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  • Seattle Regulators Go After Rideshare Driver Privacy

    May 9, 2016 11:09 AM

    Today, I have a column up at FEE.org on the need for classical liberals to make financial privacy as important an aspect of their outlook as personal privacy. The need for vigilance against all kinds of intrusion of privacy is currently being demonstrated in Seattle, where city officials are making unjustified demands of ridesharing services over the comings and goings of drivers who use their platforms to find customers, all in an effort to force them into paying dues to unions.

    Last year, Seattle city council passed an ordinance that allowed drivers to form groups that could have the power to negotiate pay and conditions with their platforms. As the R Street Institute’s Ian Adams explained, “The ability to bargain collectively is more typically associated with a traditional employer-employee relationship, and it is a poor fit for companies like Uber and Lyft” (as drivers who use those platforms are independent contractors). This led to Seattle dropping a whole grade in its friendliness to ridesharing in R Street’s 2015 Ridescore index.

    The ordinance led to the Chamber of Commerce filing suit against the city for violation of the Sherman Act and pre-emption of the National Labor Relations Act.

  • Ten Thousand Commandments

    May 9, 2016 8:30 AM

    The brand new 2016 edition of Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr.’s Ten Thousand Commandments report is out now. You can read it here. If you prefer ther short version, Wayne and I did a short writeup for The Hill’s Congress Blog, emphasizing why presidential candidates should start talking about regulation:

    We hear a lot about spending in candidate debates and speeches. But federal regulations impose estimated total costs on the economy of $1.88 trillion, roughly half the size of the federal budget, according to our findings, published in the 2016 edition of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual Ten Thousand Commandments report.

    So while politicians from both parties loudly complain about “waste, fraud and abuse” in taxing and spending, the costs of regulation mean the federal government is 50 percent more bloated than even the most strident stump speech would suggest. Indeed, if federal regulations were their own country, they would comprise the world’s 10th largest economy, ahead of Russia and behind India.

    Read the whole piece here, or, better, the entire study here.

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

    May 9, 2016 8:28 AM

    After a slow start, 2016 is back to a normal regulatory pace. The Federal Register is on a nearly 80,000-page pace, and the number of new rules is just a touch below normal. New rules from the last week range from trawls to FCC emergency alerts.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 71 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 65 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 35 minutes.
    • With 1,148 final regulations published so far in 2016, the federal government is on pace to issue 3,261 regulations in 2016. Last year’s total was 3,406 regulations.
    • Last week, 1,893 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 2,035 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 27,896 pages, the 2016 Federal Register is on pace for 79,250 pages. The 2015 Federal Register had an adjusted page count of 81,611.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. Nine such rules have been published so far in 2016, one in the last week.
    • The running compliance cost tally for 2016’s economically significant regulations ranges from $843 million to $1.68 billion.
    • 88 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published this year.
    • So far in 2016, 225 new rules affect small businesses; 33 of them are classified as significant. 
  • FDA’s Attack on E-Cigarette Will Cost Lives

    May 5, 2016 2:49 PM

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced broad new rules regulating the sales of cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and pipe tobacco. In addition to banning the sale of such products to consumers under 19 years old, they also bring e-cigarettes under the same onerous regulations as traditional tobacco products. While the public health goals of protecting consumers from possibly harmful vaping products and preventing kids from becoming addicted to nicotine are laudable goals, this heavy-handed approach will only likely push people—adults and teens alike—back toward far more harmful tobacco products.

    While the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown, there’s little doubt that e-cigarettes are dramatically less harmful than other tobacco products. According to Britain’s Department of Health, available e-cigarette brands are at least 95 percent less harmful than regular cigarettes. And as the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products regulation, Mitch Zeller, notes, “If we could get all those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health.” This is because, unlike traditional tobacco products, the “vapor” is not produced through combustion and does not contain tar.

    In fact, the Royal College of Physicians just this week issued a report recommending doctors promote the use of e-cigarettes as a substitute for traditional smoking. While not risk-free, the report noted that vaping can help prevent patients from relapsing and save “millions” of lives.

  • FCC's Cable Box Mandate: Costly, Illegal, and Unnecessary

    May 5, 2016 11:57 AM

    Regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) want to dictate how cable and satellite television providers design their so-called “set-top boxes”—a fancy term for what many people refer to as a DVR or HD box that they rent from their television provider. The FCC claims its proposed rules would “unlock” the box, enabling consumers to watch live television on all sorts of devices—from smartphones to gaming consoles—instead of paying $10 to rent a dedicated set-top box.

    But there’s a big problem with this proposal: it’s costly, unnecessary, and outside the scope of the agency’s authority. This won’t come as a surprise if you follow the FCC, which has recently embarked on numerous ill-conceived regulatory voyages from micromanaging Internet service providers to stripping elected state legislatures of the authority to pass laws protecting taxpayers from municipal boondoggles. In the same vein, the FCC’s new effort to regulate set-top boxes will only hurt consumers and delay innovation.

  • The Barack Obama Regulatory State Towers over that of Bush

    May 4, 2016 2:18 PM

    A glance at the overall count of rules and regulations leads one to suppose regulatory burdens are decreasing. After all, since Obama took office the total number of rules and regulations appearing annually in the Federal Register has moved from 3,830 in Bush’s last calendar year to 3,410 in 2015, as I describe in the new 2016 edition of Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State.

    There’s a deeper story though, that shows how strategic efforts to avoid traditional regulations have actually increased the burden on taxpayers. Through various tactics such as differing rule burdens, executive orders, guidance documents, and a well-documented strategic delay in unpopular rules during 2012 election cycle, President Obama’s regulatory state keeps growing.

    Also, aggressive presidential executive orders and “memoranda” have changed Washington, part of what Obama meant when he said he would use the “pen and phone” to enact his agenda if Congress didn’t go along. President Bush published 129 memoranda over his entire presidency, whereas Obama issued 219 during his first seven years that were published in the Federal Register. Numerous others weren’t published in the Federal Register at all.  

  • George Mason University Should Obey Court, Release Public RICO-20 Records

    May 3, 2016 4:53 PM

    Today, the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond issued a ruling in our case under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), Christopher Horner and Competitive Enterprise Institute v. George Mason University.  This is an important case in which we prevailed on all counts—seeking public records showing how the "RICO-20" group of academics used public funding to organize their call for a federal racketeering investigation of "corporations and other entities" who disagree with them. Their targets’ crime—dissenting from the party line on climate change. 

    The suit was filed when George Mason University (GMU) falsely claimed that no such records existed in response to a VFOIA request from both me and CEI. We learned that claim was false when we received hundreds of pages of such records that were obviously on GMU's system, from two other taxpayer-funded, state universities that were more forthright in complying with their obligations under state open records laws.

    These records included dozens of RICO-20 emails sent to or from GMU, and particularly RICO-20 co-ringleader Edward Maibach, expressly in his capacity as GMU Professor and Director of Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication. (According to GMU, Maibach teaches climate campaigning, very relevant to this case.) As the home of more RICO-20 signatories than any other entity, and being the instigator of the call to investigate political opponents, GMU’s records are of great public interest.  

  • NYT's Sensationally Incorrect Headline and Other Climate Notes

    May 3, 2016 1:17 PM

    The silliest news items are those that belie their headlines, as is the case with a sensational front-page story in today’s New York Times, titled “Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees.’” From the eye-popping title, one would think that the subjects of the article are refugees fleeing the impacts of climate change. This would indeed be news! After all, just two weeks ago, I read in The New York Times that Americans don’t care about climate policy because the primary effect of global warming has been to render the weather more pleasant. It would be strange, and quite news-worthy, if climate change were leading to refugees at the same time it is making the weather more comfortable.

    But it turns out that the headline is grossly misleading. Half-way down the article, the reporters clarify that:

    [S]ince 1955, more than 90 percent of the [Isle de Jean Charles]’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.

    What little remains will eventually be inundated as burning fossil fuels melt polar ice sheets and drive up sea levels, projected the National Climate Assessment, a report of 13 federal agencies that highlighted the Isle de Jean Charles and its tribal residents as among the nation’s most vulnerable.

  • Companies May Scrutinize Employee Activity More under DOL's Proposed Overtime Rule

    May 3, 2016 1:14 PM

    The battle over the Department of Labor’s proposed overtime rule is heating up. A number of business groups, labor unions, and progressive organizations have met with the Office of Management and Budget to make their case before a final rule is published. But the latest salvo comes from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

    Yesterday, Sen. Warren issued a report that goes state by state and indicates how many employees would become eligible for overtime pay under the proposed overtime rule. The report uses unpublished analysis from the union-backed Economic Policy Institute. But the bulk of the report is comprised of quotations pulled from public comments on the rule from workers as well as a few business owners. Each quote basically follows the same theme, which is that individuals deserve overtime pay.

    But as I’ve discussed previously, there is significant downside to the DOL’s proposal. Workers lose the flexibility, rural areas are disparately impacted by the rule since it does not take into consideration cost of living differences across the country, and many small to mid-sized businesses will likely have to expend significant resources to comply with the change in overtime regulations. 

    However, if you read Sen. Warren’s report, it would seem like there is only upside from another expansive government wage mandate.

  • Burning Ivory Is Not the Solution

    May 3, 2016 10:36 AM

    A few days ago, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to giant pile after giant pile of elephant ivory confiscated from poachers. Some 105 tons of ivory from over 8,000 elephants as well as 300 rhino horns. Worth some $150 million.
     
    This was the largest such stockpile ever destroyed since Kenya began this program back in the 1980s.
     
    Supposedly this is to send a message to poachers and ivory dealers. “Today Kenya will set fire to the ivory trade,” tweeted WildAid, an organization that “fights for wildlife by targeting consumer demand for illicit products including ivory, rhino horn and shark fin.” 

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