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  • CEI Issues Report on the Nation’s Six Worst State Attorneys General

    August 27, 2015 8:08 AM

    Today, CEI issued another of its periodic “worst state attorney general” lists, in a lengthy report explaining why those attorneys general received that dubious distinction. (Previous versions were issued in 2007 and 2010.) The Nation’s Worst State Attorneys General 2015 is now available.

    Pennsylvania’s recently indicted Kathleen Kane was rated the worst state attorney general. As the Huffington Post notes, “Almost half of Pennsylvania voters want Kathleen Kane, the state's embattled Democratic attorney general, to step down, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. Forty-nine percent said Kane, who is facing criminal charges relating to allegations she leaked information about a rival, should resign. Twenty-seven percent said she should remain in her position.” Fifty-four percent of Pennsylvania voters disapproved of her job performance, while 20 percent approve. Kane was indicted on August 6 for illegally leaking grand jury material and a subsequent cover-up. Kane is charged with perjury, official oppression, obstruction of justice, and contempt of court.

    State attorneys general are supposed to represent the interests of their clients, not their own. For attorneys general, that includes representing state agencies that are sued, defending state laws, and giving unbiased legal advice to state officials. But AGs are often self-seeking politicians who chafe at having to perform these duties rather than aggrandizing their own power. For many, it is tempting to use their office to enrich themselves or their trial lawyer friends, or to file lawsuits attacking political opponents or out-of-state businesses that have done nothing illegal, but have no redress at the polls.

    Past examples include former Texas attorney general Dan Morales, who was jailed for mail fraud and tax evasion related to Texas’s 1998 tobacco settlement; Alabama’s Richmond Flowers, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiring to extort payments from companies; and Missouri’s William Webster, who was sentenced to two years in prison for rewarding lawyers who donated to his campaign with bigger settlements.

  • Nobody Knows How Many Federal Agencies Exist

    August 26, 2015 2:27 PM

    As bureaucracy sprawls, nobody can say with complete authority exactly how many federal agencies exist.

    The twice-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Deregulatory and Regulatory Actions, which compiles agency regulatory plans in the federal pipeline, listed 60 agencies in the Spring 2015 edition, a count that can vary slightly from report to report. The Fall 2014 edition that also contained many agencies’ Regulatory Plan also listed 60.

    The Administrative Conference of the United States lists 115 agencies in the appendix of its “Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies, but notes

    [T]here is no authoritative list of government agencies. For example, FOIA.gov [maintained by the Department of Justice] lists 78 independent executive agencies and 174 components of the executive departments as units that comply with the Freedom of Information Act requirements imposed on every federal agency. This appears to be on the conservative end of the range of possible agency definitions. The United States Government Manual lists 96 independent executive units and 220 components of the executive departments. An even more inclusive listing comes from USA.gov, which lists 137 independent executive agencies and 268 units in the Cabinet.

  • Clean Energy Incentive Program: Why It Makes EPA's Power Plant Rule Even More Unlawful

    August 25, 2015 6:24 PM

    EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which imposes carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rate targets and tonnage caps on state electric power sectors, is unlawful in at least half a dozen ways.

    To mention just one flaw, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the CPP’s putative statutory basis, authorizes EPA to regulate “particular” “stationary sources,” not the wider marketplace, networked industry, or sector of which a source happens to be a part. Yet the CPP will compel states to revise their laws and regulations on electric dispatch policy, fuel mix policy, and demand-management policy.

    EPA’s final CPP contains a key initiative not mentioned in the draft rule: the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). EPA added the CEIP to jumpstart investment in wind and solar power, assuring environmental groups and renewable energy interests the CPP won’t trigger a ‘dash to gas’ as it suppresses electric power generation from coal. In other words, the CEIP’s job is to make sure the Clean Power Plan rigs the marketplace against all fossil-fuel generation. 

    The CEIP is an early action credit program. By “early,” EPA means the CEIP authorizes states to award regulatory credits for new renewable power provided before the CPP compliance period (2022-2030). EPA will, in addition, award up to 300 million tons worth of extra credits to ‘early actors’ on a matching basis.

    You might suppose EPA would explain the legal authority for a policy change potentially affecting hundreds of companies’ bottom lines. Yet neither the final CPP, the CEIP fact sheet, nor EPA’s proposed federal implementation plan discusses the CEIP’s statutory basis.

  • Study "Wounds" the Carbohydrate-Insulin Theory of Obesity

    August 24, 2015 3:53 PM

    Last week a very interesting and, by all accounts, very well-done study made waves among the nutritional science community. For many years, the idea that reducing carbohydrates is the most effective way to reduce fat due to its effect on insulin has been rapidly gaining in popularity.

    Prominent researchers like Dr. Robert Lustig (who famously called sugar a “poison”), and Gary Taubes (author of Good Calories, Bad Calories) have promoted the idea that it’s not just about how much you eat, but what you eat, that leads to obesity. Specifically, that carbohydrates and sugar cause a cascade of problems including insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. This new study, however, casts serious doubt on the hypothesized mechanism by which consumption of carbohydrates, in particular, would lead to these problems.

    The study, led by Dr. Kevin D. Hall, was published in the highly respected Cell Metabolism journal on August 13 and found that restricting dietary fat led to body fat loss that was 68 percent higher than a diet that reduced the same number of calories through carbohydrates for obese adults. The study was small, with only 19 participants, and short, lasting only four weeks.

    However, it was a well-designed and tightly controlled study. As neurobiologist Stephan Guyenet put it, “this study's methods were downright obsessive. The overall study design and diets were extremely tightly controlled, and the researchers took a large number of measurements using gold-standard methods.” The participants were randomly assigned to either the low-carb group or the low-fat group. After five days of baseline eating, the participants had their calories restricted by reducing either fat or carbohydrates by 30 percent (sugar was the same in both groups).

  • CEI's Battled Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    August 24, 2015 7:06 AM

    Nearly 2,000 Federal Register pages contain regulations for everything from pay ratios to apricots.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 76 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 83 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 13 minutes.
    • So far in 2015, 2,105 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,248 new regulations this year, which would be several hundred fewer rules than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
    • Last week, 1,993 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,285 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 49,073 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 74,969 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Nineteen such rules have been published so far this year, none in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $1.32 billion to $1.41 billion for the current year.
    • 177 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2015, 352 new rules affect small businesses; 53 of them are classified as significant. 
  • Savers Oppose "Fiduciary Rule" Sold by Labor Department as "Protecting" Them

    August 21, 2015 3:12 PM

    “A fundamental shift in Wall Street culture” is what the Department of Labor is aiming for with the “fiduciary rule.” That’s what DOL Deputy Assistant Secretary Tim Hauser said in an interview with FinancialPlanning.com during recent hearings on the proposed regulation that has been called “Obamacare for Your IRA.”

    But the vast majority of comments submitted on the rule—most of which came far away from Wall Street—called on the DOL to change its own culture of paternalism, an analysis by the Competitive Enterprise Institute shows. Many of these comments took aim at the DOL’s explicit contention in the rule, which I have written about here and elsewhere, that individuals can’t “prudently manage retirement assets on their own,” and that they “generally cannot distinguish … good investment results from bad.”  

    Individual savers, however, begged to differ on their ability to manage their own retirement accounts and expressed outrage at the regulation’s limiting of their ability to seek guidance from brokers and pursue individualized investment strategies. A retiree named Don Schwartz pleaded with the DOL: “Leave my retirement alone. I need no help from the Federal government with my 401K.” After explaining that he was “doing just fine thanks to the company I retired from and my own personal decisions I made along the way,” Schwartz told the DOL loudly and clearly, “Quit helping me, I'm smarter than you think I am.”

  • Feds Double Down on Failed Affordable Housing Mandates

    August 21, 2015 12:44 PM

    Federal affordable housing mandates do little to increase homeownership rates, but they did help cause a devastating financial crisis in 2008 by encouraging risky lending.

    Yet the Federal Housing Finance Agency is doubling down on failure by ratcheting up those mandates. Its head, Mel Watt, was appointed by the President in 2013, even though the policies he promoted in Congress helped cause the financial crisis.

  • The FTC Targets Apple Music: Part III

    August 21, 2015 11:08 AM

    This is the third in a series of essays on the FTC’s investigation of Apple Music. In Part II of this series, we demonstrated that, even if Apple were to ban rival music services from offering iOS apps, competition in the smartphone market would significantly mitigate any threat to competition in the music streaming market. This section will ignore this effect and look instead at how Apple’s actual actions, unhindered by consumers’ ability to switch phones, would affect competition in the music streaming market.

    Recall from Part I that although Apple imposes several restrictions on rival music streaming services, these restrictions are largely illusory because they apply only to sales made through these services’ iOS apps. Any consumer can bypass them by simply purchasing their subscription through a service’s web site—or, for that matter, any channel other than its iOS app.

    As a result, these restrictions should affect only a small subset of music streamers—those who (1) discovered music streaming through a service’s iOS app, (2) rely exclusively on iOS for streaming, and (3) haven’t learned that they can bypass Apple’s restrictions through some other means. In other words, the only consumers who would pay a higher price or be “unfairly” pushed towards Apple Music are those whose sole exposure to music streaming has come through Apple devices. The question, then, is whether Apple should have an advantage among consumers whose sole exposure to music streaming has come through the ecosystem it developed.

  • Back to School Lunch Scares

    August 19, 2015 3:15 PM

    It’s back to school season, which for many parents means spending money on new clothes, shuttling young people from sports games to ballet, and increasingly, worrying about the kind of nutrition their kids are getting when they’re away from the home.

    This is understandable since they are inundated with hyperbolic headlines like “sugary drinks kill,” “death by salt,” and “processed meat causes cancer”. It’s enough to add a few gray hairs to any parent’s head. While it’s important to teach kids about proper nutrition and make sure they’re eating a balanced diet in and outside of the home, this kind of inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t help parents make healthy and realistic choices for their children.

    So, here are a few tips to help you relax as you send your kids off into the great wide nutritional unknown.

    Soda won’t kill your kids. There is no doubt that excessive consumption of sugary drinks through soda or fruit juice can easily lead to a calorie surplus and weight gain. However, the occasional can of sports drink after a soccer game isn’t likely to cause any damage.

    You may have seen the headline announcing that a study says “Sugary Drinks May Kill 184,000 People Each Year.” It’s pretty scary, but it’s also pretty speculative and its methodology is questionable. The researchers used data from 62 self-reported surveys from only 51 countries between 1980 and 2010. They used “sugar availability,” to calculate consumption, presumably to account for the counties without adequate data. Rebecca Goldin, a Professor of Mathematical Sciences at George Mason University and Director of STATS.org (a group of researchers who work to evaluate and interpret statistical research for accurate reporting in the media) pointed out the many reasons people should be skeptical of this study, including a lack of transparency about how the researchers accounted for missing data such as sugar sources in the diet other than sugary drinks.

    They also failed to say how addressed the uncertainty in the proportion of diabetes/cardiovascular disease caused by sugary drink consumption, and the uncertainty of the proportion of deaths caused by these diseases. When someone goes into the hospital with a heart attack and dies, it’s very difficult to say if it was his five decades of smoking, sedentary lifestyle, or the liter of coke he drank every week.

    As Harry Cheadle over at Vice put it “X behavior causes Y deaths” headlines are always popular because people like numbers, and statements like that at least appear to quantify bad behaviors. Never mind if the numbers don't really make any sense.”

  • NLRB Denies Petition to Form College Athlete Union, for Now

    August 18, 2015 12:37 PM

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) yesterday denied a petition by Northwestern University football players to form a union. While this is a rare show of restraint by a labor board that, under the Obama administration, has often acted like a pro-union advocate, the ruling is on such narrow grounds that it’s difficult to draw any broader conclusions from it.

    A ruling in favor of the Northwestern union petitioners would have affected all private schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) top division, a mere 17 schools of 125. That raises the question: Would the Board have ruled differently if its decision were to apply across the board, or at least to the overwhelming majority of athletic programs?

    For more on the NLRB decision, see here.

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