CNN Shuts Down Access to Facebook Pages in Australia After Court Ruling Holding Media Outlets Liable for Commenters

“In response to Australian court decisions holding media companies legally liable for the comments by users, CNN has blocked access to some of its Facebook pages from users in that country.

This is an inevitable outcome of a bad decision and a reminder of why it’s important not to try to force government-mandated moderation policies onto massive social media platforms that will inevitably lead to either censorship or lack of access to information.”

Seattle City Council Passes Rent Control by Another Name. Is It Legal?

“The Seattle City Council might have found a clever way around Washington state’s ban on local rent control policies. On Monday, it passed two bills that respectively require landlords to give generous notice to their tenants of any rent increases and to provide relocation expenses to low-income renters who do move in response to large rent hikes.
Current city and state law require landlords to give their tenants 60 days’ notice of any rent increase. One bill passed by the council would increase that notification period to 180 days, likely the longest notification period in the country.

And if a low-income tenant decides to move in response to a rent increase of 10 percent or more, landlords will be obligated to provide them with “economic dislocation relocation assistance” equal to three months’ rent, thanks to another bill passed by the council on Monday.

Both are the handiwork of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, who argues the twin bills are needed to protect tenants from a post-pandemic upswing in rents—and from capitalism more generally.

“Today’s victories will benefit tens of thousands of renters in Seattle, who are facing skyrocketing rent increases from profit-hungry corporate landlords and the venture capitalists and big banks who are [fueling] a speculative bubble,” said Sawant after the bills passed.

Landlords were less pleased with the bills’ passage, arguing during public comment that they’d raise their costs of doing business and are, per the Seattle Times, tantamount to rent control.

That latter charge could open up the new bills to legal challenges.

Washington state law preempts municipal governments from enacting laws “which regulate the amount of rent to be charged” and instead reserves that power under the state government.”

FTC Drills Alabama Licensing Board for Anti-Competitive Scheme Targeting Teledentistry

“As part of a consent agreement announced Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama would stop enforcing rules that limited “consumer choice and excluded new providers” offering braces and other teeth alignment services.

Those rules were crafted in 2017, after startups like SmileDirectClub began operating in Alabama. According to the FTC, the board took steps to stop the expansion of “firms providing clear aligners in Alabama through a teledentistry model” by amending its rules to ban dental hygienists and other medical professionals from performing the scans that are necessary to ensure proper fitting of the alignment devices. Previously, licensed dentists were allowed to supervise the scans from a remote location. Under the new rules, they would have to be on-site when the scans were done.

Over the next two years, the board delivered cease-and-desist letters to providers who offered those services without on-site licensed dentists.

“The actions of the Dental Board have deprived consumers in Alabama of low-price, convenient options for teeth alignment treatment without any legitimate justification or defense,” the FTC argued in a complaint against the board. Those actions, the commission says, “unreasonably restrained competition” and violated federal law.

The case is a sequel to the FTC’s 2015 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging anti-competitive behavior by a similar board in North Carolina. In that instance, the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners sent cease-and-desist letters to kiosks offering teeth whitening services. The practice of whitening teeth, the board declared, could only be done by licensed dentists.

When that case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled that licensing boards controlled by a majority of “active market participants” could not make deliberately anti-competitive rules—unless those boards were “actively supervised” by some other element of state government. As a result of that ruling, licensing boards enforcing anticompetitive rules could be sued for violating federal antitrust laws.

The ruling opened up a new legal avenue for challenging overbearing licensing boards that limit economic opportunities by blocking competition in certain professional fields. It was a resounding defeat for overreaching state regulation and “the culmination of 15 years of effort” Maureen Ohlhausen, then-chair of the FTC, told Reason shortly after the ruling.

That case laid the groundwork for the more recent actions in Alabama, where six of the board’s seven members are required by law to be licensed, actively practicing dentists. And the board’s actions are not “reviewed or approved by any neutral state officials with the power to veto or modify” its decisions, the FTC found.

Under the terms of the consent agreement struck between the FTC and the Alabama dental board, the board does not admit to violating any laws or to engaging in the alleged anti-competitive behavior. But, going forward, the board has agreed to stop requiring on-site supervision by licensed dentists of the alignment scans necessary for teledentistry services.

That should give residents of Alabama—some 1.8 million of whom live in areas deemed to have a shortage of dental professionals and could clearly benefit from a greater supply of teledentistry services—something to smile about.”

California is ending a rule that helped cause its housing crisis

“With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Gavin Newsom has officially ended the over 100-year scourge of single-family-only zoning in California.

Single-family-only zoning laws make it illegal to build anything but a single-family home on a particular lot of land. Now (with small exceptions like for fire-prone areas) it is also legal to build duplexes.”

“While overhauling single-family-only zoning might sound revolutionary, the bills are gentle attempts at increasing density: legalizing duplexes and quadplexes and making it easier to build small apartment buildings that provide up to 10 homes. This doesn’t mean single-family homes are outlawed or can no longer be built, but it provides homeowners the option to convert their homes into duplexes or sell their homes to people who want to do so. Before now, it was illegal for someone to convert their home to a duplex on a lot zoned for single-family zoning. Not anymore.

This isn’t a panacea for housing production. UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that SB 9 (the bill that legalizes duplexes) will “modestly accelerate the addition of new units relative to the status quo.” Other laws that restrict the building of new and more affordable homes are still in effect — in particular, local laws around minimum lot sizes will continue to make it illegal to turn single-family homes into duplexes if the existing lot is too small to subdivide while still adhering to the size regulations.

However, the Terner Center finds that “approximately 700,000 new, market-feasible homes would be enabled under SB 9.” That’s a lot! But because many people won’t want to sell their homes or subdivide them themselves, “only a share of that potential is likely to be developed, particularly in the near term. … As such, while important, the new units unlocked by SB 9 would represent a fraction of the overall supply needed to fully address the state’s housing shortage.””

Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters

“Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.

The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.

The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.”

“The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.

The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.

Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to remove potentially defamatory content the moment it appears before anybody else could see it. Nevertheless, the justices concluded that this is enough control over the comments for media outlets to be considered publishers. Two of the justices were very blunt that simply participating on Facebook made Fairfax Media Publications a publisher of the comments”

“It is easy to assume, as these other justices apparently have, that such a decision could not possibly cause a disastrous amount of online censorship because media outlets should know when a controversial story might lead to defamatory comments. The judges actually note this in the ruling. They seem to think that this is only an issue with certain types of stories and that the appearance of defamatory comments can be predicted in advance.

This is complete rubbish, and anybody with any experience on social media already knows this. Trolls, scammers, and spammers range far and wide (that’s the point of them), and it’s incredibly naive to think that a story that has no controversial elements can’t end up with third parties posting defamatory nonsense under them.”

“it’s why Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which generally protects websites and social media platforms (and you) from liability for comments published by others, is so important. It’s not just to protect media outlets from being held liable for comments from trolls. It’s to allow social media participation to even happen at all. Some large media outlets or companies might be able to afford around-the-clock moderation to attempt to catch problems. But even if they could, let’s be clear that they’re going to avoid as much risk as possible and delete any comment that has a whiff of controversy. Why would they allow it to stand if it could get them sued?

But smaller companies and outlets—and there’s no reason to think this ruling applies only to media outlets—will either have to hope Facebook gives them better tools to control who posts on their page or just not have social media presences at all.”

Let’s Make it Easier for Distillers To Ship Alcohol Directly to Adult Consumers

“Congress effectively prohibits the U.S. Postal Service from transporting beer, wine, or spirits directly to consumers. Such shipments must be made through FedEx, UPS, and other private shippers, which are often more expensive than USPS. A bipartisan bill introduced this summer, the USPS Shipping Equity Act, would end that ban and allow the USPS to ship alcohol from licensed producers to consumers of legal drinking age.

The second issue is that even though nearly every state allows DTC shipments of wine, and many allow DTC shipments of beer—directly from brewers and vintners, respectively, to consumers—only nine states currently permit direct shipments of liquor from distillers to consumers. While some states have temporarily relaxed DTC liquor shipment rules during the pandemic, in most cases there’s no promise those measures will remain in place going forward.”

“the three-tier system, a Prohibition relic under which states generally prohibit direct alcohol sales from a brewer, vintner, or distiller to a consumer. The three-tier system mandates these alcohol producers first sell to a distributor or retailer—a mandatory middleman—who can then sell to actual drinkers.”

“It makes no sense for Congress to (rightly) allow FedEx and UPS to deliver alcohol but not permit USPS to do the same. It’s equally bizarre for states to treat liquor shipments differently than shipments of wine, beer, or cider. In order to protect and create jobs, level the playing field for alcohol producers, and ensure consumers have more choices, Congress and state lawmakers must get to work.”

How Many Union Members Does It Take To Operate a Train?

“Labor unions such as the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers have been lobbying federal regulators to mandate that all freight trains operate with two-person crews in the cab. That’s long been the standard industry practice for safety reasons. The engineer drives the train, while the rail conductor handles equipment inspections and monitors track signals. Unions worry that advanced automation will allow railroads to run safely without a second person in the engine—and they want the government to step in to protect those jobs.

This dreaded automation is indeed occurring. All major rail systems in the U.S. now use positive train control (PTC), essentially a computer-based override system that monitors speed and track signals to avert collisions. The adoption of PTC—mandated by Congress since 2008—has helped dramatically reduce rail accidents. Data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), an industry group, show accidents are down 30 percent since 2000, while employee injuries have fallen by more than 40 percent. Railroading is safer now than it has ever been, in large part due to those technological advances.

With PTC systems handling many of the in-cab duties that were formerly the rail conductor’s responsibility, railroads are seeking to reassign some of those workers. Because rail conductors typically do equipment inspections and perform other duties before trains depart from rail yards and after they return, some will continue to work in that capacity. But any changes to the employment structure have to be approved as part of collective bargaining.”

“without clear and convincing evidence that two-person crews are necessary for trains to operate safety—and with PTC doing a better job of preventing accidents than humans used to—there’s no compelling reason for the government to get involved in this dispute. Private railroads and unions can make their own arrangements.

If Biden needs more convincing, he should check in with his beloved Amtrak. The government-run passenger rail system dropped its own two-people-in-the-cab mandate back in the 1980s.”

Chinese Regulators Tell Kids They Can’t Play More Than 3 Hours of Video Games a Week

“Beijing has just delivered a blow to the gaming industry, and a blow to Chinese children’s freedoms. Starting September 1, minors in China will be allowed to play video games (including those played on mobile devices) only from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. So: one hour per day, with a cap of three hours per week.

Former regulations had less restrictive caps, allowing an hour and a half of gaming per day with up to three hours allowed on holidays (for a total of 13.5 hours per week). It’s unclear how these new restrictions apply to console gaming, or whether parents could feasibly override these rules by allowing kids to use an adult’s gaming account. (Other workarounds, such as VPNs, could also potentially work.)

The regulations—which require that people use their real names to register, instead of using anonymous accounts—state that they aim “to resolutely prevent minors from becoming addicted to video games, and to effectively protect their physical and psychological health.” This will allegedly “lead minors to form positive habits in the use of the internet.””

State Governments Are Creating Their Own Drug Cartels

“some states legalized it, hoping to put an end to the black market. But legalization hasn’t ended the violence.

Why? Because many states impose so many unnecessary rules.

California is one of the worst.

“The illicit market is approximately two to three times the size of the legal market,” says cannabis industry lawyer Tom Howard in my new video.

Illegal sales thrive in California because politicians make distribution pointlessly difficult.

Howard advises clients who want to open a dispensary, “You have to have a $50,000 safe, a $200,000 security system, and a $100,000 consultant help you make an 800-page application.”

Every single plant must be weighed, tagged, and tracked from seed to sale.

This information is “not being used to benefit anybody,” complains grower Jason Downs. “It’s just a waste of everybody’s time, money.”

While legal sellers struggle, clueless California Gov. Gavin Newsom complains: “Illegal cannabis grows! They’re getting worse, not better.”

His solution: California taxpayers now will spend $100 million to bail them out!”

“Illinois’ rules are probably the worst.

“Only ‘social equity veterans’ in Illinois can get a license,” explains Howard. In other words, new licenses are supposed to go to prior “victims of the drug war.”

But the bureaucrats’ rules are so complex that a full year after legalization, zero new licenses have been issued.

Meanwhile, politically connected people grabbed every existing license.

One billionaire from the Wrigley gum family “paid $155 million for six dispensary licenses,” says Howard. Illinois is “creating a cartel.””

“Other states have bad rules, too.

“Florida and Arizona are millionaires’ clubs,” says Howard. “You have to not only grow it; you have to be able to produce it and process it. You have to own your own dispensary. If you have $40 or $50 million, it’s great.”

Massachusetts requires all dispensaries to black out windows lest anyone see the marijuana. Stores must also check everyone’s IDs multiple times.

Legalization doesn’t have to be stupid.

Oregon and Colorado have reasonable rules, and in Oklahoma, “anyone can get a cannabis license,” says Howard, “provided you’ve lived in Oklahoma for two years.”

The result?

“You get a lot more innovation—more entrepreneurs coming into market. Some go out of business, and some do very well….It’s free market capitalism.”

That works!”