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Updated: 2018-04-19T00:00:00-04:00

 



Don't Overregulate CRISPR Genome Editing

2018-04-19T17:00:00-04:00

The recently developed genome editing technique CRISPR enables researchers to make very precise modifications in the genes of nearly any organism. Researchers are racing to use the technique to create drought-resistant corn, reduced-gluten wheat, and tastier tomatoes. Research on CRISPR-based treatments for maladies such as cancers, heart disease, and Duchenne muscular dystophy is advancing rapidly. It looks like the current wave of new genetic engineering techniques will largely escape the bans, moratoria, and overregulation that greeted the first wave in the 1970s. More than 40 years ago, the announcement that researchers were able to splice together genes taken from different organisms provoked handwringing over scary scenarios in which infectious cancers break out from biotech labs and activist screeds railing against "unbridled scientific and technological progress" and creeping "corporate hegemony." No epidemics of biotech-generated infectious cancers have occurred, and the global biotech industry now consists of an estimated 77,000 companies with $400 billion in annual sales. Regulators seem to be learning from that earlier overreaction. This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would for the most part not regulate new crops created with CRISPR. That decision opens the way for development of a vibrant new biotech crop and seed industry. University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno and Amy Gutman, former head of President Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, make the case for regulatory restraint in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Gutman and Moreno avoid the usual fatuous call for "democratic" decisions about whether and how to deploy new technologies, instead offering sensible proposals for how to proceed safely with CRISPR-based research. They conclude that regulators should stay out of the way for now. One example Gutman and Moreno consider is gene drives, CRISPR-assisted interventions than can, say, make a population of mosquitoes immune to the malaria parasite or cause the extinction of a noxious rat species by favoring the birth of males. Gutman and Moreno reject the demand by some activists for a total ban on gene drives: In lieu of formal regulations on gene drives, scientists could agree to build safety measures into gene-drive systems, such as alterations that would cancel out previous drives or gene modifications designed to grow less frequent over time, so that successive generations would express the gene less and less once the original problem has been sufficiently ameliorated. Researchers will also need to be transparent about their work and consult local communities to gain consent before introducing gene drives into the wild. Gutman and Moreno say existing regulations for biomedical research should be adequate to address CRISPR-based treatments. (Let's set aside for now the question of whether even that much is needed for current therapeutic compounds and techniques.) But lots of folks worry that CRISPR might be used to correct genetic flaws in human embryos. The supposed bioethical horror of using CRISPR to fix genetic mutations is that it would interfere with the "human germline"; that is, children who are born with corrected genes will no longer be able to pass along to their own progeny the genetic disease that had previously afflicted their family. Gutman and Moreno observe that "in 2017, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that researchers exercise caution when it comes to efforts to prevent disease transmission through gene editing but said that such work should be allowed to go forward, albeit under 'stringent oversight.'" In other words, no ban. "At some point," Gutman and Moreno write, "governments may have to pass laws to prevent unscrupulous researchers from abusing gene editing. For now, however, the science is nowhere near advanced enough for policymakers to know what kinds of measures would work." Gutman and Moreno suggest that "governments should follow the principle of regu[...]



The War on Opioids Probably Helped Kill Prince

2018-04-19T16:40:00-04:00

(image) Pop legend Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016, probably because he bought what he thought was Vicodin on the black market. Today officials announced they are closing the investigation into Prince's death and will not be filing any charges because they don't know where he got the pills and found no evidence that any of his associates knew that the "Vicodin" he had been taking was actually fentanyl.

Remarkably, at the same time officials are announcing that there will be no charges over the drugs that actually killed Prince, officials also announced a civil settlement with a doctor who prescribed painkillers to Prince's associates, knowing the drugs would actually go to the musician. Although these were not the drugs that killed Prince, the doctor who helped him get access to painkillers through third parties has agreed to pay $30,000 and subject himself to federal monitoring for two years.

There does not seem to be any acknowledgment that efforts to make it harder for Prince to get his hands on the painkillers to which he became addicted might caused him to seek black-market substitutes that were much more dangerous. From the story in the Minneapollis Star Tribune:

"Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution," U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker said in a statement announcing the settlement. "As licensed professionals, doctors are held to a high level of accountability in their prescribing practices, especially when it comes to highly addictive painkillers. The U.S. attorney's office and the DEA will not hesitate to take action against healthcare providers who fail to comply with the Controlled Substances Act. We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse."

Just today Jacob Sullum noted that opioid-related deaths are rising dramatically even as opioid prescriptions decline. That's partly because lack of access to the drug through doctors is driving people to the black market, where they purchase pain pills of unknown provenance and composition. The circumstances of Prince's death should be a warning to the feds that cracking down on doctors is exactly the wrong way to prevent overdoses.

Also today, previously unseen footage of Prince practicing and performing "Nothing Compares 2 U" in 1984, years before he handed it over to Sinead O'Connor, has been released by his estate:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cpGA0azFdCs" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




Disdain

2018-04-19T15:45:00-04:00

The Gorsuch story reminded me of a law professor friend of mine noting, a few years ago, that pressure for ideological conformity often comes through the threat of disdain: Go along with liberal positions on these various issues, or feel your colleagues' contempt and hostility.

Of course, the threat of disdain can be good, and can keep us honest and careful, if it's a threat of disdain for factual errors or logical fallacies. But if the threat is just motivated by ideological disagreement, that can stultify serious debate. And if you give in, and trim your sails to the prevailing winds in order to avoid the disdain, ...

That is called paying disdain-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid the disdain-geld
You never get rid of disdain.



Fatwa Against ... Buying Facebook "Likes"

2018-04-19T14:15:00-04:00

AP reports:

Egypt's top mufti has issued a fatwa, or a religious decree, saying that buying Facebook "likes" is prohibited under Islam because it's a form of fraud and deception.

Grand Mufti Shawki Allam regularly issues all sorts of fatwas, usually in response to questions by Muslims seeking religious guidance ....




As Opioid Prescriptions Fall, Opioid Deaths Rise

2018-04-19T13:50:00-04:00

The decline in opioid prescriptions that began in 2011 accelerated last year, according to the latest data. Meanwhile, opioid-related deaths continue to rise. The opposing trends show the folly of tackling the "opioid crisis" by restricting access to pain medication. A report published yesterday by the health consulting firm IQVIA shows that the total volume of opioids prescribed in the United States, indicated by the green area below, fell by 29 percent between 2011 and 2017, from 240 billion to 171 billion morphine milligram equivalents. Last year's 12 percent drop was the largest ever recorded. The number of opioid prescriptions and the number of patients receiving opioids for the first time are also declining. The report notes that "decreases in prescription opioid volume have been driven by changes in clinical usage, which have been influenced by regulatory and reimbursement policies and legislation that have been increasingly restricting prescription opioid use since 2012." But as you can see in the graph, the total number of opioid-related deaths counted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated by the blue line, is not falling along with opioid prescriptions. To the contrary, it has risen sharply in recent years, driven by dramatic increases in deaths involving heroin (orange) and illicit fentanyl (the main component of "other synthetic opioids," the category represented by the gray line). The CDC has not released final data for 2017 yet, but more increases are expected. The crackdown on pain pills not only has not reversed the upward trend in opioid-related deaths. It is contributing to it by driving nonmedical users into the black market, where the drugs are more dangerous because their purity and potency are inconsistent and unpredictable. The vast majority of opioid-related deaths now involve illegally produced drugs: heroin, fentanyl, and its analogs. The crackdown is also hurting chronic pain patients, including people who have functioned well on opioids for years but now find it difficult or impossible to obtain the medication they need to maintain a decent quality of life. Since the current strategy is manifestly not working, drug warriors are, as usual, redoubling their efforts. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which sets annual quotas for opioid production, reduced the limit by 25 percent in 2017 and 20 percent this year. Now the DEA plans to squeeze the supply some more. The Washington Post reports that the agency will decide how much pain medication should be available based on the "legitimate medical needs of patients" rather than the number of pills manufacturers expect to sell. But the number of pills manufacturers expect to sell is based on the number doctors are expected to prescribe, which is in turn based on their judgment of patients' legitimate medical needs. The DEA is substituting its judgment for theirs, without even bothering to conduct an exam or take a medical history. For a doctor, that would be malpractice. For a drug warrior, it is all in a day's work. [...]



U.K. Goes Full Nanny State With Proposed Nationwide Plastic Straw Ban

2018-04-19T13:30:00-04:00

The United Kingdom has been on a nanny-state bender lately. Already this year, British authorities have cracked down on Nazi dog videos, pocket knives, and sectarian songs. And now the current Conservative government has announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers. "Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement released today. May vowed a national plan of action to rid the country of "avoidable plastic waste" by the year 2042, promising that Environment Minister Michael Gove would develop a plan this year to ban straws. Banning straws is something of a pet issue for Gove, who this year pledged to cut down on his own plastic use for Lent. He even supported Brexit on the grounds that it would make a prohibition of plastic straws easier to achieve. Unsurprisingly for a man of such passions, Gove has employed near-apocalyptic rhetoric to sell a ban, describing straw usage as a "scourge on our seas" and "a symbol of society's damaging addiction to single-use plastics and our throwaway culture." The straw ban isn't the only anti-plastic measure that May wants to take. She also hopes to prohibit plastic microbeads and enact mandatory charges for plastic bags. But for all the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric, plastic straw usage's actual threat to marine health is difficult to pin down. The U.K.-based Marine Conservation Society claims that Brits use 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws a year. That pencils out to roughly one out of every three Britons using one straw per day. Credible estimates on this side of the pond suggest about half of the U.S. uses one straw per day. (I reached out to the Marine Conservation Society to ask how they arrived at their figure but have yet to hear back.) How many of these 8.5 billion straws actually get into the ocean is an open question. The Marine Conservation Society is quick to point out that disposable cutlery, trays, and straws are among the top 10 most commonly found categories of items during the group's yearly coastal clean-up. Indeed, they are the tenth most commonly found item category, making up about 2 percent of all beach refuse collected. Given that straws are a subset of this category, they are less than 2 percent. In any event, if the goal is to prevent plastic getting into the world's oceans, cracking down on plastic straw usage in rich countries is not the way to go. A 2015 study in the journal Science estimates that anywhere from 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic got into the ocean in 2010. According that report, the determining factors in how much each country contributes to plastic marine waste are population size and the quality of waste management systems. Unsurprisingly, the study found that poor countries with large coastal populations and bad waste collection systems are the biggest contributors of plastic into the oceans. China topped the list, contributing almost 28 percent of plastic inputs into the ocean in 2010. The United States was a distant 20th, contributing less than 1 percent of marine plastic waste. Looking at the dataset for the Science study, the U.K. ranks 49th, contributing somewhere from 9,456 to 26,344 tons of plastic to the ocean in 2010, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the total. The best way to cut back on all that plastic waste, is to build up litter management systems, particularly in poor countries. It's certainly a better use of public resources than hassling people for using straws. [...]



Will El Chapo’s Arrest Make the Drug Trade More Deadly?: New at Reason

2018-04-19T13:15:00-04:00

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HCx-TXZnr1Q" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been awaiting trial in the United States since his dramatic capture in 2016. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, and kidnapping against Guzmán, who ran the notorious Sinaloa cartel for more than 40 years. El Chapo gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes, and for his controversial 2016 interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn while hiding as a fugitive from the law. The U.S. and Mexican governments have declared Guzmán's capture a major win in the drug war. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron thinks his story better demonstrates the folly of prohibition. "When we interfere on the supply side with the drug trade by taking out kingpins and other ways, we tend to lower the prices partially because we're making the market more competitive," says Miron, who's also the head of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Where there's demand, there's going to be supply." The capture of kingpins doesn't just tend to make cartels more competitive in the marketplace. It can also increase violence as rival factions battle to fill the power vacuum. A 2015 research brief conducted by Miron and his Cato colleagues Jason Lindo and Maria Padilla-Romo shows that capturing a leading drug trafficker "in a municipality increases its homicide rate by 80 percent" over a 12-month period. In neighboring municipalities, the homicide rate rises 30 percent in the six-month period after a kingpin's capture. Over the last decade, the United States has contributed over $2 billion in money and intelligence resources to aid the Mexican government with their counternarcotics efforts, which focus on the elimination of drug cartel kingpins. In 2012, Gen. Charles Jacoby, who led the U.S. Northern Command from 2011 to 2014, admitted to Congress that removing kingpins did not have "an appreciable, positive effect" in limiting the operations and reach of Mexican drug cartels. "In my view the best policy is to legalize everything," says Miron. "The harms come almost entirely from the prohibitions, not from the properties of the substance." Reason spoke to Miron about the lessons to be learned from El Chapo's capture and if the Trump administration's latest calls for tougher punishment for drug dealers to combat the "terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction" is opening a new front in the drug war. Produced by Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. View this article. View this article. [...]



Mike Pompeo’s Reckless Approach to North Korea Shows Why He Shouldn’t Be Secretary of State: New at Reason

2018-04-19T13:00:00-04:00

(image) There are many reasons CIA Director Mike Pompeo should not be secretary of state, but his reckless, dishonest, and incoherent remarks about North Korea policy before the Senate last week may be chief among them. This becomes all the more troubling given President Trump's Wednesday announcement that Pompeo is already at the forefront of U.S-North Korea relations, having met with Kim last week.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo spoke on Korea policy repeatedly, but two exchanges most deserve note. The first, at the 53-minute mark of C-SPAN's video, began when Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) pressed Pompeo to clarify his preferred outcome for resolution of U.S.-North Korea tensions. Pompeo was evasive, claiming it is a "misstatement" to say he supports regime change and offering the exceedingly vague goal of "a position where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon," which could mean anything from assassination to Kim's sudden embrace of the American Dream. When Cardin kept pushing, Pompeo said he has "never advocated for regime change" and is not doing so now, writes Bonnie Kristian.

View this article.




Mike Pompeo's Reckless Approach to North Korea Shows Why He Shouldn't Be Secretary of State

2018-04-19T13:00:00-04:00

There are many reasons CIA Director Mike Pompeo should not be secretary of state, but the biggest may be his reckless, dishonest, and incoherent remarks about North Korea to the Senate last week. This becomes all the more troubling given President Trump's Wednesday announcement that Pompeo is already at the forefront of U.S.–North Korea relations, having met with Kim last week. Two exchanges during Pompeo's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee deserve note. The first, at the 53-minute mark of C-SPAN's video, began when Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) pressed Pompeo to clarify how he'd like U.S.–North Korea tensions to be resolved. Pompeo was evasive, claiming it is a "misstatement" to say he supports regime change and offering the exceedingly vague goal of "a position where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon," which could mean anything from assassination to Kim's sudden embrace of America. When Cardin kept pushing, Pompeo said he has "never advocated for regime change" and is not doing so now. A little over an hour later, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) tried to nail down Pompeo's view of ground war on the Korean peninsula. Markey introduced the subject by citing Defense Secretary James Mattis' belief that the United States is "never out of diplomatic options" in North Korea; the Pentagon's assessment that "the only way to locate and destroy—with complete certainty—all components of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs would be through a ground invasion"; and the projection that between 30,000 and 300,000 U.S. troops would die in the first few days of such a war alone. Pompeo was undeterred by the prospect of such catastrophe. "I suppose I could hypothesize such situations," he said of supporting a first strike ground war. "Could I imagine one? Yes....I can imagine times when America would need to take a response that moved past diplomacy" and on to unprovoked, mass-scale war on a regime armed with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons it will almost certainly use if faced with the existential threat of a preventive U.S. attack. This is reckless beyond belief, and it should disqualify Pompeo completely for the role of chief diplomat. Global interventionist John Bolton's nomination to the post of national security advisor is ominous enough. Bolton should not be granted Pompeo's help in diminishing the role of diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy and undermining comparatively restrained administration voices like Mattis. The secretary of state should be less committed to diplomacy than the secretary of defense. Pompeo's testimony was also dishonest, and crudely so: He expressed support for regime change in North Korea less than a year ago. "As for the [Kim] regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system," Pompeo said in Colorado last summer. "The North Korean people, I'm sure, are lovely people and would love to see him go." Anyone of good conscience agrees that Kim leads an inhumane and abhorrent government. But to deplore the regime is not the same as to hope for a forcible U.S.-orchestrated ouster, as Pompeo clearly did. If he lied about having "never advocated for regime change," why should we take seriously his claim he does not support it now? Is this the representative the United States should have on the world stage? The president's proclivity for demonstrable falsehoods is well-established. Should we field a secretary of state with the same failing? Will the U.S. be credible at the negotiating table with a diplomat who so clearly contradicts himself on record? Will that enhance American security or foster global stability or peace? And then there's the internal incoherence of Pompeo's remarks: In what scenario will an unprovoked U.S. ground invasion of North Korea not involve regime change? What hypot[...]



Will El Chapo’s Arrest Make the Drug Trade More Deadly?

2018-04-19T12:55:00-04:00

Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been awaiting trial in the United States since his dramatic capture in 2016. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, and kidnapping against Guzmán, who ran the notorious Sinaloa cartel for more than 40 years. El Chapo gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes, and for his controversial 2016 interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn while hiding as a fugitive from the law. The U.S. and Mexican governments have declared Guzmán's capture a major win in the drug war. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron thinks his story better demonstrates the folly of prohibition. "When we interfere on the supply side with the drug trade by taking out kingpins and other ways, we tend to lower the prices partially because we're making the market more competitive," says Miron, who's also the head of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Where there's demand, there's going to be supply." The capture of kingpins doesn't just tend to make cartels more competitive in the marketplace. It can also increase violence as rival factions battle to fill the power vacuum. A 2015 research brief conducted by Miron and his Cato colleagues Jason Lindo and Maria Padilla-Romo shows that capturing a leading drug trafficker "in a municipality increases its homicide rate by 80 percent" over a 12-month period. In neighboring municipalities, the homicide rate rises 30 percent in the six-month period after a kingpin's capture. Over the last decade, the United States has contributed over $2 billion in money and intelligence resources to aid the Mexican government with their counternarcotics efforts, which focus on the elimination of drug cartel kingpins. In 2012, Gen. Charles Jacoby, who led the U.S. Northern Command from 2011 to 2014, admitted to Congress that removing kingpins did not have "an appreciable, positive effect" in limiting the operations and reach of Mexican drug cartels. "In my view the best policy is to legalize everything," says Miron. "The harms come almost entirely from the prohibitions, not from the properties of the substance." Reason spoke to Miron about the lessons to be learned from El Chapo's capture and if the Trump administration's latest calls for tougher punishment for drug dealers to combat the "terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction" is opening a new front in the drug war. Produced by Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. "Cutting to the Chase" by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/) Source: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kai_Engel/Paradigm_Lost/02_-_Cutting_To_The_Chase Artist: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kai_Engel/ "Forgotten Marches" by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) Source: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kai_Engel/Written_in_Ink/Kai_Engel_-_Written_in_Ink_-_04_Forgotten_Marches Artist: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Kai_Engel/ "Seeger" by John Deley and the 41 Players. Source: https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/music Photo Credits: Mario Guzmán/EFE/Newscom—Mexican Attorney General's Office—Pgr/Ho/Prensa International/Zuma Press/Newscom—Str/picture alliance/dpa/Newscom—José Menéndez/EFE/Newscom—Henry Romero/REUTERS/Newscom—Edgard Garrido/REUTERS/Newscom—Shawn Thew/Pool/CNP/MEGA/Newscom—Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. [...]



Senators Respond to Trump's Unauthorized Military Strike on Syria by Trying to Give Him Even More War Powers

2018-04-19T12:40:00-04:00

No, President Donald Trump didn't have authorization to order a military strike on Syria. No, Congress will not hold him accountable for bombing Syria anyway. Not only has Congress largely abandoned its duty to grant or deny the president permission to wage war, but a bipartisan bill was introduced this week that would pretty much let him engage in war as he pleases. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-Va.) teamed up to introduce a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Both Trump and former President Barack Obama have been criticized for using the AUMF signed after 9/11, which was theoretically supposed to authorize the fight with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, to justify all sorts of military interventions in the Middle East. The Obama and the Trump administrations have argued that the 2001 AUMF covers everything from military actions in Libya and Syria to drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia. Corker and Kaine's AUMF is supposed to address this imbalance between what the 2001 bill actually authorized and how it has been used. Unfortunately, their "authorization" is virtually a blank check. It gives the president permission to keep on doing what he's doing, it expands the number of terrorist groups the White House may use the military against, and it allows the president to add both new "associated" terrorist groups to the AUMF and even entire new countries where anti-terror operations will happen, beyond Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. In other words, it resolves the problem of unauthorized military actions by retroactively authorizing them and future strikes as well. It does not have any sunset clause, instead requiring the president to submit a report every four years with a proposal to repeal, modify, or leave the AUMF in place. There will be congressional review for the addition of new countries, and lawmakers can remove authorization to strike in new countries should they choose to do so. But otherwise this is, in practical terms, permission to send the military wherever the president pleases. (Among this new AUMF's co-sponsors, by the way, is outgoing Arizona GOP senator and Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake.) Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute are not happy with this bill. They wrote a commentary for The New York Times arguing that the AUMF should instead be repealed and not replaced at all: As we have painfully learned, war often spawns new threats. The Islamic State had its origins in the Sunni insurgency that rose to fight American forces in Iraq. As early as 2006, the National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism found that the Iraq war had "become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." In the seven countries that the United States either invaded or bombed since Sept. 11, the number of individual terrorist attacks rose by an astonishing 1,900 percent from 2001 to 2015. If anything, open-ended war in the Middle East has made us less safe, not more. Presidential war undermines fundamental values of our representative democracy. "In no part of the constitution," James Madison wrote in 1793, "is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department"—were it otherwise, "the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned on Fox News that this new AUMF will expand the president's power. This morning Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tweeted that he doesn't support the new plan either: Having reviewed the proposed bill text from my colleagues, I am not supportive of this attempt at w[...]



Forcing Restaurants to Pay Servers More Will Cost Everyone: New at Reason

2018-04-19T12:15:00-04:00

(image) You don't often hear someone arguing against a pay raise. But that's exactly what many servers and bartenders across the country are saying: They're ok with their current hourly wage, so long as they can keep their tips.

Come June, servers in Washington, D.C., might be out of luck if Initiative 77—a proposal that aims to eliminate the tip credit—passes at the ballot box. Restaurant owners in the district currently pay waitstaff $3.33 an hour, well below the minimum wage, with the expectation that they will earn the rest (and sometimes much, much more) in tips. If gratuities fall short, existing law dictates that employers must make up the difference. Even so, the initiative would require D.C. restauranteurs to increase base pay to the prevailing $15 minimum wage, writes Billy Binion.

View this article.




Ohio State University Wants to Expel a Woman for Nonconsensual Group Sex

2018-04-19T11:50:00-04:00

Ohio State University (OSU) tried to expel a student for engaging in an allegedly nonconsensual threesome. That student is now suing the university, and this week a judge agreed that the administrators who investigated the case likely violated the due process rights of the accused. Unlike the vast majority of sexual misconduct disputes litigated under the auspices of Title IX, the federal statute mandating gender equality on campus, the accused is a woman. The genders of her accusers are unknown—Judge Edmund Sargus's decision omits the use of gendered pronouns. The accused student, referred to as "Jane Roe," filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent her expulsion, arguing that she was denied the opportunity to cross-examine her accusers. Judge Sargus agreed to this request, explaining in his decision that Roe is likely to prevail in court. "Given the central role cross-examination has played as a truth-seeking device in our justice system, and given that Defendants have not identified any authority supporting their position, the Court cannot conclude that a pre-hearing investigative process, such as OSU's, is a constitutionally adequate substitute for cross-examination," wrote Sargus. The dispute actually concerns two separate incidents, one on September 3, 2016, and another on November 12, 2016. The September incident took place during a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where Roe met up with several friends. One of these friends, LH, became very drunk, as did Roe. While they were seated next to each other, Roe allegedly began to grope and kiss LH. LH claimed to have remembered Roe's actions later after a friend told LH something had happened. The university investigated the matter, and noted that LH said Roe had engaged in nonconsensual touching while LH "drifted in and out of consciousness." Roe countered that she merely sat next to LH and couldn't recall anything inappropriate happening. A witness said Roe had "encroached" on LH's territory but did not see her kiss LH. The November 12 incident involved two other complainants, RK and MH, who met up with Roe for a night of drinking and dancing. All three returned to Roe's house afterward, where they engaged in a threesome. RK and MH later claimed that Roe had "engaged in intentional sexual touching and sexual penetration without consent and/or by force or coercion." RK told an investigator that consent had been verbalized, but that RK had been too drunk to meaningfully consent at the time. Investigators interviewed several witnesses, but as The College Fix's Greg Piper notes in his write-up of the case, "five of the seven purported 'witnesses' had simply been told by one or another accuser about the incident. The other two were roommates of Roe and one accuser." Neither RK nor MH showed up for the hearing, leaving Roe with no opportunity to meaningfully cross-examine them. Roe testified that she had obtained their consent for each and every individual sex act she performed. Roe's roommate testified that he saw one of the complainants leave the house after the encounter, and that this person did not seem drunk. Administrators suspended Roe for two years as a result of the Rocky Horror Picture Show incident. They expelled her for the allegedly nonconsensual threesome. She appealed both decisions, and lost twice. These are complicated allegations involving multiple intoxicated young people. (They might also involve students who were experimenting with their sexuality, and who may have regretted or been ashamed of certain same-sex activities.) It's entirely possible that Roe violated acceptable norms of consent. But she should have had an opportunity to question her accusers about what happened. Cross-examination is a[...]



First Opinion by James Ho (a Recently Appointed Fifth Circuit Judge)

2018-04-19T11:18:00-04:00

Very interesting -- I've long known Jim and admired his work, and this opinion (Zimmerman v. City of Austin) shows his qualities well. I myself am more open to campaign contribution limits than he (or his former boss, Justice Thomas) is; I explain my thinking briefly in this article, which shows me to be one of the few people who thinks Buckley v. Valeo's upholding of sufficiently high contribution limits but striking down of independent expenditure limits is basically right as a constitutional matter. But the dissent makes a strong case that $350 limits are unconstitutionally low, given Randall v. Sorrell and notwithstanding Nixon v. Shrink Missouri PAC.

A funny coincidence: The panel opinion, which Judges Ho and Jones would have had the court reconsider en banc, was joined by Jim's other former judicial boss, Judge Jerry Smith.




Trump's Regulatory Slowdown Is Real

2018-04-19T10:55:00-04:00

President Donald Trump's first year in office saw the creation of fewer new federal regulations than any year since the National Archives started tracking regulatory rules in 1976. Even so, the administration created more than 3,200 new rules during 2017. That's 34 new regulations for every single bill passed by Congress. That sort of dichotomy permeates a report published today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based free market think tank. On one hand, there is no doubt that the Trump administration has made slashing federal regulations a key policy goal. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to remove two regulations from the books for every new one added. That atmosphere has reduced red tape and slowed the creation of new rules, says Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the author of "10,000 Commandments," an annual assessment of the size of the federal regulatory state. According to the new edition of "10,000 Commandments," the Trump administration delayed or repealed more than 1,500 regulations passed by the Obama administration. Congress helped out by using the Congressional Review Act to eliminate 15 Obama-era rules during 2017. The results include a rollback of the feds' role in land use decisions and an end to the Social Security Administration's attempt to regulate guns. On the other hand, the federal regulatory state remains a massive entity that sucks $1.9 trillion out of the economy each year. And Trump's efforts to shrink it are under threat from his other, often countervailing, impulses. "These are good things, but there are warning signs," Crews says. "President Trump's own apparent affinity for strong antitrust enforcement and protectionist trade policies threaten to undermine the economic gains from his regulatory reform efforts." You can literally see how Trump stacks up against previous presidents by printing out the full length of the Federal Register, that annual behemoth that publishes every new rule issued by a federal department or agency. In 2016, Obama's final year in office, the register ran to a record length of 95,000 pages—far ahead of the previous record, set just one year before, of 80,000 pages. Thirteen of the 15 longest registers in American history were authored by Trump's two immediate predecessors. Trump's 2017 register? A mere 61,308 pages, the lowest count since 1993. While Trump delivered on his promise to cut two regulations for every new one added, there are worrying signs that federal rulemaking might increase in coming years. Agencies have three times as many regulatory actions as deregulatory actions in the pipeline, Crews says. And only Congress can truly return the administrative state to a more limited role. As Matt Welch detailed in Reason last year, the growth of federal regulations is largely the result of Congress handing over too much rulemaking authority to federal agencies—and failing to hold agencies accountable for the rules they create. "Ultimately, permanent regulatory streamlining will require Congress to act," says Crews. [...]



College Republicans Get In Huge Trouble for Posting 'I.C.E. I.C.E. Baby' Signs: New at Reason

2018-04-19T10:15:00-04:00

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The College Republicans at the University of California, Merced advertised their club last month with signs that read "I.C.E. I.C.E. Baby" and provided the phone number for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now the student government is considering defunding them and similar organizations, in part because College Republicans might use those funds to attend conservative conferences and spread hateful rhetoric on campus.

The initial advertising campaign provoked a response from school administrators several days after the incident. The officials condemned the group's "bigoted and hateful" tactics but reminded students that "as nasty as the club's signs were, they are protected by the First Amendment," writes Liz Wolfe.

View this article.




College Republicans Get In Huge Trouble for Posting 'I.C.E. I.C.E. Baby' Signs

2018-04-19T10:15:00-04:00

The College Republicans at the University of California, Merced advertised their club last month with signs that read "I.C.E. I.C.E. Baby" and provided the phone number for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now the student government is considering defunding them and similar organizations, in part because College Republicans might use those funds to attend conservative conferences and spread hateful rhetoric on campus. The initial advertising campaign provoked a response from school administrators several days after the incident. The officials condemned the group's "bigoted and hateful" tactics but reminded students that "as nasty as the club's signs were, they are protected by the First Amendment." When the student legislature got wind of this, it released a statement saying it "would like to apologize to the student body for not taking a definitive stance against the violent actions from the College Republicans sooner." It continued: "Members of the senate believe that we should not tolerate or support any individual or organization that perpetuates hate speech on our campus. Direct endangerment of any kind should be condemned on this campus." If any students saw the I.C.E. phone number on the College Republicans' sign and did, in fact, call it to report an undocumented student who was then deported or questioned, that would indeed be direct endangerment. But the reference to "hate speech" takes the statement in a different direction, veering toward the "words are violence" jargon that has become all too common on campuses. On March 21, the legislative branch of the student government released a statement lamenting the fact that another student government division––the Inter Club Council––granted funding to the CRs to attend the California College Republicans state convention, saying that the conference "will enable their organization to network with individuals that share their harmful views" and that those hateful sentiments would be brought back to the Merced campus. The College Fix reports that "Senators asked students to attend an April 4 Senate meeting to discuss 'financial bylaw changes that will prohibit student fees from funding partisan organizations on campus, a policy implemented on other UC campuses.'" This meeting was allegedly coupled with a discussion of the "formal timeline of the violent actions committed" by College Republicans, making it pretty clear that the discussion of withholding funds was related to the conduct of these conservative provocateurs. It's not clear how a prohibition on student fee funding for partisan organizations will be applied, or which organizations will be considered partisan––would a pro-choice group, for example, fall into that category? A genuinely neutral removal of student funds for all political organizations would be constitutionally acceptable, but any discrimination on the basis of a group's point of view could run into First Amendment problems. In an April 16 statement, the California College Republicans say they "view any attempt to defund CRUCM as an explicitly biased attack against conservative values and ideas....Any repercussive action by UC Merced student government or campus administration is an assault on First Amendment rights." They don't say whether they plan to take legal action if they lose their fees, but they're hinting that this issue won't be resolved quietly. This is, after all, the same litigious College Republicans chapter that threatened to sue their school when administrators quoted high security fees for bringing the right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro to campus. Fears of deportation, or of h[...]



The Supreme Court Eyes Online Sales Taxes: New at Reason

2018-04-19T09:59:00-04:00

(image) If you think internet companies aren't paying any taxes for online sales and that's killing bricks-and-mortar retailers and states' budgets, you, my friend, have been duped, writes Veronique de Rugy. In reality, the internet isn't a tax-free zone, nor is the lack of revenue the issue with state budgets. There is, however, a battle about whether state and local governments should be allowed to collect taxes from out-of-state companies.

Most state lawmakers want to force out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes on their behalf. This argument was just heard by the Supreme Court in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. If the states were to win, they would be able to reach into the pockets of every mom selling her paintings on Etsy, even though she may live on the other side of the country, didn't elect other states' officials, and never agreed to those states' tax laws.

View this article.




Trump Is Trying to Convince Rand Paul to Vote for Pompeo: Reason Roundup

2018-04-19T09:30:00-04:00

President Donald Trump is confident he will ultimately convince Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) to vote to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the president's pick to be the next secretary of state. Trump told reporters that Paul "is a very special guy" who has "never let me down." But Paul has pledged to oppose the nomination, on grounds that Pompeo is too favorable toward military intervention in the Middle East. Paul grilled Pompeo at his confirmation hearings last week, castigating the would-be secretary of state for continuing to support a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan—contrary to Trump's position. "The president has been very specific at times on this and he said it's time to get out of Afghanistan," said Paul. "Some here worry you're going to be too much in agreement with the president, I worry you're going to be too much in disagreement with the president." CNN reported that Trump called Paul yesterday and asked him to give Pompeo another chance: Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill that Trump called him a "few minutes ago" and asked for him to meet with Pompeo and he will. "I'm open to meeting right now and we'll see what happens in the meeting," he said with a smile, adding that no date had been set for the meeting. Meanwhile, the president is touting Pompeo's involvement in recent efforts to bring North Korean President Kim Jong-Un to the negotiating table. According to The Washington Post: Pompeo did help set the table for those negotiations to commence, when Kim and Trump meet in a yet-to-be-determined location. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that the meeting would take place "in the coming weeks" and that "hopefully that meeting will be a great success." Earlier Wednesday, Trump praised Pompeo for breaking the ice between the two countries, noting that the CIA director "got along with [Kim] really well, really great." Pompeo returned to Washington with enough assurance that North Korea was prepared to negotiate over the future of its nuclear weapons program that the White House decided summit talks were worthwhile, according to the people familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. It's possible Trump is attempting to signal to Paul that Pompeo has abandoned his past as a torture-defending hawk and is ready to play the role of peace-seeking diplomat. Assuming that Paul proves immune to such overtures, Republicans will need to convince at least one Senate Democrat to vote for Pompeo in order to get him confirmed. Currently, it's unclear whether any of them will break ranks. FREE MINDS Randa Jarrar, the Fresno State University professor who celebrated the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush in a series of widely-condemned tweets, is now under investigation. "This was beyond free speech," Fresno President Joseph Castro said, according to The Fresno Bee. "This was disrespectful." But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and American Civil Liberties Union of North America both say it's a mistake for the university to investigate Jarrar for merely saying something offensive about Bush. "If Fresno State administrators are reviewing her based on this political speech, that is troubling," said ACLU staff attorney Abre Connor. And Ari Cohn, an attorney at FIRE, said, "The desire to see someone fired because they said something you disagree with or was offensive to you is childish and unproductive and it needs to stop." FREE MARKETS Tax Day is now officially over—for real this time. The IRS had to extend the deadline for U.S. residents to [...]



Trump's Strange Appeasement of Putin: New at Reason

2018-04-19T09:01:00-04:00

(image) Donald Trump takes pride in his self-image as a tough guy. When a protester disrupted a rally, he said, "I'd like to punch him in the face." After the Parkland shootings, he said he probably would have run in to confront the killer, even without a gun.

He's always putting foreign leaders in their place. He's slapped the Chinese with tariffs and said he would welcome a trade war. He's threatened North Korea with destruction. He's denounced the "brutal and corrupt Iranian regime."

But when it comes to Vladimir Putin, writes Steve Chapman, Trump doesn't come across as fierce or demanding. He comes across as scared.

View this article.




I Doubt This Is the Right Way to Manipulate Justice Gorsuch

2018-04-19T08:19:00-04:00

From a post (not by Michael Dorf) on Dorf on Law: Just about everyone is expecting Justice Gorsuch to vote with the conservatives [in Janus v. AFSCME, the compulsory agency fee case], and overturn Abood [v. Detroit Bd. of Ed.]. But I am not so sure. He was uncharacteristically silent during the oral argument. Moreover, as I wrote here, there are strong stare decisis reasons not to overturn Abood. It would not be hard for Justice Gorsuch to say that he would have voted differently in the first instance but respect for precedent requires him to affirm Abood.But why would he do that? Maybe Gorsuch would like to change the narrative that he is nothing but a Scalia/Thomas clone who always votes or almost always votes in lockstep with the conservatives and the Republican Party. Gorsuch just completed his first year on the bench and the reviews from conservatives have been uniformly sparkling while liberals, including this author, have been extremely critical. Criticizing everything from his bad writing, to his originalist hypocrisy, the expectation among left-of center and liberal media is that Gorsuch is an ideologue who will just be one more reliable right-wing vote. There is of course also the problem that Justice Gorsuch is on this Supreme Court only because this Senate Majority Leader stole the seat from President Obama. Everyone knows that Merrick Garland would have voted with their liberals to reaffirm Abood. If Gorsuch sides with his conservative colleagues to reverse the case, there is no doubt that the decision will be deemed illegitimate by many on the left. Gorsuch could dramatically change the narrative of his career by voting not to reverse Abood. I am not suggesting that he would do so if he was convinced the law required a different result, just as I am sure Chief Justice Roberts believed the position he espoused in NFIB was correct. But of course, the Justices have great discretion in deciding these difficult legal cases. Justice Gorsuch could easily and not controversially justify a vote for the states in Janus by relying on the doctrine of stare decisis. If he did that, he could write an opinion advocating for the rule-of-law values he claims to take so seriously. Additionally, there is no legitimate originalist argument to support shredding over 20 state laws imposing fees for bargaining-related activities. If Justice Gorsuch were to anchor his vote in originalism and stare decisis concerns, he would prove his critics wrong and do the right thing all at the same time. Supreme Court Justices are people just like the rest of us. Although they hold their seats for life, they want to be considered good at their jobs and principled decision-makers. Don't be surprised if Justice Gorsuch uses the Janus case to demonstrate that he is not just a clone of the late Justice Scalia. Will Baude and I filed an amicus brief supporting the AFSCME position in Janus, and I naturally hope Justice Gorsuch will agree with us. (We actually think Abood should indeed be overturned, but in the opposite direction from what many conservatives have argued.) I also think there are plausible stare decisis reasons for keeping Abood, despite its unsound reasoning and the vagueness and illogic of the line it draws between what uses of agency fees are allowed and what uses are not; questions about what to do with unsound precedents are always complicated. But I would much rather that Justice Gorsuch disagreed with me, than that he voted with me because he "would like to change the narrative [...]



How We Lost Privacy: New at Reason

2018-04-19T08:10:00-04:00

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A couple of years ago, I went to dinner at the Seattle Space Needle. To my surprise—I was over 30—the waiter asked to see ID when I ordered wine. I hadn't brought my purse from the hotel, so I had nothing with which to prove my age. In retrospect, this probably saved me from a $100 bar tab at their prices, but at the time I was annoyed.

Although we aren't officially required by law to carry identification, in practice it is necessary to get through many interactions. This has become increasingly true over time. As a teenager I bought booze without problems. I can also recall being able to fly domestically without showing ID. I still often go out with nothing but some cash in my pocket. Nonetheless, like all of you, I leave a paper trail of account numbers, credit scores, and biometric photos wherever I go.

In The Known Citizen, a highly readable new history of privacy in America, the Vanderbilt historian and legal scholar Sarah Igo offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged, writes Katrina Gulliver.

View this article.




Forcing Restaurants to Pay Servers More Will Cost Everyone

2018-04-19T08:00:00-04:00

You don't often hear someone arguing against a pay raise. But that's exactly what many servers and bartenders across the country are saying: They'd rather keep their current hourly wage than do without their tips. Come June, servers in Washington, D.C., might be out of luck if Initiative 77—a proposal that aims to eliminate the tip credit—passes at the ballot box. Restaurant owners in the district currently pay waitstaff $3.33 an hour, well below the minimum wage, with the expectation that they will earn the rest (and sometimes much, much more) in tips. If gratuities fall short, existing law dictates that employers must make up the difference. Even so, the initiative would require D.C. restauranteurs to increase base pay to the prevailing $15 minimum wage. Who doesn't love a 350 percent raise? Sounds great on paper, but in the wise words of The Notorious B.I.G., "more money, more problems." While restaurant profit margins have grown in recent years, they are still notoriously small, settling around 6 percent on average. Forced to implement a steep hike in pay, employers inevitably respond by upping menu prices and whittling down staff. Manhattan's Union Square Café, for instance, eliminated tipping in late 2015 to become a full-fledged "hospitality-included" establishment. To cover the cost of this, prices on the already-expensive menu rose by 25 percent. Servers are now compensated via a revenue-share system, which is a bummer, as business has declined. If Initiative 77 passes on June 19, Washington restaurants may meet a similar fate. It's impossible to calculate the precise impact the law would have on prices in D.C., but imagine if they followed Union Square Café's tenuous lead. Want to grab your favorite $12 cocktail after a long day? That'll be $15 now. What about a $16 burger, fries, and Coke? That'll be closer to $20. And the $50 steak you get when you want to treat yourself? That might feel more like an investment than a splurge. Consumers will have to loosen their purse strings to enjoy a halfway-decent meal. But servers and bartenders—the people this measure purports to help—stand to lose the most. "Our jobs, should they still exist, will be completely changed for the worse," says Joshua Chaisson, vice president of the Restaurant Workers of America, an advocacy organization dedicated to preserving the tipped wage system across the country. The data agree with him. States that upped the minimum wage in recent years have disproportionately disadvantaged low-wage workers, with employers forced to cut hours or eliminate those jobs entirely. "We like working for tips. We earn a great living working for tips. The idea that we need to be saved or helped is completely disingenuous at best and a bold-faced lie at worst," says Chaisson, who earns $28 an hour on average. To be fair, restaurants in D.C. would still include an option for tipping, unlike Union Square Café in New York. So those servers fortunate enough to stay employed would have the potential to earn gratuity on top of an increased wage. But not for long. Just ask Dan Swenson-Klatt, who owns a bakery in Minneapolis. He is also a member of RAISE, a restaurant organization that in his words yearns for "a restaurant industry that doesn't need to have tipping as a way to pay people." "Removing that [tip] credit is their first line of importance in getting to no tips," he recently told MinnPost. RAISE is an offshoot of the Restaurant Opportunities C[...]



Why Aren’t Feminist Groups More Concerned that So Many Colleges and Universities Discriminate Against Women in Admissions?

2018-04-19T07:01:00-04:00

This puzzles me. It is routine for many colleges and universities, particularly mid-level liberal arts schools, to discriminate against women in admissions. Believing that they have "too many women," these schools refuse admission to female applicants whose academic credentials would have been more than sufficient for a male applicant. Why don't we hear more complaints from feminist organizations? Alison Somin and I wrote about this a few years back in a short essay entitled Affirmative Action for Men?: Strange Silences and Strange Bedfellows in the Public Debate Over Discrimination Against Women in College Admissions. We were motivated in large part by the fact that some feminists actually had opposed an empirical study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the subject (and as a result the liberals on the Commission cancelled the study). In the case of a state school or a private professional or graduate school that receives federal funds, such discrimination violates Title IX. But some do it anyway. "We are, after all, the College of William and Mary, not the College of Mary and Mary," one state school admissions officer said. For private colleges, Title IX is more lenient. It allows sex discrimination in admissions, but not once students are admitted. This was intended to allow single-sex colleges to receive federal funding, but it also allows liberal arts schools that don't want women to outnumber men by too much to have different admissions standards. But legal or illegal, I would have expected feminist organizations to be at least concerned and to want a study conducted. There are so many things that get labeled sex discrimination that aren't really sex discrimination. It surprises and troubles me that honest-to-goodness sex discrimination gets ignored. Maybe feminist organizations don't want to draw too much attention to how well females are doing these days in school, because it hurts the narrative that women are the underdogs. But women form a 56% majority of college students. And they are a majority of those in law, medical, and dental school. Alternatively, maybe the leaders of feminist groups are reluctant to speak out for fear of undermining the case for affirmative action for racial and ethnic minorities. They may perceive themselves as part of a broad coalition of left-leaning activists first and advocates for women in particular only second. One of the questions we address in the essay is whether the Department of Education's athletic-centric enforcement of Title IX is a contributing factor to discriminatory admissions policies. A time-honored way for a small liberal arts college to recruit male students used to be to offer them the opportunity to play varsity athletics--something they are less likely to qualify for at the big sports-powerhouse universities. But for reasons that we explain in the essay, complex Title IX enforcement policies make this strategy difficult and expensive for schools. Some schools would rather just discriminate outright in admissions. It's easier and cheaper. These Title IX enforcement policies could be tweaked without causing women who want to participate in athletics to be denied equal opportunity. And doing so would reduce the incentive for schools to just discriminate against women outright in admissions. Such changes would also likely improve opportunities for women who prefer non-athletic extra-curricular activities, such as chorus or dram[...]



How We Lost Privacy

2018-04-19T06:00:00-04:00

The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America, by Sarah E. Igo, Harvard University Press, 540 pages, $35 A couple of years ago, I went to dinner at the Seattle Space Needle. To my surprise—I was over 30—the waiter asked to see ID when I ordered wine. I hadn't brought my purse from the hotel, so I had nothing with which to prove my age. In retrospect, this probably saved me from a $100 bar tab at their prices, but at the time I was annoyed. Although we aren't officially required by law to carry identification, in practice it is necessary to get through many interactions. This has become increasingly true over time. As a teenager I bought booze without problems. I can also recall being able to fly domestically without showing ID. I still often go out with nothing but some cash in my pocket. Nonetheless, like all of you, I leave a paper trail of account numbers, credit scores, and biometric photos wherever I go. In The Known Citizen, a highly readable new history of privacy in America, the Vanderbilt historian and legal scholar Sarah Igo offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged. When future Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis conceived of privacy as a "right to be left alone" in the Harvard Law Review in 1890, he meant a right to be free from intrusive media attention. The state's attentions were less of a concern to him. The inflection point, the time when privacy advocates focused their attention on the federal government, was the New Deal. Social Security numbers presented a major issue for anyone who saw government registration as an infringement of civil liberties. But as Igo shows, linking Social Security clearly with the benefits to be garnered from registration turned most citizens in favor of the idea. Being enrolled in Social Security showed that one was gainfully employed, an upright citizen. In the early days of the system, some people even chose to have themselves tattooed with their number. The government promised that the numbers would be used only for Social Security purposes, but they soon crept into different federal agencies' files, becoming, just as skeptics had feared, a general means of identifying citizens. Since the 1980s, Social Security numbers have been widely issued at birth; an entire generation of Americans have now lived their entire lives with open federal files. As the public became more relaxed about Social Security numbers, privacy concerns shifted elsewhere. After the Second World War, Americans pursued privacy in the form of the single-family home in the suburbs. Children would have their own bedrooms; the nuclear family would be free from extended relations and lodgers. But to some people's disappointment, the suburban ideal didn't free everyone from snooping neighbors. Away from the anonymity of cities, residents sometimes found themselves under more surveillance, subject to social censure for transgressing community norms. Expectations of privacy in the home are also culturally freighted, to a degree Igo doesn't fully cover. Northwestern European architecture (which was imported to the U.S.) tends to have houses with windows facing the street, allowing others to see in as the occupants see out. In much of Holland, it was traditional not even to have curtains, such was the literal transparency of good Protestant l[...]



Brickbat: In Plain Sight

2018-04-19T04:00:00-04:00

(image) A Baton Rouge police officer is under investigation after getting caught on body camera video saying she could search a vehicle without probable cause and say anything she found was in plain sight. When Robin Ducote said she wanted to search a truck, another officer asked if she had probable cause. "Yeah, they are both f****** passed out," Ducote responded. "So, if we find something, we say it's in plain view. Who gives a s***, we're writing this report."




Trump's Strange Appeasement of Putin

2018-04-19T00:01:00-04:00

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is used to being surrounded by diplomats representing murderous regimes, has found out the most dangerous place for her to be: between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. In a TV interview Sunday, she said the administration would shortly impose additional sanctions on Moscow for its role in Syria's chemical weapons program. The president was watching and "yelled at the television," reports The New York Times. The next day, the White House said it would not add to the sanctions because the president would "like to have a good relationship" with Russia. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow attributed the apparent reversal to Haley's "momentary confusion." She could have done the country a service by resigning to protest the administration's vacillating on Russia and lying about her. Instead, she tartly rebuked Kudlow: "With all due respect, I don't get confused." Kudlow then admitted that the policy had changed overnight. Trump takes pride in his self-image as a tough guy. When a protester disrupted a rally, he said, "I'd like to punch him in the face." After the Parkland shootings, he said he probably would have run in to confront the killer, even without a gun. He's always putting foreign leaders in their place. He's slapped the Chinese with tariffs and said he would welcome a trade war. He's threatened North Korea with destruction. He's denounced the "brutal and corrupt Iranian regime." Allies are not exempt from his ire. Trump has yelled at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, slammed British Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter, and derided German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy as "insane." Mexico, South Korea, and Japan often get treated rudely. But when it comes to Putin, Trump doesn't come across as fierce or demanding. He comes across as scared. Why is not clear. It may or may not come to light that Trump and his campaign conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election. A video of him consorting with prostitutes in Moscow may or may not emerge. But what we know already is that he practically grovels before Putin. During the campaign, he said over and over that Putin had been "very nice" to him. He praised Putin as "a strong leader." Strangest of all, he complained about Hillary Clinton's stance on Russia: "She shouldn't be talking so tough." This approach was at odds with Republican policy for the previous century. The GOP always regarded Russia as a dangerous rival, if not an enemy, that has to be dealt with firmly and skeptically. Trump doesn't see it that way. He has resisted doing anything that might offend Putin. This isn't because Russia has pulled out of Crimea, abandoned Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, cut back its military, or tried to ease tensions with our NATO allies. In fact, Putin has done the opposite. He even showed a video depicting a Russian missile attack on Florida. Not least important, the Russians interfered in the 2016 election—which Dick Cheney said could "be considered an act of war." Shortly after taking office, Trump spilled secrets to the Russian ambassador. In a recent phone call, he congratulated Putin for being re-elected—even though he had been advised not to and even though the election was manifestly unfair. He also invited Putin to the White House. And this call happened after Britain accused Russia of poisoning a former Ru[...]



The Supreme Court Eyes Online Sales Taxes

2018-04-19T00:01:00-04:00

If you think internet companies aren't paying any taxes for online sales and that's killing bricks-and-mortar retailers and states' budgets, you, my friend, have been duped. Nothing could be further from the truth. The internet isn't a tax-free zone, nor is the lack of revenue the issue with state budgets. There is, however, a battle about whether state and local governments should be allowed to collect taxes from out-of-state companies. A 1992 Supreme Court decision, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, reaffirmed a previous decision that a business must have a significant presence in a state before that state can require it to collect sales taxes. That means a mother selling handcrafted goods on Etsy doesn't have to collect sales taxes from her consumers unless they are physically located in her state. However, Amazon collects sales taxes from customers in all 45 states that have a statewide sales tax because of its vast distribution network. Most state lawmakers want to see Quill overturned, allowing them to force out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes on their behalf. This argument was just heard by the Supreme Court in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. If the states were to win, they would be able to reach into the pockets of that mom selling her paintings on Etsy, even though she may live on the other side of the country, didn't elect other states' officials, and never agreed to those states' tax laws. More tragically for consumers, tax competition among states would also be lost if Quill were overturned. Under the new regime, online consumers—no matter where they shop or what they buy—would lose the ability to shop around for a better tax system. Without the competitive pressure and the fear of losing consumers to lower-tax states, lawmakers would not feel the need to try to rein in their sales tax burden. It's that pressure, which limits their tax grabbing abilities, that these lawmakers resent and want the Supreme Court to put an end to. Some of them probably hope that more revenue would alleviate the need to put their financial house in order. They would be wrong. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 33 states faced shortfalls in fiscal 2017 and/or fiscal 2018, even though revenue collection has been growing in most states. That's because the more states collect in revenue the more they spend. Besides, states are overestimating the revenue they'd get from the taxes. Internet sales are still a small share of overall sales, and taxing them wouldn't make much difference. According to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office, online sales represent less than 10 percent of retail sales. Also, the 100 biggest online retailers already tax roughly 90 percent of their sales. Desperate lawmakers shouldn't expect to collect any more than 2 to 4 percent of total state and local government tax revenues this way, according to the GAO, were Quill to be reversed. A reversal would, however, jack up compliance costs for small online retailers, which, unlike Amazon, tend to have razor-thin profit margins. Imagine suddenly having to enforce taxes for the nation's 12,000 tax-collecting jurisdictions. Talking to NPR on the morning of the South Dakota v. Wayfair hearing, a Republican state senator from South Dakota, Deb Peters, laughed at the notion that anyone would ge[...]



Video: 'Barack Obama' Calls Trump a 'Total and Complete Dipshit'

2018-04-18T17:15:00-04:00

Watch Barack Obama call President Trump a "total and complete dipshit": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cQ54GDm1eL0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Of course, that isn't real. It's a video created by comedian and Academy Award winner Jordan Peele, employing increasingly easy-to-use programs to demonstrate the coming age of nearly seamless "fake news" images. A couple months ago, when the Reddit user deepfakes first publicized his ability to swap anyone's face into porn, the reaction was swift and mostly univocal: This was a threat to the very universe! As the reliably alarmist Motherboard hyperventilated: An incredibly easy-to-use application for DIY fake videos—of sex and revenge porn, but also political speeches and whatever else you want—that moves and improves at this pace could have society-changing impacts in the ways we consume media. The combination of powerful, open-source neural network research, our rapidly eroding ability to discern truth from fake news, and the way we spread news through social media has set us up for serious consequences. Well, no. For starters, the control and manipulation of images and events has been with us forever. The powerful have always been able to do this, going back to the days when leaders would kill people for publishing unauthorized versions of speeches. Contra Walter Benjamin, whose "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936) is one of the most influential essays written in the past century, the ability for more and more of us to detach words and images from the specific time and place of their creation and instantiation is incredibly liberating. The same types of technology that allow us to put a mustache on the Mona Lisa and circulate that image globally also allow people to speak truth as they see it to power. Reappropriating, misappropriating, decontextualizing, recontextualizing—as all that has become easier and easier over the years, the result has been a wellspring of letting the relatively powerless speak. That was the essential insight of the early scholars of fan fiction, such as the semi-notorious "slash" fiction written by Star Trek fans shortly after the original series was canceled in 1969. Fans started writing stories in which Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock engaged in sadomasochistic sexual adventures and sell them using the code K/S via newsletters (hence the term slash). As Constance Penley of the University of California at Santa Barbara wrote, Slash fans do more than "make do" [with mass-produced materials]; they make. Not only have they remade the Star Trek fictional universe to their own desiring ends, they have achieved it by enthusiastically mimicking the technologies of mass-market cultural production, and by constantly debating their own relation...to those technologies. That same sort of turn is at work in all sorts of political messaging, too, from lefties such as Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal to right-wing guerrilla artists such as Sabo. Technology that allows us to create and distribute deepfake videos are simply the latest and greatest methods of letting all sorts of people speak in all sorts of ways. That isn't to say that the rise of videos like Peele's shouldn't give us pause. In an age of deep fakes, fake n[...]



Nebraska Just Passed a Major Occupational Licensing Reform Measure. Here's Why It Matters.

2018-04-18T16:55:00-04:00

Nebraska lawmakers struck a rare tri-partisan blow against onerous occupational licensing laws on the 60th and final day of the 2018 legislative session, voting 45–1 to pass a major reform bill authored by Libertarian state Sen. Laura Ebke. Ebke's Occupational Board Reform Act requires state lawmakers to undertake a review of Nebraska's occupational licensing laws with an eye toward loosening or eliminating requirements that serve as barriers to employment without benefiting public safety. The bill requires that licensing laws "respect the fundamental right of an individual to pursue an occupation" and instructs lawmakers to favor less restrictive forms of regulation—which could include private certification, registration, insurance or bonding requirements, inspections, open market competition, or a combination of these approaches—in circumstances where one-size-fits-all licensing rules violate that right. "It will help give power back to Nebraskans to cut the hidden tax of red tape that is creating barriers for working people across our state," says Jim Vokal, CEO of the Platte Institute, a Nebraska-based think tank. The bill's backers included the free-marketeers at the Platte Institute and the licensing reform campaigners at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that helped craft the bill. But it also won support across the political spectrum. The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sponsored a series of events at locations around the state highlighting the bill's importance, and the conservatives at the Wall Street Journal editorial page called the bill a "model for licensing reform." Nebraska licenses at least 174 different professions. (The full list, including "acupuncturists," "bulk milk haulers," "geologists," "nail technicians," "personal trainers," and even "swimming pool operators," was included on page 3 of the original version of Ebke's bill.) The Platte Institute has found that "many of Nebraska's licensing requirements are more burdensome than its neighboring states." A 2017 report from the Institute for Justice highlighted how little sense some of the state's licensing rules make. Becoming a cosmetologist in Nebraska requires 2,100 hours of training, compared to just 138 hours of training required to become an emergency medical technician. It is such arbitrary, nonsensical rules that the five-year legislative review process will target. Ebke, the Libertarian Party's only sitting state senator, told Reason's Brian Doherty earlier this month that her unique position in the Nebraska unicameral legislature might have helped the bill's chances. "Most of the co-sponsors are Republicans," she said. "The fact that I'm not a Republican allows some of the more liberal members of the body to come and talk to me." The lone "nay" vote Wednesday came from state Sen. Bruce Bostelman (R-Brainard). Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, has not said whether he will sign the bill. In the wake of Wednesday's vote, Ebke tells Reason she's "very pleased." "We still need the signature of the governor, but we're optimistic," Ebke says. Passing with such overwhelming support—including "yes" votes from lawmakers who had opposed the bill at early stages in the legislative process—makes it increasingly lik[...]