Day: July 31, 2023

Organization warns vaping laws may eventually hurt taxpayers

Illinois now has a law that bans the use of electronic cigarettes in indoor public spaces, but a consumer advocacy group warns such laws could backfire.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure that adds electronic smoking devices to the 2008 Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which banned smoking in most public spaces in the state.

“Illinoisans deserve to enjoy public spaces without being exposed unwillingly to secondhand vapor and other electronic cigarette byproducts,” said Pritzker in a statement.

The Illinois Department of Public Health noted that e-cigarettes can cause lung damage and addiction to nicotine.

Illinois also passed a law to raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 in 2019, and limited the advertising of e-cigarette products in 2022.

“We have made great progress, but the surge of use of e-cigarettes has threatened that progress and lured more people toward a deadly addiction,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest.

But Elizabeth Hicks with the Consumer Choice Center said vaping should not be compared with smoking regular cigarettes.

“We know that smoking combustible tobacco is harmful to health, however, vaping studies have shown that it is 95% less harmful than smoking,” said Hicks to The Center Square.

Read the full text here

Online trolls will be targeting next year’s European elections

Online trolls are already actively disseminating pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives, and these inauthentic networks will likely try to influence the 2024 European parliamentary election. Pro-Ukraine forces must combat these efforts both rhetorically and legislatively.

An investigation by Correctiv recently revealed the existence of a pro-Russian fake account network in Germany working on spreading misleading narratives favourable to the Kremlin via Facebook ads and links to disinformation sites, fake government documents, and content by the politicians of the German far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

One such ad accused Ukrainians of burning churches based on a video taken in Russia over a decade ago. Even though the video did not depict what was claimed, it was allowed to spread freely on social media.

Troll networks were also revealed to be spreading pro-Russian disinformation narratives regarding the war in the V4 and Germany, Italy, or Romania by Political Capital based in Hungary. 

The methods exposed by the Hungarian institute were pretty basic: potentially fake and real accounts on Facebook started copy-pasting the same texts into a broad range of discussions on Facebook, including under posts made by mainstream media outlets, ensuring that even users who do not seek disinformation can see their misleading claims.

The Hungarian ruling party Fidesz has also used online trolls to disseminate its propaganda narratives. One of the first known instances of this network being engaged abroad is when they tried to discredit former MEP Judith Sargentini for her leadership in a report criticising Hungary’s rule of law record. 

This is proof that Fidesz itself could also be able to try influencing EU public opinion, including views concerning Russia and the war. The ruling party has often expressed their desire to unite the European right, particularly the far-right Identity and Democracy, and the soft Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformers party groups. 

While the success of such plans seems somewhat impossible – due to, among others, differences in Russia – it is possible that Fidesz will use its troll network to attempt to shore up support for these forces.

What the troll networks want

Despite Facebook regularly trying to stop these troll networks, they always come back, as the social media company had previously halted the one uncovered by Correctiv – but they only succeeded temporarily.

The troll networks on Facebook and other social media outlets will be active during the 2024 European Parliament elections. The far-right is currently having substantial success in the polls. Finland’s Finns party (PS) came second in the Finnish general election, allowing it to form a government with the centre-right National Coalition. 

The new government has just survived the racism scandal of PS leader and Minister of Finance Riikka Purra.

The Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) has led the polls since November 2022, gaining an increasing advantage over the center-left SPÖ and the center-right ÖVP. In Germany, the AfD has overtaken the ruling SPD as the second-most-popular party in polls, and they are on the rise.

There is no doubt that, similarly to the situation in Germany, pro-Russian troll networks will be supporting these parties in the 2024 European elections, hoping that it will lead to a new parliament more moderate in its criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine, as the current crop of MEPs has called for EU countries to “reduce diplomatic relations with Russia and keep them to the absolute minimum necessary.” 

Even if the European Parliament has no power in managing the Union’s foreign policy, it would benefit the Kremlin if one of the EU’s critical legislative institutions reduced pressure on the European Commission and member states to act tough on Russia.

The widescale troll activity expected during the election campaign will try to ride Europe’s perceived wave of war fatigue. While Europeans are clearly in favour of most decisions the European Union has made regarding the war in Ukraine, there are some weak points in the bloc

The latest Eurobarometer survey revealed that only 36 per cent of Cypriots support the EU’s sanctions policy vis-á-vis Russia, while 56 per cent oppose them, and in Bulgaria, those in favour are only a slim majority. 

There are 15 member states out of the 27 where at least 20 per cent of respondents said they disagree with the sanctions, so there is clearly a broad electoral base open to pro-Kremlin manipulation.

Pro-Ukraine actors must be ready

It cannot be said that the European Union is not attempting to moderate the disinformation prevalent on social media sites. Its signature legislation on social media platforms, the Digital Services Act, obliges these platforms to assess and address systemic risks such as the “intentional manipulation of their service, including using inauthentic use or automated exploitation of the service.” 

However, this legislation is still in the early stages of implementation, and its actual effects will only be seen well after Europeans go to the polls in 2024.

Parallelly, the voluntary Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation signatories agreed to bolster policies to address mis- and disinformation and agree on understanding manipulative behaviors, such as coordinated inauthentic behaviour. 

This commitment will also become an obligation due to the DSA, but the steps taken by signatories so far indicate that the code will yield only a short time.

Overall, pro-EU, pro-Ukraine actors, and—in parallel—social media sites must be ready for a tough fight during the 2024 European election campaign, where malign actors will seek to lay the foundations of a more Russia-friendly European Parliament. 

This must be combatted both rhetorically by explaining to people what practical benefits supporting Ukraine brings and through legislation aimed at inauthentic networks. 

Originally published here

Ke arah kebolehcapaian kenderaan elektrik oleh pengguna

Agensi Tenaga Antarabangsa meramalkan menjelang akhir 2023 sebanyak 14 juta kenderaan elektrik akan dijual di pasaran global.

Sementara itu pada suku pertama tahun ini saja, terdapat peningkatan hampir 25 peratus (2.3 juta) kenderaan elektrik yang dijual berbanding tempoh sama tahun lalu.

Salah satu sebab utama permintaan untuk kenderaan elektrik berkembang pesat ialah kerana potensinya untuk mengurangkan pelepasan gas rumah hijau dan menjadi lebih mesra alam.

Selain itu, potensi kos operasi yang lebih rendah berbanding kenderaan enjin pembakaran dalaman juga mendorong peningkatan permintaan, terutamanya kos elektrik yang lebih rendah berbanding petrol atau diesel dan kurangnya kos penyelenggaraan bahagian dalaman kereta.

Malaysia tidak terkecuali daripada gelombang global peralihan kenderaan elektrik. Gelombang ini memaksa Malaysia untuk lebih bersedia dalam menyediakan dasar dan infrastruktur yang mampu menarik minat industri untuk melabur dan membuka peluang pekerjaan serta meluaskan lagi pilihan kepada pengguna.

Oleh sebab itu, kerajaan mewujudkan Jawatankuasa Pemandu EV Kebangsaan (NEVSC) yang melibatkan pelbagai kementerian dengan tujuan menggubal dasar dan menyelesaikan isu berbangkit dalam pelaksanaan ekosistem kenderaan elektrik di Malaysia.

Terbaru kerajaan menyasarkan untuk mencapai 15 peratus kenderaan elektrik di jalan raya pada 2030 dan 38 peratus menjelang 2040.

Angka itu bukanlah sasaran yang sukar untuk dicapai, tetapi dasar dan peraturan kerajaan akan memainkan peranan penting dalam menggalakkan penggunaan kenderaan elektrik di Malaysia bagi jangka masa panjang.

Dalam Belanjawan 2023, kerajaan mengambil pendirian bagi melanjutkan pengecualian duti import dan duti eksais sepenuhnya ke atas kenderaan elektrik import penuh (CBU) sehingga 31 Dis 2025.

Bagi kenderaan elektrik pemasangan tempatan, pengecualian penuh duti import ke atas komponen dan duti eksais serta cukai jualan telah dilanjutkan sehingga 31 Dis 2027.

Namun, dalam kes ini, sepatutnya tiada teknologi khusus yang perlu ditetapkan oleh kerajaan tetapi harus dipilih oleh pengguna. Teknologi neutral mesti digunakan untuk memastikan tiada teknologi atau pihak yang mendapat sebarang kelebihan berbanding pihak lain.

Ini penting untuk menjamin pengguna membuat pilihan secara bebas tanpa dikawal atau dipaksa oleh dasar berat sebelah.

Sementara itu, bagi pengeluar peralatan mengecas kenderaan elektrik mereka akan menikmati insentif 100 peratus pengecualian cukai dari tahun taksiran 2023 hingga 2032, dan 100 peratus elaun cukai pelaburan untuk tempoh lima tahun.

Satu lagi dasar yang baik, cukai jalan untuk kenderaan elektrik adalah percuma sehingga 2025. Kementerian Pengangkutan sedang membangunkan struktur cukai jalan yang kurang daripada kenderaan pembakaran dalaman.

Pengguna juga boleh menikmati pelepasan cukai pendapatan individu sehingga RM2,500 ke atas perbelanjaan berkaitan pengecasan peralatan.

Walaupun dasar kerajaan sekarang agak terbuka, masih terdapat banyak cabaran kepada pengguna untuk memiliki kenderaan elektrik. Ia melibatkan pemilikan yang masih mahal yang membolehkan hanya kumpulan tertentu sahaja memilikinya.

Walaupun teknologi bateri bertambah baik, ia masih mempunyai jarak pemanduan yang terhad berbanding kenderaan pembakaran dalaman.

Begitu juga infrastruktur pengecasan yang terhad dan masa pengecasan yang lebih lama berbanding kenderaan tradisional membuatkan pengguna masih teragak-agak untuk beralih kepada kenderaan elektrik.

Kos bateri yang tinggi, hayat bateri dan kesan alam sekitar daripada pengeluaran dan pelupusan bateri yang melibatkan pelepasan karbon dioksida menjadikan pemilikan besar-besaran mencabar.

Sebagai contoh, dasar Tesla adalah untuk memastikan setiap bateri yang mencapai penghujung hayatnya boleh dikitar semula dan digunakan semula berulang kali.

Perlu ada garis panduan untuk pengurusan bateri litium-ion yang hanya boleh dikendalikan oleh profesional berkelayakan yang memenuhi piawaian infrastruktur tertentu.

Malaysia sedang dalam fasa peralihan ke arah penggunaan kenderaan elektrik yang akan mengambil jangka masa panjang. Peranan kerajaan adalah untuk memastikan dasar yang diperkenal dan dilaksanakan mampu terus menggalakkan industri berinovasi dan bekerjasama agar cabaran tersebut dapat diselesaikan.

Kerajaan juga perlu sedar, dasar melindungi industri automotif tempatan dengan alasan patriotik hanya akan membebankan pengguna apabila terpaksa membayar dua kali ganda semata-mata untuk mendapatkan kenderaan yang lebih berkualiti.

Keterbukaan teknologi adalah prasyarat penjimatan kos untuk sektor pengangkutan yang mampan.

Originally published here

Reformasi Penting Perihal Perlindungan Kekayaan Intelektual di Indonesia

Perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan hal yang penting untuk perekonomian sebuah negara. Di era perkembangan teknologi yang semain pesat, kreativitas dan kemampuan berinovasi merupakan hal yang sangat esensial, dan adanya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual yang kuat merupakan sesuatu yang penting untuk menunjang hal tersebut.

Melalui perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual yang baik, seorang inovator bisa mendapatkan ekonomi dan memiliki kontrol atas karya yang ia buat. Dengan demikian, hal ini akan mendorong insentif yang semakin besar bagi inovator-inovator lainnya untuk selalu berkarya dan berinovasi untuk membuat sesuatu yang dapat membawa manfaat bagi konsumen dan masyarakat.

Tanpa adanya perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang kuat, tentu akan sulit bagi para inovator dan pekerja kreatif untuk mendapatkan manfaat ekonomi yang maksimal dari karya yang mereka buat. Orang-orang yang tidak bertanggung jawab dapat dengan sangat mudah membajak dan mendapatkan keuntungan dari karya yang mereka buat tersebut secara bebas.

Bila hal ini terus dibiarkan, maka hal ini akan semakin mengurangi insentif para pekerja kreatif dan inovator untuk berkarya dan berinovasi, karena mereka tidak bisa mendapatkan manfaat finansial dari karya yang mereka buat. Dengan demikian, maka inovasi dan sektor ekonmi kreatif juga akan menurun, dan akan membawa dampak negatif terhadap perekonomian, seperti lapangan kerja yang semakin sedikit, dan lain sebagainya.

Di Indonesia sendiri, buruknya perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual merupakan persoalan yang tidak kecil. Di tengah perkembangan teknologi yang begitu pesat, ada semakin banyak pula persoalan terkait dengan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual yang harus kita hadapi, mulai dari semakin mudahnya proses pembajakan konten digital, hingga semakin mudahnya menjual barang-barang bajakan melalui berbagai platform e-commerce.

Tidak mengherankan bahwa, berdasarkan indeks perlindungan kekayaan intelektual yang dirilis oleh berbagai lembaga dunia, Indonesia hampir selalu berada di peringkat bawah. Berdasarkan Indeks Kekayaan Intelektual yang dirilis oleh Kamar Dagang Amerika Serikat (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) tahun 2023 misalnya, Indonesia menduduki peringkat 50 dari 55 negara (kk-advocates.com, 2/3/2023).

Untuk itu, serangkaian reformasi kebijakan terkait dengan perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia merupakan hal yang sangat penting untuk dilakukan. Bila tidak ada serangkaian reformasi kebijakan yang dilakukan, bukan tidak mungkin nilai Indonesia akan stuck pada skor yang rendah.

Berita baiknya, Indonesia sudah membuat serangkaian reformasi kebijakan yang ditujukan untuk memperbaiki perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia. Dalam beberapa tahun terakhir, aturan terkait perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual sudah mengalami perkembangan yang mencakup berbagai hal, mulai dari yang terkait pemanfaatan HAKI, pendaftaran kekayaan intelektual, dan aturan terkait perselisihan perdata kekayaan intelektual di lembaga peradilan (ssek.com, 4/5/2023).

Pada tahun Juli 2022 lalu misalnya, Pemerintah Indonesia akhirnya mengeluarkan regulasi pemerintah no. 24 tahun 2022 tentang implementasi regulasi No. 24 tahun 2019, yang memberikan ketetapan tentang bagaimana menjadikan kekayaan intelektual sebagai jaminan kredit. Regulasi ini dibuat salah satu tujuan utamanya adalah untuk membantu dan mendorong industri kreatif, khususnya industri kreatif kecil dan menengah, untuk dapat terus tumbuh dan berkembang, melalui cara untuk mendapatkan kredit yang lebih mudah (ssek.com, 4/5/2023).

Sehubungan dengan pendaftaran kekayaan intelektual yang semakin dipermudah, Dirjen Kekayaan Intelektual Kemenkumham beberapa waktu lalu juga mengeluarkan sebuah program inovatif yang dinamakan POP Merek Melalui program ini, para inovator dan pekerja kreatif bisa mendaftarkan hak cipta atau memperpanjang masa hak cipta atas kekayaan intelektual yang mereka miliki secara sangat cepat dan hanya hitungan menit. Hal ini tentu akan sangat membantu para pekerja industri kreatif dan semakin memberikan insentif bagi mereka untuk mendaftarkan karya yang mereka buat (ssek.com, 4/5/2023).

Reformasi dan perkembangan perlindungan kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia lainnya yang terjadi beberapa waktu terakhir adalah terkait perselisihan perdata di pengadilan, yakni e-court (pengadilan elektronik) untuk kasus perdata. Dalam kasus perdata ini, tercakup juga kasus-kasus yang berkaitan dengan perselisihan kekayaan intelektual (kliklegal.com, 7/2/2023).

Diberlakukannya peradilan perdata secara virtual (e-court) tentu merupakan suatu perkembangan yang positif, dan dapat semakin mempermudah urusan kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia. Dengan semakin berkembangnya industri kreatif, tentunya semakin banyak pula kekayaan intelektual yang didaftarkan di Indonesia oleh para inovator dan pembuat karya.

Dengan semakin banyaknya kekayaan intelektual yang didaftarkan, tentu potensi perselisihan juga akan semakin besar. Dengan demikian, dengan adanya layanan e-court yang diperuntukkan untuk perselisihan kasus-kasus perdata seperti kekayaan intelektual, maka hal ini akan semakin membantu untuk mempermudah dan mempercepat penyelesaian dari perselisihan tersebut.

Sebagai penutup, penegakan hak kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia merupakan hal yang sangat penting untuk menjaga hak para inovator dan pekerra industri kreatif atas karya yang emrekabuat, agar tidak bisa sekehendaknya dicuri dan digunakan oleh pihak-pihak yang tidak bertanggung jawab. Di negara kita sendiri, berita baiknya, sudah ada berbagai reformasi hukum yang ditujukan untuk mencapai hal tersebut. Semoga, perlindungan hak kekayaan intelektual di Indonesia dapat semakin baik, dan inovasi serta industri kreatif di Indonesia dapat semakin berkembang.

Originally published here


Rok 2023 niesie ze sobą spore wyzwania i obietnice zarówno dla europejskich podróżnych, jak i portów lotniczych. W trzeciej edycji Europejskiego konsumenckiego indeksu portów lotniczych firma Consumer Choice Center udoskonaliła i zaktualizowała swoje rankingi, korzystając z danych dostarczonych przez lotniska, z raportów rocznych, statystyk internetowych i własnych niezależnych badań.

Warszawskie Lotnisko Chopina zadebiutowało w Indeksie portów lotniczych jako pierwsze polskie lotnisko w rankingu. W 2022 r. lotnisko obsłużyło 14,4 mln pasażerów, co świadczy o rosnącym znaczeniu Polski jako lidera w Europie Wschodniej i zarazem pokazuje znaczenie izolacji Rosji na arenie międzynarodowej.

Kilka najlepszych portów lotniczych w naszym indeksie nadal pozostaje w czołówce: w zestawieniu prowadzą lotniska w Zurychu, Brukseli i Frankfurcie jako trzy najlepsze porty lotnicze w Europie pod względem obsługi pasażerów.

Oceniając lotniska, wzięliśmy pod uwagę kilka czynników, od lokalizacji portu i obsługi transportowej po dostępność przyjaznych konsumentom udogodnień, takich jak sklepy i restauracje. Skupiliśmy się również na czasie oczekiwania na kontrolę bezpieczeństwa i średniej liczbie opóźnień lotów.

„Ten indeks jest istotnym źródłem informacji dla podróżnych, którzy chcą jak najlepiej wykorzystać czas podczas lotów w Europie. Złe doświadczenia na lotnisku mogą negatywnie odbić się na dobrych wspomnieniach z udanej podróży. Cieszymy się, że możemy udostępnić nasze najnowsze rankingi podróżnym z całego świata, aby mogli lepiej się przygotować i latać wygodniej” – wyjaśnia Emil Panzaru, kierownik ds. badań w Consumer Choice Center.

Read the full text here

What would George Lucas say about the Hollywood strikes?

Hollywood has ground to a halt amid a united front between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America, striking together now for a combined three months. Scripted productions are frozen, red carpet premiers are without stars, and there is no real timeline for when struck studios might be able to return to business as usual. 

While Hollywood’s labor unions lock arms in pursuit of higher pay, better residual deals, and some kind of limitation on the use of artificial intelligence in production, there’s a bit of side-eye being thrown toward those in the entertainment industry who won’t fall in line.

The Chosen, a historical drama centered on the life of Jesus Christ, is carrying on with shooting its fourth season following an exemption granted by SAG-AFTRA. The popular Christian series is a production of Angel Studios, which most notably has been the distributor for the recent hit film The Sound of Freedom — a film that chronicles the dark underworld of global child sex trafficking. 

Showrunner Dallas Jenkins moved quickly to apply with SAG-AFTRA for an exemption from the work stoppage for actors on The Chosen, and it seems that their independent approach to entertainment is paying off. The show’s new season will continue shooting, thanks to consumers who backed nearly $37 million in crowdfunding on the show’s first two seasons. The Chosen has since then made it by on only donations and without licensing deals.

How refreshing it is to see creatives at work, free to build things without the permission of coercive labor unions. Operations such as that of Angel Studios and The Chosen Productions have made huge waves in recent months for their unique faith-based approach to content and for offering their investors a piece of equity in the production companies themselves.

It’s a rarely utilized way of doing business, made possible by a provision in former President Barack Obama’s 2016 JOBS Act, but one you could imagine Hollywood renegades such as George Lucas having longed for when he built the Star Wars empire.

Lucas loathed the Hollywood labor unions. Throughout his rise from underdog film student to box office king, the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones had little to no patience for the strictures unions sought to place on his work. One of many clashes occurred in 1980, when for the second time, George Lucas insisted that Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back begin with the iconic “opening crawl” instead of directorial credits. 

In this instance, the credit would have gone to Irvin Kershner, whom he tapped to lead the most critically acclaimed Star Wars film to this day. The unions made their regulation clear to Lucas, and after Lucas sued and took them to court, the visionary behind Star Wars opted to pay the $25,000 fine and resign from the guild. Lucas would always fight the studios and unions in defense of his artistic vision and business priorities.

When you think about how iconic the opening sequence of a Star Wars film is, it’s easy to see why Lucas dug in his heels. “I consider it extortion,” he said of the fight with the guilds.

Years earlier, when Lucas was shooting the first Star Wars film at Elstree Studios just beyond London, he collided with British unions over their stiffly regulated work schedule for stage crews. Lucas is known to be a workhorse and somewhat unempathetic when it comes to the needs of his cast and crew, but the twice-daily mandated tea times at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. were beyond the pale for the busybody director — not to mention the 5:30 p.m. forced stop time right after tea.

Every member of a film production, from the top of the chain to the bottom, has a cross to bear. For Lucas, it was deadlines and managing the ballooning production budget, and he understood that union concerns were detached from his goals as an ambitious creative. It motivated everything from Lucas’s selection of non-union director Richard Marquand to direct Return of the Jedi to the location of his Lucasfilm compound in San Francisco, buying him physical distance from the studios and industry enforcers he so resented.

Perhaps it was his entrepreneurial and more conservative father, but Lucas never had any respect for the Hollywood patronage system enforced by studios and the various guilds. Despite being a model post-Vietnam liberal Democrat on every other issue of the day, Lucas rebelled his way to incredible success.

Creative work requires truly creative people, and the most successful and innovative creators will always be troublemakers. The false choice created by union-dominated industries is solidarity with your colleagues or less access to opportunity. Unions can serve a purpose and may well be necessary in a town such as Hollywood, where penny-pinching often comes at the expense of the lowest-paid crew members, but the coercive nature of union membership will always undermine any benevolent role they play.

Originally published here

Eastern Europe should reject the proposed EU chemical regulations

A new red-tape mission is about to worsen the lives of Eastern European consumers, producers, and suppliers.  Under the influence of the Green Deal, the European Union’s Chemical Agency (ECHA) will transition to a hazard-based approachpremised on preventing any potential threat. Regulators will no longer focus on concrete exposure levels to determine whether a product is safe for consumers, as they used to in the older risk-oriented assessments. Instead, policymakers will use lab-related hypothetical scenarios or advanced statistical tests to label a consumer good as dangerous or remove it entirely from store shelves if it could constitute a problem in any way, shape, or form.

However, trying to achieve zero dangers comes at a high cost. In the case of the ECHA’s revised rules, increasing regulatory pressure raises the costs of complying with said rules. This increase leaves many smaller companies unviable, making perfectly safe goods unavailable to consumers. The effect will be decisive for Eastern European countries already heavily invested in chemical markets, which therefore have the most to lose from any disruption.

The best example of this dynamic comes from an unlikely source – essential oils. Often assumed to be just relaxation tools, these steam or water-based plant extracts are widespread ingredients in most toiletries, cosmetics, and perfumes and are the economic bread and butter of many Eastern European countries. Bulgaria is the world’s top producer of rose oil, with up to two tonnes of rosesharvested yearly in the famous region of Rose Valley. Not to be outdone, the Tedre farm in southern Estonia has cultivated a waste-efficient carbon monoxide method of extracting oil from its 2.5 hectares of raspberries. Though not comparable to Bulgaria or Estonia in terms of output, Lithuania does produce important essential oils like mint, chamomile, juniper, and spruce.

However, hazard-based regulations would have essential oils on the chopping block. Policymakers plan to replace their current designation as complex natural substances with the nebulous idea of ‘more than one constituent substance.’ In practice, this redesignation means that essential oils will be treated the same way as synthetic mixtures – subject to the complete restrictions of hazard-based rules.

Most Eastern European firms will quickly find their businesses unviable because of the ECHA’s decision. Like the Tedre farmers, Bulgarian cultivators in the Rose Valley, and Lithuanian agriculturalists, these producers and retailers tend to besmaller domestic enterprisesScaring consumers away with severe warnings on labels and prohibiting products are extra costs they can ill afford to take on (which is why 85% of all firms signed up to onerous legislation are large international conglomerates).

The economic consequences for the essential oils market in countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, and others in the region will be severe. Looking at export numbers alone, Bulgaria could lose 445 million euros from its sale of essential oils and associated toiletries. Lithuania and Estonia’s numbers are more modest but still significant, at 379.9 million euroand 19.1 million euro, respectively.

Eastern European member states should encourage the ECHA to abandon its cause before it is too late. Tentative steps occurred on the 30th of June when Bulgaria and seven other states in the Permanent Representatives Committee urged the European Commission to prepare a report four years into the future on essential oils. The analysis will outline different norms regulating the ‘more than one constituent substance’ category. Estonia, Lithuania, and all other Eastern European countries should join Bulgaria in this endeavor.

Yet they should aim to do more. They must encourage the revival of risk-based thinking in the EU’s attitude towards chemicals. Risk-bearing is the only form of decision-making grounded in concrete toxicological data, aware of the fundamental economic trade-offs, and sensitive to the consumer experience. The time to end destructive campaigns (no matter how well-intentioned they may be) is here and now.  

Originally published here

A NEW FRONT LINE: The latest skirmish in the short-term rental wars involves swimming pools.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the potential demise of Airbnb. The homesharing platform deemed innovative by some, and a nuisance by others, has helped to define the public debate over sharing apps that have transformed downtowns nationwide with e-scooters, rented condos and the presence of Uber and Lyft cars on every street corner. Those local debates have been fierce in North Carolina metros, including Raleigh-Durham, Asheville, Wilmington and Charlotte, and have given way to a tenuous compromise in the state between tech companies, homeowners and established players in the hospitality and tourism industry.

But Airbnb’s steep revenue declines, close to 50% drops in Asheville, Myrtle Beach and Austin, show that regulation designed with only one technology in mind will make it harder to adapt as new tech emerges. Look no further than the troubles surrounding Swimply, a pool-sharing app not dissimilar in concept from Airbnb, which is causing a stir in Orange County.

Homeowners in the Chapel Hill-Hillsborough area were served with threatening letters from the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) for using Swimply to rent out their backyard pool by the hour to customers on the other end of the app. Does that transaction transform a homeowner’s private pool into a public pool? Here you see where common sense and regulatory policy don’t overlap.

The OCHD says in its letter, “When an owner or resident of a single-family dwelling opens use of that dwelling’s pool to the general public, especially for rent, they are explicitly expanding the use of the pool to users beyond the private use of the dwelling’s residents and their guests, and the pool is no longer private.”

This language implies that making money from the sharing of your pool is certainly problematic but also leaves room for it to be an issue if you were just opening your backyard gate to anyone looking to cool off for free.

Operating a party house or poolside hangout spot for college students won’t get you a Neighbor of the Year award, but it doesn’t mean you’re running a “public pool.”

The ill-fated argument put forward by Orange County is that a private pool becomes classified as a public one if it’s being rented out on a digital app like Swimply. So, a homeowner near UNC with a quiet, backyard pool that sees a few rental guests per week must then face the same level of code enforcement, chemical maintenance and property inspection as, say, Woodcroft Swim & Tennis Club in Durham, which sees hundreds if not thousands of swimmers a week. It’s ill-fated because this approach to regulation has been tried in other states, such as Wisconsin, where the Department of Health Services was set straight by the state’s Consumer Protection department after pushback from the pool, yard and tennis court sharing app.

Put simply, Swimply cannot be singled out for regulation just because they are not mentioned by name in state law for governing vacation rental properties. In principle, the business model and features of an app like this are covered by the allowances made for private property owners who’ve made use of Airbnb or other apps to generate supplemental income off their property.

An Airbnb host in Burlington could in theory offer their entire home for daily rental, including its amenities: kitchen, laundry, ping pong tables and an outdoor pool, with no interference. That property could see an equal number of guests per week as a Swimply listing, but the only difference is that the Airbnb guests would also be utilizing overnight accommodations in addition to a swimming pool.

Why would it be the business of public health regulators to police backyard swimming, but only for people who will be there for an hour or two as opposed to overnight? This is the question that regulators in Orange County have yet to contend with, and the issue remains unresolved at the expense of homeowners and sharing app users who want to enjoy private pool access during a summer that promises extreme heat statewide. Either the state of North Carolina believes in private property rights and a level playing field for innovation, or it doesn’t.

North Carolina has a workable framework in place for the sharing economy in the longstanding Vacation Rental Act, but it’s going to have to be either modified or supplemented by new legislation to add clarity for property owners and consumers alike who enjoy innovations in the sharing economy. Senate Bill 667 stands as one such piece of legislation that could bring an end to the harassment of North Carolina homeowners by misguided health department officials. The bill, championed by state Sen. Tim Moffitt (R-Henderson, Polk and Rutherford), would in essence preempt localities from banning short-term rentals or imposing onerous costs to listing private property.

No doubt, the measure presents a clash of values for its Republican backers, who on the one hand tend to favor local control as opposed to dictates from Raleigh about how towns should be managed. However, the competing value — that of property rights protected under state law — makes SB 667 a worthwhile consideration for conflicted lawmakers.

Whether it’s SB 667 or something new in a coming legislative session, the legislature owes North Carolinians clarity about their right to rent private property, whether it be backyards, pools, hot tubs, spare rooms or whole single-family homes.

Originally published here

Time to Clip Wings of Climate Protesters

For months on end, environmentalist protesters have glued themselves to roads, bridgestunnelspaintings in museumsoil tankers, and now even airports.

Their argument is that for a long time, they have called and petitioned for governments to take even more drastic action to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, increasing energy prices continuously in times when they are already at record highs. “Just to Oil” protesters aren’t happy that the democratic process hasn’t fully favored their cause and thus turn to violent means to get time on the airwaves of the national conversation.

In Germany, where the protesters have been particularly vicious, the statistics do not include the number of ambulances that arrived late at a hospital due to roadblocks, and the impact this had on patients’ health. In six of the eight cases reported, the figures show a late arrival, and in two cases — because the vehicles were stuck in a traffic jam — other ambulances had to be alerted.

Despite the fact that a female cyclist arrived late at a hospital due to environmentalists gluing themselves to a road, German prosecutors have chosen not to bring activists to justice.

Just last week, activists in Germany delayed dozens of flights after gluing themselves to the runway of Hamburg and Munich Airport. The same group had already disrupted flights at Munich and Berlin airports in December last year.

The activists elevate their cause above the lives of everyone around them and endanger the safety of everyone around them. They show utter disregard for people around them; they waste precious police time and resources at costs that they will not have to carry.

What it tells us about their thinking is that they do not believe that innovation will address the environmental challenges of the future. New aircraft today use a fraction of the kerosene they did in the last century. Automobiles use less petrol, agriculture needs less resource input, and the levels of pollution per capita keep decreasing gradually.

But no, what these activists want is degrowth: a rapid deterioration of living standards, which would hit everyone, yet disproportionately those on lower incomes. The frenzy of the apocalyptic vision these protesters have bought into will only make them gear up for even more drastic measures. This is particularly true as the stunts will have to become more extreme in order to gather attention in the ongoing news cycle.

If we imagine what would happen if environmentalists start to disrupt flights mid-air, forcing emergency landings, creating high-level security threats and the psychological burdens that come with them for all passengers, we cannot idly stand by.

For the safety of all consumers, and incidentally those protesters as well, all of those who have previously participated in the disruption of road or air traffic, or those who sprayed paint on office buildings, should be put on the No-Fly List.

Luckily for us, those environmentalists would hardly be able to criticize such a move. After all, they wanted to stop flying anyway.

Wish granted.

Originally published here

Microsoft, Activision extend deal deadline to Oct. 18

Activision Blizzard and Microsoft agreed on Wednesday to extend the deadline for their merger agreement to Oct. 18 as the companies continue to work on gaining approval from regulators.

“Given global regulatory approvals and the companies’ confidence that CMA now recognizes there are remedies available to meet their concerns in the UK, the Activision Blizzard and Microsoft boards of directors have authorized the companies not to terminate the deal until after October 18,” Activision Blizzard CCO Lulu Cheng Meservey said in a tweet.

The two U.S. companies originally agreed to close the deal by July 18, but U.S. regulatory efforts to block the takeover and Britain’s push to restructure it have delayed the close.

On Tuesday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan rejected a last-minute attempt to stop Microsoft’s $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard.

A group of gamers filed a request asking the high court for an emergency injunction to halt the merger and prevent Microsoft from gaining control of popular games like Call of Duty, Candy Crush and World of Warcraft.

“You can see in this case how fearmongering from the FTC has misled a small number of gamers about the stakes of the Microsoft-Activision deal,” said Stephen Kent, media director at the Consumer Choice Center.

Read the full text here

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