Jun 172014
 

These confessions of an ex-TSA agent — Dear America, I Saw You Naked — are well worth reading. For example:

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

And:

But the only people who hated the body-scanners more than the public were TSA employees themselves. Many of my co-workers felt uncomfortable even standing next to the radiation-emitting machines we were forcing members of the public to stand inside. Several told me they submitted formal requests for dosimeters, to measure their exposure to radiation. The agency’s stance was that dosimeters were not necessary—the radiation doses from the machines were perfectly acceptable, they told us. We would just have to take their word for it. When concerned passengers—usually pregnant women—asked how much radiation the machines emitted and whether they were safe, we were instructed by our superiors to assure them everything was fine.

“Security Theater” seems like too benign of a term for these absurdities, I think. Now go read the whole article.

Jun 092014
 

Liam Neeson narrated this excellent video in defense of NYC’s horse carriages. (Alas, embedding is disabled.) These people love and care for their horses: the horses live good lives, and they’re treated well.

I’m disappointed — but not surprised — that real estate interests seem to be the driving force here, in alliance with “animal rights” activists. It’s pure Bootleggers and Baptists:

Bootleggers and Baptists is a catch-phrase invented by regulatory economist Bruce Yandle for the observation that regulations are supported by both groups that want the ostensible purpose of the regulation and groups that profit from undermining that purpose.

For much of the 20th century, Baptists and other evangelical Christians were prominent in political activism for Sunday closing laws restricting the sale of alcohol. Bootleggers sold alcohol illegally, and got more business if legal sales were restricted. “Such a coalition makes it easier for politicians to favor both groups. … [T]he Baptists lower the costs of favor-seeking for the bootleggers, because politicians can pose as being motivated purely by the public interest even while they promote the interests of well-funded businesses. … [Baptists] take the moral high ground, while the bootleggers persuade the politicians quietly, behind closed doors.”

The original 1983 article is well worth reading: Bootleggers and Baptists-The Education of a Regulatory Economist.

As the article in Foxhunting Life observed:

If we love foxhunting and are willing to defend our sport against those who would take it away from us, we cannot stand mute and allow our relationships with the horse and the other animals we love be separated from our lives piece by piece (carriage horse, racehorse, hunt horse, trail horse), specie by specie (horse, hound, dog, cat), and location by location (city, town, farm). We’re all connected.

The least we can do is communicate with our fellow citizens about these well-funded campaigns masquerading as animal welfare. The animal rights activists are few in number but have an inordinately loud voice. We who actually live, play, and work with animals are also relatively few in number, and we need to ratchet up the volume of our collective voice. The great majority of citizens have no preconceived opinions of who’s right and who’s wrong. They can only form their opinions based upon what they read and what they hear.

By the way, if you want to quickly judge whether a horse is cared for well, look at its feet: if they’re neatly trimmed (and shod), then the horse is probably in good hands. If they’re a mess, then the horse is probably neglected and maybe abused too.

 

My second Forbes piece in two days again discusses the VA health scandal: “Three Factors That Corrupted VA Health Care And Threaten The Rest of American Medicine“.

Here is the opening:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned in the wake of the waiting times scandal. But the problems at the VA go much deeper than a single man. His eventual successor will have his hands full dealing with the toxic combination of problems that fueled the crisis: a shortage of doctors, perverse incentives, and a widespread culture of dishonesty. And these problems could affect the rest of America under ObamaCare…

The first two of the three factors are already in play under the Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) and there are troubling early indicators that the third may take root as well.  If this happens, Americans had better watch out.

 

My latest Forbes piece is now up: “VA Denies Coverage For US Air Force Veteran With Malignant Brain Tumor“.

I discuss the bureaucratic hurdles that USAF veteran Robert LeChevalier had to endure when diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (a very malignant brain tumor).  Fortunately, he and his wife Monica Hughes have a lot of grit and tenacity.

I’m glad to publicize their open letter to the VA, and I hope it gets some attention!

Monica also posted this photo, which I used in the Forbes article with her permission:  “Here are the 58 claims denials, totaling $250,000 of emergency care, that we have received by the Veteran’s Administration. Excuse? Robb was too healthy. He hadn’t sought any care at the VA in the prior 5 months. Really.

 

Doctors and the Police State

 Posted by on 20 December 2013 at 10:00 am  Alcohol/Drugs, Crime, Drug War, Government, Law
Dec 202013
 

This story — Drug Warriors Kidnap and Sexually Assault a Woman After Getting Permission From a Dog — is appalling in its own right:

In a case eerily similar to David Eckert’s humiliating ordeal at the hands of cops in Deming, New Mexico, a federal lawsuit charges U.S. Border Patrol agents with subjecting a U.S. citizen to six hours of degrading and fruitless body cavity searches based on an alleged alert by a drug-sniffing dog.

However, what’s really noteworthy, I think, is the complicity of the doctors and medical staff:

First the agents strip-searched the plaintiff, examining her anus and vagina with a flashlight. Finding nothing, they took her to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where they forced her to take a laxative and produce a bowel movement in their presence. Again they found no evidence of contraband. At this point one of their accomplices, a physician named Christopher Cabanillas, ordered an X-ray, which likewise found nothing suspicious. Then the plaintiff “endured a forced gynecological exam” and rectal probing at the hands of another doctor, Michael Parsa. Still nothing. Finally, Cabanillas ordered a CT scan of the plaintiff’s abdomen and pelvis, which found no sign of illegal drugs. “After the CT scan,” the complaint says, “a CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] agent presented Ms. Doe with a choice: she could either sign a medical consent form, despite the fact that she had not consented, in which case CBP would pay for the cost of the searches; or if she refused to sign the consent form, she would be billed for the cost of the searches.” She refused, and later the hospital sent her a bill for $5,000, apparently the going rate for sexual assault and gratuitous radiological bombardment.

As the article says, this case “illustrates the appalling complicity of doctors in waging the war on drugs, even when it involves utterly unethical participation in dehumanizing pseudomedical procedures performed on involuntary and audibly protesting ‘patients.’”

In my view, civil damages are an insufficient remedy in such cases. Assuming that the doctors and staff knew that the woman did not consent to these warrantless searches, then they are guilty of the crime of sexual assault. They should be arrested and prosecuted for that. Perhaps then doctors would think twice before passively doing whatever government agents demand.

Alas, that seems unlikely. Hopefully, some justice will be served by this civil suit.

 

Alas, yes:

 

Tonight, I’ll interview Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur about occupational licensing — how it works, what it’s supposed to do, and what it’s real-life effects are. We’ll also talk about “Certificates of Need” (CONs) regulations that allow existing businesses to squash any newcomers. I kid you not.

If you’re not familiar with CONs, check out Sandefur’s 2011 article, CON Job: State “certificate of necessity” laws protect firms, not consumers. Here are the open paragraphs:

When St. Louis businessman Michael Munie decided to expand his moving business to operate throughout the state of Missouri, he thought it would be a simple matter of paperwork. After all, he already held a federal license allowing him to move goods across state lines. But when he filed his application, he discovered that, under a 70-year-old state law, officials in Missouri’s Department of Transportation were required to notify all of the state’s existing moving companies and allow them the opportunity to object to his application. When four of them did file objections, department officials offered Munie the choice of withdrawing his application or appearing at a public hearing where he would be required to prove that there was a “public need” for his moving business. The law is not clear on how exactly he would do this — “public need” is not defined, nor are there any rules of evidence or procedure in the statute. And even if he managed to prove a “public need,” the department would take anywhere from six months to a year to make a final decision. In the face of such complications, Munie chose to withdraw his application and ask instead for limited permission to operate within a portion of St. Louis. His competitors had no objection to that, and he was given the restricted license.

Bizarre as this law might seem, it is only one of dozens of such requirements, generally called “certificate of necessity” (CON) laws, that exist across the country, governing a variety of industries, from moving companies and taxicabs to hospitals and car lots. A legacy of the early 20th century, CON laws restrict economic opportunity and raise costs for products and services that consumers need. Unlike traditional occupational licensing rules, they are not intended to protect the public by requiring business owners to demonstrate professional expertise or education. Instead, these laws are explicitly designed to restrict competition and boost the prices that established companies can charge.

Go read the whole article.

Tap It: The NSA Slow Jam

 Posted by on 19 June 2013 at 2:00 pm  Government, Privacy
Jun 192013
 

Tap It: The NSA Slow Jam is just plain brilliant:

Aug 032012
 

My 20-minute lecture on “Milton Friedman and Medical Licensure” has now been posted:

I covered three main subjects:

  • Milton Friedman’s views of medical licensure
  • Licensure and competence
  • Licensing laws and ObamaCare

Towards the end, I cite Dr. Milton Wolf as one of the people promoting some good free-market reforms to move us in the right direction.

Thanks to Amanda Teresi-Muell for organizing this special Liberty On the Rocks event, as part of a commemoration of Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday! And thanks to Ari Armstrong for recording the video and for doing the video editing to intersperse the images of my slides within the footage!

(Note: I don’t agree with Friedman on several issues.  Friedman was not a fully-consistent advocate of free-market economics.  But on the topic of medical and occupational licensure, he was very good, and I wanted to highlight his excellent thinking on this particular topic.)

 

Recently, I learned that the Institute for Justice (IJ) has taken the case of paleo blogger Steve Cooksey. He’s in trouble with North Carolina regulators who wish to suppress his freedom of speech. I couldn’t be more delighted, as the case combines two of my great loves: paleo and free speech.

IJ made an awesome video summarizing the case:

For more information on the case, see this page. The press release says:

Can the government throw you in jail for offering advice on the Internet about what people should buy at the grocery store?

That is exactly the claim made by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. And that is why today diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey of Stanley, N.C. has teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a major First Amendment lawsuit against the State Board in federal court.

In December 2011, Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his blog to answer reader questions. In January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Steve that he could not give readers personal advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics.

The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with friends and readers were illegal. The Board also ordered him to shut down his life-coaching service. Violating the North Carolina licensing law can lead to fines, court orders to be silent and even jail.

“You don’t need the government’s permission to give someone ordinary advice,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “North Carolina cannot require Steve to be a state-licensed dietitian any more than it can require Dear Abbey to be a state-licensed psychologist.”

This lawsuit seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law: When does the government’s power to license occupations trump free speech?

“Advice is protected speech,” said IJ attorney Paul Sherman. “Just because the government can license certain types of expert professional advice doesn’t mean the government can license every type of advice.”

Steve Cooksey began offering dietary advice because he is concerned about America’s diabetes epidemic. Over 25 million Americans have diabetes, including approximately 800,000 in North Carolina. The human and financial toll is staggering. Diabetes is now a leading cause of stroke, blindness, kidney failure requiring transplantation, and amputation. Because diabetes is a condition of elevated blood sugar, Steve advocates eating foods that keep blood sugar low.

After being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, Steve did research and learned that the high-carb/low-fat diet his doctors recommended to him may not be best for diabetics because carbohydrates raise blood sugar. He adopted the low-carb “Paleolithic” diet of our Stone Age ancestors: fresh veggies, meats, eggs and fish, but no sugars, processed foods or agricultural starches.

Steve lost 78 pounds, freed himself of drugs and doctors, normalized his blood sugar and feels healthier than ever. He believes a low-carb diet is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to treat diabetes. This goes against the conventional wisdom promoted by licensed dietitians, which advocate a high-carb diet and drugs to lower blood sugar.

“Diabetics need access to information from all points of view, including those that challenge the conventional wisdom,” said IJ client Steve Cooksey. “We cannot let government licensing boards censor the Internet and chill our speech.”

For more on today’s lawsuit, visit www.ij.org/PaleoSpeech. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a national public interest law firm that fights for free speech and economic liberty nationwide.

This case has huge implications for every advocate of paleo and other non-standard diets. Yet the principle is broader: every person has a right to express and advocate his own views, even when that person is not licensed by the state.

If you want to contribute to Steve’s fight against these government censors, please support the Institute for Justice by a donation!

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