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New Yorkers need prudence, not bans, on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining

On May 24, 2022, the Consumer Choice Center sent a letter to New York state lawmakers, warning of the potential consequences to consumers if bill S6486D was adopted, a moratorium on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining.

The full letter is available below, or in PDF version here.

Dear Senators,

We write to you to urge you to vote against S6486D, a companion bill to A7389C, which would order a state-wide moratorium on cryptocurrency generation or mining.

If passed, this bill would be a death blow to the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry, resulting in thousands of jobs lost in New York, a loss of capital to scale up renewable energy, and would harm all potential benefits to consumers from cryptocurrency projects and initiatives. 

The aim of embracing climate goals to ensure 100% renewable energy usage in cryptocurrency generation and mining is well-intended, but a complete ban will have a devastating impact on innovators and entrepreneurs hosting their facilities in the state of New York, and consumers and investors that rely on their services.

As a consumer group, it may seem odd for us to weigh in on a topic that affects mostly industry players and firms. However, because we believe that Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more broadly, will serve a vital role in making finance and economics more inclusive and accessible for sending, receiving, and saving value, we hold it in the interest of consumers that the hashrate (the total computing power of the network) continue to grow, and that better public policy on cryptocurrencies is embraced among state legislatures.

If the Bitcoin hashrate grows specifically in the United States, then we will have more control in how mining develops and how it can benefit the country, its citizens, and our energy grids.. This last part is vital for climate goals, which cannot be said for China or other nations.

According to the latest figures from the first quarter of 2022 on Bitcoin mining specifically, 58.4% of miners are using renewable energy sources, and that number has only increased in several years. In New York, many firms are retooling abandoned processing and power generation plants to build cryptocurrency data centers, and are providing economic value in return that is putting renewable energy to work.

What’s more, this wide-ranging energy diversification is happening at a pace faster than any other industry, leading to more investment in renewable energy capacities and delivery systems. This increased demand is leading to more environmentally favorable energy delivery for customers of all public electricity utilities, and will also help bring down costs. And this is being carried out due to the incentives of firms and individuals who participate in adding hash rate to mining: they want to lower their costs and find better alternatives. 

Cryptocurrency generation and mining firms have an incentive to use the most affordable and renewable energy sources available, and the data backs up this claim. This is a win-win scenario for towns and localities with these facilities, for employees of these firms, residents in these towns that benefit from increased commerce, and energy customers overall.

As cryptocurrency mining has proliferated in New York, it has opened up new entrepreneurial activities that will help improve the lives of New Yorkers in small communities and large urban centers alike. Entertaining a ban on these activities, in pursuit of an unclear climate goal, will negate these gains. There is a better path.

It should not surprise you to know that New York’s previous policy decisions, including the highly criticized BitLicense, have locked many New Yorkers out of the new cryptocurrency ecosystem due to the high compliance costs. Some New Yorkers have chosen to change residences in order to acquire cryptocurrency or to invest in crypto businesses, which they can do in any other state, but more specifically Texas, Wyoming, and Florida.

If this moratorium on cryptocurrency generation comes to pass, it will be yet another signal to entrepreneurs and consumers that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not welcomed in New York, and the regulatory framework is too unfavorable to justify investing here.

A number of industry organizations, communities, and unions have already expressed their concerns about the impact this bill would have on their families and livelihoods, fearing potential job loss in case industry gets driven away from the state as a result of this legislation. The loss of future investments and new jobs is another concern expressed by many communities in cities such as Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse.

According to the May 2022 Empire State Manufacturing Survey, the general business conditions index has dropped thirty-six points statewide. The last thing many affected and marginalized communities need is a moratorium that would drive businesses away from the state, and keep millions of New Yorkers from being included in a new system of value.

We understand that the quick rise of cryptocurrency mining raises many questions for residents, particularly when it involves the local economy and environment. However, a more prudent path would be an environmental review conducted by relevant authorities, rather than a wholesale ban and moratorium that would put many projects in legal jeopardy.

As consumer advocates, we are strongly opposed to this bill. We believe that New York residents deserve a chance to take part in the nascent industry that so many other states are hoping to accommodate. Using the force of regulation to drive away investments and jobs, stop economic progress, and shut out millions of New Yorkers from a more inclusive financial system would not only be wrong, but it would also be negligent.

Please vote No on S6486D aiming to place a moratorium on proof-of-work and help New York become a hub of innovation that embraces new technologies. New Yorkers should have the opportunity to participate in one of the biggest innovations of our age. With your vote against this bill and a more prudent direction, we can ensure that will happen.

Sincerely Yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director

Aleksandar Kokotovic

Crypto Fellow

More consumers reaching for alcohol-free beer, wines and spirits

Various studies over the past two years have shown that there was a worldwide increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic because many people were worried and stressed as they self-isolated due to COVID-19.

But now, it appears there is a new trend happening as sales statistics show there has been an increase in the purchases of alcohol-free beer, wine and spirits.

“You can have non-alcoholic beers now that are so close to the real thing that you could probably fool someone in a taste test,” said Sarah Kate, an alcohol-free sommelier, who is also the founder of the website, Some Good Clean Fun.

Kate promotes an alcohol-free and healthy lifestyle and said a global survey by Bacardi Limited, the world’s largest privately held spirits company, found that 58 per cent of consumers are now drinking beverages that contain low or no alcohol for personal and mental health reasons.

Read the full article here

Just like the bees, the ‘Beepocalypse’ myth isn’t dying

On World Bee Day, let’s set the record straight. It has been seven years since the Washington Post famously dispelled the myth of a catastrophic bee decline in an article titled “Call off the bee-pocalypse: honeybee colonies just hit a 20-year high.” The piece was one of many attempts to underline that pollinators are not under threat, contrary to popular belief.

In fact, looking at the statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, beehives are on the rise worldwide. The data show that as of 2020, there has been an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since 2000, and 90% since 1961. The most common threats that bees are supposedly subjected to by humans are neonicotinoid insecticides, known as neonics. However, the popularization of neonics in the mid-90s didn’t trigger a collapse of bee populations. In the United States, the number of bee colonies has been stable for 30 years, while in Europe, where farmers also use these insecticides, the number has increased by 20%.

When radical conservationists turned their attention instead to wild bees — because, unlike managed bees, you don’t have to deal with those pesky statistics — they attempted the same doom-and-gloom strategy. Researchers claimed to have found that wild bees in the U.S. declined 23% between 2008 and 2013, yet the model they produced to identify these numbers was dubious at best. So dubious that Science 2.0 took apart the methodology and described it as follows: “They created an academic model that would get them fired from every single company in existence for being wildly suspect and based on too many assumptions. The authors then claim the decline they don’t know is happening must be due to pesticides, global warming and farmers. This passes for a study in Vermont; it just does not pass for a study in science.” Ouch!

In fact, declines of both managed and wild bees occur naturally through weather changes and the decisions of beekeepers about how many bees they currently need. As honey prices are now on a steep increase, it is likely that beekeepers will upgrade their colony numbers to increase sales over the next few years.

Then, why do serious journalists still write news stories about neonics with the phrase “bee-killing pesticide“? One would think that in the age of fighting misinformation, news on the environment, in particular, would be meticulously fact-checked. It is most likely a mix of ideological possession of those in the press and a healthy amount of lazy journalism. To be fair, “save the bees” is catchier than “bee colony collapses are statistically temporary and unrelated to modern crop protection tools.”

Originally published here

Russia Is Orchestrating a New Holodomor in Ukraine

Every once in a while I talk to my grandad about what life was like in Ukraine during the Soviet Union. As a passionate patriot of a free Ukraine, he generally doesn’t like to discuss this time in history. But recently, he shared with me a story about the Great Deficit, which occurred in the 1970s, a short time after my dad was born. Products that were made in Ukraine, such as sausages, peas, flour, corn, and buckwheat, were forcefully taken to Russia for sale, leaving Ukrainian shelves empty. It would be an understatement to say it was hard to ensure that he, my grandma, dad, and other family members had enough food in their bellies..

However, the struggles of my grandparents’ generation were only the tip of the iceberg. The USSR’s inhumane starvation policy was at its worst in 1932-33 during which the Soviets orchestrated the Great Famine, known as Holodomor. The Soviets expropriated all Ukrainian grain and other foods. For being unable to meet unrealistic agricultural targets, Ukrainian farmers and peasants were killed, or starved to death, or both en masse. About 10 million Ukrainians died during this hellish time.

Today, despite the horror of these atrocities, the descendants of these Soviet occupiers are, once again, adopting the same policy in many southern Ukrainian regions, such as Kherson.

Russians occupied Kherson in early March. The region is known for its delicious watermelons, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Kherson alone has over 2 million hectares of agricultural land, making it the largest area of arable land in Ukraine. By comparison, all of Ireland has a little over 1 million hectares of agricultural land.

The fertile lands of Kherson and its location on the Black Sea coast have made it a much-wanted target for the Russians. Despite living under the loaded gun, people continue to resist Russian occupiers. To quell any resistance, Russia is attempting to tighten its rule on the occupied territories by pursuing a policy straight from the USSR’s playbook: expropriating agricultural goods and forcing farmers to work without compensation.

Albert Cherepakha, an agrarian from the Kherson region, shared a story about the Russian expropriation of his land. “Groups of armed Chechens, who call themselves Kadyrovites [named for Putin’s stooge ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov], entered my farmland in the Genichesk district on 11-12 April. The armed men said that now my company’s property belonged to them. The Chechens warned that if any agricultural goods disappeared and were not accounted for, mass beheadings would occur,” said Cherepakha.

The soldiers also took over Cherepakha’s administrative building and started looting the farm’s agricultural products. A member of the Kherson city council Serhiy Khan, whose enterprise was taken over by Russians,  shared a similar story.

Other reports from Kherson claim that Russians have allowed farmers to plant only wheat and sunflower but have demanded that 70 percent of the production be given to them for free. In the neighboring region of Zaporizhzhya, locals spotted a convoy of Russian trucks  transporting the stolen wheat.

The expropriated food is taken to Russia and  occupiedCrimea, where shortages have become widespread. Earlier this week, the Krasnodar regional council announced that “expropriation of surplus last year’s and current crops of farmers of the Kherson region will be one of the tools to help small businesses and consumer cooperatives.”

Russians are not only killing Ukrainians, while threatening to use nukes against them, but they are taking food that was supposed to feed both Ukrainians and the world. Ukraine accounts for one-fifth of the global wheat production, with Kherson and Zaporizhzhya  being one of the major producing regions. The blockade of the Black Sea has already caused chaos in Africa, which is heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat imports, and Europe, where politicians are scrambling to reverse the bloc’s unsustainable agricultural agenda.

For decades, Holodomor and the cruelty of the Soviets have been throbbing in the Ukrainian collective memory. Back then, the USSR managed to hide the truth about the Great Famine from the eyes of the world. This time around, we have the power to ensure that one day soon those behind every war crime, death, and stolen crop are brought to justice.

For the sake of my family, millions of other Ukrainians, and people across the world, the expropriation of Ukrainian food must stop and this barbaric plunder, which has plagued Ukraine throughout its history, must never happen again. In the words of my grandad, “Russia is a thug state, they have had nothing on their own, so they want Ukraine, but the world must finally stop them.”

Originally published here

Pentingnya Regulasi Vape yang Berfokus pada Kepentingan Konsumen

Isu mengenai rokok elektrik atau vape saat ini merupakan salah satu isu yang menjadi perbincangan di banyak tempat, baik itu di Indonesia atau di negara lain. Berbagai pihak memiliki pandangan yang berbeda-beda mengenai bagaimana kita seharusya menanggapi isu tersebut.

Salah satu perdebatan yang kerap muncul terkait dengan vape atau rokok elektrik adalah seputar legalisasi, apakah seharusnya produk alternatif tembakau tersebut diizinkan untuk diproduksi dan dikonsumsi atau dilarang. Berbagai kelompok memiliki pandangan yang berbeda-beda untuk menjawab mengenai persoalan tersebut.

Bagi sebagian kalangan, vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan hal yang sangat berbahaya dan maka dari itu harus dilarang secara penuh, atau setidaknya diregulasi secara sangat ketat agar konsumen tidak bisa mengakses produk tersebut dengan mudah. 

Pandangan tersebut umumnya didasari pada anggapan bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan produk yang sangat berbahaya, sehingga wajib dilarang oleh para pembuat kebijakan dan aparat penegak hukum.

Di Indonesia sendiri, tidak sedikit beberapa kelompok yang mengadvokasi hal tersebut, bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan produk yang sangat berbahaya sehingga harus dilarang atau setudaknya diregulasi secara ketat. 

Ikatan Dokter Indonesia (IDI) misalnya, menghimbau adanya larangan penggunaan vape atau rokok elektrik bagi masyarakat di Indonesia. Himbauan ini didasari pada pandangan bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan produk yang sangat berbahaya, dan bahayanya sama seperti rokok konvensional yang dibakar (mediaindonesia.com, 26/9/2019).

Pandangan bahwa rokok elektrik atau vape sebagai produk yang sama berbahayanya, atau mungkin bahkan jauh lebih berbahaya, bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar merupakan pandangan yang cukup umum dipercayai oleh banyak orang, dan bukan hanya di Indonesia tetapi juga di banyak negara. 

Padahal, beberapa lembaga kesehatan di luar negeri sudah mengeluarkan laporan yang menyatakan bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan produk yang jauh lebih aman bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar.

Salah satu laporan yang sering menjadi acuan adalah laporan yang dikeluarkan oleh lembaga kesehatan publik asal Inggris, Public Health England (PHE), pada tahun 2015 lalu. Dalam laporan tersebut, dinyatakan bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik 95% jauh lebih aman bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar (www.gov.uk, 19/8/2015).

Hal ini tentu merupakan sesuatu yang sangat positif, dan merupakan berita yang baik bagi jutaan perokok di seluruh dunia, termasuk juga tentunya di Indonesia. Melalui berbagai produk vape atau rokok elektrik, para perokok jadi memiliki opsi alternatif produk lain yang lebih aman dan tingkat bahayanya jauh lebih rendah.

Namun, hal penting yang patut dicatat adalah, bukan berarti lantas vape atau rokok elektrik menjadi produk yang 100% aman dan bisa menjadi produk yang dijual secara bebas sebebas-bebasnya seperti produk-produk pangan misalnya. 

Menyatakan bahwa vape atau rokok elektrik 95% lebih tidak berbahaya bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar tidak sama dengan mengatakan kalau vape atau rokok elektrik merupakan produk yang 100% aman.

Untuk itu, regulasi vape dan produk-produk tembakau alternatif merupakan sesuatu yang sangat penting. Salah satunya misalnya adalah, untuk memastikan bahwa produk-produk tersebut hanya bisa diakses dan dibeli oleh orang dewasa dan tidak bisa dijangkau oleh anak-anak di bawah umur. 

Selain itu, regulasi lainnya juga sangat penting untuk memastikan keamanan bagi para konsumen yang menggunakan produk-produk vape dan produk-produk alternatif tembakau lainnya.

Hal ini juga disetujui oleh organisasi yang memiliki fokus pemerhati vape dan produk-produk tembakau alternatif lainnya, salah satunya adalah Koalisi Indonesia Bebas TAR (KABAR), yang berharap bahwa Indonesia dapat mengadopsi kebijakan regulasi vape dengan prisip pengurangan dampak buruk (harm reduction). Ketua Umum KABAR, Ariyo Bimmo menyatakan bahwa, regulasi vape atau produk tembakau alternatif lainnya di Indonesia saat ini belum mempertimbangkan prodil resiko yang ada, dan juga belum memberikan perlindungan konsumen (republika.co.id, 11/4/2022).

KABAR juga menyampaikan bahwa, regulasi vape atau peroduk tembakau alternatif lainnya perlu mempertimbangkan hasil kajian dan peneitian mengenai profil resiko dari produk-produk tersebut agar regulasi yang dibuat bisa tepat sasara dan optimal. 

Dengan demikian, regulasi yang diberlakukan justru dapat membantu berbagai permasalahan yang dialami oleh para perokok di Indonesia. Salah satu caranya adalah, pemerintah selaku regulator bisa melihat berbagai contoh regulasi vape yang diterapkan di negara-negara lain, yang bertujuan untuk membantu para perokok untuk berhenti merokok (republika.co.id, 11/4/2022).

Salah satu dari kebijakan yang bisa dipelajari dan dijadikan contoh oleh regulator di Indonesia dalam rangka menyusun regulasi untuk vape dan produk-produk tembakau alternatif lainnya adalah kebijakan yang diberlakukan di Australia. 

Australia memberlakukan kebijakan regulasi yang mempertimbangkan dari sisi konsumen, dan negara tersebut tercatat mengalami penurunan tingkat perokok sepanjang tahun 2015-2021 sebesar 42% (m.jpnn.com, 11/4/2022).

Sebagai penutup, regulasi vape dan produk-produk tembakau alternatif lainnya tidak hanya bisa sebatas pengenaan cukai yang tinggi apalagi pelarangan total. 

Kebijakan regulasi tersebut haruslah berfokus pada konsumen, khususnya bagi para perokok di Indonesia, yang dapat membantu mereka untuk bisa menghentikan kebiasaannya yang sangat berbahaya bagi kesehatan.

Originally published here

Could the “missing middle” help solve New Brunswick’s housing shortage?

David Clement is North American affairs manager of the Consumer Choice Center. He’s one of the authors of a policy paper outlining why cities should allow more multi-family housing.

Listen here

All nontobacco nicotine is now subject to the same regulations as tobacco-sourced nicotine in the U.S.

All nontobacco nicotine is now subject to the same regulations as tobacco-sourced nicotine in the U.S.

It was both expected and unexpected. Everyone in the vaping industry knew that at some point the U.S. Congress and the Food and Drug Administration were going to decide on how to handle synthetic and nontobacco nicotine. It was generally believed that regulation would appear in an appropriations bill in September, meaning vaping advocates thought they had time to fundraise and prepare for a battle.

They did not. Instead, the language for changing the definition of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) to include all nicotine products was buried on page 1,861 of the 2,741-page omnibus spending bill that was signed by President Joe Biden in March. How the rider found its way into the omnibus has caught the ire of many in the industry who say major tobacco companies are seizing the vaping industry away from the small business owners who got it started.

Senator Richard Burr was allegedly approached by R.J. Reynolds and Juul Labs representatives about getting the synthetic nicotine rider in the omnibus that at the time was winding its way through Congress. Burr joined forces with fellow senators Dick Durbin and Patty Murray and Representative Frank Pallone to get the nontobacco nicotine language into the omnibus, according to two Senate sources familiar with the discussions, as reported by Bloomberg Law.

Read the full article here

Do economic sanctions work? | Markets & Morality

Since the Russian aggression towards Ukraine, Western countries have imposed a wide range of economic sanctions on the regime and on individuals linked to them.

How effective are these sanctions and who are they meant to target?

Adam Bartha welcomed Jessica Miller, the Founder of Strela Advisory and Fred Roeder, the Founder of Consumer Choice Center to debate the issue. Fred highlighted that the belated European actions against Russian are necessary to stop Russian’s ability to inflict further pain on their neighbours, even if it has high economic costs on EU countries. Jessica argued against broad-based economic sanctions implemented for individuals, as the believes they are ineffective in changing Putin’s mind and deteriorate the rule of law in European countries.

The Devastating Impact of the FDA’s Proposed Menthol & Flavored Cigarette Ban

The FDA’s announcement to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars has been roundly condemned from all sides of the political spectrum, and is opposed by groups as diverse as American Council on Civil Liberties (ACLU), Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, the National Black Justice Coalition, Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action for America.

Americans for Tax Reform convened a virtual seminar on the impact of this proposed ban with policy & law enforcement experts, covering the science and evidence (or lack thereof) underpinning the ban, the disastrous implications for law enforcement and vulnerable minority populations, the consequences of a thriving black market, and alternative, proven methods of tobacco harm reduction the FDA should be enacting instead of prohibition.

Vape industry urges govt to implement long-delayed vape regulations

Instead of banning vape products wholesale, vape industry players are urging the government to implement long-delayed regulations for the industry.

The Malaysia Retail Electronic Cigarette Association (MRECA) president Datuk Adzwan Ab Manas, in a statement issued recently, said a taxation framework for vape liquids with nicotine was supposed to be implemented from January 1 this year but has been delayed four months because the Ministry of Health (MoH) still has not implemented regulations for the industry.

Ironically, this delay has not only left the industry in limbo but has resulted in the government listing more than RM750 million a year in tax revenue.

This breaks down to the government losing approximately RM62 million every month from the failure to collect taxes.

Read the full article here

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