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From Time Magazine:
Just in time for Mardi Gras, someone has created an app that allows revelers to find nearby private bathrooms and relieve themselves in a safe, non-public manner. At a price, of course.
As its name suggests, AirPnP is just like AirBnB, but instead of paying for a place to crash, users are simply paying for a place to pee. The web-based app, currently available in New Orleans, seeks to solve a very common problem during Mardi Gras: hordes of parade-goers have full bladders and very few places to empty them.
Users can log in and either find a nearby place to pee using GPS or become “an entrepeeneur” by adding their home’s bathroom to the queue and indicating the price to use it. All of the potential toilets are located along the Mardi Gras parade route and cost up to $5 per use (see map above). Guests can either pay through the app or in cash directly to the renter. Users can also rate bathrooms based on everything from overall cleanliness to quality of toilet paper.
Related Market: High-Tech Toilet Seats Don’t Require Hands Or Paper
This post is contributed to Free the Animal by French IT Engineer, Alexandre Cesaro
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of deaths worldwide - killing 7 millions people every year. In the following text, we will see that wheat consumption is probably a risk factor for CHD.
Conventional Wisdom on Wheat
Most health organizations currently view wheat as a safe food except for people having celiac disease—affecting up to 1% of the population—and people having non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Also whole wheat—as part of whole grains—is considered to be one of the healthiest foods. In fact a diet rich in whole grains is considered to be protective against CHD.
Why? Because observational studies consistently find that whole grain consumption is associated with a decreased risk of CHD. Do these results contradict wheat consumption causing CHD?
Are Whole Grains Protective Against CHD?
According to this study:
Whole grain intake consistently has been associated with improved cardiovascular disease outcomes, but also with healthy lifestyles, in large observational studies. Intervention studies that assess the effects of whole grains on biomarkers for CHD have mixed results.
In fact there is an health-conscious population bias in these studies: for example people consuming the most whole grains also exercise more and smoke less:
Of course researchers adjust the data for these risk factors. But it is very difficult, maybe impossible, to adjust for all risk factors. For example the two previously cited studies did not adjust for important risk factors like socioeconomic status or social support.
A classic example of an occurrence of this bias can be found in hormone replacement therapy (HRT): observational studies had found that HRT was decreasing the risk of heart disease risk while a controlled study finally found that HRT was indeed slightly increasing the risk of heart disease.
A proof that this health-conscious bias could explain the seemingly protective effect of whole grains can be found in randomized controlled studies: many of them fail to find any beneficial effect of whole grains compared to refined grains.
So according to these randomized controlled studies whole grains are neutral toward CHD risks. How then can we say that wheat causes CHD?
Are All Grains Created Equal?
Many randomized controlled studies compared wheat with other grains. These trials are usually quite short. So instead of looking at the number of heart attacks, short-term studies focus on risk predictors of CHD like weight gain or markers of inflammation. Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) level is another risk factor. It represents the number of LDL particles - often called “bad cholesterol”. It is now considered to be a better predictor than LDL-C - the amount of cholesterol contained in LDL particles. The lower the level of ApoB the lower is the risk of CHD.
Here are some results of these studies:
These studies show that some grains like oat improve the risk factors of CHD compared to wheat. In addition, these studies often show an absolute improvement of the CHD risk profile in groups eating oat and an absolute deterioration in groups eating wheat. Although we cannot say for sure, it would suggest that oat is protective against CHD - which is confirmed by other studies - while wheat increase the risk of CHD.
That could help explain why people eating more whole grains are healthier in observational studies since it looks like that they eat more grains like rice and oat and less typically wheat-made food like white bread, pasta and doughnuts:
Now let’s have a look at studies linking wheat and CHD.
Observational Studies on Wheat
Some observational studies linked wheat and waist circumference gains—waist circumference being a strong predictor of CHD:
A more pertinent result is found in the data of a large observational study in China. Researchers analysed these data and found a 0.67 correlation between wheat flour intake and CHD. They also found a 0.58 correlation between wheat intake and BMI.
But this is just a single unadjusted correlation and does not prove much. However author Denise Minger thoroughly analysed the data of this study and found that the association held strongly after multivariate analysis with any other variable available like latitude, BMI, smoking habits, fish consumption, etc.
Since it is an observational study it cannot prove anything but it is yet more evidence suggesting that wheat consumption causes CHD. Let’s now have a look at randomized controlled trials.
Randomized Controlled Trials on Wheat
In addition to the previous randomized controlled trials comparing wheat with other grains there are two additional studies suggesting that wheat consumption causes CHD.
The first one is a study involving rabbits. While studies involving animals are not always relevant to humans - especially studies with herbivore animals like rabbit - the results of this study are quite interesting.
The researchers fed rabbits an atherogenesis diet (i.e. promoting formation of fatty masses in arterial walls) with a supplement of cottonseed oil, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, wheat germ or sucrose. And as they concluded:
Severity of atherosclerosis after 5 months was greatest on the wheat germ-supplemented diet, whereas there were no differences among the other three groups.
The second study is the Diet And Reinfarction Trial (DART). In this 2-year randomized controlled trial, people who already had recovered from a heart attack were split into groups receiving various advice. The main result of this study was that the group advised to eat fatty fish had a reduction in mortality from CHD.
One other piece of advice - the fibre advice - was:
to eat at least six slices of wholemeal bread per day, or an equivalent amount of cereal fibre from a mixture of wholemeal bread, high-fibre breakfast cereals and wheat bran
Seeing this advice we can guess that most of cereal fibres intake by this group was from wheat although we cannot be sure.
This advice resulted on a 22% death increase:
However this result bordered on statistical significance: the 95% confidence interval being 0.99–1.65.
For people not familiar with statistics, a result is usually defined as statistically significant when there is less than 5% chance that the result is due to luck alone. Here there is a 95% probability that the relative risk is between 0.99 (1% decreased chance of dying) and 1.67 (67% increased chance of dying).
Since the probability that the fibre advice resulted in a protective or neutral effect was a little too high, this result has been quite overlooked. Had the study lasted a little longer, it would have raised way more suspicion toward whole grains.
A decade later, in a follow-up study researchers sent self-completion questionnaires to the survivors. This study is less interesting since it had many limitations:
There are a number of limitations to the dietary data collected in this survey. The dietary advice stopped after 2 y and all the surviving men received a letter encouraging them to eat more fatty fish and it is possible that this resulted in immediate dietary changes. The dietary data presented here were collected from at least 85% of survivors some years after the end of the 2 y of dietary advice when around half of the original participants had died. Diet was assessed with a limited number of questions that focused on fish and fibre intake. Questionnaire data were not collected on other aspects of current diet and objective biological measures of fish intake were not obtained. It is thus possible that we were unable to detect important differences in diet.
However, in this study the researchers reanalyzed the original data from the DART study and adjusted for pre-existing conditions and medication use. This time they found the fibre advice to be statistically significant: as we can see in the table 4 they found a hazard ratio of 1.35 (95% CI 1.02, 1.80) for the 2-year period of the randomized controlled trial.
These results are quite telling: according to these researchers, a 2 year randomized controlled trial showed that advising people recovering from a heart attack to eat at least six slices of wholemeal bread per day resulted in a statistically significant 35% percent chance increase of CHD compared to people not receiving this advice.
Wheat, Vitamin D Deficiency And Heart Disease
Many studies found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with CHD.
As this study concludes:
A lower vitamin D status was possibly associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease. As a whole, trials showed no statistically significant effect of vitamin D supplementation on cardiometabolic outcomes.
Wheat consumption causing CHD could help explaining these results. A study found that wheat consumption depletes vitamin D reserves. That could explain why vitamin D deficiency is associated with heart disease and why it does not seem to cause it: both vitamin D deficiency and heart disease could be consequences of wheat consumption.
Of course this is not the only explanation. For example the DART study shows that fish consumption prevents CHD and fish is a food rich in vitamin D.
Not the Perfect Culprit
To be clear, if it seems likely that wheat consumption is a risk factor of CHD it is not the only one nor the primary one. There are many other factors like smoking, hypertension, lack of exercise or stress. Even among dietary factors wheat is probably not the main one. For example the DART study shows that the protective effect of fish intake is stronger than the adverse effect of wheat.
In addition, deleterious wheat effects might not affect everybody. One study showed that the ApoB level variation following wheat and oat bran intake was different depending on the genotype of the individuals. In another study whole-wheat intake worsened the lipid profile only in people having a specific genotype compared to refined wheat.
How the wheat is cooked may have a role too. Studies show that sourdough bread improves mineral bioavailability (such as magnesium, iron, and zinc) compared to yeast bread or uncooked whole-wheat. Also content in proteins with potential adverse consequences like gluten or wheat germ agglutinin differs depending of the food type.
There is strong evidences that wheat consumption is a risk factor for CHD. People at risk of CHD should avoid wheat as should those trying to lose weight. In all cases, stopping wheat consumption for a month for example to see how one feels without wheat is always a good idea since there is currently no available method to diagnose non-celiac wheat sensitivities and that even for celiac disease the average delay in diagnostic is 11 years in the US.
More studies looking at the links between wheat and CHD are urgently needed since CHD is the leading cause of deaths while wheat is the second most widely consumed food and whole-wheat is often advised to lower risk of CHD. Studies considering grains as a whole are bound to give inconsistent results since different grains seem to have opposite effects in the case of CHD. So as much as possible future studies should treat grains separately and consider things like type of wheat products and genetic variability.
Hello, I'm Alexandre Cesaro, a French IT engineer. So even though I have a great interest in nutrition, I have not done any medical studies nor do I own any health degree. So I could be wrong on many points of this article. I could also have cherry-picked studies, missed contradictory studies, etc.
That is why I created this. I would be glad to receive contributions and comments from anyone to improve this article by adding other relevant studies, removing poor studies I may have included, fixing grammatical errors (English is not my mother tongue) or even by proving everything here is wrong.
Jeffrey A. Miron
The standard argument for occupational licensing - government-imposed limits on who can supply medical, legal, plumbing, and other services - is that such laws protect the public from low-quality provision of these services.
This argument is not convincing on its own: licensing limits the quantity of services provided, raising price, and thus harming consumers. A necessary condition for licensing to make sense, therefore, is that any improvements in service quality outweight the losses from higher prices.
A new study, however, finds that when de-regulation allows nurse practioners to perform more tasks without doctor supervision, the price of well-child medical exams declines (as implied by standard economics), with no “changes … in outcomes such as infant mortality rates.”
In at least this case, therefore, licensure is all cost and no benefit.
1. In Minneapolis, the city is trying to ban both Lyft and UberX from operating in the city, even though both ride-sharing services are already operating in neighboring Saint Paul (and people would often be traveling from city to city):
The taxi-like car-sharing service Lyft and the city of Minneapolis are on a collision course. San Francisco-based Lyft, whose driver-owned cars are festooned with magenta mustaches, said Tuesday that it will begin operations in Minneapolis this week — defying a city prohibition on the unlicensed service.
Minneapolis insists that Lyft and similar services with driver-owned vehicles be licensed as taxi companies. This requires a city license for the driver, another for the vehicle with inspections and commercial insurance.
If Lyft launches in defiance of its rules, the city said drivers will be ticketed and their vehicles impounded. The city already has done this with UberX, a service similar to Lyft that has been operating for about a month in Minneapolis.
The city council transportation committee decided Thursday to limit rideshare car services like Uber and Lyft in the city. It’s a controversial decision designed to create fairness with the taxi cab drivers. The council members voted 5-4 to limit what they call “transportation networking companies” to 150 drivers per company on the road at any given time.
MP: Minnesota taxpayers have been forced to spend billions of dollars for a light rail transit system that was recently expanded from Minneapolis to a new line to downtown St. Paul, with plans for additional expansions in the future. The goal of public transportation is to reduce the number of people driving in cars by themselves by providing an alternative form of “affordable,” but heavily subsidized transportation. Ride-sharing services provide another form of low-cost, affordable, and convenient transportation, so you would think cities would embrace these services for providing affordable transportation. But Uber and Lyft challenge the existing taxi cartels and don’t fit the city planners’ vision of shared, public transportation, and often get squashed.
Lost in the discussions in cities like Minneapolis and Seattle is the most important consideration of all – the consumer. As French economist Bastiat reminds us, we should “Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race.” When the interest of the consumers get trumped by the interests of the producers – the existing city taxi cartels in this case (in other words when “crony capitalism” prevails) – we’re all a little less free and a little worse off. Case in point: The city council of Seattle is more concerned for “fairness with taxi drivers” than for “fairness with consumers.”
Bottom Line: The Minneapolis and Seattle bans/restrictions on competition from new upstarts provide us with classic public choice cases of how special interests like taxi companies are better organized and have more political clout than disorganized consumers. Result? The special interest groups prevail in a process that HL Mencken described as “two foxes and a chicken taking a vote on what to eat for lunch.” In case it’s not obvious, the consumer is the chicken.
HTs: Tom Hewitt and Scott Drum
Like with Arab Spring, protesters in Venezuela and Ukraine owe their impressive organization to mobile social media apps. Venezuelan authorities are particularly frustrated with Texas-based Zello, a simple walkie-talkie app, for emerging as a leading tool for the opposition. The government even tried to block it.
The peer-to-peer digital messaging app spread like wildfire to 600,000 Venezuelans last week after success in organizing Ukrainian protests. Business Insider reports that it has “helped to mobilize marches, evade security sweeps, and build barricades.”
The push-to-talk method allows users to communicate by pressing a button and broadcasting to a group. The tool's openness is a tremendously popular feature (even if the government can listen in). Groups can range from two to hundreds of thousands, although only 600 can access a group at any given time. Additionally, Business Insider explains:
Part of the appeal of Zello is the ability of the human voice to carry so much more information than mere type, allowing users to give impassioned speeches.
Zello can be used to circumvent state censorship. The app was popularized during Turkish demonstrations last year to sidestep state-imposed roadblocks. Similarly, Venezuelan authorities have suppressed speech in sporadic doses: it blocked picture and video uploads to Twitter temporarily, blacked out Internet in the capital city for about 30 hours, and removed neighboring Columbia NTN24 station from cable. There is virtually no media coverage of the demonstrations in the state.
The government even tried to stamp out Zello through the publicly-owned telecommunications company CANTV. But it hardly left a scratch. The company re-released a functional version in under 24 hours.
Venezuelans are revolting for a variety of reasons, but unaccountable government is a major motivation. Ed Krayewski of Reason explains, “Maduro acted as if his government had a mandate to do whatever it wanted, in the name of the people. Enough people have now had enough intrusive government to push back.”
Social networks like Zello allow repressed citizens to retrieve information and organize against unpopular measures or corrupt behavior. The mix of digitally-situated free speech, protests fueled by repression, and government censorship, seem to constitute a formula in recent anti-government revolts, a feedback loop that could inch nations toward transparency and improved governance. The other day Google executive chairmen Eric Schmidt made a daring prediction on CBS. Because of the Internet, state censorship “will be effectively impossible,” he said. Perhaps “within a decade.”
Read more from Reason.com on Venezuela here.
NPR has a story about how The Jones Act, a 1920 law designed to protect the U.S. shipping industry from foreign competition, has made it difficult for New Jersey to get large shipments of road salt this winter. The Garden State could have brought 40,000 tons of salt down from Maine on a single ship, saving time and money during one of the toughest winters in memory, but instead has to ferry a barge capable of handling shipments of under 10,000 tons back and forth, adding costs and delays.
[New Jersey officials] bought the salt but ran into problems getting it to New Jersey — despite the fact that there was an enormous, empty cargo ship, sitting at the Searsport port, headed down to Newark.
"I mean, it was just like serendipity," says Joe Dee, chief of staff with the New Jersey Department of Transportation. "Here's this ship that's big enough to take 40,000 tons of salt, on its way to Newark anyway. This is perfect."
But standing between that pile of salt and the port of Newark was an ancient law. Stemming back to the 1600s, reaffirmed in its modern form in 1920, it's called, the Jones Act. Under the Jones Act, if you want to bring something from one U.S. port to another, you have to use an American-built ship, flying an American flag, with a mostly American crew.
The argument in favor of The Jones Act - a weak one, to be sure - is that ship-building and sailoring more generally is related to defending the country. We've got to keep a strong ship-building industry on our shores, say defenders, so we can conscript it in time of war. Seriously.
It's not just folks in frigid New Jersey who are suffering because of a dumb old law. The NPR story touches on how The Jones Act screws over Hawaii especially. Thanks to this form of protectionism, residents of America's furtherst-flung state routinely pay 15 percent to 20 percent more for goods that come from the mainland.
Last May, Reason TV talked to Hawaiian legislators about "How Protectionism Hurts Hawaii: Why It's Time to Repeal the Jones Act." Check it out now:
In the obesity debate, you generally have:
I've actually come to be most intrigued by number 7 and I'll tell you why: I absolutely think, now, that the genetic component is the chief factor driving obesity, but I can almost assure you that most people, before reading on, would not guess what I have in mind.
I'll quote from a book in draft, to be published.
There’s about 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and about a million bacterial cells in a millilitre of fresh water. In total, there’s estimated to be about five million trillion trillion, or 5 × 1030 (5 nonillion) bacteria on Earth with a total biomass equaling that of plants. Some researchers believe that the total biomass of bacteria exceeds that of all plants and animals.
Inside of every human organism are armies of microorganisms with entirely different DNA from our human cells. That microbiome not only outnumbers our human cells by a factor of ten to one but in total, outnumbers every individual human that has ever lived on the face of the Earth. Your intestinal microflora numbers 100 trillion! Compare that with the total estimated 110 billion humans who have ever been born. You’ve got 900 times as many microorganisms. Your internal civilization of microbiota is comprised of up to 1,000 different species with 3 million non-human genes, compared to your own 24,000.
See where I'm going with this?
Do the math, and the genes that make up your gut flora outnumber your human genes by a factor of more than 100. And when you begin digging into it very deeply—such as drafting a book, perhaps —the discoveries mount by the hour in terms of all they do: from manufacturing species-specific antibiotics, to adjusting pH in the gut, to kamikaze warfare, to intra and inter-species bi-lingual communication, to enzymatic action to digest things—even anti-nutrients like phytate—to hormonal regulation, and many other functions...many heavily related to the brain-gut connection and by consequence, behavior.
Think what you will about human genetics, but how about integrate an entirely new set of non-human genes 100 times greater? Factor in enormous variation—not only in numbers of species (500-1,000 per individual, on average), but population numbers of species per individual—and then, that any individual's gut shifts in species populations seasonally, with different food intake, and you have a complexity that's likely no match for all the supercomputers on earth operating in parallel. And that's just for one of 7 billion individuals.
I love complexity. Whilst virtually everyone is out trying to come up with plans and more plans; pat answers, sets of 10 rules, Bibles and manifestos, I have no plan! Rather, I enjoy best complicating the hell out of everything and showing how all such plans are just silly.
Let's consider just two animal examples.
Now let's consider the human animal, vis-a-vis genetic obesity.
Everyone has seen picture examples from decades past, when everyone wasn't fat. What was a common sight (not uniform by any means, but most common...exceptions exist)? Lean male, plumpish to fat female. And when offspring were in the picture, it was more common that the sons were twigs and the daughters showed signs of following in mom's footsteps. Juxtapose that with "the perfect family," where everyone is lean.
Gotta be their genes, right? That simple? Pat answer? Or, is it the food they eat? It is both genes and the food they eat, all packaged with a cause & effect puzzle?
Let me advance an alternate hypothesis, though you're free to call it wild-ass speculation if you like: What if it's genetic AND the food they eat, BECAUSE of "their" genetic makeup (take particular note of those scare quotes)?
Worthy of consideration, though very loosely outlined (I trust you to connect requisite dots)? So what's the underlying mechanism, in my view? Let's take it from the point where people are not getting the daily supply of bacteria: or—and this is super important—after a round of human antibiotic carpet bombing. Remember, the beneficial bacteria in the gut tend to be able to target pathogens through species-specific antibiotics, or creating a pH that's inhospitable to them. Phages also play a role in keeping pathogens in check.
Damaged Biome --> Malabsorption --> Toxic Overload --> Damaged Tight Junctions --> Immune Response --> Auto-Immune Disease --> Allergies To Everything --> Obesity and Other Health Problems.
Time to come clean. Tim and I—already having read tons of studies on resistant starch that go back 30 years—were very damn confident that they improve the gut generally in a very special way, a "panacea," as Dr. Art Ayers puts it. Moreover, we'd both seen a lot of recent stuff all over about prebiotics (feed what's there) being more important than probiotics (get new stuff).
Enter my longtime friend, Dr. BG (Grace), PharmD. She writes a blog in little tiny font—so you pay close attention—at AnimalPharm. In comments here, and emails you'll never see, she got quite perturbed at us—especially after we downplayed probiotics on Angelo Coppola's Latest in Paleo Podcast. I won't tell you what she told us privately, but there may have been vulgarity involved. Then, serendipitously, Ameer Rosic published a podcast with me, where I think both my thinking had evolved and I explained myself better. Grace liked it.
Long story short, she became science editor for the book Tim & I are co-authoring—now almost halfway through 16 chapters nearing 400 pages—and I ordered three SBO (soil-based organism) probiotics to try. I didn't want to futz with "which is best" and was perfectly willing to confound variables and make the picture too complex to figure out, because it already is to begin with.
The reason I went and did it was actually not because of Grace's insistence per se, but because she'd been in comments for months already admonishing people: "you're feeding empty cages!" In other words, if the organisms you need aren't there, no amount of resistant starch or any other prebiotic is going to create them. RS is not Dog, after all. But I was torn. I had already experienced lots of benefits as I've outlined many times in my RS posts. But then I observed several people in comments having had problems with the potato starch seemingly clear them up after taking one or more of those probiotic recommendations.
While I wasn't having problems beyond the occasionally wayward fart, it made me wonder whether I was missing out on something. Indeed I was. Alright, quick list for me, all experienced by day 4 of one of each, twice per day, typically on an empty stomach.
So wow. Number 4, above, is a relief I can't even begin to express the value of for me personally. Makes me wonder how much of my rather vitriolic demeanor is really me, or simply an underlying pissed-offedness at my lot in life that manifests in ways I've simply learned to cope with by taking pride in it. ...I'd have rather had a small penis.
Seriously, I literally walk around in disbelief, shutting my mouth and taking deep breaths through my nose that was only possible drugged up, before, except for my Paleo Honeymoon of a couple of years.
I've evolved into a morning smoothie concoction that's different about every day, and that I split with Beatrice before she heads off to the classroom. I'd advise pounding those 3 probiotics for a couple of weeks (1 of each, twice per day), then perhaps, to make them last longer, something like this. The gist of my morning smoothie recipe, split between 2 people, about 10-12 oz each (this is how I now get pretty much 100% of my Probiotic and RS supplementation—my dose being about 1/2 to 2/3 of this recipe):
I tried to get Beatrice to take the probiotics about 4-5 days after I began taking them. No dice. That's when I concocted the "evil smoothie" plan, and all she knew was that it was a fruit smoothie, and she loved the taste. Yesterday—this is a week or so of morning ritual, now—she comes to me saying "I feel fantastic and I think it's that morning drink. Keep doing it."
So, I suppose that in the large scheme of things, if you've ever lived a sheltered life and/or taken a round of antibiotics ever, it's entirely possible that your gut biome was damaged permanently, and much of what you experience is merely downstream effects too complex to fully understand (see the beginning section of the post). Or, perhaps you were a C-Section baby who didn't get the benefit of the billions of bacteria you get in the process of a natural birth. And/or, you were not breastfed, and so didn't get both the billions of bacteria with every feeding in mammalian milk, nor the probiotics that come right along with it in a nice & tidy package.
Whatever the singular or multiple case, I'm here to say that I've bought a number of the dairy-based probiotics over the years and felt nothing I ever noticed. This has been way different than anything.
I don't see how it can hurt. It might help a lot.
* I further speculate that the Paleo LC approach, that removed the antagonists that gave me relief, also starved and perhaps extinguished gut microbes such that I became sensitize to far greater things in smaller doses, ultimately.
Update: I had really intended to spend some space tying this back to #1 in the list of obesity, but things were getting long, so let's explore that in comments if you like. In a nutshell: I think a bad gut = bad decisions on many levels via the brain-gut connection and hormone regulation, including food choices brought on by insatiable cravings. Perhaps the palatability/reward hypotheses would be better refined by finding out how food engineering is both exploiting and exacerbating the problem.
“It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission,” the popular saying goes. One school in Texas has taught a student a different lesson: better to keep quiet and hope no one notices than to apologize for a mistake. What happened, via WLS:
Christi Seale says her 17-year-old son Chaz accidentally confused a beer can for a soda can and packed it in his lunch.
"He was in a hurry, running late. We were talking about school and he put it all together and took off for school," she said.
When he realized his mistake at school, Chaz gave the unopened beer to his teacher. But that teacher then reported it to the principal at Livingston High School, who suspended the boy for three days and then sent him to an alternative school for two months.
Chaz said, "I gave it to the teacher thinking I wouldn't get in trouble, and I got in trouble."
That kind of tone deaf, zero tolerance informed move isn’t going to discourage students from underage drinking, it’s going to discourage them from alerting school officials to inadvertent infractions of school policy.
Meanwhile, a student in Tennessee learned never to consent to a search, even when you don’t think you have anything to hide. Via News Channel 5:
On Thursday, Duren-Sanner, a senior at Northeast High School drove his father's car to school. During a random lockdown, his car was chosen to be searched.
Duren-Sanner gave permission because he said he had nothing to hide.
His father is a commercial fisherman on the West Coast and had apparently left a fishing knife in the car. Duren-Sanner's father said it might have been wedged between one of the seats.
Duren-Sanner said he told school officials and the Sheriff's department the car was his father's and he didn't know the knife was in it.
"He's like 'it doesn't matter it was in your possession anyway,'" Duren-Sanner said.
School officials suspended him for 10 days, the maximum allowed under school policy, and then he was reprimanded to attend 90 days at an alternative school.
He’s probably learned his lesson, not about the dangers of fishing knives, but about the dangers of consenting to a search. The beer can and the fishing knife cost the two students a combined 13 days of suspension and five months at “alternative” schools. Administrators at both schools insist procedures were followed, and what are they getting paid the big bucks for if not to defer to the rule book and deny access to their schools to students who’ve inadvertently run afoul of those rules, even when they haven't hurt anyone. Whether they like it or not, they’ve taught the students, and any classmates paying attention, a valuable lesson on authority and how stupid and dangerous it can be.
Won't someone think of the children!!?
“With the 2015 budget request,” The Washington Post reported last week, “Obama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency.”
Well, it’s about time! The end of austerity cannot come soon enough, as far as your humble correspondent is concerned. And a quick look at the historical budget tables shows why: In 2008, the federal government spent just a hair under $3 trillion. After six years of President Slash-and-Burn, spending has shrunk to almost $4 trillion. If we keep cutting like this, it will be down to $5 trillion before you know it.
These savage reductions have taken place in nearly every major federal program. Take defense spending: The year before Obama took office, it stood at $594 billion. It’s now $597 billion. Back in 2001 it was almost $300 billion. Even if you adjust for inflation, it’s clear that defense spending has shrunk at an alarming rate.
Same deal for food stamps: Under President Barack Obama, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has gone from $40 billion to $78 billion, in constant dollars. And that’s after it went from $20 billion to $40 billion under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Spending cuts like that are simply barbaric.
But they are par for the course. Using inflation-adjusted, 2012 dollars, federal spending on K-12 and vocational education has gone from $41 billion in 2002 to $100 billion in 2012. During the same period, Medicare spending has gone from $293 billion to roughly $500 billion. Transportation spending? It went from $86 billion to $138 billion. Medicaid and related programs? $223 billion to $327 billion. Energy? Half a billion to $9 billion.
If we keep hacking away at federal spending like this, pretty soon we won’t have any federal government left! No wonder the economy has been so sluggish: We obviously need more stimulus.
Clearly, trends like these cannot go on. You can’t cut your way to prosperity; America needs to be building up, not tearing down. We need more investment in basic research — research like an important new project being funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is giving $175,000 to a grant recipient who will use the money to study “the Swimming Abilities of Native Stream Fishes in the Northern Rockies-Upper Great Plains Regions of Montana.”
Studying the swimming abilities of fish is precisely the sort of research the federal government is best at. But if we don’t wise up and start spending money faster, we might have to do without it. Then where will we be?
It’s not just America. There has been a lot of austerity in Europe, too. Just ask Paul Krugman, the great economist who writes for The New York Times. “You see,” he patiently explained last week, “some but not all members of the euro area … were forced into imposing Draconian fiscal austerity” during the recent economic downturn — the results of which were “nasty, in some cases catastrophic, declines in output and unemployment.” (Krugman has been explaining this patiently for some time. In his 2012 piece on “Europe’s Austerity Madness,” he pointed out that “with erstwhile middle-class workers reduced to picking through garbage in search of food, austerity has already gone too far.”)
Just how bad has the European austerity been? According to a
piece in the Financial Post last May, in 2007 government
spending consumed 45.6 percent of the GDP of countries in the
European Union. By 2012, that percentage had shrunk to a shockingly
low 49.4 percent. No wonder the economy over there stinks.
Clearly, we cannot allow any more of those darn foreigners to enter America and bring any of that austerity nonsense with them. Unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction on border control, too. A decade ago, we had almost 10,000 border-patrol agents. Now we have more than 21,000. Border fencing, meanwhile, has increased 370 percent. Deportations are at an all-time high. It’s like we don’t even care about sealing the border any more.
One more data point should clinch the case: In January 2013, The Washington Post reported that “Congress funded Customs and Border Protection at $11.7 billion — 64 percent more than FY 2006 and $262 million more than in FY 2011, despite the new climate of austerity.”
Yes, the new climate of austerity. Thank heavens we’re putting an end to that.
This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A Maryland videographer captured Baltimore County police making arrests outside a bar in Towson, Maryland. In the video, the camera seems to be at a safe distance from the action, and in no danger of interfering with the arrest. Nevertheless, in usual style, officers took exception to being recorded. A couple of super-sized keepers of the peace came over to verbally abuse the videographer for "diverting my attention," to physically abuse the videographer (you can see the camera shake and blur as a police sergeant grabs him), and to threaten arrest if he doesn't leave.
We're not fucking around. Do you understand? Do not, do not disrespect us. And do not not listen to us. Now walk away and shut your fucking mouth or you're going to jail.
Replies the videographer, "I thought I had freedom of speech."
"You don't, says the sergeant. You just lost it."
By all accounts, Robin Speronis is engaged in a successful experiment in "living off the grid" in Cape Coral, Florida. The 54-year-old former real estate agent disconnected from city water and power about a year and a half ago. Now she relies on solar panels, propane lanterns, and collected rain water in her duplex and seems quite happy about it. But the city clearly is not. Officials tried to boot her from her home, and have now given her until the end of March to reconnect to the grid. A special magistrate who tossed many of the charges and admits that reasonableness may not play a role in the rules says she will ultimately have to comply. Speronis is standing firm.
According to Cristela Guerra of the Cape Coral News Press:
It took several hours to review the litany of alleged code enforcement violations. It was noted some seemed redundant, while other violations were not addressed as a result of issues with due process. [Special Magistrate Harold S.] Eskin had concerns that Speronis had not received proper notice. He found her not guilty on those issues but said he would be open to considering new evidence.
He found her guilty of the section which dealt with the water system and maintenance. Alternative means of power are possible but need to be approved by city officials, according to Paul Dickson, the city building official. When it comes to water, the options included installing a potentially more complicated and expensive system that would filter rain water through the pipes while maintaining temperatures and pressure. Speronis also uses the city sewer system for drainage. There are liens on the home to collect those fees.
Daniel Jennings of Off the Grid News notes that "Speronis has been fighting the city of Cape Coral since November when a code enforcement officer tried to evict her from her home for living without utilities. The city contends that Speronis violated the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid."
The specific code on which they "got" Speronis is clearly designed to discourage well use within city limits. The code states, "Where an existing, adequate municipal water system is available in a public right-of-way or easement abutting the property, or within 200 feet of the property being served by a well system, connections shall be made so that the well shall no longer be used for human consumption."
But Speronis's water doesn't come from a well—it falls from the sky. Nevermind. As Eskin noted, "Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand." He recommended review and revision of the ordinances, but insisted he had to find against Speronis "whether I want to or not."
City officials concede the code doesn't require anybody to use the hook-up to the water system, but they have to connect, just because.
"You may have to hook-up, but you don’t have to use it. Well, what’s the point?" notes Speronis, who says she'll keep fighting.
The entire point seems to be to discourage an interesting lifestyle that's independent of city systems.
This isn't just a local problem. Jennings notes that Cape Coral's code is based on the one-size-fits-all International Property Maintenance Code, which is causing hassles in many places. I personally know the owner of a very nice hay bale bed and breakfast in...an undisclosed location...who captures rainwater and quietly uses it to flush toilets and for other quite sensible purposes that aren't permitted by code. Why she's not permitted to capture and use rainwater in a drought-stricken region is anybody's guess.
Though, as noted above, "Reasonableness and code requirements don’t always go hand-in-hand."
Restrictive, mindless, rules like those with which Speronis is threatened are a menace to both independence and innovation. But that's how government officials roll.
Some years ago, Dr. Robert Lustig worked with a group of kids who had brain cancer. The cancer treatments were successful, but later the kids became obese. According to their parents, the kids had developed enormous appetites and become sedentary. They spent all day sleeping or sitting in front of the TV and eating.
Lustig didn’t inform the parents that those kids needed to just stop being so lazy and gluttonous. He didn’t urge the parents to tell their kids to just eat less and move more, for goodness sake. As an endocrinologist, Lustig knew the change in behavior was being driven by a change in biochemistry. He suspected that as a side-effect of the cancer treatments, the kids were over-producing insulin. Tests confirmed his suspicion.
So he gave the kids an insulin-suppressing drug. Here’s how he described the results:
“When we gave these kids this drug that blocked insulin secretion, they started losing weight. But more importantly, something that was even more amazing, these kids started exercising spontaneously. One kid became a competitive swimmer, two kids started lifting weights, one kid became the manager of his high school basketball team … Changing the kids’ insulin levels had an effect not just on their weight, not just on their appetites, but on their desire to engage in physical activity.”
These kids didn’t get fat because they sat around and ate more. They sat around and ate more because they were hormonally driven to get fat. Luckily for them, Lustig understood that and treated the root of the problem: chemistry, not character.
When I started writing this series of posts, I knew I’d receive (and did) a comment or two along the lines of “But telling people it’s about chemistry gives them an excuse to just give up.” Comments like that usually come, of course, from people who have never been fat and chalk it up to their superior character. I understand the appeal of that belief.
I also understand wanting to believe it’s all about character because darnit, that just feels like cosmic justice. Effort ought to yield results, period. Most of us would like the world to work like that. As kids, we were told that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can do almost anything. So in our little pea-picking brains, the formula for success looks like this:
Effort = Success
But as we grow older, we realize everyone inherits different talents and abilities. I admired Bart Starr and wanted his job someday, but I certainly knew by middle school that no matter how hard I worked, I’d never become a star quarterback in the NFL. Or in college. Or in high school. Or in the Pop Warner leagues. I just didn’t have the physical gifts. So after swallowing the knowledge that genetics matters, we update the success formula in our minds to look more like this:
Ability x Effort = Success
That’s where we’d like the equation to stay. That “ability” part still seems a bit unfair, but we can live with it.
Well, like it or not, there’s still more to it.
Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, the last Super Bowl notwithstanding. Sure, he inherited the ability to become great from his father, also an NFL quarterback in his day, but Manning’s dedication to his profession is legendary. He spends hours and hours studying videotape of opposing defenses so he can predict their moves and spot their weaknesses. It’s Ability x Effort at work, for sure.
But wait … what if Manning prepared for games by spending hours and hours studying and memorizing the birthdays, middle names, favorite desserts and horoscopes of the defensive players he’ll be facing? Would he still shred defenses like he did in the 2013 NFL season? Of course not, because that knowledge wouldn’t be useful in guessing how to pick apart a defense. The time and effort spent acquiring that knowledge would be wasted.
Let’s suppose I want to look better in shorts. Running for 10 hours a week might put some muscle on my thighs, but not as much as one set of leg presses per week with heavy weights. Resistance training is more effective for growing muscles, period. It doesn’t matter that running 10 hours per week takes more effort and dedication than spending three minutes on a leg-press machine.
So we have to update our formula for success one more time. Now it looks something like this:
Ability x Effort x Effectiveness = Success
Effort matters, absolutely, but only yields good results if it’s applied effectively.
Let me offer another example: suppose twin brothers both decide to take second jobs and invest most of the additional income to make for a more prosperous middle age. One twin works extra hard, spends less, and invests $500 per month in bank CDs that pay 1.05% interest. The second twin doesn’t work quite as much and treats himself to nicer clothes and other goodies, and thus only saves $250 per month, which he invests in mutual funds that earn the S&P 500 historical average of 11.69%.
After 20 years, the twin who invested $500 per month would have just over $134,000 in his account. Meanwhile, the twin who only invested $250 per month would be sitting on nearly $233,000.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? I think we’d all agree the first twin demonstrated more character. He worked harder, he sacrificed more. And yet it’s the brother who worked less and sacrificed less who has nearly $100,000 more in his account. That’s because while his efforts were smaller, they were applied much more effectively. Working and saving was a matter of character. The return on investment was, in a manner of speaking, a matter of financial chemistry.
And of course if the twin who worked harder and saved more invested it all in the next Enron, he’d get nothing in return. He would no doubt feel royally screwed by an unfair universe, but that would be the result. I hate to break it to anyone who doesn’t already know, but the universe doesn’t reward you based on how much effort you expend or how many sacrifices you make, no matter what all the touchy-feely self-help books say. The universe rewards effort that’s applied effectively.
If we sat down and explained to the ambitious young twins that their financial success would depend heavily on the effectiveness of their investments, I doubt either of them would say, “Well, that’s it, then. If it’s about return on investment, I don’t see the point in making the effort. I give up.”
I’d expect the opposite, in fact: I’d expect them to be motivated to find effective investments so their efforts wouldn’t go to waste.
Turning this back around to losing weight, yes, there has to be some effort and some sacrifice involved. If you’re obese, whatever you’ve been doing isn’t working. Your diet will have to change. But it has to be an effective change. Switching to a diet that works with your body’s chemistry so you feel satisfied even while eating less is effective. Switching to a diet that works against your body’s chemistry and leaves you ravenous and lethargic isn’t. That’s the dietary equivalent of investing in Enron.
Making the effort to find the diet that works with your chemistry and then sticking with it – even if means giving up the donuts and bread you love – requires some character. But if you’re willing to do that, you can be like the twin who saved and sacrificed less but ended with more money. Getting results won’t require as much sacrifice, and perhaps eventually it won’t feel like a sacrifice at all. I certainly didn’t feel deprived when I went back to bacon and eggs for breakfast. I used to love pasta, but now I don’t miss it.
So let’s look at that success equation one more time:
Ability x Effort x Effectiveness = Success
We all know that thanks to genetics, some people are naturally lean and others tend to get fat, so let’s swap genetics for ability. The effectiveness of a diet is largely a matter of chemistry. So now here’s our equation if we define weight loss as success:
Genetics x Effort x Chemistry = Weight Loss
But wait … genetics is also a matter of biochemistry. So we’re looking at Chemistry x Effort x Chemistry.
That’s why I say weight loss is mostly about chemistry, not character. Knowing that is hardly an excuse to give up. If anything causes people to give up, it’s effort and sacrifice that isn’t rewarded. That’s why the gyms become less and less crowded the farther we get from New Year’s and all those resolutions. Understanding that chemistry is a big part of the equation and choosing accordingly is what enables our efforts to finally succeed.
Andrew M. Grossman
The Obama Administration appeared prepared to abandon a major portion of its initial greenhouse gas regulatory scheme in oral argument before the Supreme Court today. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, defending a series of EPA rules, sought to preserve regulations reaching large industrial sources by offering up a more aggressive gambit by the agency that could potentially reach millions of smaller businesses, apartment buildings, and schools.
The problem, as EPA itself has conceded, is that EPA’s regulatory approach renders the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration program “unrecognizable” to the Congress that enacted it. That’s because GHGs are emitted in far greater quantities than traditional pollutants and PSD requirements are based on the quantities of emissions, with facilities emitting more than either 100 or 250 tons per year of any applicable pollutant being subject to an expensive pollution-control regime. For GHGs, those tonnage triggers would transform the PSD program from one aimed at only the nation’s largest sources of emissions. For that reason, after deciding to use PSD to regulate GHGs, EPA then issued a “tailoring rule” to avoid the absurd result by discarding the numerical thresholds that are specified in the law and adopting new ones thousands of times larger.
That decision was under heavy scrutiny at oral argument. Businesses challenging the rule, represented by Peter Keisler, argued that the PSD program is structured to address local air quality concerns and therefore does not extend to emissions of carbon dioxide. PSD’s triggers, monitoring requirements, requirement for local air-quality analysis, and administration by 90 separate state and local permitting authorities all demonstrate that Congress did not intend the statute to address anything like GHG, Keisler argued. So while the statute does apply to “any air pollutant,” that term cannot be interpreted to reach pollutants that cause these other statutory requirements to fail
As a fallback position, Keisler suggested that the Court might distinguish between PSD triggering—that is, whether a given facility is subject to PSD at all—and the requirements that a facility faces once it is required to obtain a permit. Under this view, GHG emissions could not trigger PSD requirements—because triggering is what forced EPA to scrap the statute’s numerical thresholds—but if a facility is subject to PSD due to other emissions, it would then have to control its GHG emissions.
Without endorsing this approach, the Solicitor General acknowledged that it would allow EPA to reach 83 percent of emissions, versus 86 percent under the more aggressive approach, without compromising its administration of the Clean Air Act or requiring it to rewrite the statute.
The Court was also receptive, with Justices Breyer and Sotomayor—seen as friendly to the agency’s position—questioning why it staked out a far more difficult position for so little benefit.
At bottom, the case comes down to the division of power between Congress and the executive branch. As Justice Scalia forcefully explained, Congress sought to withdraw all discretion from EPA as to which facilities would be subject to PSD requirements, while giving it some discretion, in the capacious term “pollutant,” to determine which types of emissions would be regulated. Justice Breyer, on the other hand, argued with equal force that agencies should have the power to make exceptions to avoid absurd or even inefficient results that would otherwise be mandated by statutory text—but even he seemed troubled by EPA’s view that the statute’s use of the term “pollutant” necessarily obligated it to regulate GHGs.
Justice Kagan, for her part, tooks issue with Justice Scalia’s view that the term “pollutant” might be subject to any interpretation that excludes GHGs—despite that EPA itself has adopted a number of different definitions of the term in different programs.
The fundamental problem with the EPA’s position, though, is one that Justice Kagan identified: its solution here gives it nearly infinite discretion to do as it pleases by altering the terms of statutory law to meet its regulatory priorities. The Chief Justice, in turn, questioned whether any “intelligible principle” from Congress guides the agency when it sets its own agenda, and the limits on its own discretion, in this fashion.
The best indication of the agency’s overreaching may be the Solicitor General’s concession that the program would work, just about as well, if the Court strikes down its centerpiece, EPA’s tailoring. That the Administration’s lawyers see this as a sensible compromise only reflects the extent to which the Obama Administration, and its EPA in particular, have stretched the bounds of agency authority in the face of a lack of authorization or express limitations by Congress.
Playing fast and loose with the law has consequences. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Court will accept the proffered compromise, which still does great violence to the textual requirements of the Clean Air Act—particularly PSD’s focus on local air quality. And according to the Solicitor General, there may be no need: EPA, he said, could issue similar regulations under a different Clean Air Program, but didn’t want to because it would be more burdensome and time-consuming for the agency. That point might carry greater weight if EPA hadn’t instead attempted a massive power-grab and then spent the next four years defending actions that may well be struck down as contrary to law.
Disclosure: The author represented the State of Texas, a challenger in this case, before the D.C. Circuit.
I like everything about this British political poster, including the way the smoke coming out of the chimneys forms tiny question marks. It was employed in the 1929 election against Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party. The artist is reported as V. Hicks. If only it weren’t still so relevant! (Wikimedia link)
Because various kinds of markets (political as well as economic) have different margins at which competition can be played out, the consequence of the structure we impose will be to determine whether the competitive structure induces increasing economic efficiency or stagnation.
Competition (like cooperation) is a given. It will occur. The only question is how – on what ‘margins’ – and, hence, what will be the results. A profit-seeing business that can gain that profit only by successfully competing for customers with lower prices and higher-quality products contributes to widespread economic growth. In contrast, a profit-seeking business that can gain that profit by persuading government to bestow on it subsidies, tariffs, or other special privileges will compete less for customer approval and more for the approval of politicians. The latter sort of competition undermines economic growth.
… is from page 63 of the manuscript of Deirdre McCloskey‘s forthcoming volume, The Treasured Bourgeoisie: How Markets and Improvement Became Virtuous, 1600-1848, and Then Suspect (original emphasis):
If profit occurs, or doesn’t, the economy is articulating something worth attending to. It says, “Do more of this. People want it sufficiently to pay for it. Don’t do that. People won’t pay for it.” The articulation comes from the dollar votes of ordinary people, a democracy of what people are willing to pay. A market society therefore will not build a pyramid or a Taj Mahal, because ordinary people are not willing to pay for them. National glory, or more exactly the glory of kings and politicians and their wives, does not get supplied by a profit-making firm except by governmental purchase – itself untested by cash bids from the actual citizens, because the wherewithal for the governmental purchase is compulsory taxation. The test of governmental purchase is at best the result of a majority vote overriding the preferences of the minority, at worst the result of an elite’s self-interested will.
The International Olympics Committee has this "branding" thing down cold. (No pun intended. The IOC is just as obnoxious during the Summer Olympics.) Everything that doesn't belong to an Official Sponsor has its logo covered (including bathroom fixtures!) until the multi-ring circus of sports (and quasi-sports) folds up the last multimillion dollar tent and blows town.
The IOC is the ultimate control freak. This maniacal desire to cleanse the Games of anything not directly related to its corporate sponsors often results in the sort of behavior you'd normally associate with severe misanthropy. Hobbyist knitters get slapped with C&Ds. A 30-year-old restaurant is forced to change its name. A prominent news outlet has to build its own internal Starbucks in order to escape drinking nothing but the Official Coffee of the Olympics, which is crafted each day to the searing hot specifications of hallowed coffee mecca… McDonalds.
Each and every form of IP protection has been abused by the IOC. Bogus takedown notices/C&Ds are as much a part of the Olympic heritage as lighting the torch or channel-surfing during the figure skating events. The IOC's rules even provide strict regulations for wearing the logos of the official sponsors, not to mention the sponsors who actually footed the bill so these athletes could take part in the Games.
But, as the New York Times points out, even a finely-tuned branding machine like the IOC can be defeated with a little creativity.
The International Olympic Committee, leery of spoiling the canvas, has a 33-page book filled with detailed restrictions on logos. It dictates the size and placement of them on everything from team uniforms at the opening ceremony to the emblems on a skier's gloves and the stickers on a bobsledder's helmet. Observers might go the entire Olympics and not notice them.
At least until the snowboarders and skiers go airborne.
The bottom of them may be the most prominent billboards at the Winter Games, a bit of a twist of guerrilla marketing. When someone such as the snowboarder Shaun White flies through the air, cameras often catch the underside of his board, on which Burton, the name of its manufacturer, is spread in large, bold letters. Those images flash across television screens and are published around the world.
Eight of the 12 finalists in the men's halfpipe competition rode Burton boards. All of them went upside down.The board makers claim this isn't intentional and, indeed, it probably isn't. But what a fortuitous coincidence. Snowboards have normally featured artwork and company logos on the bottom of the board and with riders more technically adept than ever, the chances of a company's airborne logo being splashed across the screen continue to increase.
"The identification of the manufacturer may be carried as generally used on products sold through the retail trade during the period of 12 months prior to the Games," the rules read.So, if Burton makes a board with Burton written across the bottom of it during the preceding year, and a competitor splashes Burton all over during his or her run, there's not much the IOC can do, other than perhaps stare sadly at all of the toilets with covered-up logos and compose takedown letters for crocheting enthusiasts halfway around the world.
I see stuff like this as evidence that it's not really about the climate. It's more about paying off cronies.
K. William Watson
In an article titled “The World’s Dumbest Trade War,” Slate’s Will Oremus offers a thorough accounting of the ridiculous policy of imposing tariffs on cheap solar panels from China.
Remember, the U.S. government wants Americans to buy solar panels, and it subsidizes those purchases through rebates and incentives. The Chinese government wants Chinese companies to build solar panels, and it subsidizes their manufacture. And yet rather than celebrate this fortuitous arrangement, the world’s top economic powers find themselves on the brink of a trade war that could cripple a promising industry in both countries, kill jobs, and hurt the environment all at once. It’s a terrible trade-policy trifecta.
Trying to make solar panels more expensive to aid domestic manufacturers defeats the whole purpose of having domestic manufacturers in the first place. It aptly demonstrates the folly of green industrial policy—subsidies and tariffs to create and then maintain “green jobs”—as a rational environmental policy.
Fortunately, some countries have recognized the harmful impact of trade barriers and called for free trade in environmentally friendly products like solar panels and wind turbines. This initiative may be included in some form in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Last year, Simon Lester and I wrote a paper explaining that any such endeavor should not exclude antidumping and anti-subsidy duties like those being used here by the United States.
What’s more, as Oremus aptly points out, these duties not only reduce the viability of green energy, they harm domestic businesses that install solar energy equipment.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is in no way unique to solar panels. The U.S. imposes a great number of antidumping and anti-subsidy duties on imports that U.S. manufacturers rely on as inputs. Check out this video to learn more about America’s economically irrational and destructive antidumping laws:
Venezuela has seen protests against Nicolas Maduro’s failing government for weeks, and they escalated after opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez surrendered himself to government authorities on charges of inciting violence.
Francisco Toro at the Caracas Chronicles writes that a state-sponsored campaign of violence in Venezuela last night has changed the nature of what’s happening in the country:
There are now dozens of serious human right abuses: National Guardsmen shooting tear gas canisters directly into residential buildings. We have videos of soldiers shooting civilians on the street. And that’s just what came out in real time, over Twitter and YouTube, before any real investigation is carried out. Online media is next, a city of 645,000 inhabitants has been taken off the internet amid mounting repression, and this blog itself has been the object of a Facebook “block” campaign.
What we saw were not “street clashes”, what we saw is a state-hatched offensive to suppress and terrorize its opponents.
After the major crackdown on the streets of major (and minor) Venezuelan cities last night, I expected some kind of response in the major international news outlets this morning. I understand that with an even bigger and more photogenic freakout ongoing in an even more strategically important country, we weren’t going to be front-page-above-the-fold, but I’m staggered this morning to wake up, scan the press and find…
Read the whole thing, full of links, here.
According to Reuters, a 17-year-old beauty queen shot yesterday was the fifth fatality of the unrest. President Obama criticized the arrest of protesters by the Venezuelan government while in Mexico yesterday, and urged it to address “legitimate grievances.”
For the last 10 days, FCC-watchers have been abuzz about the commission's upcoming attempt to "identify and understand the critical information needs of the American public." Anxieties about the study have been afoot for a while, but the recent furor began on February 10, when Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner at the agency, published an op-ed attacking the idea in The Wall Street Journal. Warning that the effort was the "first step down" the "dangerous path" of "newsroom policing," Pai made his case against the study:
With its "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs," or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about "the process by which stories are selected" and how often stations cover "critical information needs," along with "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
How does the FCC plan to dig up all that information? First, the agency selected eight categories of "critical information" such as the "environment" and "economic opportunities," that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their "news philosophy" and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?" Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.
Pai's piece doesn't mention it, but the commission also plans to look at newspaper and Internet content, areas that are outside the FCC's regulatory dominion.
The agency quickly started dropping hints that it would be changing course. On February 12, Adweek reported that the CIN "may now be on hold," adding: "At the very least, the controversial sections of the study will be revisited under new chairman Tom Wheeler and incorporated into a new draft." This evidently was too vague to be reassuring, as worries about the plan have only intensified since then.
The most bizarre thing about all this may be the disconnect between the study's content and the reason the FCC says it's doing it. The commission is supposed to report to Congress on "regulations prescribed to eliminate market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses" and "proposals to eliminate statutory barriers to market entry by those entities." Somehow that requirement led to the CIN. Now, if the study shows that existing stations are ignoring important news, I suppose I can see how that would help make the case for allowing more stations on the air. But it's hard to see how a probe of the media's story selection practices is going to identify any actual barriers to creating those new stations. If you read the commission's research plan—I've embedded a copy at the end of this post—you'll find some pro forma references to finding "potential barriers to entry" but not much in the way of explaining how the questions Pai cited are going to do that.
The good news is that I don't see overt signs of a different regulatory agenda in the plan's pages. The thing is written in the tone of someone who wants to understand what stories are being covered and where people turn for news, not someone with a preset remedy for the problems she might uncover. If this were a proposal at a department of sociology instead of a federal agency, it would be unobjectionable, even welcome.
But because it's a federal agency—worse yet, an agency that decides whether the stations it's studying will have their broadcast licenses renewed—we have a case here of regulators probing people's speech and then being in a position to use its findings against them. What's most worrisome about this research plan may be the way its authors never pause to consider whether it's appropriate for the FCC to be asking about such things in the first place. (The closest it comes is when it notes that some of its questions might be seen as "sensitive." But it treats that as a barrier to getting sources to open up, not a reason to reconsider the project.) Nor is there any awareness of the idea that the government shouldn't be in the role of deciding what news is important. (Presumably we all agree that we need to know about, say, upcoming weather emergencies. But when you start asking reporters about the stories their editors spiked, you're bound to enter dicier territory.) Evidently, the Federal Communications Commission is so accustomed to seeing itself in the information management business that it takes these things for granted.
But then, why shouldn't it? It's been regulating speech for decades now. Start worrying about this stuff, and you might start asking whether the First Amendment, properly understood, actually allows the FCC to issue licenses based on what people say or don't say on the air. And that isn't a conversation the commission will ever be eager to have.
The research plan is embedded below.
2. The federal government on Tuesday indicted multiple union members for burning down a Quaker church in 2012. Ten members of a Philadelphia ironworkers union face charges of arson and racketeering in connection with a fire against the church, which was employing non-union workers.
Prescription drugs are a big part of modern medicine, and they can also be expensive. For self-pay patients who need to save every dollar while getting the medicines they need, getting the best deal is crucial.
As with most of health care however, finding real prices for prescription drugs can be a challenge. In the past I’ve written about web sites like WeRx.com and GoodRx.com, which give users the retail price of drugs offered at nearby pharmacies. And of course there’s also NeedyMeds,* which offers a prescription drug discount card and helps connect patients with the assistance programs offered by nearly every drug manufacturer.
There’s a relatively new web site called Prescription BlueBook that offers a new approach to saving on prescription drugs. Instead of giving patients information or discounts on retail drug prices, they provide individuals with access to the average wholesale price that pharmacies pay for drugs.
The site was founded by a retired pharmacist, Steve Patton of South Carolina. A news release on the site explains the how and why of Prescription BlueBook:
A yearly subscription to PrescriptionBlueBook.com grants access to the wholesale cost of thousands of name brand and generic medications, while also suggesting a fair retail price for each drug. Price changes are routinely updated and new drugs are added to the database as they enter the market.
… Much like the “dealer invoice” movement gave car buyers in the 90’s, prescription drug buyers can use this powerful information to negotiate pricing, shop around or talk with their physician about lower cost drug options before ever reaching to the cash register.
Mr. Patton is a retired pharmacist who grew his independent pharmacy into one of the largest in South Carolina before retiring in 2008. He believes consumers have been mislead into thinking that all pharmacies charge similar prices. This is simply not the case and some pharmacies charge outrageously inflated prices on a vast array of drugs. PrescriptionBlueBook.com’s mission is to prepare consumers to navigate through the ever-changing prescription drug cost landscape.
User’s have saved hundreds with PrescriptionBlueBook.com. “I’ve been suffering from migraines. My doctor gave me a prescription for 6 tablets of Maxalt. My pharmacy charges $215.00! I checked PrescriptionBlueBook.com and learned a wholesale cost of 6 tablets of Maxalt is $7.50. With this info I called around and found 12 tablets for $59.00. I got twice as many tablets for a fraction of the price the other pharmacy wanted for 6!! I love this website!! Thank you PrescriptionBlueBook.com!!” ~ Anita S.
I checked the drug index to see how extensive the list of drugs with pricing information was, using just about every drug name I could remember that I or my wife have taken over the past decade or so (my wife has severe migraines on top of a few other fairly routine prescriptions, so it’s a pretty extensive list). Every single drug was listed, so based on that I’d say Prescription BlueBook probably has anything you might need covered.
Prescription BlueBook also provides generic drug price information right next to the brand-name information, which can let people know that there’s a cheaper alternative. In fact, they caught something that both GoodRx.com and WeRx.com missed, that there’s a ‘near-generic’ for one of my wife’s medications, albeit in a different form (hence my use of the term ‘near-generic’).
I’m saving it for a post all its own, but the short version is that Cambia, a fairly expensive ($30 – $40 per pill) brand-name drug that helps ‘knock out’ migraines (my wife’s description) does not have a true generic. It’s a powder that is dissolved in water and then drank, which gets it into the bloodstream very quickly. However, there is a generic for the same medicine in tablet form, running about $0.20 per pill. It’s not quite as fast-acting, but it’s an awful lot less expensive and it usually does the job.
So Prescription BlueBook caught the fact that Cambia does have a generic in another form, while the other price comparison sites I routinely rely on missed it.
The site suggests there are three primary ways people can use Prescription BlueBook:
Each time your doctor prescribes a new medication for you or your family, log in and find out the drug’s cost. You’ll know immediately if you should talk with your doctor about less expensive alternative drug treatment, shop for a lower price or negotiate a lower price with your pharmacy.
At only $4 per month to subscribe, Prescription BlueBook seems like a pretty good deal – with one substantial caveat.
Prescription BlueBook does not give users the retail prices of drugs, although it does recommend a ‘fair’ price for the drugs. My concern is that there may be some unrealistic expectations on the part of users, who may think that pharmacy prices should only be a set percentage over wholesale cost, or that they should get their drugs for something close to the wholesale cost.
The home page of Prescription BlueBook raises some red flags for me on this issue. It lists 20 prescription drugs and gives their wholesale cost as well as the ‘National Chain Pharmacy Charges,’ which they suggest are ‘shocking’ and ‘stunning,’ and then calculates the difference and calls that the pharmacy’s profit.
For example, it lists ‘Generic Seroquel, 400mg, 60 pills’ as having a pharmacy cost of $21.08 and shows that the ‘National Chain Pharmacy’ would charge $1,128.99 for that drug, and then calls the $1,107.91 difference ‘Their Profit.’
Well, that’s just ridiculous. Pharmacies have significant costs above what they pay for the drugs that need to be covered, like rent, staff, security, inventory tracking and sales systems, and a bunch of other expenses, all of which must be paid for out of the difference between the wholesale cost and the sale price. And not all drugs have similar overhead expenses – some must be refrigerated, others ordered in on an as-needed basis, and other factors all add additional costs.
And yes, they do need to make a profit as well!
But back to generic Seroquel (which is quetiaphine). I searched for it on GoodRx.com and WeRx.com , and they confirmed that the price of this drug can be pretty high, ranging in my neck of the woods from $41 to $1,405 for that quantity and dosage. Most of the local pharmacies offer coupons or discounts for quetiaphine, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to get it for under $100.
Setting aside the little issue of how they define ‘profit,’ it is easy to see how Prescription BlueBook in tandem with some of the other drug price search sites can result in significant savings. In the case of quetaphine, a self-pay patient could probably deduce that with such a large spread between the wholesale cost and the retail price, it’s worth taking the time to hunt around for the best deal.
Knowing the wholesale price of drugs should be considered one possible starting point for self-pay patients looking for savings on prescription drugs, but users should keep in mind that there’s a lot more to selling pharmaceuticals than just serving as the middleman between the manufacturer and the patient. So long as people keep that in mind, Prescription BlueBook can be a valuable tool for self-pay patients.
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In 2009 Buckyballs, a desk toy comprised of tiny, powerful magnets, started flying off the shelves and into the shopping baskets of fidgety-handed customers. Serial entrepreneur Craig Zucker, the product's creator, saw it reach $10 million in sales that year. By 2009 Maxfield & Oberton, the company Zucker co-founded, had grown its distribution network to 5,000 stores. Two years later, the mini-magnets were still gaining market share, and People named them one of the five hottest trends of 2011.
Today Buckyballs are a sad chapter in the history of consumer product regulation. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) drove Maxfield & Oberton out of business on shaky grounds. Now the agency is targeting Zucker himself in what appears to be retaliation for speaking out about the case.
Maxfield & Oberton's troubles started in July 2012, when the CPSC began legal proceedings to ban and recall Buckyballs on the grounds that the toy was dangerous for children. If swallowed, the magnets can cause internal bleeding because they attract each other when lodged in a person's bowels or intestinal tract. But banning the product was "statistically ridiculous," as a July 2012 report in The Huffington Post explained. There were 22 reported incidents of ingested Buckyballs from March 2009 through October 2011, or one for every 100,000 sets sold. That makes the product orders of magnitude less risky than dogs, tennis, skateboarding, and poisonous household chemicals. Furthermore, Buckyballs were clearly labeled, "Keep Away From All Children."
Determined to drive the product off the market, the CPSC started reaching out to Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone and Urban Outfitters, requesting that they stop selling the toys. In what the company described as "a last-ditch effort to regain CPSC's favor and to save its business," Maxfield & Oberton offered to expand its safety program by putting more warnings on the product, distributing a childproof case, and giving Buckyballs a bitter flavor to dissuade kids from putting them in their mouths. The day after the company submitted this plan, the CPSC filed an administrative complaint seeking a total recall of the product.
Rather than suck up to regulators in the hope that they might spare his company, Zucker went on a publicity tour, appearing on national TV and radio to defend his product and speak out against the CPSC's bullying tactics. On its website, Maxfield & Oberton encouraged readers to give the CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum a call on her "psychic hotline"-a reference to the agency's claim that it reviewed the company's corrective action plan in time to release its administrative complaint less than 24 hours later. In December 2012, with sales plummeting and legal fees mounting, Zucker gave up and dissolved Maxfield & Oberton.
A couple of months later, the CPSC added Craig Zucker to its complaint, holding him personally liable for the cost of recalling Buckyballs. If the CPSC has its way, Zucker will have to personally reimburse retailers for their costs, notify all distributors and local public health officials of the recall, and submit monthly progress reports to the commission. (The CPSC initially estimated the cost of the recall at $57 million, but an agency spokesperson says the actual cost would be significantly less.)
The case has drawn widespread attention in legal circles because it is extremely unusual for the CPSC to hold a former officer personally responsible for the actions of a defunct corporation. Zucker opposed the CPSC's motion, and three trade groups-the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association-filed a joint brief on his behalf. But an administrative law judge ruled that the CPSC's complaint against Zucker can move forward. Although it remains to be seen whether the agency "will adopt this approach in other cases," according to a May 2013 memo from the law firm Gibson Dunn, "at a minimum, this demonstrates just how far the CPSC is willing to push the envelope."
In November 2013, with the pro bono backing of the nonprofit government accountability group Cause of Action, Zucker sued the CPSC for what he calls its "unprecedented regulatory overreach." The suit alleges that the CPSC's actions are aimed at punishing him for speaking out against the agency. In an emailed statement, CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson says "CPSC staff filed this case in order to prevent young children, tweens, and teens from suffering serious injuries," adding that the agency "is using enforcement, education, and rulemaking to address a serious and hidden hazard with an entire product line."
Neither case will be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, Zucker has launched a new line of larger, less ingestible magnets called Liberty Balls, which he is selling to help cover his personal legal fees.