The FDA has declared that aging on wood is a violation of their Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations. Aging on wood has been standard practice for decades and after extensive scientific study (and thousands of years of using the practice) has been deemed perfectly safe by regulators in the EU. 

Read an excellent overview of the issue at the Cheese Underground blog, and stay tuned to saveourcheese.tumblr.com for more updates. 

The nanny state meets crony capitalism in Florida, and it’s a match made in hell:

The law would force craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor. If they want to sell it in their own tap rooms, they would then have to buy it back at what is typically a 30-40 percent mark-up without the bottles or cans ever leaving the brewery.

I’m soon going to be writing at greater length about this story and the bigger issue of how the government (state and federal) has historically screwed with the beer market in America, favoring big, low-quality brewers like Miller and Anheuser-Busch. For now, suffice it to say that even though the current situation is much better than it was 40-50 years ago, stories like this demonstrate that we are far from out of the woods.

Being able to see where you’re going is rather important when you’re controlling a car, regardless of whether it’s day or night. It’s therefore not surprising that headlight technology is a constant focus of the auto industry. One of the latest steps forward is the adaptive headlights that debuted in Audi’s R8 LMX. These use lasers (I’m not going to make the Austin Powers joke) to augment traditional high beams without blinding everyone in their path. Unfortunately, they won’t be seen on US roads, thanks to inflexible regulations written before humankind landed on the moon.

If the secret to night driving was just more powerful illumination, things would be much simpler. Brighter illumination is fine if you’re the one behind the wheel, less so if you’re being dazzled by those beams. The R8 LMX’s headlights aim to solve this problem, detecting cars that would be dazzled by its laser spotlights, then adjusting the cone of that spotlight to prevent that happening.

Each headlight actually has four blue LED lasers that the unit modulates to create a focused spotlight with twice the range of the car’s LED high beams. The blue laser light is also transformed into a white light with the same temperature as daylight (5500K) by a phosphor converter. The laser spotlights kick in once the car is above 37mph, and an integrated camera system constantly monitors the road ahead and adjusts their throw to avoid blinding the rest of us.

That’s a consequence of decades-old federal regulations that require car headlights to have high beams and low beams and nothing else. Audi isn’t the first car maker to find those regulations have no place for technologically advanced headlights, either. Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo also all have adaptive headlights they’d like to bring to these shores but can’t, as does Toyota, which went as far as filing a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the arm of the Department of Transport which regulates vehicle safety.

http://arstechnica.com/cars/2014/06/laserbeam-headlights-not-in-the-us/

Why Obama’s Regulators Let Wall Street Bankers Off Easy

If there’s anything more maddening than the sheer scale of the financial fraud that sent America and the rest the planet spiraling into the economic abyss in 2008, it’s the fact that no Wall Street bankers have gone to jail for causing the mess. As in zero, zilch, none at all.

So at his farewell party last month to celebrate a lengthy career at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—the US regulatory agency that supposedly keeps Wall Street in check—James Kidney, a trial attorney who had been hamstrung for years by indifferent bosses, broke his silence and went off on an awesome rant about how no one in the financial sector fears the body supposedly policing their behavior. The SEC, in essence, is a joke.

Describing it as “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney told an audience of fellow employees that they had dropped the ball because of a revolving door of corruption between the SEC and Wall Street megabanks. “I have had bosses, and bosses of my bosses, whose names we all know, who made little secret that they were here to punch their ticket. They mouthed serious regard for the mission of the Commission, but their actions were tentative and fearful in many instances,” he said.

Continue

We All Lose

I’m sure you’ve heard about Ryan Block’s recent chat with Comcast about trying to disconnect his service. In short, the rep refused to disconnect the service without a reason from Block. This conversation of attrition went on for about 20 minutes, some of which was recorded. Listen to the exchange here.

The representative (name redacted) continued aggressively repeating his questions, despite the answers given, to the point where my wife became so visibly upset she handed me the phone. Overhearing the conversation, I knew this would not be very fun.

What I did not know is how oppressive this conversation would be. Within just a few minutes the representative had gotten so condescending and unhelpful I felt compelled to record the speakerphone conversation on my other phone.

Like many others, the call infuriated me. But I switched my tone after reading "Sympathy for the Comcast Rep From Hell" by John Herman.

If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can’t control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It’s bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer.

[…]

Of course, it’s absurd that a company like Comcast is able to force two humans into combat like this in the first place. If you don’t take the existence of a near-monopoly company like Comcast for granted—and why should we?—the situation is as clear as can be: The rep didn’t abuse Block, and Block didn’t torture the rep. Comcast, the organization, is tormenting them both.

I can’t help but applaud Herman’s final line.

I hope this tape gets played in front of Congress.

The last six-pack of beer I bought ran me about $11. It was a craft Altbier from Wisconsin, and it was lovely.

It was also 44% more expensive than it needed to be.

Yep, it turns out if you total up all the taxes “levied on the production, distribution and retailing of beer,” according to the Beer Institute, they add 44% to the retail price. My Altbier pack could have cost just $6.60, which definitely would have made it even more delicious.

For craft brewers and beer drinkers in Florida, this bad situation is about to get much worse. That’s because there’s a bill making its way through the Florida state legislature right now which would force all breweries to sell their beer to distributors and then buy it back again before selling it to customers.

If this sounds completely nonsensical, that’s because it is.

For big beer makers, like Miller and Anheuser-Busch, a law like this is no problem. Corporate brewers don’t typically sell beer straight to customers anyway; and if they want to, they can afford to absorb the extra cost.

But for smaller, craft breweries in Florida, this bill could be devastating. The buy-back mark-up from distributors will force brewers to raise their prices by at least 30%, meaning a huge hike in prices at that adorable little brewpub you keep meaning to visit.

In other words, regulations like these mean less success for local brewers and therefore less tasty beer for us.

It should come as no surprise, perhaps, that the Florida state representative who sponsored the bill received $3,500 in donations from big brewers the month before he introduced this legislation.

Unfortunately, Florida’s ridiculous proposal is just the tip of the iceberg in the grand American tradition of government being beer’s enemy no. 1. Beer was first brewed in America in 1587, and since then local alcohol bans, state-level regulations, and national beer taxes have gradually increased. By the time national Prohibition went into effect in 1920, 23 states were already dry, and the total number of breweries nationwide had shrunk from more than 4,000 to fewer than 1,500.

Liquor was legal again with the end of Prohibition in 1933, but just 756 brewers survived the long ban to reopen in 1934. Over the next 50 years, beer taxes continued to climb, homebrewing was illegal, and the number of breweries shrank to a record low of just 80 by 1983. Craft brewing was essentially dead, as the “top six breweries (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Heileman, Stroh, Coors, and Pabst) [controlled] 92% of U. S. beer production.”

By the early 1980s, American beers were known for being bland and uniform, the variety and life sucked out of them by decades of prohibitions, high taxes, onerous regulations, and homebrewing bans which made it extremely difficult for new brewers to enter the market. The picture was grim.

Then, everything changed. Homebrewing was federally legalized in 1978, and as of last summer, it’s legal in all 50 states. Today, there are over 1 million homebrewers nationwide, a change which has allowed thousands of new brewers to launch their small businesses out of their homes. Now, there are more than 2,400 craft brewers nationwide!

These are exciting times to be a beer drinker, but even with all this progress, beer is far from safe from the repressive hand of government. The Florida bill is especially ridiculous, but it’s not alone.

On a national scale, small breweries are still subject to extensive federal regulations which many can’t afford to follow. Changes that are easy for a Pabst or Coors factory to make come with exorbitant costs for microbrewers, making it impossible for many to stay in business—a classic example of the way regulations tend to benefit the big businesses which lobby for them at the expense of their smaller competitors.

Meanwhile, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is limiting your access to new beers from out of state. The TTB requires all beers sold across state lines to undergo an additional approval process, which slows the distribution process and can stretch the finances of small, new breweries.

And then there’s a proposed regulation from the FDA, which would essentially ban brewers from giving their used barley to farmers to use as cow feed. “The practice serves two purposes: to help the brewers get rid of millions of tons of leftover product, and to provide a free, nutritious food source for animals at local farms”—and you can guess which breweries will be most hurt by the FDA’s destruction of this mutually beneficially practice. (If you guessed the craft brewers, not the big corporate beer makers, you’d be right.)

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can stop bills like this Florida measure dead in their tracks, and repeal older regulations which continue to make brewing difficult for the little guy.

Ultimately, if the government will just get out of the way, the burgeoning craft beer industry can continue to flourish.

And I’ll drink to that.

The government is craft beer’s #1 enemy and therefore my number #1 enemy.  Free the brewers!

Uplands Cancels Production of Rush Creek Reserve Due To Regulatory Uncertainty

If you’ve been wondering what impact recent FDA actions might have on American artisan cheesemaking, this morning brings some news that illustrates it in stark, and unfortunate, terms. The following letter was sent to cheesemongers and distributors by Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese Co., announcing that they will be canceling this season’s production of their incredibly popular, and awarding winning, bark-wrapped, Vacherin-style cheese, Rush Creek Reserve

From: Uplands Cheese 

I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year.  It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent.  Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses. 

I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays - it certainly does on our end.  It’s not a decision we came to easily.  Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.

This will be a loss for mongers in the winter/holiday season, as the Rush Creek was always a cheese counter and wholesale favorite, but it also shows just what kind of impact the FDA’s often hostile — and perhaps worse, unclear and shifting — regulatory approach to cheesemakers can have. Uplands Cheese, while small compared to the big cheese companies, is nonetheless a well-established, award-winning, commercially successful operation, and yet they don’t feel they can keep making this particular cheese, in the present regulatory environment. Smaller and newer cheesemakers will have a hard time continuing their own cheeses that might fall afoul of the FDA’s latest enforcement focus. 

There will probably be other domestically-produced, Vacherin-style cheeses this winter (and hopefully imports of actual Vacherin and Mont d’Or won’t be impacted, although given recent FDA holds on imports from France and Italy, I wouldn’t assume it), but this is a big loss, and a potential sign of things to come. Stay tuned. 

Update 08/15: I emailed with Andy Hatch, and he confirmed that this decision had not come in response to any FDA visit or letter, and that they’d never had problems during routine inspections, but “was a decision made slowly as I’ve watched the regulatory climate get more unpredictable over the year or so, with soft, raw-milk, farmstead cheese as the FDA’s worst-case scenario.”

He also added some advice for fellow cheesemakers: “all of us selling cheese these days - raw or not - should be testing every batch and tightening up our environmental control and monitoring.  Each small problem just adds another arrow to the FDA’s quiver.”

(Emails quoted with permission from Uplands Cheese Co.)

If a Self-Driving Car Gets in an Accident, Who—or What—Is Liable?
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The carmaker, the car owner, or the robot car itself? On the surprisingly not-crazy argument for granting robots legal personhood.

On first contact with the idea that robots should be extended legal personhood, it sounds crazy. Robots aren’t people! And that is true. But the concept of legal personhood is less about what is or is not a flesh-and-blood person and who/what is or is not able to be hauled into court. And if we want to have robots do more things for us, like drive us around or deliver us things, we might need to assign them a role in the law, says lawyer John Frank Weaver, author of the book Robots Are People, Too, in a post at Slate. “If we are dealing with robots like they are real people, the law should recognize that those interactions are like our interactions with real people,” Weaver writes. “In some cases, that will require recognizing that the robots are insurable entities like real people or corporations and that a robot’s liability is self-contained.” Here’s the problem: If we don’t define robots as entities with certain legal rights and obligations, we will have a very difficult time using them effectively. And the tool that we have for assigning those things is legal personhood. Right now, companies like Google, which operate self-driving cars, are in a funny place. Let’s say Google were to sell a self-driving car to you. And then it got into an accident. Who should be responsible for the damages—you or Google? The algorithm that drives the car, not to mention the sensors and all the control systems, are Google’s products. Even the company’s own people have argued that tickets should not be given to any occupant of the car, but to Google itself. (via If a Self-Driving Car Gets in an Accident, Who—or What—Is Liable? - The Atlantic)

85% of EPAs Clean Air Act regulations based on secret data, unavailable to the public or Congress

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Obama’s EPA director Gina McCarthy is angry with Republican leaders who are attempting to block Clean Air Act regulations based on “secret” data which is unavailable to the public or Congressional oversight. Her reasoning?  Congress and the public are not “real scientists” qualified to analyze and interpret the data

This is no small amount of regulation either.  

from Daily Caller:

The EPA has used non-public data to justify 85 percent of $2 trillion worth of Clean Air Act regulation benefits from 1990 to 2020. The agency also uses such datasets to assert that Clean Air Act regulation benefits exceed the costs by a 30:1 ratio originates from the secret data sets.

House Republicans have backed a bill that would block the EPA from crafting regulations based on “secret” data. Republicans argue that such data was used to craft onerous regulations, like one promulgated in late 2012 to reduce soot levels.

That soot rule is supposed to yield $4 billion to $9 billion in benefits per year, while costing from $50 million to $350 million, but the data backing that claim up is not publicly available.

“For far too long, the EPA has approved regulations that have placed a crippling financial burden on economic growth in this country with no public evidence to justify their actions,” said Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert, who introduced the bill.

“Virtually every regulation proposed by the Obama administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims,” said Smith, who cosponsored the bill. “The American people foot the bill for EPA’s costly regulations, and they have a right to see the underlying science. Costly environmental regulations should be based on publicly available data so that independent scientists can verify the EPA’s claims.”

read the rest

Most transparent administration…ever.

Watch on redbloodedamerica.tumblr.com

Why trying to impose “gender equality” through laws, regulation, and mandates is because they actually have negative unintended consequences.  Watch to see how forcing businesses to cover long maternity leave negatively impacts females in the business world.

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