Walter Olson Archives - Shopfloor

NLRB Chairman Joins St. John’s Conference on the Evils of Business

By | Briefly Legal, Education and Training, General, Labor Unions | One Comment

Wilma Liebman, chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, makes little pretense these days of being an impartial arbiter of business-labor disputes. Her pro-unionism now extends to be a major participant in a conference at St. John’s University School of Law that embraces the theme: Not only is business greedy, it’s unchristian too.

The conference, which begins today at noon, is entitled, “The Theology of Work and the Dignity of Workers Conference.” The materials embrace the usual “social justice” themes of the Catholic left, i.e., workers are oppressed and government should redistribute wealth. The conference chairman, David L. Gregory, executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law, writes in his opening message:

The Dignity of Workers seems self-evident; that is, does anyone seriously argue against the Dignity of Workers? Yet, President Obama says that unions are “under assault.” Wage and hour claims proliferate. Millions of workers are not paid their just wages. Structural underfunded public sector pensions threaten to bankrupt state governments, and to leave public sector workers and retirees bereft. The minimum wage is insufficient, and the living wage initiative has had a fitful contemporary history.

The organizers identify conference themes through a series of quotations from prominent theological thinkers, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Benedict XVI, Mick Jagger and Billy Bragg.

One typical session is “Employers, Employees, Unions – Restoring the Common Good.” Panelists include four labor union officials and five professors of theology or law. Not one employer! (Conference agenda)

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, is the keynote speaker Friday.

That a law school is holding a conference dominated by the social and economic theories of the left is standard fare. (See Walter Olson, “Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America.”) This drum-beating is unlikely to help the law students any, but that’s a decision left to administrators and the contributors who pay for the law school’s political agenda.

Our problem is that Chairman Liebman has thrown in with this event, spending her time at an ideologically directed conference instead of maintaining the impartiality and distance required of a quasi-judicial agency like the NLRB. Her major session Saturday is this: Read More

Influencing Public Policy, Law Schools Become ‘Schools for Misrule’

By | Briefly Legal, Education and Training | No Comments

Walter Olson of the Cato Institute and founder of the original law blog, Overlawyered.com, has a new book out, “Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America.” The blurb:

From Barack Obama (Harvard and Chicago) to Bill and Hillary Clinton (Yale), many of our current national leaders emerged from the rarefied air of the nation’s top law schools. The ideas taught there in one generation often shape national policy in the next.

The trouble is, Walter Olson reveals in Schools for Misrule, our elite law schools keep churning out ideas that are catastrophically bad for America. From class action lawsuits that promote the right to sue anyone over anything, to court orders mandating the mass release of prison inmates; from the movement for slavery reparations, to court takeovers of school funding—all of these appalling ideas were hatched in legal academia. And the worst is yet to come. A fast-rising movement in law schools demands that sovereignty over U.S. legal disputes be handed over to international law and transnational courts.

It is not by coincidence, Olson argues, that these bad ideas all tend to confer more power on the law schools’ own graduates. In the overlawyered society that results, they are the ones who become the real rulers.

The Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website excerpts the book here. Read More

Congratulations, Walter Olson, now at the Cato Institute

By | General | No Comments

Congratulations to Walter Olson, who has joined the Cato Institute and is making the move south to the Mid-Atlantic. Walter pioneered legal blogging at his Overlawyered.com, and he has had a tremendous influence on civil justice reform, making the issues understandable for the general public.

From Walter’s announcement at Overlawyered, “Joining Cato, and a farewell to the Manattan Institute“:

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve joined the Cato Institute as a senior fellow, effective this week. As most readers of this site know well, Cato is the premier voice for individual liberty in our nation’s capital, and a think tank of tremendous accomplishments across the board. Its program on law, led by Roger Pilon, includes such outstanding thinkers as Tim Lynch, Ilya Shapiro and Robert Levy. Cato is particularly known as a place where free speech, civil liberties, and the Bill of Rights are given the centrality they deserve in legal thinking, and it’s also a powerhouse in studying the ill effects of government regulation. In fact, the publication where I got my real start in the policy world, the magazine Regulation (originally published by the American Enterprise Institute), has made its home at Cato for many years now. In short, it’s hard to imagine a better fit with my writing and research interests. Read More

How Do These FTC Regs Encourage Jobs, Economic Growth?

By | Economy, Regulations | No Comments

Good commentary on the Federal Trade Commission’s plans to regulate the social media for conflicts of interest, implicit conflicts of interest, shadows of penumbras of conflicts, and did the publisher send you that review copy for free?

At issue is the FTC’s recent and now revised “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gordon Cravitz, Wall Street Journal,Bloggers Mugged by Regulators“:

There should be more disclosure, but the Web is different from earlier media in ways that make government regulation less relevant and practical. The Web has its own self-regulatory mechanisms. Failing to disclose interests sullies one’s reputation online, and reputation harm travels faster and lasts longer than it did before the Web.

There’s also greater need for caveat emptor online, because there is no practical way that any government agency can monitor the world’s bloggers and posters. There will always be people who post comments about products and services that are self-serving in one way or another, at least by someone’s definition.

The Manhattan Institute’s Walter Olson comments at Overlawyered.com, with a good roundup of links, as well. From “Where did you get that keychain?”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the FTC held a conference call for reporters to dismiss concerns as unfounded. “They are not rules and regulations, and they don’t have the force of law,” said Mary Engle, associate director for advertising practices at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection — which may be narrowly true but is hollow reassurance at best, since the guidelines plainly are meant to signal where the commission intends to aim its future enforcement efforts, and since not all bloggers will be willing to defy the guidelines on the assumption that courts will refuse to go along with the FTC’s interpretations.

Regulators expand their regulatory reach and enforcement to address a perceived need — the need as perceived by the regulators (or the “consumer activists” or trial lawyers, who are often just regulators-in-waiting). Did any of the lawmakers who voted for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act think the Consumer Product Safety Commission would launch a “Resale Roundup” enforcement regime targeting yard sales? But that’s what happened.

At a time when unemployment is nearing 10 percent,  the question regulators should ask themselves is whether these FTC guidelines in any way encourage economic growth and job creation. Theoretically, yes, transparency helps provide more information to the marketplace, enabling consumers to make better choices. But in this case any transparency is offset by vague guidelines and reassurances that leave users of social media uncertain what standards they should follow to avoid the FTC’s targeting. In the meantime, time, effort and dollars that could be better spent in the private sector are being wasted by the government.

So, is there a pressing need for new guidelines? No. Do these new guidelines encourage economic growth? No. Well then…

The FTC, Regulating Speech by Bloggers — A Horrible Plan

By | Briefly Legal, Communications | No Comments

Walter Olson at Overlawyered.com, who helped create the genre of legal blogging, has thoughts about the Federal Trade Commission’s proposal to regulate the social media to force disclosure of economic relationships. From “Required FTC blogger disclosure“:

Publishers sometimes send me books in hopes I’ll review or at least mention them. I occasionally attend free advance screenings of new movies (typically law-related documentaries) that filmmakers hope I’ll write about. This site has an Amazon affiliate store which has from time to time provided me with commissions after readers click links and proceed to purchase items, though it’s been almost entirely inactive for years. I get invited to attend the odd institutional banquet whose hosts sometimes give away a free book or paperweight along with the hotel meal. I’ve been sent “cause” T-shirts and law firm/support service provider promotional kits over the years, pretty much a waste of effort since I don’t much care for wearing such T-shirts and am not exactly famed for posts that sing the praises of law firms or their service providers.

Under new Federal Trade Commission guidelines in the works for some time, I could apparently get in trouble for not disclosing these and similarly exciting things. In addition, the commission’s scrutiny will extend to areas less relevant to this site, such as targeted Google advertising and results-not-typical testimonials.

With many more links to commentary on what appears to us an aggressive effort by a federal agency to regulate for the sake of regulating.  Our question: What is the terrible threat that warrants this government attack on free speech?

UPDATE (1:40 p.m. Friday): More from Walter, with reaction to this remarkable photo taken by the blogger WhiteCoat at the American College of Emergency Physicians. No, no reason for bloggers to fear overregulation by government.

Health Care Bill: Dodging the Freelance Lawyers, Suing on Spec

By | Briefly Legal, Health Care | No Comments

Taxpayers, businesses and pretty much everyone not associated with the litigation industry dodged a bullet last week when the House Ways & Means Committee rejected an amendment to the health care bill that Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute characterizes as “one of the most audacious and far-reaching trial lawyer power grabs seen on Capitol Hill in a while.” The National Association of Manufacturers helped beat back the amendment, but you know how these schemes can return, again and again, in different guises.

America's Affordable Health Care Choices Act (sure it is)
The amendment would have expanded the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Act, which allows the government to sue to recoup Medicare expenses, for example, from an insurance settlement in the case of an auto accident caused by a negligent driver. As Walter explains in his excellent post at Overlawyered.com, “Medicare qui tam: a health care bill surprise,” the federal government has been recently stepping up its efforts to collect from what are sometimes known as “Medicare liens” against third party defendants.

Medicare, not to mention Medicare law, gets very abstruse very quickly. Apparently in this complexity someone from the plaintiffs’ bar saw an opportunity to expand the opportunities for litigation. If the health care bill set a precedent, a wealth of new industry targets could open up. Overlawyered.com:

The newly added language in the Thursday morning version of the health bill (for those following along, it’s Section 1620 on pp. 713-721) would greatly expand the scope of these suits against third parties, while doing something entirely new: allow freelance lawyers to file them on behalf of the government — without asking permission — and collect rich bounties if they manage thereby to extract money from the defendants. Lawyers will recognize this as a qui tam procedure, of the sort that has led to a growing body of litigation filed by freelance bounty-hunters against universities, defense contractors and others alleged to have overcharged the government.

It gets worse. Language on p. 714 of the bill would permit the lawyers to file at least some sorts of Medicare recovery actions based on “any relevant evidence, including but not limited to relevant statistical or epidemiological evidence, or by other similarly reliable means”. This reads very much as if an attempt is being made to lay the groundwork for claims against new classes of defendants who might not be proved liable in an individual case but are responsible in a “statistical” sense. The best known such controversies are over whether suppliers of products such as alcohol, calorie-laden foods, or guns should be compelled to pay compensation for society-wide patterns of illness or injury.

Now that IS familiar.  NAM President John Engler sent a letter to Chairman Charlie Rangel of the Ways & Means Committee opposing the language. Excerpt: Read More

Walter Olson on the CPSIA

By | America's Business, Briefly Legal, Regulations | One Comment

Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute joins host Mike Hambrick on “America’s Business” radio program this week to talk about the legal and regulatory headache that is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

We’ve linked to Walter’s Overlawyered.com posts quite a few times in recent days, as he covers the grassroots reaction from entrepreneurs and others — toy makers, clothing manufacturers, even thrift stores — who discover that the CPSIA’s testing requirements are onerous and expensive and will force the removal of many items from shops. (Stock up now for your child’s First Communion, because the products are going away.)

For the full interview as an .mp3 file, click here. And marvel at the excesses that result when Congress legislates in excited response to “consumer groups” stirring up a media frenzy.

We’ll have the full America’s Business program up later this evening.