally invasive surgery on joints. To treat cancer, a surprisingly common disease in dogs and cats, says Joffe, "Our oncologist can offer intricate chemotherapy protocols and our surgeons can do very extreme and elaborate surgeries, including mass removals, amputations and bone transplants from cadaver dogs." As for MRIs, C.A.R.E. has a standing two appointments a week booked at a private human facility in the city. "For you or I it might be a several-month process," says Joffe of getting an MRI. "We get it done in a week or less."

    Great.  Just what we need in America.  A medical system that treats animals better than people!

  • The EU Cracks Down on the Crime of Selling Small Kiwifruit

    June 28, 2008 1:19 PM

    The line "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" has long been a comic favorite. As well it should. The Daily Mail reports:

    A market trader has been banned from selling a batch of kiwi fruits because they are 1mm smaller than EU rules allow.

    Inspectors told 53-year- old Tim Down he is forbidden even to give away the fruits, which are perfectly healthy.

    The father of three will now have to bin the 5,000 kiwis, costing him £1,000 in lost sales.

    Speaking yesterday from the stall in Bristol he has owned for 20 years, Mr Down said: 'It's total nonsense. I work hard enough to make a living without all these bureaucrats telling us what we can and can't sell.

    'They're saying I'm a criminal for selling this fruit, but the real crime is that all this fruit will go to waste  -  all because it's 1mm too small.

    'It's a terrible waste, particularly when we're all feeling the pinch from rising food prices and I've got to throw away this perfectly good fruit.'

    The case comes only two weeks after the European Commission said it wants to relax rules on misshapen fruit and vegetables.

    It could eventually mean an end to notorious bans on straight bananas, curved cucumbers and skinny carrots.

    But that will bring little comfort to Mr Down in the meantime

    I certainly feel safer.  You can't be too careful when it comes to midget kiwifruit!

    Of course, I wish I could say that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has never done anything as stupid.  But more than 20 years the Department enforced a "marketing order"--essentially a means to reduce supply and prop up prices--that required the destruction of ugly kiwifruit.  If you have seen a kiwifruit before it's been pealed, you know how ridiculous this rule was.


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