The Nanny State Diaries
But occasionally journalists will support a government regulation or ban that would be funny were it not so directly opposed to freedom and free markets. From foie gras to bacon-wrapped hot dogs and trans fats to flame retardants, news outlets have pushed state and local bans ranging from silly to downright dangerous.
Meanwhile, Americans’ freedoms are being limited, businesses are being restricted and punished for meeting market demands and the government’s waistline expands. It’s funny, but it’s no laughing matter.
The Business & Media Institute presents a list of the nine most business-hurting, freedom-hating and logic-
As the city of
The city banned foie gras – a delicacy made from duck and goose liver – in April 2006 over concerns that it was inhumane to force-feed birds to fatten their livers. Alderman Joe Moore told the Associated Press at the time the city was “better for taking a stance against the cruelty of foie gras.”
The ban was not without opponents, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In a blinding flash of logic, Daley complained that “we have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers. We have real issues here in this city. Let’s get some priorities.”
“I think we have four restaurants that serve foie gras,” Daley told The
Local newspaper coverage from the two major publications in the city – The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times – was mixed. There was derision of the ban, including Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel, who interviewed city chefs who were upset by the ban in a May 4 column.
An April 27 Tribune story labeled the ban “a more exclusive bit of lifestyle policing” than the city’s smoking ban, passed in December 2005.
An April 28 Sun-Times editorial pondered the “slippery slope” argument against the ban. “Will the animal activists in City Council now move to outlaw veal, knowing how baby calves are prepared for their eventual presentation as a parmigiano or picante?” asked the editors. “Folks should be left to their own eating choices.”
But other coverage gave credence to the government intervention. A March 10 Tribune news story compared the creation of foie gras to “horse slaughter.” An April 27 Sun-Times article published the claim from animal rights activists that treatment of the fowl was comparable to the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in
“Veterinarians and animal rights activists have described in graphic detail how geese and ducks suffer while being force-fed to create enlarged livers for the delicacy,” reporter Fran Spielman wrote. “They’ve made comparisons to the mistreatment of prisoners at
The Sun-Times took the measure as a serious sign Daley was “losing his grip.” Amid other scandals, the paper’s April 30 report suggested the foie gras ban “was about Mayor Daley’s diminishing clout over a legislative body once viewed as his rubber stamp.”
CBS reporter Bill Geist declared foie gras among the “biggest losers of 2006” in an end-of-year special on CBS “Sunday Morning.”
ABC’s Jim Avila took the side of opponents of foie gras who argue the animals are “tortured” in March 29, 2007, “Nightline” report. He said activists “make it a point to show that what we eat doesn’t just arrive wrapped in supermarket plastic. This is how ducks are made ready for foie gras, literally overfed in the weeks before their slaughter so their livers become huge, tender and buttery.”
But even ABC’s Jim Avila couldn’t ignore that the issue was “divisive.” He called it “the cutting edge of a new food police trend in
The city, ridiculed over the ban, overturned it in May 2008. Monica Davey, Chicago bureau chief for The New York Times, said the ban “has been a source of embarrassment for the city and the repeal comes as residents have accused officials of trying to micromanage people’s lives.”
8) Smoking Bans Catch Fire across Nation
Smoking bans have been traced back to Pope Urban VII, who banned tobacco of any kind from Catholic churches. Regulating or taxing the “sin” has gained popularity in the
Twenty-eight states have laws on the books mandating 100-percent smoke-free workplaces and/or restaurants and/or bars, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation – that’s right, the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF).
Five more states have passed smoking regulations that will go into effect by the end of 2009. The ANRF says almost 13,700 municipalities are covered by smoking restrictions.
Opponents of government meddling in restaurant and bar owners’ business argue they should have the responsibility of deciding whether to allow smoking in their establishments – and customers should have the right to go to a smoking bar or a non-smoking bar depending on their preference. They argue legislative bans hurt business.
“People that I’m competing with are continuing to (allow smoking) on a daily basis,”
Proponents of the measures tout studies – such as a 2004 study conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) – that purport to show business is not affected by the bans.
“It really confirms that
The NBC “Nightly News” June 27, 2006 claimed that smoking bans were actually helping business. “In
On ABC’s “World News Tonight” on March 12, 2006, reporter Miguel Marquez said that efforts like an extremely restrictive ban in
Marquez didn’t offer evidence to show that the smoking bans were to blame for the decrease in smoking. And he didn’t address concerns about the government using legislation to “pressure” citizens to make certain lifestyle decisions.
Critics say the reports showing stable or even increased business for bars operating under mandatory smoking bans are too broad because they include restaurants, which are not as severely affected as bars. Opponents offer their own evidence that bans are bad for business.
They’re also bad for freedom, according to civil libertarians. Reason magazine teamed up with actor Drew Carey, a self-described non-smoker, to protest
An organization that represents the restaurant industry feels the same way. In a May 1998 release, the National Restaurant Association quotes
“If customers want to smoke, I should have the right to accommodate them,” Sternberg said. “If they don’t want to smoke, I’ll make the appropriate adjustments.” The
7) Trans Fats Rules Add Heft to Regulation from
A leader in the anti-smoking movement,
Supporters of the bans say they’re for the public good. Trans fats raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol, they say. The processed fats “make the arteries more rigid; cause major clogging of arteries; cause insulin resistance; cause or contribute to type 2 diabetes; and cause or contribute to other serious health problems,” according to the activist group Ban Trans Fats.
Campaigns – including lawsuits – led by groups like Ban Trans Fats and the anti-business liberal activists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have strong-armed restaurants into getting rid of trans fats in spite of their
While many of the silliest regulations receive little national attention, the broadcast networks have been virtually obsessed with trans fats. ABC, CBS and NBC have aired almost 50 stories on trans fat bans in the last two years.
Only one segment – on the NBC “Nightly News” July 26 – noted that trans fat bans put more pressure on small restaurants. “[I]t will be harder for the mom and pop restaurants to comply with the ban” than it will be for larger chains, reporter Chris Jansing said.
The New York Times reported the
Opponents of the bans argue that customers – not the government – should decide whether they want to eat food that is probably unhealthy.
Instead of following
Plastic bags are a favorite target of environmentalists. The cheap bags usually given away for free at grocery and other stores make shopping convenient. But they’re also killing the planet, according to activists and the media.
So in March 2007,
The measure was aimed at reducing pollution. The city used an estimated 180 million plastic bags each year. The San Francisco Chronicle described them as “hard to recycle and easily blow into trees and waterways, where they are blamed for killing marine life. They also occupy much-needed landfill space.”
Instead, stores will be allowed to offer biodegradable bags. But the eco-friendly totes are considered less reliable and twice as expensive – 5- to-10 cents per bag opposed to 2- to-3 cents for a regular bag, according to the Chronicle. They’re also made from corn, a renewable substitute for oil-based products with its own dubious history.
The broadcast networks have been on a bit of a crusade against plastic bags. An April 2008 CBS “The Early Show” report highlighted Whole Foods Market’s decision to eliminate plastic bags from its stores.
“Unless you’re living under a rock, you have to see that we have a problem,” Whole Foods regional president Michael Bescanson said. “There’s too many of us, we’re overburdening the system. The earth can’t handle it.”
While they’ve ignored the
NBC’s “Nightly News” praised mega-polluter
Mullen mentioned one downside to the ban. “The Hwa Chin Plastic Factory,
In January 2008, NBC “Today” host Matt Lauer went “on the prowl for victims” in his own personal campaign against plastic bags. He pestered shoppers at a Manhattan grocery store over their use of plastic bags, and included only one sentence of response from the industry defending its environmental record.
The more expensive bags – either from taxes or materials – will be added on top of already high prices for groceries. Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the city had decided to nobly “bite the bullet and go with something that is more ecologically sensitive than what we’ve ever done before.”
Unlike the networks, the editors of USA Today saw more problems beyond the higher cost. Paper bags, a likely alternative to plastic, “generate 70% more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is because four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them.”
USA Today proposed that “each individual can do more to help the environment by reusing whatever bags groceries distributes or buying a canvas sack to carry goods.” That theme of personal responsibility wasn’t typical of the coverage.
5) Fast Food Slowed With One-Year Delay
Logic might indicate that someone looking out for the poor wouldn’t prevent low-cost food options in their neighborhoods. But Logic isn’t on the Los Angeles City Council.
On July 29,
The New York Times summed up the measure nicely. “
Fast-food joints thrive in poor neighborhoods because they offer convenient and inexpensive foods. Outside legislators aimed to bring higher-end, and more expensive, food to the masses. But as
The fact that
“People are literally being poisoned by their diets –
On CBS, “Evening News” anchor Katie Couric reported July 29 the step was intended “to promote healthier eating in a low-income section of town.” She noted restaurant industry criticism of the effort, but overstated the saturation of fast food outlets as “three quarters of the restaurants” in the affected areas. The Councilwoman who proposed the moratorium is quoted extensively saying fast food counts for less than half – 45 percent – of restaurants in the area.
On the “Saturday Early Show” on CBS August 9, host Chris Wragge suggested the ban didn’t do enough to fight fat in
Banning fast food may seem like a great idea to legislators and the food police. But normal citizens aren’t keen on the idea if “man on the street” interviews are any indication.
“Banning fast food would be stupid,”
Natasha Jackson said to The New York Times she’d like to see more health food restaurants in
“I think it’s pretty ridiculous,” Los Angeles-based Community Advocates Vice President Joe Hicks said. “Limiting people’s food options is not really the way to go. Nor is it the role of government to tell people what they should or should not be eating”
A July 30 Los Angeles Times article also pointed out another side effect of limiting new restaurants that could have a particularly hard-felt impact on poor residents: no new jobs.
“Still, several fast-food workers told the council that the panel was ignoring the good things their franchises accomplish,” the Times reported. “The workers argued that fast-food establishments provide residents with job opportunities and, in recent years, nutritious menu options.”
4) So Much for the Hotdog with Everything
Actor Drew Carey and the libertarians at Reason.tv shined the light on another
Legitimate street vendors in
Health officials told Carey the bacon was a “potentially hazardous food,” although the report didn’t say how many cases of food sickness cases were related to improper storage of raw bacon. Terrence Powell, chief environmental health specialist for the county, called the number “nebulous.”
Still, police officers and health inspectors ticket and sometimes even arrest vendors for offering the bacon dogs. The penalty can reach $1,000 or six months in jail.
The city’s efforts to keep them off the grills haven’t decreased market demand for the dogs. Instead, they’ve created a black market for bacon dogs in which nomadic vendors with no licenses or city approval roam the streets. They use cheap grills that can be abandoned if the vendors are caught by police.
“They operate completely outside of codes and regulations, their particular rules and organizational methods a mystery to outsiders,” LA Weekly reported of black market vendors in a February 2008 article.
The LA Weekly report also suggested some illegal vendors had gang connections, pushing the problem beyond unlicensed hot dog hawkers and into organized crime.
Legitimate vendors can get around the regulations by purchasing a new cart. Carey’s reported noted they cost about $26,000 – five times more than regular carts.
3) Grilling Bad for Health, Also
Thanks in part to some fear-mongering reports from the media on the “dangers” of outdoor grilling, numerous cities and towns have regulations aimed at putting an end to the summer pastime. Most target grilling on apartment and condominium balconies, but require little attention be paid to fire statistics.
Questions remain, however, as to just how dangerous outdoor grilling really is. The National Fire Protection Association reported 1,390 propane-grill-related fires per year between 2000 and 2004. The same years saw an average 23 deaths related to those fires. That’s less than one fire per day in a nation of more than 300 million people.
Natural gas stoves caused almost twice as many deaths – 43 – and fires – 2,410. There were few if any calls to ban natural gas stoves.
Other statistics suggested higher fire rates for grilling. The U.S. Fire Administration reported a yearly average of 6,500 grill fires, but less than 5 civilian deaths. The numbers also show that balcony and porch grilling accounted for 21 percent – or about 1,365 of the grill fires.
Court, terrace and patio grilling and open area grilling accounted for higher percentages of the grill fires.
The Fire Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, reported in March 2002 that personal responsibility – not increased regulation – was the solution to grilling accidents. “Many outdoor grill fires could be prevented through periodic maintenance and routine product inspection,” the report says. “Also, homeowners should be made aware of the need for vigilance while cooking on a grill.”
But some have resisted the “international” standard for grilling safety.
Broadcast networks have largely ignored bans on outdoor grilling, but have participated in drumming up fear over the “dangers” of grilling in spite of the less-than-overwhelming statistics.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” June 29, 2007, mixed good tips on commonsense grilling safety with hyperbolic warnings and pictures about grill fires. “Each year, cookouts start more than 6,000 serious fires,” co-host Robin Roberts said.
Correspondent Elizabeth Leamy showed pictures of fire-ravaged homes, but noted that at least one was fueled by natural gas.
NBC’s “Today” show drummed up some fear on July 2, 2008, when it examined grills in its “Today Investigates Summer Hazards” series. Co-host Meredith Vieira warned about “dangerous grill fires and explosions. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, well, think again.”
The media have previously taken grilling on for other reasons ranging from global warming to public health. Time magazine also criticized steaks and burgers for their impact on global warming. “[A] 16-oz. T-bone is like a Hummer on a plate,” the magazine said.
2) British Take Offense … to Baked Goods
Some regulations and bans are aimed at protecting the public from health and safety risks or addressing environmental concerns. They may be overbearing and sometimes even ridiculous, but at least they’re well-intentioned.
Others are just confusing. Across the pond, several districts in
But the schools aren’t worried about the carbohydrates in the bread, or the fat in butter smeared on top of the rolls, or even in all the sugar used to sweeten the treats. Instead, regulators were concerned the buns will offend Muslim and Jewish students because their designs feature the shape of a cross.
In March 2003, London newspapers reported that “schools across
The regulations didn’t do away with special Easter observances, according to reports in the London Telegraph and the London Times. The holiday with decidedly religious undertones – after all it’s the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – was still acknowledged, just without buns with cross shapes on top.
Even the people who were supposedly being protected by the removal of the offensive buns were dumbfounded. “This is absolutely amazing,” a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain,” told the Telegraph. “At the moment, British Muslims are very concerned about the upcoming war with
“I wish they would leave us alone,” the spokesman added. “We are quite capable of articulating our own concerns and if we find something offensive, we will say so. We do not need to rely on other people to do it for us … British Muslims have been quite happily eating and digesting hot cross buns for many years and I don’t think they are suddenly going to be offended.”
Many of the silliest government bans and regulations target “merely” amount to government infringement on personal freedom and responsibility. But occasionally, citizens could actually be harmed by the interference.
Such is the case with bans on deca-bromodiphenylether (decaBDE), a flame retardant chemical used in an array of household products – to protect both lives and property.
Supporters of the bans – including many in the media – commonly referred to decaBDE as “toxic.”
The report allowed a spokesman from the left-wing Friends of the Earth to suggest that “kids are swimming in fire retardants.” Correspondent Wyatt Andrews’ report noted “the question is whether Deca’s ability to slow down fire is now outweighed by evidence it’s toxic to animals and showing up in humans.”
“As producers and users of flame retardants, we are proud of the important role they play in saving lives,” Mark Buczek, chairman of the American Fire Safety Council, said in a press release. “Whether in furniture, mattresses, television sets or automobiles, flame retardants work silently to protect the public and fire fighters and reduce injuries and property damage from fires.”
However, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, an industry group, said the chemical “does not meet criteria to be classified as a toxic substance.”
“Overall, Deca-BDE is the flame retardant with the most scientific data supporting its compatibility in terms of human health, environmental profile and significant contribution to fire safety,” the group says on its Web site.
BSEF Chairman Dr. Michael Spiegelstein said in an April 2007 statement that getting rid of decaBDE could put people at risk without any guarantee of a safer product. “The real risk in
Beyond decaBDE, there was a larger movement to ban many chemicals used as flame retardants. Led by Greenpeace, environmental activists have targeted companies like Apple, which uses brominated flame retardants in its popular iPhone.
But the industry argued the chemicals are important safety aspects of electronics that otherwise would be subject to dangerous overheating. “However, the substances Greenpeace seeks to eliminate are all approved for use, and provide critical performance and safety functions in a wide range of electronic products,” BSEF said.