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Updated: 2016-12-08T00:00:00-05:00


Philippines President Says He Won’t Let Cops Charged With Jail Raid Killing of Mayor Go to Prison


(image) After the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippines' national law enforcement agency, announced it was criminally charging a number of officers in connection with the killing of a mayor during a raid of a jail, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not let the officers serve any time in prison.

"I will not allow these guys to go to prison, even if the NBI says it was murder," Duterte said in a speech this week, ABS-CBN reported. "After all, the NBI is under me, the Department of Justice." Nevertheless, Duterte insisted he wasn't interfering with the process itself. "To tell you, I don't interfere," he said. "They have findings, good. File the case but I won't leave the policemen implicated in the killing."

Marvin Marcos, the officer in charge of the squad that raided the jail, and who was re-instated by Duterte the same day he was released, as well as other members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Region 8, face charges of murder, robbery, planting evidence, maliciously procuring a warrant, and perjury.

The group raided the jail based on allegations that Rolando Espinosa, a local mayor facing drug-related charges, was involved in drug sales at the jail, although according to the NBI the officers did not investigate the claim themselves prior to getting a warrant, and apparently did not find much during the raid. The NBI noted a previous raid at the jail yielded little contraband and it "was therefore impossible for Espinosa and Yap [Espinosa's cellmate, also shot and killed] to possess these firearms and illegal drugs inside their respective cells on the night of the supposed implementation of the search warrants." Other inmates claim seeing police plant a gun in the cell—surveillance footage from the jail that would have captured the shooting is missing.

An NBI statement suggested it was possible for the killings to have been part of a wider conspiracy. "it is patently clear that the acts of the CIDG 8 operatives showed a community of purpose or an implied conspiracy," the statement read, according to ABS-CBN. hDuterte could be involved as well, unwittingly or otherwise. Ronald dela Rosa, the national police chief, said he had suspended Marcos (who Duterte re-instated the same day), because of allegations Marcos was being paid by drug dealers, dela Rosa told a Senate hearing last week.

State-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence in the war on drugs can easily be used to cover the government involvement that is inevitable in any illicit trade that is sustained by sufficient demand. No law enforcement system can be totally immune from the incentives involved in bypassing a prohibition on an inherently non-violent product. The more fervor the campaign against drugs is waged with, the easier it is to commit violence that might benefit a particular drug network under the guise of indiscriminate anti-drug killing.

Previously: Duterte says Trump supports his murderous anti-drug campaign.

Trump Taps WWE Co-Founder for Cabinet Position, Michigan Recount Halted, Lawsuit Seeks Constitutonal Protection for Tasers: A.M. Links


Venezuelans Don't Believe in Bitcoin. They Need Bitcoin.


A main gathering place for Venezuela's growing bitcoin community is a secret Facebook group started in 2013 by a young libertarian activist named Randy Brito. As I recounted in a feature story in the current issue of Reason magazine, "The Secret, Dangerous World of Venezuelan Bitcoin Mining," the "Bitcoin Venezuela" Facebook group "serves as an online bazaar featuring ads for cars, bikes, boats, liquor, protein supplements, soap, smartphones, hiking boots, athletic gear, video games, and toilet paper."

I'm yet to see a single post about politics, economics, or the horrors of living under socialism. Though Brito conceived of the Facebook group in part as an educational forum for libertarian ideas, it evolved into something more pragmatic: a marketplace for trading essential goods for bitcoins. According to Brito, most Venezuelan bitcoin users aren't even libertarians.

This came up in a half-hour podcast interview I just did with Tom Woods. Why, he asked, aren't Venezuelan bitcoin users connecting the dots?

Pragmatism trumping ideology is a positive sign for bitcoin. In the U.S., bitcoin is used mainly by computer geeks and libertarians. With a few exceptions, it's not particularly useful (yet) because inflation isn't really a problem, and for the most part the government doesn't obstruct the flow of money in and out of the country. In Venezuela, on the other hand, bitcoin serves as a refuge from hyperinflation—and as a way to circumvent the disastrous monetary controls that make it difficult to import goods from abroad. As I detail in the article, bitcoin is helping Venezuelans keep their pantry shelves full and medicine cabinets stocked.

Libertarians deserve credit for keeping bitcoin alive in its early years, but its future depends on people who haven't spent much time thinking about what government has done to our money. Venezuelans aren't using bitcoin because they believe in it. They're using it because they need it.

Listen to the episode of The Tom Woods Show about bitcoin in Venezuela:

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What Can Donald Trump Really Do About Sanctuary Cities? (New at Reason)


(image) President-elect Donald Trump has promised to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities" — those municipalities that refuse to use local law resources to detain undocumented immigrants. In a new column for Reason, Andrew Napolitano asks, "Are state and local governments required to help the feds enforce federal law? In a word: No."

Napolitano adds:

Thus the Trump dilemma. He must follow the Constitution, or the courts will enjoin him as they have his predecessor. He cannot use a stick to bend the governments of sanctuary cities to his will, but he can use a carrot. He can ask Congress for legislative grants of funds to cities conditioned upon their compliance with certain federal immigration laws.

All of this is part of our constitutional republic. By dividing powers between the feds and the states — and by separating federal powers among the president, Congress, and the courts — our system intentionally makes the exercise of governmental power cumbersome by diffusing it.

View this article.

Trump's Homeland Security Pick Shares His Simpleminded Faith in Drug Interdiction


Like Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, the man he wants to run the Department of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, is an old-fashioned drug warrior who is alarmed by the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition. But the secretary of homeland security, unlike the attorney general, does not have much power to interfere with state marijuana laws. And unlike Sessions' complaints about the Obama administration's toleration of marijuana legalization, which sit uneasily with Trump's commitment to respect state decisions in that area, Kelly's views on drug interdiction are perfectly consistent with the president-elect's simpleminded faith in the government's power to stop arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants from crossing the border. "Kelly is a big-time drug war zealot," says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs office. "He is true believer in the drug war, and it's incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security." The Department of Homeland Security includes Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, all of which play a direct or indirect role in the war on drugs. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general with an unrealistic notion of what can be accomplished by ships, aircraft, and men in uniform, is well-qualified to oversee these doomed antidrug activities, which apply military logic to a project that has nothing to do with foreign aggression or national defense. As head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command for three years, Kelly witnessed the failure of drug interdiction and concluded that more interdiction was the answer. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2014, he complained that budget cuts had forced him to dial back drug interdiction in the Caribbean. "Because of asset shortfalls, we're unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," Kelly said. "I simply sit and watch it go by." Later that day he told reporters, "Without assets, certain things will happen. Much larger amounts of drugs will flow up from Latin America." Kelly apparently thinks interdiction reduces the total amount of drugs reaching the United States. But that is not how interdiction works, to the extent that it works at all. Given all the places where drugs can be produced and all the ways they can be transported to people who want them, the most that drug warriors can hope to accomplish is to impose costs on traffickers that are high enough to raise retail prices, thereby discouraging consumption. How has that been going? "With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply," a 2013 study published by BMJ Open concluded, "illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing." The basic problem is that drugs acquire most of their value after they get to the country where they will be consumed, so seizing them en route has little impact on the cost to consumers. If Kelly had gotten the resources he wanted and increased interceptions of "suspected maritime drug smuggling," there is little reason to think the upshot would have been less drug use. The economics of drug prohibition mean there will always be more than enough smuggling to compensate for whatever fraction drug warriors manage to intercept. Kelly thinks a determined government can overcome economics. He estimated that federal employees managed to seize 20 percent of the drugs moving toward the United States and implied that the share would be bigger if only he had a bigger budget. But if traffickers treat seizures as a cost of doing business and respond by boosting shipments, the percentage seized may stay exactly the same even as the a[...]

Brickbat: Standardized Testing


(image) In Indiana, Zionsville High School will now require all students who take part in extracurricular activities or who park their vehicles at school to submit to random drug testing. Students who fail a drug test will be required to complete drug counseling.

A Strong Leader


President-elect Donald Trump's first decisions were exciting. His new team seems to include good people like Betsy DeVos, Andy Puzder and Paul Atkins. It's refreshing to watch Trump mock the media and political correctness. How dreary the world would be today if we faced four more years of condescension from Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks. But I worry. Many of Trump's supporters like him because they say he's a leader who will "get things done." That's not necessarily a good thing. Recently, my Twitter feed contained Trump saying: "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!" Yikes! Mr. President, burning a flag is free speech. And don't we have property rights? If I buy the flag, it's mine. No one has a right to tell me what I can do with it. Recently, Trump bullied and bribed executives from the Carrier air conditioner company into withdrawing plans to move a factory to Mexico. "Like a despot drunk and delirious with power," wrote economist Don Boudreaux, Trump "bellowed that '(c)ompanies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences.'" Those are the kind of things socialist dictators say. Trump's no socialist. He is obviously a businessman who loves making money. But that doesn't mean he understands the conditions necessary for other people to prosper. Trump proposes some bad socialist policies: a $10 minimum wage, restrictions on imports and travel, and tougher libel laws. These are terrible ideas. I think about how "strongmen" leaders have worked for other parts of the world. Venezuela voted in a strong leader. Now the country's collapsing into economic chaos: looting, shortages of food, riots. That's what an autocrat can do. Venezuela was once the most prosperous country in South America. Then Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez. He promised to throw out the establishment and make Venezuela ... well, better, if not "great." American celebrities loved Chavez. Oliver Stone made a movie praising him and then invited the tyrant to join him at the film's premiere. After Chavez's death, Stone released an even more absurd documentary called "My Friend Hugo." Stone's other friend, actor Sean Penn, called Chavez a "fascinating guy" who does "incredible things." Model Naomi Campbell called Chavez an "angel." A hack at Salon wrote about Chavez's "economic miracle." This was ludicrous, as the chaos in Venezuela now makes clear. But many Americans still want a leader who offers similar solutions. Thousands backed Bernie Sanders' call for a socialist America. Celebrities led the way. Actors Will Ferrell and Mark Ruffalo, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, comedian Margaret Cho, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jackson Browne and many others got behind Bernie's plan for "democratic socialism." Why?! I naively assumed that the collapse of the Soviet Union would make it obvious to everyone that socialism kills both prosperity and freedom. If that didn't, then the poverty in Cuba, Cambodia, Tanzania, Somalia, North Korea, etc. would convince them. But no! People still think socialism will make a country more "fair" or "equal" by punishing the rich. British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn praised Venezuela's strongman, saying he was "conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting the neoliberal policies of the world's financial institutions." By "neoliberal," Corbyn didn't mean left-wing. He meant support for global trade. Donald Trump wants to rein that in, too. In Venezuela, Chavez cut off foreign trade. When shortages occurred, his successor blamed an "economic war" waged by capitalists. Trump often blames China—although economists estimate 12 million U.S. jobs depend upon our trade with China. He mocks NAFTA, our trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, but economists call that a job creator, too. What Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders don't realize is th[...]

The Triumph of Falsehood


In 1644, the English poet John Milton made an eloquent case against censorship. Freedom of thought and inquiry was not only a God-given prerogative but also the best protection against error: "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?" Milton was fortunate enough to live before the internet. It has shown that among many people, truth doesn't have a chance in an encounter with manufactured falsehoods aimed at not only smearing enemies but obliterating the idea of objective reality. There is now a bustling industry of websites and Twitter accounts whose chief product is fiction masquerading as fact. Their success was both cause and effect of the rise of Donald Trump, who went beyond any previous major presidential candidate in saying things that were utterly baseless and easily refutable. He didn't have to wait to reach the White House to fulfill his promise to create new jobs. His campaign generated a new demand for fact-checkers, who found that trying to expose his lies was like trying to stay dry in a hurricane. The torrent was too big, fierce and persistent to overcome. Trump peddled bogus information and profited from that spread by others. Of the 20 most read phony election-related stories circulated on Facebook during the campaign, 17 made him look good or Hillary Clinton look bad. The top two: the pope's endorsement of Trump and Clinton's selling arms to the Islamic State, neither of which contained a particle of truth. Trump voters are not the only ones with a penchant for believing things purely because they are convenient. The website Vox reported that most of Bernie Sanders' followers want universal health care and free public college tuition but aren't willing to pay anything close to what they would cost in higher taxes. Most Americans can't name their member of Congress or the three branches of government. It's no accident that so many Americans choose to be uninformed or misinformed. Educating yourself about candidates and their platforms by getting reliable information has little payoff. Your vote, wise or foolish, rarely makes a difference in the policies that affect you. Being wrong about candidates generally costs you nothing, unlike being deluded about more practical matters. If you think you can fly, you will get a painful lesson when you leap off your roof. But if you believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim—as more than half of Republican primary voters did—you suffer no injury from indulging that fantasy. In fact, you gain something: a powerful sense of connection with others who share your outlook. For most people who have great interest in politics, argued George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan in his 2007 book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, ideology is a form of religion, and its disciples act more on faith than on evidence. "Human beings want their religion's answers to be true," he wrote, and stick to them in the face of contradictory information. We have little reason to behave differently on Election Day. "Why control your knee-jerk emotional and ideological reactions if you can't change the outcome?" asked Caplan. Conventional politicians shade and embellish the truth, but within established bounds. They have enough respect for voters to ration their deceptions. What made Trump different was his conviction that most people are happy to be fed nonsense as long as it is palatable. He lied without reservation or limit, about topics big and small, and he got away with it. Among his followers, some believed he was telling the truth and some didn't care. "Fake news" sources exploit the same cynical strategy, confident that many readers will seek out anything that confirms their prejudices and reject anything that doesn't. The news media have discovered that while there is a demand for accurate information, there is also a market,[...]

What Can Donald Trump Really Do About Sanctuary Cities?


Last week, President-elect Donald Trump re-emphasized the approach he will take in enforcing the nation's immigration laws, which is much different from the manner of enforcement utilized by President Barack Obama. The latter pointedly declined to deport the five million undocumented immigrants in the United States who are the parents of children born here — children who, by virtue of birth, are American citizens. Trump has made known his intention to deport all undocumented people, irrespective of family relationships, starting with those who have committed crimes. In response to Trump's stated intentions, many cities — including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — have offered sanctuary to those whose presence has been jeopardized by the president-elect's plan. Can they do this? Here is the back story. Under the Constitution, the president is the chief federal law enforcement officer in the land. Though the president's job is to enforce all federal laws, as a practical matter, the federal government lacks the resources to do that. As well, the president is vested with what is known as prosecutorial discretion. That enables him to place priority on the enforcement of certain federal laws and put the enforcement of others on the back burner. Over time — and with more than 4,000 criminal laws in the United States Code — Congress and the courts have simply deferred to the president and permitted him to enforce what he wants and not enforce what he doesn't want. Until now. Earlier this year, two federal courts enjoined President Obama — and the Supreme Court, in a tie vote, declined to interfere with those injunctions — from establishing a formal program whereby undocumented people who are the parents of natural-born citizens may lawfully remain here. It is one thing, the courts ruled, for the president to prioritize federal law enforcement; it is quite another for him to attempt to rewrite the laws and put them at odds with what Congress has written. It is one thing for the president, for humanitarian reasons or because of a lack of resources, to look the other way in the face of unenforced federal law. It is another for him to claim that by doing so, he may constitutionally change federal law. Trump brilliantly seized upon this — and the electorate's general below-the-radar-screen disenchantment with it — during his successful presidential campaign by promising to deport all 13 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, though he later reduced that promise so as to cover only the two million among them who have been convicted in the United States of violating state or federal laws. Enter the sanctuary cities. These are places where there are large immigrant populations, among which many are undocumented, yet where there is apparently not a little public sentiment and local governmental support for sheltering the undocumented from federal reach. Trump has argued that these cities are required to comply with federal law by actively assisting the feds — or at least not aggressively resisting them. Thus the question: Are state and local governments required to help the feds enforce federal law? In a word: No. The term "sanctuary cities" is not a legal term, but it has been applied by those in government and the media to describe municipalities that offer expanded social services to the undocumented and decline to help the feds find them — including the case of Chicago's offering undocumented immigrants money for legal fees to resist federal deportation. As unwise as these expenditures may be by cities that are essentially bankrupt and rely on federal largesse in order to remain in the black, they are not unlawful. Cities and towns are free to expand the availability of social services however they please, taking into account the local politi[...]

Libertarianism in a Rapidly Diversifying America: Reason Debate on 12/8 in DC


(image) Anti-immigration conservatives and liberals have long argued that as the United States brings in more foreigners, our common culture and values slip further and further away from the nation's founding ideals of limited government and self-sufficiency. Donald Trump supporters who cheered the candidate's plan to curtail immigration from Mexico and ban Muslims from entering the country often stressed the we're just importing "Democratic" voters who will expand welfare. Is any of that true? And what about the large numbers of native-born whites who, while perhaps shrinking as a percentage of the population nonetheless had the clout to elect (if barely) the most restrictionist (and protectionist) president since at least World War II?

Government debt continues to grow and spending as a percentage of the GDP has stayed at or near post-WWII highs. Trump's spending plan hardly reins in such largess even as his tax plan threatens to reduce revenues (and thus raise deficits) by massive amounts. What is the effect of such policies on libertarian visions for smaller, cheaper, and less-intrusive government? Will Trump end the federal war on pot even if he's ramping up the war on immigrants? Will more protectionist economic policy be offset by more wide-open energy or education plans? We're just a few weeks away from the start of President Trump's first term and only this much is certain: It is going to be a hell of a ride.

The event is free and open to the public. Here are the details:

Prospects for Liberty in a Diversifying America

Location: 1747 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington D.C. 20009

  • December 8, 2016

Now that the election is over, libertarians and conservatives are wondering what the Trump administration will mean for those who favor limited government, free markets, and the rule of law.

On Tuesday, December 8, you are cordially invited to a panel discussion moderated by Nick Gillespie featuring Reason's Shikha Dalmia, Avik Roy, Co-Founder of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity; and journalist Charles Cooke of National Review.

"Prospects for Liberty in a Diversifying America"

Panel Discussion moderated by Nick Gillespie,

Tuesday, December 8

Reason HQ, 1747 Connecticut Ave. NW

Doors open 6:00 p.m., Program 6:30 p.m.

RSVP to Jordan King at by Friday, December 4

Please join us for drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and conversation about the future of liberty in America.

Donald Trump Is Time's Person of the Year!?!? New Reason Podcast


So President-elect Donald Trump has been named as Time's 90th "Person of the Year," besting a short list that included Hillary Clinton, Beyonce, and "the Hackers."

"He has upended the leadership of both major political parties and effectively shifted the political direction of the international order," reads the article announcing his choice. "He will soon command history's most lethal military, along with economic levers that can change the lives of billions."

No one can argue with Time's pick, but there's plenty to say about it. And in this new Reason podcast, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason Editor at Large Matt Welch, and I talk about The Donald's cabinet picks so far, his intervention to keep a Carrier plant in Indiana, and his promise to start penalizing American companies that do business in a way that he doesn't like. We also talk about how Republicans have openly become the anti-free-market party—Vice President-elect Mike Pence recently opined that "the free market has been sorting it out and America's been losing"—and whether Democrats will rediscover their free-trading past, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore pushed NAFTA across the finish line.

Subscribe to the Reason podcast at iTunes (and rate and review us!) or click below to listen now, via SoundCloud.

Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Trump Has Little Latitude to Change Trade Policies...So Far


Over at Bloomberg Politics, Sahil Kapur has a useful piece detailing congressional unease at President-elect Donald Trump's recent rhetoric about slapping a 35 percent border tax on U.S. companies that offshore production and then try to sell their stuff back to America. In keeping with most coverage of Trumpian tweets, Kapur doesn't get to Question 1 of my 5-Step Process for Playing Defense Against Trump's Bad Ideas—What could President Trump actually do?—until paragraph 21: Legally, Trump does have some unilateral powers to tax particular goods that cross the border, but not entire companies' products, said Gavin Ekins, a research economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation. "In reality, a tariff doesn't quite work that way," he said. "But you can tax a class of goods. It's possible to say 'I'm going to put tariffs on heavy trucks within this time range.'" Ekins said Trump will likely face legal challenges and may need buy-in from Congress and the World Trade Organization to make his plans stick. "He can technically do this but there's going to be push-back in many ways if he does," he said. "He's extremely constrained in what he actually can do in the very end." Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the pro-trade Peterson Institute For International Economics, said Trump has broad authority to apply import restrictions under national-security exceptions, but he argued that going after entire companies' products would be "unprecedented" and could "backfire along a number of different dimensions." […] He cited one example: "In 2009, the Obama administration imposed restrictions on Chinese tires. In response, they hit restrictions on U.S. poultry products, in particular chicken feet, a Chinese delicacy that we exported a lot of." Trump wouldn't be the first president to unilaterally pursue protective tariffs. In March 2002, for example, George W. Bush slapped tariffs of as much as 30 percent on steel imports to protect the ailing domestic industry, after his administration concluded that trading partners were engaging in predatory practices known as "dumping." The move faced international push-back, and 21 months later Bush abandoned the tariffs under threat of a trade war with Europe. So even though Trump ran a far more explicitly protectionist campaign than Barack Obama did in 2008, he will be constrained by the Constitution, by U.S. law, international treaties, the potential for bilateral retribution (though he'd certainly be less gun-shy about entering into such conflicts), and by the GOP-led Congress. Kapur's piece, in fact, is largely a collection of hold-on-there quotes from congressional Republicans, such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarty ("I don't want to get into some type of trade war"), Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker ("I'm not much of a tariff-oriented individual"), and Rep. Jusin Amash (R-Mich.): "Maybe the slogan should be #MakeAmericaVenezuela." So the question soon becomes, Might Congress change its mind? On the yes-it-damn-well-might front, comes this shock of a poll this week from YouGov, showing 57 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of conservatives (compared to 38 percent of independents and moderates, 33 percent of Democrats, and 31 percent of liberals) agree with Vice President-elect Mike Pence's appallingly inaccurate statement that "The free market has been sorting it out and America has been losing." The poll additionally showed that 73 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of conservatives agreed with "imposing stiff tariffs or other taxes on U.S. companies that relocate jobs," 78 percent of Republicans think it's proper to "offer tax breaks or incentives to individual companies to keep jobs in the U.S.," 75 percent of Republicans think it's Jim dandy for the feder[...]

Trump EPA Nominee: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt


President-elect Donald Trump, according to various press reports, has selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his nominee to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is a fierce opponent of the Obama administration's climate change agenda. Specifically, Pruitt is one of the leaders in the federal lawsuit challenging the legality of Obama's Clean Power Plan that would cut by 2030 U.S. power plant emissions of carbon dioxide about a third. In a 2014 op-ed in The Hill explaining his opposition to the CPP, Pruitt asserted: Imagine a rule that raises the cost of electricity, hurts the most poor among us, cuts domestic jobs and results in a dramatic re-shaping of the American electricity system. Now imagine that this rule was never voted on by Congress. This is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan, a rule that undercuts the states' abilities to manage their own power grid and will raise the cost of energy dramatically. Those hurt most by the Clean Power Plan will be the most vulnerable among us-the poor, the single mothers, the elderly and minorities. Households earning less than $10,000 per year spend an astounding 60-80 percent of income on energy costs, and those earning between $10,000 and $30,000 per year spend greater than 20 percent of their income on energy. It is no surprise that the inability to pay utility bills is a leading cause of homelessness in U.S. The EPA's proposed rule could increase the typical household's annual electricity and natural gas bills by $680, or 35 percent, by 2020, escalating each year thereafter as EPA regulations grow more stringent, according to a study by Energy Venture Analysis. As I earlier reported on the EPA's dubious CPP math, Obama administration EPA analysts projected that the economic effects of CPP will be minimal, raising retail electricity prices by around 1 percent by 2030 and decreasing employment by only 30,000 job-years. In addition, the EPA's regulatory impact analysis esimates that the annual global climate benefits using a standard 5 percent discount rate would sum to $6.4 billion by 2030. In addition, the co-benefits—mostly improved health stemming from cleaner air—from reduced coal-burning would amount in 2030 to between $13 and $34 billion per year. Not surprisingly, David Arkush, managing director of the climate program at the activist group Public Citizen, denounced the choice in a statement: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is a terrible choice to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is cozy with the oil and gas industry and treats the EPA like an enemy. Both of those positions put him at odds with what the American people want and what's best for the country. Sam Adams, director of the World Resources Institute, agrees: The selection of Attorney General Pruitt, who has consistently questioned climate science and actively fought EPA's ability to reduce emissions, raises deeply troubling questions. The critical issue is whether EPA will continue to play its vital role in protecting people's health and safety in communities across the country. Trump met with climate warrior Al Gore earlier this week to talk about climate change. Nominating Pruitt suggests that the former V-P was not persuasive on the issue. [...]

Trump to Nominate Gen. Kelly to DHS, Scott Pruitt to EPA, Terry Bransted to China Ambassador, Philly Judge Rejects Jill Stein Request to Digitally Audit Voting Machines, Days Are Getting Longer: P.M. Links


  • (image) Donald Trump will nominate Gen. John Kelly, the third retired Marine general Trump has picked for a high-level position, to head the Department of Homeland Security. Trump will also nominate Oklahoma attorney general and Environmental Protetection Agency critic Scott Pruitt to the EPA. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, meanwhile, a friend of China President Xi Jinping, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to China.
  • A judge in Philadelphia rejected a request by Jill Stein to inspect some of the city's voting machines.
  • Two juveniles have been arrested in relation to the wildfires in Tennessee that killed 14 people.
  • The Syrian army retook the old city in Aleppo, with rebels trying to plan an exit.
  • A flight in Pakistan carrying 48 people crashed, leaving no survivors.
  • A magnitude-6.5 earthquake in Indonesia has killed nearly 100 people.
  • The days on Earth are getting longer.

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This Trauma Center That Helps Millennial Snowflakes Adjust to Adult Life Is a Fascinating Con Job


Thomas Szasz is not the hero we deserve, but the one we need right now. That's the implicit takeaway from Fusion's impressive profile of Yellowbrick, a mental health facility and trauma center for a certain kind of patient: relatively privileged millennials who can't seem to adjust to the demands of adult life. It's a scam, of course. There doesn't seem to be anything especially wrong with these people, in a medical sense—or, put another way, they're suffering from the same kinds of fears, traumas, and stresses that plague practically everyone. But the patients have been convinced—scammed may be the better word—to believe that their struggles are diagnosable, treatable, and fixable. With the right therapy and medicine, and for the right price, 20-somethings who can't hold jobs, finish school, or form lasting relationships will be transformed into fully functioning adults. Did I mention that Yellowbrick costs $28,000 per month? There's that. Patients must commit to stay at least 10 weeks, but many stay much longer—until their parents run out of money. Fusion writer Molly Osberg visited Yellowbrick, interviewing the staff and former patients (she was denied access to current patients, it seems). Here's how she summarizes the place: Yelllowbrick was founded a decade ago specifically to treat "emerging adult" brains. It helps its patients navigate the extended period between childhood and adulthood by fostering habits vaguely existential in nature: the realistic setting of life goals, the formation of an adult relationship to one's family, "identity consolidation" and self-esteem. The center's staff of 33 ministers to a live-in population that hovers around 15, as well as a number of outpatients—though in recent years it has been expanding more aggressively. Yellowbrick's psychologists are nationally recognized. They run the conference circuit and publish their own (non-peer reviewed) research journal. Their approach is holistic in the most extreme sense of the word. Some of the neurological treatments Yellowbrick draws on are still being research-tested; it complements them with yoga and meditation, massage, dramatic role-play, and art therapy. Yellowbrick describes its emerging adult patients as "troubled." It treats, among other things, mood and anxiety disorders, PTSD, psychosis, avoidant personalities, substance abuse, eating disorders, and "failure to launch." Like other forward-looking residential facilities of its kind, it rarely issues a single diagnosis, preferring to treat patients for a handful of behaviors at a time. Patients live in a building of four communal apartments ("the Res") on a quiet suburban street in Evanston, 14 miles north of Chicago. Every day they travel by car or foot the half mile downtown to Yellowbrick's treatment center, a labyrinth of rooms with dark wood desks and soft carpeting, which mutes patient's clatter as they migrate between sessions. For most of the day, five days a week, they receive treatment, they sit in small rooms with therapists, they debrief, they gossip, they repeat. Again, the inescapable conclusion is that Yellowbrick is a con job. For one thing, it's clearly reliant on unproven pseudoscience. "They call it a center for clinical neuroscience, as if this is [all] scientifically founded," Carrie Bearden, a brain science expert, told Osberg. Unsurprisingly the treatment doesn't seem to work very well. Relapses are common. One former admitted to Osberg that there's no model success story. "I don't know anyone who went to Yellowbrick who's like, 'I'm doing awesome!'" the patient said. Nevertheless, the patient was grateful to Yellowbrick for helping her to realize that her pa[...]

This Republican Florida Prosecutor Wants to Start the State’s First Conviction Integrity Unit


Incoming Florida state attorney Melissa Nelson is inheriting some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, they happen to be clown shoes, and she would prefer something a bit more professional. A former assistant state attorney for 12 years before she moved to private practice, Nelson won the race for Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney after demolishing her opponent, incumbent two-term state attorney Angela Corey, by 64 to 26 percent in the GOP primary earlier this year. Corey has been called, among other things, "the cruelest prosecutor in America" and "one of the most reviled prosecutors in Florida." Corey was most notable for prosecuting—and failing to convict—George Zimmerman. She also sent a woman to prison for 20 years who fired two warning shots to deter her allegedly abusive husband and charged a 12-year-old as an adult for first-degree murder. In addition, Corey was notoriously thin-skinned and had a habit of calling her many critics to threaten them, including the Florida Times-Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and professors at Florida State University and Harvard Law School. Corey was one of a number of controversial prosecutors that was booted out of office in November. Nelson, speaking at a forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C. hosted by the U.S. Justice Action Network, a criminal justice advocacy group, said her victory was part of that wave of backlash from voters. "I don't care if its a box of six jurors or twelve jurors or an electorate of thousands, people crave fair outcomes," Nelson said. "We learn it on the ball field when we're kids. People want to know that the system is fair, and that was the common denominator. This election wasn't about me. I was a tool. This was my community's repudiation of a system and an office they felt was imbalanced and no longer fair, that had lost its way." To restore the public trust, Nelson says she wants to increase the diversity of lawyers in her office, create better diversion programs for juveniles, change the way prosecutors handle potential death penalty cases, and create Florida's first conviction integrity unit—a special team of prosecutors that reviews cases looking for wrongful convictions. It's a fairly remarkable agenda for a Republican, NRA-endorsed prosecutor whose constituents include two of the most conservative counties in the U.S. After the forum, Reason caught up with Nelson to ask about her plans as she prepares to enter office on Jan. 3. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. REASON: You talked a lot about the way things were done under your predecessor. What's your plan going forward, and how do you hope to change that? NELSON: One of the things I didn't talk about that matters is the metrics of success. How do we reward prosecutors? What do we teach them is good? I met with The Innocence Project on Friday, actually. We're trying to put together a conviction integrity unit, which would be the first in Florida if I can do it. I'm very excited about the prospects. One of the things [The Innocence Project] shared with me that I loved is the idea of rewarding young prosecutors for doing justice. They told me an example of a prosecutor dropping a case. He understood that, because he had so much leverage, he could likely have obtained a plea, but he didn't think it was the right thing to do, so he dropped the case. He was called in, and he thought he was going to be fired. The D.A. actually acknowledged him in front of the whole office. Instead of the metric being how many cases you try, how many convictions you obtain, how many people you put in prison, the idea is: Did you do the right thing? I wan[...]

Obama’s Outgoing Attitude on War and Terrorism: Do as He Says, Not as He Did


It looks like President Barack Obama will be leaving office the same way he arrived: overestimating his actual commitment to rule of law and government transparency. That's one takeaway from the president's counterterrorism speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Florida, yesterday. As is typical of an Obama speech, particularly one coming as his administration winds down, it's heavy on summarizing his successes and calling on actions from Congress, yet flat out either refuses to acknowledge or is quick to justify his misuses of power. Obama raised the issue of America's rule of law, clearly an attempt to pre-critique the incoming Donald Trump administration, given its apparent lack of interest in civil liberties. On the same day Obama gave his speech, one of the CIA psychologists responsible for the use of waterboarding as an interrogation tool defended coercive techniques when speaking at the American Enterprise Institute and encouraged Trump to consider harsher methods. But getting back to Obama, here's what he said on upholding the rule of law: [W]e need the wisdom to see that upholding our values and adhering to the rule of law is not a weakness; in the long term, it is our greatest strength. The whole objective of these terrorists is to scare us into changing the nature of who we are and our democracy. And the fact is, people and nations do not make good decisions when they are driven by fear. These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon. And I always remind myself that as Commander-in-Chief, I must protect our people, but I also swore an oath to defend our Constitution. And over these last eight years, we have demonstrated that staying true to our traditions as a nation of laws advances our security as well as our values. Reminder: This is a president who has developed a complex system by which he executes suspected terrorists in countries where America is not legally involved in a war through the use of drone strikes in a system that is both deliberately secretive but also not subject to review by the judicial branch. The Department of Justice under Obama has, in fact, used claims of national security to try to keep judges from even being able to hear cases connected to the constitutionality of some of its practices. Furthermore, this is a president who oversaw military intervention in Libya without authorization by Congress. And in this very speech he calls on Congress to use its authority to determine whether to allow for military force, an absurd incongruity Tim Carney makes note of in the Washington Examiner. Obama calls for an updated Authorized Use of Force (the Congressional authorization for warmaking) but stubbornly clings to an insistence that everything he's been doing is already authorized. It's a muddled argument. Either the president's military actions have been legal and a new authorization isn't needed, or the president's military actions have not been legal (in which case he should stop). He even recently added, via executive declaration, a terrorist group in Somalia that didn't even exist at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks to the list of authorized targets. Here's what the president had to say about his administration's transparency: Transparency and accountability serve our national security not just in times of peace, but, more importantly, in times of conflict. And that's why we've made public information about which terrorist organizations we're fighting and why we're fighting them. We've released assessments of non-combatant[...]

Maine Marijuana Opponents Can’t Get Enough Volunteers for Legalization Recount


(image) Opponents of the Maine referendum to legalize marijuana, which passed by a margin of 4,073 votes, or half a percent, have been unable to muster together the 10 volunteers they were asked to contribute to a recount effort they've demanded.

The Portland Press Herald reports that No on 1, which requested a recount, has not offered a full list of volunteer counters to authorities—instead, proponents of marijuana legalization (Yes on 1), have offered additional volunteers for the recount process in order to prevent delays. The recount will continue until December 16, then resume on January 1 after the holidays. Legalization is supposed to go into effect in January, although it's unclear when, and it will take at least one more year for the state to set up the regulatory structure it wants to impose on the marijuana industry in the state.

Yes on 1's campaign manager noted that it was "silly" that his side had to offer its own volunteers in lieu of their opponents, who requested the recount. "The whole point is to ensure the integrity of the vote and they can't be bothered to do that," David Boyer said, according to the Press Herald. "What are we doing here?"

It's not so surprising that opponents of marijuana legalization would request a recount and then not offer help to accomplish it. One hallmark of the nanny stater is the belief that someone else should be responsible for their desires. The recount is expected to cost nearly half a million dollars and, according to Boyer, the recounts completed so far haven't significantly changed the totals—the state will not release recount numbers until the counting is finished.

Trump and McAuliffe Share a Lot: New at Reason


(image) Donald Trump an Terry McAuliffe have more in common than they'd probably like to admit.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Last week Trump jawboned air-conditioner maker Carrier into reversing a plan to move jobs to Mexico. The deal gives Carrier $7 million in state tax breaks.

Trump also has warned companies thinking about offshoring that they will face steep tariffs if they try to ship goods to the U.S. (No word on what threats Trump might have made regarding the cancellation of Defense Department contracts with Carrier's parent company.) And he has dangled "incentives" to convince Apple to start making iPhones in the U.S.

This is nothing new. In fact, it's how Trump has run his own business. As a New York Times investigation reported in September, Trump "used his father's, and, later, his own, extensive political connections, and relied on a huge amount of assistance from the government and taxpayers in the form of tax breaks, grants and incentives to benefit the 15 buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire."

Trump also once tried to use eminent domain to take a widow's home so he could bulldoze it and use the land for limousine parking. Because he's such a friend of the little guy, you see.

McAuliffe has not gone that far. But McAuliffe—another deal-maker—also sees politics as just another side of business. When he put his electric-car company, GreenTech Automotive, in Mississippi rather than Virginia, he said he did so because "I have to go where, obviously, they're going to put incentives."

View this article.

Trump and McAuliffe Share a Lot


Republicans Corey Stewart, who is running for governor of Virginia, and Del. Glenn Davis Jr., who is running for lieutenant governor, are both positioning themselves as apostles of Donald Trump. Yet in some ways the president-elect's closest Virginia analog is a Democrat: Gov. Terry McAuliffe. True, McAuliffe wouldn't say so. When he looks in the mirror, Trump is probably the last thing he sees. Trump has slammed the governor for restoring felons' voting rights and alleged (incorrectly) that McAuliffe funnelled money to the FBI official investigating Hillary Clinton's emails. In turn, McAuliffe has excoriated Trump's outreach to African-Americans and laughed at his claims of voter fraud. And then there's the minor matter of Trump beating McAuliffe's good friend Hillary in the election. You might say the two men have their differences. But they also have their similarities. Last week Trump jawboned air-conditioner maker Carrier into reversing a plan to move jobs to Mexico. The deal gives Carrier $7 million in state tax breaks. Trump also has warned companies thinking about offshoring that they will face steep tariffs if they try to ship goods to the U.S. (No word on what threats Trump might have made regarding the cancellation of Defense Department contracts with Carrier's parent company.) And he has dangled "incentives" to convince Apple to start making iPhones in the U.S. This is nothing new. In fact, it's how Trump has run his own business. As a New York Times investigation reported in September, Trump "used his father's, and, later, his own, extensive political connections, and relied on a huge amount of assistance from the government and taxpayers in the form of tax breaks, grants and incentives to benefit the 15 buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire." Trump also once tried to use eminent domain to take a widow's home so he could bulldoze it and use the land for limousine parking. Because he's such a friend of the little guy, you see. McAuliffe has not gone that far. But McAuliffe—another deal-maker—also sees politics as just another side of business. When he put his electric-car company, GreenTech Automotive, in Mississippi rather than Virginia, he said he did so because "I have to go where, obviously, they're going to put incentives." Mississippi loaned GreenTech $5 million, and McAuliffe has been chummy with Republican Haley Barbour, who was governor of Mississippi until not long before GreenTech's production launch. GreenTech also tried to raise funds from Chinese investors by using a special immigration visa, called EB-5, eligible to foreigners who sink money into U.S. projects. The spearhead for that effort was Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother. A federal investigation later found McAuliffe got special treatment from an official at the Department of Homeland Security. As governor, McAuliffe has continued his enthusiasm for the political allocation of economic resources. He approved $7 million in incentive grants to bring German grocer Lidl to Virginia. He approved a $5 million grant to lure a Chinese paper company to Chesterfield. He approved another $4 million for a Dollar Tree expansion in Chesapeake. Last year the McAuliffe administration ladled out $1.15 million to convince Hardywood Park Craft Brewery it should stay in central Virginia rather than build a new production facility in North Carolina—a nearly perfect analog to Trump's Carrier deal. And the governor gave $5 million to Stone Brewing for its brewery and restaurant in Richmond. To be fair, McA[...]

Ohio Lawmakers Vote to Ban Abortion Just a Few Weeks Post-Conception


A measure that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—that's around three- to four- weeks post-conception—has managed to pass both houses of the Ohio legislature, despite the fact that federal courts have struck down all similar bans as unconstitutional. The measure, which cleared the Senate Tuesday as a last-minute addition to a larger bill concerning state child-abuse laws, states that "except when there is a medical emergency or medical necessity," Ohio doctors shall not perform abortions "if it has been determined that the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying has a detectable fetal heartbeat." Detection of a fetal heartbeat is "a milestone with no meaning to the federal laws governing abortion," as Molly Redden noted back in 2013, when Arkansas and North Dakota first passed heartbeat-based abortion bans. But "the people who support these laws dream that they will provide a legal basis for overturning Roe v. Wade," in which the U.S. Supreme Court said states cannot ban abortion before a fetus could live on its own outside of the womb. Generally, a fetal heartbeat can be detected at a "gestational age" of around six weeks. But gestational age is calculated from the first day of a pregnant woman's last menstrual period, and doesn't actually refer to the number of weeks a zygote or fetus has existed. A gestational age of six weeks means it's been some three to four weeks since an egg was fertilized. In effect, a measure like the one Ohio approved would ban abortion at a point in pregnancy when many women don't even realize they're pregnant yet, and long before common chromosomal and developmental abnormalities can be detected. And even if a pregnant woman takes a test exactly 28 days after the start of her last period, that leaves her with just about two weeks to come to a decision about the pregnancy and then obtain the money for, schedule, and obtain an abortion (all while circumventing Ohio's various waiting periods), in a state where many women live hours from the nearest abortion clinic. This could put the heartbeat bill at odds with not just Roe but the more recent Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That case upheld the idea "that the Constitution protects a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in its early stages," but presented a new standard for analyzing whether restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional: did they pose an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion. Even if a fetus could somehow be declared viable at around a month old, presenting women with a mere one or two week window to terminate a pregnancy would seem to fail the undue burden test. Many prominent anti-abortion advocates have opposed measures like Ohio's heartbeat bill, recognizing that they "have no chance in the courts," as Paul Linton, longtime general counsel for Americans United for Life, has said. State and federal courts have struck down such measures from Arkansas and North Dakota, with North Dakota's bill going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January, the Court upheld a lower court's ruling striking down the measure. But that was before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the election of Donald Trump. A future Supreme Court could perhaps rule differently. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said repeatedly that previous versions of the heartbeat bill weren't worth passing because they would be struck down as unconstitutional, but "Trump's election changed the dynamic," he said. It's unclear whether Ohio Gov. John Kas[...]

Trump's Problem With Free Speech: New at Reason


(image) As Trump's constitutionally contemptuous comments about flag burning illustrate, he supports free speech the same way he supports free trade: with preferential exceptions designed to protect the people he cares about most. Trump thinks "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag," notwithstanding two Supreme Court decisions saying such expressive activity is protected by the First Amendment. Both rulings were joined by Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Trump says he wants to replace with someone similar.

Trump's call for jailing flag burners or stripping them of their citizenship may sound like knee-jerk patriotism, writes Jacob Sullum. But in light of the fact that anti-Trump protesters in several cities burned flags after his election, attributing his position to mindless jingoism probably gives him too much credit. Remember, Trump has a long, astonishingly petty history of using the legal system to punish people who offend him.

View this article.

FBI Investigates Journalist Over Joke Tweet, Ohio Passes 'Heartbeat Bill,' Trump Named Time Person of the Year: A.M. Links


  • (image) Donald Trump was named Time magazine's Person of the Year.
  • Both houses of the Ohio legislature have approved a measure that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which occurs about three weeks post conception.
  • Angela Merkel endorsed a prohibition on full-faced veils in Germany "wherever it is legally possible."
  • "Even a cursory investigation or application of common sense would have shown my tweet to be a joke," writes Nick Baumann, a Huffington Post journalist being investigated by the FBI over a joke tweet.
  • A new Bloomberg Politics poll finds 69 percent of Americans are fine with Trump's stated plan to turn his businesses over to his children while he serves as president.
  • Scientists at the University of Vienna say that the frequency of Cesarean-section births is having an impact on human evolution by letting more women with narrow pelvises live.
  • Julian Assange published statements he gave to Ecuadoran prosecutors regarding rape allegations in Sweden.
  • "Aside from not actually being a country," Liberland— the liberty-loving utopia project on the banks of the Danube—"is also beginning to seem not all that free," writes Morgan Childs in GQ.

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Philippine President Says Trump Supports His Murderous Antidrug Campaign


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte claims Donald Trump endorsed his bloody war on drugs, which has killed thousands of people since Duterte took office last summer, in a telephone conversation on Saturday. Duterte's account of the call has not been confirmed by Trump's transition team, but it is both plausible and alarming. "He was quite our worry about drugs," Duterte said. "He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way....He was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem. He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there's nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country." Given Trump's "law and order" rhetoric, admiration for strongmen, and simpleminded approach to drug policy, I have little trouble believing that he said something like that to Duterte, but I hope he did so without understanding what the latter's "campaign against the drug problem" actually entails, which is also sadly plausible given the president-elect's disdain for detailed knowledge and expert advice. But the signal of approval that Duterte perceived is disturbing in any case, since it reinforces his belief that suppressing drug use is important enough to justify indiscriminate extrajudicial killings. Duterte, who campaigned on a promise to "kill them all" and fill Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals, does not recognize a distinction between suspects and convicts, between predatory and consensual offenses, or even between drug dealers and drug users, both of which he says should be wiped out. "These sons of whores are destroying our children," he told a crowd in a poor neighborhood of Manila after taking office. "I warn you, don't go into that, even if you're a policeman, because I will really kill you…If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful." In September he likened himself to Hitler, telling reporters "there are 3 million drug addicts" in the Philippines, and "I'd be happy to slaughter them." Duterte has encouraged police to shoot first and ask questions later, promising pardons for cops accused of using excessive force against suspected drug dealers. Duterte, like Trump, is prone to rhetorical excess, but his words have had deadly consequences. According to the Philippine National Police, more than 5,800 people have been killed in connection with Duterte's war on drugs since he took office on July 1. The government says more than 2,000 were "suspected drug personalities killed in police operations," while more than 3,800 died in "extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings." Duterte's bloodthirsty antidrug campaign has been condemned by human rights groups, the Obama administration, the United Nations, and the European Union. He has responded with insults and death threats. Did Trump consider all of this and nevertheless pat Duterte on the shoulder? "It sounds like Donald Trump just gave a green light to murder," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "By effectively giving his blessing to Duterte's murderous campaign, the president-elect has signaled to foreign leaders his disregard for both due process of law and human rights—and [...]

Brickbat: Don't Be a Doormat


(image) Ashley Tofte and Jade Bunce came home to their council-owned home in England to find their doormat missing and a note from the Dacorum Borough Council saying it had been removed because the council has a "legal duty to keep areas clear of hazards and combustible materials." The note demanded £40 for the return of the doormat. The couple thought it was a joke. But after calling council offices they found out it wasn't.

Trump's Problem With Free Speech


Last week Donald Trump had a nice telephone chat with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocrat who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, two years before it broke away from the Soviet Union. According to the Kazakh government, the president-elect "stressed that under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, our country over the years of independence had achieved fantastic success that can be called a 'miracle.'" One aspect of the Kazakh miracle that Trump surely admires is Nazarbayev's ability to make criticism (and critics) disappear. As Trump's constitutionally contemptuous comments about flag burning illustrate, he supports free speech the same way he supports free trade: with preferential exceptions designed to protect the people he cares about most. Trump thinks "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag," notwithstanding two Supreme Court decisions saying such expressive activity is protected by the First Amendment. Both rulings were joined by Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Trump says he wants to replace with someone similar. Trump's call for jailing flag burners or stripping them of their citizenship may sound like the sort of knee-jerk patriotism that elevates a piece of cloth above the principles it represents. But in light of the fact that anti-Trump protesters in several cities burned flags after his election, attributing his position to mindless jingoism probably gives him too much credit. Trump has a long, astonishingly petty history of using the legal system to punish people who offend him. In 1984, for instance, he sued Chicago Tribune architecture critic Paul Gapp for calling a Manhattan skyscraper proposed by Trump "aesthetically lousy" and "one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city." The thin-skinned developer demanded $500 million in compensation for those insults, which seemed like a lot until he sought 10 times as much—$5 billion—in a 2006 lawsuit against Tim O'Brien, a financial journalist who had dared suggest that Trump was not worth as much as he claimed. Although Trump lost both of those cases, he recently told The Washington Post he got what he wanted from his suit against O'Brien: "I did it to make his life miserable, which I'm happy about." Trump nevertheless thinks it should be easier for him to win lawsuits against people who say things he does not like. "We're going to open up those libel laws," he promised at a rally in February, "so when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post…writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected." The president actually has nothing to do with writing libel law, which is done at the state level and is any case constrained by the First Amendment—the source of the protection that frustrates Trump. His buddy Nursultan Nazarbayev has no such problem. In Kazakhstan, the State Department notes, libel is a crime as well as a tort, defendants are required to prove the accuracy of any challenged statement, and "the law provides enhanced penalties for libel against senior government officials," who use the threat of defamation claims "to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information." Another aspect of Kazakh law that should appeal to the notoriously sensitive and secretive Trump: "The law prohibits[...]

NPR Does Alex Jones


All Things Considered's David Folkenflik did a report today on the conspiracy-chasing talk-show host Alex Jones. Because I wrote a book about conspiracy theories, I was one of the people Folkenflik interviewed. You can listen to it here:

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Folkenflik's story leads with last weekend's PizzaGate shooting, in which an Alex Jones fan fired a rifle in a D.C. pizza joint because he believed child sex slaves were being held there. But Folkenflik interviewed me on Friday—two days before the incident—so I didn't say anything about that. Instead I'm quoted on the general contours of Jones' worldview. The written version of the report extends my cameo a little longer than it lasts on the radio, adding a line that contrasts my thoughts on Jones' politics with the Southern Poverty Law Center's views on the topic.

When I was chatting with Folkenflik, I mentioned that if I ever write a profile of Jones, the two people I'd most want to interview for it are the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Mike Judge. Linklater put Jones in his 2001 movie Waking Life, and it's a rather interesting scene to watch now that Jones has attracted national notoriety. Jones is generally understood as a "right-wing" guy, and I understand why that's so. (He certainly isn't a leftist.) But he slips easily into the Phildickian film's countercultural worldview, condemning "dehumanization," "classism," "systems of control," and "this corporate slave state" as he drives through a dreamscape:

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And Judge? Jones conducted a chummy interview with the Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator back in 2013. It's a pretty fascinating conversation, especially when the talk turns to Dale Gribble, King of the Hill's resident conspiracy theorist. Dale, Judge chuckles, "probably gives you guys a bad name":

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It's not easy to imagine, say, Rush Limbaugh delivering the rant in the first video or the interview in the second. Any accounting of Alex Jones' worldview—and of the place he occupies in our cultural terrain—needs to consider the question of what people like Linklater and Judge see in the man, and vice versa.

Obligatory advertisement: As I said at the top, I wrote a book about conspiracy stories. It's called The United States of Paranoia, and if you find this stuff interesting you may find the book interesting too. But I should probably note upfront that it mentions Jones just once, and only fleetingly at that.

Rolling Stone Fighting UVA Trial Decision, Stop Giving Milo Yiannopoulos Exactly What He Wants, Donate to Reason: P.M. Links


  • (image) Another university student body wants to stop Milo Yiannopoulos from coming to campus, which is of course exactly what he wants. Milo's enemies are their own worst enemy.
  • Rolling Stone has asked the judge to overrule the jury so it doesn't have to pay University of Virginia's Nicole Eramo the $3 million she's owed.
  • Rush Limbaugh starts selling his audience on Trump's potential infrastructure stimulus.
  • Steven Pinker: don't panic just because Trump won.
  • Rogue electors think they can stop Trump.
  • Harvard University's cross-country team is in trouble because of remarks made by a previous iteration of the team.
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Airbnb Drops Lawsuit Against New York's Anti-Free-Speech Homesharing Law


Short-term rental service Airbnb has pulled out of a lawsuit challenging New York City's ban on advertising such rentals online. In exchange for getting the company to drop the lawsuit, New York City agreed that it would not use the enforcement mechanisms—including the threat of fines of up to $7,500 for each listing—to target Airbnb and would only enforce the law against individual users. Since its passage in October, the law has drawn criticism for being a potential violation of the First Amendment since it bans a certain form of speech. "We look forward to using this as a basis to finding an approach that protects responsible New Yorkers while cracking down on illegal hotels that remove permanent housing off the market or create unsafe spaces," said Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Airbnb, in a statement to Reason. With the lawsuit resolved, it would seem New York's anti-Airbnb advertising law will remain in place. Even if there are no other legal challenges to the law, it's still not clear what this means for New York residents who use Airbnb or similar room-sharing services. We'll know more on December 19, when the city plans to hold a public hearing to discuss enforcement of the law. So far, the city has said it will focus enforcement efforts on people who are running illegal hotels—those who are buying up space for the sole purpose of renting it through online platforms like Airbnb—rather than sharing their space. Renting out apartments for fewer than 30 days and running a hotel without getting the proper permits from the city government were already illegal in New York before the new law was passed. The big policy change is the ability of the city to impose fines on anyone who even advertises their space for a short-term rental. "It provides the city with an additional tool to use against those seeking to turn permanent homes into illegal, short-term stay hotels," said Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement about the settlement. "The city will enforce this and other existing laws against bad actors." In a parallel effort to shut down those so-called illegal hotels, Airbnb implemented a "One Host, One Home" policy in New York City that says the website's users can make only their own homes or apartments available for renting. According internal Airbnb data that the company shared with Reason, 96 percent of entire-home hosts in New York City have just a single listing on the website, an indication that they are not running what the city would define as an illegal hotel. In addition to targeting illegal hotels, the city originally justified the strict anti-Airbnb regulations by blaming the relatively new phenomenon of room-sharing for New York's decades-old affordable housing problems. Airbnb's decision to drop the lawsuit does not make New York's short-term rental policy any better. The company got what it apparently wanted—a promise that it won't be held liable for violating the advertising ban—and hopefully the city will extend the same promise to law abiding residents who are offering their space for rent online. Still, there's no guarantee that will happen and, worse, other states and localities looking to restrict homesharing could be encouraged to copy New York's anti-free-speech policy. [...]

How Long Before This Tool to Censor Images from Terrorists Gets Misused?


Four major tech and social media companies—Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Facebook—are combining to censor the internet! But they're doing it for a good cause (and because of government pressure), they say. We're going to have to see what actually comes of it. The four companies announced that they're working together on a tool that will help them prevent imagery or content produced by terrorists from spreading online. Google in Europe explains: Starting today, we commit to the creation of a shared industry database of "hashes" — unique digital "fingerprints" — for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services. By sharing this information with each other, we may use the shared hashes to help identify potential terrorist content on our respective hosted consumer platforms. We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online. Our companies will begin sharing hashes of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services — content most likely to violate all of our respective companies' content policies. Participating companies can add hashes of terrorist images or videos that are identified on one of our platforms to the database. Other participating companies can then use those hashes to identify such content on their services, review against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate. As we continue to collaborate and share best practices, each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database. No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed. Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances. As part of this collaboration, we will all focus on how to involve additional companies in the future. To start with the obvious response: There's nothing inherently wrong or inappropriate about the companies working together and censoring violent content or declining to host it on their platforms. Ultimately, though, how this tool gets used is what matters. Once a tool can be used to censor, en masse, a violent photo from some terrorist of the Islamic State, that tool can be used to censor anything in similar broad strokes. Recall that Facebook recently had an odd little controversy when it temporarily censored a well-known, historically significant photo from the Vietnam War because it contained nudity. Leaders in European countries, where they don't have nearly the level of commitment to free speech when people say things that those in power deem to be bigotry or hate speech, are pushing social media platforms to engage in wider forms of censorship of content. As Andrea O'Sullivan noted earlier today, social media companies are beginning to embrace a "gatekeeper" men[...]