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Updated: 2017-09-25T00:00:00-04:00

 



Human-Trafficking Arrests Are Very Rare in Most States

2017-09-25T11:10:00-04:00

Human trafficking arrests are almost nonexistent in most states, according the FBI's newly released U.S. crime statistics for 2016. Part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) project, the new data on sex and labor trafficking shows that arrests for either offense are rare and that many suspected incidents of trafficking did not ultimately yield results. For instance, Florida reported 105 investigations into human-trafficking offenses in 2016 but zero human trafficking arrests last year. Nevada worked on 140 human-trafficking investigations but made only 40 arrests on trafficking charges. Louisiana looked into 123 potential cases of human trafficking but only arrested 16 people for it. Note that this does not mean "human trafficking" suspects in these cases avoided all charges. They may have still been prosecuted for prostitution or something else—many old-fashioned vice stings start off as "human trafficking investigations" these days. But this report only includes arrests recorded by state and local law enforcement on human trafficking charges, which allows us to look beyond police propaganda about what they're doing and see what it is they're actually doing. Overall, the data do little to support the idea that the U.S. is experiencing unprecedented levels of labor and sex trafficking or that we are in the midst of some sort of "modern slavery" epidemic. This is probably why you don't see UCR trafficking statistics quoted in congressional reports, "awareness" materials, or law enforcement statements to the media on the topic. Instead, you'll see National Human Trafficking Hotline numbers—It's gotten hundreds of thousands of calls since its launch! The number of "cases reported" is skyrocketing each year!—without anyone mentioning that "cases" here means any call, text, or message to the hotline that isn't an immediate hang-up (many "cases" are simple requests for more information, and even those with "tips" about trafficking are entirely unconfirmed). Meanwhile, the year-over-year increase in calls directly coincides to a spike in new state laws that require the hotline number to be posted all over the place. This year, 26 states submitted data on their human trafficking investigations and arrests for 2016. Between them, there were 56 juveniles and 916 adults arrested on human-trafficking charges. For comparison, 9,374 people were arrested for murder last year in the U.S., 18,606 were arrested for rape, 304,626 were arrested for aggravated assault, 7,767 were arrested for arson, 101,301 were arrested for fraud, and 2,905 for illegal gambling. More than 30,300 people were arrested for "prostitution and commercialized vice" (a category that is separate from illegal gambling or drugs). And 40,292 people were arrested for sex offenses that were not prostitution or rape. In total, UCR data shows 89,220 suspected sex-offenders were arrested last year, of which 881—about 1 percent—were suspected of sex trafficking. While two states—Minnesota and Texas—made more than 100 human-trafficking arrests apiece, most states reported just a few, if any at all. (It's also important to remember that these are arrest numbers, not the number of cases that went on to prosecution and/or yielded an actual conviction.) In Alaska, three adult men were arrested for alleged sex trafficking last year. Indiana, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island each reported two adult arrests on sex-trafficking charges; Arkansas, California, Michigan, Montana, and North Dakota each had one. None of these states reported any labor trafficking arrests. Meanwhile, Arizona and Connecticut each reported zero sex-trafficking arrests, with 34 in Arizona and 14 in Connecticut arrested on labor-trafficking charges. Even some states routinely positioned as bastions of vice served up relatively few human-trafficking arrests: Nevada reported 32 adults and one minor arrested on sex-trafficking charges last year, plus seven labor-trafficking arrests. Washington state made no sex-trafficking arrests and arrested four minors on labor-trafficking charges. In[...]



White House Expands Travel Ban, Trump vs. the NFL, Merkel Wins in Germany: A.M. Links

2017-09-25T09:00:00-04:00

  • (image) The White House announced an expanded travel ban that includes three additional countries—North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela.
  • President Trump spent the weekend saying NFL players who kneel during the anthem should be fired, leading players across the league to kneel at this week's games.
  • Jared Kushner reportedly used a private e-mail account to conduct some White House business.
  • The FBI is launching a civil rights investigation into a church shooting in Tennessee, where one person was killed before the gunman was shot by a congregant.
  • Angela Merkel emerged victorious in elections in Germany, although she will have to form a coalition with two other parties, while Alternative for Germany will become the first nationalist party in parliament since the Nazis.
  • Nearly 50,000 people in Indonesia have fled their homes over fears of an imminent volcano eruption.
  • Spanish authorities are trying to take control of the regional police in Catalonia ahead of an independence referendum they insist is illegal.
  • Labor unions in France are blocking fuel depots to protest employment law reforms.



Wearing a Mask in Public Shouldn't Be a Crime: New at Reason

2017-09-25T07:30:00-04:00

(image) In a free society, the default position should be the one that upholds individual liberty, not what makes police work easier.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Last weekend's demonstrations on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. didn't descend into rioting and mayhem, for which we can all be thankful. Only seven people were arrested—and four of them shouldn't have been.

Three of them are students at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the fourth is a former student. They were on hand to protest the neo-Confederates who had come to town, and were arrested for wearing masks in public. One wore a bandanna over her face; the others wore Halloween masks. In Virginia, wearing a mask or hood to conceal your identity is a felony.

In one of those amusing coincidences of which the universe seems so fond, their trials have been set for Oct. 31—Halloween. In another amusing coincidence, the law they are accused of breaking was passed in 1952, in an effort to stymie the KKK's effort to start a chapter in Richmond.

Actually, that is neither amusing nor a coincidence. Laws passed for the sake of protecting racial minorities or limiting the power of the majority often wind up being used for precisely the opposite purpose.

View this article.




Wearing a Mask in Public Shouldn't Be a Crime

2017-09-25T07:20:00-04:00

Last weekend's demonstrations on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. didn't descend into rioting and mayhem, for which we can all be thankful. Only seven people were arrested—and four of them shouldn't have been. Three of them are students at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the fourth is a former student. They were on hand to protest the neo-Confederates who had come to town, and were arrested for wearing masks in public. One wore a bandanna over her face; the others wore Halloween masks. In Virginia, wearing a mask or hood to conceal your identity is a felony. In one of those amusing coincidences of which the universe seems so fond, their trials have been set for Oct. 31—Halloween. In another amusing coincidence, the law they are accused of breaking was passed in 1952, in an effort to stymie the KKK's effort to start a chapter in Richmond. Actually, that is neither amusing nor a coincidence. Laws passed for the sake of protecting racial minorities or limiting the power of the majority often wind up being used for precisely the opposite purpose. In April, for instance, two women were charged with a hate crime after they burned a sign supporting Donald Trump. Louisiana's "blue lives matter" law forbidding hate crimes against police officers has been interpreted to mean resisting arrest is a hate crime. Hate-speech laws have been used to shut down government critics in Kenya and punish anti-Israel activists in France, among many other examples. As Glenn Greenwald wrote recently in The Intercept, "This is how hate speech laws are used in virtually every country in which they exist: not only to punish the types of right-wing bigotry that many advocates believe will be suppressed, but also a wide range of views that many on the left believe should be permissible, if not outright accepted... Ultimately, what constitutes 'hate speech' will be decided by majorities, which means that it is minority views that are vulnerable to suppression." But the law against wearing masks in public is not a bad law because (or only because) it might affect college students protesting racism in addition to white supremacists trying to sustain it. It is a bad law because it infringes on individual freedom without justification. To begin with, some people have legitimate grounds for wanting to conceal their identity in public. Just ask the many officers of the Virginia State Police who covered up their name tags while working last Saturday's protests. Like Carolyn Hill, the student who was arrested for wearing a bandanna, they did not want internet trolls tracking them down online and harassing them. Second, people have other reasons for covering their faces in public. A political activist might wear a mask of Guy Fawkes or Nancy Pelosi to make a political point. That's free speech, protected by the First Amendment. Muslim women often wear a niqab out of modesty. That's religious freedom, protected by the First Amendment. People with weakened immune systems sometimes wear masks to protect them from infection. And of course, there's Halloween. We could carve out exceptions for people in those circumstances—and the current statute does make medical and holiday exceptions—but why should we? Why should prohibition be the default position? In a free society, the default position should be the one that upholds individual liberty—and government should need a good reason to carve out an exception. After all, in 99 cases out of 100 a mask doesn't hurt anybody. The law should not prohibit things that do nobody any harm. But what about the hundredth case? Easy. There's no blanket prohibition against using a firearm, but the law imposes additional penalties for using a firearm in the commission of a felony. We could treat masks the same way. True, sometimes cases might arise in which mask-wearing makes work harder for the police. If the police have surveillance video of a riot, for instance, identifying the culprits is easier if none of them is wearing a[...]



Brickbat: Behind the Times

2017-09-25T04:00:00-04:00

(image) The United Kingdom's National Health Service uses 10 percent of all the world's remaining pagers. It uses 130,000 of the devices at an annual cost of 6.6 million pounds ($8.9 million).




Self-Driving Cars Are Cool, but They're Not for Everyone: New at Reason

2017-09-24T08:30:00-04:00

(image) "I expect human driving to become illegal in the next 25–35 years in developed countries," insisted Rice University's Moshe Vardi in the course of plugging self-driving cars during a 2016 Reddit question-and-answer session. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sounded a similar note at a 2015 developers' conference, saying, "You can't have a person driving a two-ton death machine." It's an interesting perspective from a man who runs a company that manufactures such devices.

Once upon a time, mass transit was the technocrat's preferred method for prying people out of their wasteful, dangerous cars. If only we could subsidize the right combination of buses, trolleys, jitneys, light rail, monorail, and bullet trains—the thinking went—all our problems would be solved. To save the planet, "public transportation should be favored over private automobiles, and the cars heavily taxed," wrote Hugh McDonald of New York City College of Technology in a 2014 book on environmental philosophy. That view is shared by a number of other scholars and policy makers who hope to eliminate traffic deaths, largely by getting rid of cars.

But now there's a new kid on the block: self-driving cars. The trouble is that neither of these approaches takes into account the reality that almost 20 percent of the population of the United States live in the low-population rural areas that make up the majority of the country's land mass, and they're not about to trade in the F-150 for a newfangled robot chariot, writes J.D. Tuccille.

View this article.




There's Nothing Funny About Trump's Troubling Policing Edicts: New at Reason

2017-09-24T08:00:00-04:00

(image) Trump, who today called for a boycott of the NFL to punish players who don't stand for the National Anthem in protest of police abuse, has been sending a message that law enforcement has more latitude now to bend and break the rules.

Steven Greenhut writes:

During a July speech to police in Long Island, Donald Trump joked that when officers "put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head" that "you can take the hand away, okay?"

Many of the cops laughed approvingly, but civil liberties groups—and even some law-enforcement officials—were upset that the president made light of police brutality, especially given some troubling nationally publicized incidents.

Trump's defenders argued that he was only joking about the treatment of killers, and that the rest of us need to lighten up. Didn't Ronald Reagan joke about bombing Russia as he prepared for a radio address? Well, yes. But those arguments aren't persuasive given that the administration's actual policing policies seem likely to encourage abusive police behavior in a variety of ways.

Even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seems to understand that point. Last Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly approved amendments to a spending bill that try to limit the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to let police officers expand the use of a policy known as "civil asset forfeiture." Some forms of forfeiture have been around for centuries, but it really ramped up in the early days of the drug war, with policies designed to let police grab property and proceeds from major drug enterprises.

View this article.




There's Nothing Funny About Trump's Troubling Policing Edicts

2017-09-24T08:00:00-04:00

During a July speech to police in Long Island, Donald Trump joked that when officers "put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head" that "you can take the hand away, okay?" Many of the cops laughed approvingly, but civil liberties groups—and even some law-enforcement officials—were upset that the president made light of police brutality, especially given some troubling nationally publicized incidents. Trump's defenders argued that he was only joking about the treatment of killers, and that the rest of us need to lighten up. Didn't Ronald Reagan joke about bombing Russia as he prepared for a radio address? Well, yes. But those arguments aren't persuasive given that the administration's actual policing policies seem likely to encourage abusive police behavior in a variety of ways. Even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seems to understand that point. Last Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly approved amendments to a spending bill that try to limit the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to let police officers expand the use of a policy known as "civil asset forfeiture." Some forms of forfeiture have been around for centuries, but it really ramped up in the early days of the drug war, with policies designed to let police grab property and proceeds from major drug enterprises. Like most government programs, it expanded beyond recognition. It's turned into an astoundingly abusive process by which police seize the property of people who have never been convicted—or even accused—of a crime. In 2012 in Anaheim, federal authorities tried to seize a $1.5 million commercial building from its owner after one of his tenants, a medical-marijuana clinic, was accused of selling $37 in marijuana to an undercover cop. The feds eventually dropped the case amid blistering media coverage, but it shows how seriously this power can be abused. Many states, including California, have passed laws requiring police agencies to gain a conviction (in most cases) before taking a person's property. To get around those laws, local cops would "partner" with federal agencies and then operate under looser federal standards. After the property was taken, the local and federal folks would divvy up the proceeds—and then use the money to bolster their departmental budgets. Two Justice Department officials who helped start the program in the 1980s later argued that the process "has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits." The recent House vote seeks to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions from overturning Obama administration rules that put a few limits on these local-federal partnerships. In another example of the administration's lax attitude toward abusive government practices, Sessions last month decided to restore a federal program that provided rocket launchers, tank-like vehicles and other military gear to local cops. Police departments are supposed to protect and serve the community, not behave like an occupying army. Before the last administration reined it in, the military acquisition program had gotten out of hand. A San Diego school district received a $730,000 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) surplus vehicle from the military. Before they were pressured to return it, school officials said, "There will be medical supplies in the vehicle. There will be teddy bears in the vehicle." Oh please. What kind of uprising are these police departments and school security offices trying to subdue? Years ago, one official told me that his department eschewed high-powered equipment. That's because once the agencies have new toys, they want to use them—even in situations where community policing operations are more appropriate. The equipment encourages police-state tactics. Yet the Trump administration thinks this is a good [...]



Self-Driving Cars Are Cool, but They're Not for Everyone

2017-09-24T07:00:00-04:00

"I expect human driving to become illegal in the next 25–35 years in developed countries," insisted Rice University's Moshe Vardi in the course of plugging self-driving cars during a 2016 Reddit question-and-answer session. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sounded a similar note at a 2015 developers' conference, saying, "You can't have a person driving a two-ton death machine." It's an interesting perspective from a man who runs a company that manufactures such devices. Once upon a time, mass transit was the technocrat's preferred method for prying people out of their wasteful, dangerous cars. If only we could subsidize the right combination of buses, trolleys, jitneys, light rail, monorail, and bullet trains—the thinking went—all our problems would be solved. To save the planet, "public transportation should be favored over private automobiles, and the cars heavily taxed," wrote Hugh McDonald of New York City College of Technology in a 2014 book on environmental philosophy. That view is shared by a number of other scholars and policy makers who hope to eliminate traffic deaths, largely by getting rid of cars. But now there's a new kid on the block: self-driving cars. The trouble is that neither of these approaches takes into account the reality that almost 20 percent of the population of the United States live in the low-population rural areas that make up the majority of the country's land mass, and they're not about to trade in the F-150 for a newfangled robot chariot. Against my advice, a friend of mine once insisted on relying on GPS navigation to get to my old house in rural Arizona. Once we managed to locate him, we started his visit by digging his car out of the sand in which he'd mired himself. He had gone down an unmaintained road that didn't actually lead to my address, no matter how enthusiastically the robotic navigator claimed otherwise. For reasons that are clear if you live in the boonies, self-driving cars look a little limited in their near-term potential. They don't seem especially well-suited to paved but poorly mapped byways, let alone delivering passengers down miles of dirt lanes to hunting camps or trailheads. Many of those routes require a fairly responsive hand on the wheel to deal with unexpected washouts, deep ruts, and uncooperative quadrupeds. I'm also not sure how much fun off-roading would be with a robot calling the shots. Public transportation has its own challenges in much of the non-urban world. Around me, one bus service connects some local workers with their tourist-industry jobs in Sedona. Another circulates through the town's business areas, and seems to do a heavy trade in getting hobos back and forth between the public library and wherever they're sleeping. Neither will take you to Target, which is 50 miles away. Or to Costco. Or to most residential areas, which are understandably spread out in this sparsely settled piece of the world. You're not riding the bus to dinner and a movie, either, since it shuts down after work hours. So you can imagine that enthusiasts for public transit and/or a self-driving future are a little thin on the ground around here. The dispersed and sometimes uncharted nature of rural travel makes the former difficult—and while plenty of people view automated cars with gee-whiz interest, the odds are just a bit too high that on the way home from buying one, it'll take a nonexistent turn and dump the new owners into a ditch. They'll ultimately be excavated by future archeologists and displayed as "well-preserved examples of early adopters." To address these problems, McDonald wants to "encourage settlement in cities," which he says "have much more to offer in the way of museums, performing arts, varied cuisines, and other amenities." It seems we'll get to ride the trolley and be civilized. No thanks. Some oracles of the coming transpor[...]



George Washington's 'Founding War of Conquest': New at Reason

2017-09-24T06:00:00-04:00

(image) Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West, by William Hogeland, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 448 pages, $28

The Battle of Little Big Horn may loom larger in popular consciousness, but it is the fray now known as St. Clair's Defeat that marks Native Americans' single largest victory over U.S. forces. In 1791, in what today is Ohio, a pan-tribal force under the direction of Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware leaders served notice to the fledgling American republic that continued incursion into Native lands would come at a dear price. In this case, that price was at least half the soldiers on the U.S. side killed—some sources suggest the number dead was far larger—and nearly 20 percent more badly wounded.

News of the rout caused President George Washington temporarily to lose his legendary cool. (More than one source reportedly heard from Washington's personal secretary, Tobias Lear, how the president raged about General Arthur St. Clair: "To suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked—by a surprise! The very thing I guarded him against! Oh God, oh God, he's worse than a murderer!") Once Washington simmered down, he embarked on a path that would define both his administration and his country: the creation of a standing national army and the pursuit of a war to secure the West for U.S. expansion, writes Amy Sturgis in her review of Autumn of the Black Snake.

View this article.




George Washington's 'Founding War of Conquest'

2017-09-24T06:00:00-04:00

Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion that Opened the West, by William Hogeland, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 448 pages, $28 The Battle of Little Big Horn may loom larger in popular consciousness, but it is the fray now known as St. Clair's Defeat that marks Native Americans' single largest victory over U.S. forces. In 1791, in what today is Ohio, a pan-tribal force under the direction of Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware leaders served notice to the fledgling American republic that continued incursion into Native lands would come at a dear price. In this case, that price was at least half the soldiers on the U.S. side killed—some sources suggest the number dead was far larger—and nearly 20 percent more badly wounded. News of the rout caused President George Washington temporarily to lose his legendary cool. (More than one source reportedly heard from Washington's personal secretary, Tobias Lear, how the president raged about General Arthur St. Clair: "To suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked—by a surprise! The very thing I guarded him against! Oh God, oh God, he's worse than a murderer!") Once Washington simmered down, he embarked on a path that would define both his administration and his country: the creation of a standing national army and the pursuit of a war to secure the West for U.S. expansion. In Autumn of the Black Snake, the independent historian William Hogeland tells the story of that war. His aim, he writes, is to fill in a "vacancy in American memory when it comes to what is perhaps the longest-lasting legacy of George Washington's career, and to the political, moral, and existential burden his career, and its national indispensability, will forever carry." The result is an imperfect but nevertheless compelling work of history. Hogeland rescues some colorful key players from obscurity and restores them to the main narrative of the early American republic. The Black Snake himself is a case in point. Anthony Wayne began as a Pennsylvania boy enthralled with all things military and became a war hero during the Revolution, rising to the rank of major general. But "after 1776," Hogeland writes, "Wayne never really went home." Returning to civilian life in his late 30s, he proved unfit to manage anything competently: not marriage, not fatherhood, not property, not politics. Wayne was estranged from his family, barely one step ahead of his creditors, freshly relieved of his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (after a House committee found fraud in his election), and in a downward spiral when Washington unexpectedly placed him in command of the country's new standing army, the Legion of the United States. In that position, Wayne turned his obsessive focus toward preparing, supplying, and supporting his troops. He built forts, he instituted the first basic training for U.S. soldiers, and his tireless emphasis on discipline and preparedness earned him the nickname Mad Anthony from his men. His "preternatural vigilance"—the man could not be surprised and seemed never to sleep—also earned Wayne the title Black Snake from his enemies in the pan-tribal Western Confederacy. Wayne ultimately vindicated Washington's trust and accomplished what the president wanted, breaking the back of Native resistance at the August 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, and securing both Native and British retreat from the Northwest Territory in the Treaty of Greenville a year later. And he did it all while his second in command both actively undermined him and served as a spy for Spain. Hogeland also devotes attention to the impressive leaders of "the only confederation that had a chance of obstructing the westward expansion of the United States and came close to damaging the American pro[...]



Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests

2017-09-23T19:05:00-04:00

Another day, another internet-breaking presidential tweet, this time about NFL players who protest racial injustice by refusing to stand at attention during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem. Former 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this movement a year when he first took a knee. Kaepernick explicitly said he was doing it as a protest to call attention to police abuse: I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color... To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. Now there's this from the leader of the land of the free and the home of the brave: If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect.... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017 ...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017 Trump's tweets create an interesting situation especially for libertarians, who believe in maximum speech rights for everyone. On the one hand, you could argue that, hey, the Donald is simply weighing in as a citizen on a situation of interest to many Americans. Why shouldn't he feel free to do so, right? Then again, Trump is also goddamned president of the United States and has immense power both via law enforcement and the bully pulpit to screw not just with an individual's life but the status of entire industries. As it happens, the NFL's commissioner, Roger Goodell, has articulated a league policy that allows for players to protest during the National Anthem. "It's one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints," Goodell said. "The national anthem is a special moment to me. It's a point of pride. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we want to respect those." So if Donald Trump wants to flap his gums about how employees of a (mostly) private-sector entity exercise their speech rights, maybe he ought to be calling out the NFL's owners for allowing such displays. But let's grant the president the right to criticize individual workers for exercising their own rights to free speech. Is his actual argument any good? No, not really. Public workplace (and schoolhouse) protests are as American as apple pie, aren't they now? The idea that someone who is a beneficiary of a given system should not be allowed to criticize aspects of it is the laziest sort of thinking imaginable. Kaepernick and those who are following his lead have indeed made more money than all but a tiny fraction of Americans. Does that mean they can't critique their country, especially from a highly visible platform? Of course not. This goddamned country was built on dissent put forth by beneficiaries of the British colonial system (the signers of the Declaration were, as a group, such rich and privileged bastards after all). To be fair, Donald Trump doesn't do irony. Or history. Or introspection. What he does do is tweet and cause outrage, mostly to deflect attention from more serious issues. As Politico's Jack Shafer has written: Have none of [the president's critics] been paying attention to Trump's Twitter strategy for the past 17 months? For anybody who has read a half-dozen of Trump's tweets, the pattern is obvious. He compiles these tweets precisely in order to elicit strident protest....To Trump's followers the content of any one of his rebukes matters less than whom it's directed at.... he[...]



Health Care Costs Are the Reason You're Not Getting a Raise: New at Reason

2017-09-23T08:45:00-04:00

(image) Every Labor Day you can count on seeing a spate of news stories saying that "real wages" in the United States haven't grown since the 1970s. That's true, more or less, but the reason for the stagnation might surprise you. It's a complex story, but it boils down to this: Blame health care costs.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, inflation-adjusted wages have grown by just 2.7 percent in the last 40 years. But inflation-adjusted total compensation—wages plus fringe benefits, such as health insurance, disability insurance, and paid vacation, along with employer-paid Social Security and Medicare taxesincreased by more than 60 percent in the same period.

Wages still make up a significant share of your total compensation: 68.3 percent, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vs. 31.7 percent that goes to benefits. But that latter piece has grown significantly, in no small part due to the rising cost of health insurance. And that trend is only going to get worse, writes Veronique de Rugy.

View this article.




A Federal Court’s Foie Gras Faux Pas: New at Reason

2017-09-23T08:00:00-04:00

(image) Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin looks at the federal court ruling that resurrects California's ban on force-feeding ducks and geese to make foie gras and is not impressed:

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a District Court ruling that had struck down California's dumb and unconstitutional foie gras ban. The plaintiffs are already planning their appeal. Technically the ban is back, but the law won't be enforced while the appeal is pending.

"It is unprecedented and unconstitutional that the California legislature can dictate how New York farmers care for their animals, produced in compliance with New York's strict animal welfare laws, and processed under federal inspection," said Marcus Henley, manager of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a co-plaintiff that's based in New York State, in an email to me this week.

"States have the right to protect their citizens from inhumane and substandard products," said Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for The Humane Society of the United States, which wrote an amicus brief in support of the state law, in an email to me this week. "Rather than continuing to fight a losing battle, foie gras agribusinesses should join the 21st century and accept that the vast majority of Americans find violently force-feeding ducks simply too much cruelty to swallow."

View this article.




The Ninth Circuit's Foie Gras Blunder

2017-09-23T08:00:00-04:00

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a District Court ruling that had struck down California's dumb and unconstitutional foie gras ban. The plaintiffs are already planning their appeal. Technically the ban is back, but the law won't be enforced while the appeal is pending. "It is unprecedented and unconstitutional that the California legislature can dictate how New York farmers care for their animals, produced in compliance with New York's strict animal welfare laws, and processed under federal inspection," said Marcus Henley, manager of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a co-plaintiff that's based in New York State, in an email to me this week. "States have the right to protect their citizens from inhumane and substandard products," said Paul Shapiro, spokesperson for The Humane Society of the United States, which wrote an amicus brief in support of the state law, in an email to me this week. "Rather than continuing to fight a losing battle, foie gras agribusinesses should join the 21st century and accept that the vast majority of Americans find violently force-feeding ducks simply too much cruelty to swallow." To Shapiro's credit, he predicted this outcome to me in 2015. While that prediction seems long ago, this case has been winding its way through the courts now for around five years. The plaintiffs, led by an association of Quebec-area foie gras producers and Hudson Valley, had argued that California has no authority to regulate out-of-state and international foie gras producers. But a federal court rejected those arguments, determining in 2012 that such "vagueness, Dormant Commerce Clause, and preemption arguments [we]re 'unlikely to succeed on the merits.'" Ultimately, a U.S. District Court held in 2015 that the law was preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), which governs, among other things, poultry-product "ingredients." The Ninth Circuit decision last week disagreed about the ingredients issue and overturned the lower court's ruling. "The PPIA prohibits states from imposing requirements on ingredients that contradict federal regulations," Reason's Scott Shackford wrote last week, in a post that nailed the details of the court's reasoning. "But this foie gras ban technically regulates a process, the manner by which the foie gras is made. Therefore, the judges ruled, the California law does not come into conflict with the PPIA at all." "In our case, there can be no question that California imposes a requirement on the primary ingredient in my clients' USDA-approved foie gras products—i.e., that they may not contain any force-fed foie gras—which is a requirement that is 'in addition to or different than' those under federal law and is therefore preempted," said California attorney Michael Tenenbaum, who represented the plaintiffs in the foie gras case, in an email to me this week. "The last time the Ninth Circuit tried this—i.e., reversed a district court's preemption finding in an effort to save a misguided state ban on USDA-approved products on the ground that 'states are free to decide which animals may be turned into meat'—it was reversed, 9-0, by a Supreme Court opinion that said (literally), 'We think not,' as it would allow states to 'make a mockery' of federal preemption," Tenenbaum says. (Case link added for reference purposes.) Tenenbaum and Shackford are correct in their facts and analysis. Ultimately, though, this case isn't about statutory interpretation or ingredients or processes or the PPIA. This is a case—plain and simple—about a farmer's right to raise animals that consumers want to eat, and a big bully of a state working hand in hand with animal rights activ[...]



Health Care Costs Are the Reason You're Not Getting a Raise

2017-09-23T06:00:00-04:00

Every Labor Day, you can count on seeing a spate of news stories saying that "real wages" in the United States haven't grown since the 1970s. That's true, more or less, but the reason for the stagnation might surprise you. It's a complex story, but it boils down to this: Blame health care costs. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, inflation-adjusted wages have grown by just 2.7 percent in the last 40 years. But inflation-adjusted total compensation—wages plus fringe benefits, such as health insurance, disability insurance, and paid vacation, along with employer-paid Social Security and Medicare taxes—increased by more than 60 percent in the same period. Wages still make up a significant share of your total compensation: 68.3 percent, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vs. 31.7 percent that goes to benefits. But that latter piece has grown significantly, in no small part due to the rising cost of health insurance. And that trend is only going to get worse. This has political consequences, since most workers don't appreciate how hefty the non-wage share of their compensation is, nor do they generally realize just how much of the money their employer is shelling out on their behalf gets eaten up by health care. As a result, they demand that politicians intervene to deliver more raw pay. To control health care costs, Americans will have to stop relying on third-party payers to cover small, routine expenditures (as opposed to large and unforeseen ones). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, out-of-pocket spending—copays and the like—was only 11 percent of all health care spending in 2015, down from 43 percent in 1965. It's an economic truism that if someone else is covering the bulk of the cost of something, you're likely to use more of it—especially if you don't realize that you're paying for it with foregone wages and higher taxes. This increases the overall demand for health services, which in turn increases the cost. It also creates an incentive for whoever is paying, be it the government or your insurance company, to start putting constraints on which services you can and cannot consume. The end result is that patients have become minor players in many of the financial and medical choices that deeply affect their lives. Reversing this trend would be hard without a reduction in health care costs big enough to get people to stop expecting their insurance to pay for every little thing. Lower costs would also make it possible to free employers from the responsibility of providing coverage to their workers—because if quality care is cheap and abundant, you don't need to look to your boss to make sure you can get it. That in turn would reduce the gap between compensation and wages. Controlling costs, then, really is the key. Easier said than done? Yes and no. This is, of course, a long-term project. It requires bringing to health care the kind of innovation we've seen in other sectors over the last few decades. And that means reducing the influence of government bureaucrats and special interests, which routinely obstruct new technologies and resist innovative ways for consumers to interact with their doctors. Introducing novel tools and services can make health care more expensive at first. But as long as the government refrains from setting price controls, costs will eventually go down, just as with consumer goods, allowing ever more people to gain access. And some cost-saving steps can be taken immediately. For instance, why not allow medical tourism, reform the onerous Food and Drug Administration approval process, and end regulations t[...]



McCain Disses Graham-Cassidy, Kim Jung-un Disses Trump, and HHS Sec. Tom Price Investigated for Private Jet Use: P.M. Links

2017-09-22T16:30:00-04:00

  • (image) Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) announces his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy healthcare reform bill. Read Reason's coverage of the bill's chances here.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is being investigated for his frequent use of private jets for HHS business.
  • Portland loses its ranking as America's top airport. Portlanders are a little salty about it.
  • Sick Kim Jung-un burn of Trump grows Americans' vocabulary.
  • San Antonio cop is fired for dating a prostitute.



The Hillary Clinton School of Literary Criticism

2017-09-22T15:45:00-04:00

(image) The most eye-catching aspect of Hillary Clinton's widely reviewed, reviled, and literally discounted campaign memoir, What Happened, is her take on George Orwell's 1984. Most readers interpret the novel as imploring us all to be skeptical of those in power. Clinton argues that authoritarianism is bad not because it tortures and kills people but, well, because it

sow[s] mistrust towards exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy.

In that vein, we're happy present to you some other, lesser-known interpretations of classic works by Secretary Clinton.

Slideshow




Feminist Group Loses Fight to Declare Yik Yak App a Civil-Rights Violation

2017-09-22T15:30:00-04:00

A federal court in Virginia shot down one of the sadder displays of anti-speech authoritarianism in recent memory, a demand that the social-media app Yik Yak be declared a civil-rights violation on college campuses. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this week dismissed a lawsuit filed against the University of Mary Washington (UMW) by a coalition led by the Feminist Majority Foundation. The suit contended that UMW allowing Yik Yak on campus constituted a violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents sex discrimination at educational institutions receive federal funding. "As social media has proliferated, cyberbullying has become a national problem," and "solutions are not easy or obvious to anyone," the court noted. "In seeking solutions, however, schools cannot ignore other rights vital to this country, such as the right to free speech." The whole debacle stems from Yik Yak users at UMW harassing members of a campus feminist group (and branch of the Feminist Majority Foundation) in 2015. Yik Yak is now defunct, but at the time it was a popular app on college campuses, allowing users within a certain distance to broadcast their thoughts anonymously in a Twitter-like fashion. The students complained to UMW administrators, who told them they could not ban the app on campus because of free-speech concerns. That's when Feminist Majority Foundation and others asked the Department of Education to intervene. In an administrative complaint against UMW, the groups charged colleges with violating students' civil rights "by failing to adequately address the sexually hostile environment created by persistent online harassment and threats" on Yik Yak—a private platform students could download independently on their own phones or devices. Schools exerted no control over who downloaded the app or what they posted on it. The feminist groups proposed schools get around this by installing software that would block Yik Yak on school computer networks, a "solution" that would both fail on technological grounds (anyone using their phone's network or non-school wifi could still access the app) and First Amendment ones. Feminist Majority Foundation also filed a civil lawsuit against the school, alleging violations of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On Tuesday, the court explained its reasons for granting its motion to dismiss the suit. "To establish a Title IX claim, a plaintiff must show that a [school] acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of sexual harassment so severe, pervasive, and offensive that the harassment deprived the plaintiff of access to educational opportunities or benefits," explains the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia decision. It's a standard that focuses on action or inaction by the school, not third parties, and is limited to situations in which the school has substantial jurisdiction "over both the harasser and the context in which the known harassment occurs." In this case, "the Title IX discrimination claim fails because the harassment took place in a context over which UMW had limited, if any, control—anonymous postings on Yik Yak," the court decided. And in realms where it did have control—like holding student assemblies and having a university police officer investigate a specific threat—it took swift action. "While UMW did not take the specific action requested by the plaintiffs, Title IX does not require funding recipients to meet the particular remedial demands of its students," especially when those demands may expose a s[...]



'We Own This Property...It's Ours Until We Are Done'

2017-09-22T15:15:00-04:00

The Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a warrant before searching a private home. It also requires that the home they end up searching is the one they actually have the warrant for. Sheriff's deputies in Van Buren County, Iowa, were golden on that first requirement when they raided Michael Owings' house on June 27 for suspected drug possession. They did indeed have a warrant. Unfortunately for them—and for Owings—their warrant allowed them to search the house of one Gary Shelley, Owings' neighbor. In a suit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, Owings accuses Van Buren County Sheriff Deputy John Zane and four unnamed deputies of displaying a "gross disregard" for his constitutional rights by conducting "a flagrantly illegal entry of his private residence." The story began on June 26, when Zane carried out a traffic stop. In the course of the stop, he got a tip that illegal drug use and distribution might be going on at Shelley's residence, a two-story farm house on rural Heather Avenue. Police promptly got a warrant for Shelley's house. But they showed up at Owings' mobile home, about a third of a mile up the road. Owings was not home at the time, but his lawsuit says there were several signs that cops had arrived at the wrong house. One was an actual sign prominently listing the address at the gate of the property. Another was a name plate reading "Owings" located next to the front door. Undeterred, the deputies forced their way into the home, where they encountered further evidence that they were in the wrong place, including prescription bottles and bank statements bearing Owings name. To top it all off, Owings' mother and girlfriend arrived while police were still tearing through the place; they flat out told the officers that they had the wrong house. According to the lawsuit, deputies responded by saying, "We own this property...it's ours until we are done." The search turned up no illegal activity, and the police eventually cleared out, though not before removing items from the house and damaging the property. Sadly, wrong-address raids are not unusual in the United States. Many of these cases lead to tragic consequences. Back in July, police in Southaven, Mississippi, killed Ismael Lopez while looking for an assault suspect at the wrong address. In 2015, Miami cops "destroyed" the home of 90-year-old woman while searching for drugs they never found. In 2012, while conducting a wrong-door raid in St. Paul, Minnesota, police killed the family dog and then forced three handcuffed children to sit by their dying pet while officers smashed up their home. Owings is demanding compensation for the damage done to his property, for the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and for emotional distress. A court date has not been set. [...]



Are You Ready for Fall’s New Television Shows? New at Reason

2017-09-22T15:01:00-04:00

(image) Monday marks the launch of the new fall television season, but television critic Glenn Garvin is not terribly impressed as yet. For the first of several upcoming columns previewing the new shows, he finds only one show salvageable out of four:

The hell with Charles Dickens. The new fall television season is certainly not the best of times, nor is it the worst of times (mostly, anyway, though CBS' 9JKL certainly gives pause). It is, perhaps, the most mediocre of television times since The Sopranos and Sex and the City established cable TV as a programming force in which a Nielsen rating of 35 could not be reasonably mistaken for the average IQ of the viewing audience.

Nineteen new series will debut on broadcast television between now and November 2. (Well, 18; The Orville, Fox's cartoon send-up of Star Trek, somehow slipped through security a couple of weeks ago, and if you're only learning this now, count yourself lucky.) And they are nothing if not diverse.

There are American Special Forces troops in Syria (NBC's The Brave), American Special Forces troops in Liberia (CBS' Seal Team), and American Special Forces troops in America (The CW's Valor). There are remakes from the 1970s (CBS' S.W.A.T), remakes from the 1980s (The CW's Dynasty) and remakes from the 1990s (NBC's Will & Grace, less a remake than a desiccated zombie clawing its way back out of the grave, since it features the same cast). There are mutants battling a fascist military government (ABC's Marvel's Inhumans) and mutants battling a fascist civilian government (Fox's The Gifted).

View this article.




Fall’s First Television Premieres May Make You Go ‘Meh’

2017-09-22T15:00:00-04:00

Young Sheldon. CBS. Monday, September 25, 8:30 p.m. Me, Myself, and I. CBS. Monday, September 25, 9:30 p.m. The Brave. NBC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m. The Good Doctor. ABC. Monday, September 25, 10 p.m. The hell with Charles Dickens. The new fall television season is certainly not the best of times, nor is it the worst of times (mostly, anyway, though CBS' 9JKL certainly gives pause). It is, perhaps, the most mediocre of television times since The Sopranos and Sex and the City established cable TV as a programming force in which a Nielsen rating of 35 could not be reasonably mistaken for the average IQ of the viewing audience. Nineteen new series will debut on broadcast television between now and November 2. (Well, 18; The Orville, Fox's cartoon send-up of Star Trek, somehow slipped through security a couple of weeks ago, and if you're only learning this now, count yourself lucky.) And they are nothing if not diverse. There are American Special Forces troops in Syria (NBC's The Brave), American Special Forces troops in Liberia (CBS' Seal Team), and American Special Forces troops in America (The CW's Valor). There are remakes from the 1970s (CBS' S.W.A.T), remakes from the 1980s (The CW's Dynasty) and remakes from the 1990s (NBC's Will & Grace, less a remake than a desiccated zombie clawing its way back out of the grave, since it features the same cast). There are mutants battling a fascist military government (ABC's Marvel's Inhumans) and mutants battling a fascist civilian government (Fox's The Gifted). What there is not is a surefire breakout hit. (Though, to be honest, my track record on picking hits is almost as bad as that of actual network programmers. When I started writing about television in 2002, I never dreamed Survivor and The Bachelor would still be with us 15 years later, or I might have stopped right then and there.) Even DVR-worthy shows were spotted less frequently than virginal Kardashians. Wading through the pilots reminded me of the 2008 fall season that followed a five-month writers' strike that resulted in a lineup pockmarked with shows like Stylista, which made me want to eat the brains of pretty people, and the remake of Knight Rider, which made me feel like my own brain was being eaten. Why things went so badly this year, I can't tell. One argument that will doubtless be advanced is that so-called peak television—the glut of production triggered by digital services like Netflix and Hulu joining the business with broadcast and cable channels—has stretched the Hollywood talent pool too far. That doesn't make sense to me; the biggest bucks, generally speaking, are still in broadcast TV, which should ensure that it gets the top talent. Whatever the explanation, this is the couch-potato diversion we have chosen. All that's left to us is to clench our remotes tightly in our teeth as we ride boldly and well into the jaws of video banality. The fact that NBC's The Brave is just one of three new series about U.S. combat operations in the Islamic world is, unfortunately, probably less a marker of television's follow-the-leader mentality than a depressing reminder that we've been at war there for 16 years, through three presidencies, and seem no closer to the end of the chapter than we were at the beginning. Of course, that wouldn't be true if these TV troopers were unleashed over there. As movies like Hacksaw Ridge have grown more gruesomely honest about the quantity and quality of battlefield deaths during wartime,[...]



U.S. Troops Watch TV Shows Cops, NCIS to Train Afghan Security

2017-09-22T14:50:00-04:00

(image) Some American soldiers in Afghanistan have taken to watching shows like Cops and NCIS to figure out how to train Afghan security forces, a sobering reality nearly 16 years after the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan.

John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a particuarly bleak 283-page report on "Reconstructing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: Lessons from the U.S. experience in Afghanistan."

Sopko found the U.S. was "ill-prepared to build the war-torn country's security forces, whose foundation is ravaged by decades of conflict, illiteracy and corruption," as the Washington Post reported.

American troops found themselves with inadequate training to train Afghan security forces in large part because, as the SIGAR report noted, "police development was treated as a secondary mission for the U.S. government." Troops have in some cases turned to police procedurals because they provide something familiar in a jumbled training environment.

U.S. efforts, for example, rely on cutting-edge technology and weapons systems, even though large parts of the Afghan security forces are illiterate. "We really do need to align capabilities to the needs of Afghans," Sopko told the Post yesterday. "Effective security forces are basically the way this thing ends."

The U.S. has been training Afghan forces since the start of the war and it remains a primary reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan. That Sopko's report criticizes U.S. soldiers for being unequipped to do this training casts a shadow on the entire project. It is also a powerful argument for ending the war in Afghanistan.

"If you're just waiting to train the Afghans to be policemen and the military," Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) told Reason almost five years ago, "it's taken 11 years already—you can train a monkey to ride a bicycle in less time."

The U.S. is not prepared to rebuild Afghanistan, and may never be able to, but its continued presence disincentivizes locals from trying to rebuild by themselves and take their futures into their own hands.




No, Simply Touching Fentanyl Can't Kill You

2017-09-22T14:35:00-04:00

For all the ink American media outlets have spilled covering the increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, few of the stories I've read explain how fentanyl works or why it's so deadly. As a result, journalists have created the impression that fentanyl is a magically awful drug. In that sense, it has a lot in common with PCP, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine. "Using [crack] even once," ABC's Peter Jennings declared in a 1989 episode of World News Tonight, "can make a person crave cocaine for as long as they live." If there's an equally believable-but-untrue claim about fentanyl, it's that simply touching the stuff can kill you. I thought it might be useful for other reporters, and people who are simply concerned and/or curious about fentanyl, to figure out which oft-reported claims are true, partially true, or flat out wrong. So I got in touch with the Stanford anesthesiologist Steven Shafer, an expert in the pharmacology of pain medicine. I've edited our exchange for length and clarity. Q: How do street-level doses of fentanyl—which seem to range from less than a milligram to a few milligrams—compare to surgical doses? A: A milligram of fentanyl is a huge dose, one that would be fatal. For surgery we typically use doses of 0.1 milligram (100 micrograms). In terms of street drugs, the high potency has a very practical implication: The stuff is difficult to measure. There would be no obvious difference to a user given a packet of fentanyl-laced heroin if it had a very small amount of fentanyl, or a guaranteed fatal dose of fentanyl. The user would need to trust whomever weighed out the fentanyl used to lace the heroin. Q: What makes illicitly used fentanyl deadlier than other opioids? A: Fentanyl effect peaks at 5 minutes after an intravenous injection. The fast onset is more likely to be fatal than a slow onset, because the body doesn't have time to build up carbon dioxide. With a slow onset opioid (e.g., morphine), breathing slows gradually as the drug starts to act, and carbon dioxide rises. As carbon dioxide rises, it drives ventilation, offsetting (somewhat) the effects of the morphine on breathing. With the rapid onset of fentanyl, there is little time for carbon dioxide to raise before there is full effect of the fentanyl on depressing breathing. That will result in more lethality for the same maximal opioid drug effect. Q: What do we mean when we say fentanyl is "x times more potent" than other opioids? A: Potency is usually given for opioids by the amount (by weight) of drug required to achieve a particular drug effect. For example, one could use the "Minimal Effective Analgesic Dose," basically the lowest dose of a drug that produces some amount of pain relief. Potency can also be discussed in terms of tissue concentration, what is the plasma concentration of drug that produces a particular effect. Because of differences in pharmacokinetics (drug uptake, distribution, and metabolism), differences in dose and differences in concentration may vary several-fold. The rate of blood brain equilibration also makes a difference. Fentanyl effect peaks at five minutes after an intravenous injection, and it's washed out by 90 minutes. Because it has slow blood-brain equilibration, morphine effect is quite modest at five minutes, but peaks at 90 minutes. Thus, it's tricky to talk about one drug being X-fold more potent than the next, because it depends on exactly when you measure drug[...]



Rand Paul and John McCain Might Have Killed the GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill

2017-09-22T14:19:00-04:00

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and John McCain, R-Ariz., will vote against the latest Republican-led effort to repeal parts of Obamacare, likely killing any slim chance that the proposal had of reaching the necessary 50 votes in the Senate. Paul told the Associated Press he plans to vote against the Graham-Cassidy bill because it does not do enough to repeal Obamacare's regulations and taxes. McCain, in a statement issued later Friday, said he would not vote for the bill because he disagreed with the procedural shortcuts Republicans were taking to get the bill to the floor without committee hearings and the opportunity for amendments. McCain, who cast the deciding vote against the Senate's so-called "skinny repeal" bill in July over similar concerns about Senate GOP leaders abandoning "regular order," said he would consider voting for the Graham-Cassidy bill "were it the product of extensive hearings, debate, and amendments" and only after getting a full CBO score of the bill, something that won't be available before the end of the month. "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said Friday. "We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do." I cannot in good conscience vote for Graham-Cassidy. A bill impacting so many lives deserves a bipartisan approach. https://t.co/2sDjhw6Era pic.twitter.com/30OWezQpLg — John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 22, 2017 By themselves, Paul and McCain would not be enough to sink the GOP health care bill. But at least two other Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—are widely believed to be "no" votes on the bill. Collins confirmed Friday to the Associated Press that she's leaning against the bill. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened Republicans—and Paul in particular—who were considering voting against the bill. He said those who refused to support the Graham-Cassidy bill in the Senate "will forever...be known as 'the Republican who saved Obamacare'" In the tweet, Trump specifically identified Paul, who has so far been the only Republican to go on the record as opposing Graham-Cassidy, though at least two other Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—are widely believed to be "no" votes on the bill. Murkowski and Collins, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted against the so-called "skinny repeal" bill in July. Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as "the Republican who saved ObamaCare." — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017 Trump's threats have nothing to do with the policy of the bill, and the White House is only interested in a political win, Paul told the AP. Paul's assessment of the situation seems pretty accurate. Trump has never indicated much of an interest in the policy aspects of the health care debate that has raged on Capitol Hill since March, though he did quickly organize a Rose Garden press conference to celebrate the House's passage of an earlier Obamacare repeal bill. A lack of White House engagement was widely noted in the wake of the "skinny repeal" bill's embarrassing failure in July, but—aside fro[...]



Does the Colorado River Have Rights?

2017-09-22T14:00:00-04:00

"In a first-in-the-nation lawsuit filed in federal court, the Colorado River is asking for judicial recognition of itself as a 'person,' with rights of its own to exist and flourish." So declares a press release from the activist organization Deep Green Resistance. The lawsuit against Colorado's governor is being filed in federal district court by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which says it "seeks a ruling that the Colorado River, and its ecosystem, possess certain rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration." In support of the legal theory that rivers have rights, the suit cites Supreme Court Justice William Douglas' famous dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972). In that case, the Sierra Club sued to block the Disney company from building a ski resort at Mineral King in the Sequoia National Forest. The majority of the court ruled that the Sierra Club did not have legal standing—that is, that the group failed to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case. (As it happens, the ski resort was never built anyway.) In his dissent, Justice Douglas, with considerable legal poetry, argued: Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole—a creature of ecclesiastical law—is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. The ordinary corporation is a "person" for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes—fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water—whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger—must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction. The CELDF also cites a recently enacted provision in the constitution of Ecuador that confers rights on nature: Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. Let's just say that the law pertaining to the use of water is complex. I personally prefer common law riparian rights as a way to govern streams, rivers, and lakes. Riparian water rights give landowners along a stream rights to an undiminished quantity and quality of water. Consider the 1913 case Whalen v. Union Bag & Paper, in which a New York Court of Appeals ruled that a million-dollar paper mill employing 500 people did not have the right to po[...]



We Read HIllary's Book So You Don't Have to: New at Reason

2017-09-22T13:45:00-04:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vXMfJhB-S4c" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

Hillary Clinton's new book What Happened attempts to explain Trump's upset victory in 2016 through a series of reasons which are not Hillary Clinton. The gambit runs from apathetic white lady voters to Russian meddling to the inscrutable popularity of Donald Trump. When Clinton's focus turns to herself, however, she's light on culpability. She admits she can be guarded, but that admission doesn't encapsulate the relentless political ambition paired with shady financial dealings and a willingness to subvert national security that turned off much of the country.

In the end Clinton was also just a bad candidate.

In the latest Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton explores Clinton's new book, so you don't have to.

Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.

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We Read Hillary's Book So You Don't Have To

2017-09-22T13:45:00-04:00

Hillary Clinton's new book What Happened attempts to explain Trump's upset victory in 2016 through a series of reasons which are not Hillary Clinton. The gambit runs from apathetic white lady voters to Russian meddling to the inscrutable popularity of Donald Trump. When Clinton's focus turns to herself, however, she's light on culpability. She admits she can be guarded, but that admission doesn't encapsulate the relentless political ambition paired with shady financial dealings and a willingness to subvert national security that turned off much of the country.

In the end Clinton was also just a bad candidate.

In the latest Mostly Weekly Andrew Heaton explores Clinton's new book, so you don't have to.

Watch past episodes.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.

Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and Brian Sack.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

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Mel Brooks: 'We Have Become Stupidly Politically Correct' and It's Killing Comedy

2017-09-22T13:15:00-04:00

(image) Legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks unloaded on political correctness yesterday, blaming P.C. pressures for undermining comedians' abilities to perform social satire.

"We have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy," he said on BBC Radio.

Brooks, an actor, writer, and director known for making such comedies as The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs, described comedy as "the lecherous little elf whispering in the king's ear, always telling the truth about human behavior." He complained that his 1974 film Blazing Saddles—in which a black sheriff overcomes the racism of an all-white frontier town—couldn't be made today, given the likelihood that someone would deem it problematic.

We have seen this phenomenon play out again and again in recent years. Can We Take a Joke? a documentary film directed by former Reason TV producer Ted Balaker, highlights a number of cases of comedians being castigated for making politically incorrect jokes on college campuses. Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Tina Fey have made similar complaints.

Audiences are under no obligation to appreciate politically incorrect humor, of course, and tastes do change with the times. Consider this part of Brooks' comments, as reported by The Telegraph:

The director said he could find comedy in almost everything but conceded there were areas even he would not mine for material.

"I personally would never touch gas chambers or the death of children or Jews at the hands of the Nazis," he told the BBC's Radio 4's Today programme.

"Everything else is ok."

Brooks never satirized death chambers, but he did make fun of Nazis in his very first film, The Producers, in which a theater company produces a deliberately offensive pro-Nazi play called Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. One could very easily imagine a boycott of the film today, with some activist accusing Brooks of normalizing Nazism.

But with the alt-right ascendant and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, is not the need for un-PC Nazi-skewering greater than ever? We don't need to punch Nazis; we can just belittle them.




Emperor Joshua Norton I: The Movie

2017-09-22T13:01:00-04:00

While Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were leading a war between the American north and south, a rival emperor was conducting a much more peaceful reign out west. 158 years ago this week, on September 17, 1859, Joshua Norton of San Francisco proclaimed himself emperor of the United States. Once a prosperous rice trader, now living on the edge of vagrancy, he issued his own currency, which local businesses often honored; he wrote royal proclamations, which local newspapers printed; legend has it he once managed to stop an anti-Chinese riot by standing in front of the mob and reciting the Lord's Prayer. He allegedly inspired a character in Huckleberry Finn—the phony dauphin who travels with Huck and Jim for a spell—but he didn't need Mark Twain to be remembered; he generated plenty of memorable stories on his own. A few of those tales appear in The Story of Norton I: Emperor of the United States, a short film made by Columbia Pictures in 1936. Let me warn you up front: This is a clumsily made movie with stilted acting and, in one scene, one of the most cringeworthy blackface performances you'll ever see. But there are moments when the acting is so far removed from natural behavior that it stops seeming bad and starts to feel like some strange David Lynch experiment. And surely there's something inspirational in the film's final line: "He was insane, but—strange as it seems—honesty and sympathy won him an empire of voluntary subjects." Needless to say, that's a rather romanticized assessment. Emperor Norton I lived in poverty—plenty of businesses did not accept his scrip—and he had to withstand more than his share of mockery and cruelty. But he was loved too, and he managed to reign for two decades through sheer power of personality. I cannot think of a better American statesman, with the possible exception of President-in-Exile Dick Gregory. Here is the film: src="https://archive.org/embed/thestoryofnortoni" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0"> For some background on the motion picture, check out this post from the folks at the Emperor's Bridge Campaign, a commendable effort to name the San Francisco Bay Bridge for Emperor Norton. (Past editions of the Friday A/V Club can be found here.) [...]