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  • CEI to Appeals Court: FOIA Covers Agency Officials' Work-Related Emails Stored on Private Server

    January 20, 2016 7:25 AM

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could soon deliver a pivotal ruling in the case of Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy. Our lawsuit involves a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking work-related emails from the personal email account of Dr. John Holdren, who has directed the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) since early 2009. This case could set an important precedent affirming FOIA’s vitality in digital era, ensuring that agency employees who increasingly conduct official business using non-governmental accounts—or even private servers—cannot evade the scrutiny of journalists and watchdog groups.

    CEI filed this FOIA request in October 2013, asking the agency for emails sent to or from Holdren’s non-governmental email account relating to his official business as OSTP’s chief. Our request specifically asked for work-related emails in Holdren’s Woods Hole Research Center account, jholdren@whrc.org, where he worked before President Obama tapped him to head OSTP. Even after joining the White House, Holdren kept using his private email account to correspond with other administration officials, as revealed by documents produced in response to a different CEI FOIA request involving the “Richard Windsor” alias used to conduct official business by former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

    Instead of searching Holdren’s private account for responsive documents, however, OSTP initially claimed we had requested records that were “beyond the reach of FOIA.” After we challenged this decision, OSTP eventually gave us emails from Holdren’s official OSTP account to or from his private account—but it did not search his private account as we had requested.

  • CDC Sodium Reduction Efforts: Helpful or Harmful?

    January 19, 2016 1:56 PM

    Most people accept as gospel the nutritional limits set by government organizations. So, when the Centers for Disease Control releases a report saying that 89 percent of Americans are consuming almost twice the daily recommended limit for sodium, we tend to pay attention. In last week’s Morbidity and Mortality WeeklyCDC researchers found that adult men and women in this country are eating about 50 to 100 percent more sodium than the recommended 2,300 mg daily limit, despite more than a decade of telling us to cut it out. And they suggest the way to finally get us to change our sodium munching ways is to convince food manufacturers to do it for us—to lower the content of processed foods. Considering we get on average 70 percent of our sodium from processed or prepared foods, this might reduce the amount of sodium we eat—might. But, the question that few seem to be asking is: will it make us healthier?

    The problem is that, unlike salt and pepper, determining what constitutes a “healthy” sodium consumption range isn’t black and white. In fact, when you look at the levels of sodium consumed around the world, across cultures and economic levels, it becomes apparent that almost nobody on the planet is staying below the maximum sodium consumption levels set by the CDC and other health organizations. In fact, in 2014 The World Health Organization found that people in 181 out of 187 countries surveyed consume at least twice as much sodium as the WHO’s recommended 2 gram (or 2,000 mg) daily limit. So, is this a species-wide pandemic? Or is it possible that the government guidelines are just wrong?

  • RealClear Radio Hour: Post-Serpico Policing & Prohibition

    January 19, 2016 12:16 PM

    This week on RealClear Radio Hour: a sharecropper’s grandson whose father was a police officer and a 34-year police veteran turned against the failed war on drugs discuss criminal justice reform, gun control, and how to fix community policing.

    My first guest this week is Jonathan Blanks, managing editor of PoliceMisconduct.net and research associate at the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice. Blanks discusses gun control, police shootings, and the blue wall of silence; and notes that while police corruption has become less pervasive, incidents of misconduct that do occur are even more pernicious.  

    In the second half of the show, I’m joined by Major Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement against Prohibition (LEAP) and 34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department. Franklin shares first-hand experience on how the failed war on drugs pits communities and police against one another, with tragic consequences.   

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

    January 18, 2016 11:41 AM

    Things sped up last week after 2016’s slow start. The Energy Department issued the year’s first two economically significant regulations, and other new regulations cover everything from responsible people to injurious slamanders.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 70 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 32 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 24 minutes.
    • With 102 final regulations published so far in 2016, the federal government is on pace to issue 2,550 regulations in 2016.
    • Last week, 1,607 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,113 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 2,720 pages, the 2016 Federal Register is on pace for exactly 68,000 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Two such rules have been published so far in 2016.
    • The running compliance cost tally for 2016’s economically significant regulations ranges from $321 million to $1.118 billion.
    • 13 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published this year.
    • So far in 2016, 25 new rules affect small businesses; 5 of them is classified as significant. 
  • CEI Welcomes Obama Administration's Automated Vehicle Push, With Caveats

    January 14, 2016 2:12 PM

    Today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced new initiatives on automated vehicles, commonly referred to as driverless cars, self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles. Foxx, joined by representatives from Google, Tesla, the Big 3 automakers, and Tier 1 supplier Delphi, discussed the Obama administration’s plan to pump $4 billion over 10 years to “accelerate” the development and deployment of automated vehicles. How they exactly plan to do so—and to ensure these requested funds won’t be squandered on pet projects or on initiatives that delay development and deployment—remains to be seen.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also released an update to its May 2013 preliminary statement of policy. The key takeaways:

  • Milk, Saturated Fat, and Why You Shouldn't Take Nutrition Advice from Jezebel

    January 14, 2016 9:38 AM

    Growing up lactose intolerant, I was fond of saying that drinking milk post-infanthood was unnatural. Then I found out that humans aren’t the only ones in the animal kingdom to keep and care for another species in order to take its produce. This week, a writer at Jezebel wrote an amusing clickbait article—and an effective one if my Facebook feed is any indicator—echoing my childhood sentiment that adults drinking milk is weird and they shouldn’t do it.

    Setting aside her really bad arguments (e.g., adult humans shouldn’t drink milk because no other animals do so), her “best,” or at least most reasonable, argument centers on the nutritional quality of milk. She contends that its high-fat, nutrient-dense nature makes milk perfect for babies in need of rapid weight gain and nutrition, but inappropriate for adults, especially since most of us already eat too much fat and fat consumption causes heart disease. “If you enjoy living, put the milk down,” she says. It’s funny, but based on current scientific evidence, dead wrong.

    For decades the theory—or rather dogma—was that saturated fats (SFA) in foods caused cardiovascular disease (CVD). This idea that came from observational studies that linked consumption of foods high in SFA to increased CVD risk. And this is at the heart of the nutrition argument Jezebel and even the most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines make. While there is some research to back up the idea that consumption of foods containing saturated fat might increase heart health risks, emerging research has begun to cast doubt on the old wisdom. You may have seen articles with titles like “The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease” and “The Government’s Bad Diet Advice” in major news outlets asserting that the saturated fat myth has been “debunked.” It turns out that it’s not so simple and that not all saturated fats are created equal.

  • Three Economists Had the Answer to the President's Questions

    January 13, 2016 4:58 PM

    Last night at the State of the Union, the President asked three questions regarding domestic policy (I’ll leave the foreign policy question to others). They were:

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    These three questions are best answered by three great economists, Joseph Schumpeter, Ronald Coase, and Friedrich Hayek.

  • How Do We Give Workers a Fair Shot? Remove Regulatory Roadblocks

    January 13, 2016 12:16 PM

    In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he echoed a theme that has been constant throughout his tenure, saying, “how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?”

    One way President Obama could have a productive final year in office and work toward expanding opportunity is by directing the National Labor Relations Board to stop making it more difficult for employers to hire and entrepreneurs to get started. During Obama’s time in office, the NLRB has imposed costly regulations that threaten to disrupt workplaces around the nation and the greater economy.

    One example is the NLRB’s recent change to the joint employer standard.

    For decades, a franchisor and franchisee were considered two distinct entities. This is commonsense. A franchisee is an independent small business owner that hires and fires employees, creates their schedules, and is responsible for any labor violations against its employees. This business relationship benefited all involved—employers, consumers, and workers. It allowed entrepreneurs an easy way to strike out on their own. They are able to use the franchisor’s brand name, and benefit from the parent company’s marketing efforts and tested business methods. In return, the franchisee is liable for its day-to-day business practices and is their own boss.

    The franchise business model thrived under the decades old joint employer standard. Franchises employ millions of workers and account for 10 percent of new jobs in 2013 and 2014. Projections from the International Franchise Association show that the “gross domestic product (GDP) of the franchise sector will increase by $521 billion or 5.2 percent in 2015, an increase over the $496 billion generated in 2014.”

  • SOTU Response: Fisking O's Climate Spiel

    January 13, 2016 9:55 AM

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

    RESPONSE: President Obama has the politics all wrong. In fact, Obama ran to the right of Romney on energy policy in 2012. That Obama, the one trying to get elected by the American people, was pro-fossil fuel (even coal), and he avoided talking about climate change. Only after he was elected to a second term did Obama make climate change a legacy issue. Now, he’s claiming that the “majority of the American people” want him to implement climate policies. Of course he is being disingenuous. If he believed this was true, he would have run on the issue in 2012. Instead, he ran from it.

  • David Bowie, Financial Wizard

    January 11, 2016 12:59 PM

    With the announcement today of the death of David Bowie, tributes from fellow artists and his millions of fans are pouring in. While it may be impossible to ever estimate his impact on rock music and pop culture generally, we can get a handle on his contribution to the field of business and finance. As many outlets are reminding us today, Bowie was a savvy and innovative investor, in particular when it came to his own intellectual property.

    In 1997 he sold $55m of "Bowie Bonds", asset-backed securities that were backed by the current and future revenues of the 25 albums he recorded before 1990.

    Rather than getting steady income from the revenues of his back catalogue — including records such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Let's Dance — the bonds allowed Bowie to borrow more money up front.

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