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Updated: 2017-11-22T00:00:00-05:00


Trump's Deregulation Drive Stops at the Border


The Trump administration is an increasingly mixed bag for free market types; deregulating the domestic economy with one hand, placing more barriers on international trade with the other. Yesterday, Trump's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced a major rollback of heavy-handed Obama-era internet regulations; a decision greeted with applause here at Reason. Buried by that news, however, was the International Trade Commission announcement recommending 50 percent tariffs on imported washing machines. The recommendation concludes an investigation started in May at the behest of U.S. manufacturer Whirlpool, who had complained that it was suffering unduly from a flood of cheap foreign washers entering the country. The ITC in October found that "large residential washers are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry." Tuesday's recommendation gives Trump unilateral authority to impose tariffs should he so choose. This White House has no reluctance to throw up trade barriers. Trump's Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross slapped antidumping duties of roughly 20 percent on imported Canadian lumber in April. In September, a staggering 220 percent tariff was imposed on Canadian jet maker Bombardier. Apart from an apparent animus toward our northern neighbor, was the U.S. government claim that Canada was unfairly subsidizing its lumberjacks and jet makers, who were "dumping" artificially cheap products into the U.S. market. The ITC isn't even trying to make that claim, instead basing its recommendation on "substantial injury" from cheaper foreign competition. For the crime of competing, the four-member commission recommended a 50 percent tariff on each washer above a 1.2 million washer quota. Two commissioners recommended a further 20 percent tariff on those first 1.2 million washers, but this failed to garner the support of the rest of the commission. This marks the second time in recent months the ITC has recommended the president impose tariffs on foreign imports based on a finding of "substantial injury." In late October, the Commission urged Trump to impose tariffs on cheap imported solar panels which are eating into the market share of U.S.-based solar manufacturers. The New York Times notes that these two tariffs recommendations are based on an obscure section of trade law, known as Section 201, which was last used to initiate a trade action in 2001. Trump has yet to explicitly say he will follow through with these tariff recommendations. However, his recent comments on the topic give every indication he will. During his recent Asia trip, Trump made a speech in which he accused the United States' foreign trade partners of "product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation and predatory industrial policies." "We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses, and we will not tolerate them," said the president. As Reason has noted previously, imposing tariffs in response to these supposedly unfair trade practices is unwise. Imposing them when there isn't even an allegation of unfair trade practices is almost incomprehensible. Were Trump to act on that recommendation he would be protecting a handful of domestic manufacturing firms at the expense of the vast majority of American consumers and businesses who buy cheap foreign imports. Doing so would be a real step back for an administration that has otherwise been working diligently to reduce the federal government's regulatory burden on those same consumers and businesses. [...]

GOP Rep. Barton Says Sorry for Nude Selfie, Virginia House Leader Wants Gender-Neutral Titles, LAPD Overwhelmed by Sex Cases: P.M. Links


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Pro–Net Neutrality Graphic Makes Argument Against Net Neutrality


When I first saw this graphic cross my Facebook feed, I thought it was created to oppose net neutrality:


When I realized it was supposed to be from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a prominent advocate of net neutrality, I thought maybe it was a clever hoax. But no, he tweeted that gem out yesterday.

In the upper portion of the graphic, bundled internet appears for $54.99. In the lower, post–net neutrality world, internet service is divided into specific uses one can opt in or out of. The total price is $54.96. Khanna's graphic even appears to depict an option where that price could be even lower, if you use only one streaming service or social media network.

That this is shared as an argument for net neutrality boggles the mind. Many Americans don't use the internet for video, email, gaming, and social media. They could see serious savings if internet access were sold piecemeal like this.

Regardless, the entire graphic is a fantasy. The kinds of additional consumer choices a net neutrality–free market might offer are thwarted by other government regulations and government-enforced monopolies

But we don't have to imagine what a world without "net neutrality" regulations look like. You just have to remember what 2014 was like.

The concept of net neutrality is often poorly understood. The "open internet order" promulgated by then-President Barack Obama was not based on the same principles laid out by law professor Tim Wu, who coined the term network neutrality. For Wu, it was obvious that "a total ban on network discrimination...would be counterproductive," but that's what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did in 2015, as Andrea O'Sullivan pointed out in Reason. It's impossible to say exactly what kind of innovations such rules are thwarting, because they're being thwarted.

"Under my proposal," commission chair Ajit Pai noted yesterday, "the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that's best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate." Sounds like a good start.


GMO Virus Could Save Florida's Orange Groves


(image) Citrus greening is "the most serious threat that the Florida citrus industry has ever faced," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bacterial disease, which tends to turn fruit green after ripening, is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid insect. The devastating disease has infected an estimated 80 percent of Florida's citrus trees, and it has contributed significantly to the 60 percent reduction in the state's harvest of oranges and grapefruit since its peak in the late 1990s.

Now there may a way to fight back. Southern Gardens Citrus has engineered a version of the Citrus tristeza virus to attack the bacterium that causes citrus greening. The virus has been modified to carry a defensin protein found in spinach. When citrus greening bacteria come into contact with the protein, it kills them by perforating their cell walls, causing their contents to leak out. The company inoculates against the bacteria by grafting branches containing the genetically enhanced virus onto other trees. The virus then flows into the trees' vascular system, where it encounters and kills the bacteria.

In February, Southern Gardens Citrus applied for a permit for the environmental release of the virus. The Department of Agriculture is expected to allow Florida citrus growers to start using the virus in early 2019, according to Politico.

Florida growers hope that since the genes of the trees themselves are not being changed, anti-science groups will not damn the oranges and grapefruit from inoculated trees as Frankenfruit. But the public comments posted at Department of Agriculture's website suggest the bioluddites are not about to stand down.


Graduate Instructor Who Showed Gendered-Pronoun Debate to Class Is Basically Hitler, Says School


As Lindsey Shepherd was pleading her case before Wilfrid Laurier University faculty and staff, the 22-year-old Canadian grad student and teaching assistant seemed caught off guard by their demands. Her superiors weren't saying she couldn't show a televised debate over gender-neutral pronouns in the context of a classroom discussion on language—they just needed her to condemn one side of the debate first. To do otherwise, they said, was "like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos." Shepherd neither endorsed nor decried either side of the TV Ontario showdown between controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a professor in the Waterloo University women's studies department. In the clip that Shepherd played for first-year communications students, Matte and Peterson argue over whether it's appropriate for professors to address students by pronouns other than "he" and "she"—something Peterson refuses to do. The clip was shown in the context of a class discussion on how language shapes culture and how gender-specific pronouns have caused controversy. "I was not taking sides," Shepherd—who does not agree with Peterson's position—would later tell school authorities. "I was presenting both arguments." After an anonymous student complaint was filed, Shepherd was called into a meeting with her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana, another communications school professor, and the university's manager of gendered violence prevention and support. They claimed that Shepherd was "transphobic" and that she needed to keep her "problematic" views out of the classroom. Shepherd pushed back, insisting that she didn't share in Peterson's pronoun point-of-view but thought it was important not to bring her own views into the discussion. "This is basically like playing—not to do the thing where everything is compared to Hitler—but this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos from Gamergate," Rambukkana said in the meeting. "This is the kind of thing that, departmentally, in terms of critical communications studies, and in terms of the course, of what we're trying to do, is diametrically opposed to everything we've been talking about in the lectures." In a Monday interview with CTV News, Shepherd said she was told "that you can't debate something like this because it causes an unsafe or toxic learning environment. I ended up being called transphobic and someone who causes harm and violence." Going forward, she would have to file all lesson plans in advance and expect random drop-in reviews, the tribunal told her. Shepherd said she was speaking out because situations and attitudes like these hurt the core mission of college education. "I think it's dangerous to say that a topic is off the table just because it might be a little bit controversial," she told CTV. When Shepherd first went public with her story in early November, the Ontario-based university was both dismissive and defensive. In an initial statement, Wilfrid Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy said that "as a responsible employer," the university is "obligated to abide by government regulations, human rights legislation and our own university policies"; "to this end," it had hired a third party "to gather the facts of the situation and assess them in a deliberate, fair and respectful manner." The bizarre statement went on to suggest there are some ideas that may be worth discussing, but can't because of bureaucracy. "I believe that as a university community we need to have more conversations about how academic expression happens throughout our institution," wrote MacLatchy. But "to be focused and constructive, these conversations should take place outside of the specific contexts that, for good reason, are often constrained by privacy legislation, employer regulations, and other legal requirements." Shepherd was not impressed. "This was an opportunit[...]

Is The TSA More Chill About Weed Than San Francisco?


Is the Transportation Security Administration more chill about weed than San Francisco? The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) this week voted to ban marijuana ads from its Muni buses, bouncing 130 current ads when the current contract expires. "Prohibiting cannabis advertising on public transit is the right policy to protect our future generations and communities of color the same way we have done with alcohol and tobacco ads," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who appoints the SFMTA board and who initially requested the ban. The multiple buyers of those ads might want to consider migrating their public awareness campaigns to a novel and much less regulated advertising medium: TSA screening bins. Ads reading "CANNABIS IS LEGAL" began appearing in October on those grey screening bins you put your valuables in before being groped by TSA agents at the Ontario International Airport in Southern California. Organa Brands, a cannabis company, bought the ads that include a reminder that it was still illegal to take weed out of the state. The TSA, which forbids political ads on the bins had no problem with the plug for marijuana. The agency's policy is to allow local airport officials and their private bin providers to determine the advertising content, a pretty hands-off approach for an agency that rarely keeps its hands off of anyone or anything. It's also a marked contrast from the progressive politicos in San Francisco, who are taking an increasingly hostile attitude toward marijuana since state voters legalized recreational sales in 2016. This is not the first marijuana restriction passed by the mayor and the city's Board of Supervisors. Earlier in the summer, the board imposed per-district limits on new dispensaries. In mid-September the board slapped a moratorium on new medical marijuana permits while it worked on regulations for recreational marijuana sales. And while other California cities have created new regulatory frameworks in advance of recreational sales beginning Jan. 1, San Francisco has dragged its feet. Holding up the process is the city's promise to establish an "equity program" prioritizing recreational licenses for marginalized applicants. On Nov. 1, Supervisor Malia Cohen proposed giving priority to applicants who had lived at least five years in an impoverished city neighborhood between 1971 and 2009. Equity applicants would also have to meet other requirements that prove their marginalization, like being convicted of a non-violent crime or having ever been evicted from a property in one of those neighborhoods. Oakland, California, which adopted a similar program, created a major recreational licensing bottleneck. The Board of Supervisors also rejected a stop-gap measure that would have allowed existing medical marijuana dispensaries to start selling to recreational buyers on Jan. 1, for fear that these early movers would corner the market at the expense of all the equity applicants the city is trying to help out. This from a city that voted 74 percent in favor of legalizing recreational sales in 2016, compared to a state-wide yes vote of 57 percent. Legalization affirmed, San Francisco's lefty politicians have turned from marijuana as weapon in the culture war to just another product of capitalism. Which means onerous regulation of every aspect of the industry, from ad restrictions and equity programs, to tight zoning standards and licensure laws. The result is a San Francisco where you have the freedom to buy weed, but not the ability. [...]

Zimbabwe's Mugabe Is Out, But the Policies That Destroyed Zimbabwe Are Still In


Robert Mugabe finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe this week, leading to celebrations in the streets. But those celebrations are likely to be short-lived: Mugabe may be gone, but his authoritarian system of government remains firmly in place. Zimbabwe's military did not force the 93-year-old dictator from office because of the human rights abuses and disastrous economic policies that marked his 37 years of rule. It acted because Mugabe replaced his longtime vice president and presumptive successor, Emmanuel Mnangagwa, with his 52-year-old wife, Grace Mugabe. Mnangagwa is on his way back to Zimbabwe and is expected to be sworn in as president Friday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claims that Zimbabwe now has an "extraordinary opportunity to set itself on a new path." But Mnangagwa, whose aides call him Comrade and whose nickname is The Crocodile, is unlikely to offer a substantially different sort of rule. As Todd Moss of the Centre for Global Development pointed out to Australia's ABC News, "Zimbabweans know Mnangagwa is the architect of the Matabeland massacres and that he abetted Mugabe's looting of the country." Mugabe's signature move was seizing land from white farmers and claiming to redistribute it to poor blacks. (In fact he used the land to reward his allies and supporters.) He crippled the economy with hyperinflation, imposed tariffs that dried up trade, and increased government spending from 32.5 percent of GDP in 1979 to more than 44 percent in 1989. Meanwhile he capped interest rates and borrowed liberally to cover his spending, fueling more inflation and making capital hard to access for those not favored by the regime. His labor rules made it virtually impossible to fire workers, which hurt independent businesses but didn't keep the official unemployment rate from reaching 60 percent. Indeed, his party went out of its way to suppress the creation of independent African businesses, fearing that they would threaten its political power. With the economy devastated, Zimbabweans have had to rely on black markets to stay afloat. Back in 2002, Reason's Ronald Bailey laid out how a government could centrally plan itself into poverty. A couple of years ago he noted that Mugabe had seemingly taken it as a playbook, bringing millions of people to the brink of starvation. Sadly, ruinous policies like Mugabe's remain popular. Earlier this year, South Africa's Jacob Zuma expressed interest in accelerating "land reforms" that redistribute farmland to his allies. Even in the West, the kind of policies that ruined Zimbabwe—nationalization, redistribution, protectionism—persist. Mugabe was a bad man, but his policies were even worse. [...]

Collegial or Fired: New at Reason


(image) General counsel is asking the University of Arkansas System to consider adding collegiality to the list of things for which to fire a tenured professor, a very, very bad idea, Lindsay Marchello writes.

The vagueness in U of A's and ONU's policies is the crux of the danger to academic freedom, leaving plenty of room for administrators to oust professors who don't fall in line with their beliefs. These policies encourage homogeneous groupthink and disincentivizes professors from exploring different perspectives in academia. Daring to dissent should not be a reason to fire a professor.

Having a separate provision for collegiality only serves to stifle academic freedom. If universities are serious about fostering a healthy environment for learning then they should heed the advice of the AAUP and FIRE and ditch "collegiality" policies.

Punishment based on the subjective whims of administrators only further traps universities in a bubble of their own creation.

View this article.


The First Thanksgiving: New at Reason


(image) Where was the first Thanksgiving in the United States actually held?

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Thanksgiving is a great American tradition. As is disputing the holiday's origins.

National mythos portrays the first Thanksgiving as taking place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in celebration of a bountiful harvest. buys into the myth when it refers to "the original 1621 harvest meal"—although it also acknowledges that "for some scholars, the jury is still out on whether the feast at Plymouth really constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States."

As a possible contender for the first Thanksgiving on the U.S. mainland, the website cites a 1565 meal of thanks hosted by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé in Florida. It likewise notes an event that took place "on December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia's James River" and "read a proclamation designating the date as 'a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.' "

The latter event has given rise to a long-running complaint that Virginia does not get the credit it deserves for kicking off the national holiday. Two years ago retired newspaper executive Graham Woodlief related the origin story (which included an ancestor of his) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

View this article.


Thankful for Property Rights on Thanksgiving: New at Reason


(image) Private property became the foundation for building the most prosperous nation in the history of the world.

John Stossel writes:

Ready for Thanksgiving? Before you eat that turkey, I hope you think about why America has turkeys for you to eat. Most people don't know.

Everyone's heard about that first Thanksgiving feast—Pilgrims and Indians sharing the harvest. We like the drawings of it we saw in schoolbooks—shared bounty.

Fewer people know that before that first feast, the Pilgrims nearly starved.

They almost starved because they acted the way some Bernie Sanders fans want people to act. They farmed collectively.

But communal farming creates what economists call "the tragedy of the commons."

View this article.


Trump Tacitly Endorses Roy Moore, Noting His Denials 12 Times


Yesterday Donald Trump tacitly endorsed Roy Moore, distancing himself from prominent Republicans who called upon the Alabama Senate candidate to withdraw from the race after several women accused him of behavior ranging from creepy to criminal. Responding to reporters' questions about Moore, Trump criticized Moore's opponent and repeatedly noted—no fewer than a dozen times—that Moore had denied any sexual improprieties. He left open the possibility that he might campaign for Moore. "He denies it," Trump said. "Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You're talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen." After a reporter noted that Trump also had been accused of sexual assault and asked him what his "message to women" is, the president reiterated that "Roy Moore denies it," adding, "That's all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it." Asked if he believes Moore's denials, Trump repeated himself again. "Well, he denies," he said. "I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He's run eight races, and this has never comes up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters; most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do. He totally denies it." Trump was much less circumspect about Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. "We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat—Jones," he said. "I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on the military. I can tell you for a fact, we do not need somebody that's going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the Second Amendment." So will Trump campaign for Moore? "I'll be letting you know next week," he said. "But I can tell you, you don't need somebody who's soft on crime, like Jones." Surely voters should be at least as concerned about electing an actual criminal, and that is what Roy Moore is if you believe the most serious allegations against him, which include sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and forcible groping of a 16-year-old. Trump cannot dodge the gravity of those accusations by noting, over and over again, that Roy Moore denies them. On November 10, the day after The Washington Post published its story about the charges against Moore, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump "believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside." Apparently Trump also believes the corollary: that if Moore refuses to step aside, that means the allegations are not true. That stance is reminiscent of Trump's reports about Vladimir Putin's response to evidence that the Russian government surreptitiously sought to influence voters in last fall's presidential election. I brought it up repeatedly, Trump says, and he denied it every time. Case closed. Moore, like Putin, has a strong motive for lying, while the women accusing him do not (as Trump implicitly concedes when he notes that they do not seem to be politically motivated). I was never a fan of Moore, so maybe my impressions should be taken with a grain of salt. But his accusers seem credible to me, and I would say it is substantially more likely than not that they are telling the truth. That's not enough to convict Moore in a court of law, but it seems like a good reason not to vote for him, let alone campaign for him, even if you were otherwise inclined to do so. Furthermore, contrary to what Trump said (three times), Moore's denials have been less than "total.[...]

Pelosi Wants Ethics Probe of John Conyers, Uber Paid Hackers to Hide Data Breach, Mugabe Resigns: A.M. Links


  • (image) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a House Ethics investigation into Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), whose previously sealed settlements with ex-staffers who accused him of sexual misconduct have recently become public.
  • The Robert Mueller Trump-Russia investigation is reportedly looking into Jared Kushner this week.
  • Uber paid hackers $100,000 to keep a data breach that exposed 57 million accounts secret.
  • Robert Mugabe resigns as president of Zimbabwe.
  • Syria's president, Bashar Assad, made a surprise visit to Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin about bringing the Syrian civil war to an end.
  • Saad Hariri returns to Lebanon for the first time since announcing he would resign as prime minister while he was in Saudi Arabia, leading to speculation that he had been held hostage then.
  • David Cassidy of The Partridge Family died, aged 67.

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When Good-Faith Medicine Raises ‘Red Flags’: New at Reason


(image) Forest Tennant, who has been treating and researching pain at his clinic in West Covina, California, since 1975, is well-known as an expert in the field, having published more than 200 articles in medical journals and given more than 130 presentations at professional conferences. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), all of that was an elaborate cover for drug trafficking.

Or so you would have to surmise from the affidavit supporting the search warrant that the DEA served on Tennant's offices and home last week, which describes "invalid prescriptions," "red flags of diversion and fraud," and "combinations of drugs that are consistent with 'pill mill' prescribing practices." Jacob Sullum says the allegations and insinuations against Tennant show how the DEA has tried to criminalize differences of opinion about pain treatment, encouraging doctors to think about their legal exposure first and their patients second.

View this article.


Brickbats: The Wheels of Justice


(image) Kevin Smith spent almost eight years in a New Orleans jail awaiting trial for possession of crack cocaine. He never did get a hearing on that charge. But the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal earlier this year ruled that the multiple delays had violated his right to a speedy trial.


FCC Head Ajit Pai: Killing Net Neutrality Will Set the Internet Free


In an exclusive interview today just hours after announcing his plan to repeal "Net Neutrality" rules governing the actions of Internet-service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has an in-your-face prediction for his critics: "Over the coming years, we're going to see an explosion in the kinds of connectivity and the depth of that connectivity," he said this afternoon. "Ultimately that means that the human capital in the United States that's currently on the shelf—the people who don't have digital opportunity—will become participants in the digital economy." Pai stressed that regulating the Internet under a Title II framework originally created in the 1930s had led to less investment in infrastructure and a slower rate of innovation. "Since the dawn of the commercial internet, ISPs have been investing as much as they can in networks in order to upgrade their facilities and to compete with each other," he says. "Outside of a recession we've never seen that sort of investment go down year over year. But we did in 2015, after these regulations were adopted." In a Wall Street Journal column published today, Pai says Title II was responsible for a nearly 6 percent decline in broadband network investment as ISPs saw compliance costs rise and the regulatory atmosphere become uncertain. In his interview with Reason, Pai stressed that the real losers under Net Neutrality were people living in rural areas and low-income Americans who were stuck on the bad end of "the digital divide." Proponents of Net Neutrality maintain that rules that went into effect in 2015 are the only thing standing between rapacious businesses such as Comcast, Verizon (where Pai once worked), and Spectrum and an Internet choking on throttled traffic, expensive "fast lanes," and completely blocked sites that displease whatever corporate entity controls the last mile of fiber into your home or business. Pai says that is bunk and noted that today's proposed changes, which are expected to pass full FCC review in mid-December, return the Internet to the light-touch regulatory regime that governed it from the mid-1990s until 2015. "It's telling that the first investigations that the prior FCC initiated under these so-called Net Neutrality rules were involving free data offerings," says Pai, pointing toward actions initiated by his predecessor against "zero-rating" services such as T-Mobile's Binge program, which didn't count data used to stream Netflix, Spotify, and a host of other services against a customer's monthly data allowance. "To me it's just absurd to say that the government should stand in the way of consumers who want to get, and companies that want to provide, free data." The FCC is not completely evacuating its oversight role. ISPs, he says, will need to be completely transparent with customers about all practices related to prioritizing traffic, data caps, and more. Pai believes that market competition for customers will prove far more effective in developing better and cheaper services than regulators deciding what is best for the sector. "In wireless," he says, "there's very intense competition—you have four national carriers and any number of regional carriers competing to provide 4G LTE, and a number of different services. In those marketplaces where there's not as much competition as we'd like to see, to me at least, the solution isn't to preemptively regulate as if it were a monopoly, as if we're dealing with 'Ma Bell,' but to promote more competition." Pai says that one of the major mistakes of Net Neutrality is its pre-emptive nature. Rather than allowing different practices to develop[...]

Why Trump Deserves to Lose in Federal Court on Sanctuary Cities


(image) A federal judge has declared President Donald Trump's executive order denying federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities to be unconstitutional. The judge got it right.

In his opinion this week in County of Santa Clara v. Trump, and the related case of City and County of San Francisco v. Trump, Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found the president's order to be in violation of the 10th Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the constitutional separation of powers.

"The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds," Judge Orrick wrote. "Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sanctuary cities are protected by both the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. For starters, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia explained in Printz v. United States (2007), "the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program." Put simply, Trump's executive order flunks the 10th Amendment test that Scalia spelled out in Printz.

Trump's executive order also flunks the test set forth by the Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), which held that the federal government may not threaten to withhold existing funding from a state in an attempt to coerce that state into doing the feds' bidding. Such an effort would be an unconstitutional act of "economic dragooning."

Finally, Trump's executive order flunks the text of the Constitution itself, which, as Judge Orrick points out, "vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President." The limited and enumerated powers of the executive branch are spelled out in Article II; the federal spending power is located in Article I.

Related: Will Liberals Learn to Love the 10th Amendment?


Trump Defends Roy Moore, Erik Prince Will Testify Before Congress, and Harvard Faces DOJ Probe: P.M. Links


  • (image) Trump commented on allegations against Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, saying "he denies it. He totally denies it," and "we don't need a liberal Democrat in that seat."
  • Former Blackwater head, Erik Prince, will testify before House panel looking into any collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
  • Harvard faces DOJ probe over whether it's admissions policy discriminates against Asians.
  • "Should Al Franken resign?" is the wrong question according to Masha Gessen in the New Yorker.
  • Mark Levin is headed to Fox News.

Pennsylvania Town Used Confidential Informant and Undercover Cops to Arrest a Man For Selling Bongs


(image) Limerick, Pennsylvania must be the safest town in America. That's the only reason I can think of why police there used a confidential informant and undercover police officers to build a case against a head shop owner for selling the kinds of things one normally finds at a head shop.

According to The Mercury News, Piper's Smoke Shop owner Craig Hennesy was convicted this week of "possession with intent to deliver drug paraphernalia and advertisement of drug paraphernalia" after undercover police officers visited his store and observed glass pipes for sale, and a confidential informant purchased a grinder and rolling papers.

Assistant District Attorney Evan Correia, who prosecuted the case, argued that Hennesy had it coming because a police officer warned him before he opened his store that glass pipes were considered drug paraphernalia.

"I'm going to be asking for some sort of jail time," Correia is quoted as saying. "This defendant was warned by the police prior to his opening his store that if he started selling these items that they considered to be drug paraphernalia he would be charged with a crime."

Hennesy's attorney, meanwhile, says that the goods for sale at Piper's Smoke Shop were intended to be used with tobacco, that Hennesy told police as much before opening the store, and that when undercover officers visited the shop, Hennesy referred their attention to a sign featuring the same claim.

At his trial, the state presented pictures of Hennesy's stock and a police officer testified that "[t]hrough my training and experience I know that these glass and metal smoking pipes are commonly used to smoke marijuana. I know that the grinders are commonly used to shred marijuana prior to smoking."

Yet it wasn't Hennesy's customers who were on trial. Regardless of what they might do with his wares, he went out of his way to inform his customers—including several he didn't know to be police officers—under what conditions he could legally sell (and they could legally use) his products.

This is a grotesque argument to make against a retailer, regardless of how much you dislike the culture associated with his products. You can also smoke marijuana out of an apple; would Correia pursue charges against a local orchard owner? How about going after every gas station and corner store that sells flavored cigars, which are popular among weed smokers? And who, exactly, is Correia protecting? He said after the trial that Hennesy's customers were "mainly college kids." College kids are adults. What they do with the glassware they buy is both up to them and on them.

The fact that police used a confidential informant and undercover officers suggests either a misuse of police resources or a lack of more pressing criminal concerns. If it's the former, the people who chose to go after a head shop owner rather than provide more crucial public safety services should be disciplined. If it's the latter, then maybe the Limerick police department should downsize.


U.S. Ramps Up Drug War in Afghanistan


Washington has spent more than $8 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2002, and it has a record-breaking poppy season in 2017 to show for it. Naturally, it plans to double down The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, announced yesterday that U.S. airstrikes are now targeting drug labs in that country. This is the first time the U.S. has used F-22s, which cost $340 million apiece, in Afghanistan, and it's the first time U.S. forces have used their new power—granted by President Donald Trump in August—to order airstrikes against Taliban revenue streams. (Previously such strikes could be used only to defend U.S. or allied forces or positions.) Seven drug labs were bombed in this week's campaign. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that there are as many as 500 opium labs across Afghanistan. Nicholson stressed that the drug war in Afghanistan won't make much of a dent on heroin use here, since only about 4 percent of America's supply of the drug comes from there. The U.S. has eradicated thousands of hectares of poppy fields over the years, only to see poppy production continue to grow. In this way, the U.S. war on drugs is like the war on drugs writ large: It wastes a lot of money while failing to stem the tide of drugs. A U.N. report this year on poppy production in Afghanistan warned that the rise in production and productivity would lead to lower prices and higher quality opium available on the world markets. A 2013 study saw the same results for anti-drug measures in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Targeting opium labs is unlikely to be any more effective than targeting opium fields has been. After all, given the profit margins in the opium trade, rebuilding labs should not be a problem. The U.N. says this year's record crop could lead to increased funding to the terrorist groups that are intimately involved in opium farming. Duh. In more than 40 years, the U.S. has essentially no success stories in the war on drugs—not domestically and not overseas. It has failed to put a dent in drug use; it has failed to curb supply; it has frequently failed even to drive prices up. Instead, it has precipitated an explosion of new, dangerous drugs for which there would not be a need had other drugs not been prohibited. (The drug war is a major reason crystal meth exists in the first place.) Meanwhile, policy makers are struggling to find a reason to remain in Afghanistan. On Monday, Nicholson bragged that the U.S. was no longer on a time-based mission (though it's hard to imagine that was ever really true, given the length of the war so far). "The new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan is conditions based not time bound, which means we will eliminate terrorists until the end," he said. Like the war on drugs, that could go on forever. [...]

Tax Reform Would Make Getting Trashed Cheaper


In the Britschgi household, Thanksgiving means a big family meal with copious libations. If Senate Republicans have their way, the libations will be much cheaper. Amidst its more controversial changes, the Senate's tax reform bill includes a provision slashing taxes and streamlining regulations for the nation's brewers, vintners, and distillers. "That would have a huge impact on our business," says Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewing Company, a craft brewer in Silver Springs, Maryland. "Any type of alleviation is huge for us." Currently, the feds put a $7 tax on the first 60,000 barrels a brewery produces. This would be rolled back to $3.50. The bill would also cut the tax rate for a brewer's first six million barrels of beer from $18 to $16. Lowering the federal excise tax on those first 60,000 barrels would save brewers an estimated $37.5 million per year, according to the Brewers Association. For small breweries like Denizens—which produces roughly 1,700 barrels a year—that would be substantial and welcome tax relief. Verratti estimates that halving the federal excise tax would save her business about $6,000 a year, no insignificant sum for a small business. "That's buying kegs, that's buying tanks, that's paying our employees higher wages," she tells Reason. Distilleries also have stiff tax cuts coming their way. Right now, makers of the strong stuff pay a federal excise tax of $13.50 on every gallon of distilled spirits. The Senate bill would cut this to $2.70 per gallon for the first 100,000 gallons, and then $13.34 for every subsequent gallon up to 22.1 million gallons. Winemakers would see some of the rates they pay pruned back as well. Low-alcohol sparkling wines and meads would see their taxes cut by nearly 70 percent, from $3.30 down to $1.07. The bill also includes some welcome regulatory changes, such as simplified bookkeeping requirement and easier tax-free transportation of booze between breweries and distilleries, a change that would make collaboration on new brews and batches easier. These changes were initially submitted by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as a stand-alone alcohol reform bill back in January. Proving that nothing brings people together like a stiff drink, their Craft Modernization and Tax Reform Act had attracted 46 co-sponsors by the summer recess. A companion bill in the House chalked up 252 co-sponsors by the same time. The bill was rolled into the Senate's tax reform legislation earlier this month. An ideal federal tax code would be one of broad bases and low rates. That would preclude a bizarre web of differing beverage tax rates depending on type, alcohol content, and, in the case of wine, level of carbonization. These do not go away under the Senate tax bill. But as long as libertarian dreams of a flat tax, fair tax, or even no taxes are a far-off fantasy, cheaper booze sounds like a pretty good stopgap measure. [...]

Ajit Pai: ‘We Are Returning to the Original Classification of the Internet’


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai announced this morning that he is submitting a proposal to repeal what he characterized as the "heavy-handed, utility-style regulation" of Internet companies adopted by the Obama administration in 2015. Colloquially (if misleadingly) known as "net neutrality" (see Reason's special issue on the topic from 2015) the rules, which included classifying Internet companies as "telecommunications services" under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act instead of as "information services" under Title I, were intended by advocates to be a bulwark against private companies discriminating against disfavored service or content providers. In practice, Pai asserted today in a statement, net neutrality "depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation," and amounted to "the federal government...micromanaging the Internet." The measure will be voted on next month. Pai, appointed to the chairmanship by President Donald Trump after serving as a commissioner since 2012, is a longtime opponent of Net Neutrality, memorably describing it in a February 2015 interview with Nick Gillespie as a "solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist." The commissioner foreshadowed today's move in an April 2017 interview with Gillespie, arguing that the Title II reclassification amounted to "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell." Today's move is already being hailed by free-market advocates and slammed by many in the online activist community. Pai came on the latest installment of the Fifth Column podcast to explain and debate the announcement with Kmele Foster and myself. You can listen to the whole conversation here: src="" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0"> Partial edited transcript, which includes Pai's views on today's free-speech climate and this month's social-media hearings on Capitol Hill, after the jump: Foster: As all of you listeners know, because you're weird stalkers, I have a deep background in telecommunication, so I'm actually happy to be chatting with you today, Ajit. And I think you also are announcing some things, and we should perhaps start with the news that you are making. Pai: Sure, so I'm proposing to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to return to the bipartisan consensus on how to think about the Internet. And so instead of putting the government in control of how it operates and how it's managed, we're going to return to the light-touch framework that was established during the Clinton administration, one that served the Internet economy through the Bush administration and the first six years of the Obama administration. And we'll be voting on this order on December 14th at the FCC's monthly meeting. […] Essentially, we are returning to the original classification of the Internet. So, for many, many years, starting with the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s all the way until 2015, we thought of Internet access as what's called an "information service." And as boring as the phrase is, it actually had significant import: It meant that the FCC would not micromanage how it developed, how it operated. We would let the market develop, and then take targeted action if necessary to protect consumers. In 2015, that changed, and we switched to calling it a "telec[...]

Destroy Capitalism to Save the Climate, Argues New York Times Op-Ed


The New York Times is running an op-ed by Benjamin Y. Fong, essentially reprising progressive simpleton Naomi Klein's 2014 screed, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In "The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid," the solution to anything Fong dislikes, just like Klein, is the abolition of private property and the imposition of socialism. Fong argues: The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It's capitalism that is at fault. In my review of Klein's book I explained: Canonical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its class "contradictions," in which the bourgeoisie profit from the proletariat's labor until we reach a social breaking point. In Klein's progressive update, capitalism will collapse because the pollution produced by its heedless overconsumption will build to an ecological breaking point. "Only mass social movements can save us now," she declares. Fong, faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University and the author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, similarly observes, "As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it's systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue." Klein dismisses the possibility that advances in modern science and technology incentivized through free markets can solve whatever problems that man-made climate change may pose as the 21st Century unfolds. Klein sneers that such thinking embodies the attitude that "We will triumph in the end because triumphing is what we do." Fong likewise asserts that as long as capitalism exists it is vain to expect intelligent people to come up with technical solutions to climate change. "The simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical," he argues. "For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification." As a guide to the glorious post-capitalist climate-stable future, Fong actually recommends, Communism for Kids by social theorist Bini Adamczak. "Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true?," reads the MIT Press promotional copy. "This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism." The book is accompanied "by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening." You really can't make this stuff up. It's hard to believe in the 21st century that folks like Fong seem totally unaware of the massive humanitarian, ecological, and economic disasters caused by communism. In contrast, the spread of free markets over the past two centuries causes people to live flourishing lives. In my 2012 article. "Free Markets = Sustainable Development," I point out: There is only one proven way to improve [...]

Why Does Hawaii Hate American Workers?: New at Reason


(image) With occupational licensing rules that benefit their favored friends, state governments raise barriers to prosperity for millions of Americans, and raise costs for the rest of us.

J.D. Tuccille writes:

In Hawaii, it takes an average of 988 days and $438 in fees to become licensed to perform one of many occupations under the thumbs of state regulators. Given that the average requirement across the United States to enter such fields as painting contractor, landscaper, or manicurist is an already burdensome year of people's lives and $267 in fees, you have to wonder what officials in the Aloha State have against people trying to make a buck.

But Hawaii isn't the only offender—and in some ways it's not the worst, given that it licenses "only" 63 of 102 mostly lower-income occupations examined in a recent report from the Institute for Justice. Louisiana and Washington are both the worst offenders in this sense, imposing licensing requirements on people seeking work in 77 of the jobs examined in the report. Or you could combine the worst of both worlds, like California which licenses 76 occupations at an average of $486 in fees and 827 days in time, or Nevada which requires an average $704 in fees and 861 days for 75 jobs.



How Congress Keeps Its Sexual Harassment Hush Money Secret


BuzzFeed reported Tuesday night that the office of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) paid $27,000 to settle a previously undisclosed sexual harassment complaint against the lawmaker. The story is notable not just for the allegations against a powerful member of Congress, but for shedding light on the highly opaque process through which the House of Representatives handles such settlements—and keeps them concealed. Amid the cascade of sexual harassment allegations ignited by The New York Times' exposé of Harvey Weinstein, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told MSNBC earlier this month that the House had paid out millions of dollars over the last decade to settle sexual harassment claims. Under public pressure, the Office of Compliance, which acts as the House's rough simulacrum of a human resources department, released documents showing it had paid out $17 million since 1997 to settle a variety of workplace claims, including sexual harassment. The details of those settlements, including their nature, are confidential. Claimants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement to begin the lengthy mediation process. Last week Speier introduced legislation that would prohibit Congress from requiring nondisclosure agreements in such situations and would require regular reporting of settlements. "In 1995, Congress created the Office of Congressional Compliance to protect itself from being exposed, and it has been remarkably successful," Speier said in a statement. "Twenty years later, 260 settlements and more than $15 million have permanently silenced victims of all types of workplace discrimination. Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability." "It's clear that our country is at an inflection point with respect to the behavior of powerful men across our society," says Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that works for government transparency. "Congress itself is neither excluded nor sacrosanct from that reckoning, but continued secrecy will hinder public understanding of how our representatives conduct themselves in office. Ethical standards that include training, oversight, and public disclosure of all past settlements online as open data are in the public interest, and we hope that Congress does so." It's important to understand just how secretive the current House process for settling harassment claims is. In most regular cases, lawsuit settlement by the federal government go through the Treasury Department's Judgement Fund, which has an online, searchable database of payouts, filterable by agency and date. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs has settled nearly 8,000 lawsuits between 2007 and 2016, according to records from the Judgement Fund database—most of them, unsurprisingly, for medical malpractice. It is the federal agency with the second highest number of settlement payouts, behind the Social Security Administration, which has about 13,000. But the House harassment payments described by Speier don't appear in that database. Nor do they appear in the disbursement disclosures the House is regularly required to file. Because of the provisions of the ironically named Congressional Accountability Act, settlement payment come from a special Treasury fund that the Office of Compliance draws from as necessary. The offices responsible for the payouts, and the reasons for the settlements, are kept strictly confident[...]

You Don’t Have to Listen to the Government to Eat the Foods You Like.


Most nutrition advice starts by telling you what not to do. Don't consume salt, eggs, butter, or fish. Don't drink. Avoid red meat. It's not a fun way to eat. And according to Aaron Carroll, a doctor, columnist, and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine, it's an overly restrictive approach that is also not supported by the evidence. In his new book, The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully, Carroll explores the history of nutritional advice, from media-driven fad diets to faulty government nutrition guidelines, and explains how to judge solid nutrition science from junk studies. He rounds up the evidence on butter, salt, dairy, gluten, alcohol, red meat, and more, and finds that much of what we think we know about healthy eating is based on shaky research or plain old myth. Ultimately, he argues that we should enjoy food, not fear it. Over email, Carroll and I discussed the enduring appeal of dietary moralism, government's poor track record with nutrition advice and food policy, what nutrition science says about Thanksgiving, and his professional medical opinion about my ideal diet of potato chips, fried chicken, and whiskey. Reason: Something I really appreciate about your book is that it's not moralistic or restrictive. Although you do issue some warnings about certain behaviors to avoid, a big part of your message is that it's actually fine to consume most food and beverages. It's a book that repeatedly says, sure, it's okay to eat or drink that, at least in moderation. That's quite a bit different from a lot of the diet advice we see, which tends to be heavily restrictive and focused on what you should avoid consuming. And it's also different than the moralism found in a lot of hand-me-down health wisdom, which is all about which foods are inherently good and which are inherently bad. What's the appeal of restrictive diet moralism? Why does it persist—and in many cases spread? It can't be because it's pleasurable to eat that way! Aaron Carroll: For as long as I can remember, nutritional advice has always been about telling me I'm doing something wrong. It was always telling me I was eating the wrong things. Don't eat cholesterol. Don't eat fat. Don't eat carbs. You have to eat something. I think there are likely a few reasons for this. One is that some people think that making people feel shame is a motivating factor. Another is that we tend to think that being overweight or obese is somehow your "fault" and that you, therefore, are to "blame". Too often we equate being overweight with a moral failing. We also shouldn't discount the financial drivers. There's lots of money to be made by making people feel afraid, and it certainly works in food. Reason: On a related note, I want to thank you for giving your official medical professional's blessing to my all fried chicken, potato chips, and whiskey diet. Oh wait, that's probably not right either. How do you balance the twin extremes of diet restrictionism and permissiveness? It seems like a hard thing for people to think about. AC: There's always the danger that people will take what I'm saying and translate it into a license to eat anything they want all of the time. That's not what the book says. I would, however, say that the occasional dinner of fried chicken, potato chips, and whiskey isn't going to kill you either. Too man[...]

Happy Thanksgiving! New at Reason


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Happy Thanksgiving! But before you eat that turkey, thank private property! Without it, Thanksgiving would be "Starvation Day."

Here's why...

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Open Season on Lena Dunham: New at Reason


(image) The right and the left is piling on Lena Dunham's apology for questioning the sexual assault allegations of actress Aurora Perrineau. But while Dunham may have brought some of it on herself, Brendan O'Neill says the vitriol is undeserved.

But she also doesn't deserve it because surely no one deserves to be metaphorically strung up like this simply for expressing skepticism about an accusation of criminal activity. This is the problem: in calling out Dunham's double standard on believing accusers, we risk further entrenching the rush to believe accusers, the primacy of accusation over justice. The ritual denunciations of Dunham, and her craven apology in response to them, exacerbates the very notion that any kind of defense of a person accused of sexual assault is a huge no-go zone, something only cretins or rape apologists would do.

In going after Dunham like this, her critics, including many on the right, have worsened the often shrill, unforgiving culture that Dunham and other modern illiberal liberals have helped to bring about. Well done, guys.

That a woman has been put under enormous pressure to retract a statement of conscience, an expression of doubt, a defense of a friend, confirms how terrifying the fallout from the Hollywood sexual-harassment scandal has become. Now, not only are all sorts of sexual behavior, from the fairly innocent to the absolutely terrible, being called out on a daily basis, but so are those who say "Hang on a second…"

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A Holiday Guide … to Surveillance Reform Legislation: New at Reason


(image) Before the year's end Congress needs to decide what it's going to do about an important regulation overseeing the authority of federal intelligence agencies to engage in surveillance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments permits the federal government to engage in surveillance of foreign targets that are not on U.S. soil, secretly and without warrants.

Section 702 sunsets at the end of the year if Congress does not act to renew it.

These surveillance authorities have since become a source of controversy because, despite the fact that it this snooping is only supposed to target foreigners outside the United States, it has become increasingly clear to the public that Section 702 surveillance was also drawing in domestic communications from Americans when they were communicating with (or sometimes even about) a foreign target.

Scott Shackford explains the three bills under consideration to reform Section 702. One is excellent (and no wonder, with privacy-protecting Sens. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden involved); one is worse but represents the compromise option; and one is absolutely terrible and would codify a significant violation of Americans' Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches.

View this article.


A.M. Links: Trump and Putin to Discuss Syria, Charlie Rose Suspended Over Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Justice Department Seeks to Block AT&T Acquisition of Time Warner


  • (image) "Russian President Vladimir Putin said he'll hold phone talks with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Tuesday as the Kremlin mounts a diplomatic push to resolve the war in Syria following a surprise visit by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad."
  • Charlie Rose has been suspended by CBS News after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct.
  • Another woman has accused Al Franken of sexual misconduct.
  • The Justice Department has filed suit to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner.
  • Robert Mugabe is facing impeachment in Zimbabwe.
  • Air China, the state-owned airline, has suspended flights between Beijing and North Korea.

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Pennsylvania Couple Sues Drug Warriors Who Thought Hibiscus Was Marijuana


The first person who mistook Edward and Audrey Cramer's hibiscus plants for marijuana was Jonathan Yeamans, a Nationwide Insurance agent who had come to their property in Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania, to have a look at the damage caused by a neighbor's fallen tree. According to a lawsuit that the Cramers filed last week, Yeamans also had a look at their garden and snapped some pictures that he shared with the Buffalo Township Police Department, which is why a bunch of rifle-wielding drug warriors invaded the couple's home two days later. An insurance agent does not necessarily know anything about cannabis (one of several reasons why he probably should refrain from ratting on customers he thinks might be growing it). But police officers charged with enforcing the drug laws really should be able to tell the difference between hibiscus and marijuana. Officer Jeffrey Sneddon, who applied for the warrant that authorized police to search the Cramers' property, claimed to know cannabis when he saw it. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review consulted a botanist, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Bonnie Isaac, who generously allowed that the leaves of some hibiscus varieties "are really similar" to cannabis leaves, such that "with a quick glance it would be hard to tell them apart." But the cops had more than a quick glance, and in any case the flowers should have immediately told them Yeamans' suspicion was wrong. As Isaac noted, "The hibiscus flowers are large and brightly colored, compared to the small nothings that grow on marijuana plants." The Cramers' complaint, which was filed in Butler County Court and names Nationwide, Yeamans, Buffalo Township, and three of its officers as defendants, says Yeamans "intentionally photographed the flowering hibiscus plants in such a manner as not to reveal that they had flowers on them so that they would appear to resemble marijuana plants." But the cops on the scene had no such excuse. Rather than admit the embarrassing mistake, they proceeded with the charade, treating the Cramers as dangerous drug traffickers. The lawsuit says the cops arrived around noon on October 7 while Audrey was dressing and refused to let her put on pants or sandals, forcing her to stand outside in handcuffs, underwear, and bare feet. Eventually they put her in the police car, where she was joined by Edward after he returned home and was greeted by guns. Audrey, who is 66, sat in the hot squad car for four and a half hours with her hands cuffed behind her. Edward, who is 69, joining her for the last two hours or so. The Cramers say they both repeatedly offered to show Sgt. Scott Hess the plants and explain why they were not, in fact, marijuana. Hess, who like Sneddon claimed to be an expert at identifying cannabis, insisted that he knew better. In his report, he described the purported contraband as "tall, green, leafy, suspected marijuana plants." The Cramers eventually were released without charge. A few weeks later, they received a letter from Nationwide, threatening to revoke their coverage if they kept growing marijuana. [...]