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Updated: 2018-04-23T00:00:00-04:00

 



In New York, Blight Is Whatever Officials Say It Is

2018-04-23T06:00:00-04:00

Eminent domain abuse has reared its head in East Harlem. New York City officials plan to seize a family-owned dry cleaning business, raze the buildings, and hand the forcibly vacated land to a private developer.

City officials insist that the property is "blighted," the condition of severe disrepair required to trigger a taking under state eminent domain law. But as Damon Bae, whose parents opened Fancy Cleaners after immigrating from Korea in 1981, told the New York Daily News, "the only 'blight' was in the [city-owned] vacant lots the city allowed to sit empty" nearby. In other words, the local government created the very conditions it is now using as a pretext for seizing the property.

Unfortunately for the Baes and others like them, the U.S. Supreme Court rubber-stamped a similar land grab in 2005's Kelo v. City of New London decision.

New York's highest court—the Court of Appeals—did the same in 2009, when it ruled 6–1 to let the state seize property on behalf of a basketball arena and luxury apartment project in Brooklyn. In that case, state officials described the 22-acre project site as "blighted," thereby setting the stage for bulldozers to clear away homes and businesses. Their evidence for the claim? Such factors as "weeds," "graffiti," and "underutilization."

What's worse, the court basically admitted the whole thing was a sham. "It may be that the bar has now been set too low—that what will now pass as 'blight,' as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses," the majority said in Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. "But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts."

In his lone dissent, Judge Robert Smith blasted his colleagues for abdicating their judicial duty. "The right not to have one's property taken for other than public use is a constitutional right like others," he wrote. "It is hard to imagine any court saying that a decision about whether an utterance is constitutionally protected speech…is not primarily a judicial exercise."

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Expect Trump's North Korea Talks To Be Fruitless

2018-04-23T00:01:00-04:00

Donald Trump says that if his meeting with Kim Jong Un "is not fruitful," he will "respectfully leave the meeting." My advice would be to wear his walking shoes, because he will probably be taking a hike. Anytime two enemies sit down to resolve their differences peacefully rather than through war, hopes rise that reason will prevail and compromise will emerge. On Twitter, Trump assured everyone, "Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!" It's tempting to think that his combination of insults, threats, and economic pressure has caused the North Koreans to see the error of their ways. But negotiations are often a tedious exercise in killing time. Often one side is not willing to meet halfway. Often neither is. These are likely to yield a meager harvest. North Korea began pursuing nuclear weapons some three decades ago. It agreed in 1994 to freeze its nuclear program but cheated on the deal. In 1999, it accepted a moratorium on long-range ballistic missile tests, only to lift it in 2006. Since then, it has conducted nuclear tests, and it is believed to have some 60 nuclear weapons. It has also tested a variety of missiles, including one capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Through all this time, efforts by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama failed to persuade Pyongyang to renounce nuclear weapons. Why isn't Trump likely to succeed? The first reason is that nuclear weapons are the ultimate security guarantee. After the U.S. missile strike against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, super-hawk Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Bashar Assad had learned the hard way that "weapons of mass destruction won't create a military advantage" and "Kim Jong Un might want to learn the easy way." Kim undoubtedly reached a different conclusion—that the U.S. felt free to attack because Assad lacks nukes. The strike is bound to have reinforced his belief that he can't afford to give up his most potent arms. If Saddam Hussein had been able to acquire nuclear weapons, he would still be in power, not dead from a hangman's noose. Kim has generously agreed not to rule out the complete denuclearization that the administration demands. But that's a long way from signing up for it. He may be willing to place some limits on his nuclear arsenal or his missile tests, but such a modest outcome would be hard for Trump to accept. The second reason to expect failure is that Trump has indicated we can't be trusted. Under the Obama administration, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure and submit to a strict inspections regime. U.N. inspectors have repeatedly affirmed that Iran is complying with the terms. Yet Trump, his national security adviser, John Bolton, and his nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, all detest the accord. The president said in January that if the Iranian agreement isn't amended to his satisfaction—which is unlikely—he'll abandon it. He has until May 12 to decide whether to continue waiving U.S. sanctions on Iran, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker predicted last month that he won't. The lesson for North Korea is that even if one president agrees to certain obligations, the next one may renege. In any case, Trump will have to confront an unpleasant prospect in the talks with North Korea. Kim is not about to trade a cow for a bag of magic beans. Getting him to surrender something the North Koreans value so highly and have invested so much to achieve would require comparable concessions on our part. What might those be? It wouldn't be enough for the U.S. to lift economic sanctions, normalize relations, and guarantee the security of the regime—all of which would be hard for the administration to swallow. The North Koreans say they won't demand that we withdraw all our troops from the South, but they could insist on such deep cuts that we might as well be gone. Whatever we get from North Korea, we can expect to pay for in full. Trump may not be willing to bear that cost—or be able to persuade Repu[...]



In Defense of Cash

2018-04-22T06:00:00-04:00

On the evening of November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 500-rupee notes (valued at about $8) and 1,000-rupee notes would become "worthless pieces of paper" at midnight, no longer recognized as legal tender. The stated goal of his demonetization plan: to catch criminals. The government offered a brief window in which old notes could be swapped for new ones, with the idea that everyone from human traffickers to tax cheats would have to show up at banks with vast sums of money and confess their sins or lose the value of their cash holdings altogether. The costs of this scheme were large. At the time of the announcement, demonetized notes accounted for 86 percent of all currency in circulation. As George Mason economist Lawrence H. White has written, "A serious currency shortage immediately arose, with predictable consequences. Honest wage laborers in the huge cash economy went unpaid, honest construction projects came to a standstill, honest shopkeepers saw sales dry up, and honest businesses failed. Honest people wasted billions of hours waiting in queues to exchange old notes for the trickle of new notes." Growth in the country's gross domestic product fell from an annualized rate of 7.37 percent in the quarter prior to the announcement to an average annualized rate of 6.06 percent in the first three quarters of 2017. What's more, the program utterly failed to impose a levy on those conducting business in the underground economy. Lawbreakers did not find themselves stuck with worthless notes. Instead, the Reserve Bank of India reports that 98.96 percent of all demonetized notes were turned in during the months following the announcement. That is on par with redemption rates in Italy (99.15 percent) and France (98.77 percent) following the introduction of the euro—and in those cases users were given 10 years to convert their old money. The Indian experiment was a failure. Yet a group of politicians, academics, and do-gooders continues to dream about a cashless world where black markets would shrink and tax coffers would grow. Cash Is for Criminals In his 2016 book The Curse of Cash (Princeton University Press), Harvard economist Kenneth S. Rogoff makes what is arguably the best case for demonetization in America. He estimates that more than a third of all U.S. currency in circulation is used by criminals and tax cheats in the domestic economy and suggests the proportion is even higher for large denomination notes. Rogoff concedes that "crime will continue with or without cash, but for very good reasons, cash is a medium of exchange highly favored by the underground economy, and the underground economy accounts for a significant share of the demand for cash." Rogoff proposes eliminating $100 and $50 bills immediately. He claims few people use such large denominations in the domestic legal economy. As long as those who do are able to switch to lower denominations at little cost—and he says they would be—such a policy would be minimally disruptive. But it doesn't stop there: In Rogoff's scheme, most lower denomination notes also must go. This would take place over a much longer period, a decade or more. To promote the transition, the government might subsidize deposit accounts—perhaps through rebates to customers or direct payments to financial institutions—or require all paychecks to come via direct deposits. The smallest denomination notes could be left in circulation or, better still, replaced with coins—which are much heavier and hence less convenient for large transactions—to leave some limited scope for financial privacy. This proposal promises to deliver significant gains from reducing crime and tax evasion while imposing few costs on those operating in the legal domestic economy. Who wouldn't want that? Indeed, the idea has launched a formidable coalition in the Better Than Cash Alliance, with the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates [...]



After All This Time, Barbie Still Draws Some Feminists' Ire

2018-04-21T10:00:00-04:00

Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie. Hulu. Available Friday, April 27. At the rate millennials discover previously unknown anatomical flashpoints like thigh gaps and sideboobs, you may well wonder if the tiny shoulders in the title of Andrea Blaugrund Nevins' new Hulu documentary on the Barbie doll are some new aspirational physical phenomenon for today's on-fleek sista. But actually, it's drawn from a comment by Mattel Inc.'s publicity chief, Michelle Chidoni, after another round of discordant arguments with feminist critics of her company's billion-dollar doll. "Feminism, and how a girl sees herself, and self-esteem for girls, to put all that on the tiny shoulders of an 11-and-a-half-inch doll, is quite a burden," says the exhausted Chidoni. It's a burden explored at delightful and occasionally poignant length in Tiny Shoulders. Nominally an inside look at Mattel's 2016 roll-out of several new chubby dolls (or, as the Mattel corporate-speak dictionary had it, "curvy"), Tiny Shoulders is really a history of Barbie and her feminist tormentors. And it turns out those tiny shoulders conceal some real muscle. Tiny Shoulders emphatically makes the point that Barbie was not devised by a cabal of male misogynists but a pioneering female toy-company executive named Ruth Handler who had detested her years as a housewife ("Oh, shit, it was awful!" she exclaims in a clip from an old interview) and was puzzled that all the dolls in the late-1950s toy marketplace were babies, as if little girls were interested in nothing but their future reproductive function. Handler's daughter and friends, she had noted, preferred to play with paper-doll adult figures, spinning little fantasies about grown-up life as they tried different dresses on the cut-outs. Why not create a three-dimensional version of those paper dolls, complete with (ka-ching!) lines of clothing and accessories? Mattel's male executives were uniformly horrified by the idea of a doll with breasts, and the engineers said all those tiny fingers and toes would be impossible. (They weren't entirely crazy; when the company began manufacturing Barbie, new machinery had to be invested to mold her feet.) But when Handler discovered Bild Lilli, a bosomy, foot-tall novelty doll sold in German tobacco shops, mostly to men ("I'm not quite sure what they do with her," one Mattel executive says, skittishly), Handler had her model. Mattel trimmed her bust size and de-beautified her a bit—Handler didn't want her looks to intimidate her 8-year-old customers—and by 1959, she was in stores. Barbie brought in $351,000 the first year, a pretty healthy sum for Mattel, then a mom-and-pop toy company. Within a decade, Barbie sales had ballooned to $500 million a year, and would eventually soar over $1 billion annually. Gloria Steinem, in a Tiny Shoulders interview, scornfully declares that "I am so grateful I didn't grow up with Barbie. Barbie is everything we didn't want to be, and were told to be." Which raises the question: "Who's this we?" In fact, little girls loved Barbie. Tiny Shoulders shows the giant stacks of scrapbooks holding letters and photos sent in by little girls anxious to share their Barbie adventures, many with inscriptions like "To my best pal, Barbie." They made it clear that the doll was being played with exactly as Handler had predicted, as an agent of their fantasies of the future. And that future was not, mostly, lolling around the pool at Barbie's Dream House while Ken went off to work each day. As early as 1963, Career Girl Barbie came dressed in a tweed suit, topped with a woolen cloche, the famous decolletage nowhere in sight. Miss Astronaut Barbie beat Sally Ride to space by 18 years. Nurse Barbie came along that same year, and by 1973 she had finished med school and become Surgeon Barbie. Barbie ran for president in 1991, when Hillary Clinton was still just an ex-first-lady of Arkansas, and had the good sense not to call anybody deplorable. "Barbie became things real wome[...]



Your Right to Eat Foie Gras

2018-04-21T06:30:00-04:00

Last week, Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes Reason) partnered with the Cato Institute to file an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the foie gras producers and sellers who are challenging California's awful foie gras ban. In March, the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to take up their appeal after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last fall reversed a U.S. District Court ruling that had struck down the ban. I agree with every single word in the Reason/Cato amicus brief. I should; I wrote it. Foie gras, a delicacy made from duck or goose liver, is produced using a process known as gavage, which involves fattening a bird's liver by feeding it a mix of fat and grain through a tube inserted into the bird's mouth. Animal-rights groups, which claim gavage is cruel—there's ample evidence they're wrong about that claim—convinced then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 to sign a law banning the force-feeding of a bird for the purpose of fattening the bird's liver. The California law, which regulates farmers not just in California but also in every other U.S. state and every country on the planet, took effect in 2012. The day after it did so, the plaintiffs in the present case sued to overturn it. I first wrote about foie gras more than a decade ago, when I visited Chicago during that city's own short-lived ban and attended a brilliant, multicourse protest dinner. (Foie gras for dessert? Yes, please.) I wrote about the dinner, ban, and protest in a lengthy piece for Doublethink. One of the paying guests at the dinner, a young chef, told me Chicago's ban had made the city "the laughingstock of the culinary world." Chicago soon repealed its ban, leaving California alone to carry the dubious mantle of laughingstock, a challenge the state never seems shy to embrace. California's foie gras ban is deeply flawed. I described many of its issues in 2012 column, and have written extensively on the subject in the years since. One of the law's very evident problems is that California, despite being more populous and powerful than any other state, is still subject to the federal Constitution. That means it has no authority to regulate interstate commerce. What's more, the federal government does have such power, and it's used that authority to regulate poultry slaughter and sales. "The foie gras ban isn't unconstitutional primarily because Congress has legislated in this area but because California cannot legislate in this area," I wrote in 2015. But that's just part of the story. The possible implications of a state animal-rights law that interferes with interstate and foreign commerce in animal products are already reverberating. Last year, in separate lawsuits, each brought by more than a dozen states, California and Massachusetts were sued over respective animal-rights laws in those states that similarly discriminate against interstate and foreign commerce. Together, the California and Massachusetts laws target eggs, pork, and beef sales. If it seems as if a couple states can do widespread and lasting damage to livestock farmers, retailers, restaurateurs, consumers, and food freedom across the country, then that's also the reality. That's also what makes this foie gras case so important. "My farmer clients' ducks are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine," said attorney Michael Tenenbaum, who represents the plaintiffs, in an email to me this week. "If, in spite of the authority given to USDA under principles of federal preemption, the Ninth Circuit continues to let California try to ban fattened duck livers, then there is nothing to stop from any state or city from banning chicken wings—or all meat and poultry products that come from animals raised for food." Tenenbaum is absolutely right. His point—that the foie gras ban is intended to be a foot in the door for future bans of even the most mundane animal products, from ground beef to chicken wings to pork chops[...]



Hate Traffic? Learn to Love Congestion Pricing.

2018-04-21T06:00:00-04:00

Americans waste a lot of their lives in traffic, with the average urban auto commuter spending 35 hours a year idling on highways during rush hour. The problem is getting so bad that some cities are beginning to consider a radical market-based solution.

Congestion pricing is a variable toll on drivers that rises or falls based on how many cars are on a stretch of road at a given time. The idea is to harness the power of the price mechanism to ration when and where people drive.

Higher tolls during peak hours push motorists to travel at different times, use alternative routes, or collapse multiple trips into just one—all of which cuts down on the time people spend driving. The revenue generated meanwhile can be spent on additional congestion-reducing projects, such as widening lanes or expanding bus service.

Already, Virginia is putting the idea to work to help relieve nightmarish levels of congestion around the Washington, D.C., area. The state introduced variable tolls on parts of Interstate 66 in December.

Other cities are looking at following suit. Seattle's new mayor, Jenny Durkan, has said she would be open to congestion pricing, and the City Council included $200,000 to study the possibility in its 2018 budget. A similar story is playing out a little farther south in Oregon, where Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has publicly floated the idea of putting tolls on stretches of Interstate 5. The state Department of Transportation is now holding town hall meetings to gauge the popularity of such a change.

In New York, the legislature is considering a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would impose a fixed $11.52 fee on any driver entering Manhattan below 60th Street. A close cousin of congestion pricing, this type of "cordon pricing" is already in use in a number of cities around the world, including London, Singapore, and Stockholm.

Despite growing openness, congestion pricing faces an uphill battle. People generally don't like having to pay for things they were until recently getting for free. Commuters often balk at the idea of coughing up cash to drive on public roads—even as they're the ones who shoulder the costs of wasted hours in traffic and higher gas taxes absent tolls.

Politicians also threaten to blunt the effectiveness of congestion pricing by making politically expedient carve-outs. Virginia has exceptions for government vehicles and two-person carpools, while Oregon and Seattle officials have said any congestion pricing scheme must exempt poorer drivers.

If open roads are the goal, however, policy makers can do no better than the dynamic prices offered by unfettered congestion rates.

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Movie Review: I Feel Pretty

2018-04-20T00:00:00-04:00

As one of the dozen or so people who liked last year's Amy Schumer film, Snatched, I wish I could muster more enthusiasm for her new one. I Feel Pretty tells the story of a New Yorker named Renee Bennett—a Website worker for a high-end cosmetics company—who is depressed by the fact that she's fat and unattractive. Then she falls and hits her head during a SoulCycle spin class, and when she comes to, she's convinced that she's beautiful. Nothing physical has changed—she looks exactly the same—but she has a sudden new self-confidence that changes everything about the way she interacts with the world. If it need be pointed out, Schumer is hardly "unattractive," and I don't think she's "fat"—although she's obviously uncowed by the images of chic emaciation that pummel women at every cultural turn. (In a couple of scenes, she blithely invites comparison to the goddessy Emily Ratajkowski, who has a small role as a gym patron.) In the first half of the movie—before it wobbles off the rails—Schumer plays the female social plight for poignant comedy. On a dating site Renee finds nothing but rejection. In a clothes store, she finds nothing in her size and is advised by a contemptuous attendant to try shopping online. Contemplating her body in a mirror brings her almost to tears. And we hear her wondering what it must be like to be "undeniably pretty"—a melancholy turn of phrase. After the fortuitous spin-class accident, Renee decides to take charge of her aimless life. She's had it with her menial job in a cramped Chinatown workspace. Now fueled by a new fearlessness, she marches into her company's model-strewn midtown headquarters, all but demands a position as the office receptionist, and starts making herself indispensable to loosely wrapped CEO Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams, owning every scene in which she figures). Avery, who suggests a hummingbird hooked up to a Valium drip, is preparing to launch a new downmarket line of cosmetics for the masses, and she thinks the clearly downmarket Renee can provide some useful marketing guidance. Which she can, and does. Soon she's being groomed for higher things. Does any of this sound familiar? A dozen years ago, in The Devil Wears Prada, another frumpy duckling, played by Anne Hathaway, was likewise transformed by an entry-level job in the fashion world. Cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, who shot that movie, also shot this one, and its crisp corporate offices and cobbly downtown street scenes create a similar visual texture. But these echoes of the earlier film do no favors for I Feel Pretty—they only recall Prada's superior craft and its unique charm. The movie is undone by its script, written by rom-com specialists Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who also directed. They've provided Renee with two cliché friends (Busy Philipps and Aidy Bryant) whose function is mainly to watch poutingly as their pal is lured away by the fashionable snoboisie, and later to hammer home to her the inevitable lesson that what's really important in life isn't beauty, it's being your very best you. In addition to these two trite characters, there's also a long barroom bikini contest, complete with wet t-shirt, that goes on too long when it shouldn't be going on at all. Much more of a problem is a scene about midway through the film in which Renee enters a restaurant to rendezvous with a mild-mannered guy she recently met (Rory Scovel). They spot each other across the room at the same time—each one of them looking straight at the other—and then Renee whips out her phone to send a text telling the guy that she's still at work and won't be coming to this place where she clearly already is. This is a baffling narrative lapse, and you wonder how the picture can possibly recover. Turns out it can't. Schumer herself is lively and likable throughout the film, but she's unable to surmount its puddle-of-goo ending, [...]



California Pension Bills Are Sensible Fixes, but They Have Little Chance of Passing

2018-04-20T00:00:00-04:00

The California Public Employees' Retirement System's report released last week touts all of the pension fund's good news, which it says "has built a solid path forward for the long-term future of the fund." But as longtime pension reporter Ed Mendel pointed out in his recent blog, the pension fund's future is still quite troubled. Apparently, myopia reigns at CalPERS. Consider this fact, raised by Mendel: Despite earning more than double its predicted returns during a bull market last year, CalPERS' funding levels only increased by a blip, from 67 percent to a meager 71 percent of the funds needed to pay its future costs. Pension experts say that 50 percent funding is the likely point of no return—if a pension fund's assets fall below that level it will be nearly impossible to ever recover to a healthy funding level. Meanwhile, California cities continue to struggle with service cutbacks as CalPERS wallops them with increasing fees. The term is "crowd out" as cities cut "core services, including higher education, social services, public assistance, welfare, recreation and libraries, health, public works, and in some cases, public safety" to pay their CalPERS bills, according to a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research report last October. CalPERS isn't facing the death spiral of, say, New Jersey's pension funds, which are funded at a frightening 31 percent. But the problem should not be taken lightly. The stock market is at record heights. If there's a downturn—and, as Gov. Jerry Brown likes to point out, there always are downturns—local budgets, the state budget and retiree earnings could all be at risk. Enter state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa). Best known for predicting the 1994 Orange County bankruptcy, Moorlach has introduced four relatively modest pension reform bills that could help CalPERS get control of its liability problem. They are scheduled for an April 23 hearing in the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee. They have little realistic chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled, union-friendly Legislature—but it's still worth proposing sensible, constructive measures to highlight the extent of the state's pension problem. When the problems become too severe to ignore, at least CalPERS and legislators will know what approaches they have available to tackle the mess. Senate Bill 1031 would "amend California Government Code to temporarily freeze cost of living adjustments (COLAs) when a public retirement system investment fund drops below an 80 percent funded status," according to the senator's office. That is a simple approach to ballooning pension costs. California public-employees already receive exceedingly generous pension benefits. It's absurd to keep giving them raises given the fiscal situation. Senate Bill 1032 is more complex but potentially more significant. It should be called the Terminator bill because it would, well, terminate something known as the Terminated Agency Pool, or TAP. Currently, CalPERS invests all its retirement contributions in a general pool that has a predicted rate of return of 7 percent annually (down from 7.5 percent). The higher the predicted return, the lower the predicted funding problem. Most experts believe that return rate has been set too high over the long term despite the great returns from last year. However, when a government agency shuts down, as something called LA Works has done, or chooses to exit CalPERS because it can no longer afford to make CalPERS' payments, the pension fund sticks them in a separate pool. That pool, the TAP, has a low-risk expected rate of return of 2 percent. In the general pool, taxpayers are on the hook for any shortfalls. When agencies unlock themselves from CalPERS' golden handcuffs, only CalPERS is responsible for paying them off. So the fund assumes a return that is basically a risk-free return[...]



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



Forcing Restaurants to Pay Servers More Will Cost Everyone

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

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



How We Lost Privacy

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

The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America, by Sarah E. Igo, Harvard University Press, 540 pages, $35 A couple of years ago, I went to dinner at the Seattle Space Needle. To my surprise—I was over 30—the waiter asked to see ID when I ordered wine. I hadn't brought my purse from the hotel, so I had nothing with which to prove my age. In retrospect, this probably saved me from a $100 bar tab at their prices, but at the time I was annoyed. Although we aren't officially required by law to carry identification, in practice it is necessary to get through many interactions. This has become increasingly true over time. As a teenager I bought booze without problems. I can also recall being able to fly domestically without showing ID. I still often go out with nothing but some cash in my pocket. Nonetheless, like all of you, I leave a paper trail of account numbers, credit scores, and biometric photos wherever I go. In The Known Citizen, a highly readable new history of privacy in America, the Vanderbilt historian and legal scholar Sarah Igo offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged. When future Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis conceived of privacy as a "right to be left alone" in the Harvard Law Review in 1890, he meant a right to be free from intrusive media attention. The state's attentions were less of a concern to him. The inflection point, the time when privacy advocates focused their attention on the federal government, was the New Deal. Social Security numbers presented a major issue for anyone who saw government registration as an infringement of civil liberties. But as Igo shows, linking Social Security clearly with the benefits to be garnered from registration turned most citizens in favor of the idea. Being enrolled in Social Security showed that one was gainfully employed, an upright citizen. In the early days of the system, some people even chose to have themselves tattooed with their number. The government promised that the numbers would be used only for Social Security purposes, but they soon crept into different federal agencies' files, becoming, just as skeptics had feared, a general means of identifying citizens. Since the 1980s, Social Security numbers have been widely issued at birth; an entire generation of Americans have now lived their entire lives with open federal files. As the public became more relaxed about Social Security numbers, privacy concerns shifted elsewhere. After the Second World War, Americans pursued privacy in the form of the single-family home in the suburbs. Children would have their own bedrooms; the nuclear family would be free from extended relations and lodgers. But to some people's disappointment, the suburban ideal didn't free everyone from snooping neighbors. Away from the anonymity of cities, residents sometimes found themselves under more surveillance, subject to social censure for transgressing community norms. Expectations of privacy in the home are also culturally freighted, to a degree Igo doesn't fully cover. Northwestern European architecture (which was imported to the U.S.) tends to have houses with windows facing the street, allowing others to see in as the occupants see out. In much of Holland, it was traditional not even to have curtains, such was the literal transparency of good Protestant living. This is very different from the cloistered, courtyard-based styles of southern Europe and parts of Asia, where passers-by can see nothing of a house's interior. Adjusting to American norms of domestic privacy was part of an immigrant's assimilation. Anxiety in this space ran high in the 1960s with concerns about wiretap[...]



Trump's Strange Appeasement of Putin

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

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is used to being surrounded by diplomats representing murderous regimes, has found out the most dangerous place for her to be: between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. In a TV interview Sunday, she said the administration would shortly impose additional sanctions on Moscow for its role in Syria's chemical weapons program. The president was watching and "yelled at the television," reports The New York Times. The next day, the White House said it would not add to the sanctions because the president would "like to have a good relationship" with Russia. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow attributed the apparent reversal to Haley's "momentary confusion." She could have done the country a service by resigning to protest the administration's vacillating on Russia and lying about her. Instead, she tartly rebuked Kudlow: "With all due respect, I don't get confused." Kudlow then admitted that the policy had changed overnight. Trump takes pride in his self-image as a tough guy. When a protester disrupted a rally, he said, "I'd like to punch him in the face." After the Parkland shootings, he said he probably would have run in to confront the killer, even without a gun. He's always putting foreign leaders in their place. He's slapped the Chinese with tariffs and said he would welcome a trade war. He's threatened North Korea with destruction. He's denounced the "brutal and corrupt Iranian regime." Allies are not exempt from his ire. Trump has yelled at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, slammed British Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter, and derided German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy as "insane." Mexico, South Korea, and Japan often get treated rudely. But when it comes to Putin, Trump doesn't come across as fierce or demanding. He comes across as scared. Why is not clear. It may or may not come to light that Trump and his campaign conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election. A video of him consorting with prostitutes in Moscow may or may not emerge. But what we know already is that he practically grovels before Putin. During the campaign, he said over and over that Putin had been "very nice" to him. He praised Putin as "a strong leader." Strangest of all, he complained about Hillary Clinton's stance on Russia: "She shouldn't be talking so tough." This approach was at odds with Republican policy for the previous century. The GOP always regarded Russia as a dangerous rival, if not an enemy, that has to be dealt with firmly and skeptically. Trump doesn't see it that way. He has resisted doing anything that might offend Putin. This isn't because Russia has pulled out of Crimea, abandoned Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, cut back its military, or tried to ease tensions with our NATO allies. In fact, Putin has done the opposite. He even showed a video depicting a Russian missile attack on Florida. Not least important, the Russians interfered in the 2016 election—which Dick Cheney said could "be considered an act of war." Shortly after taking office, Trump spilled secrets to the Russian ambassador. In a recent phone call, he congratulated Putin for being re-elected—even though he had been advised not to and even though the election was manifestly unfair. He also invited Putin to the White House. And this call happened after Britain accused Russia of poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter. The president has felt compelled to go along with some measures proposed by his advisers in response to Russia's aggressive behavior. But Trump has been reluctant. Though he was persuaded to provide weapons to Ukraine, he wanted it kept secret. He agreed to banish 60 Russian diplomats over the poisoning. But when France and G[...]



The Supreme Court Eyes Online Sales Taxes

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

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



These California Kids Got In Trouble for Playing La Migra, a Game Where 'Border Agents' Chase 'Illegal Immigrants'

2018-04-18T14:20:00-04:00

For decades, high school students have played a game called La Migra in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Benicia, California. It's a mix of cops-and-robbers and tag. Upperclassmen assume the role of border agents (the aforementioned migra) as they look for freshmen and sophomores, who assume the role of immigrants. The "immigrants" get a 10-minute head-start on la migra, who scour the town to find them. Everyone has one giant fiesta. And when the freshmen become seniors, they get to become migra, too! Who can possibly be upset by a game like that? Everyone, it turns out. Fans and friends started tagging me almost immediately on Twitter and Facebook when news broke. The story cropped up on The Drudge Report; local television stations interviewed "concerned parent" Daniel Serna, who compared the game to Nazis chasing Jews and the Klan lynching blacks (the correct historical corollary is the Texas Rangers against Tejanos, pendejo). School administrators sent a letter to Benicia parents vowing to crack down on the game. Meanwhile, the kids who actually played La Migra had no idea what the furor was about—to them, it was just an excuse to run around. My pals expected outrage from me. Instead, most of them got upset at my reaction: "Oh, yeah, I remember that game. It was fun! Kids still play it? Cool!" It's true. My friends and I played La Migra over 30 years ago as second-graders at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Anaheim. And so did my brother, who is 12 years younger than me. Cousins even younger than us played it. So did people older than me. We weren't upper-middle-class white kids like those in Benicia, but rather working-class Mexicans, almost all of us the children of immigrants, many of them undocumented. None of us were triggered; none of us called those who participated "problematic." Hell, we were more offensive than Benicia High: The only safe space for the immigrant team in our game was on the other side of a human wall that you had to break through. And we started the game with someone screaming "¡LA MIGRA!"—you know, just like in real life. We were boys and girls who knew all about the terrors of the Border Patrol—and we were going to have fun at their expense, dammit. The true offense of Benicia's La Migra is something the left doesn't like to acknowledge and the right can't even comprehend. The act of coming to el Norte without papers can be a fun adventure. Just ask my dad and his brothers. They came to the United States repeatedly as mojados ("wetbacks"—their word to describe themselves, not mine) from the 1960s through the 1980s, a Golden Age of illegal immigration. Those were the days when deportation was always imminent yet the state of California documented mojados by giving them drivers licenses and Social Security numbers, as if for a job well done. And the stories they tell! My tíos light up when they recall coyotes they paid, bushes they hid in, identities they assumed, all while evading the migra. My dad, in particular, loves to tell the tale of the first time he entered illegally, in 1968. He travelled in the trunk of a Chevy alongside his cousin and a stranger, while the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" blasted on the stereo (would've been better if it was "Ticket to Ride," amirite?). They each paid a blonde hippie girl from Huntington Beach and her assimilated Mexican-American boyfriend $50 apiece to drive them over the U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro. My dad and his brothers make illegal immigration sound like one decades-long Keystone Kops sketch, mixed in with some Three Stooges pratfalls. And it wasn't just them. For decades, Mexican culture hailed illegal immigran[...]



Relax—You’ll Probably Survive Until Tomorrow

2018-04-18T12:00:00-04:00

"Area Man Will Be Lucky to Live Until Tomorrow" sounds like a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion. But plenty of Area Men (and Area Women) could be forgiven for thinking just that. Americans often have a poor idea of the risks they face, and plenty of people seem to delight in keeping the public scared. Earlier this month The New York Times published an opinion column on "The Formaldehyde in Your E-Cigs." It noted that "in public health circles, people now tend to call [electronic cigarettes] by what they do: deliver nicotine. ... Thus, the term Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, ENDS for short, has come into vogue." But the author, an assistant professor of public health at Harvard, confesses that "I have a problem with that name. Nicotine isn't the only thing e-cigs deliver; they also deliver formaldehyde, a carcinogen. It seems equally fair to call them Electronic Formaldehyde Delivery Systems." This sounds bad. Awful, in fact. But while the piece notes that manufacturers are not intentionally putting formaldehyde in electronic cigarettes—the chemical forms as a process of heating the liquid in them—it never says just how much formaldehyde an e-cig delivers. The closest it comes is: "sometimes, a lot of it." But how much is a lot? Well, one of the studies the column cites found that formaldehyde in 10-puff aerosols generated from newer e-cigarettes ranged from 8.2 micrograms to 40.4 micrograms. Another study found up to 626 micrograms of formaldehyde per cubic meter of e-cig vapor. Fair enough. But formaldehyde is not exactly rare elsewhere. It shows up in significant amounts in vaccines: up to 100 micrograms in the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine given to children, for example. The FDA says formaldehyde has "a long history of safe use" in vaccines, and that formaldehyde "is also produced naturally in the human body as a part of normal functions." (It also says the cancer risk is highest "when formaldehyde is inhaled." Then again, "highest" is not the same as "high.") Formaldehyde shows up in foods as well. The American Council on Science and Health cites European research showing that apples contain as much as 6.8 milligrams per kilogram (one milligram equals 1,000 micrograms). Potatoes contain as much as 19.5 milligrams per kilogram. Should we then refer to vaccines and potatoes as "Formaldehyde Delivery Devices"? Before conservative opponents of regulating e-cigarettes start feeling superior, though, they should ask their friends on the right why they made Kate Steinle into a household name. Steinle was killed in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been deported several times, and she was turned into a martyr by opponents of sanctuary cities, of which San Francisco is one. Thing is, cases such as Steinle's are exceedingly rare. In fact, undocumented immigrants commit crime less than half as often as native-born Americans—and the homicide conviction rate for undocumented immigrants is 25 percent below that of native-born Americans. The homicide rate for legal immigrants is 87 percent lower. This suggests that one way (albeit a flippant one) to reduce violent crime in America might be to deport two American citizens for every immigrant, legal or illegal, who enters the country. Or take terrorism—reaction to which has given us the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, waterboarding, the TSA, police militarization, and domestic surveillance that makes Facebook's data harvesting look like the magic X-ray glasses they advertise in comic books. Yet how big is the terrorist threat to the average American? Vanishingly small: For the four-decade pe[...]



Dr. Helen Fisher on How Brain Chemistry Determines Personality and Politics

2018-04-18T09:47:00-04:00

If libertarians are bold, impulsive, quick witted, adventurous, analytical, and willing to ignore social norms, is that because we have especially active dopamine and testosterone systems in our brains? That's the hypothesis of the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who has developed a pioneering framework for classifying human temperaments. She categorizes her subjects by having them take a personality test that's used by online dating sites Match.com and Chemistry.com to better link potential mates. To date, her questionnaire has been taken by more than 14 million people in 30 countries. Barack Obama, according to Fisher, is high in dopamine, accounting for his optimism, and also in estrogen, which explains the Oval Office rug covered in inspirational quotes. Mitt Romney is in some ways the opposite of a libertarian, high on the serotonin scale, which accounts for his respect for authority, rigidity, and loyalty. Fisher is a senior fellow at the Kinsey Institute and she's the author of six books, most recently Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage and Why We Stray. She spoke at the Reason Foundation's annual donor weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida. Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein. "Sphunx" by Sk'p is licensed under CC BY NC ND 3.0 Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Helen Fisher: Anyway, I study the brain. I and my colleagues have put over 100 people into a brain scanner and studied the brain circuitry of romantic love, people who have just fallen happily in love, people who've been rejected in love, and people who are in love long-term. It's possible to be in love, not just loving, but in love long-term but you got to pick the right person. In 2005, a couple of days before Christmas, my phone rang in New York and it was Match.com. They called me and they said they wanted to meet with me two days after Christmas to talk. Nothing happens in New York City at Christmas-time so I was astonished and I walked into the room with them and 11 people piled into the room and I had no idea who they were. I thought maybe this was a think tank and there were other academics, I didn't know. Anyway, in the middle of the morning somebody, it ended up being the CEO, turned to me and he said, "Why do you fall in love with one person rather than another?" I said, "I don't know. With all kinds of cultural reasons that you do," but I began to think people will say we have chemistry or we don't have chemistry. Could it be that nature has evolved some natural personality styles that are drawn to one another? I began to think to myself that I would look into the biology of personality and see if I could understand the human mind. There's two parts of personality, there's your culture, everything you grew up to believe and say and think, and there's your temperament, your biology, your predispositions. I study your temperament, your nature. Epigenetics is the most important thing actually that's ever happened in my life. It's the combination of how these temperament and culture interact with one another, but basically I'm going to talk today about your temperament, particularly the temperament of the libertarian mind. There's all kinds of things that evolved. We now know that a good 40 percent to 60 percent of who you are comes out of you biology, and one of them is how you feel intimacy. Women tend to feel intimacy from face to face talking. We sw[...]



When It Comes to Taxes, the Government Always Wants More

2018-04-18T00:01:00-04:00

The cable bill was the last straw, says Kristin Tate. "That's the one that really made me mad." Comcast included $36 in charges for mysterious things like "utility tax" and "government access fee." That motivated her to research obscure taxes and put what she learned in a new book, How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off. Rip-off? Even limited government needs some taxes to fund basic functions. "Yes," says Tate. "But politicians are cowards. Instead of creating a tax, they magically create these little fees (so) they don't have to tell their voters they raised taxes." Voters don't often notice the sneaky taxes. Yesterday was "Tax Day." It was April 17 this year because April 15 fell on Sunday and Monday was Emancipation Day. But by calling April 17 "Tax Day," the media miss the big picture. Income taxes make up less than half the tax most of us pay. We also must pay payroll tax, corporate tax, gift tax, gambling tax, federal unemployment tax, gas tax, cable and telecom taxes, plane ticket tax, FCC subscriber line charges, car documentation fees, liquor and cigarette taxes, etc. People can't keep track. For my latest YouTube video, Tate asked people, "What's your tax rate?" Tourists in Times Square said that they thought they paid about 20 percent. But they left off the hotel taxes, airline taxes, etc., that push Americans' total tax load to almost 50 percent. When you pay those hidden taxes, you may assume they go toward useful things, but Tate knows her taxes pay for government waste. "Extreme inefficiencies, pensions that are to die for—these amazing salaries that these public workers get that are just laughably above market." New York City's average subway worker makes $155,000 a year. Politicians suggest their extra taxes go, not to fund those big salaries and "pensions to-die-for," but to pay for the specific services for which the taxes are named. Tate says that's rarely true. "Cable bills and cellphone bills both have an 'Enhanced 911 Fee.' Consumers were told 911 fees were necessary to make upgrades to emergency communication needs. (But) after it was updated, instead of taking away the tax, it just stayed there." Chicago doubled cellphone fees to fund its Olympics bid. The Olympics rejected Chicago—but the tax remained. Now Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to raise it again. More. They always want more. "New York City has an eight-cent 'bagel-cutting tax,'" says Tate. For some reason, unsliced bagels are not taxed. California has a 33 percent tax on fruit bought through a vending machine. Maine imposes a one-and-a-half-cent per pound tax on blueberries shipped out of state. Because these taxes sound petty, governments disguise them, says Tate, using "important-sounding language—like 'documentation fee,' 'service charge,' or 'equalization fee.'" But most of the money raised just goes to the general budget. "Wisconsin just renamed its 911 fee the 'Police and Fire Protection Fee,'" says Tate. "But actually, none of that money directly goes to fire or police protection. Instead it goes straight into the state's general fund." And they still can't fund the pensions the politicians promised government workers. Tate adopted two dogs and then learned that New York City imposes a $34 per year "pet licensing fee." "I won't pay it," says Tate. "I am technically breaking the law." She's braver than I am. I try to follow government's stupid rules. And if I broke them, I wouldn't announce it. I figure the IRS is eager to punish government critics like me. "I'm totally comfortable talking about that," said Tate[...]



Trump Wages War Wherever and Whenever He Wants

2018-04-18T00:01:00-04:00

The day before Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on three sites tied to chemical weapons production in Syria, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that the president needn't worry about getting permission from Congress. "He has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said, referring to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." That eyebrow-raising assertion—which seemed to suggest that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had helped Al Qaeda, his archenemy, crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—was striking evidence of Ryan's cognitive dissonance. He and most of his colleagues are happy to let the president do whatever he wants with the country's armed forces, as long as they can pretend that Congress is still ultimately in charge. As much as Ryan might like us to believe otherwise, last week's attack on Syria, which was a response to the Assad regime's use of chlorine (and possibly sarin) against rebels in Douma on April 7, had nothing to do with 9/11. By Trump's account, the 105 missiles fired from American, British, and French aircraft and ships were aimed at creating "a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," which he declared "a vital national security interest of the United States." Members of Congress may or may not agree with that assessment. But under the Constitution, which gives Congress the power "to declare war," it was their call to make. That, at least, was the position taken by Donald Trump in 2013, when Barack Obama was weighing a missile attack on Syria in very similar circumstances. "Obama needs Congressional approval," Trump tweeted back then. It turns out Trump meant Obama specifically, not the president in general, certainly not when the president happens to be Trump. But that double standard seems only fair, since Obama played a similar trick. As a presidential candidate in 2007, Obama declared that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." As president, Obama did that very thing, repeatedly. Mike Pompeo, at the time a Republican congressman from Kansas, tried to curtail Obama's unilateralism, opposing his unauthorized intervention in Libya's civil war and urging legislators to play "our constitutional role" by voting on a resolution approving the use of military force against Assad. Pompeo, currently Trump's CIA director and his choice to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, seems to take a different view of the president's military powers nowadays. "For a long time, multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to…take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval," Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing last week. "I don't think that has been disputed by Republicans or Democrats." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—one of the few legislators who has consistently demanded that the president, regardless of party, respect the constitutional limits on his powers—could not let that slide. "It was disputed mostly by our Founding Fathers, who believed they gave that authority to Congress," Paul told Pompeo. "The fact that we have in the past done this doesn't make it constitutional, and I would say that I take objection to the idea that the president can go to war when he wants, where he wants." Make no mistake: That is [...]



Stossel: Jordan Peterson on Finding Meaning in Responsibility

2018-04-17T11:30:00-04:00

Jordan Peterson is an unlikely YouTube celebrity. The Canadian psychologist lectures about things like responsibility. Yet millions of young people watch his videos, line up to hear his speeches, and buy his book 12 Rules for Life. It was number one on the Amazon bestseller list for a month.

John Stossel asks: What could make a book about responsibility take off?

"People have been fed this diet of pabulum, rights, and impulsive freedom," Peterson tells Stossel. "There's just an absolute starvation for the other side of the story."

The other side of the story, according to Peterson, is that "it's in responsibility that most people find the meaning that sustains them through life. It's not in happiness. It's not in impulsive pleasure."

Peterson instead advises: "Adopt responsibility for your own well-being, try to put your family together, try to serve your community, try to seek for eternal truth....That's the sort of thing that can ground you in your life, enough so that you can withstand the difficulty of life."

Many leftists hate Peterson. They attack him for saying people should be "dangerous." Peterson explains to Stossel that he means people should have the capacity to be dangerous, but control it.

"People who teach martial arts know this full well," Peterson says. "If you learn a martial art you learn to be dangerous, but simultaneously you learn to control it."

Advice about that, and responsibility, bring Peterson big audiences.

Soon: another Stossel video with Peterson—this one about gender differences and whether people are allowed to speak about that on campuses.

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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Facebook’s Use of Data May Annoy You, But IRS Handling of Your Sensitive Information Is Truly Chilling

2018-04-17T10:10:00-04:00

As we argue over the propriety of Facebook hoovering up personal (but not especially sensitive) information that users voluntarily gave to the social media company, it's a good time to remember that many of us are right now surrendering delicate details of our life to an even less trustworthy entity—the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—and we have no choice. Using a feature of Facebook that was abandoned in 2015, third-party apps were, for several years, able to compile fairly detailed profiles on users who installed them. Among other destinations, the information made it to political campaigns for use in targeted electioneering (variously characterized as innovative when the Obama campaign bragged about its tech savvy, and nefarious when it benefited Trump). This info-siphoning struck many people as creepy as hell (almost certainly why Facebook killed the feature three years ago), but it was based on freely surrendered data through a service that nobody was compelled to use. Anybody uncomfortable with Facebook's policies can just close their account (or creatively populate it with bogus info). By contrast, you can't just walk away from IRS demands for the details of your finances, your business, your property, and your family. The tax agency gets very pissy, indeed, if you turn up your nose at demands for information, warning that "the IRS may assess penalties to taxpayers for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline." Boris Johnson, when he was mayor of London (you, know, in the U.K.), was slapped with an enormous tax bill by the United States IRS because he was born in this country, though he left by the age of 5. The only way he was able to escape threats of arrest should he ever return to the land of his dimly remembered childhood was to pay the tab and then renounce his American citizenship. The purposes to which the IRS turns that extracted data are more chilling, too—and that's just if we're talking about the intentional funding of an ever-metastasizing state that exists to push you around and turn out your pockets to fund its efforts to become yet pushier. By comparison, targeted political messages at which you roll your eyes before scrolling by are nothing but minor annoyances. You have nobody to blame but yourself if you actually pay attention to those ads. But the IRS has a pretty impressive history of not just putting coercively extracted information to questionable uses, but also of storing it carelessly, leaking data through every possible conduit, and hiring employees who appear to only marginally prefer a career in tax collection over knocking over liquor stores. That is, it might be fun to see Mark Zuckerberg field a battery of ill-informed and frankly stupid questions from those members of our society diagnosed as senators. But it would be much more productive if a long line of IRS employees stood behind him, awaiting their turn. Ryan Payne, for instance could have taken a few moments to field some questions about the course of events that led the former IRS agent to plead guilty earlier this year to using other people's Social Security numbers—information acquired during business audits—while applying for a loan and a bank account. For their part, Della Ornelas and Randall Ruff could have delved into their long and mutual interest in combining tax collection with fraud—shared tastes that led them first to multi-decade careers at the IRS, to marriage, and then prison. Ma[...]



Your Lobster Leftovers Could Serve up a Substitute for Plastics

2018-04-16T12:00:00-04:00

The old DuPont facility off Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield, Virginia, doesn't look like ground zero for the next technological revolution. There's a welding shop next door and a lumber supply company a short walk away. Silicon Valley it ain't. But Richard Feldman, the director of public affairs for Mari Signum, the company that leased the place, speaks with an evangelist's fervor about what might happen there: a leap forward in materials science that could help solve the world's plastics problem. By now that problem needs little recitation. Because they are so useful for so many purposes, plastics are ubiquitous. About 300 million tons are produced worldwide every year, one-third of that for disposable packaging. But plastics are also an environmental scourge because they do not biodegrade. The price of plastics does not account for floating plastic islands in the oceans, microplastics ingested by wildlife, and other hidden (or not-so-hidden) costs—costs that will linger for decades, if not centuries. One study by the World Economic Forum contends that, given current trend lines, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean by weight than fish. If only some more environmentally friendly substance could take plastic's place. Of course, it would have to be biodegradable. And abundant. And easy to obtain—not to mention inexpensive. And like plastic, it would have to be able to serve a vast spectrum of functions, not just one or two. There is such a substance, Feldman says: chitin. Chitin is a naturally occurring substance, derived from glucose, that is found in fish scales, butterfly wings, and—of particular note—the shells of crustaceans such as lobster and shrimp. It is one of the most abundant materials on the planet, after the cellulose that makes up the cell walls of plants. Henri Braconnot, director of the Botanical Gardens at the French Academy of Sciences, discovered chitin (in mushrooms) in 1811. A decade later another scientist, Auguste Odier, found it in the exoskeletons of beeetles, and named it "chiton," from the Greek word for "tunic." Chitin (pronounced KITE-in) has generated technological interest for decades. "Insect and Fish Shells Can Be Converted Into 'Silk'; Berlin Chemists Discover Way to Make Threads And Film From Chitin," The New York Times reported in 1926. Six decades later, The Times reported on how "crab shells are being turned into a natural insecticide" by turning the shells into chitin granules. Today chitin or its derivative, chitosan, can be found in fertilizers, food processing, paint coatings, water filtration, wine-making, dissolvable stitches, wound dressings, and cosmetics. You can even buy chitosan at Walmart for its supposed weight-loss properties. Chitin owes its versatility to its broad array of properties: It is biodegradable, non-toxic (the EPA says "no risks to humans are expected when products containing chitin are used according to label directions"), and anti-microbial; chitosan is water-soluble. Being natural, it is environmentally friendly (again, the EPA: "Risks to the environment are not expected because ... chitin is abundant in nature"). The only downside is that, to date, extracting chitin from crustacean shells—where it is bound up with calcium carbonate, which makes it hard—has required a fairly toxic process involving chemicals such as nitric and sulfuric acids. But that is changing. A Scottish company called CuanTec—which, like Mari Sign[...]



A Civil Rights Movement for Corporations? Inside the 400-Year Struggle

2018-04-16T11:14:00-04:00

"The movement and struggle to win rights for corporations," says UCLA Law School Professor Adam Winkler, is "one of the least well-known yet most successful civil rights movements in American history."

An important chapter in that history came in 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to keep corporations from spending money on political ads right before an election. Many liberal advocacy groups were outraged over Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Last year, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D–N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D–N.M.) introduced a constitutional amendment that would overturn the decision.

In a new book, We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, Winkler challenges the conventional wisdom about Citizens United. He complicates the narrative about America's founding, too.

Interview by Paul Detrick. Edited by Detrick. Shot by Zach Weismuller and Alexis Garcia.

"Aourourou," by Blue Dot Sessions, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Blue_Dot_Sessions/Azalai/Aourourou
Artist: https://www.sessions.blue/

"Toothless Slope," by Blue Dot Sessions, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Blue_Dot_Sessions/Azalai/Toothless_Slope
Artist: https://www.sessions.blue/

Photo of Supreme Court: credit, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom
Photo of crowd outside Supreme Court: credit, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom
Photo of protest sign: credit, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom
Photo of protesters yelling: credit, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom
Photo of arrest: credit, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom

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Scott Gottlieb Is Not a Free Market Firebrand

2018-04-16T06:00:00-04:00

It's mid-December, and Scott Gottlieb is at the Harvard Club. The Manhattan Institute has invited a few dozen people for an intimate discussion about what's happening at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As they eat finger foods and sip cocktails, a relaxed Gottlieb meanders around the room sans entourage and snags the occasional pretzel stick from a platter. As a former think tanker himself—he was an American Enterprise Institute resident fellow for roughly a decade—these are his people. Everyone takes their seats. Gottlieb's old friend Peter Huber, an attorney and senior fellow at the host institute, is sitting right up front. Just a few years earlier, the two had partnered to argue the affirmative in a debate over whether "the FDA's caution is hazardous to our health." But now that Gottlieb is the head honcho at the agency, some libertarians who once considered him a fellow traveler are finding him a tough nut to crack. When the floor opens for questions, one is about his plan to require cigarette manufacturers to lower the nicotine in their products to a "minimally or non-addictive level." "You want to take the nicotine out of cigarettes," the audience member says, incredulous. "Do you also want to take the alcohol out of booze?" "The FDA does not regulate alcohol products," Gottlieb responds. "Well, thank God for that," the questioner says, before plopping into his seat. The exchange demonstrates just one of the ways in which Gottlieb is not the person many onlookers anticipated. When Trump nominated him to be FDA commissioner in March 2017, conservatives and libertarians applauded his record of advocating market-based health care reforms, while liberals bemoaned his financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry and predicted death and destruction. They were both wrong. Instead of a radical deregulator, he has turned out to be a cautious institutionalist, focused on ensuring that his agency lives up to its obligations without exceeding the limits of its authority. Yes, he is nudging the FDA toward streamlining its approval process and encouraging competition in the drug and device markets. But Gottlieb was never going to burn the FDA to the ground, and people who thought he would weren't paying attention to what he's been saying all along. Shill "Scott Gottlieb's fervor for deregulation could harm patients," warned a piece published on the health news site STAT shortly after his appointment. "Farewell to drug regulation? Trump nominates a 'bona-fide pharma shill' to head the FDA," complained a Los Angeles Times headline. Gottlieb really is a longtime critic of the agency. At the Manhattan Institute, he speaks with the same polish he's demonstrated in hearings before Congress, repeating some of his favorite mantras: The FDA needs to "think differently" when it comes to biologic therapies and medical apps; "speed vs. safety" is a false choice the FDA doesn't have to make. At times he seems to channel a seminal 2012 essay he penned for National Affairs, titled "Changing the FDA's Culture," in which he bemoaned the agency's "excessive desire for certainty" and its "mistrust of the doctors who eventually prescribe medicines and the companies that market them." Gottlieb has argued repeatedly for reforming the way the FDA handles many of its duties, in particular the approval pipeline for drugs and medical devices. His criticisms were rooted in experience: [...]



Americans Have a Dangerous Deficit in Trade Understanding

2018-04-15T08:00:00-04:00

I was chatting with my tobacconist the other day—I have no rabbi, no priest, no minister, no imam, no chiropractor, and no lawyer, but I do have a tobacconist—when it struck me that my trade deficit with him is astronomical. How could I have let this happen? For the nearly 20 years I have been patronizing his venerable establishment—nay, institution— it is I who has pushed money (make that plastic) across the counter. But not once has he pushed even a red cent to me. Come to think of it, this is also the case with Kroger, Walmart, McDonald's, and a variety of gas stations. See the pattern? The money moves in one direction only. What the hell is going on?! I realize that each time I gave those merchants my hard-earned dollars, I received things—but they were mere goods. Money is where the action is, right? Everybody knows that in any trade, it's the money side that wins. I think Donald Trump said something along those lines, and he wouldn't lie. He has a very fine brain—just ask him—so he couldn't be mistaken. Yet I have this nagging feeling my torment is misplaced. After all, no one forced me into those stores. Each time, I had an internal reason; in the case of the tobacco shop, it was my habit hobby. I wanted the pipe tobacco, groceries, double-cheeseburgers (keto style: no bun, no fries), and gasoline. Still, while I buy from those merchants week after week, none of them has ever bought a damn thing from me. Not once have they paid me to write or an edit an article for them. Not one time! But this thought keeps nagging at me: does it matter? Let's approach this from another direction. Whenever I buy from them, I transfer money to which I hold proper title. It wasn't a gift, so that means I'd previously provided services to somebody. The tobacconist doesn't buy my services, but someone else does. Meanwhile, the tobacconist spends the money I give him to buy other people's products and services. This suggests that when we abandon barter, what looks like two-sided exchange is really triangular, even though one of the parties is absent. In fact, the emergence of triangular exchange marks the move from barter to money. ("Hey, I know what I'll do. Even though I don't want this rice being offered for my products, I'll accept it in exchange because I know I can trade it to someone else for what I do want.") Maybe it doesn't matter, then, that those to whom I sell are not the same as those from whom I buy. I shouldn't care about any bilateral "deficit." What matters is just that I don't chronically spend more money than I bring in by borrowing excessively. But as is now evident, my "trade deficit" has essentially nothing to do with any budget deficit I might run up. I also don't see the point in "adding up" different people's trade situations in an attempt to a get "better" view of things. Let's say my next-door neighbor, Jones, happens to be a wholesaler who deals in pipes and tobacco, and during the year he happens to sell as much in dollar terms to my tobacconist as I buy from him. Do we learn anything important when we see that Richman-Jones has a perfect balance of trade with the shop? I think not. What if that's the case with my whole block, neighborhood, town, county, or state? Same answer. Who cares? Okay, then maybe this would be a problem: rather than buying things from anybody, the tobacconist invests the money he recei[...]



Silicon Valley's Dangerous Political Blind Spots

2018-04-15T06:00:00-04:00

When it comes to software, Silicon Valley understands the threat of monocultures. If 100 percent of computers run the same code and malware authors discover an exploit, 100 percent of computers will be vulnerable to the same attack. Fortunately, the way to reduce such risks is straightforward: Increase diversity. Alas, this insight seems limited to software. Technology executives have yet to fully recognize the risks posed by the potent political monocultures forming inside their own companies. We've reached the point where many tech employees in the San Francisco Bay Area who happen to be libertarian or conservative feel compelled to keep their views secret. Others, open about their opinions, report that they've suffered career setbacks for being insufficiently progressive, even as their outspoken left-of-center colleagues who spent 2016 sporting "I'm With Her" hats have not. Even some self-identified liberals are dismayed at what they view as a toxic monoculture. Tim Ferriss, a startup advisor and investor, moved to Austin after living for 17 years in San Francisco. "Silicon Valley also has an insidious infection that is spreading—a peculiar form of McCarthyism masquerading as liberal open-mindedness," he posted on Reddit in November. "I'm as socially liberal as you get, and I find it nauseating." This climate is unhealthy for employers as well. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple are increasingly likely to miss opportunities to develop products that can appeal to the half of the nation that cares little for left-of-center politics. That's created market opportunities for substitute services, from Gab.ai (a Twitter alternative) to Brave (a web browser), from InfoGalactic (akin to Wikipedia) to Voat.co (a chat board site much like Reddit)—each of which advertises itself as committed to protecting free speech, privacy, and a diversity of viewpoints. D.tube, a decentralized video sharing site, boasts that, unlike YouTube, it is "not able to censor videos" due to built-in technological constraints. For CEOs of billion-dollar companies who are famously paranoid about competition from upstarts, this is a remarkable unforced error. (Google employees are well aware that they occupy a campus owned by Silicon Graphics before its bankruptcy, while Facebook's headquarters used to be Sun Microsystems'. Mark Zuckerberg kept the old Sun sign around to remind employees of what their fate could be.) The current climate means that tech companies are likely to miss out on good workers who don't quite fit in. The brilliant nonconformists who helped to create the computing and internet industries—and launched the Burning Man festival along the way—would likely fail an initial human resources résumé screen today. Yet Silicon Valley has thrived in part because its history is populated by figures like Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand, novelist Ken Kesey and his LSD-fueled "Merry Pranksters," phone hacker Cap'n Crunch, inventor Douglas Engelbart, and the late Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow. Time was, the counterculture co-existed and even overlapped with conservatives and libertarians. Barlow, for example, was chairman of Wyoming's Sublette County Republican Party and a coordinator for Dick Cheney's 1978 congressional campaign. He also was a lyricist for the Grateful Dea[...]



Intervention: A Success Story!

2018-04-14T15:36:00-04:00

In light of President Trump's missile strike on Syria, Reason has put together a quick refresher on a few of our many questionable interventions in the Middle East.

In 1953 the CIA lead a coup against Iran's democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq. In his place America and Britain helped install a king. That regime came crashing down in 1979, and Iran has been suspicious of America ever since. The United States subsequently supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, providing both intelligence and arms to Saddam Hussein. Interestingly, Iraq's brutal dictator turned out to be a brutal dictator. We went to war with him during the early 90s and again in 2003. To the great surprise of the Bush administration, ousting the strongman has not transformed Iraq into a liberal democracy.

Similarly, when Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama bombed Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi, the vacuum of power invited more strife and violence.

During the Cold War the United States provided support to a group of anti-Soviet Islamist fighters in Afghanistan called the Mujaheddin. Their ranks included Osama bin Laden and they would eventually spawn the Taliban the United States would fight in 2001.

Our attack on Syria is just the latest development in a long series of American interventions in the Middle East and it's worth considering the rubble, chaos, and ally-cum-enemies that often accompany our adventures in the region.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton. Edited by Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton.


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What Should Have Happened at the Facebook Hearing

2018-04-14T11:10:00-04:00

Whether or not you like Facebook, it was hard to watch Mark Zuckerberg's congressional hearing without liking congress a lot less. In between the rampant showboating and clumsy soundbites, it became clear that a lot of legislators don't know enough about technology to competently regulate it. And even if they did, the federal government's track record on surveillance and privacy rights is less than sterling.

In the latest Reason video, we explore what we would have liked to see during Facebook's congressional hearing.

Written by Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton. Starring Bragg and Heaton. Produced and edited by Bragg.


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The Deep-State Liars of the #Resistance

2018-04-14T07:05:00-04:00

During his half-century spent defending Americans' civil liberties, here's what has changed, according to lawyer Alan Dershowitz: "Now conservatives have become civil libertarians, and liberals have become strong supporters of law enforcement, the Justice Department and the FBI," the professor and pundit said after dining with President Trump on Tuesday night. That snorting sound you hear? That's a thousand libertarians shooting coffee through their noses at the notion that the GOP is newly sympathetic to issues of law enforcement overreach and intrusive investigative tools. Republicans had an opportunity as recently as three months ago to rein in warrantless snooping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. What did they do? They voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize the practice for another six years: 191-45 among GOP members in the House, 43-7 in the Senate. It's unfortunate how wrong Dershowitz is about the Republican Party. But what's also depressing is that he may be right about the Democrats. In their efforts to oust a potentially lawless president, they are exalting a rogue's gallery of surveillance-state officials who have abused their power. Take James Clapper. The man who oversaw a vast surveillance apparatus as director of national intelligence under President Obama is now the toast of left-leaning media outlets including Salon, the Guardian and the Huffington Post for questioning Trump's "fitness to be in office," saying that Watergate "pales" in comparison to the current crisis, and quipping that Russian President Vladimir Putin treats Trump "like an asset." California Democrat Rep. Adam B. Schiff tweeted his Clapper endorsement last year: "James Clapper is a patriot who served his country for 50 years & knows dangerous bluster when he sees it. So yes, he's an authority on DJT." But as Schiff certainly knows through his work on the House intelligence committee, Clapper straight-up lied to Congress and the American people in March 2013 when asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) whether the National Security Agency collects "any type of data at all" on millions of Americans. "No sir. Not wittingly," Clapper replied. Three months later, after the revelations of phone logs and email data collected by the NSA made front pages, Clapper characterized his lame answer as the "least untruthful" way he felt he could respond. If Trump and his B-movie gang of hangers-on are eventually to be tripped up on a series of lying and obstruction-style charges, surely there are better character witnesses for the prosecution than a perjurer. It's difficult these days to get the latest #resistance news without encountering some of Clapper's partners in government malfeasance. One of MSNBC's latest contributor hires, for example, is former Obama-administration CIA Director John Brennan. Like former FBI director James B. Comey (coming soon to a bookstore near you!) Brennan is one of the more melodramatic voices on Twitter, delivering stern lectures to a presidential interloper who dares impugn our noble intelligence state. "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known," Brennan tweeted at Trump last month in a characteristic effort, "you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in[...]