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Updated: 2017-03-30T00:00:00-04:00


Brickbat: Shame on Your Name


(image) Nova Scotia's Registrar of Motor Vehicles says Lorne Grabher's last name is "socially unacceptable." Lorne had a personalized license plate made with his last name for his father back in 1991. Since then, the plate has been used by three generations of the family. But the registrar's office say they got a complaint about it last year and have told Lorne he can no longer use it.


Finally, the WORST Argument for Public Funding of the Arts


There are many, many bad arguments for taxpayer financing of the arts (Reason TV addressed some of them in this short, fast-paced video). Now that the vulgarian Donald Trump has called for ending the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) we've been treated to a new round of tired briefs in favor of why the government should of course fund the arts. Don't you know that these cost just pennies per person, the cost of a couple postage stamps, really, if anyone still remembers what the hell those are? Those stupid drones that Barack Obama—who loved the arts!—used to help drop over 26,000 bombs last year cost way more! It's a peculiar thing: Arts funding is so small—the NEA and NEH cost about $300 million annually—that it makes no sense to cut it but it looms so large that even reducing it by a penny will end culture as we know it. Many of the arguments to maintain arts funding revolve around the impact on individual starving artists who might not go on to create this or that supposed masterpiece. While the Works Project Administration's Federal Arts Project might not have directly paid for that much in the way of memorable art (some of it is pretty damn fine, though), its handouts to unemployed artists to write guides, take pictures, put on plays, and paint murals meant they could survive without, you know, looking for work like everyone else. I don't find most of those arguments particularly interesting or convincing, if only because they ignore all the masterworks that might have been created if, say, the mediocre Archibald MacLeish had been forced to dig ditches by hand and my maternal grandfather had instead been employed as librarian of Congress (at the very least, I'm pretty sure my Italian pops wouldn't have lobbied as hard or effectively as MacLeish to save Ezra Pound from the firing squad for making propaganda broadcasts for Mussolini). Then there's this: The NEA and the NEH only date back to the mid-1960s and were midwifed into life by Lyndon Johnson, arguably the least-cultured president since Andrew Jackson. LBJ, bless his lying-cheating-corrupt little heart, might have thought that the Spartans were a college football team and preferred kicking Hubert Humphrey in the shins to the opera, but goddammit he created two arty fiefdoms in honor of John F. Kennedy to show he wasn't a total hick! We may never understand how America and Americans got along for nearly 200 years without such orgs, but we goddam know for sure that we can't ever get rid of them. Which leads me to the very worst argument I've encountered to date for public funding of the arts in general and the NEA and NEH in specific. This comes courtesy of Norman Ornstein, the token liberal at the American Enterprise Institute, For millenia, a key measure of a nation's greatness has been appreciation for culture-- music, art, dance, theater. Ax NEA, NEH,we lose that — Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) March 29, 2017 Ornstein's a political scientist by training, so we might properly ask him whether nations as we know them have in fact been around "for millenia" or are actually a creation of the early modern period. We can grant him more latitude for knowing less about art. Kings, emperors, popes, and other rulers have all sponsored cultural production of course, some of it good and some of it godawful; the real difference-maker came during the Renaissance and later, when private patrons of the arts, a rising class of merchants, and workaday people with money burning a hole in their pocket for the first time in human history created markets in cultural production (by the 18th century, for chrissakes, Samuel Johnson was mocking writers who didn't write for money). The idea that that a "key measure of a nation's greatness has been appreciation for culture" (Ornstein implicitly means only high culture) is a totally different question and an irrelevant one. Was 19th century America not a "great" country? Tocqueville, that tackling dummy to which lazy political scie[...]

New at Reason: Dave Rubin's Political Awakening


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In an era of daily internet outrage, Dave Rubin stands out for his willingness to engage a wide spectrum of political opinions with a civil tone. His show, The Rubin Report has hosted the likes of alt-right gadfly Milo Yiannopolous, crusading atheist Sam Harris, and ex-governor-turned-conspiracy-theorist Jesse Ventura, all in a spirit of non-partisan intellectual inquiry.

Chatting with political adversaries has affected Rubin's politics in unexpected ways. As his beliefs turned towards individualism, he broke with the progressive show The Young Turks over the issue of identity politics. Rubin explains his ideological shift in his influential video, Why I Left the Left, which has racked up 1.7 million views in just a few months.

Today, Rubin describes himself as a classical liberal. "I do believe that the state has some use," he explains. "Now I don't want a huge state. I firmly believe in individual liberty more than anything else. And that you have to live the life you want for yourself." The one-time progressive even cast a vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in the last presidential election.

Although his even-keeled approach to dialogue hasn't changed much, he now sees value in the outrageous style of internet punditry. "Sometimes there is use in laying out bombs that are going to upset people, because out of the chaos of that, you can actually build some bridges, you can actually find some people waking up," he says.

Edited by Alex Manning. Cameras by Zach Weissmueller and Austin Bragg

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Rep. Thomas Massie: ‘We don't really have 218 conservatives here [who] meant what they said when they said they wanted to repeal Obamacare’


As referenced earlier today, last night The Fifth Column invited to its podcast-waves Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the most libertarian members of Congress, and a man well-known to Reason readers (you can consume our previous interviews with congressman from June 2013, March 2016, and May 2016; watch him eat a hemp bar on The Independents, and read what he's written for us). With the Ryancare debacle (in which Massie was a firm "Hell no") still fresh in the memory tubes, and with the Trump administration collaborating with the existing GOP establishment to marginalize the crazies in the Massie-friendly House Freedom Caucus, the triumvirate of Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan, and myself wanted to know how the Obamcare-reboot failure looked like from the inside ("this was a big game of chicken"), where Congress goes from here on swamp-draining, and whether there's any meaningful overlap between Trump/Steve Bannon economic nationalism and Tea Party-flavored libertarianism (in mutual opposition to the World Trade Organization, he suggested). Along the way Massie spelled out the virtues (and limitations) of his bill to abolish the Department of Education, ruminated on whether the HFC's intransigence has allowed libertarian-leaners to retake the lunatic lead from Donald Trump, and busted Moynihan's chops for being a diva. You can listen to the whole thing here; Massie in the first 37 minutes: src="" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0"> After the jump a quickie edited transcript, thanks to Lindsay Marchello: Welch: Give us a bit of a snapshot of what it was like there in the final 24 hours in that push. Massie: Oh my gosh, this thing was like a rocket whose fins had fallen off. It started off in the wrong trajectory 18 days before…and there in the last few days it was traveling erratically, and I said on Thursday—obviously they pulled the bill on Friday from consideration—but on Thursday I said "This rocket has gone crazy. The best we can hope for is it lands in the ocean and sinks." Welch: Now I should just interject here that you are an MIT graduate, so you are only capable of speaking in rocket metaphors. Massie: I'm an electric engineer, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I like to pretend I'm one when I'm in Congress. You know, I did a lot of media last week; I probably went on TV more last week than I've been on TV in my life. And I was trying to get the message out there that this was a big game of chicken, and that reality…is going to come crashing down on Thursday. They were able to avoid reality for one day by postponing the vote, but then reality came crashing down. And I also predicted that they would claim they had the votes right up until they pulled the bill, which is also what happened. The speaker did Congress a great disservice by going on TV for literally the entire week leading up to the debacle of the bill being pulled and saying that they had the votes, so I felt compelled to go on TV and say they don't have the votes. And then, on I believe it was Thursday or Wednesday, Mick Mulvaney came—he's a former Freedom Caucus member who is now the OMB director—he came to our Republican conference, and he was carrying a message from Trump. He said "I've got a message from my boss. He's rather remarkable; he's not like most of us politicians, and he wants you to know that number one, he's done negotiating. There will be no changes to this bill. And number two, the vote is going to happen tomorrow, and he doesn't care if it passes or fails. We are going to have a vote and he's going to find out who is on his side and who's not." And then the third thing he said is, "If this fails, we are done with health care. You're done with health care, we are moving on." Foster: Wow. Massie: They asked me, "What do you make of all that?" And I said it's all a big bluff. Foster: Did you say that before or after[...]

'Nuclear' Option on Supreme Court Filibusters Increasingly Likely, Melania Trump Presents Awards at State Dept, Police Shooting Near U.S. Capitol: P.M. Links


  • (image) The "nuclear option" on Supreme Court filibusters is appearing increasingly likely in the Senate.
  • First Lady Melania Trump appeared at the State Department to present the International Women of Courage Awards.
  • Chris Christie will reportedly chair a federal opioid commission.
  • Police shot at and have arrested a woman who allegedly made an illegal U-turn, struck another vehicle, and "nearly" hit police close to the U.S. Capitol.
  • A deal between Kushner Companies and a Chinese group over refinancing 666 Fifth Avenue collapsed.
  • The U.S. is advising against travel to Congo after an American and a Swedish U.N. expert who were missing for two weeks were found in a shallow grave.
  • Soldiers around Mogadishu shot and killed four civilians in three separate incidents, including a woman shot during an argument at the airport and a woman killed when a police soldier opened fire on a bus during during a presidential security lockdown.

DEA Seized $4 Billion From People Since 2007. Most Were Never Charged with a Crime


The Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the last decade, but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges. A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA's gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn't relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns. In total, the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures. Those figures do not include other property, such as cars and electronics, which are favorite targets for seizure by law enforcement. All of this is possible through civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property if they suspect it's connected to criminal activity, without having to file criminal charges against the owner. While law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug traffickers and organized crime, the Inspector General's findings echo the concerns of many civil liberties groups, which say asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the Inspector General warned. Darpana Sheth, an attorney for the libertarian-leaning nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice, said in a statement that the report's findings "fundamentally undercut law enforcement's claim that civil forfeiture is a vital crime-fighting tool." "Americans are already outraged at the Justice Department's aggressive use of civil forfeiture, which has mushroomed into a multibillion dollar program in the last decade," she continued. "This report only further confirms what we have been saying all along: Forfeiture laws create perverse financial incentives to seize property without judicial oversight and violate due process." More than a dozen states have passed reforms to civil asset forfeiture in recent years in response to civil liberties concerns, but the practice remains robust in part because of joint federal and state drug task forces, which share forfeiture proceeds through the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Fund. According to the report, the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture program participants have collected $28 billion over the last decade. As part of its investigation, the Justice Department Inspector General reviewed 100 DEA seizures that occurred without court issued-warrants or accompanying narcotics seizures—cases it said presented "particularly significant" risks to civil liberties. Only 44 of the 100 seizures were connected to or advanced a criminal investigation. The majority of seizures occurred in airports, train stations, and bus terminals, where the DEA regularly snoops on travel records and maintains a network of travel industry employees who act as confidential informants. According to the Inspector General, common red flags for passengers are "traveling to or from a known source city for drug trafficking, purchasing a ticket within 24 hours of travel, purchasing a ticket for a long flight with an immediate return, purchasing a one-way ticket, and traveling without checked luggage." DEA agents then detain and question travelers with large amounts of cash, and, if they determine the money is linked to drug activity, seize it, even if there is no hard evidence that it is connected to illegal activity. As the Inspector General notes, these agents "rely on their immediate, on-the-spot judgment." The passenger is[...]

That Time an Undercover FBI Agent Told One of the 'Draw Mohammed' Shooters to 'Tear Up Texas'


One of the FBI's favorite tools for nabbing would-be terrorists is a sting: The bureau finds a mark, stokes his interest in carrying out some sort of attack, draws him into a plot, and then arrests him. Every time one of these busts hits the press, I wonder how long it will be before we learn about a perp who takes the FBI's encouragement to heart but decides to launch or join a separate plot that the government doesn't control. I had that on my mind as I read 60 Minutes' report on the Garland, Texas, attack of May 2015. In that incident, two men tried to shoot up a draw-Mohammed contest; fortunately, local police prevented them from killing anyone. "Not only had the FBI been monitoring [one of the gunmen] for years," 60 Minutes recounts, but "there was an undercover agent right behind him when the first shots were fired." The shooter in question, Elton Ibrahim Simpson, had been the target of a previous FBI operation, in which an informant recorded him talking about wanting to fight overseas for Islam. That wasn't enough to send Simpson to jail—he got three years' probation instead—but the discovery that his mosque had spies in it did drive him away from the temple. The alienated Simpson and his roommate then reached out to ISIS about carrying out some sort of attack at home. But ISIS wasn't the only organization that Simpson was in touch with. "After the trial," his attorney told 60 Minutes, "we found out that they had had an undercover agent who had been texting with Simpson, less than three weeks before the attack, to him 'Tear up Texas.'" The report continues: The man he's talking about was a special agent of the FBI, working undercover posing as an Islamic radical. The government sent attorney Dan Maynard 60 pages of declassified encrypted messages between the agent and Elton Simpson—and argued "Tear up Texas" was not an incitement. But Simpson's response was incriminating, referring to the attack against cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo: "bro, you don't have to say that..." He wrote "you know what happened in Paris... so that goes without saying. No need to be direct." But it turns out the undercover agent did more than just communicate online with Elton Simpson. In an affidavit filed in another case the government disclosed that the FBI undercover agent had actually "traveled to Garland, Texas, and was the event."...And this past November, Maynard was given another batch of documents by the government, revealing the biggest surprise of all. The undercover FBI agent was in a car directly behind Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi when they started shooting. Was it incitement? Judge for yourself. From the affidavit: The FBI wouldn't speak with 60 Minutes, aside from an emailed statement denying that its agents had advance knowledge of the Garland plot. So we don't know their answers to the questions the show says it would have liked to have asked: "Are these the only communications that you had with Simpson? Did you have more communications with Simpson? How is it that you ended up coming to Garland, Texas? Why are you even there?" That isn't the first time the FBI has declined to talk about the topic. The bureau refused to answer some questions on the subject from the Associated Press earlier this year—and when a Daily Beast reporter inquired about the "Tear up Texas" text last August, an FBI spokeswoman just hung up the phone. In the best-case scenario, the text was just one irresponsible but ultimately uninfluential remark to a man who was already ready to shoot people. But that would still raise the question of just why exactly anyone thinks this sort of encouragement should be a part of any police investigation. In the meantime, it wasn't an undercover G-man who stopped the plot; it was the local cops in Garland, who were there because they realized that this was the sort of event someone might try to atta[...]

How Trump Is Emboldening a Reign of Anti-Muslim Terror in India


Last week saw what is arguably the most terrifying development in India's six-decade-long history as an independent republic: Prime Minister Narendra Modi installed as chief minister (image) (governor) of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state that houses the Taj Mahal (the world's finest Muslim monument), Yogi Adityanath, a rabid Hindu nationalist who makes no bones about his ethnic cleansing agenda against Muslims. During the campaign for state elections, Adityanath repeatedly invoked Trump's Muslim ban to justify his plans.

Of course what Trump is proposing is nowhere close to what this man has in mind. Still, what this clearly shows is that America is losing its soft power to spread pluralism, tolerance, and other liberal values. Instead of remaining a beacon for protecting vulnerable minorities, Trump's America seems to be turning into a giant green light for minorities' persecution around the world, I note in my column at The Week.

This is not merely because Trump has neither the interest nor the moral clout to call them (illiberal leaders) out and deny them international respectability, something that Modi and his ilk desperately crave. It is because the rest of the world sets its moral compass by looking at America. Most Americans don't fully appreciate this, but the moral progress that this country has made by invoking its own principles — liberty, justice, equality, tolerance, religious pluralism — to fight slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation has been the main driver of liberalism around the world over the last several decades. America has offered persecuted groups a moral vocabulary and a modus operandi for securing their rights and holding their regimes accountable.

Go here to view it.


Trump Administration Is Right: Open the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository


U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the mothballed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository site in Nevada on Monday. Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General by Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asserting that federal government violated the law in failing to complete the licensing process for permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. President Donald Trump's proposed budget allocates $120 million to restart the licensing process for the facility. In 1982 Congress committed to finding a permanent site to handle the nuclear waste produced by America's nuclear power plants. In 1987, Congress designated Yucca Mountain as that site and something like $15 billion has been spent on readying it since it was selected. In 2002, the final environmental impact statement concluded that nuclear waste could be safely stored there for at least 10,000 years. The final supplemental environmental impact statement in 2008 came to the same conclusion. When it comes to highly politicized topics, nothing is ever really final final about decisions made by federal bureaucracies. So in 2010, President Barack Obama directed the DOE to close the facility as a favor to Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid. Despite the Obama administration's attempt to kill the project, in 2013 the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to resume its review of the license application for Yucca Mountain. The court observed that the agency "is simply defying a law enacted by Congress, and the Commission is doing so without any legal basis." In May 2016, the NRC finally issued its assessment that noted: This supplement evaluates the potential radiological and nonradiological impacts—over a one million year period—on the aquifer environment, soils, ecology, and public health, as well as the potential for disproportionate impacts on minority or low-income populations. In addition, this supplement assesses the potential for cumulative impacts associated with other past, present, or reasonably foreseeable future actions. The NRC staff finds that each of the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on the resources evaluated in this supplement would be SMALL. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 requires nuclear power plant operators to pay a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour to the government in return for the DOE taking responsibility for spent nuclear fuel. As of 2014 when the Obama administration stopped collecting the fees, the power plants had paid $31 billion to the government to take care of their waste. Some 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is still sitting at their plants. It's well past time to start the process of opening up Yucca Mountain. [...]

Uber Leaving Denmark Over New Taxi Law—Nationalists, Socialists Rejoice


The ridesharing service Uber announced they were "closing in Denmark" because of a new taxi law that requires, among other things, mandatory fare meters and seat occupancy detectors, Agence France-Presse reports. Uber will suspend its service on April 18. "This is not necessarily a farewell to Denmark, but a message that we cannot live with the legislation that's in the field now," an Uber spokesperson said at a press conference in Copenhagen. According to TechCrunch, Uber said it was not planning to close a development operation in Denmark that employs 40 engineers, something TechCrunch suggests "may also be a not-so-subtle attempt to play politics with local lawmakers." Members of two of the three parties in Denmark's governing coalition lamented the lack of support for a liberalization of taxi laws that would make it easier for companies like Uber to operate. The transportation minister, Ole Birk Olesen, a member of the Liberal Alliance, which The Local of Denmark has described as "libertarian-leaning," called the lack of support for taxi deregulation "unfortunate." "I believe that we should be open to new technology and innovative business models, Olesen wrote, saying he was "grateful" that at least there was a measure in the new taxi law to "monitor technological developments and see whether in future there might be a parliamentary majority that supports smarter control of taxi services than there is today with the likes of taxi meters." Conservative member of parliament Rasmus Jarlov, described by The Local as "one of Uber's biggest supporters in parliament" blamed opposition parties that he said "forced" the government "to make a law that has forced Uber out of Denmark. The government parties regret this." Socialists and nationalists, on the other hand, rejoiced. Karsten Hønge, a member of parliament from the Socialist People's Party and its transport spokesperson, said it was a "happy occasion that Uber is being driven to the scrapyard—I have not shed a tear." "I am glad that our society is taking a stand against a company as greedy and avaricious and Uber," Hønge said, as The Local reports. The leader of the Liberal Alliance slammed him for supporting "more expensive personal transport." A spokesperson for the Liberal Alliance pointed out that 200,000 Danes used Uber in Copenhagen and that the law was "hugely regrettable" for them and "for the drivers who have gained an income from it." The nationalist Danish People's Party also supported the restrictive new law, with its leader, Kim Christiansen, saying it was "quite excellent" Uber was leaving the country. "It is good that Uber has realised that the concept and way they want to do business is not something we want to do in Denmark," he said. Uber says it hopes it can work with the government "in the hope that they will update their proposed regulations and again enable Danes to enjoy the benefits of modern technologies like Uber." In December, Uber was indicted in Denmark for allegedly helping drivers skirt taxi laws. Ultimately, Uber connects individuals willing to give others a ride with individuals in need of a ride. But the needs existed before Uber. Laws that target companies like Uber target essentially voluntary transactions, pushing the government deeper into the lives of purportedly free people. [...]

Donald Trump's Opioid Commission Is Stacked With Prosecutors and 12-Steppers


The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump will announce today the creation of a federal opioid commission. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the chair, and the rollout will feature a who's who of federal bureaucrats, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to acting Drug Czar Richard Baum, to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Drug policy reformers would prefer to see a commission like this chaired by a harm reduction expert, but Christie is not the worst choice in a Trumpian world. He signed a Good Samaritan law in 2013 that protects drug-possessing bystanders from arrest in the event they report another person's overdose. It also provides some legal protection for people who administer the overdose-reversal drug naloxone in a life-threatening situation. The law would've been better if it had provided immunity to drug dealers who reported overdoses, but Christie vetoed that version of the bill. He has also allowed New Jersey pharmacies to sell naloxone without a prescription. (I wouldn't normally applaud that kind of executive inaction if not for Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoing a bill that would have allowed pharmacies in his state to do the same.) Christie's biggest move on opioids--a comprehensive bill he signed in February--is a little more complicated. The American Journal of Managed Care says it contains "the nation's strictest treatment mandates for opioid addiction." It requires: health plans to offer 6 months of treatment, including an initial 28-day period in which health plans cannot deny inpatient care. After that, health plans can do concurrent review no more than every 2 weeks to guide the location of care. Less-noticed, but groundbreaking, parts of the bill require health plans to go out-of-network, if necessary, to ensure that people seeking help are placed within 24 hours. The law, as written, will extend to other forms of substance abuse, not just opioid and heroin addiction. The measure also includes education requirements for licensed professionals who dispense opioids, from physicians, to dentists, to midwives. Patients with cancer or those in hospice care are exempt from the initial [five-day] pill limit. So, we have a five-day pill limit for people who aren't dying, and a requirement that insurance companies pay for six months of care. New Jersey Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a dentist, objected to both facets, saying that the pill limit was too strict and the length of treatment too short. The bill also requires insurers to cover medication-assisted treatment (see: methadone) if a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist recommends it. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication-assisted therapy dramatically reduces mortality among opioid users. Maia Szalavitz, who's not shy about calling bullshit on bad opioid policy, has encouraged drug court operators to make medication-assisted therapy an option for people whose substance use has ensnared them in the criminal justice system. But as Jason Cherkis reported in his fantastic piece for the Huffington Post, far too many treatment programs are dangerously enamored with abstinence-only pseudoscience. The founder of one of those 12-step programs will be at today's commission announcement. More tragic still, pretty much anyone can set up a 12-step program, while regulatory obstacles to offering medication-assisted therapy all but guarantee very few doctors will ever provide it. Unlike with most schedule II drugs, healthcare providers must ask the federal government for permission to provide medication-assisted therapy. If approved, they can provide the treatment to only 30 patients at a time in their first year, and 100 patients at a time in their s[...]

Turns Out Congressional Republicans Don’t Really Want to Cut Spending


In a post yesterday about President Donald Trump's record number of Congressional Review Act-enabled repeals of regulations, I tacked on a bullet-pointed list of other Trumpian moves to roll back the regulatory state. Not included was his proposed budget, despite the fact that it features impressive year-over-year cuts to the executive branch—30.4 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency, 20.7 percent from the Departments of Labor and Agriculture, and so on. So why didn't I include Trump's proposed deconstruction of the administrative state? Because presidents don't pass budgets, and congressional Republicans don't want to cut spending. Last night, in an episode of The Fifth Column, I asked the great libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to assess the realistic possibilities that Congress this year will approve such budgetary measures as a 30-plus percent cut in the EPA. "You want me to give you odds?" Massie said. "I'd go with five percent odds." To be clear, Massie is in the lonely minority that would delight in taking a machete to the regulatory state—the man did, after all, propose a one-sentence bill last month to abolish the Department of Education. But as we lurch from the Ryancare debacle to yet another self-inflicted government shutdown deadline of April 28, congressional Republicans are already going on the record as saying Trump's cuts, as predicted in this space, ain't happening. "We just voted to plus up the N.I.H.," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), complained to The New York Times, referencing Trump's proposed $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health. "It would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it." Also balking at the N.I.H. cuts are Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ("It's penny-wise but pound-foolish") and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who told the Washington Examiner that "You don't pretend to balance the budget by cutting life-saving biomedical research when the real cause of the federal debt is runaway entitlement spending." More GOP objections, as reported by the NYT: Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was more blunt. "I think it is too late for this year," she said about the proposed cuts, echoing several Republican colleagues. As for a border wall, which is not well supported by American voters, "that debate belongs in the next fiscal year," she said. […] "I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a wall," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I'm not going to support a big cut to the N.I.H. I'm not going to support big cuts to the State Department." Recall, too, that Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine quoted a "top House Republican staff member" on Trump's agency cuts thusly: "even the cabinet secretaries at the E.P.A. and Interior are saying these cuts aren't going to happen." So these are your politics for the next calendar month: The media and various activist/constituency groups will sound a never-ending alarm about the terrible effects of Trump's heartless budget cuts, while a unified Republican Congress that cannot even pass a budget anymore blunders along toward another artificial government-funding deadline that will likely result in some kind of spending deal that does not, in fact, cut spending. Good work, America! [...]

Just What America Needs, A Government Truth Squad: New at Reason


(image) A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence voters.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

If there's one thing this country needs, it's a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers.

A lot of fake news has been floating around in the ether during the past few months, as anyone who has read the mainstream press can attest. Some of the stuff is obviously fictional, such as the story reporting that the pope endorsed Donald Trump for president. That was plainly absurd; everybody knows Francis was a Jim Gilmore man all the way. But sometimes it's a little harder to tell. When the satirical news magazine The Onion reports "Military Aides Try To Cheer Up Kim Jong-Un After Failed Missile Launch By Putting On Surprise Execution," you have to wonder. Maybe it's worth Googling, just to be sure.

Moreover, a certain segment of the public is satire-impaired. This has led to the creation of sites such as and listicles such as "25 People Who Don't Realize The Onion Isn't A Real News Source," which post social-media reactions from people like Facebook user "T." When The Onion reported, "New Sony Nose Buds Allow Users to Blast Different Smells Into Nostrils," T responded: "Dumbest [expletive] I ever read. Even if they worked who wants to go around with what looks like ear buds in your nose, u would look like a complete idiot." Yes, u would.

Not every false thing on the internet is satire, however, and some false stories can do real harm. Example: Pizzagate, in which a family-run Washington pizzeria was accused of running a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta. The story became a nightmare for the owners of the pizzaria, who suffered harassment and death threats for months.

Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story, but that didn't keep protesters from showing up in D.C. a day later to demand that someone investigate the story anyhow. The Truth Is Out There.

Episodes such as that are rare, but false political claims on the internet are ubiquitous, and Serious People consider this a Very Bad Thing. Now a lawmaker in California has determined to do something about it.

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TSA Punishes Boy Who Left a Laptop in His Backpack With a Prolonged Pat-Down


Suppose you forget to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag while passing through security at a U.S. airport. How should the TSA "resolve" that issue? You might think the resolution would involve sending the laptop through the scanner again, this time in its very own bin. It might also include swabbing the laptop to see if it tests positive for explosive residue, based on the dubious supposition that a terrorist with a bomb in his laptop would invite such scrutiny by flouting the well-known rule regarding portable computers. But even that extra measure seems downright sensible compared to what a TSA agent at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport did on Sunday after a 13-year-old boy mistakenly left his laptop in his backback: He repeatedly patted the boy down, paying extra attention to his thighs, buttocks, and waistband, even though the kid had passed through the body scanner without setting off any alarms. In a Facebook post that has elicited considerable outrage, the boy's mother, Jennifer Williamson of Grapevine, Texas, says he has a sensory processing disorder that makes him especially sensitive to being touched. She therefore asked if he could be screened in some other way, which of course was simply not possible. Williamson's video of the pat-down suggests the boy reacted with more equanimity than his mother, who described the experience as "horrifying." It is especially puzzling that the agent seems to have completed the pat-down a couple of times, only to feel the same areas again. The TSA says the examination, which took about two minutes, was witnessed by two police officers "to mitigate the concerns of the mother." Williamson evidently did not find the cops' presence reassuring. "We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side," she says. "Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause need to be reined in." Several hours later, she says, her son was still saying, "I don't know what I did. What did I do?" In addition to the pat-down, the TSA screened "three carry-on items that required further inspection." Williamson says she and her son missed their flight because all the extra attention delayed them for about an hour. The TSA says it was more like 35 minutes. Or maybe 45. According to CBS News, "The TSA said the procedures performed by the officer in the video met new pat-down standards that went into effect earlier this month." The TSA told CNET "all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger's laptop." The problem, in other words, is not "power tripping TSA agents" who get their jollies by feeling up boys. The problem is the protocol, which makes no sense and, judging from most of the comments in response to Williamson's post, is not even effective as security theater. [...]

The Welfare State's Ugly Nativist Logic: New at Reason


One big reason the West is experiencing a massive nativist spasm is its welfare state. Indeed, protecting social programs from foreign moochers has become the biggest rallying cry for(image) restrictionists in Europe, America and even Canada – the paragon of human compassion. Whether immigrants really strain – rather than strengthen – the welfare state is debatable. But what is not debatable is that the welfare state has failed in its central project to create a new kind of person whose humane commitments are driven not by parochial attachments to self, family, and clan – but a more cosmopolitan sensibility. In fact, it may have deepened these attachments, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia.

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Partially Informed Juries Convict the Innocent: New at Reason


(image) Early in the evening on October 1, 1984, Catherine Fuller, a 48-year-old mother of six, was robbed, sodomized with a foreign object, and beaten to death in a garage off an alley in Washington, D.C. After police concluded that Fuller had been attacked by a group of young men, prosecutors obtained two guilty pleas and eight convictions. Today the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by seven of those men, who argue that prosecutors violated their right to due process by withholding evidence that would have cast doubt on the government's allegations. As Jacob Sullum explains, the case shows why, more than half a century after the Court told prosecutors they have a constitutional duty to share evidence that might help defendants, prosecutors have little incentive to take that duty seriously.

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Anti-Abortion Activists Face Dubious Eavesdropping Charges in California


Yesterday California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced 15 felony charges against two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, in connection with their hidden-camera recordings of conversations with Planned Parenthood employees they sought to implicate in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. "The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California's Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society," Becerra declared. "We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations." The right to freedom of the press, which Daleiden and Merritt claim they were exercising, is also foundational in a free democratic society, and it conflicts with California's dubious definition of the right to privacy. That conflict is especially troubling when law enforcement officials use privacy as a pretext to attack political opponents, which is what seems to be happening in this case. Federal law and the laws of 38 states (as well as the District of Columbia) allow any participant in a conversation to record it, with or without the consent of the other parties. California, by contrast, requires the consent of all parties. Recording a "confidential communication" without the consent of all parties is a crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or as a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt include 14 secretly recorded conversations, plus a conspiracy charge. Daleiden told The Washington Post he plans to argue that the conversations did not qualify as "confidential" because no party had a reasonable expectation that the discussion would not be overheard. On July 25, 2014, for instance, Daleiden and Merritt, posing as representatives of the fictitious Fetal Tissue Procurement Company, met with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, over lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant. While testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in September 2015, Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, said she had told Nucatola "it was inappropriate to have a clinical discussion in a nonconfidential, nonclinical setting." Other Planned Parenthood videos posted by Daleiden's Center for Medical Progress were also recorded in public settings, such as restaurants and conferences. In 1999 a California appeals court ruled that NBC News producers did not violate California's wiretapping law when they secretly recorded a lunch meeting at a Malibu restaurant, since the targets, executives of a company that allegedly sold fraudulent toll-free numbers, "had no objective expectation of privacy in their business lunch meeting." The court noted that one of the executives conceded he "did not say anything he thought was a secret," that the meeting involved a standard sales pitch, and that the executives showed no reticence around the restaurant's staff. According to the Digital Media Law Project's explanation of California's law, however, the setting of a conversation is not necessarily dispositive. "If you are recording someone without their knowledge in a public or semi-public place like a street or restaurant," it says, "the person whom you're recording may or may not have 'an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation,' and the reasonableness of the expectation would depend on the particular factual circumstances. Therefore, you cannot necessarily assume that you are in the clear simply because you are in a public place." Daleiden suggested another possible defen[...]

Brexit Divorce Papers Filed, Planned Parenthood Video Creators Indicted, Privacy Reg Repeal Heads to Trump: A.M. Links


  • (image) The U.S. government will pay $1 million to the family of Anastacio Hernandez, who was beat to death by border control agents in 2010.
  • Brexit is officially in motion: On Wednesday, U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May sent notice to the European Union that Britain is out, starting (as The New York Times puts it) "a tortuous two-year divorce littered with pitfalls for both sides."
  • The two men behind a series of undercover videos featuring Planned Parenthood executives were indicted in California Tuesday on 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without permission and one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.
  • A resolution to repeal Internet privacy protections approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2016 has passed the U.S. Senate and House and now heads to Donald Trump's desk.
  • European Catholics and feminists are teaming up to try and outlaw surrogacy.

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Free Market Health Care: New at Reason


(image) Government involvement in healthcare drives prices up. Government should do less instead.

John Stossel writes:

President Trump and Paul Ryan tried to improve Obamacare. They failed.

Trump then tweeted, "ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!"

But I do worry.

Trump is right when he says that Obamacare will explode.

The law mandates benefits and offers subsidies to more people. Insurers must cover things like:

--Birth control.

--Alcohol counseling.

--Depression screening.

--Diet counseling.

--Tobacco use screening.

--Breastfeeding counseling.

Some people want those things, but mandating them for everyone drives up costs. It was folly to pretend it wouldn't.

Insisting that lots of things be paid for by someone else is a recipe for financial explosion.

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Brickbat: We're Number One!


(image) Officials with the BBC are asking the government to mandate that all TV program guides gives its channels and programs greater prominence than those of commercial channels. The say the nation risks losing part of its culture without such a law.


Danish Deregulators


(image) If you're interested in the shift from Scandinavian social democracy to Nordic neoliberalism (*), you should check out Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane's new paper on Denmark's deregulation of the telecommunications industry. The Danes, they inform us, have not just shed the state's telephone monopoly but disbanded its telecom regulatory agency, refused to let the government fix telecom prices or push particular telecom technologies, and mostly avoided telecom subsidies.

As is often the case with reforms described as deregulatory, some of these changes did more to rearrange the state's role than to reduce it. (That regulatory agency, for example, had its duties distributed to other arms of the government.) And some weren't really changes at all. ("In Denmark's history there are only three instances of telecom subsidies," Layton and Kane write, "and they are for extremely small amounts targeted to remote areas.") But the net effect was less intervention in the marketplace, not just compared to the past but compared to nearby nations. Despite all the recent liberalization in Sweden, for example, the government there still owns a piece of the country's dominant telephone company.

In any event, it's an interesting case study. It used to be a cliché to suggest that socialism works better in Scandinavia than elsewhere. The best argument that that's true may be the ease with which Scandinavian socialists have moved toward markets.

(* I hate the word "neoliberalism," but alliteration must prevail.)


Cop Who Shot and Killed Ramarley Graham Had More Complaints Against Him Than Usual Too


A week after releasing the disciplinary record of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014, ThinkProgress has released the disciplinary record of Richard Haste, the cop who shot and killed Ramarley Graham after following him into his grandmother's house, which it obtained from an anonymous now former employee of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) Haste accumulated six complaints over a thirteen month period. Although the CCRB could not substantiate any of the 10 allegations in the complaints, Andrew Case, a former CCRB policy director and spokesperson told ThinkProgress it was "unusual" for an officer to have that many complaints against him in such a short period of time. About 3100 cops, or 8.8 percent of the force, have six complaints against them or more for their entire careers. "There is no transparency related to CCRB and other complaints against officers," Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham's mother, told ThinkProgress. "I have wondered: If Haste's record had been transparent, and if Pantaleo's record had been transparent… is it possible that Ramarley and Eric Garner would be alive today?" I suggested "zero tolerance" for police misconduct a few years ago; such a policy could remove problem officers before the problems become deadly. But police unions, which enjoy broad support from big city leaders even if the rhetoric doesn't always match, help produce rules that protect bad actors. Politicians and voters, meanwhile, continue supporting laws that criminalize inherently non-violent conduct. After Eric Garner's death and a series of other prominent but non-fatal incidents of police brutality, Bill de Blasio insisted police would continue to aggressively enforce petty laws. Malcolm had called on de Blasio to fire Haste and the other cops involved in Graham's shooting (Haste was the only officer there when he shot and killed Haste, but two others participated in identifying him during a narcotics investigation and wrongly claimed he had a gun—Graham was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet before he was shot). Haste was allowed to resign after finding out an administrative judge had recommended he be fired for violating a number of policies in the course of shooting and killing Graham (specifically that if he believed his life was in jeopardy he should've found cover and waited for back up). Because of union-negotiated contracts and state and federal legal protections, firing a cop is exceedingly difficult. The de Blasio administration has also thwarted attempts at more transparency, deciding that a decades-old state privacy law protected the disciplinary records of police officers. State legislators have not yet done anything to stop the administration from interpreting the law that way. Lawmakers and mayors, even in one-party cities like New York, are still easier to fire than cops. Malcolm has said she'd work to defeat de Blasio when he's up for re-election in November. "Election time is coming, and I'll be one of the people campaigning to make sure he doesn't win," she said when calling on him to fire Haste and the other cops. The kinds of substantive police reforms that could reduce police violence have not yet become a major driver in the nascent mayoral campaign. [...]

This Self-Taught Programmer Is Bringing Transparency to California Politics: New at Reason


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Rob Pyers didn't set out to bring transparency to establishment politics. In fact, he didn't even have any programming experience before he built the electronic systems for the California Target Book, a go-to resource for political transparency in the state. He initially came to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter, but ended up stuck in his day job, bagging groceries. Then Walgreen's laid him off, and he needed something else to do.

Pyers, who describes himself as "95 lbs of concentrated tech geek," has become an expert on pulling data from hundreds of voter databases, election filings, and campaign finance disclosures. He's done all this despite the fact that the state's main resource for campaign information is an inaccessible hodgepodge of ZIP archives and tables that even the current Secretary of State has called a "Frankenstein monster of outdated code."

"California's Cal-Access website is notorious for being just sort of an ungodly, byzantine mess," says Pyers. "If you have no idea what you're doing, it's almost impossible to get any useful information out of."

The state is currently working on a multi-million dollar upgrade to the site, with an expected rollout in 2019. But while the government builds its new system, the Target Book has already proven its worth.

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Trump Reversing Record Number of Regulations


President Donald Trump's big moves today on energy/climate policy, assessed in detail by Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey below, are far from his only deregulatory heaves this week. On Monday, for example, the president signed into law four regulatory rollbacks presented to him via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), or three more than were enacted between 1996-2016 combined. The previously obscure CRA, which Scott Shackford wrote about at length in January 2015, gives Congress 60 working days to reverse any new regulation added to the Federal Register. (That's congressional working days, so in fact the 115th Congress has had the ability to pick off any unwanted Obama-administration reg enacted after mid-June of last year.) The only successful deployment of the CRA prior to Trump came in March 2001, when President George W. Bush signed out of existence a controversial November 2000 Clinton administration rule requiring employers to prevent ergonomic injuries in the workplace. The unified Republican Congress of 2015–2016 presented five CRA rollbacks to President Barack Obama, and he vetoed each one. President Trump now has seven CRA notches on his belt, and more coming his way. The latest, as summarized by USA Today: * The "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces" rule, which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or workplace safety laws. That regulation, derided by critics as the "blacklisting" rule, was already held up in court. [...] * A Bureau of Land Management rule known as "Planning 2.0," that gave the federal government a bigger role in land use decisions. The rule was opposed by the energy industry. * Two regulations on measuring school performance and teacher training under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law Obama signed in 2015 with bipartisan support. The other three CRA reversals so far have been a Security and Exchange Commission rule requiring publicly traded resource-extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, a Department of Interior framework governing stream runoff of coal mining operations, and a Social Security Administration policy (covered by Scott Shackford here) to share the names of people it classifies as having a mental illness with the federal gun database in order to deny them access to weapons. Other Trump deregulatory activity has included: * His January 30 executive order requiring agencies to identify two existing regulations to kill each time they promulgate a new one. * His February 24 executive order instructing each agency to appoint a Regulatory Reform Officer, who will head up a task force that suggests regulations to euthanize. * His appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a judge most famous for his criticism of excessive deference to regulators. * His appointments to the Cabinet critics of and reformers to the departments they now head, including Education's Betsy DeVos, Energy's Rick Perry, Transportation's Elaine Chao, and Health and Human Service's Tom Price. * His nomination of drug-approval-process critic Scott Gottlieb to head up the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and his three paragraphs in the State of the Union Address talking up FDA reform. * His appointment to head up the Federal Communications Commission regulation skeptic Ajit Pai. There is no doubt that the early Trump presidency has made deregulation a priority. It remains to be seen how [...]

Cruz: Republicans Cannot Drop Health Care, Should Focus on Free Market Solutions


The Republican health care bill that crashed and burned last week never got anywhere near the Senate, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday that Republicans cannot afford to give up on health care reforms after less than three weeks of legislative effort. "We have got to get it done. Failure is not an option," said Cruz. "That House plan had been public for 18 days. Eighteen days does not a final product make." Though he did not mention the president by name, Cruz' comments stand in stark contrast to President Donald Trump's remark last week that the debate over health care was "enough already." Trump indicated to the New York Times that he was ready to pivot away from health care reform, and Republicans' longstanding promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, in order to focus on tax reform and other issues. Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Cruz said Republicans should focus on reforms that expand competition, give consumers more options, and lower premiums. That combination is easier to talk about than write into legislation, of course, but Cruz said the House GOP bill foundered because it did not do enough to introduce free market reforms into health care policy—something many conservative and libertarian-leaning Republicans want to see. "There is a great deal of consensus among Republicans about how to get this job done," Cruz said. Getting there, the senator said, would require repealing Obamacare's mandates on coverage, expanding the usage of health savings accounts that allow patients to pay for medical costs with pre-tax dollars, and allowing insurance purchases across state lines. That last idea was a central part—actually, it was really the only part—of Trump's pitch for health care reform during last year's campaign. Yet it was absent from the House GOP health care bill that failed to pass last week. More competition across state lines would be a positive development by removing arbitrary limitations on competition, and would provide more options in places where Obamacare has driven insurers out of the individual market. Allowing out-of-state purchases could lower premiums by as much as 13 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Michael Cannon, health policy director for the free market Cato Institute, argues that only insurers, health care providers, and regulators (in other words, everyone except consumers) benefit from the current structure. On it's own, it's not a panacea for the American health care system. An analysis from the Urban Institute found that allowing insurance sales across state lines would be unlikely to reduce premiums without regulatory changes. Five states have already passed laws allowing out-of-state insurance purchases, but no insurers have taken advantage of the opportunity. Still, it's an idea that would find "near unanimity" among congressional Republicans, Cruz predicted. That, he said, is where negotiations should start. "We could do an enormous amount of good," Cruz said of Republicans' control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, "or we could screw it up badly." [...]

Why House Intel Hearing Was Cancelled, SCOTUS Blocks Texas Execution, Spiders, Spiders, Spiders, Spiders, and More Spiders: P.M. Links


  • (image) The latest in the President Donald Trump/Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)/Russian government/intelligence leaks epic drama: According to letters received by The Washington Post, Nunes cancelled a House Intelligence Committee hearing in order to keep fired former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying what she knew about links to Russia.
  • Trump plans to respond to a defamation suit against him by claiming that, as president, he's immune to all civil suits until he leaves office.
  • The Supreme Court ruled today, 5-3, that Texas didn't properly evaluate the intellectual disabilities of a man on death row and reversed a lower court ruling, blocking his execution.
  • Scotland's parliament has voted to support a referendum as to whether they want to be part of the Brexit or not.
  • U.S. officials say there's a "fair chance" that a recent airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, killed civilians. So far more than 100 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of a strike from earlier in the month.
  • Will Congress actually fund Trump's wall?
  • And the most important question of the day: Are spiders coming to eat you and all your loved ones? Because they could. And here everybody was worried about a nuclear war.

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An App to Track Drone Strikes Lasted Less Than a Day Before Apple Yanked It


(image) This was supposed to be a post about how anybody who wants to easily keep track of U.S. drone strikes overseas can do so through an app on their iPhone. But never mind. They can't anymore.

This morning, Josh Begley, a data artist for The Intercept, wrote about his struggle to get such an app into the iTunes store for the past several years. His post was supposed to be good news: After rejecting the app several times and at one point allowing it on the market, and then yanking it, Apple had approved the app again.

But then this afternoon, Apple yanked the app from the market yet again. The app, titled Metadata+ (formerly Drones+) is not available for download (I have an iPhone and I checked myself). Begley explained at The Intercept that all the app did was send a push notification to the user whenever a report of a drone strike appeared in the news. He has been told by Apple that the content (which he wasn't even writing) was "excessively objectionable and crude."

Begley described what he was hoping to accomplish:

For the past 15 years, journalists on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have worked hard to uncover the contours of U.S. drone attacks — in some cases at their own peril. Filmmakers, academics, and attorneys have done important work documenting their ghastly aftermath. Websites like The Intercept have published whistleblower exposés about how the covert drone program clicks together.

But buried in the details is a difficult truth: no one really knows who most of these missiles are killing.

Because the particulars of the drone wars are scant, we only have 'metadata' about most of these strikes — perhaps a date, the name of a province, maybe a body count. Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn't much narrative to speak of.

Given that the Trump administration appears to be ramping up military escalations overseas (Ed Krayewski has the terrible details here), one would think there would be an increase in interest among those who don't like where this is all heading, even if they ignored these actions under President Barack Obama's administration.

While Begley's app has been yanked yet again, he does still have a Twitter feed (@Dronestream) that tweets out links to all media coverage of U.S. drone strikes. If you have the Twitter app on your phone, you can follow that feed and at least stay informed.


President Trump Escalates Wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Maybe Afghanistan Too


U.S. military officials are investigating an airstrike in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city which has been mostly occupied by ISIS since June 2014. Iraqis have said up to 200 civilians could've been killed in the strike, and an initial review by the U.S. military found that "scores" of civilians were killed after a building hit by U.S. airstrikes collapsed a few days later, as The New York Times reports. U.S. investigators are now trying to find out whether the airstrike caused the building to collapse or whether ISIS may have detonated an explosive there instead. The New York Times also reports that according to at least one Iraqi officer there had been "a noticeable relaxing of the coalition's rules of engagement" since President Trump took office. "Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration's rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt," The Times continued. "Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes." The Trump administration has rejected such suggestions. While Trump has asked commanders in January to look at relaxing restrictions on airstrikes, military officials say that has not happened yet. "We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people," Defense Secretary James Mattis said at a Pentagon press conference, according to The Washington Post. "The same cannot be said for our adversaries and that is up to you to sort out." The Post reports that according to Airwars, a monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, the frequency of alleged civilian deaths in U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria has surpassed civilian deaths there linked to Russian strikes. The Mosul strike comes as the U.S. is increasing troop levels in Iraq, and Syria, as part of the campaign against ISIS. The Military Times reports that an unknown number of U.S. combat troops have been ordered into northern Iraq, likely to participate in the ongoing effort to secure Mosul from ISIS. The U.S. is also sending more troops into Syria, with at least 500 being sent to take part in the attack on Raqqa, ISIS' de facto capital, something Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) wrote happened without any official notification. "President Trump has been busy dramatically expanding the American troop presence inside Syria," Murphy wrote in an op-ed for the Hartford Courant. "And virtually no one in Washington has noticed. Americans have a right to know what Trump is planning and whether this will lead to an Iraq-style occupation of Syria for years to come." The Trump administration has already signaled it will keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the campaign against ISIS is over. "The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said even as there is no end in sight for the war against ISIS. ISIS, in any case, is a successor organization to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which gained a foothold in that country only because of the 2003 U.S. invasion. The overall Al-Qaeda network traces its roots back to terrorist organizations around back in the 1990s. The September 11th attacks, which neither Al-Qaeda nor any other Isl[...]

Donald Trump's Climate Change Executive Order Will Make Energy Cheaper


President Donald Trump issued a new executive order today that aims to roll back Obama administration energy policies that sought to address the problem of man-made climate change. The Obama administration's climate strategy stood on three pillars: Tightening corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) for vehicles; the Clean Power Plan designed to cut by 2030 carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation plants by 30 percent below their 2005 levels; and a moratorium on federal coal leasing. These measures were adopted to meet President Obama's commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The CAFE standards are now being reassesed. In February, the chief executives of 18 auto companies sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking that it review the Obama administration's stringent CAFE standards. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt subsequently announced that his agency will conduct such a review decide by April 2018 if the standards should be loosened. The transportation sector is responsible for 26 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to about 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2014. That's down from the 1.85 gigatons pre-global financial crisis peak of vehicle emissions in 2005. Electric power generation is responsible for about 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. In 2014, burning coal for electric power generation emitted 1.57 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That is down significantly from peak emissions of nearly 2 gigatons in 2007. In 2014 emissions from natural gas burnt for electric power generation amounted to 0.44 gigatons. Basically, burning natural gas to generate electricity produces about half of the carbon dioxide that burning coal does. Since the carbon dioxide emissions from coal are so much greater than those from alternative fuels, the Clean Power Plan's carbon dioxide reduction goals would essentially force electricity generators to close down many of their coal-fired plants. President Trump hopes that unraveling the Clean Power Plan will bring back lost coal-mining jobs. "A lot of people are going to be put back to work, a lot of coal miners are going back to work," President Trump told a rally in Louisville, Kentucky last week. "The miners are coming back." That is unlikely for two reasons: automation and cheap fracked natural gas. U.S. coal production has dropped from 1.1 billion tons in 2011 to 0.9 billion tons in 2015. If 2016 fourth quarter coal production remained steady at the 2015 level, that would still mean that overall production will have fallen by nearly a third to 0.74 billion tons in 2016. Coal production in the Appalachian region in 2015 was 44 percent lower than it was in 2000. Power companies have been steadily switching from coal to natural gas as the fracking boom boosted production from 19 trillion cubic feet in 2005 to 28 trillion cubic feet in 2016. Last year, burning natural gas generated 33 percent of America's electricity compared to 32 percent from coal. The upshot is that lower demand for coal means fewer jobs. In 2011, 89,500 people worked as coal miners. That has dropped 50,000 now. In addition, higher productivity means lower demand for workers. Due to automation m[...]

Sessions’ Targeting of Sanctuary Cities Not Exactly What It Appears


When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put out its first President Donald Trump-administration-ordered report detailing sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with the feds by detaining illegal immigrants charged or convicted of crimes, attention fell on Travis County, Texas, home of Austin. The majority of the immigrants listed on the first report had been jailed or held in Austin. So when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that the Department of Justice was going to crack down and threaten the federal DOJ grants to sanctuary cities, naturally people might be curious as to how much this is going to hurt that particular progressive island in generally conservative Texas. Turns out, perhaps not so much. The Austin American-Statesman asked local law enforcement officials, and they said Sessions' actions probably won't affect them because they're actually complying with the federal regulation he's pointing to: U.S. Code 1373. Furthermore, even if the DOJ does yank grants, they calculated it affected about $1 million dollars for three programs. So what gives here? As is thoroughly typical when politicians give a speech, the actual policies don't really match the rhetoric. When Sessions spoke yesterday, he definitely wanted people to make a connection here that the Department of Justice was planning to punish sanctuary cities that refused to help the feds enforce immigration laws and deport illegal immigrants who had been charged or convicted of crimes: The American people are justifiably angry. They know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe. Failure to deport aliens who are convicted for criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk – especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators. DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang crimes, rapes, crimes against children and murders. Countless Americans would be alive today – and countless loved ones would not be grieving today – if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended. Not only do these policies endanger the lives of every American; just last May, the Department of Justice Inspector General found that these policies also violate federal law. The President has rightly said that this disregard for the law must end. In his executive order, he stated that it is the policy of the executive branch to ensure that states and cities comply with all federal laws, including our immigration laws. That sounds very much like Sessions is saying that sanctuary cities are violating federal law by not helping deport immigrants. But that's not what U.S. Code 1373 says. That code is merely about communication about immigration status between various law enforcement agencies and immigration services. It says that government entities may not prohibit communications between law enforcement agencies and immigration officials about somebody's status as an immigrant or citizen. The code does not require local law enforcement agencies to assist the federal government in deporting immigrants, nor does it require them to honor federal requests to hold illegal immigrants so that ICE can pick them up. So when Austin officials say they're in complianc[...]