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Updated: 2017-03-28T00:00:00-04:00

 



Sessions’ Targeting of Sanctuary Cities Not Exactly What It Appears

2017-03-28T12:30:00-04:00

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put out its first President Donald Trump-administration-ordered report detailing sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with the feds by detaining illegal immigrants charged or convicted of crimes, attention fell on Travis County, Texas, home of Austin. The majority of the immigrants listed on the first report had been jailed or held in Austin. So when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that the Department of Justice was going to crack down and threaten the federal DOJ grants to sanctuary cities, naturally people might be curious as to how much this is going to hurt that particular progressive island in generally conservative Texas. Turns out, perhaps not so much. The Austin American-Statesman asked local law enforcement officials, and they said Sessions' actions probably won't affect them because they're actually complying with the federal regulation he's pointing to: U.S. Code 1373. Furthermore, even if the DOJ does yank grants, they calculated it affected about $1 million dollars for three programs. So what gives here? As is thoroughly typical when politicians give a speech, the actual policies don't really match the rhetoric. When Sessions spoke yesterday, he definitely wanted people to make a connection here that the Department of Justice was planning to punish sanctuary cities that refused to help the feds enforce immigration laws and deport illegal immigrants who had been charged or convicted of crimes: The American people are justifiably angry. They know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe. Failure to deport aliens who are convicted for criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk – especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators. DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang crimes, rapes, crimes against children and murders. Countless Americans would be alive today – and countless loved ones would not be grieving today – if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended. Not only do these policies endanger the lives of every American; just last May, the Department of Justice Inspector General found that these policies also violate federal law. The President has rightly said that this disregard for the law must end. In his executive order, he stated that it is the policy of the executive branch to ensure that states and cities comply with all federal laws, including our immigration laws. That sounds very much like Sessions is saying that sanctuary cities are violating federal law by not helping deport immigrants. But that's not what U.S. Code 1373 says. That code is merely about communication about immigration status between various law enforcement agencies and immigration services. It says that government entities may not prohibit communications between law enforcement agencies and immigration officials about somebody's status as an immigrant or citizen. The code does not require local law enforcement agencies to assist the federal government in deporting immigrants, nor does it require them to honor federal requests to hold illegal immigrants so that ICE can pick them up. So when Austin officials say they're in compliance with this federal regulation, it means that they're not prohibiting communication about an immigrant's legal status. But since the code doesn't require their police to assist immigration officials otherwise, they've declined to do provide further assistance and ended up on the administration's list. When Sessions says some sanctuary cities may be violating federal law, what he means are municipal regulations that attempt to prohibit even communications between law enforcement officials or city employees and the feds about a person's status as an immigrant. That's what the federal inspector general's report was actually about. It states that municipal regulations that prohibit employees from passing along information to immigration officials about a person's status as an immigrant[...]



Rollins College Allegedly Suspends Conservative After He Challenged Islamic Student Who Threatened Gays

2017-03-28T12:10:00-04:00

Here's a bizarre story: Administrators at Rollins College in Florida suspended a conservative Christian student and banished him from campus after one of his professors—Areeje Zufari—reported that he was making her feel unsafe. But according to the student, Marshall Polston, he was actually punished for disagreeing with the professor, and for voicing concerns about deeply offensive statements made by a classmate. This classmate, an unnamed male Muslim student, reportedly said that under shariah law, beheading was the appropriate punishment for gays and adulterers. "It took a few seconds for me to realize that he actually said that, especially after what this community has faced with the tragic loss of life at Pulse," Polston told The Central Florida Post. This student's comments understandably unnerved several members of Zufari's Middle Eastern Humanities class. Someone even notified the FBI. Polston took his concerns to Zufari, who seemed unfazed by the comments. Afterward, Polston was called to the dean of safety's office and informed of his suspension. "In my judgment, your actions have constituted a threat of disruption within the operations of the college and jeopardize the safety and well-being of members of the College community and yourself," wrote the dean. Officials ordered Polston to have no further contact with Zufari. The notice of suspension also prohibits Polston from contacting a named female student, for reasons unknown. (As far as I can tell, this named female student is not the student who made the comments about shariah law in class, since her gender is wrong.) Polston could not immediately be reached for comment. Polston's feud with Zufari predates the shariah law episode. They clashed during a previous class period: Zufari purportedly asserted that Jesus was never crucified and his followers didn't believe he was a god. Polston challenged her, and then received a failing grade on an essay. When he inquired about the grade, Zufari retaliated by cancelling classes and reporting Polston to the dean for making her feel unsafe, according to Polston's account. The discussion of shariah law took place at subsequent class meeting. "Our university should be a place where free-speech flashes and ideas can be spoken of without punishment or fear of retribution," Polston told The College Fix. "In my case it was the total opposite… I came forward with the story because I know so many other students like me suffer under today's liberal academic elite." In the story, 20-year-old Polston notes that he has traveled the Middle East (pictures from his Facebook profile support this) and even given a lecture at Salahaddin University. He has hired a lawyer and plans to contest the suspension. He has already been accused of violating its terms. According to a campus safety report obtained by The College Fix: "Student ______ stated to me that she looked out the back glass door of the classroom and saw Mr. Polston staring into the room. He briefly stopped then proceeded on his way. Campus safety was immediately notified and responded at 19:36 hours. A search was conducted but Mr. Polston was not found. Ms. Zufari's students were upset and did not feel comfortable being in the class. Ms. Zufari dismissed her class early at 20:07 hours." Polston, however, was able to supply video evidence that he was at a restaurant 30 minutes away at the time. Neither Rollins College nor Professor Zufari responded to a request for comment. A couple points bear emphasis. First, several conservative news outlets evidently thought the headline here was Professor Says Stuff We Don't Like About Jesus. But Zufari's comments, offensive though they might be to Christians, are hardly the most outrageous aspect of this story. Indeed, a university classroom is a perfect place to have a discussion about an historical figure, especially given that Zufari and Polston both seem to possess a certain level of expertise regarding the intersections of their respective religions, and regarding Middle Eastern histo[...]



Jeff Sessions Threatens Unconstitutional Action Against Sanctuary Cities

2017-03-28T11:45:00-04:00

Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold, terminate, and "claw-back" federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities and states, which are those jurisdictions that either won't help the federal government round up and deport undocumented immigrants or otherwise refuse to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. "I urge our nation's states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to re-think these policies," Sessions said. "Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars." Sessions may not like the idea of sanctuary cities, but sanctuary cites are protected by both the Constitution and by Supreme Court precedent. As Justice Antonin Scalia observed in his 2007 majority opinion in Printz v. United States, "the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program." In other words, thanks to the 10th Amendment and to the constitutional principles of federalism, the federal government may not commandeer the states for federal purposes. What that means here is that state and local officials have every right to refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. But what about when the federal government threatens to withhold federal funding from those states or cities that refuse to do its bidding? Yes, that too can be unconstitutional. Under Article I, Section 8, Congress possesses to powers to tax and to spend. But as the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear, those powers may not be used in illegal ways. For example, the Court has said that it is unconstitutional for the feds to impose "coercive" conditions on federal grants to the states. To be sure, the Supreme Court has allowed the feds to attach certain strings to federal dollars. Most famously, in South Dakota v. Dole (1987), that state lost 5 percent of its federal highway funding because it refused to raise its legal drinking age from 19 to 21. The Supreme Court ruled for the federal government in that dispute because it found the threatened loss of just 5 percent of federal highway dollars to be non-coercive. It was a nudge, not a gun to the head. But South Dakota v. Dole is not the last word on the matter. The most recent case on point is National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the 2012 dispute over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. One of the central questions in that case was whether Congress had overstepped its lawful bounds when it threatened to cut off all existing Medicaid funding to any state that refused to expand Medicaid in accordance with Obamacare. The Obama administration lost on that question by 7-2. The federal government's Medicaid expansion amounted to a "gun to the head," the Supreme Court held. "A State that opts out of the Affordable Care Act's expansion in health care coverage...stands to lose not merely 'a relatively small percentage' of its existing Medicaid funding, but all of it." That sort of "economic dragooning...leaves the States with no real option but to acquiesce." Jeff Sessions's threats against sanctuary cities would seem to be equally unconstitutional under this standard. Just like the Medicaid expansion, Sessions aims to dragoon state and local officials and leave them "no real option but to acquiesce." If the Trump administration makes good on those threats, its actions will most likely violate the Constitution. [...]



Gun-Owning Expert on Logical Fallacies Deploys Them Against Gun Ownership

2017-03-28T11:00:00-04:00

Daniel Levitin, a psychology professor at McGill University, is the author of Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era, which according to The Wall Street Journal "lays out the many ways in which each of us can be fooled and misled by numbers and logic." Levitin illustrates a couple of those ways in a recent New York Times op-ed piece about his decision to keep guns at home for self-defense, which he portrays as emotionally satisfying but logically deficient. Levitin want his audience to know he is not a right-wing gun nut. "I am comfortable with guns," he writes. "I grew up shooting targets for sport and took part in marksmanship competitions. I have also voted for Democrats in most elections, strongly support gun control and am against the death penalty. I do not think the drafters of the second amendment envisioned concealed semiautomatic weapons and hollow-point bullets in everyone's hands." But they did envision that Americans would have a right to armed self-defense, a right that Levitin seems to denigrate even as he exercises it. "Rationally," Levitin writes, "I know I may even be worse off with a gun. A study by epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that having a firearm in the home almost doubles the risk of a violent death there. Another study, by the Violence Policy Center, found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable gun homicides (that is, people turning the tables on an aggressor), but more than twice as many unintentional fatal shootings." The CDC study cited by Levitin, which was published in 2004, found that "persons with guns in the home" were twice as likely as people living in gun-free residences to die "from a homicide in the home." Contrary to what Levitin says, that does not mean "having a firearm in the home almost doubles the risk of a violent death there," because correlation does not prove causation. It could be that owning a gun increases the risk of being killed, but it also could be that other factors increase the risk of being killed as well as the likelihood of owning guns. If people who anticipate violent confrontations, such as residents of high-crime neighborhoods or women with angry ex-husbands, are especially likely to arm themselves, for example, that tendency could partly or completely explain the association found in this study. The other source cited by Levitin, a 2015 report from the Violence Policy Center, compared the number of justifiable gun homicides in 2012 (259) to the number of fatal unintentional shootings (548), the number of criminal gun homicides (8,342), and the number of gun suicides (20,666). But these are not the relevant numbers for someone trying to figure of whether it's a good idea to keep a gun for self-defense. The number of times firearms are used for self-defense each year is a matter of considerable dispute, with estimates ranging from less than 100,000 to more than 2.5 million. But survey data indicate that defensive use rarely involves firing a gun, let alone injuring or killing anyone. Justifiable gun homicides therefore represent a tiny fraction of the defensive benefit from gun ownership. The fact that brandishing a gun is typically enough to ward off an attacker is also relevant to Levitin's other major reservation about keeping firearms for self-defense. He describes an incident in which he "retrieved a gun and loaded it" in response to a "sketchy-looking stranger in my backyard" who seemed to be casing his house for a burglary. After calling the police, Levitin decided to leave his home rather than confront the intruder. "There is nothing in my home worth a man's life," he writes. "They are just material possessions. I can defend my life if called upon, or the lives of my family, but I don't need to defend my stuff by shooting someone. That's just crazy." That is one way of looking at it, and Levitin has a right to retreat if he thinks that is the best course of action. But the research on defensive[...]



Johns Hopkins University Dropped Out of a Clinical Trial for Smoked Cannabis, and Veterans With PTSD Want to Know Why

2017-03-28T09:30:00-04:00

Some U.S. military veterans received unpleasant news last week when they tried enrolling in a clinical trial conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Johns Hopkins University. Upon calling a widely circulated hotline number intended to connect former servicemembers to researchers conducting a study on the efficacy of smoked cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, they learned the study wasn't happening. Not at Hopkins, anyway. "If you are calling about the PTSD study, please know we are no longer participating in that study," the voicemail greeting said as of Monday morning. While the message has been playing since at least last week, neither Johns Hopkins University nor the psychiatry department had formally announced withdrawing from the study as of yesterday. That's why Sean Kiernan, president of the Warriors for Weed Project, sent a letter to Johns Hopkins University Ron President on Monday demanding that the university publicly explain why it was no longer participating in the study, which is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). "We're upset with Hopkins," Kiernan told me by phone today. "Something is going on there." A clinical trial measuring the efficacy of smoked marijuana as a treatment for PTSD has been in the works since 2014, when the Department of Health and Human Services approved MAPS' request to purchase research cannabis from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. NIDA holds a monopoly on legally growing and providing marijuana for research purposes, and a clinical trial is the first step in having whole-plant marijuana moved from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule II, where it can be legally prescribed for therapeutic purposes. (Currently, doctors may recommend marijuana under state laws, but they may not prescribe it under federal law.) The trial was slated to take place at both the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins, but was briefly delayed when the University of Arizona fired researcher Sue Sisley, allegedly to avoid the wrath of Arizona lawmakers who opposed her work on medical marijuana. In 2016, Sisley announced she would continue her portion of the trial at the Scottsdale Research Institute. Sisley, along with Johns Hopkins professor Ryan Vandrey, would study whether various doses of smoked marijuana could help reduce the symptoms of treatment-resistant PTSD, using a $2 million grant MAPS received from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. While Sisley's work will continue, Vandrey, of the Johns Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, confirmed to me in an email on Monday that his team "has withdrawn its participation in the MAPS study." He referred me to a university spokesperson for additional information. On Tuesday, a university spokesperson released the following statement: "It is Johns Hopkins' mission to conduct high quality scientific research and save lives. Johns Hopkins elected to withdraw from the MAPS study of cannabis in veterans with PTSD prior to any participant enrollment because our goals for this study weren't in alignment. Johns Hopkins remains dedicated to helping military veterans, finding improved treatments for PTSD, and conducting innovative research to enhance our understanding of both the risks and benefits of cannabis/cannabinoids." "Johns Hopkins wanted to remain focused on clinical research, and MAPS wanted to focus on the science as well as on the policy issues surrounding the science related to the NIDA monopoly on marijuana for research," Brad Burge, communications director for MAPS, wrote in an email. "We still have an exceptionally strong research team, including the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado, as well as the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix. We think the study will still succeed without Johns Hopkins' involvement, that we'll be able to enroll a[...]



Occupational Licensing Reform Gains an Unlikely Boost from the FTC: New at Reason

2017-03-28T09:20:00-04:00

(image) In the fight for economic freedom, entrepreneurs and consumers get new support against self-serving interests.

J.D. Tuccille writes:

"The health and safety arguments about why these occupations need to be licensed range from dubious to ridiculous," Federal Trade Commission Acting Chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen says about her push to roll back government-mandated licenses for an ever-growing list of jobs. "I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows."

Federal concern about the proliferation of occupational licensing requirements isn't exactly brand new. Last year, the Obama administration announced $7.5 million in grants to organizations working to reduce licensing requirements. That's a year after the feds published a report noting that "By one estimate, licensing restrictions cost millions of jobs nationwide and raise consumer expenses by over one hundred billion dollars."

Government officials may be honestly interested in the threats to competition, job opportunity, and consumer prices posed by licensing laws, but the issue also hits close to home. "Military spouses are especially affected by state occupational licensing requirements," noted a 2012 report from the Departments of the Treasury and Defense. "About 35 percent of military spouses work in professions that require state licenses or certification. They move across state lines far more frequently than the general population. These moves present administrative and financial channels."

View this article.




A.M. Links: Trump to Sign Executive Order on Energy Policy, Democrats Seek Recusal from Devin Nunes, Cyclone Debbie Strikes Australia

2017-03-28T09:00:00-04:00

  • (image) President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order today that will reverse executive orders signed by President Obama on energy policy and climate change.
  • Democrats in the House of Representatives are calling on House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.
  • Uber's self-driving cars are back on the roads in Arizona after an accident last week.
  • The Government Accountability Office "has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida."
  • Cyclone Debbie has struck the northeastern coast of Australia.

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Human Conditions Improving at a Remarkable Speed: New at Reason

2017-03-28T07:30:00-04:00

(image) Over the last decade, GDP per person and life expectancy are up around the world while infant mortality and undernourished rates are down.

Marian Tupy writes:

On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the extent of human progress around the world, but the remarkable speed of improvements in the state of humanity should not go unnoticed. To that end, I have looked at some of the most important indicators of human wellbeing, especially in the poor countries, over the last decade (or, when the latest data is not available, ten years prior to the last data point). The results are encouraging and ought to give us reason for optimism.

View this article.




Human Conditions Improving at a Remarkable Speed

2017-03-28T07:30:00-04:00

On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the extent of human progress around the world, but the remarkable speed of improvements in the state of humanity should not go unnoticed. To that end, I have looked at some of the most important indicators of human wellbeing, especially in the poor countries, over the last decade (or, when the latest data is not available, ten years prior to the last data point). The results are encouraging and ought to give us reason for optimism. 1. GDP per capita in real 2010 dollars (2005-2015) Global: $8,858 → $10,194 or a 15.1 percent increase Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA): $1,363 → $1,660 or a 21.8 percent increase India: $982 → $1,751 or a 78.3 percent increase China: $2,738 → $6,498 or a 137.3 percent increase 2. Infant mortality (i.e., children under age of 1) per 1,000 live births (2005-2015) Global: 44.3 → 31.7 or a 28.4 percent decline SSA: 80 → 56.4 or a 29.5 percent decline India: 55.8 → 37.9 or a 32.1 percent decline China: 20.3 → 9.2 or a 54.7 percent decline 3. Life expectancy (2004-2014) Global: 69 → 71.5 or a 3.6 percent increase SSA: 52 → 58.6 or a 12.7 percent increase India: 64.2 → 68 or a 5.9 percent increase China: 73.4 → 75.8 or a 3.3 percent increase 4. Depth of the food deficit, kilocalories per person per day (2006-2016)* Global: 129 → 88.4 or a 31.5 percent decline SSA: 172.4 → 130 or a 24.6 percent decline India: 152 → 109 or a 28.3 percent decline China: 128 → 74 or a 42.2 percent decline 5. Undernourished persons, millions (2005-2015)** Global: 884 → 685 or a 22.5 percent decline Africa (incl. North Africa): 159 → 149 or a 6.3 percent decline India: 233 → 194 or a 16.7 percent decline China: 212 → 140 or an 81.1 percent decline 6. Undernourishment as a percentage of population (2005-2015) Global: 22.5 → 18 or a 20 percent decline Africa (incl. North Africa): 26.2 → 22.3 or a 14.9 percent decline India: 20.9 → 15.3 or a 26.8 percent decline China: 15.8 → 9.8 or a 38 percent decline Obviously, the world is not a perfect place. As long as there are people who go hungry or die from preventable diseases, there will always be room for improvement. But, a realistic picture of the human condition should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past (rather than with an imagined utopia in the future) and acknowledge the progress that humanity has already made. *The depth of the food deficit indicates how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status, everything else being constant. The average intensity of food deprivation of the undernourished, estimated as the difference between the average dietary energy requirement and the average dietary energy consumption of the undernourished population (food-deprived), is multiplied by the number of undernourished to provide an estimate of the total food deficit in the country, which is then normalized by the total population. **These are total numbers, which do not take into account population growth. [...]



Brickbat: Coming and Going

2017-03-28T04:00:00-04:00

(image) The Carlsbad, California, city council has voted to use license plate cameras to record every vehicle that enters the city. Council members said the move might deter criminals from breaking the law in Carlsbad.




Occupational Licensing Reform Gains an Unlikely Boost from the FTC

2017-03-28T00:01:00-04:00

"The health and safety arguments about why these occupations need to be licensed range from dubious to ridiculous," Federal Trade Commission Acting Chair Maureen K. Ohlhausen says about her push to roll back government-mandated licenses for an ever-growing list of jobs. "I challenge anyone to explain why the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public from rogue interior designers carpet-bombing living rooms with ugly throw pillows." Federal concern about the proliferation of occupational licensing requirements isn't exactly brand new. Last year, the Obama administration announced $7.5 million in grants to organizations working to reduce licensing requirements. That's a year after the feds published a report noting that "By one estimate, licensing restrictions cost millions of jobs nationwide and raise consumer expenses by over one hundred billion dollars." Government officials may be honestly interested in the threats to competition, job opportunity, and consumer prices posed by licensing laws, but the issue also hits close to home. "Military spouses are especially affected by state occupational licensing requirements," noted a 2012 report from the Departments of the Treasury and Defense. "About 35 percent of military spouses work in professions that require state licenses or certification. They move across state lines far more frequently than the general population. These moves present administrative and financial channels." Shuffled from post to post, military spouses may not have the time to retrain, let alone the money to buy permission, to engage in trades in which they're already perfectly proficient. And unhappy spouses make for unhappy troops—a problem when officials have made wide-ranging and seemingly endless military commitments. But Ohlhausen's commitment to rolling back licensing takes the matter to a brand new level. The acting FTC chair told Damon Root in the January 2017 issue of Reason that her vision is for the commission to "promote greater competition and choices for consumers, but also liberty for people who want to enter these businesses." Since then, the FTC has launched a new section of its Website devoted to economic liberty. The new pages point out, among other things, that "nearly thirty percent of American jobs require a license today, up from less than five percent in the 1950s." It adds, "Unnecessary licensing restrictions erect significant barriers and impose costs that cause real harm to American workers, employers, consumers, and our economy as a whole, with no measurable benefits to consumers or society." Not that licensing is primarily intended to benefit anybody other than a select few. "Dishing out special economic benefits to certain in-state industries remains the favored pastime of state and local governments," the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals approvingly noted in 2004. Other courts have since differed on the righteousness of overt economic protectionism, but there's no doubt that many occupational licensing laws are meant to do nothing more than limit competition to existing hairdressers, massage therapists, builders, interior designers, and all sorts of other well-connected business people. But while that effectively lines the pockets of established practitioners, other people suffer. "Because it limits which workers can enter a field, licensing necessarily excludes people who would work in an occupation if the barriers were lower," noted the 2015 federal report. "Fewer workers means higher wages for those who secure a license, but lower wages for excluded workers and higher prices for consumers." That said, occupational licensing is a vice indulged in primarily by state governments. What can a federal official like Ohlhausen do to make things better? Well, Ohlhausen gets much of th[...]



Idaho Reforms Law to Require Criminal Connections Before Seizing People’s Stuff

2017-03-27T18:00:00-04:00

Idaho's Senate and House have approved some modest reforms to Idaho's forfeiture laws that would make it a little tougher for police to simply snatch up all of a person's cash and assets on the basis of claiming the property was "connected" to a crime. And when they do seize property, they're going to have to actually document what they're doing. Idaho legislators have been hammering out reforms to the state's forfeiture laws since last year and now they've managed to get HB 202 through both chambers of their legislature (as of last week) and send it to the governor's desk. Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which police seize and keep cash and property that they claim is connected to criminal activity. It has become a source of contention and corruption because the "civil" nature of the forfeiture means that police and prosecutors often do not have to find a person guilty under criminal proceedings in order to seize his or her stuff. They often don't even have to charge them. The seizures take place in civil proceedings where not only is the threshold to prove a case less stringent than in criminal cases, but the citizens who are having their stuff usually have to hire their own lawyers and spend money (that they no longer have—because it's been seized) to fight it. Idaho's reforms do not eliminate the civil component of asset forfeiture, but they do make it a little bit tougher. The new law declares that simply having cash is not in and of itself enough evidence to meet the "probable cause" threshold to attempt to seize. Yes, this is a thing that actually happens. Police pull somebody over, search their vehicle, find lots of cash, and declare that it's likely the result of drug dealing, even without any evidence of drugs. The law would also require that courts consider whether the seizure is proportionate to the crime alleged and consider the possible hardships to the people involved in the case. The court will have leeway to tailor the forfeiture if it concludes the police or prosecutors are taking it too far. Hardly a silver bullet given that courts can be extremely deferential to police, but it's something. Finally, and possibly most importantly, HB 202 implements police reporting requirements to keep track of forfeitures. Up until now it had almost no transparency or tracking system for its forfeiture program and was given an F by the property-rights-defending Institute for Justice for it. One of the challenges in trying to help Americans understand how civil asset forfeiture gets abused is that poor tracking and transparency rules make it hard in many cases to provide examples of misuse. The extensive tracking and reporting requirements would at least help Idaho citizens understand how the forfeiture program actually operates in real life. Law enforcement agencies would even have to keep track and record when they participate in federal task forces for forfeiture. This method is often used by local law enforcement agencies to bypass state-level asset forfeiture restrictions. The Department of Justice has looser asset forfeiture requirements than many states and allows local police to keep up to 80 percent of what they seize. Read the legislation here. The Idaho Freedom Foundation has a very positive analysis of the legislation here. It now heads to the desk of Republican Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. [...]



Steve Bannon Hates Libertarians Because *We're* Not Living in the Real World?

2017-03-27T17:25:00-04:00

The first of the two times I've met Donald Trump was at a 2015 rally protesting the nuclear deal President Obama had announced with Iran. As he rumbled off the stage past the press area, I asked him, "Hey Donald, what do you think about libertarianism?" "I like it, alotta good things," he said, shortly before brushing me and saying, "I don't want to talk you right now." src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/goAFqNRVsVU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Assuming he still likes libertarianism and thinks it comprises "a lot of good things, a lot of good points," he's very much at odds with his senior adviser Steve Bannon. From Robert Draper's masterful New York Times Magazine account of the relationship among Trump, Bannon, and House Speaker Paul Ryan: "What's that Dostoyevsky line: Happy families are all the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique ways?" ([Bannon] meant Tolstoy.) "I think the Democrats are fundamentally afflicted with the inability to discuss and have an adult conversation about economics and jobs, because they're too consumed by identity politics. And then the Republicans, it's all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government — which just doesn't have any depth to it. They're not living in the real world." It's always nice to be attacked as delusional and out of touch, especially by a Hollywood-cum-Wall Street millionaire whose boss falsely insists that cities have never been less safe, that American manufacturing has never created so little, and that we're just one or two border walls and torn-up free trade deals away from once again being a nation of factory workers. (Side note: I'm younger than Bannon but old enough to remember when the factory jobs I worked as a teenager and young adult weren't romanticized.) President Trump is so famously post-factual that he cites riots that never happened as pretexts for executive orders, invents crime statistics out of thin air, and insisted for years that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. But it's libertarians who are nuttier than a squirrel's turd? Sure, why not. Earlier today, Matt Welch mapped out some of the political problems that the Trump administration is creating and compounding for itself by reviling libertarian-leaning Republicans and congressional budget hawks. On a broader cultural stage, it's worth underscoring that Bannon is simply wrong that libertarians are living in a "theoretical" world of, what, exactly? Across-the-board calls for lower levels of regulation in all aspects of life (also known as believing government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and voluntary groups such as churches and nonprofits)? That increasing majorities of Americans are comfortable with pot legalization and gay marriage even as they are losing trust in law enforcement, the education system, and the federal government (now headed by, er, Donald Trump and his own GOP party that can't even pass a healthcare reform bill they've been promising for nigh-on seven years)? That most people in America—including self-identified Trump supporters!—actually like immigrants and want to see even illegal immigrants given a chance to live legally in the United States? These are not small things, and neither is the fact that libertarians as an ideological group (as discerned by Gallup) are the single-biggest bloc of Americans. The tell in Bannon's way of thinking is how he confuses Tolstoy with Dostoevsky. Neither Russian novelist—OMG, is he channeling Putin or what!—is particularly sunny but the Christian apologetic Tolstoy allowed for some sort of transcendence while about the best-case scenario you find in Dostoevsky is ge[...]



Steve Bannon vs. the Tea Party Libertarians [Reason podcast]

2017-03-27T16:55:00-04:00

In American politics, "when it really looks like we're forever going to be in X, that's a pretty good sign to start betting on Y," says Reason's Matt Welch. After a period of wall-building and anti-immigrant fervor, in which "more people die in the desert," we can expect that the political pendulum will swing way back in the opposite direction.

On today's podcast, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Welch discuss Trump and immigration in the context of Robert Draper's masterful New York Times Magazine story on Steve Bannon, in which the presidential adviser slimes libertarians for "not living in the real world." The Reason crew also talks about what do about "the giant loogie" hanging off Paul Ryan's face after the collapse of the GOP's health care bill and the Speaker's failure to live up to the title of "wonk king;" whether the coming push for tax reform will go any better than the health care debacle; and the Associated Press' controversial decision to permit journalists to use "they" as a single, gender-neutral pronoun. Is it language evolution or devolution? What would rap super-producer DJ Khaled—famous for invoking the phrase they don't want you to...—think?

To wrap things up, Katherine Mangu-Ward explains the genesis of Reason magazine's buzz-generating new punctured-wall cover. Need to know how to import marijuana from Mexico via catapult? Subscribe!

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Trump’s Purported 300 Billion Euro NATO ‘Bill’ to Germany a Horrible Sign for Reform

2017-03-27T16:40:00-04:00

Those hoping a Trump presidency could spur reforms of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have cause for more skepticism after President Trump's latest stunt. According to German government sources, the president handed Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel a "bill" for 300 billion euros, The Times of London reported. The White House denied the report to CNBC, calling it "false." A spokesperson for the German government said that reports that Trump had given Merkel "a kind of bill with a concrete billion sum are not true." German ministers quoted anonymously by The Times called the fake bill an effort at "intimidation." President Trump has insisted NATO members meet a 2014 commitment to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, and has accused Germany of owing "vast sums of money" to NATO, tweeting that the U.S. "must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!" While Germany is failing to meet its GDP commitment (it spends 1.2 percent on defense—of European NATO members, only Estonia, Poland, Greece, and the United Kingdom spend at least 2 percent of GDP), NATO funding is not structured in such a way that NATO can be "owed" anything. Simply put, Germany spends so little because the U.S. spends so much. The U.S. is not obligated to spend as much as it does—it should be unsurprising that the more it spends the less other members spend. The most effective way to incentivize other NATO members to spend more on defense is for the U.S. to spend less. Yet President Trump's opening negotiating position—asking for a massive increase in U.S. defense spending—only exacerbates the spending imbalances. Defense Secretary James Mattis delivered a message to fellow NATO defense chiefs in Brussels in February—diplomatically telling his colleagues they needed to increase their commitments to NATO and defense spending if they did not want to see the U.S. "moderate" its own. European leaders pushed back on this notion. Given Trump's proposed increase in military spending after Mattis' message, it appears European leaders called Trump's bluff. A decrease in defense spending is the most concrete way the U.S. can "moderate" its NATO commitment. Military spending Increases signal that the U.S. is not interested in such moderation, and that rhetoric suggesting otherwise is aimed more at a domestic audience than an international one. If President Trump is truly interested in Germany paying for its own defense, he should put withdrawing U.S. military assets from Germany on the table instead of empty claims that Germany "owes" NATO or the U.S. Even a budget proposal that kept defense spending the same could be used for this purpose if it came with a reprioritization. A massive increase, on the other hand, shows an unwillingness to think critically about military priorities, a necessary prerequisite for NATO reform to be a policy goal and not just a rhetorical tool. [...]



Sessions Takes on Sanctuary Cities, Gorsuch Nomination in Trouble, Prosecutors Investigated for Snooping on Phone Calls: P.M. Links

2017-03-27T16:30:00-04:00

  • (image) Attorney General Jeff Session is formally acting against sanctuary cities, telling them they'll lose their Department of Justice grants if they don't cooperate with immigration laws.
  • So it turns out Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) was on White House grounds the day before his surprise announcement last week that he had seen intelligence showing that private data from aides to President Donald Trump had been incidentally collected. He said he was not actually in the White House, though, but a place to view the classified information securely.
  • A Senate committee will be questioning Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about meetings with a Russian-owned development bank.
  • Republicans may have to use the "nuclear option" to get past a Democratic filibuster and confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • A U.S. attorney's office in Kansas is under investigation after it was found in possession of phone and video recordings of communications between defense attorneys and their clients. Elsewhere, a prosecutor in Brooklyn has been charged with forging judges' signatures in order to set up illegal wiretaps.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party appears to have staved off challengers from the center-left in state elections. Merkel herself faces re-election in September.
  • German officials say that story about Trump giving Merkel an invoice demanding billions for NATO protection is not true.
  • More than 100 bodies—possibly all civilians—have been pulled from the wreckage of a U.S.-led coalition strike in Mosul, Iraq.

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Is the Quest to 'Solve Death' Selfishly Immoral?

2017-03-27T16:15:00-04:00

The thanatophiles are out in the public square again arguing that the pursuit of radical life extension is immoral. One such is University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel who denounced in his review of three new books reporting on the search by various Silicon Valley moguls for technologies and treatments that could slow or even reverse aging. Recall that Emanuel is the man who at age 57 famously declared in 2014: "Seventy-five. That's how long I want to live: 75 years." Why? "By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life," he asserted. So why hanker for death? Emanuel argued: Living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic. Of course, that is exactly what aging does to us all. But if the Silicon Valley and other innovators succeed at slowing and then reversing aging, all of those losses would be eliminated. The point of aging research is not to make us older longer, but to make us younger longer. So what then Emanuel? In his book review Emanuel now declares, "One of the most disturbing aspects of this immortality mania: its utter selfishness." Selfishness? Radical life extension would necessarily mean, he argues, less reproduction in order to keep world population in check. That would therefore end of the "possibility of creating new people with novel characteristics and perspectives. Life would become one long, boring rerun." Evidently, Emanuel believes that oldsters have a duty to die and get out of the way of the younger generations. If anti-aging treatments work, oldsters won't be elderlyl and thus will not soak up social security and Medicare since they will be healthy enough to support themselves. And presumably technological progress will not halt, so it is reasonable to expect all sorts of biotech and digital enhancements that will strengthen physical bodies, sharpen mental acuity, and regulate emotional states. In other words, the perpetually young would be endowed with novel characteristics and perspectives. And in the unlikely event that Emanuel turns out to be right about eternal ennui, there is a solution: You can experience the thrill of dying simply by stopping your longevity treatments. Emanuel is not along. For example, an article over at Wired asserts, "Silicon Valley Would Rather Cure Death Than Make Life Worth Living." The article cites the recent data by Princeton researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton that mortality rate for poor white Americans with a high school or less education is rising. Disconnected from community and work, many now succumb to drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide: basically dying of despair. Instead of frittering away their talents and their money on the search for immortality, Wired wants Silicon Valley titans to devote their resources to solving the social and economic dysfunctions that are shortening the lives of their less fortunate fellow Americans. Of course, some vast tech fortunes are already being spent on programs aimed at creating better lives for the poor. Ultimately, Wired is posing a false choice. Progress in one area of human endeavor does not preclude progress in other areas. It is highly likely that whatever treatments stem from research on aging will ameliorate many different illnesses including those that a[...]



The Cure For Trump-Related News Blues: New at Reason

2017-03-27T16:00:00-04:00

(image)

Immediately after the election, there was a spate of reports about Clinton voters buying newspaper and magazine subscriptions as a way to keep an eye on Trump. Now, it looks like the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction—with the elite press, amusingly, offering readers advice on how to tune out.

It all amounts to a statement about journalism today, Ira Stoll writes. The press has gotten away from its traditional job of just telling readers what the news is. Its new, self-appointed role involves advising people how they should feel about the news and how to get away from it.

But in so doing, outlets disclose a certain set of assumptions about the ideological uniformity of their readerships, argues Stoll. After all, there may have been some Americans who could have used all this advice about dealing with news-related anxiety and depression back during the Obama administration. And there are plenty of Americans out there who aren't depressed, unhappy, anxious, or unhappy about Trump's election and policies at all. Perhaps one way to feel less worried about the news, Stoll suggests, might just be exposure to at least the remote possibility that policy shifts in the direction of the Republican agenda might actually be good for America and its citizens.

View this article.




The Cure For Trump-Related News Blues

2017-03-27T16:00:00-04:00

Immediately after the election, there was a spate of reports about Clinton voters buying newspaper and magazine subscriptions as a way to keep an eye on Trump. Now, it looks like the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction—with the elite press, amusingly, offering readers advice on how to tune out. A New York Times Magazine travel article about Hawaii carries a subheadline describing the journey as "a desperate bid to escape the news." The Times Sunday etiquette column led with a question from a reader who wrote in a letter that began, "Lately I've been feeling depressed about the news, so I decided to avoid it." The Times technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, wrote a column about how he spent an entire week in which he "didn't read, watch or listen to a single story about anything having to do with our 45th president." A Times shopping column about a store that sells men's pajamas at prices starting at $266 a pair includes this complaint from the work-from-home journalist who wrote it: "the house no longer feels like such a safe space. There are CNN and all the other news channels on my TV, alerts from The New York Times and The Washington Post on my phone screen. Anxiety is persistent." And the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, wrote a New York Times op-ed piece under the headline, "Depressed By Politics? Just Let Go." It said, "let's be honest: Many of us consume political news and commentary in a compulsive, concupiscent sort of way, voluntarily subjecting ourselves to gratuitous information and stimuli, particularly on social media. The unhappiness results speak for themselves." It all amounts to a statement about journalism today. The press has gotten away from its traditional job of just telling readers what the news is. Its new, self-appointed role involves advising people how they should feel about the news and how to get away from it. In so doing, the Times discloses a certain set of assumptions about the ideological uniformity of its own readership. After all, there may have been some Americans who could have used all this advice about dealing with news-related anxiety and depression back during the Obama administration. It was then that the president was raising taxes on job-creators, increasing the national debt, adding mountains of additional regulations on American businesses, stalling or blocking the approval of new oil and gas pipelines, and failing to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq. It was then that the president was straining America's relations with Israel in order to provide tens of billions of dollars to the terror-sponsoring, dissident-torturing regime in Iran. It was during the Obama administration that the headlines seemed full of videos of ISIS beheading American captives. Now Obama is gone. Instead there's a president in power, Donald Trump, who says he is interested in cutting taxes (at least the ones that aren't tariffs or "border adjustment" taxes), repealing ObamaCare, loosening job-killing regulations, allowing more energy exploration, eliminating wasteful government spending, and expanding school choice. This president says he wants to rebuild relations with Israel. He's nominated a Supreme Court justice who seems to revere the Constitution. There are plenty of Americans out there who aren't depressed, unhappy, anxious, or unhappy about this. Those Americans—tens of millions of them voted for Trump—are elated. Perhaps the Times is projecting. President Trump is fond of tweeting about the "failing" New York Times. If you're an editor or eve[...]



Having Co-Opted the Tea Party Nationwide, Trump Tries to Stamp out its Remnants in Congress

2017-03-27T15:50:00-04:00

Have you seen the latest craze among Trump administration officials and their enablers in the Republican establishment? It's called Pin the Blame for Ryancare on the House Freedom Caucus, and it starts right at the top: Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2017 This assessment of the famously stubborn, 29-member group is shared by an uncounted number of the their colleagues, and even one of their own: Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who resigned from the caucus yesterday, explaining that, "Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do." Also in the screw-you-guys,-I'm-going-home camp is Rep. Austin Scott (R-Georgia): Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare. https://t.co/zjcfmMhs9P — Rep. Austin Scott (@AustinScottGA08) March 25, 2017 As the debacle was taking shape Friday, you saw a lot of such with-us-or-against-us talk: Which @HouseGOP members will vote w/ @NancyPelosi today to keep Obamacare? Hard to believe any, but there are some who are...well, confused — Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) March 24, 2017 And it wasn't just on talk-radio Twitter. The Wall Street Journal, in a withering post-debacle editorial, asserted that the Freedom Caucus "sabotaged"…its "best chance to reform government": [T]he result of their rule-or-ruin strategy will now be the ObamaCare status quo, and Mark Meadows (North Carolina), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and the rest own all of its problems. Please spare everyone your future grievances about rising health spending or an ever-larger government. The grand prize for cynicism goes to Senator Rand Paul, who campaigned against the bill while offering an alternative that hasn't a prayer of passing. Now, there are plenty of contrary takes (see Conn Carroll, Justin Amash, and Reihan Salam, for starters). But the betting money is that both the Trump administration and the GOP establishment it now sits atop will seek actively to marginalize the rebels and instead find common governing cause with centrist Democrats, particularly in the United States Senate. If true, this scenario would produce one of the greatest cognitive dissonances in modern political history, while setting the administration up for even more humiliation during its honeymoon phase. Trump the above-the-fray outsider is collaborating with dealmaking career insiders to sideline one of the only principled Beltway blocs, even before showing any ability to woo Democrats over to Trump's anti-conservative agenda. It's all shaping up to be a godawful mess. In a terrific New York Times Magazine article over the weekend, Robert Draper captured the quick devolution of Planet Trump's attitudes toward the House Freedom Caucus, and by extrapolation its Senate allies such as Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz: Early this year, [House Majority Leader Kevin] McCarthy predicted to me that the new president would quickly subjugate the Freedom Caucus. "Trump is strong in their districts," McCarthy told me. "There's not a place for them to survive in this world." When we spoke on the morning of March 7, Trump assured me that he would not bully the Obamacare-replacement bill's loudest Republican critics, like the Freedom Caucus chairman, Representative Mark Meadows, on Twitter: "No, I don't think I'll have to," he said. "Mark Meadows is a great guy and a friend of mine. I don't think he'd ever [...]



Massachusetts Prepares to Vacate Nearly 24,000 Tainted Drug Convictions

2017-03-27T15:35:00-04:00

Massachusetts prosecutors will move in mid-April to vacate nearly all of the roughly 24,000 drug convictions tainted by a single corrupt forensic lab chemist, The Boston Globe reported Saturday, marking the denouement of one of the largest drug lab scandals in U.S. history. A Massachusetts prosecutor told the state's Supreme Judicial Court last week that D.A.'s would seek to keep fewer than 1,000 of the 24,000 convictions tainted by drug lab chemist Annie Dookahn, who pled guilty in 2012 to falsifying test results in favor of law enforcement and tampering with evidence over a nine-year period starting in 2003. "Without putting numbers on it, it's in the ballpark that the court was looking for," Robert J. Bender, a Middlesex County assistant district attorney, said during a March 16 hearing, according to Globe. "Hundreds of cases, not thousands of cases." Since Dookhan was convicted, the Massachusetts criminal justice system has been reeling under the number of so-called "Dookhan defendants" and how to ensure justice for all of them. Dookhan managed to taint an estimated one in six drug cases in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2012. As I reported in January, the court declined to vacate the cases en masse, but ordered prosecutors to review and clear as many of the cases as they could: The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was pressing the state's high court to vacate the convictions en masse, arguing it would take 48 years to assign public defenders to each of the 24,483 defendants potentially harmed by the Dookhan's dirty work. The court declined to take such sweeping action, instead ordering state prosecutors to dismiss all cases within 90 days it would not or could not reprosecute if given a new trial. In addition, it ordered clear notifications to be sent to remaining defendants informing them of their right to challenge their convictions. In a statement, Matt Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts said Wednesday's ruling "is a major victory for justice, fairness, and tens of thousands of people in the Commonwealth who were wrongfully convicted of drug offenses." "The court has called on prosecutors to dismiss the drug charges against most of the Dookhan defendants and to provide meaningful notice to the remaining defendants, all by fixed deadlines," Segal said. "It is now time for the DAs to step up and finally allow Massachusetts to turn the page on the worst drug lab scandal in our nation's history, especially because the Amherst drug lab scandal involving chemist Sonja Farak has called into question thousands more drug convictions." The list of cases is due from county prosecutors on April 18. Dookhan's case is among the largest, but far from the only forensics scandal that potentially ruined the lives of thousands of criminal defendants. Just last month in Florida, the Orange County State Attorney's Office sent letters to 2,600 area defense attorneys, notifying them that their clients' cases may have been compromised by the work of a fingerprint expert. [...]



The Cracks in the GOP Start Showing

2017-03-27T15:02:00-04:00

(image) In theory, no one should be surprised that it was health care that opened the first big crack in the Trumptime GOP. It's been obvious for ages that the Republicans didn't have any kind of consensus on how to fulfill their promise of replacing the Affordable Care Act. If you put that first on the legislative agenda, of course it's where the splits are going to start showing.

Yet it still feels weird. There are issues—immigration, foreign policy—where the Republicans have clear public divisions. Health care has not traditionally been one of those topics. Like abortion, it brought the party together: Everyone could join hands and damn Obamacare. So the GOP hasn't just been fractured by something big; it's been fractured by something that seemed central to its self-identity.

The longer the spotlight lingers on health care, the stranger the ensuing debate is going to seem. Already this month we've had one prominent Republican (and Trump crony), Newsmax chief Christopher Ruddy, calling for a Medicaid expansion plan that sure sounds a lot like the public option. Now, I certainly wouldn't bet on that becoming the next big Republican proposal. (I wouldn't bet on the next big Republican proposal having much to do with health care at all.) But I won't be surprised if we see that idea or others like it getting more traction within the party. A sizable chunk of the base is already open to such notions. (In a Gallup poll last May, 41 percent of Republicans said they'd favor replacing the Affordable Care Act with a federally funded system.) There are ways to frame the proposal that might make it seem like less of an odd fit with the party's pro-market rhetoric. (Ruddy's column takes care to point out that the status quo isn't a free market. He's right about that, though his solution isn't exactly a free market either.) And it's not as though the party has never embraced a health entitlement before. The last Republican president gave us Medicare Part D, and the last Republican presidential nominee accused Obama of cutting Medicare.

There will also be a lot of Republicans who hate the idea, of course. But my point here isn't that I think the GOP is about to move to the left of Obama on health policy. It's that the continents are drifting, and you really don't know where everyone will be standing in a few years. Washington may be dominated by one political party right now, but there's a bunch of parties within that party and we're just starting to see the battles between them.

Related: "The meaning of 'fundamentally conservative' and 'fundamentally liberal' is extremely unstable."




Another Terror Attack Leads to Yet Another Government Assault on Your Right to Tech Privacy

2017-03-27T13:05:00-04:00

After Khalid Farood launched a terrorist attack in Westminster, England, last week, killing four before getting killed himself, officials made it clear that Farood was not on the government's radar as a potential threat. While the details of the case are still under investigation, the theory at the moment coming out of Scotland Yard and investigators was that he was a lone attacker that self-radicalized. Farood did have a previous criminal record, but he was not seen as a terrorist threat, and it's not even clear yet whether he should have been. In response to the attack, Prime Minister Theresa May gave a short speech talking about how the United Kingdom's commitment to Democracy, freedom, human rights, and rule of law made them targets, but "Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure." Then, over the weekend, her own administration took to the media to demand that citizens abandon those freedoms and human rights to serve the government's interests. Specifically, Amber Rudd, home secretary (the leader of the U.K.'s various national security and policing agencies) went to the press to complain about encryption as a threat to national security, though there's absolutely no evidence that encryption played any role in the failure to predict or prevent this attack. The targets here are communication tools like WhatsApp, which has end-to-end encryption that has the potential to thwart investigators. Authorities are trying to determine whether Farood communicated with anybody through encrypted messaging, but this is after-the-fact research. Whether or not authorities could have penetrated Farood's encryption wouldn't have prevented the attack because, again, he wasn't considered a terror threat. Nevertheless, the fact that Farood might have had a way to communicate without the government being able to access it is again bringing up the decades-long fight by officials to try to prevent citizens from communicating secretly. Rudd is insisting that she wants these communication apps to assist the government in bypassing encryption on demand in order to assist government investigations. We've seen these arguments a lot, both out of the United Kingdom and in the United States. The leaders of both, May and President Donald Trump, are open supporters of mass surveillance and have shown very little respect for citizen privacy. Rudd, like many of these anti-encryption officials, insist that they don't want to totally destroy our tech privacy but simply demand that tech companies assist government to gain access to targeted people's communications when they have proper warrants. The problem remains—and Rudd, like other government officials, refuses to acknowledge or engage with it—that there's no such thing as an encryption back door or bypass that can only be used by the "proper" authorities. Any bypass can be cracked by hackers, be they criminals or foreign government officials who don't have the United Kingdom's commitment to "human rights." Fortunately, Rudd is getting pushback from privacy activists (and even other officials) in England. From The Guardian: Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police, said that giving the security services access to encrypted messages would be "neither a proportionate nor an effective response" to the Westminster attack. "These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and [...]



For Want of a Comma, the Case Was Lost: New at Reason

2017-03-27T12:00:00-04:00

(image) Punctuation matters.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

"Punctuation Saves Lives," goes the tagline to a meme you might have seen. Above it appear two sentences:

"Let's eat Grandma!"

"Let's eat, Grandma!"

Droll, very droll. But commas are no laughing matter to the Maine company Oakhurst Dairy or to the workers who sued it for unpaid overtime. Ten million dollars might now change hands because of a simple comma—or rather the lack of one.

The case turned on what is known as the serial, or Oxford, comma—the comma that (sometimes) precedes the last item in a series, as in: "Ted bought a house, a car, and a boat."

View this article.




Good Punctuation Can Sure Save A Lot of Money

2017-03-27T12:00:00-04:00

"Punctuation Saves Lives," goes the tagline to a meme you might have seen. Above it appear two sentences: "Let's eat Grandma!" "Let's eat, Grandma!" Droll, very droll. But commas are no laughing matter to the Maine company Oakhurst Dairy or to the workers who sued it for unpaid overtime. Ten million dollars might now change hands because of a simple comma—or rather the lack of one. The case turned on what is known as the serial, or Oxford, comma—the comma that (sometimes) precedes the last item in a series, as in: "Ted bought a house, a car, and a boat." Some people hold that such a sentence needs two commas: one after "house" and one after "car." The second comma is the Oxford comma. But others contend the sentence should have only one comma (after "house") and that a second comma would be superfluous. For the remainder of the column, these two groups shall be referred to as (1) Oxford comma proponents and (2) people who should burn in hell. To see why, consider this tweet from writer Justin Hendrix: "When @LouiseMensch reported on the FISA tap, she included details that implicated Putin's own daughters, Carter Page and Paul Manafort." Former Trump aide Paul Manafort is alleged to have links to Vladimir Putin. But this is the first time anyone has ever suggested he and Trump adviser Carter Page are Putin's daughters. An Oxford comma would have made it clear that the details implicated (a) Putin's daughters, (b) Page, and (c) Manafort. A New York Times reporter recently provided another (fictitious) example of the confusion that can arise when the Oxford comma is omitted: "I'd like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope." That would make for quite a scandal. Unfortunately, many news organizations have decided to omit the Oxford comma, although some of them grudgingly permit it in cases where confusion might arise. But that only creates more confusion: First because it looks inconsistent, and second because there is bound to be confusion about whether certain cases might cause confusion. Confusion certainly arose in the Oakhurst Dairy case. (Oops. Make that "the case involving Oakhurst Dairy," since just about every grocery store in the country has a dairy case.) According to Maine law, overtime rules do not apply to: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. This can mean one of two things: (a) Overtime rules do not apply to packing carried out for the purpose of shipping or distribution. (b) Overtime rules do not apply either to packing carried out for the purpose of shipping, or to distribution. If you drive a truck that delivers perishable dairy products, this distinction makes a big difference, because while you do the distribution, you don't do the packing. So your legal claim to overtime pay hangs on exactly what the legislature intended. Unfortunately, the legislative intent is hard to discern from the text of the statute, because the Maine legislature abjures the Oxford comma. If the legislature used the Oxford comma—and used it consistently, not inconsistently the way many news outlets do—then its meaning would be plain. A comma would prove whether the lawmakers meant "packing for shipment or distribution" or "packing for shipment, or distribution." A lower court ruled in favor of the comp[...]



Cop Who Shot and Killed Ramarley Graham Resigns After Finding Out He Was Probably Getting Fired

2017-03-27T11:19:00-04:00

The New York police officer who shot and killed Ramarley Graham in his grandmother's house after following the 18-year-old from a bodega after an alleged marijuana sale has resigned from his job after finding out that an administrative trial judge had recommended he be fired, ABC 7 reports. Officer Richard Haste's resignation comes five years after the shooting. A grand jury indicted him, but a judge threw the indictment out after ruling that prosecutors should have told the grand jury that other officers told Haste that Graham had a gun (they did, but Graham did not have a gun). A second grand jury declined to indict. Haste went on "administrative trial," which ends with a recommendation from a judge for disciplinary action and can be overturned by the police commissioner. While the trial was open to the public, the NYPD rejected a freedom of information request for records of the trial, insisting those were protected by a state privacy law the city recently decided applied to the disciplinary records of cops. The police commissioner, James O'Neill, promised to waive the privacy protections the department imposed on records to at least inform the Graham family, with whom the city settled a federal lawsuit for $3.9 million in 2015. Last year, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (then Preet Bharara) announced federal prosecutors would not pursue federal criminal charges because of "insufficient evidence." Graham's mother released a statement responding to Haste's resignation, calling it "just another example that the de Blasio administration doesn't care about justice and accountability" and accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD of having "dragged their heels" every step of the way. "Richard Haste should have been in prison," the mother said in her statement, "but instead of even firing him, the de Blasio administration let him resign." For his part, De Blasio insisted the administrative trial ended with the right decision. "Nothing can take away the profound pain left after his loss," de Blasio said according to ABC 7, " but I hope the conclusion of this difficult process brings some measure of justice to those who loved him." De Blasio's statement, and his inaction in this case, are typical of de Blasio's general approach to the issue of police brutality, appropriating the language of reform for his rhetoric but defending the status quo in which police brutality thrives. In the five years since Haste's shooting of Graham (police said Graham was running away from them but retracted the statement after surveillance video was released, Haste said he feared for his life and cops said they saw a gun but no weapon was recovered where Graham was shot and killed nor in the area), Haste was on "desk duty," accumulating a salary $30,000 higher than it was before the shooting. Resignation will likely protect his pension. The privileges and protections afforded police employment via state and federal laws as well as by contracts that are negotiated between public sector unions and the city governments that often support and enable them guarantees outrages like this will keep happening. [...]



Miami Targets Homeowners Who Opposed Airbnb Ban

2017-03-27T10:32:00-04:00

Dozens of Miami homeowners who use Airbnb showed up at City Hall last week to voice their disagreement with the city's proposed ban on short-term rentals like those offered on the popular app. Before they could speak, though, they had to identify themselves and provide a home address, as is customary for most public comment periods. Now, after approving the ban with a 3-2 vote, the city could use the information from that hearing to target those same people for inspections and fines. "We are now on notice for people who did come here and notify us in public and challenge us in public," Daniel Alfonso, Miami city manager, told the Miami Herald. "I will be duly bound to request our personnel to enforce the city code." Mayor Thomas Regalado reportedly suggested the same course of action while speaking to a local radio station about the city's evolving policy on short-term rentals and Airbnb, according to Miami Herald reporter David Smiley: .@Tomas_Regalado has hinted that the @airbnb hosts who spoke today could have outed themselves for code enforcement — David Smiley (@NewsbySmiley) March 23, 2017 Yes, everyone who spoke at the hearing voluntarily turned over their information to the city. They're easy targets, for sure. Still, the notion that city officials would single-out people who spoke up against a public policy—those who "challenge us in public," as Alfonso put it—simply because they spoke up in public is quite disturbing. Instead of focusing on nuisance tenants or short-term rentals that are drawing complaints from neighbors (if there are any), they are choosing specifically to target members of the community who are engaged in the political process and are trying to make their voices heard. Miami might be taking an ill-advised lesson from nearby Miami Beach, which has led the way in Florida's fight against letting residents do as they please with their own property. As Reason has previously reported, the city issued more than $1.6 million in fines for homesharing last year, with individual fines running as high as $20,000. Earlier this month, Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine directed a Trump-like tweet-storm at Airbnb's official corporate account earlier this month. According to one of the mayor's tweets, Miami Beach "doesn't want what your (sic) selling!!!!" City officials might not like Airbnb, but most Floridians do. A February survey by pollsters Mason & Dixon found that 93 percent of Florida residents said Airbnb should be legal, and 65 percent of Floridians polled by Mason & Dixon said local governments shouldn't regulate homesharing apps at all. Both cities justify their attacks on homesharing by saying that Airbnb rentals represent "illegal nuisances" in otherwise residential neighborhoods. If so, the cities should enforce existing nuisance laws against renters (or homeowners) who are creating problems for neighbors. Preventing law-abiding residents from renting extra space in their homes—and then targeting residents who exercise their right to voice opposition to city policies—is not protecting anyone and is arguably pulling enforcement officers away from other, more important duties. "We will continue to strongly advocate for the rights of middle-class families to share their own homes, both in the City of Miami and Miami Beach," Benjamin Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb, told Reason via [...]



Ivanka Trump to Represent U.S. at Women's Empowerment Summit, Anti-Government Protests in Russia, 'Constitutional Carry' in North Dakota: A.M. Links

2017-03-27T09:00:00-04:00

  • (image) Ivanka Trump will represent the U.S. at a women's empowerment summit in Berlin next month.
  • Thousands of people across Russia turned out for anti-government protests, with hundreds arrested in Moscow.
  • British authorities want WhatsApp, which the Westminster attacker allegedly used shortly before his rampage, and other encrypted services to share information with them.
  • Prosecutors in South Korea are seeking an arrest warrant for Park Guen-Hye, the country's first democratically elected president to be removed from office.
  • Evangelical churches are booming in Cuba.
  • "Constitutional carry" is now the law in North Dakota, with any resident who's had a driver's license or other state ID for at least a year permitted to carry a concealed handgun.
  • Uber is suspending its self-driving program after a self-driving car in Arizona flipped over during an accident for which it was not at fault and in which no one was injured.
  • Shaquille O'Neal gets a statue outside the Staples Center.



Banks Flagging Frequent Pharmacy Trips, Bulk DVD Rentals, and Other Ordinary Activity to Turn Over Tips to Government Snoops

2017-03-27T08:32:00-04:00

American and British banks are monitoring customers' contraception purchases, DVD-rental frequency, dining-out habits, and more in a misguided attempt to detect human traffickers, according to a new report from the British think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Their intrusive and ineffective efforts come at the behest of government agencies, who have been eager to use asset-forfeiture powers against suspected human-trafficking rings. There are just a few problems: sophisticated trafficking operations are generally wise enough not to do suspicious business through U.S.- and U.K.-based consumer banks. And without any obvious or majorly suspicious activity to flag, bank executives have had to get creative, coming up with improbable or absurd metrics that might indicate labor- or sex-trafficking. This, in turn, exposes all sorts of innocent bank customers—including but certainly not limited to adults engaging in consensual sex work—to privacy invasions and potential involvement with the criminal justice system. The U.S. and U.K. banks RUSI researchers interviewed said they were happy to help law enforcement prosecute human traffickers and had little problems turning over financial records for people already arrested or under investigation. But proactively finding potential traffickers themselves proved more difficult. As RUSI explains, "the often unremarkable nature of transactions related to" human trafficking made finding criminals or victims via transaction monitoring a time-consuming and unfruitful endeavor. Yet financial institutions are boxed in by regulations that threaten to punish them severely should they participate in the flow of illegally begotten money, however unwittingly. The bind leaves banks and other financial services eager to cast as wide a net as possible, terminating relationships with "suspicious" customers, monitoring the bank accounts of people they know, or turning their records over to law enforcement rather than risk allegations of not doing enough to comply. Thus far, American and British regulators have given financial firms some guidance on the type of activity to flag, but this guidance has been vague and open to broad interpretation. Banks have carved out varied policies based on this, sometimes also soliciting tips and training from "modern-slavery"-awareness groups. The majority of financial firms RUSI communicated with were "from the Americas (the US in particular)," and had already taken "significant steps" to engage with the issue of human trafficking through monitoring and flagging customer accounts. In 2014, U.S. banks filed 820 suspicious-activity reports with the feds in which the phrase human trafficking appeared (accounting for 0.1 percent of all criminal-suspicion reports), but the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) saw a "tremendous jump" following the release of a related advisory in fall 2015, according to Adam Szubin, former under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence with the U.S. Treasury Department and now acting secretary of the Treasury. So what sorts of activity is being flagged? Cheap travel, online advertising, and large grocery bills: One U.S. bank told RUSI that they monitor frequent travel on cheap airlines; regular payments to classified-ad sites such as Backpag[...]



Trump Can’t Fix Health Care: New at Reason

2017-03-27T08:15:00-04:00

(image) Bill Clinton tried to fix America's health care problems and was shot down by Congress. Barack Obama got his solution enacted only to find most people didn't like it. Republicans who voted repeatedly to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something far better have found it fiendishly hard to agree on how.

It could be that our health care problems don't get solved because of partisanship, incompetence, corruption or dishonesty among our elected officials. Or it could be because those problems are not soluble.

Oh, some of them can be solved, for sure. But not all at once, and not within the constraints of our political environment. We have trouble accepting that. So we muddle along with a system that is riddled with flaws and causes a lot of dissatisfaction. Steve Chapman explains more.

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