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Updated: 2018-01-18T00:00:00-05:00


Judge Issues Temporary Order Blocking DOD Transfer of U.S. Citizen to Foreign Custody


U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order this afternoon temporarily blocking the transfer of a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen detained in Iraq out of the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Lawyers for the Defense Department (DOD) allege the detainee is an ISIS fighter; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing him. The order will remain in force only for five days, at which time Chutkan will decide whether to keep it in place or whether the DOD can make the transfer without further review. At a hearing before Chutkan this morning, the government admitted that, to its knowledge, the man is not accused of or wanted for a crime in any other country, nor is the U.S. holding him on behalf of any other country that wishes to charge him later. Under Supreme Court precedent, either circumstance would probably defeat any challenge to the legality of his continued detention. For months, the DOD has tried to block the unidentified U.S. citizen from even being able to challenge his detention in federal court, as he's currently doing. At the hearing, lawyers for the Pentagon argued that the DOD did not need to specify or defend a legal basis for turning him over to another country. Saudi Arabia is the most likely recipient, given the detainee's dual nationality. The ACLU wants Chutkan to enjoin such a transfer for the duration of the ongoing habeas corpus case, arguing it would amount to a continuation of an imprisonment that is potentially illegal. Government lawyers say Chutkan lacks the authority to prevent them from handing the man over before his case is heard: Courts may not prevent the government from releasing a detainee if it chooses, and the DOD claims that handing him over to foreign custody would qualify as "release from U.S. custody." Chutkan seemed skeptical of this theory. These arguments represent only the latest move in the government's monthslong effort to prevent the man, who was turned over to the military by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, from contesting his classification as an enemy combatant in court. From the time he entered U.S. custody in September until recently, he was kept completely incommunicado with the outside world, even after he made a formal request for legal representation. By refusing to identify the man or allow him to contact his family or a lawyer, the military effectively blocked the man's ability to initiate the court proceedings that the Supreme Court says military detainees are entitled to, a move that one national security law expert characterized as "constructive denial" of his habeas corpus rights. When the ACLU asked the court to allow it to represent the man's interests, the government objected on the grounds that the detainee had not authorized the group to proceed on his behalf. Pointing out that this was because the government had deliberately prevented him from communicating, Chutkan ordered the the DOD in December to allow to the ACLU to ask him whether he wanted their help. He did. In addition to the factual question of whether the man is in fact an ISIS fighter, the case raises a number of interesting unresolved legal questions about the military's authority in the fight against ISIS. Chief among these is whether the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed immediately after 9/11 extends to the fight against ISIS. However, these issues become vastly more difficult (and maybe impossible) to settle if the man is handed over to the Saudis in the meantime. Chutkan's temporary order may suggest she is sympathetic to the prisoner's claims, but it may also prompt the government to file an appeal with the D.C. Circuit, a venue in which overseas terrorism detainees have historically not fared well. [...]

Tennessee Deputy Who Suffered Panic Attack After Firing At Unarmed Man Had Track Record of Lying and Incompetence at Previous Police Department


(image) How unqualified does an aspiring deputy have to be before the Sevier County Sheriff's Department won't hire him?

In October Reason covered the story of Justin M. Johnson, a deputy in Sevier County, Tennessee, whose bodycam caught him firing wildly and without warning at an unarmed man who had been filming him. The footage then shows Johnson suffering a severe panic attack. The man doing the filming has since been charged with assault for causing the deputy's panic.

The footage and subsequent fallout, first reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is disturbing enough. What makes the tale even more upsetting is Johnson's previous poor performance as a police officer, a track record that should have prevented him from being hired in the first place.

According to a new story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Johnson worked for a brief stint at the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) in eastern Tennessee before he was hired as a Sevier deputy. He lasted five months before being fired for repeated unsafe handling of his firearm and for lying to his boss about the legal fallout stemming from an extramarital affair.

The JCPD hired Johnson in June 2013, and he almost immediately started causing problems. The News-Sentinel reports that his superiors had to provide him with weekly remedial training and that they cited him for "unsafe handling of guns and suspects."

At one point, Johnson reportedly "fanned" fellow officers with his weapon.

Johnson then lied to his superiors about an extramarital affair he was having. In October 2013, he reportedly emailed Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois to tell him that a "'lunatic' woman with a 'fatal attraction'" would be filing a fallacious complaint against him.

A complaint was then filed by a former lover of Johnson's alleging that he had told her to kill herself over text after his wife discovered their affair. Johnson had also called the Children's Services anonymously to complain that his former lover was neglecting her children.

After his deception was uncovered, Johnson was reportedly allowed to resign instead of being terminated.

In June he applied for a job with the Sevier County Sheriff's Office. His application tactfully left off his time at the JCPD, and he was promptly hired. In December 2016, Johnson had his fateful panic attack.

Sadly, it's all too common for problem officers to be picked up by other departments. As Reason has covered, the lack of a national database on fired or decertified police officers affords bad cops the opportunity to start over in another police department.

How much Sevier County knew of Johnson's past misdeeds when he was hired is hard to say. The department has been inexcusably tight-lipped in the wake of revelations about Johnson's past, refusing to answer basic questions from the News-Sentinel, including whether Johnson was still employed as a sheriff's deputy.

America Shrugs at Trump Paying Porn Star to Keep Quiet About Old Affair


Americans have hardly seemed to care that the president probably had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels and then paid her to keep quiet about it. Let's hope that keeps. "You're not crazy," tweeted The Takeaway host Todd Zwillich on Wednesday evening. "The married president of the United States had an affair with a porn star when his son was an infant, paid six figures for her silence, and in the final analysis, no one really cares." The lackadaisical outrage over these antics—which supposedly occurred in 2006, and were reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday—has spawned scoffing about how absurd our political frame has become. "Our government is so dysfunctional that we just learned the president probably paid thousands in hush money to cover up affairs with porn stars and it's, like, the 10th biggest news item," tweeted Vox Senior Reporter Zack Beauchamp, in another example of the genre. According to the Journal, porn actress Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump's lawyer in 2016 to keep quiet about a sexual relationship between Daniels and Trump in 2006—once he was already married to Melania and she had recently given birth to their son Barron. In Touch magazine subsequently reported that Daniels had talked to one of its reporters about the encounter back in 2011, but the story never made it to print. In a not-long-ago era, this story would have some striking potential and some sticking power. It would be weaponized against the president, and dominate cable news. It would require commentary from key federal foes and allies. People would care. People wouldn't let the opportunity go to waste. But compared to Trump's many more substantive sleights against American values and all propriety, and up against the many real and imagined ways his administration has perverted the democratic process, a consensual decade-old romp with a porn star hardly registers. Certainly, nobody is surprised. Maybe curious, but hardly scandalized. Bombshell allegations and and behavior that breaks all bounds of traditional presidential comportment are kind of Trump's thing. The idea that the Daniels story could fail to faze us can certainly be read as an indictment of Trump and his associates, even if one isn't specifically concerned about the sex or the settlement. But there's also something reassuring about our collective failure to be so scandalized here. Do we really want folks to be focusing more on this than the more ongoing and direct doings of Trump and his allies? Shouldn't it matter that Daniels (who had plenty of interested press) chose to accept settlement money rather than dish on her tryst with Trump? Isn't it nice not to have to endless news cycles devoted to something with ample prurient interest but little relevance to almost anyone's lives? Perhaps Americans have exactly the right level of not giving a damn about this. [...]

Why This Is TV's Golden Age!: Podcast


At the dawn of the TV era Americans could choose between one of three channels. Even cornball programs like "My Mother the Car" could command a percentage of viewership that would dwarf today's juggernauts on streaming video. Is America losing some of its unity as families quit watching the same Friday night lineups?"

"I think that's a lot of crap," says Glenn Garvin, a Miami Herald columnist and Reason's resident television critic. "…the explosion of television material that started with cable in the 1980s has been a grand thing. What if you don't want to watch "My Mother The Car," "The Rifleman," "The Beverly Hillbillies?"

Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Garvin about the future of television, and why we're living in its golden age. As viewership continues to fragment, the behemoth models of old are dying out, replaced by higher quality, bespoke programs. The future is long-tail.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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Bill Introduced to Stop Civil Forfeiture Funding of DEA Marijuana Eradication Program


Citing waste of taxpayer dollars, shifting public opinion, and constitutional concerns, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) have introduced a bill in Congress that would block funds from the federal government's controversial asset forfeiture fund from being used for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marijuana eradication program. The Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act, first introduced in 2015, would use Congress' power of the purse to block money from the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund from being used to support the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Suppression/Eradication Program. According to the DEA, the program was responsible in 2016 for the eradication of more than 5 million marijuana plants, more than 5,000 arrests, and the seizure of more than of $51 million from marijuana cultivators. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property and money suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not charged with a crime. Law enforcement groups argue it is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime. However, civil liberties advocates say there are far too few protections for innocent property owners and far too many profit incentives police and prosecutors. For example, in 2009 federal prosecutors unsuccessfully fought to seize a farm from an Alabama woman after her husband was caught growing marijuana on the property. Her husband, who said he used the marijuana to manage chronic pain, committed suicide during his trial in a last-ditch attempt to keep the farm in family hands, as it had been for generations. His wife was never charged with a crime. "Civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional practice whereby the government takes people's property without due process," Amash, one of the more libertarian members of Congress, said in a joint statement with Lieu. "The DEA's use of proceeds acquired through civil asset forfeiture to expand marijuana enforcement—a state-level issue—makes the already unacceptable practice even worse." Lieu called the DEA eradication program "a waste of time and money and runs contrary to the will of the people." "The Federal Government has a responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely," he said. "Instead, A.G. Jeff Sessions would rather waste federal dollars by attacking marijuana, which has been legalized either for medical or recreational use in the majority of states in the U.S." Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime supporter of the drug war, recently rescinded Obama-era guidance to U.S Attorneys on marijuana enforcement, sparking fears of a federal crackdown on the drug, which is now legal at the state level for recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia. A new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy and released by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group, found that only 16 percent of Americans support keeping the current federal policy on marijuana, while 49 percent favor full legalization for recreational use. The bill also has the support of marijuana legalization groups. "Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with marijuana prohibition," Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement. "With eight states and the District of Columbia now having legalized its personal use and 30 states having legalized medical marijuana, it is time that the DEA cease interfering with state-legal programs and stop wasting taxpayer dollars that would be better directed at going after the pill-mills contributing to the nations opioid crisis." [...]

Senate Passes Surveillance Reauthorization, Health Department to Protect Religious Objectors, Seb Gorka Allegedly Wanted in Hungary: P.M. Links


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2017 Was the Second Hottest Year Since 1880, Says NASA


2017 was the second-warmest year since 1880, according to NASA. Only 2016 was warmer. More specifically, NASA reports that globally averaged temperatures last year were 0.90° Celsius warmer than the mean temperature from 1951 to 1980. The three other major institutions that track global temperature trends find that 2017 is the third warmest year in their records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports: The average temperature across the globe in 2017 was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit (0.84 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.9 degrees Celsius). 2017 marks the 41st consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average. "The six warmest years on record for the planet," the agency adds, "have all occurred since 2010." Researchers at the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit report that the global average temperature in 2017 was about 0.99° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and about 0.38° Celsius above the 1981–2010 average. The climatologists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who oversee the satellite temperature data report that the average temperature in the lower troposphere over the globe in 2017 was 0.375° Celsius warmer than seasonal norms. These temperature trends are calculated relative to a 30-year average (1981–2010). The Huntsville satellite record trend, often cited by folks who are less concerned about climate model projections, is basically identical to the Hadley Centre's conclusions. Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) also uses satellite temperature data to calculate global temperature trends. It reports that 2017 was the second warmest recorded since satellite observations began in 1979. Last year, 2016, was the warmest ever recorded. The near-record warmth of 2017 is notable because an El Niño event did not occur in 2017. The other 3 warmest years, 1998, 2010, and 2016, were El Niño years. Except for 1998, all of the warmest years occur after 2000, providing clear evidence of global temperature increase in the troposphere. RSS notes that the although the recent warm years have brought climate model projections and measured temperature trends closer, it is still the case the "the troposphere has not warmed quite as fast as most climate models predict." The Huntsville researchers find that the globe is warming at 0.13° Celsius per decade, while RSS reports a warming trend of 0.18° Celsius per decade. The surface data trends fall within this range. It is generally agreed that the earth has warmed by about 1° Celsius since the 19th century. If the Huntsville rate of temperature increase is maintained for the rest of this century, the world would end up just a bit over 2° Celsius warmer than it was around 1900. If the RSS trend is sustained, that would yield a further increase of nearly 1.5° Celsius, resulting in a global average temperature that's 2.5° Celsius warmer than it was in 1900. It is worth noting that the temperature difference between now and the last ice age is between 4 to 7° Celsius. That increase occurred at a much slower pace. [...]

A False Accusation and Unfair Investigation Derailed This Student Athlete's Life


In 2014, a white female student at the University of Findlay accused two black athletes of sexually assaulting her. The university expelled the two men—a basketball player and a football player—24 hours later, without bothering to interview witnesses who would have contradicted the accusation. According to the two men's lawsuit against Findlay, investigators didn't even interview the young woman. In my original write-up of the lawsuit, I called it perhaps the most blatantly unfair Title IX case I had ever covered. (Title IX is the federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.) That dispute is still working its way through the courts. In the meantime, one of the young men—Alphonso Baity, now 23—was finally able to find a basketball program that would let him on the team: Duquesne University. That was quite an accomplishment; students expelled for sexual misconduct can have a tough time earning admission to another school, no matter how farcical the charges against them. But Baity recently got some bad news. The National College Athletic Association won't let him play. "This young man is being punished again," says Don Maurice Jackson, Baity's attorney. "Not by Duquesne, because Duquesne actually wants the young man on the floor. They want him on the floor. He's been victimized by the NCAA." The issue is the "five-year clock" rule. Student-athletes have a maximum of five years in which they can play a sport for four seasons. Once a student is enrolled in any academic institution, the clock starts ticking, even if the student ends up transferring or missing years of school. Baity's case seems exceptional. But when Duqesne requested a waiver so that Baity could play, the NCAA denied it. A refresher on the initial dispute might be useful. In September of 2014, Baity and Jordan Brown—both juniors at Findlay—shared a bedroom in a five-room house in Findlay, Ohio. They had become friends with another student, a white woman known as "M.K." in the lawsuit. M.K. was well-known to the people who lived in the house, and had a sexual relationship with "Q.J.," another basketball player who resided there. On the Saturday night in question, a group of people—including Brown, M.K., other men, and other women—returned to the house after a party. M.K. and Brown retired to the bedroom, where they had sex. A number of people saw them go in together and heard them having sex. They also heard M.K. loudly consenting to sex, even using the word "yes," according to the lawsuit. Baity returned to the house, waited until he heard a lull, and entered the bedroom to retrieve his phone charger. M.K. invited him to stay and began performing oral sex on him while Brown remained in the room. Once again, M.K. was a willing participant—the initiator, in fact. And once again, people outside the room—including two other women—could hear that consent was given, according to the lawsuit. M.K. also gave no signs that she regretted the encounters the morning after. She remained on good terms with the men of the house. She spoke of the encounters positively—even "boastfully." But 10 days later, she had a change of heart, possibly because she felt slut-shamed. And so she filed a complaint. Again, these details come from a lawsuit designed to portray Baity and Brown in a maximally positive light. But it's clearly true that there were several individuals in that house at that time who might have supported their version of the story. Findlay investigators specifically avoided talking to many of them, reasoning that other black men would stick up for Baity and Brown. Investigators presumed two of the white women who were present that night would agree with M.K.'s account, but these witnesses instead gave the university "information and statements corroborating Plaintiffs' version of events," according to the lawsuit. It did[...]

High School Students Are Very Worried About Overpopulation. They Shouldn't Be.


American high school students are very worried about overpopulation, according to Negative Population Growth (NPG). The group bases this claim on the responses to a questionnaire it distributed to hundreds of 9th- to 12th-grade teachers across the nation. Founded in 1972, during the heyday of overpopulation hysteria, NPG's goal is "to slow, halt, and eventually reverse U.S. population growth—eventually stabilizing at a size that is sustainable over the long term." America's "optimal population," it adds, is "approximately 150–200 million people (our nation's size in 1970)." Here are the results of its not-so-scientific survey: If we stay on track with the present rate of population growth, America will add 90 to 100 million more people (almost 1/3 of the number of people who live here now) by the time you are 40–50 years old. How concerned are you about living in such an overcrowded nation? Very Concerned: 25%, Somewhat concerned: 43%, Not very concerned: 23%, No Opinion: 5%. How worried are you that an ever-increasing population will continue to use up the Earth's limited reserves of fresh water, fertile soil, forests and fisheries? Very Worried: 29%, Somewhat worried: 38%, Not too worried: 20%, No Opinion: 13%. Do you believe people should do all they can to solve the world's environmental problems even if it proves to be a very costly endeavor? Yes: 55%, No: 12%, No Opinion: 33%. Do you think America's schools should put more emphasis on teaching about the consequences of population growth? Yes: 35%, No: 33%, No Opinion: 32%. Do you feel that future Americans in the 22nd century potentially living in an environmentally-damaged nation would be right or wrong to think that we did not care enough to put limits on population growth to keep environmental problems from spinning out of control? Right: 45%, Wrong: 22%, No Opinion: 33%. The questionnaire was basically a push poll—that is, an ostensible survey whose true objective is to sway voters using loaded or manipulative questions. Consider this one: "How worried are you that an ever-increasing population will continue to use up the Earth's limited reserves of fresh water, fertile soil, forests and fisheries?" It assumes that some deleterious trends exist and then asks if you're concerned about them. Yet NPG is wrong about the trends: America's "limited reserves" of those alliterative resources are not actually being used up. Fresh water? Pacific Institute co-founder Peter Gleick points out that the U.S. has long since passed "peak water." The amount of water withdrawn from sources such as lakes or rivers in 2010 was lower than at any time going back to 1970. Often, a portion of this water is returned to the source and is available to be used again. During that time, U.S. population has grown by more than a third and GDP has nearly quadrupled. Fertile soil? Wind and water erosion of soil has fallen by 44 percent in the U.S. since 1982. The U.S. Department of Agriculture further reports: "In 2007, 408 million acres of agricultural land were in cropland (down 17 percent from 1949), 614 million acres were in pasture and range (down 3 percent), 127 million acres were in grazed forestland (down 52 percent), and 12 million acres were in farmsteads and farm roads (down 19 percent). Nonagricultural uses have increased from 37 to 49 percent of the land base." Farmers are getting more crops from less land. For example, corn yields have soared from around 40 bushels per acre in 1960 to nearly 180 bushels per acre today. Wheat yields have more than doubled since 1960, from 30 to 65 bushels per acre. Forests? They're expanding. The area covered by forests in the U.S. has increased from 721 million acres in 1920 to 766 million acres in 2012. Fisheries? This story is not as happy. That's largely because many are still managed as common areas by gove[...]

Trump's Idea of 'Fake News' Is Much Broader Than His Awards Suggest


Last night the Republican National Committee announced Donald Trump's "Highly Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards," most of which highlight bona fide errors of fact. In that respect, these examples are not representative of the way the president generally uses the phrase fake news, an epithet he applies to any reporting that makes him look bad, regardless of whether it is accurate. Some of the mistakes highlighted by the RNC concerned trivial matters (Did Trump overfeed koi in Japan? Did the Polish first lady shake his hand?), while others were more consequential (Did Trump try to arrange contacts with Russian officials while he was running for president? Did the Trump administration suppress a climate report?). Three of the 11 selections involved tweets, one was an economic prediction in an opinion column, and almost all of the errors were promptly corrected. None was a deliberate hoax, the original meaning of "fake news." Still, the list includes some egregious and embarrassing mistakes, two of which led to suspensions or resignations. It is plausible that the overwhelming hostility toward Trump at mainstream news outlets encourages mistakes that paint him in a negative light. If reporters were not primed to believe the worst about him, they probably would be more careful. In that regard, Trump has a legitimate beef. But verifiably false reporting is not the main thing he has in mind when he condemns "fake news." This week, for instance, Trump complained that "the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news, but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative." In Trump's mind, accentuating the negative, even when it's true, is fake news. So is coverage of allegations that Trump denies. In the same tweet, he declared that "the Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems." The last item on the RNC's list of "fake news" items says "Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people," adding, "THERE IS NO COLLUSION!" It is possible that neither Trump nor anyone in his campaign collaborated with Russian agents to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost his election prospects. But as long as a special prosecutor and congressional committees are investigating the issue, the press has no choice but to cover it, no matter how many times Trump cries hoax, even when he puts his objections in capital letters and adds an exclamation point. As far as Trump is concerned, any mention of Michael Wolff's best-selling White House tell-all Fire and Fury ("a Fake Book by a mentally deranged author"), including articles that try to distinguish between the author's credible reporting and his more dubious claims, also qualifies as fake news. Likewise stories that quote unnamed sources, mentions of Trump's low approval ratings, articles that describe former FBI Director James Comey's report of a conversation with the president or a congresswoman's accurate account of a telephone call between Trump and a soldier's widow, and what Trump views as inadequate attention to the stock market, his "incredible year," or "how Big and how Strong our BASE is." Trump's loose use of the "fake news" label may hearten his supporters and sow doubt about the credibility of his critics, but it also undermines his legitimate complaints about unbalanced and sometimes inaccurate reporting. This self-sabotage is part of a broader problem: Trump's blatant disregard for the truth has played no small role in building the expectations that shape coverage of him. Here is a guy who spent years questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, who invented millions of illegal ballots to explain his loss in the popular vote tally, and who habitually brags that everything he is associat[...]

Are We Headed for a Government Shutdown over DACA?


(image) Today from 2-3:30 p.m. ET I will be guest-hosting on SiriusXM Insight channel 121's Tell Me Everything With John Fugelsang. In addition to talking up the latest in the Trump-media wars, I will interview the following guests about the following subjects:

* Slate Capitol Hill reporter Jim Newell, on the very latest with possible government shutdowns, negotiations over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), how Congress dislikes doing its job, and so forth. A recent headline from Newell: "The 'Crap Sandwich' Debate."

* Beloved skeptic Michael Shermer (Reason archive here), about his new book, Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.

* Daily Beast Senior Editor and consistent funny-person Erin Gloria Ryan, about the Great Ashleigh Banfield War of 2018, #MeToo agonizing, and maybe a bit of the ol' Stormy Daniels.

Please call in at any time to query the guests or heckle the host, at 877 974-7487.

This California City Is Threatening a Family Over Property Fines Sent to a Dead Woman at the Wrong Address


Not even your death will keep the government of Coachella, California, from trying to nickel-and-dime you out of every last cent. Just ask the family of Marjorie Sansom, who died in 2016 at age 91. The city levied thousands of dollars in fines on the woman due to code violations on a lot she abandoned. It tried to collect them by mailing bills to an empty house where she hadn't lived for years. Samson, meanwhile, was suffering from dementia and being cared for by her family, which says it never received any of those mailings. Now the city is demanding that the family cough up $39,000 to cover the back fines and to pay for the cleanup for the empty lot. That's more than the value of the property itself. Worse still, officials are being dismissive of evidence that the city knew its complaints were not reaching the woman or her family. The government just wants its money. The whole outrageous story was carefully investigated and reported by Brett Kelman of the Palm Springs Desert Sun. It's a follow-up to a heavily researched piece he published in November, which documented how Coachella and a private legal firm the city had contracted with were abusing code enforcement regulations to extract huge sums from property owners. The city would cite property owners for typical code violations, like having damaged property or for unapproved home upgrades. Months later, the property owners would get massive bills from the legal firm, charging them for the cost of prosecuting them in the first place. That law firm, Silver & Wright, is in the thick of the Sansom case. It sent the woman invoices (still mailed to the wrong address) demanding thousands of dollars in fines, court fees (even though there were no court hearings), prosecution fees (nobody was prosecuted), and reimbursement to the city for the time spent cleaning up the lot. In Kelman's story, neither the city nor the law firm shows any signs of worry that they've gone too far. Despite threatening this family with liens of thousands of dollars for fines they didn't even know existed, the city and the firm insist they're doing everything above the board: When asked to comment on the Sansom's property this month, Coachella officials and a city attorney said that they were unaware of the owner's advanced age, mental state, true address or death at any point during the nuisance property case, but still stood by the actions taken by the city. Luis Lopez, Coachella's development services director, said the city presumed the citations and legal notices it had mailed to Sansom were received—even though they were notified twice by the U.S. Postal Service that the documents were sent to a vacant house. Lopez also defends holding Sansom's heirs responsible for her debt, saying her legal guardian should have been maintaining her land and that funds collected from the lien would "go towards replenishing the public's money" that was spent to inspect and clean her property. After The Desert Sun noted that a majority of Sansom's debt came from punitive fines, which are not reimbursement of public money, Lopez said the family should still pay because of their negligence. "The city believes these fines are justified in this case due to the willful, or at least reckless, disregard for the public safety of the community which includes an elementary school as evidenced by the nuisance on the property," Lopez wrote in an email statement. "Additionally, the fines are justified because there was no 'good faith' effort by the owners or successors in interest to contact the city, pay part of the citations or abate the nuisance." Reminder: The family says they never saw the citations because they were sent to an abandoned house, not to them. Kelman even has a photo of the certified lett[...]

Contempt Proceedings to Enforce YouTube Personality's Secret Speech-Restrictive Settlement Agreement


As I blogged last month, the Barley House bar in Cleveland got a temporary injunction -- with very short notice to the defendants -- barring two YouTube personalities, Alissa Violet and FaZe Banks (who have millions of followers), from "publishing on social media platforms any statements" about the business. The business claimed that the personalities' video criticism of the business was libelous, and that this led to a flood of negative reviews and some electronic threats of violence. But though this might be the basis for a damages lawsuit, I argued, this can't justify a categorical restriction on defendants' further speech about the business, or even a narrower restriction imposed before a trial on the merits. There have been many developments in the case since: The case was removed to federal court, with a fight over whether Violet was still legally resident in Ohio or was now a Californian. The parties entered a partial settlement agreement in which Violet and Banks promised not to say certain things about Barley House. This agreement apparently led to the original injunction lapsing. And now there's a contempt of court proceding against Banks, claiming that Banks had breached the agreement, by posting a new video -- which was viewed hundreds of thousands of times -- further criticizing Barley House. (I haven't found anything in the court docket reflecting that the agreement was actually incorporated into a court order, but I assume from the proceeding that the court's theory is that such an order was indeed issued.) But while in principle breaches of speech-restrictive contracts can lead to lability (see, e.g., Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991)), this still leaves the question: Did Banks' speech breach the agreement? And this question, which is the subject of the contempt hearing, is hard for me to analyze because the agreement is apparently being kept secret. It was never docketed on the court docket, even though the court is obviously referring to it during the proceeding. Presumably the parties' and the court's view is that the agreement somehow merits being sealed. But can an American court really punish a speaker for his speech, based on an agreement whose contents the court system will not disclose to the public, at least absent some especially powerful showing of need for secrecy? I think the answer is "no," and I'm glad to report that Patrick Kabat of Chandra Law has filed a motion on my behalf to intervene and to gain access to the speech-restrictive agreement that the court is considering enforcing. (Many thanks, Patrick!) All members of the public, we argue, have a right of access to this agreement, so I have standing to intervene (that is not a controversial point), especially since I need the agreement to write further about the proceedings. You can read the whole motion, but here is a longish excerpt: This lawsuit raises important issues in the roiling public debate about the rights and responsibilities of online speakers. It also implicates important questions about the role of the courts in policing this speech. And it has been hotly litigated, giving rise to contempt proceedings before this Court arising from a partial settlement agreement between the parties. The public has a right to access these proceedings and records. Secured by the First Amendment and Sixth Circuit common law, that right is independent of the parties' substantive claims and interests, and enforceable by members of the public. And the right cannot be limited until the parties make specific factual showings, and after the Court (after providing an opportunity for the public to be heard) makes specific findings justifying redaction or partial sealing of documents. Here, the parties have made no such[...]

"This Microwave Is Out of Order at This Time"


A "found editing exercise" (by analogy to found poetry) just seen in an office kitchen.

[Yes, I see the connection to the "Fresh Fish Sold Here" story, though overediting can sometimes be a danger, too.]

Real Federalists Need to Step Up to Fight Jeff Sessions' War on Weed: New at Reason


(image) You would think that the Justice Department has better things to do than to restart a federal war on marijuana or that it would want to stay away from interfering with the will of the people in the 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow at least the medical use of marijuana. But you would be wrong. Thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we have now an emerging conflict between federal and state laws. That conflict should be resolved in favor of the states.

When he was a senator, Sessions once said during a Senate hearing, "Good people don't smoke marijuana." So nobody was surprised when a few weeks ago, he revoked the Cole memo—a document that provided guidance to federal prosecutors about targeting sales to children, money laundering and sales across state lines, as opposed to targeting the legal state sale of medical and recreational pot, writes Veronique de Rugy.

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Amazon Announces Shortlist for New HQ; Abandon Hope All Ye Who Live in These Cities


Amazon, the mega-site that controls more and more of our daily life by giving us stuff we want at low prices, has announced a shortlist of cities that it's considering as the location for its "HQ2," or second headquarters. The list includes the following cities, culled down to 20 from over 200:

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • New York, New York
  • Northern Virginia
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C.

A decision on the $5 billion project is expected by the end of the year. Be happy if your hometown is not on the list, which promises to be the century's biggest crony-capitalism deal. Without any inside information, I'd say Toronto and D.C. are the top two, simply because they are in the eastern time zone and seats of growth and power. Toronto is the coolest city in North America, simultaneously foreign but familiar. Both the provincial government and Canada's federal government will do whatever it takes to land it and, unlike a lot of the Rust Belt cities vying for the prize, they've got deep pockets. The Washington area is a region that's among the very wealthiest in the United States because, as all readers of The Hunger Games understand, the Capital District always brings home the bacon. Being on the opposite side of the continent from Seattle and within walking distance of legislators who control all sorts of tax codes and labor laws has got to very attractive, and that's even before local goverments bend frontwards and backwards to accommodate Amazon. Texas is a strong bet too, given that state's economic and population growth and relatively low cost of living.

All the finalist cities have been going bananas in offering the online giant all sorts of subsidies, tax breaks, and bribes. Dallas is saying the HQ2 would have bullet-train station, for instance, while the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey are promising a combined $7 billion in tax breaks. Southern California is talking a billion dollars in subsidies and Philly, home to long-suffering sports fans, really nasty people (love them all), and great food, is talking about 28 million square feet spread over several linked sites.

Which brings me to quite possibly the best Reason TV video of all time (IMAO). From the feverish minds of Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton, here's "Desperate Mayors Compete for Amazon HQ2." This is life-changing.

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Border Patrol Destroys Humanitarian Aid in the Arizona Desert


Border Patrol agents routinely sabotage the efforts of groups providing humanitarian aid to migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new report from the group No More Deaths. The paper documents in detail the destruction of food, water, and other supplies the group's members have left for people attempting border crossings in the remote and hazardous Arizona desert. "Our analysis leads us to believe that Border Patrol agents engage in regular and widespread destruction of water supplies with little or no apparent consequence," reads the report. The paper argues that this vandalism is part of a wider, decades-long ramp-up of immigration enforcement that had led to more hazardous border crossings, and consequently to an explosion in migrant deaths. No More Deaths—covered in a recent Reason feature on the immigration crackdown—operates over an 2,500-square-mile section of the Arivaca area of Arizona. The all-volunteer group maintains over a hundred water-drops (supply caches stocked with water, food, and blankets) and a medical relief station in the remote and inhospitable region. The new report looks at three years of logs kept by No More Deaths volunteers covering their efforts to resupply these water-drops, finding between 2013 and 2015 some 415 separate incidents where their food and/or water had been vandalized or destroyed. Of 31,558 gallons of water it left in the desert by No More Deaths, over 10 percent, or some 3,586 gallons, were destroyed by human hands. Hunters, hikers, and occasional anti-immigrant activists might be responsible for some of this vandalism. But "the scope of destruction is over a pretty wide area," says Jeff Reinhardt, a member of No More Death's desert aid working group. "It's an area that generally Border Patrol is the only actor consistently present and consistently has access to that land." No More Death found that their water-drops had been vandalized at an even rate both throughout the year and across the area that they service, save for a minor uptick in vandalism during hunting season. Yet the Arivaca area is under the jurisdiction of a hodgepodge of state, federal, and tribal agencies, along with a small number of private property owners. The area also lacks the road infrastructure that would make it accessible to most vehicles. No More Deaths has also caught Border Patrol agents on video four separate times destroying water jugs by stomping on them, cutting them open, or pouring them out on the ground. The group's members have also found water jugs dyed to look like antifreeze with Spanish language messages scrawled on the bottles, warning people not to drink them. In addition to the destruction of humanitarian supplies, immigration officials also raided No More Death's main medical aid station in the Arivaca in June 2017, and agents have reportedly harassed, detained, and surveilled the group's volunteers. Steven Passement, acting special operations supervisor for the Tuscon Sector of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), says that while individual agents have destroyed supplies, doing so is in contradiction to agency policy. "We don't condone or encourage the destruction or tampering with any of the water or local food caches," Passement tells Reason, adding that "if someone has information regarding an agent, one of our employees, doing something like that, doing any damage, we definitely want to know about this to hold this individual accountable." Passement says that far from being opposed to the mission of No More Deaths and similar groups operating along the border, CBP is working toward the same aims. "Nobody here in[...]

Trump Turns One: New at Reason


(image) The 45th president does not tend to elicit measured evaluations. Since even before his formal entry into national politics in 2015, Trump has acted as a powerful magnet on the body politic—attracting and repelling onlookers with equal force.

A year ago, as we prepared to see a former reality television star sworn into the highest office on Earth, predictions abounded regarding the effects he was about to have on the country and the world. On one side were confident assertions that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, bring back manufacturing jobs, and end political correctness once and for all. On the other were fears that he was a racist and a dimwit who would certainly abuse the powers of his station and might well start a nuclear war.

As the 365-day mark approaches, have we reached a milestone worth celebrating or taken just another step in our national descent to unthinkable places? Reason asked 11 experts to weigh in on Trump's record so far. From positive signs on transportation policy and regulatory rollback to a worrying rise in nationalist sentiments and redoubled efforts to cleanse the United States of undocumented immigrants, the answers were a mixed bag, highlighting just how much uncertainty awaits the country in the year to come.

Check out Reason's entire forum on Trump's first year in office.

View this article.

Trump Turns One


The 45th president does not tend to elicit measured evaluations. Since even before his formal entry into national politics in 2015, Trump has acted as a powerful magnet on the body politic—attracting and repelling onlookers with equal force. A year ago, as we prepared to see a former reality television star sworn into the highest office on Earth, predictions abounded regarding the effects he was about to have on the country and the world. On one side were confident assertions that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, bring back manufacturing jobs, and end political correctness once and for all. On the other were fears that he was a racist and a dimwit who would certainly abuse the powers of his station and might well start a nuclear war. On the Trump presidency's first birthday, the reality is less extreme than either set of prognosticators envisioned. The Republican Party under his leadership managed one major legislative accomplishment—tax reform that cut the corporate rate and is projected to add nearly $1.5 trillion to the debt—and failed after months of wrangling to enact an Obamacare replacement. Tensions with foreign governments from Iran to Russia to North Korea continue to simmer. The stock market has followed a dramatic upward trajectory, yet anger continues to grow over perceived wealth and income inequality. With the midterm elections now 10 months away, political polarization seems to hit new highs daily, but in many ways the checks and balances of our federalist system are working to keep even the current unscrupulous White House occupant from actualizing his most ambitious plans. As the 365-day mark approaches, have we reached a milestone worth celebrating or taken just another step in our national descent to unthinkable places? Reason asked 11 experts to weigh in on Trump's record so far. From positive signs on transportation policy and regulatory rollback to a worrying rise in nationalist sentiments and redoubled efforts to cleanse the United States of undocumented immigrants, the answers were a mixed bag, highlighting just how much uncertainty awaits the country in the year to come. —Stephanie Slade TAXES AND HEALTH CARE: Victory, Sort of, Maybe Peter Suderman At the beginning of 2017, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers that the new Congress would repeal Obamacare and pass deficit-neutral tax reform by August. At summer's end, Republicans, despite holding majorities in both chambers, had accomplished neither. But eventually they would accomplish parts of each. In March, the House was set to hold a vote on legislation that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act while setting up a new system of related federal tax credits. Ryan was initially forced to pull the bill from the floor due to lack of support, but after making a series of tweaks intended to provide states with more flexibility, the body passed a health care bill in May. GOP leaders congratulated themselves for making progress on the issue, but the plaudits were premature. The bill stalled out in the Senate. By September, the Obamacare repeal effort was dead and Republicans had moved on to more comfortable territory: rewriting the tax code. At the center of the new effort was a significant cut to America's corporate tax rate, which at 35 percent was the highest in the developed world. Donald Trump had campaigned on slashing it to 15 percent. The GOP aimed for 20. At first, the tax effort went much like the health care effort. There were disagreements between the House, which hoped to partially offset any revenu[...]

A.M. Links: Majority of Americans Say Trump’s First Year Was a Failure, John Kelly Says Trump May Not Have Been 'Fully Informed' on Border Wall, India Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable ICBM


  • (image) New poll: 53 percent of Americans consider President Donald Trump's first year in office to have been a failure.
  • In an interview with Fox News, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly conceded that presidential candidate Donald Trump may not have been "fully informed" when he vowed to build a border wall. Candidates "all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed," Kelly said.
  • The Trump administration is barring Haitians from receiving H2-A and H2-B immigration visas, which are granted to low-skill workers.
  • "House Republican leaders are moving toward a vote Thursday to avoid a shutdown, but as a new day dawns in Washington, it's still unclear if GOP leaders have enough support to keep the government open."
  • India has test-fired a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: The U.S. "will maintain a military presence in Syria."

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily updates for more content.

Photographing Someone Being Arrested Doesn't Count as "Stalking"


From yesterday's Florida Court of Appeal decision in Pickett v. Copeland: Terrance J. Pickett appeals the trial court's Final Judgment of Injunction for Protection Against Stalking.... As defined in section 784.048(2), Florida Statutes (2016), stalking occurs when a person "willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person[.]" "Harass" is defined in section 784.048(1)(a) to mean "engag[ing] in a course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose." In its turn, "course of conduct" is defined as "a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose." § 784.048(1)(b).... [W]e are compelled to conclude that the evidence was neither competent nor substantial to carry Ms. Copeland's burden [to provide evidence of stalking]. While there was evidence that Mr. Pickett followed Ms. Copeland from the Murphy gas station on Thanksgiving Day in 2016, he did so because there was an outstanding warrant for Ms. Copeland's arrest for violating the injunction he had obtained against her, and while he was following her, it is undisputed that he was talking to the police. That was, at most, a single act of following. Furthermore, though Ms. Copeland accused Mr. Pickett of driving past her house on multiple occasions—presumably to prove harassment—the evidence only suggested a single incident of his passing by, which falls short of a malicious "course of conduct" serving "no legitimate purpose." § 784.048(1)(a), (b) & (2), Fla. Stat.; see Leach, 162 So. 3d at 1106 (reversing injunction and holding Leach's several messages to Kersey by phone, through friends, and on social media, after she learned of an eighteen-month affair between Kersey and Leach's husband, could not be found to serve " 'no legitimate purpose'"). [Footnote moved: It is clear that the trial court was troubled by the fact that when law enforcement caused Ms. Copeland to pull over into a parking lot, Mr. Pickett got out of his vehicle and used his cell phone to videotape her arrest. However, for purposes of the definition of harassment, "course of conduct" "does not include constitutionally protected activity[.]" § 784.048(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2016). Even though we recognize that this protective language will not necessarily provide immunity for every instance where an individual videotapes an arrest—because an individual's actions may go beyond the scope of the constitutional protections—there is a First Amendment right to videotape police officers while they are conducting their official duties in public: "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public. See Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678 (5th Cir. 2017); Gericke v. Begin, 753 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2014); Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012); Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011); Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir. 2000); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 (9th Cir. 1995). Today we join this growing consensus. Simply put, the First Amendmentprotects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public." Fields v. City of Philadelphia, 862 F.3d 353, 355-56 (3d Cir. 2017).] As a result, we hold there was n[...]

Electric Dreams Is a Sci Fi Anthology Series That Warns Against Safe Spaces


Black Mirror got you down? Sci-fi enthusiasts should try out a similar yet less depressing new anthology series, Electric Dreams, which became available for streaming on Amazon Video last week. The series, based on the work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick and named after his famous novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is absolutely terrific. I've now watched all 10 episodes, each of which take on a separate and distinct sci-fi premise: a post-apocalyptic society, the breeding of artificial humans, an alien invasion, virtual reality, etc. The usual technology-is-going-to-kill-us-all themes pervade Electric Dreams, inviting comparisons with Black Mirror, an extremely popular British anthology series known for its deeply cynical treatment of mankind's reliance upon machines. But Electric Dreams restrains itself somewhat. Two of the episodes, "Autofac" and "Impossible Planet," introduce robots with seemingly sinister intentions, then complicate or outright betray those expectations by the stories' ends. And as far as humanity is concerned, the show's creators "have a lot more faith in the people" than Black Mirror does, observes The Verge's Noel Murray. Stories about corporations and governments harnessing powerful new technologies often invite libertarian questions, and Electric Dreams is no different. Most notably, the final episode, "Kill All Others," levels an obvious and timely criticism at the creeping totalitarianism of a government that loudly eliminates dissent while an apathetic populace shrugs and changes the channel. Another episode, "Safe and Sound," has a bunch of specifically libertarian axes to grind. (Minor spoilers to follow.) It stars Maura Tierney (The Affair) as Irene Lee, a political activist who leaves her home in a self-governed "bubble" within a futuristic United States to spend a year as an ambassador of sorts to a purportedly terrorism-prone major city. That no actual terrorist attacks have occurred is something widely known to bubble denizens, but people within the city receive a constant barrage of government-filtered news about barely thwarted attacks and threats of violence. Irene's daughter Foster accompanies her to the city, but finds it difficult to adjust to a new school, where outsiders are bullied for being potential terrorists. In a stroke of genius, the episode's writers make the school a metaphor for the absurdity of safe spaces. The students are surrounded by invasive and unnecessary security measures designed to make them feel both comfortable and protected from threats that aren't actually real. One student even complains that Foster's presence makes her feel unsafe. Later, when Foster begs Irene to buy her a "dex," a kind of iPad that doubles as a government tracking device—it would help her fit-in at school—mom objects on grounds that "I really don't want you to surrender what little freedom they allow you to have." Foster counters, "It's not a surrender, it's security. People need to know I'm safe." The villain of the episode is even a "so-called consumer rights advocate"; instead of warning customers that the dex is a threat to their privacy, the advocate is not-so-secretly working to making its use mandatory. The safe-space criticisms may have been too on the nose for some reviewers—Vulture's critic calls it "one of the most sneakily offensive episodes of television I've ever seen" for committing essentially two crimes: casting the mistreated outsiders (Irene and Foster) as white [...]

A New Year Means a New California Secession Movement


Another movement to split up California is brewing. This one wants to create a state called "New California," essentially by separating the red from the blue. New California would be made up of the inland and non-metropolitan parts of the state (with the notable exception of San Diego). Classic California would consist of the coastal regions from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. A stubby finger pointing eastward from the Bay Area would lump Sacramento in with the coastal folks. This new push is happening for pretty much the same reason as every other push for secession in California: People in one part of the state feel ignored, unrepresented, and abandoned by state government. From Sacramento's CBS affiliate: "Well, it's been ungovernable for a long time. High taxes, education, you name it, and we're rated around 48th or 50th from a business climate and standpoint in California," said founder Robert Paul Preston.... "There's something wrong when you have a rural county such as this one, and you go down to Orange County which is mostly urban, and it has the same set of problems, and it happens because of how the state is being governed and taxed," Preston said. New California would remain in the union; they just want their own state. It is not unlike the efforts in northern California to break away into a new state named Jefferson. The complaints are familiar: People who do not live in the Democratic urban strongholds with high populations do not feel as though state-level decisions consider their needs in any way, shape, or form, and they do not feel as though they have any control over policies that affect their lives. California politicians recently approved a $15 minimum wage to please metropolitan labor activists and interests. That could be potentially devastating to low-skill jobs in poor rural parts of the state that cannot absorb the cost increases, but that wasn't a consideration. Indeed, Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged that "economically, minimum wages may not make sense" as he approved the increase. He did it anyway, to please the more politically powerful constituency. What's different about the New California push it that it's going to go through the state legislature for permission to break off rather than attempting to win a ballot initiative. I suspect that will hit a wall quickly. The coastal folks may not care that much about the people in the inland parts of the state, but they care quite a lot about the land and natural resources that those people are on top of. When some progressive urban folks got publicity for their movement to secede from the union entirely in a fruitless response to President Donald Trump's election, they wanted to take the whole state with them, conservative rural Trump voters and all. I support non-urban Californians' right to break off into a state that better represents their preferences. It's just not going to be easy. Bonus link: Steven Greenhut has written more on the frequent failed efforts to break up California into smaller, more manageable states. [...]

Brickbat: Once Again, Never Call the Cops


(image) Danielle Maples was at home with her family in Wichita, Kansas, when her husband threatened to hurt himself. She called 911 and police responded. She and her husband were outside the house, unarmed, talking to one officer when they heard a shots from inside the house. An officer inside the house had fired two shots at their dog, which happened to be in the same small room where they'd gathered the couple's four young children. One of the shots ricocheted and struck their 9-year-old daughter. Neither the dog nor the daughter was badly injured.

Real Federalists Need to Step Up to Fight Jeff Sessions' War on Weed


You would think that the Justice Department has better things to do than to restart a federal war on marijuana or that it would want to stay away from interfering with the will of the people in the 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow at least the medical use of marijuana. But you would be wrong. Thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we have now an emerging conflict between federal and state laws. That conflict should be resolved in favor of the states. When he was a senator, Sessions once said during a Senate hearing, "Good people don't smoke marijuana." So nobody was surprised when a few weeks ago, he revoked the Cole memo—a document that provided guidance to federal prosecutors about targeting sales to children, money laundering and sales across state lines, as opposed to targeting the legal state sale of medical and recreational pot. The memo was a poor alternative to revoking the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which, the Cato Institute's Trevor Burrus writes, "defined marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it has no accepted medical uses and has a high potential for abuse." He adds, "Despite advances in our understanding of the medical benefits of marijuana, and despite 29 states having legalized medical marijuana in some form, federal law treats marijuana (as if it were) as dangerous as heroin." Note that cocaine, which has recognized medical uses, is a Schedule II drug. The memo had the very positive effect of providing banks, users and dispensaries with confidence that they could operate legally without arrest. Unfortunately, Sessions' move could signal intent to use federal power to go after individuals and corporations in states that allow marijuana. Though this is a legal move, it is ill-advised. Whatever one thinks of pot use, I can't imagine a good justification for going back to prosecuting the perpetrators of victimless crimes except that it fits nicely with the AG's outdated and paternalistic views. It also goes against federalism, a belief that Republicans claim to hold, wherein states should be allowed to make decisions outside federal control on a variety of issues—such as legalizing marijuana. The Founding Fathers wrote a Constitution that distributed political power between the states and a national government. Police powers reside with the states, not at the federal level. Our nation operates on consent of the governed. An Aug. 3 Quinnipiac University poll indicated that 94 percent of Americans support adult use of marijuana for medical purposes, if prescribed by a doctor. This poll indicated that Republican support for medical marijuana is at 90 percent. An Oct. 25Gallup Poll shows that a majority of Republicans support fully legalizing marijuana. At a time when Republicans are worried about following the will of the voters they'll face this November, they might want to note those lopsided numbers. States should be allowed to make decisions outside federal control on a variety of issues and let the people, not the federal government, decide what they want. Right now, many states respect the right of individuals to choose medical marijuana to treat stress, the nausea associated with cancer treatments and epilepsy. In eight states, the people have gone a step further and consented to adults using marijuana without a doctor's prescription. It's the essence of liberty to let people make their own decisions as lon[...]

Don't Blame Ron Paul for Donald Trump


James Kirchick, writing in The New York Review of Books, offers the thesis that Donald Trump and his cause are somehow the fault of Ron Paul, the former Republican congressman from Texas and two-time seeker of the Republican presidential nomination (and one-time candidate of the Libertarian Party, in 1988). Trump, the headline asserts, owes a "Debt to Ron Paul's Paranoid Style." His bill of particulars connecting Paul and Trump: Kirchick in 2007 "had obtained a trove of newsletters that the libertarian gadfly had intermittently published from the late 1970s through to the mid 1990s, which were chock-full of conspiratorial, racist, and anti-government ravings." Further, "The ideological similarities between the two men, and the ways in which they created support, are striking." Among them in policy terms are that both men spoke out against entangling military alliances and the notion that we must be relentless foes of Russia; both said things that might appeal to white supremacists; and both in their private careers helped sell things to the public that positioned them as false "guru[s] of personal enrichment." Kirchick, perhaps carelessly, seems to imply that Paul was an Obama birther like Trump, which Paul was not. At any rate, Kirchick goes on to argue with quoted examples that the strategy of newsletter-era Ron Paul "was to appeal to voters on three bases—racial animus, anti-elitism, and nativism." He rightly notes that Trump's winning campaign in 2016 played to some of the same themes (two of which are pernicious; one, anti-elitism, is not necessarily so). Kirchick declares that Paul's message "shares the limited government principles of traditional libertarianism but places a heavier emphasis on conservative social values, white racial resentment, and isolationist nationalism." This stew, he notes, fed into a portion (how large a portion Kirchick doesn't pretend to know) of Trump's fan base. Kirchick's evidence connecting Paul and Trump, then, is the reason many people know James Kirchick's name to begin with: newsletters from the 1983–1996 interregnum between two of his stints as a congressman. What Kirchick is implicitly saying is that some of the people surrounding Ron Paul in the late '80s and early '90s—people who believed there was political capital to be gained by mixing anti-government ideas with right-populist white resentment—were not the utter loons assumed by most others in the libertarian community, who watched aghast as it happened in real time. In fact, he suggests, they were shockingly prescient. (Kirchick, like nearly everyone, most certainly including me, clearly also underestimated the political power of that toxic brew.) The gap between Kirchick's evidence and his conclusions, the underappreciated fact that makes this article's causal connection between Paul and Trump fail, is that he doesn't sufficiently stress his own reportorial entrepreneurship. He forgets (or wants the reader to forget) the reason people who hadn't followed Paul closely for most of his career found Kirchick's articles a potentially gamechanging newsbreaker: The Ron Paul who ran in 2008 and 2012 evinced none of those awful qualities that Kirchick highlighted in his reporting on the newsletters (which is why it was easy for most people, supporter and enemy alike, to grant that Paul likely didn't write them in the first place). I witnes[...]

Jeff Flake Highlights Donald Trump's Rhetorical Kinship With Censorious Autocrats


I'm not sure 2017 was the year in which the truth was "more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country," as Jeff Flake declared in his Senate floor speech today. But the Arizona Republican, a longtime critic of Donald Trump who decided not to seek re-election this year, is right that the president combines a blatant disregard for the truth with an open contempt for the press in a way that sets him apart from any of his recent predecessors. As Flake noted, those tendencies are especially evident in the rhetoric that Trump borrows from and lends to dictators of the past and present. "Our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies," Flake said. "It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader." Trump, who planned to announce "Fake News Awards" today recognizing the "most corrupt and dishonest" reporting of 2017, has clarified that he does not think all journalists are "enemies of the people"—only the ones who make him look bad. In his original formulation, Trump condemned "the FAKE NEWS media" as "the enemy of the American People," a category in which he specifically included The New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox News, presumably, is not an enemy of the people, and neither is The Federalist's Adam Levine, who recently received Trump's gratitude for opining on Fox News that "Donald Trump is the greatest president our country has ever seen." As Jesse Walker has noted, the phrase "fake news" originally referred to hoaxes but was quickly extended to sloppy reporting that was false but not consciously so and even to real news with an ideological spin. In Trump's hands, it became an all-purpose epithet for anything negative a journalist might say about him, true or not. It is disturbing (but not surprising) to see authoritarian leaders of other countries echo this usage. Flake offered examples from a December 8 report in Politico: "In February...Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, 'You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.' "In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being 'demonized' by 'fake news.'" Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote "laughing by his side," Duterte called reporters "spies." In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to [RT], the Russian propaganda outlet, that "the world media had 'spread lots of false versions, lots of lies' about his country, adding, 'This is what we call "fake news' today, isn't it?" There are more: "A state official in Myanmar recently said, 'There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,' referring to the persecuted ethnic group.... "Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised 'fake news' legislation in the new year." The point is not that Assad et al. would be more tolerant of dissent without Trump's example. Matt Welch is appropriately skeptical of attempts to blame Trump for a global downturn in press freedom. But [...]

"United States" -- Plural vs. Singular


A commenter on the Republic/Democracy thread mentioned the shift from "United States" being seen as a plural noun -- e.g., the Constitution's "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them" or the Thirteenth Amendment's "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction" -- to the modern treatment of the "United States" being singular ("the United States is ...").

This reminded me of an earlier post, which cites an item by Mark Liberman (Language Log). Liberman was commenting on the assertion that,

Before the war, it was said "the United States are." Grammatically, it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war, it was always "the United States is," as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an "is."

Liberman investigated -- see the link above for the start of his investigation -- and discovered that, according to Minor Myers, Supreme Court Usage and the Making of an 'Is', 11 Green Bag 2d 457 (2008), usage changed quite gradually, at least in the Supreme Court. To quote Myers,

This survey examines use of the phrases "United States is" and "United States are" in opinions of the United States Supreme Court from 1790 to 1919. It demonstrates that the familiar claim about the timing of the change is not accurate. In the Supreme Court, the plural usage – "United States are" – did not end with the Civil War. Although patterns of usage changed abruptly in the 1860s, justices continued to use the plural form through the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the plural usage was the predominant usage in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Only in the beginning of the twentieth century did the singular usage achieve preeminence and the plural usage disappear almost entirely....

The Civil War does not appear to have altered the Supreme Court's usage in a fashion as dramatic as [some] have suggested. In the 1860s, the usage pattern shifts away from "are" and toward "is," and it is during that decade that usage of "is" first predominates. But the change is not wholesale – "are" and "is" were used roughly equally in the 1860s. In the following decade, Court usage reverted back to antebellum patterns. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, plural usage predominated in Supreme Court opinions, though by slowly declining margins.

No First Amendment Right to Display Van as "Lawn Ornament"


From De Pere Ledgeview Municipal Court v. Knaus, decided today by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals:

In August 2015, the Town sent Knaus a letter advising him, among other things, that an old vehicle kept outside on his property did not comply with a Town ordinance [which generally bans "leav[ing] or allow[ing] to remain on the property any motor vehicle which is abandoned, junked, or hazardous"]. The Town requested that Knaus propose how to rectify this purported violation. Knaus responded via letter that the vehicle was a "van lawn ornament" ....

Knaus ... insists that his rights to "Freedom of Speech and Expression" allowed him to display his "lawn ornament van" on his property, citing his vehicle's red, white and blue paint job as "show[ing] patriotic expression." As the circuit court noted, that Knaus may consider his vehicle a "lawn ornament" does not excuse the vehicle from compliance with [the ordinance]. And even if Knaus's "lawn ornament" could qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment, that alone does not render invalid either the ordinance or the Town's enforcement of it. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989) (government may impose regulations on time, place and manner of speech if they are content-neutral, narrowly-tailored in service of a legitimate governmental interest, and do not foreclose all avenues of speech).... Knaus does not cite any authority or develop an argument on this issue, so we decline to address it in any greater depth....

Sounds right to me. Indeed, if the law focused on the designs (e.g., barring any vehicles painted in American flag colors), it would be unconstitutionally viewpoint-basde -- but a content-neutral restriction aimed at promoting aesthetics is constitutional, at least so long as it leaves open ample alternative channels for speech (such as via flags, signs, and the like), see City of Ladue v. Gilleo (1994). One can debate whether such aesthetic regulations improperly restrict people's property rights; but a content-neutral ban on having junked vehicles on one's property doesn't violate the First Amendment, regardless of the vehicle's paint job.

Fire and Fury to Get TV Adaptation, Skyscraper-Sized Asteroid Headed Toward Earth, Woman-Less Last Jedi: P.M. Links


  • (image) Michael Wolff's book on the first year of the Trump administration, Fire and Fury, will be adapted for television.
  • President Trump accused Russia of helping North Korea get around sanctions.
  • Republicans in the House of Representatives are still looking for a short-term government funding bill that enough of them can support.
  • Three quarters of the National Park Service's advisory board resigned, claiming Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was unwilling to meet with them.
  • Trump's Fake News Awards may happen later today.
  • A dispute between a sheep farmer and the defense ministry in Romania over grazing near a NATO base has reached that country's highest court.
  • A skyscraper-sized asteroid headed toward Earth will come close enough to be considered "potentially hazardous," according to NASA.
  • Men's rights activists make a womanless cut of The Last Jedi.

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