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Updated: 2017-05-25T00:00:00-04:00

 



Alaska Cops Fight for the Right to Sexually Exploit Prostitution Suspects (New at Reason)

2017-05-25T08:35:00-04:00

Around the country, law enforcement routinely argues that officers should be allowed to have sexual contact with suspects in prostitution cases. The power differential, and the subsequent arrest of sex workers make such contact utterly unacceptable, argues author and Seattle-based escort Maggie McNeill.

This month the fight is in Alaska, where the Anchorage Police Department is opposing two bills that would criminalize "sexual contact" with suspected sex workers. House Bill 112 states, in part, "An offender commits the crime of sexual assault in the third degree if the offender...while acting as a peace officer in the state, engages in sexual penetration with a person with reckless disregard that the person is...the victim, witness, or perpetrator of a crime under investigation by the offender." Deputy Chief Sean Case told the Alaska Dispatch News that the freedom to engage in sexual behavior with people under investigation is vital to doing police work. That's because sex workers can engage in "cop-checking," he says—vetting possible clients by asking them break laws that restrict law enforcement. A suspect might ask him to touch her breast, he explained. "If we make that act (of touching) a misdemeanor we have absolutely no way of getting involved in that type of arrest."

In the same interview, however, Case claimed that police "are not out there to go out and find that street prostitute….What we're interested in now is the trafficking." In other words, Anchorage police are arguing that they must be allowed to molest trafficking victims in order to do their jobs.

View this article.




Alaska Cops Fight for the Right to Sexually Exploit Prostitution Suspects

2017-05-25T08:30:00-04:00

Once again, cops are arguing that they need to be allowed to have sex with suspects in order to investigate prostitution allegations. And once again, lawmakers and journalists are acting like exploitation and assault of sex workers by law enforcement is a rare occurrence, rather than a national epidemic. Most people would agree that the deception, the power differential, and the subsequent arrest of sex workers make such contact utterly unacceptable, even if they don't think that it rises to the level of rape. Yet the behavior is common enough to bring police unions to its defense on a regular basis. This month the fight is in Alaska, where the Anchorage Police Department is opposing two bills that would criminalize "sexual contact" with suspected sex workers. House Bill 112 states, in part, "An offender commits the crime of sexual assault in the third degree if the offender...while acting as a peace officer in the state, engages in sexual penetration with a person with reckless disregard that the person is...the victim, witness, or perpetrator of a crime under investigation by the offender." Deputy Chief Sean Case told the Alaska Dispatch News that the freedom to engage in sexual behavior with people under investigation is vital to doing police work. That's because sex workers can engage in "cop-checking," he says—vetting possible clients by asking them break laws that restrict law enforcement. A suspect might ask him to touch her breast, he explained. "If we make that act (of touching) a misdemeanor we have absolutely no way of getting involved in that type of arrest." In the same interview, however, Case claimed that police "are not out there to go out and find that street prostitute….What we're interested in now is the trafficking." In other words, Anchorage police are arguing that they must be allowed to molest trafficking victims in order to do their jobs. The Alaska bills were introduced through the efforts of sex worker activists, who well know that in every place where sex work is criminalized or even semi-criminalized (and that includes all 50 American states) police and/or their paid informants routinely take sexual liberties ranging from groping to full intercourse with women they're "investigating." Sometimes they claim this is necessary for "gathering evidence" or (as in the Anchorage excuse above) part of the process of arresting the sex workers. Other times the activity somehow doesn't make it into police reports at all. (Imagine that!) This is exactly why Alaskan activists want the contact prohibited. Coverage of specific stories on this topic rarely make reference to the prevailing pattern, even when there are other recent examples. Virtually none of the coverage of the Alaska story mentions that just last month a Michigan law that gave cops immunity from prosecution for penetrative sex with people under investigation for prostitution is finally being challenged. Unlike the Alaska bills, the Michigan state Senate Bill 275 doesn't define this exploitation as a form of sexual assault; it merely allows the offending cop to be charged with "prostitution-related offenses" if the sex worker reports that "the officer engaged in sexual penetration while in the course of his or her duties," prior to arresting her (apparently, groping or other non-penetrative sexual activity are are still allowed). In this respect, Michigan's status quo closely resembles one in Hawaii which scandalized reporters and readers three years ago. The legislature tried to repeal a 1970s-era immunity clause for cops engage in prostitution investigations. The police union argued vociferously against the reform, just as they are doing now in Alaska, before eventually dropping their opposition in the face of a tide of popular condemnation. Yet despite that resemblance, most treatments of the Alaskan law don't bother to mention the Hawaiian one. Every time reformers get a toehold, coverage tends to treat a state's policy or practice as an standalone case. Even when it isn't—as in this report on a[...]



South Dakota Jury Acquits Tribal Cannabis Consultant of All Charges

2017-05-25T08:00:00-04:00

Two years ago, the Flandreau Santee Sioux had high hopes of capitalizing on the collapse of mariuana prohibition by opening a resort where cannabis could be purchased and consumed on their reservation in South Dakota. It all ended in fire and tears as the tribe decided to burn its first cannabis crop rather than risk the wrath of state and federal officials. But yesterday a jury in Flandreau delivered an implicit rebuke to South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, the marijuana resort's leading opponent, by acquitting a consultant who worked on the project of state drug charges. Last year Jackley got a grand jury to charge Eric Hagen, a 34-year-old cannabis consultant from Colorado, with conspiracy to possess, possession by aiding and abetting, and attempted possession of more than 10 pounds of marijuana. Hagen faced up to 10 years in prison for each of the first two counts and up to seven and half years for the third. His business partner, Jonathan Hunt, had already pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. Hunt, who was more involved in the day-to-day operations of the tribe's marijuana grow, said he could not afford to fight the charges against him. The Flandreau Santee Sioux project was inspired by a 2014 memo in which the Justice Department said it would treat tribally authorized marijuana businesses in Indian country the same as state-licensed marijuana businesses, meaning they would generally be left alone unless they impinged on "federal law enforcement priorities." Since South Dakota does not exercise criminal jurisdiction on Indian lands, except on state highways that traverse reservations, tribal officials figured that members who grew or sold marijuana in compliance with tribal law would not have to worry about state prosecution either. But as Robert Odawi Porter, a tribal law specialist in Washington, D.C., explained in a 2015 interview, that grace does not extend to people from outside the tribe. "If you're a non-Indian on tribal lands, the state retains its criminal jurisdiction over you," Porter said. "I've been wondering why everybody who is looking to get into this business is called a 'consultant,' and I think it's an effort to distinguish between being a manager, owner, or person in control and a person who is just giving advice. I don't think it's a meaningful distinction to law enforcement." Porter was right about that. Jackley even claimed that resort customers who were not members of the tribe could be arrested for consuming marijuana on the reservation or for possessing it internally after leaving the reservation. There also were rumors of an impending federal raid on the marijuana grow, notwithstanding the DOJ memo. During Hagen's trial, his lawyer, Mike Butler, argued that there was no conspiracy, since the tribe openly legalized marijuana and announced its plans for a resort where people could enjoy it. Butler also maintained that Hagen merely offered advice and never actually possessed or sought to possess the marijuana, which belonged to the tribe. The trial lasted four days, and the jurors reached their verdict after deliberating for about two hours. The fact that Hagen was acquitted in spite of his vulnerability under state law sends a pretty clear message to Jackley, a candidate for governor whom critics accused of grandstanding by making a show of fighting the resort. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors, and it's upsetting," Hagen told the Associated Press. "This was simply a media ploy for Marty because he's running for governor in 2018." Jackley kept his game face, saying, "I do continue to urge our South Dakota tribes to make their own determination that marijuana grows of this nature can affect the public health and safety on their reservations and across our state." Even as they burned the crop that Hagen helped grow, tribal officials talked about reaching an accommodation that would allow the project to proceed. "Tribal leadership is confident that after seeking clarification from the United States D[...]



We All Scream for the Ice Cream Man's Head

2017-05-25T06:00:00-04:00

Paul DiMarco has been selling ice cream in Poughkeepsie, New York, for two decades. He owns a fleet of trucks. When one mom confided to him, "You gotta be careful because there's a lot of pedophiles in this world," he recalls replying, "That attitude falls into the same category as 'All black people that drive Cadillacs are pimps,' and 'All clowns kill little kids.'"

Of course, some real-life ice cream men do have soft-serve for brains. There were the guys in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who sold weed from their truck. Elsewhere in New York, an ice cream guy named Kenneth Leiton was busted in 2009 for selling pills and coke; cops caught him when he was dumb enough to park the truck in front of his dealer's house. In Philadelphia in 2011, an ice cream truck was spotted weaving through the streets. Its operator was found guilty of driving drunk, and in his freezer authorities found not only ice cream novelties but a couple of bottles of his frozen pee. (In his defense, I've read it's hard to find a bathroom while on the job.)

And yes, even the classic nightmare scenario has happened: An ice cream man in upstate New York was found guilty of violating a 9-year-old in his truck in 2004. The incident inspired a state law making it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to operate an ice cream truck. The New York State Senate is now considering bumping that up to a Class D felony.

But hard cases make bad law, and this is no exception. There are more than 700 Mister Softee trucks alone in 15 states, and that's not counting all the other brands. A predator or two, a gaggle of drug dealers, and a horror movie—1995's The Ice Cream Man didn't do the industry any favors—do not an entire profession dishonor.

Fear of ice cream peddlers points to a larger problem few parents want to admit to: our collective mistrust of any man who chooses to work with kids. From male day care employees to school bus drivers to Cub Scout leaders, they're all potential predators until proven otherwise.

And they can't prove otherwise. How can you prove a negative?

If we insist on background checking all ice cream salesmen, do we also have to background check all pet shop employees? All pediatric cardiologists? Is any male who interacts with a child automatically suspect? And how about women? They abuse kids, too.

Once you start insisting on government vetting, you're trusting a system that has made "sex offenders" out of teenagers in love, streakers, and public urinators (even the ones who don't freeze their pee). You're also buying into the mistaken belief that no one convicted of a sex crime can ever be rehabilitated—even though the actual recidivism rate is only around 5 percent. Most importantly, you're looking in exactly the wrong direction.

"It's so much more comfortable to fear the unknown, the stranger," says Sandy Rozek, spokeswoman for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. "But that doesn't fit the facts. Depending on the age of the child, between 90 and 99 percent of those who sexually molest children are the friend, the acquaintance, the family member." Not the ice cream guy.

DiMarco, the fleet owner, does run background checks on his operators, as state law requires. But the idea that ice cream men cruise around looking for victims is simply an urban myth. As he told that worried mom, "Let's get one thing straight. As far as these little kids go, there's only one thing I want and that's their money."

And in the end, that may be the real reason parents are so scared: Somewhere in this bubble-wrapped, baby-proofed world, one group of adults is treating kids as human beings, not snowflakes.

How chilling.




Brickbat: Hold On

2017-05-25T04:00:00-04:00

(image) When Kansas City, Missouri, comic book store owner James Cavanaugh was knocked down by a shoplifter, friends called 911. And they say they were placed on hold for 17 minutes. Cavanaugh died. A police department spokesman says they are looking into the matter.




New CBO Report Says House-Passed Health Care Plan Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured, Cut $119 Billion Off Federal Deficit

2017-05-24T17:31:00-04:00

The House-passed Republican health care plan would increase the number of Americans without health insurance by 23 million over 10 years, but would reduce premiums for those who maintain coverage, according to a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill released Wednesday evening. If the American Health Care Act were to become law this year, an estimated 14 million people would lose coverage by 2018, the CBO estimates, with that number increasing to 19 million by 2020 and 23 million by 2026. That's slightly less than the 24 million Americans that the CBO estimated would lose health care coverage under the original version of the bill, before it was amended in early May. Replacing Obamacare with the AHCA would reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $119 billion over the next 10 years, the CBO estimates, which is less than the $150 billion savings included in the original version of the bill (and baked into the budget plan released by the White House this week). Almost all the budgetary savings—an estimated $834 billion, most of which is canceled out by other elements of the bill—come from changes to Medicaid, the joint federal-state program to provide health coverage for the poor, including a major provision of the AHCA that would allow states to handle more Medicaid decision-making. While the numbers have changed a bit since the initial CBO score for the bill was released in March, the basic trade-offs within the AHCA remain largely the same. The bill would maintain many elements of Obamacare, but would repeal the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance, while allowing insurance companies to offer plans that are considered sub-par by Obamacare's coverage mandates and to price plans differently based on an individual's health record, in some circumstances. The result is that some people will choose not to purchase insurance, while others might not be able to afford to do so—though the bill provides tax credits to help make insurance more affordable. Those tax credits, the CBO says, would "lower average premiums enough to attract a sufficient number of relatively healthy people to stabilize the market." The CBO estimates that premiums would be reduced under the rewritten version of the AHCA, but that would not be the case for everyone, as "premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the funding that would be available." Many of those people would end up in state-run "high risk pools" created by the legislation. Wednesday's release is the first CBO analysis of the AHCA since it was passed by the House with a 217-213 vote on May 4. Republicans faced criticism for rushing to a vote in the House before the CBO could finish scoring the rewritten bill, but so far the Senate has not touched the AHCA and further changes are likely to happen before the bill reaches President Donald Trump's desk (if it ever does). Prior to the re-write, the CBO said the Republican health care plan would result in 14 million fewer people having insurance next year, with a decline of 24 million after 10 years. Premiums were estimated to rise by 15 to 20 percent through 2020, and would continue to rise during the 2020s but at a slower rate than what is projected under current law. The new report is sure to be a major factor in the Senate's deliberations on the AHCA, which remains a flawed (and deeply unpopular) attempt at replacing Obamacare. [...]



Another Cuban Libertarian Disappeared; His Associates Fear He's Been Secretly Arrested [UPDATE: Activist Found, Claims to Have Been Beaten]

2017-05-24T16:50:00-04:00

Another libertarian activist in Cuba may have been taken into illegitimate custody by the Castro regime, his associates in the Partido Libertario Cubano - Jose Marti are reporting.

(image)

Nelson Rodriguez Chartrand, who wrote an article in the PanAm Post which I reported on here last week, about a rebel poster campaign that he was involved in to remind Havana about two other libertarian activists in Cuban custody, Ubaldo Herrera Hernandez and Manuel Velazquez Visea, has himself disappeared.

[UPDATE: Chartrand has reappeared this afternoon, though according to a report from L.P. Nevada activist Zach Foster via other Cuban activists, "After over 24 hours' disappearance, Nelson Rodriguez Chartrand has emerged and is in contact with the party leaders. He was beaten and shaken, but in one piece. The Cuban LP has even more reason now to conclude State Security agents are responsible."

In an IM interview this afternoon, Foster reports via his Cuban sources that Chartrand was "leaving his adult son's house with a box of books to be donated to the new Libertarian Library by LP Spain (P-LIB). The men who attacked him were dressed like common street thugs, but: knew exactly where to find him; they knew what time to find him; they used sophisticated takedown and holding techniques indicative of a law enforcement background; not only did they steal the cash relief money for the prisoner Ubaldo's mother, but...... They stole the libertarian political economy books, and dropped him off stranded in the middle of nowhere to walk back to Havana."]

Back to the original post for the record:

Zach Foster, an American libertarian with the Nevada L.P. who is in communication with the Cuban libertarians, reports at the Libertarian Republic that Chartrand:

disappeared on the night of May 22 under very suspicious circumstances. We in the Cuban LP and LP Nevada believe Nelson was kidnapped on his way home by State Security! The party leaders have searched all the police stations and jailhouses but magically, he's nowhere in the records....

the police have been contacted, but "No crime has been committed; not coming home isn't a crime," and he hasn't been gone long enough yet to be considered a missing person.

Foster reports that State Security officers were seen tailing Chartrand before he disappeared, and that he is not in any local hospitals.

While assuming that someone who doesn't come home has been secretly arrested might seem a baroque fear to an American, as Foster notes "Invisible arrests in the middle of the night are common in Cuba" and he was a part of a poster campaign in Havana that the authorities would certainly disapprove of.




Trump Meets Pope, ISIS Claims Responsibility for Rampage in Philippines, Marilyn Monroe and UFOs: P.M. Links

2017-05-24T16:30:00-04:00

  • (image) President Trump met with the pope in the Vatican before arriving in Brussels for a NATO summit.
  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for an assault by militants on Marawi City that led to thousands of civilians fleeing and the Philippines' president declaring martial law on Mindanao, the Muslim-majority island on which Marawi City is located.
  • The father and the brother of the Manchester bomber have been reportedly arrested in Libya, to which they returned from the U.K. after the Western-backed ouster of Col. Qaddafi.
  • Paul Ryan says James Comey is not a nut job.
  • Some Democrats are upset Bernie Sanders won't rule out running for president in 2020.
  • The high court in Taiwan has ruled that the civil code defining marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.
  • "Did UFOs cause Marilyn Monroe's death?"



3 Ways We're Reliving the Watergate Culture War

2017-05-24T14:45:00-04:00

Whether or not we're reliving the Watergate investigation, we sure do seem intent on reenacting the Watergate culture war. That isn't just true of Donald Trump's critics, who are understandably eager to compare the 37th and 45th presidents. It's true of Trump and his team, who keep echoing arguments offered by Richard Nixon and his defenders four decades ago: 1. The double-standard defense. Complain about something Trump has done, and someone is bound to ask why you didn't say a peep when Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did some other bad thing. (You will get this response even if you protested Clinton or Obama's action quite loudly.) The most prominent person to talk like this, of course, is Donald Trump himself: With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017 But this defense is a lot older than the present president's political career. Throughout the Watergate investigation, Nixon complained angrily that his predecessors had gotten away with the very activities that were getting him in trouble. In his 2003 book Nixon's Shadow, the Rutgers historian David Greenberg lays out some examples: "If I were a liberal," [Nixon] told [die-hard defender Baruch Korff], "Watergate would be a blip." He compiled a private catalogue of behaviors by others that he believed excused his own. On the basis of comments J. Edgar Hoover made to him, he frequently claimed, not quite accurately, that Lyndon Johnson had bugged his campaign plane in 1968. When Nixon was chided for spying on political opponents, he shot back that John and Robert Kennedy had done the same. And as precedents for his 1972 program of political sabotage, he regularly cited the pranks of Democratic operative Dick Tuck, who had hounded Nixon since his 1950 Senate race. During the Watergate Hearings, [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Haldeman testified that "dirty tricks" maestro Donald Segretti was hired to be a "Dick Tuck for our side." There's more—much more—but you get the idea. Now, Nixon may have gotten his facts a little scrambled when it came to that alleged airplane bug, and some of the supposed precursors to his crimes didn't actually fit the bill. (He seemed convinced that Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers was comparable to the Watergate break-in—a bizarre analogy, though if you've been following the debates over Edward Snowden you've probably heard worse.) But broadly speaking, the president had a point. Many American leaders had abused their powers, sometimes in ways that resembled the Nixon scandals, and the press hadn't always been quick to trumpet the news. Like Nixon, JFK had wiretapped reporters and used the IRS as a political weapon. LBJ may not have bugged Nixon's plane in 1968, but he did spy on Goldwater in 1964. And both Kennedy and Johnson, like many others who have held their job, presided over enormous violations of dissenters' civil liberties. You can make a decent case that Nixon's misbehavior was even worse than theirs, but you can see how the man could get a little resentful about the uneven attention. The trouble with the double-standard defense is that it isn't much of a defense. The crimes of prior presidents aren't a reason to let Nixon off the hook; they're a reason to rein in not just one abusive president but the whole imperial presidency. The same goes for any Trumpian abuses today. 2. Intimations of a "coup." Then as now, each side accused the other of plotting a coup. Rumors that Nixon was planning to seize dictatorial powers circulated not just on the political fringes but in official Washington; many of the president's foes feared that fascism was on the way. After Nixon had Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox fired, Rep. Parren Mitchell of Maryland[...]



This Florida Prosecutor Campaigned on Reform and Fairness. Now She’s Ratcheting Up the Drug War.

2017-05-24T14:30:00-04:00

When Melissa Nelson was elected as a state attorney in Florida last fall, unseating the controversial prosecutor Angela Corey, she spoke of bringing fairer outcomes to the justice system, developing diversion programs to keep juveniles out of jail, and creating a unit to go through old cases to look for wrongful convictions. (Read Reason's interview with Nelson here.) But now it's 2017, everybody's in a panic about increases in opioid fatalities, and Nelson's office is bragging about charging an alleged drug dealer with first degree murder over a young woman's overdose death. Both the sheriff's department and the state's attorney's office for Clay County, Florida, are making a big deal out the indictment, with press releases and press conferences. The sheriff's office says this is the first time it's ever charged someone with murder for a drug overdose. One slight problem: It's not entirely clear under what legal authority they've brought this charge. On Tuesday, Clay County officials announced that Trumaine Devone Muller, 32, had been indicted by a grand jury for murder in the overdose death of Ariell Jade Brundige, 18. Brundige died last November after trying what she apparently believed to be heroin but was actually the opioid fentanyl, according to Nelson's office. Florida's laws allow for drug traffickers to be charged with first degree murder when one of their customers dies of an overdose, but only when certain drugs are involved. Heroin is on the list, but fentanyl and some similar opioids are not. Florida lawmakers have, in fact, passed a bill to add fentanyl to this list (and to impose mandatory minimum sentences on fentanyl traffickers), but it's not law yet and it does not appear to apply to Muller. Muller's indictment does not mention fentanyl, claiming that he killed Brundige by distributing "opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium." Fentanyl mimics opium's effects, but it is not a synthetic derivative or preparation of opium. Officials also announced manslaughter charges against Brundige's friends Tyler Hamilton, 26, and Christopher Williams, 32, for their role in procuring the drugs for her. The arrest report for Williams notes that he was the one who actually called 911 when Hamilton found Brundige unresponsive. Williams told police he attempted CPR on her but was unsuccessful. To be clear here: Police and prosecutors are charging the guy who called 911 to report the overdose with manslaughter. That would seem to violate the spirit of so-called Good Samaritan laws, which are intended to protect citizens from drug-related arrests when they report overdoses. These laws exist so that people feel safe calling 911 in a situation exactly like Brundige's: If they fear they'll get locked up, they're less likely to call an ambulance and overdose victims are more likely to die. Florida, remarkably, already has a Good Samaritan law, but it only protects against prosecution for basic possession. Prosecutors accuse Hamilton and Williams of buying the drug from Muller and supplying it for Brundige. Drug policy reformers have warned for years about the consequences of harsh criminalization measures. Now the panic over opioid overdoses is fueling a return to the same "lock them all up" rhetoric that utterly failed to make lives better. Reporting about the case for the Florida Times-Union, Dan Scanlan contacted drug policy experts to remind folks that this behavior does not help: Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor researching the use of murder charges for drug overdoses, said prosecution like this can actually hurt. "These kinds of prosecutions, I believe, run counter to efforts to encourage people to seek help in all of this," Beletsky said. "...We misappropriate public funding toward things that are count[...]



Vermont's Governor Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Bill Over Concerns About Driver Impairment

2017-05-24T13:35:00-04:00

Earlier this month, the Vermont legislature became the first in the nation to pass a marijuana legalization measure. Today, Gov. Phil Scott became the first state executive to veto such a bill. According to Vermont alternative weekly Seven Days, Gov. Phil Scott "said he does not consider marijuana legalization a priority and has concerns about the lack of a roadside test to detect driver impairment." The absence of a reliable roadside sobriety test for THC is a misleading excuse for striking down legislation that would do more to remove criminal penalties for adult possession than it would to create a marijuana market that might conceivably increase drug use. Similar to D.C.'s legalization measure, Vermont's S.22 decriminalized possession of an ounce (or less) and allowed residents to possess two mature plants; in both cases, only for adults older than 21. The bill would not have established a tax-and-regulate system, or legalized person-to-person sales. In essence, it simply removed the civil penalties the state adopted when it decriminalized possession in 2013. As for the road safety issue: The link between THC content in the blood and impairment is very murky, and no one has spent more time exploring that issue than Reason's Jacob Sullum. In 2016, he reviewed several reports from AAA that looked at THC-related traffic incidents. One of those reports was based on THC-related traffic incident data in Washington state between 2005 and 2014 (Washington, along with Colorado, legalized marijuana in 2012). AAA reported a 30 percent increase in THC-related traffic incidents events over that period; yet 66 percent of drivers who tested positive for THC in fatal accidents also tested positive for other substances, which was also true for 73 percent of THC-positive drivers involved in non-fatal accidents. It is not possible, in such circumstances, to isolate marijuana as the cause of a traffic incident. Even the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area concedes that a positive test for THC--which remains in the body long after the drug's impairing effects have subsidided--does "not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident." Another study from AAA that sought to identify a THC blood level cutoff for impairment found "no clear relationship between THC blood levels in DUI arrestees and performance on roadside sobriety tests." While people with THC in their systems performed less well than the sober control group, Sullum noted that the failure rate in the latter ranged from 33 percent to 51 percent. That "makes you wonder how accurate these tests are as measures of impairment." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, reported in 2015 that while "the impairment effects for various concentration levels of alcohol in the blood or breath are well understood, there is little evidence available to link concentrations of other drugs to driver performance." Scott's apparent insistence on a black-and-white measure for determing THC-related driver impairment puts Vermont legalization advocates in a tough spot: The best science can tell us if a person has THC in their body, but not whether (or how) it affected their driving. Scott is reportedly open to reconsidering the bill during a special session dedicated to vetoed legislation. If the Vermont legislature is able to negotiate on the impaired driving issue, they should be mindful of the consequences of accepting a zero-tolerance policy. Michigan has such a law, and it recently resulted in a woman who tested positive for THC being sentenced to six months in jail for an accident she did not cause. [...]



The New York Times' Hostility to Industry: New at Reason

2017-05-24T13:20:00-04:00

(image) The paper of record has it in for Pebble Mine in Alaska.

John Stossel writes:

The New York Times' hostility to industry gets worse every day.

Last week, The Times ran a big picture of a bay in Alaska with the headline "In Reversal, EPA Eases Path for a Mine Near Alaska's Bristol Bay."

While this was just another of their stories about how Donald Trump will poison America, it caught my eye because of the big photo and because I once reported on that mine.

Attempted mine, I should say. No holes have been dug.

I reported on Pebble Mine because the EPA rejected the mine even before its environmental impact statement was submitted.

The Obama EPA squashed Pebble like it squashed the Keystone XL pipeline. It just said no.

This shocked CEO Tom Collier. He's a Democrat who managed environment policy for Al Gore and Bill Clinton. He was convinced Pebble could be developed safely and assumed EPA regulators would follow their own rules. They didn't.

"They killed this project before any science was done, and there are memos that show that!" Collier complained.

View this article.




County Spends $58 Million on a Jail, Never Uses It, Sells it for $10 Million

2017-05-24T12:59:00-04:00

The government of Multnomah County, Oregon, is selling a jail in Wapato to a private developer for $10 million. That's much less than it paid to build the place back in 2004—the facility cost $58 million—but you can't blame the county for wanting to unload it. In the 13 years since it was opened, the jail has never held a single prisoner. In the meantime, the authorities spent $300,000 annually to maintain the empty structure, plus $3.5 million a year to service the debt undertaken to build the thing. Jeff Reynolds, a Multnomah County homeowner since 2009, calls the county's management of the facility "absurd." Not only did the county fail "to use the property for its intended purpose," Reynolds complains, but it "compounded the problem by refusing to use it for anything else." Predictably, the county's chief financial officer has blamed the mess on insufficient tax revenue. But lack of funds did not stop the county from spending $600,000 on public art projects at the jail site, including such memorable works as a $180,000 sculpture intended to represent a shipwreck. A train wreck might have been more appropriate. The fact is that the facility was finished just as crime in the area was falling, so there wasn't an obvious need for the place. Attempts were periodically made to find a niche for it, but none of them succeeded. When a county commissioner proposed to bring in 150 inmates eligible for drug and alcohol treatment, he was blocked by the corrections deputies union, which stood to lose funding if the prisoners were shifted from where they were being held before. There were several attempts to have the state Department of Corrections take over the facility, perhaps turning it into a women's prison, but that path was abandoned when the county would only agree to lease, and not sell, the unused jail. In 2014, the county solicited ideas for what to do with the property. Seven submissions were received, including proposals to turn the facility into a community college or a garden. All were rejected. In a 2016 housing emergency, the government considered making the place a homeless shelter. That notion was dropped too, partly because of the jail's isolated location and partly because officials didn't like the optics of storing the homeless behind bars. So far the only people to make use of the empty jail are film crews, who have used it to shoot potato chip commercials and episodes of the TV show Grimm. After this long odyssey of failure, the Wapato saga is finally coming to an end. On Tuesday, County Chair Deborah Kafour signed a Memorandum of Understanding to sell the facility to the California-based Pacific Development Partners LLC. So far the company has been cagy about its plans for the site, but at least it won't be a drain on taxpayers like Reynolds anymore. [...]



From SoHo to Bushwick: New at Reason

2017-05-24T11:11:00-04:00

(image)

Some decades ago, the great divide in New York City culture was between uptown and downtown. The former contained the prominent museums, the commercial publishers, and the WASP establishment. The latter held the less established artists and writers, the best galleries for selling recent art, and the independent intellectuals. Uptown New Yorkers often took pride in never going downtown, where people lived in shabbier lodgings, often renovated from factories. Those residing downtown thought they might get a nosebleed if they traveled north of 14th Street.

But toward the end of the last century, as downtown Manhattan became slicker, uptown people and institutions started to move downtown, often creating replicas of the areas they had left in a process commonly called gentrification. SoHo, the downtown neighborhood south of Houston Street, started as an industrial slum but became within 40 years a populous artists' colony and then a high-end shopping mall. Kay S. Hymowitz's The New Brooklyn describes how, in the late 20th century, a comparable gentrification developed across the East River in Brooklyn, a borough that had previously been a bedroom community for people who couldn't afford Manhattan.

View this article.




Bookstores Suffer Unintended Consequences From Mark Hamill's Campaign Against Fake Autographs

2017-05-24T10:35:00-04:00

In a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker is the ultimate hero (or is he?), but here's a note to state lawmakers in this galaxy: maybe don't trust him to make policy for you. California is learning that the hard way, as a new law championed by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill has landed the state in court. In that lawsuit, the owners of a California-based book store argue that new rules governing the sale of autographed memorabilia—like books signed by authors at events hosted by their store and scores of others around the state—are overly burdensome, threaten harsh punishments for minor infractions, and above all else are poorly written. Under the terms of the law, which passed last year and took effect in January, retailers have to provide certificates of authenticity for all autographed merchandise worth more than $5. That doesn't sound like a difficult burden for retailers, but look at what has to be included on that certificate. The law specifies that those certificates must contain a description of the collectible and the name of the person who signed it, the purchase price and date, and an "explicit statement" of authenticity. It must also indicate how many items were signed, whether they are numbered as part of a series, and whether any more might be sold in the future. Oh, and there has to be proof that the seller is insured. And, of course, there has to be a certificate number provided by the bureaucrats at the State Board of Equalization (a real thing, believe it or not, tasked with collecting various taxes and fees for everything from gasoline to recycled computers). There's a separate requirement for an "identifying serial number," which, naturally, has to match the serial number of the receipt—a receipt that must be kept by the seller for no less than seven years after the transaction. Finally, the certificate of authenticity has to say whether the author provided his John Hancock in the presence of the dealer, or another witness, and include the name of the witness. (There is no word on whether the witness' first born must also sign the form.) Make a mistake on any of those requirements, and dealers could be liable for penalties equal to 10 times the purchase price of the autographed item—plus court costs and attorneys' fees. "This law's expensive mandates — with voluminous reporting requirements and draconian penalties — create a nightmare for independent booksellers that thrive on author events and book signings," said Bill Petrocelli, owner of the Marin County-based Book Passage, which has three locations around the San Francisco Bay Area. Petrocelli is the plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the autograph law. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal nonprofit, is representing him in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Northern District of California. Anastasia Boden, an attorney for PLF, says the law does little to protect consumers from the dangers of fraudulently autographed memorabilia. Rather, the lawsuit alleges, the law will have a chilling effect on "truthful, non-misleading speech" protected by the First Amendment, as it will reduce or eliminate book-signing events, like the ones Book Passage hosts hundreds of times each year. Retailers, authors, and the general public lose, but the law could be a big win for trial lawyers, given the high threshold for record-keeping imposed on retailers, and the potentially debilitating penalties that could be visited upon small book stores if they fail to meet those obligations. "Professional plaintiff's lawyers must be chomping at the bit," says Boden. The law also includes several ar[...]



Did Trump Know Enough to Obstruct Justice? New at Reason

2017-05-24T10:00:00-04:00

(image) For almost a year, Donald Trump has been complaining that FBI Director James Comey gave Hillary Clinton "a free pass for many bad deeds," as the president recently put it on Twitter. Trump thinks his opponent in last year's presidential election should have been prosecuted for her loose email practices as secretary of state, even if she did not deliberately expose classified information.

The president might want to reconsider that hardline attitude, writes Jacob Sullum. The reason Comey cited for not recommending charges against Clinton—a lack of criminal intent—could prove crucial in rebutting the allegation that Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the FBI's investigation of ties between his associates and the Russian government.

View this article.




16-Year-Old Commits Suicide After School Cop Threatens Him with Child Porn Charges

2017-05-24T09:25:00-04:00

It took school and police officials just a few minutes to extinguish 16-year-old Corey Walgren's promising future. All they did was utter two words: child pornography. Corey, a junior at Naperville North High School in Naperville, Illinois, was a perfectly normal, social, good-looking 16-year-old. He was an honor roll student with dreams of attending a Big Ten college. He had typical interests for a teenager boy: hockey, fishing, and, yes, girls. Corey committed suicide in January, just hours after a school resource officer confronted him about an alleged illegal item on his cell phone—a recording of Corey having sex with a female classmate. The girl had informed a dean at the school that she believed Corey had played the recording for his friends (it's not clear whether he did), which prompted the authorities to summon Corey to the principal's office. They called his mother and told both of them that Corey was being investigated for possession of child pornography. Corey left the meeting, headed to a nearby parking garage, and jumped. That's all according to a heartbreaking story in The Chicago Tribune, which obtained police records of the case and spoke with Corey's parents about his death. "I think they wanted to scare him straight," Corey's mother, Maureen Walgren, told the Tribune. "Instead, they scared him to death." Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall offered his condolences but declined to criticize the process that resulted in Corey's death. "At the time of the incident, the Police Department determined that the school resource officer followed proper policies and procedures," he told the Tribune. School district officials made similar remarks. The Tribune story casts some doubt on this assertion. It isn't entirely clear that the school resource officer had legal cause to question Corey without first asking a parent for permission. But most young people are not well-versed in constitutional law. They don't understand that talking to a cop isn't like talking to a regular school official, that it involves forfeiting certain rights. The video recording was apparently of such poor quality that it was impossible to make out any of its images. But under Illinois's age of consent laws, one person under the age of 17 can be charged with sexual abuse if he had sexual contact with another person under the age of 17, even if they're both the same age. Two 16-year-olds in a fully consensual relationship could be charged with abusing each other. The authorities probably wouldn't have charged Corey—in most cases, accused teens are able to work out plea deals involving probation and diversion programs. Note, though, that these deals are still incredibly disruptive of young people's lives and education plans. Maybe Corey walked out of the meeting terrified that he was about to be branded a sex offender for the rest of his life. Maybe he was worried that he would no longer graduate on time or go to college. Maybe he just didn't want to face his parents. We'll never know exactly what Corey was thinking when he decided to end his life. We do know that the practice of employing police officers to patrol public schools is fraught with abuse. More kids are arrested, and even jailed, for behavior that would have earned them detention in saner times. We also know that treating kids like sex criminals for taking inappropriate pictures and videos of each other is bad for everyone involved. Teenagers should be allowed to make mistakes, learn better behavior, and move on without ending up on the sex offender registry—without feeling like their lives are over before they've even finished gr[...]



Trump Pope Pics Worth 1,000 Words, Fox Retracts Seth Rich Story, Congress Looks Into Sex Trafficking by U.S. Contractors: A.M. Links

2017-05-24T09:00:00-04:00

  • (image) President Trump's Wednesday morning meeting with the Pope seems to have happened without major incident, though the photos are a treat.
  • Fox News is backing down on allegations that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered for leaking documents to Wikileaks, retracting a May 16 story that suggested as much. "The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed," a Tuesday statement from Fox News said. "We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted."
  • Melania Trump may have rebuffed her husband's attempt at hand-holding, and the media is on it!
  • There's budding momentum to ban light, filtered cigarettes—because if people are going to smoke, they should have to do it in the least safe or pleasant way possible (xoxo, Government).
  • A congressional panel is demanding documents and testimony from a U.S. defense contractor accused of facilitating sex trafficking in Iraq.

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FAA’s Silly Drone Registry Blocked: New at Reason

2017-05-24T08:30:00-04:00

(image) Model aircraft enthusiasts and small-scale drone hobbyists enjoyed a major victory last week when a federal court struck down the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) controversial non-commercial small drone registration mandate. On May 19, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the FAA's requirement that recreational operators of "small Unmanned Aircraft Systems," or UASs, weighing between 0.55 and 55 lbs. must register their crafts with the agency or risk fines and even jail time.

The registry is nullified—at least for now—and sUAS buffs are once again free to zip around the troposphere without getting a go-ahead from the FAA first. Incredibly, this big win for permissionless innovation and tinkerers across America comes to us thanks to a single dedicated model aircraft enthusiast named John A. Taylor who just happened to be a lawyer who knew that the FAA was breaking the law. Andrea O'Sullivan explains the details.

View this article.




Drone Registry Repeal a Victory for Permissionless Innovation

2017-05-24T08:30:00-04:00

Model aircraft enthusiasts and small-scale drone hobbyists enjoyed a major victory last week when a federal court struck down the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) controversial non-commercial small drone registration mandate. On May 19, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the FAA's requirement that recreational operators of "small Unmanned Aircraft Systems," or UASs, weighing between 0.55 and 55 lbs. must register their crafts with the agency or risk fines and even jail time. The registry is nullified—at least for now—and sUAS buffs are once again free to zip around the troposphere without getting a go-ahead from the FAA first. Incredibly, this big win for permissionless innovation and tinkerers across America comes to us thanks to a single dedicated model aircraft enthusiast named John A. Taylor who just happened to be a lawyer who knew that the FAA was breaking the law. The FAA rules, first promulgated in December of 2015, came as a major surprise to the many hopeful small drone sellers for that year's Christmas season. Suddenly, tiny toys not much different from the remote-control helicopters that were a gift staple in holidays past would be considered UASs under the express oversight of the nation's aviation authority. In fact, in the eyes of former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, little Timmy with his new drone would be considered an "aviator" and "with that title comes a great deal of responsibility." Small drone buyers would need to first pay to register the gadget with an FAA website and mark it with the assigned identification number before allowing their child to enjoy their coveted new toy. But another group took particular umbrage with the new rules: model aircraft enthusiasts, who had previously been exempt from this kind of regulation. It's not hard to sympathize with their plight. These small and responsible of DIYers had been safely flying their crafts with no issue long before "drones" were a household name. For decades, model aircraft activity had a de facto deregulatory assurance because the recreational community adequately policed its own. Specifically, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) maintained its own voluntary registration system and enforced community-based safety standards that obviated the need for (and likely exceeded the potential outcomes of) government-driven regulations. Indeed, since 1981, the FAA itself encouraged this kind of voluntary arrangement by merely offering guidelines that the model aircraft community could follow. In a nod to the effectiveness of this self-policing arrangement, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which explicitly carved out a space for the model aircraft community to continue to tinker without the FAA breathing down their necks. Section 336 of the Act clearly states that the FAA may not "promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft." It's hard to get more clear-cut than that. But the FAA nevertheless ignored Congress and proceeded with its half-baked drone registration program despite the major logistical and legal issues involved. This is where Taylor and his one-man crusade against FAA wrongdoing comes in. Taylor is a model plane hobbyist and insurance lawyer who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Like others in his community, he was distressed by the FAA's sudden about-turn on model aircraft. Says Taylor: "I wanted to be able to fly my drone and I didn't want to have to register. It pissed me off on a very sort of visceral level." But unlike many of his comra[...]



'What a Great Job You Are Doing,' Trump Tells Thug Who Fights Drugs With Murder

2017-05-24T07:59:00-04:00

Last month critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous anti-drug crusade were dismayed by the official White House summary of a "very friendly" telephone conversation in which Donald Trump praised the bloodthirsty authoritarian for "fighting very hard to rid [his] country of drugs." A newly revealed transcript of the April 29 call, prepared by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and published yesterday by The Washington Post, shows that Trump's comments were even more alarming than they sounded in the summary. After some initial pleasantries, Trump announces the purpose of his call. "I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem," he says. "Many countries have a problem. We have a problem. But what a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you that." Duterte thanks Trump and adds, "This is the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation." Trump repeats his unqualified endorsement of Duterte's drug policies. "I understand that and fully understand that," he says, "and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that, and we have spoken about this before." Trump is alluding to Barack Obama's criticism of Duterte's methods, which have included thousands of extrajudicial killings, routine falsification of evidence, and public incitement of murder as a justified response to drug addicts as well as drug dealers. While Obama may have had a problem with Duterte's approach, Trump is saying, he understands that fighting drugs requires extreme measures. Since Trump is clearly aware that Duterte's war on drugs has attracted international criticism, it is hard to excuse his enthusiasm as a product of ignorance. In fact, his own State Department has raised concerns similar to those heard from the Obama administration. Last month Patrick Murphy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, said American diplomats "have a very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law," adding that "the growing number of extrajudicial killings is troubling." Trump not only seems to have no such qualms; he wants Duterte to know he has no qualms, which can only encourage the appalling violence that has been the hallmark of the Philippine president's anti-drug campaign. "We are not here to lecture," Trump said during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia. "We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship." The implication was that the United States should not meddle in another country's internal affairs, that the way a government treats its own people is none of America's business. Trump, who bombed a Syrian airbase in response to the government's sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town, is by no means consistent in maintaining that noninterventionist position, which is sound as a constraint on military action. Whether the same circumspection should extend to verbal expressions of disapproval is another matter. And even if there were an argument for muting criticism of an ally's unjust policies in some situations, it would not require the president to actively encourage systematic violations of human rights, as Trump is doing here. [...]



From SoHo to Bushwick

2017-05-24T06:00:00-04:00

The New Brooklyn: What It Takes To Bring a City Back, by Kay S. Hymowitz, Rowman & Littlefield, 198 pages, $27 Some decades ago, the great divide in New York City culture was between uptown and downtown. The former contained the prominent museums, the commercial publishers, and the WASP establishment. The latter held the less established artists and writers, the best galleries for selling recent art, and the independent intellectuals. Uptown New Yorkers often took pride in never going downtown, where people lived in shabbier lodgings, often renovated from factories. Those of us residing downtown, as I did from 1966 to 2010, thought we might get a nosebleed if we traveled north of 14th Street. Toward the end of the last century, as downtown Manhattan became slicker, uptown people and institutions started to move downtown, often creating replicas of the areas they had left in a process commonly called gentrification. SoHo, the downtown neighborhood south of Houston Street, started as an industrial slum but became within 40 years a populous artists' colony and then a high-end shopping mall. Kay S. Hymowitz's The New Brooklyn describes how, in the late 20th century, a comparable gentrification developed across the East River in Brooklyn, a borough that had previously been a bedroom community for people who couldn't afford Manhattan. The crucial truth of this sort of gentrification is that it's essentially extragovernmental. Politicians can't encourage it, because it starts with decisions made by individuals about where they want to live, often renovating newly purchased buildings for themselves and their partners, legal or informal. Developers, who by definition build for others, sometimes follow; other times, not. Governments customarily acknowledge gentrification at the behest of developers and voting residents, who are often in conflict with each other. In SoHo, the most extraordinary concentration of artistic excellence in American history wasn't "planned"—not by individuals and not by any public agency. Major developers never entered SoHo proper because some artists campaigned early to have it officially declared a "historic district" whose architectural integrity couldn't be violated. (The Trump SoHo hotel is actually several blocks west of SoHo proper, exploiting the neighborhood's fame at another address.) The central setting of The New Brooklyn is Park Slope, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Hymowitz and her family moved during the 1980s. Running slightly downhill from magnificent Prospect Park to the once-polluted Gowanus Canal, it was a century ago a mostly Irish working-class neighborhood filled with uniform-looking handsome brownstones arrayed on long streets. Into Park Slope after 1980 moved young urban professionals, customarily called yuppies, who, 'tis said, couldn't afford the similar housing found on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They renovated the brownstones, often quite elegantly and sometimes idiosyncratically, as they occupied the streets running down from the park. The lower the number of the nearby crossing avenues (running down from No. 8), the less classy the side-street housing. Different subway lines could get Park Slope residents into Manhattan within 30 minutes. While this story of What It Takes To Bring a City Back, to quote the book's subtitle, is a good and true account for Park Slope, Hymowitz appears to know less about other Brooklyn neighborhoods with slightly different histories. Just east of there, on the other[...]



Brickbat: A Gala Day

2017-05-24T04:00:00-04:00

(image) Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley has apologized for his office accidentally issuing a proclamation honoring a man who ambushed and killed a city police officer two years ago. The mayor's office said the request for a proclamation was made by the killer's father and approved by a new member of the mayor's staff.




The New York Times' Hostility to Industry Gets Worse

2017-05-24T00:01:00-04:00

The New York Times' hostility to industry gets worse every day. Last week, The Times ran a big picture of a bay in Alaska with the headline "In Reversal, EPA Eases Path for a Mine Near Alaska's Bristol Bay." While this was just another of their stories about how Donald Trump will poison America, it caught my eye because of the big photo and because I once reported on that mine. Attempted mine, I should say. No holes have been dug. I reported on Pebble Mine because the EPA rejected the mine even before its environmental impact statement was submitted. The Obama EPA squashed Pebble like it squashed the Keystone XL pipeline. It just said no. This shocked CEO Tom Collier. He's a Democrat who managed environment policy for Al Gore and Bill Clinton. He was convinced Pebble could be developed safely and assumed EPA regulators would follow their own rules. They didn't. "They killed this project before any science was done, and there are memos that show that!" Collier complained. I'm skeptical when sources say things like that, but in this case, there are documents that reveal collusion between the EPA and Pebble's political opponents. One of America's richest environmental groups (they collect more than $10 million per month) is the Natural Resources Defense Council. Their website claims "Science empowers NRDC's work," but the NRDC is run by lawyers, not scientists, and many are anti-progress activists upset about "corporate greed." NRDC spokesman Bob Deans told me that the NRDC isn't anti-progress—it just wants the "right" kind: "Wind turbines, solar panels ... this is what the future needs." "But we also need copper and gold," I said. "Well, that's right," he replied. "But we have to weigh those risks." "Are there some mines where NRDC says, 'Go ahead!'?" I asked. After thinking for a while, he said, "It's not up to us to greenlight mines." I asked, "Are there any you don't complain about?" "Sure," he told me. He said he'd send us names. He never did. Unfortunately, there's a revolving door between groups like the NRDC and the EPA. One NRDC activist who walked through that door was Nancy Stoner. EPA administrators aren't supposed to conspire with former activist colleagues, but she did, telling them that she couldn't coordinate with them directly but could meet with them so long as they communicated via other people and invited people besides her to meetings. After her correspondence about that was revealed, Stoner left the EPA, but Pebble had already been rejected. Now Trump's in charge and his EPA says it will reevaluate the mine. Good. It should. But New York Times reporters can't stand that. They've smeared Pebble year after year in their headlines. 2008: "Mine would irreparably harm a centuries-old salmon fishing industry." 2012: "A Threat to Bristol Bay." 2013: "Native Alaska, Under Threat." Last week's smear piece was written by Tatiana Schlossberg. Name sound familiar? She's Caroline Kennedy's daughter, granddaughter of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Her Times articles are a litany of enviro-hysteria: "Mass Die-off of Whales"; "...Bring Coal's Hidden Hazard to Light"; "How Lowering Crime Could Contribute to Global Warming." I'm not making this up. Her last anti-Trump column was headlined: "23 Environmental Rules Rolled Back." But the article lists only nine. Fourteen others were "under review" or in "limbo"—not rolled back. Her Bristol Bay story claimed the proposed Pebble Mine was "on" Br[...]



Did Trump Know Enough to Obstruct Justice?

2017-05-24T00:01:00-04:00

For almost a year, Donald Trump has been complaining that FBI Director James Comey gave Hillary Clinton "a free pass for many bad deeds," as the president recently put it on Twitter. Trump thinks his opponent in last year's presidential election should have been prosecuted for her loose email practices as secretary of state, even if she did not deliberately expose classified information. The president might want to reconsider that hardline attitude. The reason Comey cited for not recommending charges against Clinton—a lack of criminal intent—could prove crucial in rebutting the allegation that Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the FBI's investigation of ties between his associates and the Russian government. When Comey announced the results of the Clinton investigation last July, he criticized her "extremely careless" handling of "very sensitive, highly classified information," saying she "should have known" the unsecured private email system she used "was no place" to discuss such matters. That description sounded like grounds for charging Clinton under 18 USC 793, which makes it a felony to "mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way." But Comey argued that "no reasonable prosecutor" would pursue a case against Clinton based on gross negligence. He said he was aware of just one case where the government had used that standard in the century since the law was passed, which suggests federal prosecutors "have grave concerns about whether it's appropriate." While prosecuting Clinton might have been legally feasible, Comey told a congressional committee, it would have been unjust. "In our system of law, there's a thing called mens rea," he said, referring to the state of mind required for a conviction. "We don't want to put people in jail unless we prove that they knew they were doing something they shouldn't do." That brings us back to Trump, who has done (or allegedly done) several things that could be viewed as attempts to undermine the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election, including the hacking of embarrassing Clinton-related emails. The FBI probe, Comey confirmed during congressional testimony in March, encompasses possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. After Comey said that, The Washington Post reported this week, Trump asked Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to publicly say there was no evidence of such collusion. Both declined, deeming the request improper. The previous month, according to a Comey memo described by The New York Times, Trump interceded with the FBI director on behalf of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, one of the associates whose ties to Russia are of interest to the bureau. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump reportedly told Comey. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." A few months after that alleged encounter, Trump fired Comey. Two days later, Trump admitted that the Russia probe, which he had denounced as a "taxpayer-funded charade" on Twitter the day before he gave Comey the boot, was on his mind when he made the decision. Some Democrats are already calling for Trump's impeachment, arguing that his response to the FBI investigation amounts to obstruction of justice. But that crime [...]



Suspect Statistics From Plastic Surgeon Society Say 'Gender Confirmation Surgeries' Up 19 Percent Last Year

2017-05-23T19:20:00-04:00

A host of U.S. media outlets are reporting that 2016 saw a 19 percent spike in "gender confirmation surgeries," a term used by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) to describe an array of elective facial, chest, and genital procedures performed on transgender patients. The statistic comes from an annual ASPS report, which for the first time includes information on such procedures. But are the numbers legit? A day after publishing an article touting the ASPS findings, Reuters wound up pulling the piece, citing the Society's inability to "vouch for the data which [it] originally supplied." Yet as of Tuesday evening, the ASPS website still contains the statistics which Reuters published and pulled. It says there were 3,256 "gender confirmation surgeries" in 2016 and 2,740 in 2015. Some 1,759 of last year's procedures involved transfeminine procedures (i.e., those performed on trans women) and 1,497 involved transmasculine procedures; the previous year, it was 1,380 and 1,360, respectively. Using these stats, we get a 19 percent increase in gender-related surgeries overall; a 10 percent increase in surgeries for transgender women; and a 27 percent increase on surgeries for transgender men. A media relations coordinator for MediaSource, which handles ASPS public relations, says these figures are correct. "There's no problem with the data," Drew Schaar told me Tuesday afternoon, noting that the methodology used for gender-related procedures was the same process used to tally all cosmetic and reconstructive procedures in the ASPS report—some 17.1 million overall, according to ASPS, though 15.1 of these were the minimally invasive sort (e.g., Botox injections, chemical peels, laser hair removal). According to Schaar, Reuters pulled the article after seeing more information than is publicly available about the data and deciding it didn't meet the news agency's own in-house standards. But he could give no more information about what, precisely, failed to pass muster, and he said more detailed information about survey methods and findings could not currently be provided. Alas, we're left to guess what may have made Reuters lose confidence in the ASPS conclusions. But I'll offer a few of my own observations, based on what limited info is available—the most important bit of which is probably an ASPS fine-print statement that "all values are projected." The underlying methodology of ASPS's annual survey may be flawed. Each year, ASPS solicits survey responses from all of its 7,000-some members, a group that includes 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in America, according to ASPS. With the 2016 survey, 703 ASPS-member physicians responded, down from last year (when 733 doctors responded) and 2013 (801 responses). Using answers from this member-surgeon sample, ASPS estimates the total number of cosmetic- and reconstructive-surgery procedure—from chin implants to Botox injections to labiaplasty—performed by American Board of Medical Specialties doctors in a given year. The raw response numbers from ASPS members are thus "aggregated and extrapolated to the entire population of more than 24,500 board-certified physicians mostly likely to perform cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery procedures." This means that only about 2.8 percent of the population allegedly reflected are actual ASPS members who took last year's s[...]



Don't Be Terrorized: U.K. Edition

2017-05-23T18:30:00-04:00

First, condolences to those who lost friends and family last night as a result of the terrorist bombing in Manchester, U.K. According to the latest reports, at least 22 people are dead and 59 were injured in attack. The brutal thugs who run ISIS are claiming credit for the murders. The British government defines terrorism as "the use of violence for political ends," including "any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear." While it's hard not to be fearful in the aftermath of an attack, especially in our era of wall-to-wall media coverage, knowing just how severe a threat terrorism poses to people's safety might help keep that fear at bay. According to The Telegraph's comprehensive analysis, 90 people died in Britain between 2000 and 2015 as a result of terrorism. The Telegraph notes that more than 1,000 people were killed by terrorists in the U.K. during the prior 15-year period—basically a reduction of 90 percent. That decline can be attributed to the abatement of IRA terrorism after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the inclusion of 271 deaths from the Libyan bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. Given that the U.K.'s population is 65 million, that means that the chance of being killed by a terrorist between 2000 and 2015 was less than 1 in 700,000. For perspective, in those same 15 years 42,000 Britons died in automobile accidents. Indeed, more Britons die annually from drowning in their bathtubs. Even if ISIS' current campaign marks a riskier period for Britain, it will have a long way to go before terror deaths exceed the rates experienced by the U.K. during the last 30 years of the 20th century. Of course, most of us do not fear car crashes and bathtub drownings as such; they are everyday background risks that barely register in the media. The malevolent intentions that motivate murders, and especially those caused by terrorist bombings and vehicle rampages, heighten our sense of vulnerability even if a risk is objectively small. But with risks this low, those of us who live in western democracies should continue to forthrightly live our lives as though terrorism doesn't exist. We ultimately vanquish terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized. Again, condolences for the lost lives and best wishes for the speedy convalesence of those injured by the attack in Manchester. Bonus link: "September 11: Remembering the Lives and Liberties Lost 15 Years Ago." [...]



Trump's Budget Plan: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

2017-05-23T18:00:00-04:00

As Ronald Bailey notes, Donald Trump's first full budget plan is based on what Ronald Reagan's budget director David Stockman denounced as "rosy scenarios." Trump's budget rests upon an assumption of 3 percent annual growth, which is in stark contrast to the 1.4 percent average growth between 2008 and 2016. As important and despite headlines talking about the massive spending cuts embodied in Trump's plan, his budget increases spending: When you look at the overall numbers (above), spending increases to $4.1 trillion in 2018 and rises to $5.7 trillion in 2027. So much for reductions. When figured as a percentage of the economy (GDP), we see a slow decline from 20.5 percent next year down to 18.4 percent in 2027, but those figures are screwy because they're based on the phoney-baloney growth projections. The same goes for receipts, whether estimated in dollars or percentages. Only in the fantasyland of government accounting can a budget that projects spending $900 billion more in 2027 than 2018 be described as "Trump seeks to slash $3.6 trillion in austere budget." If Trump's rosy growth projections are bad and his year-over-year increases in spending are ugly, what's good about his budget? The president is calling for the elimination of no fewer than 66 programs, including four in the Department of Agriculture that will spend nearly a billion dollars, another four in Commerce that cost $633 billion, and almost $5 billion worth in Education. Similarly, he is calling for rolling back food-assistance programs whose ranks swelled during the recession but have stayed high despite low unemployment rates. While many of these sorts of cuts won't be realized at all, it's always worth pushing the idea that government programs shouldn't always become permanent fixtures. In this sense, Trump's budget encapsulates his promise and peril as president. He is devoid of clearly articulated principles and there are many reasons to expect him to do real damage to the economy and the country. At the same time, he also may well augur the end of the slow car wreck that represents consensus politics in the post-World War II era. The United States is running out of other people's money and we need to start the hard work of figuring out a sustainable level of government that we can both pay for and thrive under. In some of his deregulatory gestures, Trump points in that direction, and he has clearly shown himself willing and able to push hard against the status quo. If we're lucky, he is the last 20th-century president and will set the table for a much-needed, much-delayed way of doing politics for the 21st century. [...]



Trump: Uniquely Qualified for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal?

2017-05-23T17:45:00-04:00

For decades American presidents have tried, with varying degrees of effort and to varying degrees of success, to negotiate a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Donald Trump, with his apparent lack of interest both in policy detail and in pretending the U.S. is a neutral party, could be uniquely qualified to accomplish what has eluded his predecessors. Since the Camp David talks of the mid-1970s, the term "peace process" has mostly meant American-led negotiations. That in itself is a problem: When the U.S. takes too large a role in the talks, it removes the pressure from Palestinian and Israeli diplomats to arrive at a deal on their own. But Trump has shown little capacity for the kind of long-term, sustained attention that allows Israelis and Palestinians to abdicate their leadership. That attention, full of "shuttle diplomacy" and frenetic attempts at legacy-building, rarely moves the peace process forward in a meaningful way. U.S. disengagement, by any avenue, could create the space for real progress. Trump has also shown little interest in upholding some of the fictions of American diplomacy. When he declares that his administration will "always stand with Israel," he adds none of the nuance of the Obama era, when such language of friendship was constantly coupled with promises to hold Israel accountable. Trump's rhetoric matches the reality on the ground: Since Israel is one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid, negotiators won't see Washington as a neutral party even if the U.S. would like to assume that role. Trump has, in fact, said he wanted to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Let me sort of be a neutral guy," he said at one campaign stop last year. "I don't want to say whose fault is it. I don't think it helps." This desire did not stop Trump from making unabashedly pro-Israel statements during the campaign or since taking the presidency. With any other politician, a desire for neutrality would be incompatible with statements of unqualified friendship. But Trump is not a typical politician, and his propensity to make contradictory statements without even attempting to reconcile them has arguably destroyed the credibility of his presidency. Whatever else that might do, it could have the salutory effect of giving Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the impression that they're on their own. A long series of active and respected American presidents have been unable to move the peace process forward. Maybe an inactive president with little credibility is just the jumpstart the negotiations need. [...]



The European Union Wants to Censor Hate Speech on Social Media

2017-05-23T17:30:00-04:00

(image) In America, civil libertarians frequently have to remind citizens that there's no "hate speech" exemption to the First Amendment. But our First Amendment doesn't fly in Europe, and now the European Union (EU) may be about to mandate censorship rules for social media.

EU ministers today approved a plan that will require social media platforms and online video hosts to block and remove videos that contain "hate speech, incitement to hatred and content justifying terrorism from their platforms," according to Reuters. For now at least, this just covers videos, not text, images, or livestreaming.

It's not entirely clear whether Facebook or YouTube will have to censor videos posted by platform users in the United States to remain in compliance with the law. We do know that EU countries like Germany are just itching to levy huge fines—tens of millions of euros—on social media companies that haven't been quick to suppress hate speech. That kind of pressure would certainly encourage a very broad censorship regime on the part of the companies.

The new rule has been in the works for a while—part of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, a set of commercial media regulations. In addition to ordering the censorship of content, the EU wants to dabble in cultural protectionism: The proposal approved today mandates that 30 percent of the content of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime be from member countries. The recommendation was originally 20 percent, but EU ministers jacked it up.

This will be the EU's first attempt to adopt this sort of platform censorship. If the European Parliament approves the regulations, don't be surprised to see more.