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Updated: 2016-10-27T00:00:00-04:00


Putin Responds to Claim Russia Trying to Influence U.S. Election


Vladimir Putin responded to accusations that Russia was trying to influence the presidential election in the United States, asking whether anyone could "seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people's choice." America was not, Putin insisted, some kind of banana republic. "Do correct me if I'm wrong," he told the audience at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi, a kind of Russian equivalent to Davos. Putin called the idea of Russian interference one of the "myths" perpetrated by Western leaders, alng with the "Russian military threat," which he called "a profitable business that can be used to pump new money into defene budgets at home, get allies to bend to a single superpower's interests, expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units and arms closer to our borders." John Kerry reiterated today that the U.S. intelligence community believed Russia was behind the hacked election-related emails released by Wikileaks. The United States has also accused Russia of trying to hack into state voter registration debates. Putin also pointed to referendums and elections that "often create surprises for the authorities," saying that at first when people didn't vote the way mainstream parties and "official and respectable media outlets advised them to" the results were written off as anomalies, then as the result of "foreign, usually Russian, propaganda." Putin said he'd like to have such a propaganda machine in Russia but that "regrettably" that wasn't the case. Accusations of Russian meddling in American elections follow similar ones made in Europe about Russia supporting far-right and far-left parties whose interests align with Russia's. As with accusations of U.S. financial support for democratic causes overseas in places like Venezuela and Russia, they miss the point that such spending doesn't delegitimize the underlying popular support for the parties and causes, just as more broadly free spending on domestic elections allows more ideas to compete in the marketplace. Arguments for guilt by association against political opponents are deflections, used when more robust, substantive arguments are unavailable or unappealing. Indeed, Putin suggested the fear whipped up about Russia was an effort to distract voters. "The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police," Putin said. "You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems, but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth." Putin also dismissed the notion that Trump was the Kremlin's preferred candidate, calling it "complete rubbish" and insisting Russia was "by and large indifferent" to the election because it was ready to cooperate with any U.S. president that wanted to. Earlier this month, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist ally of Putin's, said Hillary Clinton could spark World War 3, an argument since echoed on the campaign trail by Donald Trump. Clinton has argued for imposing a no-fly zone in Syria in order to create leverage to get Russia to the negotiating table, something U.S. military officials have warned could lead to war with Russia and Syria, and that Clinton herself has privately acknowledged would cost a lot of Syrian lives. Later, while taking questions from the audience, Putin spoke positively about Trump and his campaign, describing him as "quite extravagant." Putin brought the U.S. election up after pointing to the "mutual distrust" and "tensions" around the world "engendered by shifts in distribution of economic and political influence," arguing that even in "advanced democracies" people did not feel they had actual political power. "Essentially, the entire globalization project is in crisis today and in Europe, as we know well, we hear voices now saying that multicu[...]

Clinton Advisers on Email Scandal, Putin Praises Trump, Twitter Kills Off Vine: P.M. Links


  • (image) More internal emails released by Wikileaks suggest some advisors were not in the loop as to how extensively Hillary Clinton was using her private email server to handle communications and at least one thought doing so was "f—king insane."
  • Russia's Vladimir Putin praised Donald Trump for energizing voters who are "tired of elites" but denied any attempt to interfere with the election.
  • Amtrak has reached a $265 million settlement in its deadly Philadelphia train crash from 2015 that killed eight.
  • Police in riot gear are forcibly removing Dakota Access pipeline protesters camping on private property (to be clear: without permission) in North Dakota.
  • To make sure you don't get distracted from strangers screaming at you online by cute pet videos, Twitter is killing off Vine as part of its workforce reduction.
  • The Department of Justice has charged dozens in a scheme where scammers pretended to be IRS or immigration officials calling people and threatening to fine or deport them unless they were sent money. The DOJ believes they had managed to scam at least 15,000 people out of more than $250 million.

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The Great Halloween Clown Purge of 2016


Halloween's urban legends have a habit of absorbing other urban legends, so I'm not surprised to see a rumor going around about a Halloween Clown Purge:


See all those shares? Halloween + clowns + The Purge = social-media catnip. But look at the bright side: This isn't anywhere near as popular as last year's big rumor, the "Halloween Revolt."

Remember the Halloween Revolt? Some anarchist militia that no one had heard of before was supposedly going to spend the night of October 31 luring cops into ambushes and killing them. Chunks of the media just ran with the story, treating it as a bona fide threat rather than a revamped gang-initiation urban legend mashed up with the resurgent fear of a war on cops. (Some versions of the story managed to work in a reference to The Purge too. The fear that young people are getting ready to reenact the violence of the Purge pictures is getting to be a perennial panic, and not just at Halloween; one such rumor even shaped police behavior right before the 2015 Baltimore riot.)

But while reporters have rushed to cover all kinds of clown rumors this year, sometimes leaving their common sense behind in the process, the clown-purge story has barely penetrated the mainstream media. Almost all of the outlets covering it are super-clickbaity sites in the more remote corners of the media ecosystem.

The cops have been quiet, too. Snopes notes that in previous "'purge' scares, local police typically weighed in to either pledge a close watch or debunk the rumors. Yet in this case, we've turned up no such assurances or debunkings from any law enforcement sources." Snopes' search appears to be out of date: Police in Greenville, South Carolina—ground zero for the current clown scare—have now told the public that the Clown Purge isn't a credible threat. But even that sort of skeptical statement remains rare. I certainly haven't seen any sign that documents like this are circulating:


Why the difference? Who knows? Maybe a cop-killing anarcho-militia felt like a more urgent threat. Maybe the idea of a Clown Purge was so silly that even the 11:00 news was wary about covering it. Maybe the press is getting sick of clowns.

Or maybe this year, when it comes to scaring people, Halloween just can't get out of the shadow of Election Day.

The Harsh Reality of Obamacare's Premium Hikes: New at Reason


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Obamacare may be "standing on the edge of a death spiral" according to Reason Features Editor Peter Suderman. Health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act are set to rise dramatically in 2017, an average of 25 percent for middle tier coverage options. What does this increase mean for consumers, taxpayers, and the future of the ACA? Nick Gillespie sat down with Suderman to find out.

Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions

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In Wired President Obama Praises Progress: But Does Not Know How It Happens


The folks over at Wired invited President Barack Obama to guest edit the November issue of the magazine. The theme is Frontiers. I finally got around to reading the president's introduction to the issue, "Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive." I entirely agree with the president. In his essay, the president writes: Let's start with the big picture. By almost every measure, this country is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, 30 years ago, or even eight years ago. Leave aside the sepia tones of the 1950s, a time when women, minorities, and ­people with disabilities were shut out of huge parts of American life. Just since 1983, when I finished college, things like crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, and poverty rates are all down. Life expectancy is up. The share of Americans with a college education is up too. Tens of mil­lions of Americans recently gained the security of health insurance. Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks to lead our businesses and communities. Women are a larger part of our workforce and are earning more money. Once-quiet factories are alive again, with assembly lines churning out the components of a clean-energy age. And just as America has gotten better, so has the world. More countries know democracy. More kids are going to school. A smaller share of humans know chronic hunger or live in extreme poverty. In nearly two dozen countries—including our own—­people now have the freedom to marry whomever they love. And last year the nations of the world joined together to forge the most comprehen­sive agreement to battle climate change in human history. I reported on all of those positive trends and more in my book, The End of Doom. As a politician, President Obama will naturally hype policies like climate change regulation as part of his legacy. But setting that aside, all of his other claims about improvements in the human prospects are true. But where the president disappoints is when he tries to explain how all of this truly marvelous progress occurred. Consider: This kind of progress hasn't happened on its own. It happened because people organized and voted for better prospects; because leaders enacted smart, forward-­looking policies; because people's perspectives opened up, and with them, societies did too. But this progress also happened because we scienced the heck out of our challenges. Science is how we were able to combat acid rain and the AIDS epidemic. Technology is what allowed us to communicate across oceans and empathize with one another when a wall came down in Berlin or a TV personality came out. Without Norman Borlaug's wheat, we could not feed the world's hungry. Without Grace Hopper's code, we might still be analyzing data with pencil and paper.... Because the truth is, while we've made great progress, there's no shortage of challenges ahead: Climate change. Economic inequality. Cybersecurity. Terrorism and gun violence. Cancer, Alzheimer's, and ­antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Just as in the past, to clear these hurdles we're going to need everyone—policy makers and commu­nity leaders, teachers and workers and grassroots activists, presidents and soon-to-be-former presidents. And to accelerate that change, we need science. We need researchers and academics and engineers; programmers, surgeons, and botanists. And most important, we need not only the folks at MIT or Stanford or the NIH but also the mom in West Virginia tinkering with a 3-D printer, the girl on the South Side of Chicago learning to code, the dreamer in San Antonio seeking investors for his new app, the dad in North Dakota learning new skills so he can help lead the green revolution. That's how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody. All of these sentiments are surely worthy, but the President has entirely missed the main motive forces behind[...]

Denver Police Will Have a New Use of Force Policy


(image) The Denver Police Department is currently in the midst of a long but carefully considered process as it rewrites its use of force policy. Of particular note is the new emphasis on the "minimum amount of force necessary," rather than the current norm of placing limits on the most extreme measures police officers feel they need to take during a confrontation.

The Denver PD's chief, Robert White, told the Denver Post that officers will be trained on how to keep their cool during specific high-risk scenarios they may encounter. Of the department's evolving policy, White said to the Post, "I'm of the opinion it's just not good enough for officers to take legal actions, but they also need to make sure those actions are absolutely necessary."

Chief White says he expects some resistance from the rank-and-file over the new policy, which puts more strict limits on the use of force than required by the state and the federal government. But White insists that the changes to policy, which also now include a "duty to render aid" on someone who has been on the receiving end of police use of force, are necessary for maintaining the department's integrity and community trust.

Denver's Sheriff's Department announced earlier this year that it would also be reforming its use of force policy, which now encourages deputies to deploy "verbal judo" to de-escalate potentially volatile situations. The Sheriff's Department's new policy also requires deputies to intervene if they witness a misuse of force, and to not restrict detainees' breathing with their body weight during an arrest.

Though the Denver PD reportedly consulted with 14 other police departments and considered the recommendations put forth by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, some groups—such as the city's Citizen Oversight Board—do not appreciate that the new policy is being written internally by the police department. White insists that the current draft is only that, a draft, and that it will be made public to allow concerns from the community to be considered before the final policy becomes official.

Has Evan McMullin Proven He Has Party-Building Power?


McKay Coppins at Buzzfeed is very impressed with the political machine might of renegade CIA Mormon former Republican Evan McMullin, who is polling strong in his home state of Utah. He believes, according to his headline, that "Evan McMullin Isn't Just Running For President — He's Literally Building A New Party." I don't think the actual reported details, or recent American history (see the quick fade of the "Reform Party" in the wake of the last time an independent candidate, Ross Perot, did surprisingly well in a presidential run and then tried to spin a Party off that success) support that belief that a McMullin Party will be significant in America's political future, though only time will tell, as they say. But one of the details Coppins uses to support the notion McMullin has some real political machine savvy behind him doesn't quite do so. Coppins writes that "According to his advisers, they've assembled serious state organizations across the country on a shoestring budget, enabling them to hustle their way onto 11 state ballots in the space of just 10 weeks." Let's see how "serious" an operation one would need to achieve that. Caveat: Unless one is a ballot access lawyer or professional, one might not be aware of certain specific tricks and complications with specific states. For sure that achivement is a sign that his campaign was able to hire a pro or two to read, study, and understand the specific requirements of the hows, wheres, and from whos of ballot access. It's always a little tricky, by design. But the surface money and/or signature requirements for the 11 states McMullin made are not particular signs of a juggernaut machine moving forward to flatten the GOP (or the Libertarians, perhaps their true target to begin with). According to this very useful compilation of deadlines and requirements from America's undisputed ballot access guru Richard Winger, longtime publisher of Ballot Access News, getting on those 11 ballots as an independent non-Party candidate (for the states where McMullin wasn't merely adopted by an existing Party structure that had already done the work) required a total of 14,500 signatures collected and $1,500 dollars spent. (That is the dollars-as-dollars in the states of Colorado and Louisiana which allow a pure money solution, not the dollars that almost certainly had to be paid to professional signature gatherers, always a big expense for small parties or independents.) That's 1,400 or so signatures a week, or 200 a day. Five petitioners working eight-hour days would need to net five signatures an hour to achieve that. It isn't nothing, but I wouldn't use it as proof of stunning organizational power. Excluded from that signature tally is New Mexico, which was a special and interesting case; it had the highest signature requirements of any of the states McMullin got on, 15,388, and indeed originally the state's secretary of state concluded the petitioners failed to gather enough, then after a lawsuit permitted him on the ballot in a pre-trial settlement. But you can add that number as well for a fuller, yet still not staggeringly impressive, assessment of the ballot access power of those on the McMullin team. The New Mexico victory was besides technically won by the "Better for America" organization, which predated McMullin's own personal organization and is officially now dormant. As I wrote back in June, getting on the ballot from that point was a little difficult, but not impossible, and McMullin's machine grabbed only the lowest hanging fruit. Richard Winger at Ballot Access News details how even McMullin's small successes were achieved: in five of those [11] states, the ticket could not have got on the ballot if prior minor party and independent presidential candidates hadn't won lawsuits against ballot access laws... Not withstanding all the assistance that prior ballot access activism had done to be[...]

Should Prostitution Be Decriminalized? Watch Elizabeth Nolan Brown Debate at NYU


Last week I had the opportunity to debate prostitution-decriminalization at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Obviously, I was arguing for full decriminalization—putting me in the ideological company of sex workers from Seattle to London to Taipei to Kazakhstan, as well as global human-rights and health groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the World Health Organization. Arguing for the Nordic model of prostitution law, in which paying for or advertising sex is prohibited but selling it is legal in limited circumstances, was Dorchen Leidholdt, director of the Center for Battered Women's Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families.

You can listen to audio of the debate on Soundcloud, or watch the whole thing below.

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If you'll permit me a moment of naval-gazing... I was happy with my debate performance overall, especially considering I've never debated one-on-one before and am much better at arguing in text than in person. Where I think I failed was in getting bogged down in a back-and-forth about statistics. Leidholdt was armed with a bevy of them, mostly from disreputable studies carried out by anti-prostitution activists, and my impulse was to push back on these.

But for those who know little about sex-work issues, there's not much to latch on to in a she-said/she-said over facts and figures. And without any frame of reference, "facts" showing that countries with legalized prostitution are plagued by terrible spikes in sex-trafficking seem more immediately credible, given that people are prone to believe all manner of horrors about anything related to sex. People seem to want to believe prostitution is inherently harmful, and studies and statistics are rarely powerful enough to overcome people's implicit biases. But the concrete harms that criminalizing prostitution has on vulnerable people's lives—the individual tales of hardship and horror that women and girls face under a system of criminalization—are harder to dismiss. Obviously different arguments work better or worse with different crowds, but in the future, I'd probably do better to avoid the stat-trap and stay more big picture when talking to general audiences... yes? no? Genuinely interested to hear what people think.

The Harsh Reality of Obamacare's Premium Hikes


Obamacare may be "standing on the edge of a death spiral" according to Reason Features Editor Peter Suderman.

Health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are set to rise dramatically in 2017, an average of 25 percent for middle tier coverage options. What does this increase mean for consumers, taxpayers, and the future of the ACA? Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Suderman to find out.

Produced by Austin Bragg. Camera by Josh Swain and Meredith Bragg.

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Trump Official Misuses Term ‘Voter Suppression’ and Media Headlines Are Happy to Run With It


The New York Post headline reads "Trump campaign organizing voter suppression operations." CNBC says "Here's who Trump is targeting for his 'voter suppression operations.'" Slate says "Trump campaign brags about its ongoing 'voter suppression operations.'" The basic idea presented in the headlines (Donald Trump is trying to prevent people from voting) is wholly inaccurate. But the inaccuracy is entirely the fault of the Trump campaign because that's the term an unidentified campaign official used when talking to a Bloomberg journalist. CNBC and Slate at least had the awareness to put the term in scare quotes because they realize it's not actual "vote suppression." (And the text of the stories beyond the headline actually explains the truth.) What's actually happening is that the Trump campaign—in what appears to be pretty savvy operation (considering how outsiders perceive his candidacy as a populist insurgency that isn't terribly competent)—is putting together targeted social media advertisements to try to encourage certain Clinton-leaning demographics to reconsider whether she's worth their vote. They're not trying to "suppress" voters. They're trying to convince them not to vote. The Facebook campaigns, explained to Bloomberg reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg, target Bernie Sanders supporters, women, and African-Americans, all very large blocs of voters Clinton needs in order to win. The campaign is doing its best to get information in front of these people that will remind them of the ways Clinton (and her husband) are not very good people. They report: Trump's invocation at the debate of Clinton's WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are "super predators" is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida. On Oct. 24, Trump's team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he'd created of Clinton delivering the "super predator" line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: "Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators." The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook "dark posts"—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, "only the people we want to see it, see it." The aim is to depress Clinton's vote total. "We know because we've modeled this," says the official. "It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out." The Trump team's effort to discourage young women by rolling out Clinton accusers and drive down black turnout in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood with targeted messages about the Clinton Foundation's controversial operations in Haiti is an odd gambit. Campaigns spend millions on data science to understand their own potential supporters—to whom they're likely already credible messengers—but here Trump is speaking to his opponent's. Furthermore, there's no scientific basis for thinking this ploy will convince these voters to stay home. It could just as easily end up motivating them. Based on polling, Trump is going to have to convince a lot of African-American voters and women to stay home. It should be very clear that this is not what "voter suppression" means, but because a Trump campaign worker used the phrase to describe it, that gives some media outlets clearance to be literal ("they said it, not us!") and suggest there's an [...]

Gary Johnson: ‘You Cannot Set a Life-or-Death Goal of Getting to the Top of the Mountain, or You’re Gonna Blow Your Brains out’


For each of the past 152 days, Gary Johnson has been asked what it's like to be a "spoiler." For the past 47, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee has been forced to revisit the deadly six-letter word "Aleppo," with the additional twist over the previous 28 about whether he can even name a single foreign leader. It's not particularly fun to be ridiculed on a daily basis as a "fucking idiot" (Bill Maher), "laughable" (Stephen Colbert) and "around 80 percent sure that he's running for president" (John Oliver). Then in recent days a particularly unpleasant new line of inquiry has been added to the mix. What does it feel like, reporters and even libertarian fellow travelers are asking in light of Johnson's September-October polling slide from 9 percent to 6, to be a failure? The question has stung candidate and campaign staff alike. For someone who is both a fierce competitor and a cheerful loser—Johnson has played chess against a computer just about every day for the past two years without winning even once, for example—the answer can oscillate between bewilderment, defiance, and Zen. On Tuesday, when swatting around Facebook Live softballs from the publisher of his slim new book Common Sense for the Common Good: Libertarianism as the End of Two-Party Tyranny, Johnson responded to an innocuous question about climbing Mt. Everest with a pretty direct metaphor for his campaign: What Everest says, and everything that I've done in my life, and everything that all of us do in our lives, is just put one foot in front of the other. I mean that's the key to living, and in that context, you know what? Things go wrong, every single day of our lives something goes wrong. Do you crawl up in a ball, do you declare yourself a victim and give up? Or you know what, get up the next day, smile on your face, it's part of the process….It's about the process, it's not about the end result; you can't predict the end result. But what you can predict is that if you get involved in the process, and you keep after it, that's what you should consider success. So climbing mountains, being involved as the Libertarian nominee for president…. Johnson returned to the mountain metaphor a little while later when I asked him in an interview whether he would either do anything differently in this campaign looking back, or whether there were any moments that surpassed all previous expectations. After stressing that he's a strictly no-regrets kinda guy, he said this: It is what it is. And you can certainly look at mistakes, but to think that you as a human being are not going to make mistakes, by that I mean little mistakes? Yes, of course. But in the context of moving forward—well, that's the other part of the equation, too, which is, man, you've got to keep moving forward. How does it turn out? I have always believed that life is a process, and you cannot set a life-or-death goal of getting to the top of the mountain, or you're gonna blow your brains out if you don't get there. You put yourself in position to get to the top of the mountain—you're physically fit, you're not ill, you're doing all the right things—and in that context using that as analogy, that's always worked in my life. Always. And come Election Day, that's what I did in this cycle, and everybody I was associated with. "It is what it is" is the same formulation Johnson has used previously when asked about the surely irritating rise of independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin in the Johnson-campaign-headquartered state of Utah. In the course of our short interview, Johnson veered from bullishness to fatalism, gratitude to near-bitterness. Here's a selection: There's a lot of anxiety in the libertarian universe right now about the 5 percent threshold, for obvious reasons. First, are[...]

ExxonMobil Climate 'Fraud' Investigation Follies Continue


ExxonMobil is suspected by New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman of misleading shareholders about the damage that climate change regulations might do to its business prospects. Scheidnerman and nearly twenty other Democratic attorneys-general have joined together in an effort to prove these suspicions correct. Under New York's capacious Martin Act, Schneiderman has issued investigatory subpoenas demanding that the company turn over various documents including those related to research results by company scientists and donations made to suspect academicians, think tanks, and advocacy groups. To date, the company has reportedly sent a million pages of documents over to the AG's office for minions to comb through looking for malacious corporate dissent from the prevailing climate change consensus. In August, Schneiderman issued another subpoena demanding to see records held by the company's accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Exxonmobil refused, asserting an "accountant-client privilege" under Texas law. Now a New York Supreme Court judge has ruled that New York law applies and ordered the company to comply with Schneiderman's subpoena. (Note the Supreme Court is not the highest level of New York's judiciary.) "We are pleased with the Court's order and look forward to moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon," said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a statement. "Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC's production, and I hope that today's order serves as a wake up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation." The Washington Post reports that the company plans to appeal the decision. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of Texas issued a discovery order to Massachusetts Attorney-General Maura Healey to turn over documents that would enable him to understand how she, Schneiderman and the other Democratic attorneys-general cooked up their joint investigation of ExxonMobil's possibly fraudulent behavior. The joint investigation is governed by what is called a Common Interest Agreement among the Democratic AGs. In his order Kinkeade noted: Attorney General Healey's actions leading up to the issuance of the CID [Civil Investigative Demand] causes the Court concern and presents the Court with the question of whether Attorney General Healey issued the CID with bias or prejudgment about what the investigation of Exxon would discover. ... The Court finds the allegations about Attorney General Healey and the anticipatory nature of Attorney General Healey's remarks about the outcome of the Exxon investigation to be concerning to this Court. The foregoing allegations about Attorney General Healey, if true, may constitute bad faith in issuing the CID.... At the Attorneys General United for Clean Power press conference in March 2016 featuring remarks by climate warrior Al Gore, Healey did say: Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable. That's why I, too, have joined in investigating the practices of ExxonMobil. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public. We are here before you, all committed to combating climate change and to holding accountable those who have misled the public. Could Healey's statements be considered biased or prejudged? You decide With regard to Judge Kinkeade's discovery order to Healey, it would certainly be of interest to the public to see how its elected officials collude, ah, work with activists, ah, interested citizens to go after disfavored, ah,[...]

A.M. Links: Clinton Leads Trump in Polls, Twitter to Lay Off 9% of Its Workforce, Canada and E.U. Eye Free Trade Agreement


  • (image) New poll: Hillary Clinton 48 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent, Gary Johnson 5 percent, Jill Stein 1 percent.
  • Another new poll: Hillary Clinton 44 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent, Gary Johnson 7 percent, Jill Stein 3 percent.
  • "Inside the Trump bunker, with 12 days to go."
  • Twitter is laying off 9 percent of its workforce.
  • Canada and the European Union are on the verge of signing a major free trade agreement.
  • The Chicago Cubs won game two of the World Series last night against the Cleveland Indians. The series is now tied at 1-1.

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Trump Continues to Show His Policy Ignorance: New at Reason


(image) In November 1999, presidential candidate George W. Bush sat down for a radio interview. A reporter asked him to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, all of which had been in the news. He could come up with only one.

This was an embarrassing failure. Newspapers editorialized tartly about Bush's grasp of international affairs. His rivals took him to task, with Vice President Al Gore saying that a president needs "the basic foreign policy knowledge necessary to protect America's interests and security around the world."

It's hard to recall that we once lived in an age of giants who were expected to know the names of foreign leaders. Donald Trump is proof of how much our standards have slipped. He couldn't find India if you dropped him at the Taj Mahal. Steve Chapman explains.

View this article.

Social Security's IOU Trust Fund: New at Reason


(image) Social Security is the largest single program in the federal budget. The retirement and disability program will cost about $950 billion this year, which is about 23 percent of the entire federal budget. Along with Medicare and Medicaid, these "entitlement" programs are already the main drivers of federal spending. Unless reined in, Social Security and its counterparts will eventually explode the federal budget. Unfortunately, few in Congress—and neither of the major-party presidential candidates—have any interest in acknowledging, let alone confronting, the problem with Social Security's insolvency.

That it's insolvent isn't debatable. Social Security faces a $10 trillion funding shortfall. Since 2010, Social Security has been running a constant cash flow deficit, meaning that the taxes collected for the program aren't enough to cover the benefits paid to beneficiaries. To fill the gap and keep the checks going out, the program has been drawing from federal trust funds. However, the government's trust funds aren't like trust funds in the real world. Trust funds in the real world contain assets; the government's trust funds basically contain IOUs. What that means in simple terms is that the government already has to go further into debt to pay Social Security's bills—and it's only going to get worse, writes Veronique de Rugy.

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Marijuana Legalization Looks Likely in Three States


According to the latest American Values Survey, conducted last month by the Public Religion Research Institute, a record 63 percent of Americans favor "making the use of marijuana legal," up from 43 percent in 2012 and 44 percent last year. That result, which was released on Tuesday, comes a week after Gallup reported that 60 percent of Americans think "the use of marijuana should be made legal," a record for that survey, and two weeks after the Pew Research Center reported that 57 percent of respondents in its latest survey endorsed that proposition, yet another record. But as Washington Post drug policy blogger Christopher Ingraham notes, these results do not necessarily signal a clean sweep for the nine marijuana initiatives on state ballots a week from Tuesday, since the surveys use national samples and do not ask about production and distribution of cannabis. A look at the latest initiative-specific polling suggests that marijuana will be legalized for recreational use in California, Maine, and Massachusetts, while Florida will become the first Southern state to recognize marijuana as a medicine. General legalization looks iffier in Arizona and Nevada, while medical marijuana intiatives seem headed for defeat in Arkansas and Montana. A lack of recent polling makes the outcome in North Dakota harder to predict. Here is the breakdown: Recreational Marijuana Arizona: Support for Proposition 205 in three polls conducted since my last update on October 6 averages 48 percent. California: Support for Proposition 64 in two new polls averages more than 55 percent. The average for all eight polls conducted so far this year is 59 percent. Maine: Two polls conducted in March and September found about 53 percent of voters favor Question 1. Massachusetts: A new poll, completed last week, puts support for Question 4 at 55 percent. The average for September and October, based on four polls, is 53 percent. Nevada: Support for Question 2 in two new polls averages 50 percent, slightly less than the seven-poll average for the year. Medical Marijuana Arkansas: A new poll, conducted last week, puts support for Issue 6 and Issue 7 (both of which would legalize medical use) at 45 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Florida: Amendment 2 needs approval from 60 percent of voters to win. A new poll, sponsored by the Yes on 2 campaign and completed last week, puts support at 74 percent, about the same as the three-poll average for September. The 2016 average, based on 12 polls, is about 70 percent. Montana: A new poll, completed on October 12, puts support for I-182, which would expand patient access to marijuana, at 44 percent. North Dakota: I still can't find polling specific to Initiated Statutory Measure 5. According to a 2014 poll, 47 percent of likely voters thought marijuana should be legal for recreational use. [...]

Brickbat: White Like Me


(image) Norman, Oklahoma, schools Superintendent Joe Siano says a teacher at Norman North High School "poorly handled" a classroom discussion on race. A student, who recorded the teacher saying "to be white is to be racist, period," says she believes he was "encouraging people to kind of pick on people for being white."

The Bottomless Ignorance of Donald Trump


In November 1999, presidential candidate George W. Bush sat down for a radio interview. A reporter asked him to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan, all of which had been in the news. He could come up with only one. This was an embarrassing failure. Newspapers editorialized tartly about Bush's grasp of international affairs. His rivals took him to task, with Vice President Al Gore saying that a president needs "the basic foreign policy knowledge necessary to protect America's interests and security around the world." Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan offered to "give Mr. Bush a few maps and geography lessons." It's hard to recall that we once lived in an age of giants who were expected to know the names of foreign leaders. Donald Trump is proof of how much our standards have slipped. He couldn't find India if you dropped him at the Taj Mahal. It is almost impossible to underestimate his knowledge about issues, including the ones he talks most about in his campaign. On Tuesday, he addressed Obamacare and promptly buried himself in misstatements that showed off his pristine ignorance. "I can say, all of my employees are having a tremendous problem with Obamacare," he declared, standing in front of workers at a Trump resort in Florida. "You look at what they're going through with their health care is horrible because of Obamacare." He then proceeded to contradict himself, portraying his employees as supremely fortunate. "They're not worried about their health care," he insisted, "because we take great care of people." That may be true, because they generally get coverage through their employer, sparing them from buying polices through the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. The general manager of the resort later acknowledged that "very few" of these employees would need to obtain policies on their own. So they are not having "a tremendous problem with Obamacare" after all. Trump was not done advertising his confusion. "I don't much use Obamacare, I must be honest with you, because it is so bad for the people and they can't afford it," he said. All he had to do was dip one toe in the water to find himself in over his head. But why should this topic be different from any other? Trump regularly denounces NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as though he is thoroughly familiar with them, but he plainly has no clue. His critique of TPP is a content-free tirade: "The TPP is a horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It's a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone. It's 5,600 pages long -- so complex that nobody's read it. It's like Obamacare; nobody ever read it. They passed it; nobody read it. ... But this is one of the worst trade deals." He may not be aware that China is not part of the TPP. Would anyone expect him to know how many nations have signed on -- or to be able to name half of them? Or to name three provisions in NAFTA? Lapses and blunders that would have torpedoed other candidates have done no harm to Trump. He said Vladimir Putin would not go into Ukraine, long after Putin had occupied part of it. He thinks Supreme Court justices sign bills. He doesn't understand why we have nuclear weapons if we don't use them. He favors "closing parts of the internet" to stop the Islamic State. He claimed he got the endorsement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency that doesn't endorse candidates. He promised to close down the "Department of Environmental," which doesn't exist. He[...]

Social Security's IOU Trust Fund


Social Security is the largest single program in the federal budget. The retirement and disability program will cost about $950 billion this year, which is about 23 percent of the entire federal budget. Along with Medicare and Medicaid, these "entitlement" programs are already the main drivers of federal spending. Unless reined in, Social Security and its counterparts will eventually explode the federal budget. Unfortunately, few in Congress—and neither of the major-party presidential candidates—have any interest in acknowledging, let alone confronting, the problem with Social Security's insolvency. That it's insolvent isn't debatable. Social Security faces a $10 trillion funding shortfall. Since 2010, Social Security has been running a constant cash flow deficit, meaning that the taxes collected for the program aren't enough to cover the benefits paid to beneficiaries. To fill the gap and keep the checks going out, the program has been drawing from federal trust funds. However, the government's trust funds aren't like trust funds in the real world. Trust funds in the real world contain assets; the government's trust funds basically contain IOUs. What that means in simple terms is that the government already has to go further into debt to pay Social Security's bills—and it's only going to get worse. Even if one believes in the sanctity of the government's combined trust funds in general, Social Security's will be exhausted by 2034, thus triggering a benefit cut of roughly 25 percent. However, since President George W. Bush tried and failed to reform the program in 2005, Congress has abdicated its responsibility by simply avoiding the issue. On the campaign trail, things are arguably worse. The two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have promised to leave Social Security untouched. When asked about what they would do about it during the debate, Trump responded: "I'm cutting taxes. We're going to grow the economy. It's going to grow at a record rate." That's all well and good, but we can't grow our way out of this mess. That's largely nonsensical. Clinton doesn't want to cut benefits, either, but she'd actually exacerbate the problem by raising taxes on the rich while increasing benefits for lower-income Americans. Though the tax increase part of her plan might extend the life of the program, it wouldn't fix much. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget looked at the issue and found that some increase in revenue would occur in the short term, but a cash deficit would return within 10 years and grow over time. It concluded: "This change would close just over one-third of Social Security's structural gap by 2090. In other words, a substantial portion of the fix defers the problem, but does not fix it." And that's calculated even before she starts to spend more on Social Security. But even that's probably too optimistic, says the American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Biggs in a recent Forbes column, because her "tax increases on the rich would boost revenues by far less than she imagines because of rarely-discussed interactions with other parts of the tax code." Third-party candidates are only marginally better on the issue than Clinton and Trump. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and has personally endorsed privatization. But he has also talked about means-testing benefits—curtailing the benefits of wealthy Americans—and raising the retirement age from 67 to 72. As he is on most issues, here Johnson is to the left of the Libertarian Party platform, which woul[...]

Public Support for "Assault Weapon" Ban Hits All-Time Low


Last December, the most powerful print media voice on this here planet Earth (or so they believe), The New York Times, ran a nearly unprecedented front page editorial calling for a ban and buyback/confiscation of that ill-defined category of "assault rifle." (See my commentary at the time, "New York Times Calls for Immense Expense and Political Civil War To Maybe Possibly Hopefully Reduce Gun Violence by a Tiny Amount.") The Times believed "Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens." What effect did the Times's pulling out their biggest rhetorical weapon against those popular weapons have on popular opinion regarding such weapons? Sorry, Times. A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month and released today finds "In U.S., Support for Assault Weapons Ban at Record Low." The details: The fewest Americans in 20 years favor making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles. Thirty-six percent now want an assault weapons ban, down from 44% in 2012 and 57% when Gallup first asked the question in 1996.... Two years after President Bill Clinton signed a federal assault weapons ban in 1994, Gallup found that a solid majority of Americans favored such a ban. By the time the 10-year ban expired in 2004, Americans were evenly divided. And by 2011, public opinion had tilted against the assault weapons ban, with 53% opposed and 43% in favor. In Gallup's 2016 Crime poll, conducted Oct. 5-9, opposition now exceeds support by 25 percentage points, 61% to 36%. This is certainly an example of common sense on voters' part, realizing that both the past (when we had for a decade a meaningless-in-stopping-crime ban on a set of such weapons) and the present (when as of 2014 such weapons are involved in fewer homicides than are bare hands and feet) give no weight to the notion that any public safety good would come from such a ban. I had what many correspondents felt was the bad luck to have a book review appear in The American Conservative called "Gun Control RIP" right after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in 2012. (It was written before the shooting.) Surely, many told me, that vividly horrific public reminder that people can use guns to commit hideous crimes will mean that politically gun control is back in a big way, putting the lie to my review. I stand by the review, for most of the reasons contained in it. 2012 had already been a year of many prominent and horrific public mass shootings; but as I wrote, "Americans have come to understand that such acts are still quite rare. More to the point, no imaginable public-policy solution will keep the occasional deranged criminal from doing evil with weapons." Jesse Walker reported for Reason back in 2014 on how after spikes in public upset over guns after publicized shooting murders, the mean of support for gun control seems to be falling lately to lower averages than it had been before the spike. [...]

Is There Time/Candidate Enough for Obamacare Implosion to Be a Factor in the Election?


(image) On tonight's Kennedy (Fox Business Network at 8 p.m. ET, with a repeat at midnight), I join an energetic Party Panel of Dagen McDowell and Tom Shillue to talk about how the recent face-planting of Obamacare might affect the presidential race, given defender Hillary Clinton's attempts to run out the clock and critic Donald Trump's vague hand-waving about what he'd do different.

Other topics on the show include a brand spanking new Fox poll showing 44-41-7-3 percentages for Clinton-Trump-Gary Johnson-Jill Stein (which is a rare bit of good recent polling news for Johnson, showing as it does a two-point bump since a week ago), plus campus anti-Halloween B.S. from offense-averse administrators, and some gruesome Hispandering from Hillary Clinton.

Speaking of Tom Shillue, here's the full clip of me appearing on Red Eye on Friday:

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Oregon Police Reform Activist Launches Write-In Candidacy for Sheriff


It has not been a good year for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department, whose jurisdiction covers most of Portland, Oregon. In February, an internal audit identified disproportionate uses of force against black inmates in the county's jails. This was followed by a series of rolling scandals surrounding Sheriff Dan Staton, including accusations of sexual harassment, hostile workplace practices, and the improper spending of discretionary funds on a new Dodge Charger. These allegations led him to step down in August, choosing as his replacement former Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Chief Mike Reese. That appointment, however, has done little to mollify Portland's increasingly vocal population of activists, who mostly remember Reese's tenure for a critical U.S. Department of Justice report on the PPB's treatment of the mentally ill. One such activist, Teressa Raiford, has decided to launch an insurgent write-in campaign against Reese, who is otherwise running unopposed for Multnomah County Sheriff. Raiford—who founded the police reform group Don't Shoot Portland—tells Reason she sees her candidacy as a way to give people an actual choice in November. "I don't believe that an election where you're running uncontested…I don't think that that promotes the kind of democracy or culture for change that we need." It's not just the lack of accountability at the ballot box she's concerned about. Raiford had already been working with the Department of Corrections to try to improve the way it quantifies uses of force in its facilities, and to make sure that force isn't being employed in a retaliatory or retributive way. She says getting elected sheriff would give her a more direct role in crafting and enacting those metrics. "I would be responsible for building those quantifiers. I would be responsible for rebuilding and developing program measurements that would help us offset the violence that is happening to corrections officers and also to the people that actually live in these facilities." She also hopes to change the way minority communities and law enforcement relate to each other in Portland, a place she refers to as "whitelandia" and "a utopia for racism." Right now, she says, there is less "community policing" and more "community investigation and interrogation." As a result, "people don't want to have a lunch with a cop, they don't want to go have a coffee, they don't want you to come and ask their children what their names are and where they're going." Raiford believes that her background will allow her to bridge that mistrust. "As a fourth-generation Oregonian and someone that is an activist, that type of trust will be improved by my position in" the Sheriff's Department, she says. "It would change the entire culture of the way Multnomah County does business." As a write-in candidate, the odds against her are high. By the time she officially announced her candidacy on Monday, many in Oregon—which votes by mail—had already cast their ballots. But Raiford says she's expecting a lot of support from those who would not generally be involved in an election like this: "I have had a lot of different people say, 'Oh God, you're forcing me to use my right to vote.'" [...]

Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Destroyed, Waco Miniseries Coming to Spike TV, Universe May Not Be Expanding at Alarming Rate: P.M. Links


  • (image) A vandal destroyed Donald Trump's star on the Hollywood walk of fame
  • Pro-immigration protesters in New York City stopped traffic across the George Washington Bridge.
  • The Pentagon will no longer seek reimbursement from California National Guard soldiers who were wrongly paid recruitment bonuses for signing up.
  • Islamic State fighters have halted the advance of Iraqi forces south of Mosul.
  • Russia is sending an armada into the Mediterranean Sea as their military operations in Syria ramp up.
  • Spike TV picked up the mini-series Waco, about the 1993 FBI siege of the Branch Davidians.
  • The universe may not be expanding at an accelerating rate, according to scientists at Oxford.

Bill to Restrain Abuse of Gov’t Forfeiture in Pennsylvania Gets Gutted by Prosecutors


Don't expect misuse of Pennsylvania's civil asset forfeiture to be restrained all that much under a reform bill making its way through the state legislature. Strong legislation to try to eliminate the worst of the abuses by police and prosecutors has been gutted in order to pass. There will still be some reform, but they're going to be modest and likely easily bypassed. Pennsylvania has some of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country when it comes to protecting the property rights and due process rights of citizens. Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which police and prosecutors seize and attempt to keep the property of people suspected of crimes. The word "suspected" matters. Because this is a "civil" process, people do not actually have to be convicted of crimes (or even charged!) in order to risk losing their property. The twisted incentives created by this civil process leave it wide open for abuse, and the property-protecting activists of the Institute for Justice has been fighting for reforms. Pennsylvania has been one of their targets. They filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia prompted by the case of a couple who risked losing their home to the city because their son was caught allegedly selling $40 worth of drugs. From IJ's analysis, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in the state have raked in more than $150 million over 13 years. Senate Bill 869 was an attempt to significantly reform this forfeiture process. Two of the proposed changes would have been huge deals. The first would have required criminal convictions in order to attempt to seize and keep somebody's property. That would essentially eliminate the "civil" part of civil asset forfeiture. The second major change would have required the money seized to go through a government general fund rather directly into the budgets of police or county attorneys' offices. This would have eliminated a significant incentive that encourages law enforcement to seize whatever they can. It also, incidentally, would have stopped local law enforcement from bypassing state restrictions by turning to the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture "Equitable Sharing" program. Law enforcement agencies can partner up with the DOJ for raids and then funnel the forfeitures through the federal program rather than the state, which also allows them to bypass tougher rules the state would apply. But the federal program requires that law enforcement agencies have their own funds to accept the money. The change to sending the money to the general fund would keep local police from bypassing state rules and running to the feds. But those two reforms are gone now. David Gambacorta of Philadelphia Magazine researched and discovered that the state's District Attorneys Association pressured legislators to pull back on those two components. Of course, those two were the components that were most important to preventing abuse. But there's still reform in the legislation and it's not completely worthless. The bill will increase the standard of proof to "clear and convincing evidence" that the property or money being seized is connected to a crime. That's one step below the amount of evidence required to convict somebody of a crime. And it will increase reporting requirements by law enforcement agencies and counties and also make it easier for citizens to find out how to attempt to get their stuff back. Still, IJ thinks [...]

New York's Airbnb Advertising Ban Appears to Violate Federal Law and the First Amendment


Unions and the hotel industry joined forces to convince New York lawmakers to pass the nation's strictest regulations for room-sharing, but the new law seems to stand on shaky legal ground and is already facing a lawsuit. "New York is heading straight for the buzz-saw of federal law," says Berin Szoka, president of Tech Freedom, a nonprofit technology policy organization. The new law, signed a week ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would impose fines of up to $7,500 for advertising rentals with a term of less than 30 days. Technically, those rentals were already illegal—the state had already banned rentals of less than 30 days back in 2010—but the new law is a direct attack on websites like Airbnb and other room-sharing services that connect would-be renters with hosts. The problem, says Szoka, is that federal law already bars states from doing exactly that. In the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Congress prohibited states from holding online platforms responsible for the speech of their users. "That safe harbor has been vital for the development of Internet services," he says. "Yet it seems state legislators keep forgetting it exists. That means we keep going round and round the merry-go-round of illegal legislation and pointless litigation." That interpretation will be tested in court again. Hours after Cuomo signed the law on Friday, Airbnb sued New York over it. The state says it will not enforce the law until the suit is settled. In its lawsuit against New York, Airbnb argues that the law will impose "irreparable harm" that would stretch beyond the borders of a single state. The lawsuit says it's not clear whether hosts or the online platform would be liable for fines issued under the law. "In order to be assured of avoiding liability, including potential criminal prosecution, Airbnb would be required to screen and review every listing a host seeks to publish," the lawsuit contends, according to the New York Times. In a statement, Airbnb said Cuomo was rewarding a special interest—"the price-gouging hotel industry"—at the expense of thousands of New Yorkers who use Airbnb. The ban could also be challenged on First Amendment grounds, since courts have long held that the U.S. Constitution protects commercial speech as long as it's not fraudulent or criminal. As I wrote in June when the law was passed by the state legislature, the state might have found a way to get around federal protections for free speech in this instance. Since short-term rentals were already illegal, New York could argue that it's not limiting free speech but rather targeting speech that serves criminal purposes—even if it's absurd that anyone renting an extra bedroom in their home could be considered a criminal. It's a tenuous argument, but it's probably the only way the New York law will survive a First Amendment challenge. It also has frightening implications. If policymakers are allowed to make an end-run around free speech by making the subject matter of that speech illegal, it could give politicians an incentive to push for more over-criminalization as a means to further restrictions on speech. That's a nasty combination. [...]

Illinois Commits to Changing Bail Practices That Keep People Jailed For Being Poor


Amid a nationwide series of civil rights lawsuits challenging what criminal justice groups call modern-day debtor's prisons, Illinois state officials announced Thursday that the state will work toward overhauling its jail practices over the next four years. Illinois officials and the Pretrial Justice Institute, a criminal justice advocacy group, said Wednesday that the state is joining the institute's national 3DaysCount campaign, which urges states to reform their practices for jailing defendants prior to trial. Specifically, the campaign works with states to reduce the severity of some low-level offenses and adopt risk-assessment tools to better determine which defendants can be safely released, rather than kept in jail to await trial. Illinois already has a pilot program using new risk-assessment tools in three counties, and the new push will include all three branches of the state government. The announcement comes on the heels of a class-action civil rights lawsuit filed this month against Cook County that alleges the county's bail system is unconstitutional and traps poor defendants in jail simply becuase of their inability pay. The two lead plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, Zachary Robinson and Michael Lewis, were both jailed for their inability to make bail after being arrested on theft charges. Illinois requires a 10 percent deposit on bonds, and neither could afford the $1,000 and $5,000 bail payments, respectively. According to the lawsuit, Robinson has been in jail since January and lost his minimum wage job. Lewis, who is a caretaker for his 72-year-old grandmother, has been in jail since the beginning of October. "Every day, thousands of human beings in Cook County, each presumed innocent as a matter of law, remain in jail for the duration of their case simply because they cannot afford to pay a monetary amount set without relations to their ability to pay," the lawsuit, filed by the group Civil Rights Corps, says. "The large and disproportionate majority of these persons are African Americans." Since the national debate on policing that erupted after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, investigations have revealed how some cities and counties raise significant amounts of their revenue through the punitive enforcement of minor fines and code violations. Numerous lawsuits have been filed over the past 16 months—including in Georgia, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Alabama, Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana—alleging that cities and counties are essentially operating unconstitutional debtors' prisons for those who can't afford to pay. The name of the 3DaysCount campaign, says Cherise Fanno Burdeen, the CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, comes from research that shows even three days in jail can negatively impact a defendant's job, housing, and family situation. "After only three days in jail, low-risk defendants will come out higher risk," Burdeen says. "We destabilize them." Illinois state representative Carol Ammons says the state courts need to move toward a risk-assessment program for defendants awaiting trial "that is validated and evidence based," rather than simply on whether one can afford bail. "People that are not high-risk are sitting in county jail losing their jobs, homes, and in some cases and their own health and family are put at risk," Ammon says. "It doesn't improve safety, becau[...]

Oregon Student Government: Dressing Up as Any Character Is Cultural Appropriation, Not Okay


(image) The student-governments of rival schools Oregon State University and the University of Oregon have announced a temporary partnership, which is kind of like how it would be if Negan from The Walking Dead could somehow join forces with Ramsay Bolton.

And why are these villains teaming up? (UO and OSU, not Negan and Ramsay.) You can probably guess: they want to play Halloween costume police.

In a strongly worded email to students at both campuses, student-government presidents Rachel Grisham and Quinn Haaga warned their communities that acts of cultural appropriation "are not acceptable." Full stop.


Cultural appropriation is the act of borrowing or using aspects of a culture by another culture, typically a dominant culture. Around the time of Halloween, we often see people dressing as a culture or a character, which is offensive and reinforces negative stereotypes. These costumes reinforce racism, sexism, and classism. As active and respectful members of the OSU and the UO communities, we expect everyone to not engage in cultural appropriation.

Or what? is a tempting response. Unfortunately, we know exactly what will happen to transgressors. The University of Oregon, for example, harbors one of the most dangerous bias response teams I've written about. Students who push the line, as far as costumes are concerned, can expect to be investigated.

The idea that students should avoid particular costumes because they happen to involve other cultures is absurd, and this email unintentionally points out exactly why. Note that its authors have inadvertently outlawed practically all Halloween costumes in their zeal to punish cultural appropriation, which isn't even a bad thing that should be discouraged in the first place.

Can I dress up as Ramsay? He's a character, after all, and I wouldn't want to appropriate Westerosi culture.

Black Votes Matter: The New Fifth Column


(image) One of my very favorite comedians on the Red Eye circuit is Andrew Schulz, co-conspirator of The Brilliant Idiots podcast. In the continued truancy of Hollywood Mike Moynihan, Schulz filled out the Triangle of Truthiness in the latest edition of The Fifth Column. He talked about getting turfed by Jerry Seinfeld, comedying about race as a New York white boy, and getting jumped on the Upper East Side back before the Big Apple was the safest big city in America.

Other questions addressed this week: Did Gary Johnson blow his chance? Why and when did the black vote go 90 percent Democratic? Is it possible to talk for 15 minutes about a racism documentary I've never seen? Will Kmele Foster find some way to criticize that ballyhooed Saturday Night Live sketch? I also do some ranting about James O'Keefe's latest duck video, Schulz disputes the pharmacological sameness of meth and Adderall, and various swear words are uttered and pondered. Listen heah:

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Here are the locations at which you can download, interact with, recommend to your friends about, and write reviews of, The Fifth Column: iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play,, @wethefifth, and Facebook.

‘Highly Decorated’ Field Training Officer Kicks Prostrate Suspect in the Head


(image) A robbery suspect has filed a lawsuit in federal court over a kick in the head he received from an Allentown, Pa. police officer while on all fours on the ground. Attorneys for Hector Medina-Pena, who is suing, got a hold of video as part of the discovery in his criminal trial. One attorney called the actions of the officer, Joseph Iannetta, "absolute aggression."

The city disagrees. "The actions of officer Iannetta have been thoroughly reviewed by command staff and the solicitor's office and found to be appropriate under the circumstances," Allentown's city solicitor, Susan Ellis Wild, told the Call. "We look forward to the evidence in this case demonstrating that his actions were appropriate."

In a statement to the Washington Post, Wild called Iannetta, who has worked for the department for 14 years, a "highly decorated" police academy instructor with "training far above and beyond the required training."

"Get your fucking hands up," an officer is heard screaming at Medina-Pena, followed by "get down on the fucking ground," and later, "get down on the ground or I'm going to fucking shoot you." Medina-Pena then dropped to the ground and got kicked in the head. Ianetta's kick broke Medina-Pena's jaw and sent him to the hospital for three days, according to the lawsuit, which also claims the officer kneed Medina-Pena in the back of the head, smashing his face into the road.

The lawsuit alleges city officials failed to properly train Iannetta and other officers and allowed misconduct to become part of the police department's customs and policies. According to the lawsuit, Iannetta was the subject of more than a dozen investigations related to violence in the last decade, and the subject of a 2013 federal lawsuit that the city settled in September for $350,000.

Medina-Pena was in an SUV that matched the description of a getaway vehicle in an armed robbery. He was seen on surveillance camera breaking mirrors in the bathroom of the establishment before it was robbed. According to the Call, the other three men were released when they said they didn't know anything. Medina-Pena's lawsuit claims police found no weapons or other contraband on him.

Watch a portion of the video below:

The Dumbest Attack on Clarence Thomas You'll Read Today


Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court 25 years ago this month. To mark the occasion, Thomas's jurisprudence has been examined by journalists, praised by admirers, and assailed by critics. Foremost among the critics is Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker. Toobin's dislike of Thomas is well known. Also well known is the fact that Toobin has a bad habit of disregarding the truth when it comes to writing about Thomas. For instance, in February 2014 Toobin labelled Thomas an "embarrassment" because the justice was supposedly half-asleep most of the time on the bench. "His eyelids look heavy," Toobin wrote. "Every schoolteacher knows this look. It's called 'not paying attention.'" That false description was promptly challenged by court-watchers of various ideological stripes, all of whom agreed that Toobin was full of it. In reality, Thomas is often quite energetic during oral arguments. He doesn't ask questions (well, he mostly doesn't ask questions), but he does actively confer with his neighboring justices, particularly Justice Stephen Breyer, and sometimes, according to Thomas, he even suggests the questions that Breyer and other justices do ask. In other words, Toobin's nonsense was debunked. Toobin's latest critique of the conservative justice is titled "Clarence Thomas' Twenty-Five Years Without Footprints." According to Toobin, Thomas has left no "footprints" on the Court because he "has never been assigned a landmark opinion." Thomas is a "radical" and a "court of his own," Toobin charges. "After years at the periphery of the Court, Thomas looks destined to serve out his term at the even more distant fringe." This is a pretty dumb argument, even by Toobin's standards. As any student of the Supreme Court could tell you, some of the most influential justices in American history never wrote a majority opinion in the area of the law in which they ultimately had the most influence. Those particular justices tended to write in dissent—or wrote lone concurrences—yet their arguments slowly but surely moved the Court in their preferred "radical" direction. For example, consider liberal hero Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Holmes penned many opinions during his three decades on the Court, but the one that is cited again and again as proof of his wisdom and influence is his solo 1905 dissent in Lochner v. New York, the famous case in which the majority overruled a state economic regulation on the grounds that it did not serve the health or safety of the public and violated the constitutional right to liberty of contract secured by the 14th Amendment. "I think that the word liberty in the Fourteenth Amendment is perverted," Holmes declared, "when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion." Holmes wanted the regulation to be upheld. In 1905 Justice Holmes was on the Court's "fringe" when it came to the judicial protection of economic liberty. But Holmes's interpretation found its audience among the assorted politicians, lawyers, intellectuals, and activists who comprised the burgeoning Progressive and New Deal movements. (In the moist words of New Deal adviser and future SCOTUS Justice Felix Frankfurter, Holmes "is led by the divination of the philosopher and the imagination of the poet.") In time, t[...]