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Updated: 2017-04-23T00:00:00-04:00


An Epidemic of Bad Epidemiology


Getting Risk Right: Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks, by Geoffrey C. Kabat, Columbia University Press, 248 pages, $35 Eating bacon and ham four times a week could make asthma symptoms worse. Drinking hot coffee and tea may cause cancer of the esophagus. South Africa's minister of health warns that doggy-style sex is a major cause of stroke and cancer in men. And those claims come from the health headlines of just one December week. The media inundate us daily with studies that seem to show that modern life is increasingly risky. Most of those stories must be false, given that life expectancy for American men and women, respectively, has risen from 71.8 and 78.8 years in 1990 to 76.3 and 81.1 years now. Apparently, we are suffering through an epidemic of bad epidemiology. When it comes to separating the wheat of good public health research from the chaff of studies that are mediocre or just plain bad, Albert Einstein College of Medicine epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat is a national treasure. "Most research findings are false or exaggerated, and the more dramatic the result, the less likely it is to be true," he declares in his excellent new book Getting Risk Right. Kabat's earlier book, 2008's Hyping Health Risks (Columbia University Press), thoroughly dismantled the prevalent medical myths that man-made chemicals, electromagnetic fields, radon, and passive smoking were significant causes of such illnesses as cancer and heart disease. His new book shows how scientific research so often goes wrong—and how hard it is for it to go right. Kabat first reminds readers that finding a correlation between phenomena X and Y does not mean that X causes Y. Nevertheless, many researchers are happy to overinterpret such findings to suggest causation. "If researchers can slip into this way of interpreting and presenting results of their studies," observes Kabat, "it becomes easier to understand how journalists, regulators, activists of various stripes, self-appointed health gurus, promoters of health-related foods and products, and the public can make the unwarranted leap that the study being reported provides evidence of a causal relationship and therefore is worthy of our interest." He offers some principles to keep in mind when evaluating studies. First and foremost is the toxicological maxim that the dose makes the poison. The more exposure to a toxin, the greater the harm. Potency matters greatly too. Often very sensitive assays show that two different compounds can bind to the same receptors in the body, but what really matters biologically is how avidly and how strongly one binds compared to the other. Another principle: Do not confuse hazard, a potential source of harm, with risk, the likelihood that the hazard will cause harm. Consider bacon. The influential International Agency for Research on Cancer declared bacon a hazard for cancer in 2015, but the agency does not make risk assessments. Eating two slices of bacon per day is calculated to increase your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from 5 to 6 percent. Put that way, I suspect most people would choose to continue to enjoy cured pork products. Kabat also argues that an editorial bias skews the scientific literature toward publishing results suggesting harms. Such findings, he notes, get more attention from other researchers, from regulators, from journalists, and from activists. Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring wrongly linked cancer with exposures to trace amounts of pesticides, the American public has been primed to blame external causes rather than personal behaviors for their health problems. Unfortunately, as Kabat notes, the existence of an alarmed and sensitized public is all too useful to regulators and other interest groups. He quotes an honest but incautious remark in the air pollution researcher Robert Phalen's 2010 testimony to the California Air Resources Board: "It benefits us personally to have the public be afraid, even if these risks are trivial." Kabat suggests that the precautionary principle—"better safe [...]

The Only Solution to the Trumps’ Conflicts of Interest


Pundits at CNN and other news outlets are much distressed over the report that Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessories company won trademark recognition from the government of China just as that country's president was sitting down with President Trump and the First Daughter for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. "Conflict of interest!" they protest. "Conflict of interest!" They then set off on an inquiry into how such conflicts can be prevented, an effort beset by a growing sense that nothing can be done about the problem. They are justified in that sense of futility because within the range of options they would consider acceptable, nothing can be done. Ivanka Trump is a federal worker, albeit at a salary of zero. But it would make no difference if she had no job in the White House because she would still be the president's daughter and that's not going to change. Any foreign leader—or anyone else, for that matter—who wants to curry favor with President Trump can easily calculate that doing something nice for his daughter at least can't hurt. After all, she doesn't have to be a Special Adviser to the President to be a special adviser to her father, the president. And if she is talking to her father about the country, her comments could be colored—even unconsciously—by her business interests. But even if they were not, Trump himself, who is famously a sucker for flattery and, presumably, for praise for his family, might be influenced by the kindness of strangers. So how can conflicts of interest be avoided? It would be unreasonable to demand that Ivanka Trump divest herself of her company and have no business interests: she does have rights. She no longer manages her company, but she still holds a stake, even if she has put her assets into a trust. Moreover, she also has resigned as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and sold her common stock in it. CNNMoney reported that her lawyer says that "Ivanka Trump has converted her stake in her father's company into fixed payments, which means she can't benefit from the financial performance of the Trump Organization…. At the White House, Ivanka Trump's role will be to advise her father and concentrate on issues related to women in the workplace, child care, parental leave and job training, [the lawyer] said." In another story CNNMoney reported that Ivanka's lawyer "said her client would recuse herself from certain policy matters, like trade agreements, that are specific enough to affect her line of clothing and accessories." But, as I said, this makes no difference whatever. People seeking Trump's good will might still think it advantageous to direct benefits to Trump family business interests. Even with her reduced roles, Ivanka Trump surely wants to see her company and the Trump Organization prosper. So we appear to be stuck with four to eight years of potential conflicts of interest. We'll never know if decisions coming out of the executive branch were ultimately influenced by conduct calculated to please Trump. But maybe all is not so hopeless after all. Recall that I said the pundit class knows no solution that it would regard as acceptable. That leaves open the possibility of a solution that is unacceptable to them. "Unacceptable," however, does not necessarily mean unreasonable. The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trumps' business empire. Rather it's presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests. So the surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president's power to steer benefits to anyone. This would include not only favors granted by executive action but also those that a president can push through Congress. Here we have an analogy with campaign finance. Those who fret over that issue don't want to understand that no one would make mega-contributions to candidates if officeholders had no favors to sell. Who shops where there's nothing to buy? By the same token, no one will do favors for a presidential daughter if the president has nothing to b[...]

Enforcement Looms of FDA's Menu Labeling Regulations


FDA enforcement of its absurd rules governing mandatory calorie menu labeling, passed in 2010 as part of Obamacare, is set to begin on May 5, after years of delays. In 2015, the FDA delayed implementing the rules until December 2016, after the presidential election. At the time, The Hill speculated that a new "Republican president could choose to scrap the rule altogether." That hasn't happened. Yet. But in December 2016 the FDA delayed enforcing the rules until May 5, 2017, which is the deadline that now looms. The FDA interprets its menu-labeling rules as requiring mandatory calorie labeling of most foods sold by "restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods." Owners of more than twenty vending machines must also comply with the rules. The rules would be a disaster. They'll cost at least $1 billion. And if they're grounded in science, that science is shoddy. The purpose of menu-labeling rules in general is to help consumers make smarter (read: lower-calorie) choices. But the very premise that mandatory menu labeling accomplishes this is flawed. Research demonstrates that menu labeling doesn't improve consumer food choices. That's something I first noted here in 2011, and which subsequent reports have also shown (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). So can the rules be stopped? Yes. Congress could act by repealing or amending the menu-labeling rules. Or food sellers whose First Amendment rights would be violated by rules that compel speech for no constitutionally supported reason could ask a court to halt implementation of the rules. Or the FDA could delay the rules from taking effect. Each of these is possible. But how likely are these outcomes? While the clock is ticking, furious efforts are underway to halt the rules. Earlier this year, Congress introduced a bill supported by the American Pizza Community, an advocacy group that includes pizza companies like Domino's and Pizza Hut. The bill, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would exempt most pizza-delivery companies and delay implementation of the menu-labeling rules by at least two years. A comparable bill passed out of the House last year but died in the Senate. While pizza makers are working in Congress, two other groups that oppose the law, the National Grocers Association and National Association of Convenience Stores, petitioned the FDA this month in an effort to delay or halt implementation of the rules. The petitioners argue compliance with the "unworkable" rules is impossible; that the costs of complying are exorbitant and far exceed FDA estimates; that the FDA exceeded its authority in adopting the rules; that the rules run afoul of the First Amendment; and that the rules are "inconsistent with the [Trump] Administration's agenda to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens on business." Pushing back against these efforts is the voice of the restaurant industry—the National Restaurant Association—a staunch supporter of the FDA menu-labeling rules. That stance might surprise some—if for no other reason than that it's got some basis beyond rent-seeking. "With more and more states adopting their own menu-labeling rules, the National Restaurant Association... sought a shield against this death by 1,000 cuts by pushing for one uniform national menu-labeling rule," I explained in a 2013 column. Will one or more of the aforementioned approaches succeed in stymying the rules from taking effect on May 5? Repeal seems like something Congress won't stomach. Consider that the GOP's ham-fisted attempts to repeal, replace, or rename (or whatever) the Affordable Care Act completely ignored the ACA's menu-labeling provisions. Amending the rules via the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act seems a more likely path. "[T]here's now been so much time and money sunk into the process that none of the [...]

The Decentralist


Human Scale Revisited: A New Look at the Classic Case for the Decentralist Future, by Kirkpatrick Sale, Chelsea Green, 359 pages, $24.95 Thirty-seven years ago, Kirkpatrick Sale set out to write a comprehensive compendium of the evils of things pushed far beyond their natural "scale," coupled with pungent arguments for why these baneful developments are destructively anti-human. The result, Human Scale, weighed in at a hefty-scaled 523 pages. The present work, Human Scale Revisited, is a slimmed down and updated reissue, adding a plethora of examples of things that Sale believes have run far beyond our ability to comprehend, cope, and pay for. Sale is an independent journalist whose ideological proclivities are difficult to characterize. Depending on the passage, he can appear as a Bill McKibben environmentalist, a Peter Kropotkin anarchist, a Wendell Berry communitarian, an Albert Jay Nock libertarian, and, now and then, a crypto-authoritarian. His other volumes range from SDS, the definitive history of Students for a Democratic Society, to Rebels Against the Future, a defense of the Luddite anti-industrial movement in England. His most recent cause has been to put forth the case for secession ("harmony through division") as a way to protect human communities whose values are threatened by rampaging bigness. The heart of Human Scale, then and now, is Sale's judgment that "to save our planet and its civilizations…we must work toward a decentralization of institutions, the devolution of power, and the dismantling of all large scale systems that have created or perpetuated the current crisis. In their place, smaller more controllable, more efficient, more sensitive, people-sized units, rooted in local environments and guided by local citizens. That is the human-scale alternative." Sale builds his case on what he calls the Beanstalk Principle: "For every animal, object, institution, or system, there is an optimal limit beyond which it ought not to grow." He ransacks history and human experience for supportive examples, many of them compelling. Among the thinkers he favorably cites are Aristotle, Lewis Mumford, Arnold Toynbee, Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Putnam, Thomas Jefferson, and Sale's mentor, the late Austrian economist Leopold Kohr. Of particular interest is Sale's no-holds-barred attack on governments grown too big, too costly, too corrupt, too invasive, and too prytanogenic—a Sale-coined Greek neologism meaning "damage caused by the state." "Guided by a liberal mania that government is able to solve all problems," he writes, "Washington's reach extends into virtually every nook of the society; where it does not control, it influences, where it does not dictate by virtue of law, it persuades by reason of power.…Beyond a modest size a government cannot be expected to perform optimally, and the larger it gets the more likely it is that it will be increasingly inefficient, autocratic, wasteful, corrupt and harmful." What is remarkable about this broadside is that Sale has been since college a man of the left. He has published in Mother Jones and The Nation (and also The American Conservative). But unlike the followers of, say, Bernie Sanders, to whom government in control is ever the solution, Sale is clear-eyed about what that would mean and wants no part of it. Indeed, he is even moved to observe that "the ascendancy and triumph of Donald Trump in the 2016 election was only the most recent demonstration of the antipathy to government that runs deep in America beyond the reach of all the do-gooding boosters and the high-pressure media to alter or cure." Big Socialism sucks, but Sale is equally scornful of Big Capitalism. As it has developed in practice, he argues, capitalism has put the advanced industrial societies into mortal peril through its roughshod exploitation and waste of resources, its "ecocide," its social burdens, its social irresponsibility, its instability, and its overgrowth. His alternative to global ca[...]

The Handmaid’s Tale Lands an Excellent Adaptation


Great News. NBC. Tuesday, April 25, 9 p.m. The Handmaid's Tale. Hulu. Available Wednesday, April 26. When The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's account of a totalitarian takeover of America by a religious cult that reduces women to breeding stock, first appeared in 1985, it was instantly acclaimed as a feminist 1984 that exposed the misogyny not only of evangelical Christianity but of men in general. In short order, Atwood's novel was adapted to stage productions, radio plays, a ballet, an opera, and a messy Volker Schlöndorff film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway. But the precise nature of Atwood's message was always a little more slippery than feminist critics let on. The Handmaid's Tale was written while Atwood was living in what was then still known as West Berlin, closely studying what was happening on the other side of the wall, and many of the novel's totalitarian devices (particularly self-criticism sessions in which women rip their own psyches to shreds at a brainwashing factory suggestively called the Red Center) are drawn from the playbook not of the Westboro Baptist Church but the Marxist regimes of the day. And the rigid class system of The Handmaid's Tale, in which some groups of women (particularly wives, daughters, and concubines of male leaders) were treated much better than male laborers seemed to mock male chauvinism less that the Soviet system of nomenklatura privilege. Then there are the anti-porn rants of the government apparatchiks in The Handmaid's Tale and their conflation of sex with rape, which sound suspiciously like the rhetoric of 1980s feminist groups like Take Back the Night. Was Atwood really stroking feminists, or needling them? That ambiguity remains in the latest and, by far, best incarnation of The Handmaid's Tale, the 10-hour miniseries that Hulu unveils this week. Though the three episodes Hulu made available for review lean somewhat more heavily on the tensions of resistance to a powerful totalitarian state, the show still seems to be firing potshots at targets all along the ideological and cultural spectrums. Certainly the feminist element is still strongly present. Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men stars as Offred—a contraction of the phrase "of Fred," connoting her status as the indentured sexual surrogate of Frederick Waterford (Josesph Fiennes), a high-ranking member of the ruling class of Gilead, the theocracy that has replaced the United States. What, exactly, led to the creation of Gilead remains largely untold, though there are references to a mass assassination of the U.S. Senate and vast toxic waste spills. (Whether the latter were contributors to or results of the government's collapse is unclear.) What is certain is that the new regime has imposed a strict caste system that is particularly brutal toward women. With female sterility rampant in the wake of the environmental catastrophes, the few women like Offred who are still capable of bearing children have been designated "handmaids," assigned to powerful men ("commanders") for a monthly session of joyless, clinical sex aimed solely at reproduction. However demeaning, the breeding is less hazardous than the ferocious jealousies of the wives of commanders, the domestic-servant Marthas, and even other handmaids, who are encouraged to spy on one another. One of the most horrifying scenes in The Handmaid's Tale is a Dante-esque tableau of handmaids chanting "Whose fault? Her fault!" at a gang-rape victim. Missteps are fatal: Either slowly, through reassignment to cleaning up toxic waste in the ominously named Colonies, or quickly, through impromptu hangings. The city bristles with dangling corpses of errant women, renegade Catholics and Quakers, and gay men, the latter chillingly referred to as "gender traitors." In a society so ruthlessly Stalinist in methodology if not ideology, so riddled with informers and secret police, resistance seems not just impossible but inconceivable. When Offred ge[...]

Scientists’ March on Washington


In the flush of excitement after the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington, someone in a Reddit conversation suggested, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington." Sensing that a march on Washington might sound too aggressively partisan, the organizers have now renamed the event the March for Science. That march will take place tomorrow, on Earth Day, which the coordinators somehow figured would be the perfect nonpartisan date on which to muster tens of thousands of scientists and their comrades on the National Mall. "We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely," warns the march's mission statement. "Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science." From whom do the marchers hope to defend science? Certainly not the American public: Most Americans are fairly strong supporters of the scientific enterprise. An October 2016 Pew Research Center poll reported, "Three-quarters of Americans (76%) have either a great deal (21%) or a fair amount of confidence (55%) in scientists, generally, to act in the public interest." The General Social Survey notes that public confidence in scientists stands out among the most stable of about 13 institutions rated in the GSS survey since the mid-1970s. (For what it's worth, the GSS reports only 8 percent of the public say that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, but at least that's higher than the 6 percent who say the same about Congress.) The mission statement also declares, "The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception." I thoroughly endorse that sentiment. But why didn't the scientific community march when the Obama administration blocked over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women under age 17? Or dawdled for years over the approval of genetically enhanced salmon? Or tried to kill off the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility? Or halted the development of direct-to-consumer genetic testing? One problem is that many of the marchers apparently believe that scientific evidence necessarily implies the adoption of certain policies. This ignores the always salient issue of trade-offs. For example, acknowledging that man-made global warming could become a significant problem does not mean that the only "scientific" policy response must be the immediate deployment of the current versions of solar and wind power. The mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship? As it happens, I received an email on Thursday from the publicist for Shaughnessy Naughton, who is a chemist, a cancer researcher, and the founder of the activist group 314 Action. Naughton's group is one of the March's 170 partner organizations. 314 Action's political action committee is recruiting scientists, engineers, and other technologists to run for political office, and it plans to provide them with the "resources they need to become viable, credible, Democratic candidates." The publicist informed me that Naughton is "available to discuss this weekend's March for Science in Washington, D.C., which will assemble scientists from across the country to rally against the Trump 'war on science.'" The headline earlier this week in the reliably left-wing Guardian makes no bones about the intent of the marchers: "Science strikes back: anti-Trump march set to draw thousands to Was[...]

Premature Babies Are Struggling to Breathe. Why Are Regulators Dragging Their Feet?


As a neonatologist, I worry about patients with pulmonary hypertension. This unforgiving disease, sometimes seen after premature birth, can end with sudden death from constricting blood vessels in the lungs. One minute a baby in the neonatal ICU may be sleeping comfortably; moments later, doctors and nurses are giving chest compressions and rescue medications. A pulmonary hypertension crisis, as these frightening episodes are called, starts with a drop in the blood oxygen level. That drop triggers a monitor to beep. It's up to the nurse to hear the sound, come to the bedside and take action. The first and most effective step in stopping a pulmonary hypertension crisis is simple: Give oxygen. But a nurse caring for another patient might be delayed for 30 seconds, and the loss of that time can lead to brain injury or death. In an age of self-driving cars and 400-ton airplanes that can land themselves in blinding fog, it makes no sense that hospitalized patients are surrounded by lifesaving machinery that can be activated only by a person pressing a button or turning a knob. Modern transportation augments human judgment and reaction times with a computer's superior ability to continuously respond to dozens of fluctuating variables. Yet in medicine, safety remains stubbornly reliant on human intervention. FDA regulation impedes innovation My patients with pulmonary hypertension are often attached to a respirator with adjustable oxygen settings. The respirator sits inches below the monitor that indicates how much oxygen is in the blood. But the two machines can't communicate with each other. If they could, it would be possible to increase the flow of oxygen automatically the moment a crisis is detected. In 2009, engineers developed just this kind of closed-loop respirator and introduced it in several hospitals as part of a feasibility study. It increased the time premature babies spent at a safe oxygen level by more than two hours per day. But no biotechnology company has marketed the idea. There are other examples of automated systems with unrealized potential to save lives, and not just in the neonatal ICU. Software that scans an ECG for subtle heartbeat variability can identify patterns—undetectable to the human eye—that indicate an elevated risk of heart attack. Hospital beds that play audible feedback during an emergency promote more effective CPR. Yet patients are not benefiting because neither of these tools has been commercialized. Why haven't these innovations attracted the industry backing necessary to make them widely available? One reason is that the process of getting FDA approval for new devices—particularly those deemed "life-sustaining"—is often even more complicated and expensive than getting approval for drugs. In the Journal of Public Economics, Harvard Business School professor Ariel Dora Stern recently described how FDA hurdles discourage companies from investing in innovation. Often, the more profitable strategy is to wait for someone else to spend the time and money required to get approval for a new device, and then enter the market later with something similar that will face less scrutiny. Dr. Stern estimates that regulatory obstacles add an average of US$6.7 million to the cost of introducing a new medical device. For a company developing an ICU monitor, for instance, that will ultimately sell for less than $35,000 per unit, this up-front commitment can be prohibitive. A consequence is that small biotechnology firms (with annual revenue less than $500 million) rarely gamble on getting new inventions approved. Dr. Stern's paper notes that less than 17 percent of novel device applications to the FDA come from small companies. This is different from new drug applications, the majority of which originate at smaller firms. What's behind this discrepancy? Research has shown that while companies pay a steep price for pioneerin[...]

James Altucher Found Himself by Losing Everything (and You Can Too!)


James Altucher has rebounded from personal catastrophe so many times in his 49 years, it's hard to imagine a more qualified evangelist for personal reinvention. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, Altucher made millions designing corporate websites, only to squander it all on gambling and a string of disastrous investments. "I was probably losing about a million [dollars] a week for an entire summer," he tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "I just made every stupid decision in the book."(image)

With $143 left in his bank account, Altucher contemplated suicide. "I equated my self-worth with my net worth," he says, "and I just figured there's no way I'm going to dig myself out of this hole."

Instead of self-destruction, Altucher created himself anew. He dedicated himself to learning about finance, reading over a hundred books about investing. He built a new career as a hedge fund manager, earning writing gigs at and The Financial Times.

The real estate crisis of 2008 wiped the slate clean. Finding himself with nothing to lose yet again, Altucher began blogging about his riches-to-rags-to-riches-again life story, eventually writing books—18 of them so far—for an audience that had felt the sting of the recession.

Crawling out of the abyss a few times has made Altucher wary of the American Dream. A Cornell and Carnegie Mellon graduate, he scorns higher education as an overpriced luxury. Home ownership is great for the banks, but a lousy deal for home owners. Hedge funds are a scam. He's never had credit card debt because he's never had a credit card.

In keeping with his philosophy of radical self-creation, Altucher's latest identity is a 21st century urban ascetic. He has pared down his possessions, discarding every item he doesn't need. He is determined that nothing get in the way of his chosen life, his best self. Today, he lives in AirBnB rentals and owns fifteen things that he carries in a small canvas bag.

Altucher's self-published book about the art of self-creation, Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream, charts his life story, detailing how he bounced back, time and again, from disasters personal and financial. Equal parts self-help manual, cautionary tale, and tell-all autobiography, Choose Yourself! challenges us to create the best version of ourselves through a constant process of optimism, authenticity, and hard work.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Krainin.


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Movie Review: Unforgettable


(image) Unforgettable is a generic but effective thriller of the scorned-woman-goes-postal variety. (Think Fatal Attraction, for starters.) It's the directorial debut of veteran producer Denise Di Novi, who has worked on a number Tim Burton pictures and a couple of cuddly Nicholas Sparks adaptations as well. Her interests would seem to range widely. Still, the sort of story we have here, with its gaudy view of female hysteria, is an unexpected place for such an accomplished woman to launch a directing career—especially since she doesn't seem interested in adding any new twists to this genre, which in the past has been the cause of considerable feminist aggravation.

Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) is an online-magazine editor who leaves her home in San Francisco to move in with her fiancé, David Connover (Geoff Stults, of TV's The Odd Couple), who lives in a super-swell house down in the SoCal suburbs. (Sensitive-hunk David is of minimal interest in this fem-centric story; he's saved from being a complete cliché by having left his Wall Street job to open a craft-beer brewery rather than yet another frickin' vineyard.) David shares custody of his 10-year-old daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) with his ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl), who, as Julia very soon learns, is a complete nutcase.

I know any mention of Heigl will set off sirens of alarm in many moviegoers, but she's given little latitude for annoyance here, being largely confined to a single facial expression of steely whack-job malice. With her overbearingly blonde hair and stiff demeanor, she suggests a walking icicle, and we're never in any doubt about what she'd be willing to do to get her ex-husband back. (Anything, right?)

It must be said that director Di Novi does allow us some insight into Tessa's sinister motivations, especially in a few scenes with her mother (a matronly horror played by Cheryl Ladd). But her demonstrations of the character's kinks are surprisingly cheesy. At one point, we come upon Tessa researching Julia on her laptop, making a juicy discovery, then leaning back in her chair to begin masturbating. In another scene, we find her seething with frustration and seeking release by mounting a horse to go for a good pounding ride.

The movie is mainly concerned with Tessa's cruel gaslighting of the sweet-natured Julia—who has one dark secret in her past, which Tessa deviously exploits. There's minor weirdness at first: Julia's engagement ring goes missing, along with a pair of her panties; then a large vase of flowers mysteriously appears on her front steps (just when Tessa is arriving for an unannounced visit, naturally). This is followed by the arrival of the last person in the world Julia wants to see. Whenever she tries to explain that she's being set up for something, though, no one believes her.

We know how this movie must conclude, in a general sense, and there's not a lot of surprise when it takes a left turn into slasherville (strongly recalling Fatal Attraction). It's a pretty well-done sequence, actually. And there's a cute little plot flourish at the end that might be the only thing you remember with an appreciative grin after this otherwise predictable movie is over.


Trump's 'Buy American. Hire American' Policy Is Dangerous Nonsense


"We don't have a level playing field for our workers," President Donald Trump told a group of workers in Kenosha, Wisc., on Tuesday. Truth is, if we were to ever level the playing field with countries like Mexico and China, the average American worker would be making $3 an hour and spending their pittance on third-world health care and decrepit housing. Please, don't level the playing field. When few things are going your way in politics, though, it's customary to return to rhetoric that made you successful. So, as Republicans have been unable to push forward on health care reform or tax reform—or anything not named Neil Gorsuch, for that matter—it is unsurprising that Trump would turn to protectionism as a way to bolster his political fortunes. On Tuesday, the president traveled to a tool manufacturing company in Wisconsin and threw some nationalistic bromides at a blue-collar crowd (none of which included the words "I'm afraid some of your jobs will be taken by robots in the future"), and then signed an executive order ordering the White House to look into ways to curb guest worker visa programs and require government agencies to buy more goods and services from American companies. For the past two years, over 200,000 foreigners applied for open positions each year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services holds a lottery and gives out 85,000 H-1B visas to high-skilled foreign workers. It's a program that's most popular with the tech industry, due to a shortage of Americans trained in science and engineering. I suppose it's a lot easier to stop talented immigrants from entering the country than to find ways to incentivize Americans to become math majors. Over the past couple of decades, a high number of immigrants (which many H-1B visa holders become) have been part of innovations and start-ups that have created jobs for American workers. Now, even if you don't believe immigrants add economic value, how exactly is cutting down on high-tech visas going to help rehabilitate the economically depressed areas of the nation? Moreover, it seems telling that many of those who are concerned about illegal immigration also seem intent on lowering numbers of legal and potentially high-achieving immigrants from entering the country. The underlying message is that there is a cultural problem, not merely an economic one. "When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think..." White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said not long ago in a jumbled explanation of economic nationalism, "a country is more than an economy. We're a civic society." The second part of the order cuts down on waivers and exemptions to President Herbert Hoover's Buy American law. It instructs agencies to use American-made goods and services rather than saving taxpayer dollars or searching out the best deals they can. This is how we incentivize rent-seeking and cronyism. Until a couple of months ago, this is what Republicans used to call "picking winners and losers." If you thought General Motors shouldn't be bailed out because it couldn't compete in a global marketplace, why would you support a state-impelled "Buy American. Hire American" when it comes to steel, for example? In a political sense, the idea of "Buy American. Hire American" is much like fighting climate change: a comforting government-prescribed solution that people embrace in theory but rarely in practice. In the protectionist's universe, everyone with a Samsung cellphone or a Toyota Camry (both the best-selling brands in their categories) would be a traitor to the American worker. In the real world, competition allows us to buy the best products at the cheapest prices—and then buy more things with the money we save. The rules of economics don't give us waivers for being Americ[...]

California State Agency Effort to Nullify Pension Vote Is Eerily Totalitarian


If you're wondering how far unions and the California officials will go to kill any reform of the state's overburdened public pension system, wonder no more: consider instead the latest chapter, last week, in a state agency's long-running effort to invalidate San Diego's 2012 citywide vote to reform pensions. The good news: a California appeals court rejected the Public Employment Relation Board's (PERB) efforts last week. But it's still shocking the agency's officials would have even argued that a union's right to negotiate pay and benefits trumps is the public's right to hold an election. The story began in 2012, when San Diego reformers collected 116,000 signatures to place Proposition B before the voters. The measure moved newly hired city workers (excluding police) from a guaranteed pension to a 401(k) retirement program. It also put a five-year freeze on payroll spending as a way to cap "pensionable pay" and reduce unfunded liabilities. A large majority of the city's voters, 66 percent, approved the measure. Unlike a measure that passed in San Jose on the same day and was subsequently gutted by the courts, San Diego's did not reduce benefits for current employees and has therefore not run afoul of something known as the "California Rule." That rule forbids officials from reducing vested benefits for government employees, even for future work. Even though San Diego's Proposition B has passed court muster, state officials and unions continued to fight it. The PERB, a little-known California state agency, is responsible for implementing various union-related statutes and remedying "unfair labor practices." A majority of its members have worked for public-sector unions, which gives you a sense of its political tilt. PERB entered the fight early, suing to keep Proposition B off of the ballot. That suit failed, the ballot measure succeeded wildly, and for the last five years PERB has been trying to invalidate the results of that election, based on a dubious premise. California law requires cities to "meet and confer" with public-sector unions over any proposed changes to their benefits. Because the initiative tinkers with such benefits, the agency claims that city officials were required to first negotiate with the unions over the proposed pension changes. Their argument would have some merit had the city government placed the initiative on the ballot, but this was a citizen initiative. To get around that problem, PERB came up with a novel theory. "They argue that Proposition B is not really a citizen initiative, but is a 'sham' initiative placed on the ballot by 'straw men' acting for San Diego's mayor who supported and campaigned for the measure," explained then-city attorney Jan Goldsmith, in a San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed in 2012. He depicted the PERB effort as an assault on San Diegans' constitutional rights. The agency's argument was built on the fact that San Diego's mayor and two council members backed the initiative, and worked on its behalf as private citizens. Therefore, PERB argued, Proposition B needed to be treated like a city-sponsored initiative. PERB is an administrative agency that acts as its own police force, judge and jury. Its administrative law "judge" issued a 58-page ruling determining that "the city breached its duty to meet and confer in good faith" with various unions. The agency could have saved 57 pages of verbiage; the outcome was never really in doubt. Former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio, a pension-reform backer, termed it a "kangaroo court," which is an apt description of PERB and other similar administrative agencies. The "judge" is actually an agency employee. The agency is no fair and balanced arbiter of the facts, but is a union-controlled agency that advances union prerogatives. PERB insisted that [...]

Meet Eric July


It starts out as a typical music video. A camera follows a rapper into an abandoned warehouse with urban hieroglyphs spray-painted on the walls. Inside, artists thrash their heads in time to a Richter-magnitude rock riff. A guitarist dressed like a skateboard punk leaps into the air as if performing a half-pipe aerial. But this is no ordinary rap-metal group. Listen close and you'll hear the black M.C., Eric July, rapping about how taxes are theft: "They say, 'Who's going to build the roads?' without taxation / So you give them a reason to confiscate my payments / And that's exactly what the state needs / for you to think you need them." This is Backwordz, a band that bills itself as "the libertarian Rage Against the Machine." The song in the aforementioned video is called "Statism," and it appears on the Dallas quartet's debut album, Veracity. Backwordz recently signed to Stay Sick Recordings, the record label of Chris Fronzak, singer of the immensely popular metalcore band Attila. Fronz boosted Backwordz's profile by guesting on another single. The video for that one, titled "Self Ownership," depicts a disillusioned government employee telling protesters outside city hall that politicians won't save them. Other songs on the album, which sold more than 3,000 copies in its first week, rail against handouts and preach self-reliance. It's music that won't be showing up on the Bernie Sanders Spotify playlist anytime soon. Last fall, Stephen Humphries talked to July about his intellectual journey from Obama supporter to advocate for liberty. Reason: Tell me about your upbringing and how you wound up at the University of Memphis on a track and field scholarship. July: It's just a typical story: Young black kid, no father around, ends up being a knucklehead. My mother was working two or three jobs at a time just for me. I was getting in trouble a lot. She put me in Mansfield Summit [secondary school in Arlington, Texas]. She gave me her car to drive me out there to go to a much better school. It's funny, because we [libertarians] talk about school choice. We had to go through back ways in order to get admitted into a school by using other people's addresses. I was gangbanging. I never really got into the thing of selling drugs and wasn't around people that did all that. But I never turned down a fight. I was beefing on people because they were on another side of the city. It was that childish. I saw a lot of people that I would hang around get shot and killed. The person I was dating...ended up getting put in harm's way. Some guys rolled up on us when I was just hanging out, and I thought, "If they start shooting at me or they jump me, she's right here with me." The reality really set in. It was a life-changing experience. During the latter half of my senior year...I wanted to make a change. I was a good track runner. Track and field was my ticket out of the boneheaded stuff I was doing in high school. You campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008. What's your view him and the legacy he's left? I look back at my photos of Barack shirts and it's so embarrassing! The thing that was attractive to me was the same thing that was attractive to a lot of young black folks in college—that he was a black guy. He had the swagger and he was one of us. The legacy he left us is [bad] not just from an economic standpoint with precedents like Obamacare. He expanded government, expanded power, he was a warmonger, and he bombed more countries than [George W.] Bush. But because he was one of us, we didn't hammer him like we did Bush. Tell me about how and when you became a libertarian. I always credit economics. I had never heard the word libertarian until I went to college, [but] I wanted to know about black economists. I had a friend at the[...]

Does Legalization Boost Teen Marijuana Use?


When the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicated that marijuana use by teenagers in Colorado rose after the state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012, prohibitionists trumpeted the results, even though the change was not statistically significant. Drug warriors were notably quieter when subsequent NSDUH data indicated that adolescent consumption in Colorado fell after state-licensed marijuana stores began serving the recreational market.

That change was not statistically significant either, underlining the uncertainty about the impact of legalization on underage consumption. It is plausible that legalization would increase adolescent use by making marijuana more socially acceptable (although probably not cooler) or by making it available from legal buyers 21 or older. But so far there is little evidence that is happening.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says cannabis consumption by teenagers in the state "has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users." That conclusion is based on data from NSDUH and the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which has a much larger sample of Colorado teenagers.

A study published in the February 2017 issue of JAMA Pediatrics covered yet another survey, the Monitoring the Future Study. University of California, Davis, epidemiologist Magdalena Cerdá and her colleagues looked at past-month marijuana consumption among eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the three years preceding legalization (2010–12) and the three years following it (2013–15). They compared trends in Colorado and Washington, where voters also approved legalization in 2012, to trends in the 45 contiguous states that did not legalize marijuana for recreational use during this period.

Cerdá et al. found no significant differences in Colorado or among high school seniors in Washington. But Washington eighth- and 10th-graders deviated from the national trend. Although the incidence of past-month marijuana use by eighth-graders did not rise significantly in Washington, it fell significantly in the other states. Past-month use among 10th-graders did rise significantly in Washington, from 16.2 percent to 20.3 percent, while falling in the rest of the country.

Assuming that the deviations among eighth- and 10th-graders in the Evergreen State have something to do with legalization, Cerdá et al. say, the mechanism is unlikely to be diversion from adult buyers, since state-licensed pot shops did not open there until July 2014, halfway through the post-legalization study period. But they argue that legalization may have changed attitudes in a way that encouraged adolescent use.

If so, it's a bit of a mystery why there is no evidence of this phenomenon in Colorado. But with only a few years of data to consider, the only safe conclusion is that it's too early to draw any conclusions.


President Trump's Executive Order Targeting Foreign Techies Will Hurt American Companies and Workers


Immigration authorities opened up the annual H-1B visa lottery for American companies that want to hire foreign tech professionals on April 3. And this week they announced that they received 199,000 petitions—or more than double the number allowed. Clearly, current law fails to meet the needs of American employers. But instead of relaxing this program as would befit a president who promised to remove the regulatory handcuffs on American businesses, President Donald Trump has issued a "Buy American, Hire American" executive order that will pass new regulations making it even more difficult to recruit high-skilled foreign workers—never mind the overwhelming evidence that these workers help, not hurt, American jobs and wages. The H-1B cap is reached every year because the annual 65,000 limit—0.04 percent of the U.S. labor force—was set in 1990. Since then, technological advances like the World Wide Web and smartphones have turbocharged the demand for high-skilled technical labor. "Mobile app developers" -- a highly prized job today—didn't even exist 15 years ago. However, when companies recruit for tech talent at U.S. universities, they find Americans, to be sure—but the vast majority consists of international students, who make up an astounding 77 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering and 71 percent in computer science. An H-1B visa is often the only way for these students or high-skilled foreign nationals educated abroad to work legally in America. That means new restrictions on H-1B visas would likely block the only feasible means for any foreign-born computer specialists, engineers, doctors or scientists to work in the United States. Despite this, several conservative bills in Congress are trying to squash even this meager program. A bill co-sponsored last year by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to force employers to pay well above market rates for these tech professionals and also require international students from U.S. universities to work for 10 years outside the United States before they could work in America. Another bill co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would require companies to prove to labor authorities that they tried to recruit an American before hiring a foreign national, which will expose employers to massive legal liability for every such hire. Meanwhile, the Trump administration's pledge to build a wall around excessive regulation has a giant hole in it when it comes to immigration, as his executive order directing federal agencies to implement new rules and policies discouraging the hiring of H-1Bs shows. Part of this will no doubt involve stepped up site visits by Department of Labor investigators to companies with H-1Bs in their employ. "The moves seemed designed to appease President Trump's supporters, who urged him to make good on campaign promises to eviscerate the H-1B program," reported the Washington Times. To discredit the hiring of all high-skilled foreign nationals and set the stage for draconian legislative and regulatory measures, Congressional critics and anti-immigration activists have skillfully publicized stories alleging that companies lay off U.S. workers and replace them with H-1B visa holders. However, in these stories—and the same ones involving Disney or Southern California Edison have received repeated media attention, including recently on 60 Minutes—what is actually happening is that companies are focusing on their primary business line and contracting out functions considered either non-essential, underperforming or technologically out of date. Everyone sympathizes with the U.S. workers at Disney and Southern California Ed[...]

Trump's Empty Bluster and Bombing


When terrorism raises its head, governments often take steps that are supposed to make us safer—banning tiny knives from airplanes, putting metal detectors at stadium entrances, issuing "orange" alerts. Skeptics dismiss these measures as "security theater." They're a show, not a genuine obstacle to terrorists. The Trump administration, obsessed with imagery, has adapted this approach to national security. The president tweets bellicose warnings to North Korea. The vice president goes to South Korea to don a bomber jacket and stare implacably across the Demilitarized Zone. An aircraft carrier steams toward the Sea of Japan—or rather, Trump claims it's doing so even as it heads the opposite direction, thousands of miles away. Anyone who heard Donald Trump brag about his choice for defense secretary knows that half the appeal of James Mattis was his nickname, "Mad Dog," which the president used every chance he got. Had Mattis been known as "Peewee" or "Mouse," he would have been passed over. With all the noise and spectacle, this presidency often seems less like an attempt at governance and more like a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It's just not clear whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. Some of the props are real. When the military dropped the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal on an Islamic State position in Afghanistan, it came as a surprise. But you know the Pentagon had Trump at "mother of all bombs." Once he heard about it, he had to use it. The problem is that these gestures are no substitute for strategies. This sortie was meant to highlight our power in a way no one could miss. But what happens if you drop your biggest bomb and it doesn't win the war? Those on the other side conclude that they can take the worst you can inflict. The rest of the world sees the same thing. It's known as shooting your bolt. The most important question in fighting a war is often, "Then what?" It's one of many questions Trump doesn't spend hours contemplating. He certainly didn't let it delay his missile strike on a Syrian air base, which was supposed to punish President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons. That attack sent a couple of signals. The first is that if Assad resorts again to chemical weapons, the U.S. may respond with military force. The second is that if the Syrian dictator uses other methods—as he has done in killing some 100,000 civilians—he has nothing to worry about. Assad can take a hint. In the week after the missile strike, according to the Voice of America, the Syrian Network for Human Rights noted an increase in his use of cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, which killed at least 98 civilians, 24 of them children. The 22,000-pound bomb that hit a network of caves used by the Islamic State in Afghanistan was said to have killed 96 enemy fighters while causing no civilian casualties. The latter claim invites skepticism. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both declined to use this weapon because of its indiscriminate effects. Bush considered it for taking out Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the end, the danger to innocent bystanders was deemed so great that it was left on the shelf—until now. Trump clearly thinks that worrying about civilian casualties makes you look weak. But indifference to collateral damage doesn't mean he will succeed in Afghanistan or Syria. One huge conventional bomb, or two or five, won't defeat the Islamic State—which isn't even our chief enemy in Afghanistan. And deploying it against the Taliban, who have a wider and deeper presence, would doubtless spawn more terrorists than it would kill. The missile strike and the giant bomb drop both amount to an [...]

Bill O'Reilly Lost to the Feminists He Despises


Donald Trump got accused of sexual assault and he got elected president of the United States. Bill O' Reilly got accused of the same thing and got the boot. O'Reilly's departure was triggered by a New York Times (yes, I know!) expose some week ago that revealed that Fox News' had renewed the king of cable's $18 million contract ahead of its expiration after paying $13 million to five women—two as recently as last year—to drop their sexual harassment charges against him. The outrage this generated caused dozens of big-name advertisers to pull out of his show in disgust. All of this shows that markets, with their multiple pressure points, are much better at enforcing norms of civilized behavior than the political world. And, in a sense, this kind of market squeeze is good. But it's not all good, at least not the way it was applied in this case. The Times story painted a textbook case of sexual harassment: O'Reilly would allegedly make lewd and explicit advances, promising to use his influence at Fox to help women if they acquiesced to his propositions. If they rebuffed him, he'd turn cold and vindictive, even threatening to "destroy" one when she started litigation. O'Reilly, who's been off the air since April 11, denies all of this, declaring that he is being targeted because he is "prominent and controversial." That would have been more believable if his victims—who include co-workers and guests of his show—weren't all independently reporting the same pattern of behavior (and if two of them didn't have taped phone conversations as proof!). None of this, however, perturbed O'Reilly's viewers, given that his ratings didn't drop one iota. To some extent, this is not surprising given that most of us don't launch inquires into the personal lives of people from whom we buy products and services unless it starts affecting their ability to deliver. As Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, noted, all of this was just "background noise" for Fox fans. On the other hand, given that O'Reilly was a champion of traditional moral values that his followers claim to hold dear, his personal life couldn't really be separated from his brand and service. But O'Reilly's loyal viewership didn't mean much if he couldn't monetize it—which he had so far been spectacularly successful at doing given that show pulled in a whopping $178 million in ad revenue in 2015, the highest of any cable news show. That's precisely why the decision by Fox's big advertisers like Mitsubishi, Lexus, BMW, Hyundai, Credit Karma, T. Rowe Price, Allstate, and Mercedes-Benz to either pull out completely or reassign their ads to other shows hit where it hurt. Allstate delivered a pointed statement when it withdrew, noting that "inclusivity and support for women" are paramount values for it. Likewise, UNTUCKit, a men's apparel company, declared that as an employer with a workforce that is two-thirds female, "we take sexual harassment claims very seriously." In a free society, companies are at liberty to associate—or not—with whomever they choose, which makes ostracism a powerful way of enforcing basic norms. However, such pressure tactics by advertisers in this case aren't entirely unproblematic either. The big problem with many of the companies that turned against O'Reilly is that they didn't do so of their own accord, no matter how much they pretend to be paragons of virtue, but rather because they themselves were under pressure from advocacy groups such as the National Organization of Women. In this case, that's fine, given that O'Reilly's misconduct is egregious by any yardstick, and so most people wi[...]

In Trump Era, Many Political Activists Follow Their Leader, Not Their Principles


Politics is a team sport, so it has always required a certain flexibility on matters of principle. But two recent studies suggest that, for many Americans, only one principle really matters: following the leader. And the Trump administration is proving it in spades. An idealized account of how we reach our political loyalties might look something like this: First, we study the issues, weighing the facts and the applicable ethical standards—liberty, justice, equality, fairness, etc. Having thought long and hard, we then reach a set of conclusions about the correct public policy. Then we look around to see who shares our conclusions. Finally, we align ourselves with them. In fact, a great deal of research on the psychology of political affiliation says we do pretty much the exact opposite: First, we decide what team we're on. Then we learn what our team's collective view on a given issue is. Then we look at the principles and the facts, cherry-picking those that support our team's view and rejecting the rest as somehow flawed. In one well-known experiment, political scientist Brendan Nyhan presented political partisans with news stories that contained incorrect information—e.g., that the Bush administration had banned stem-cell research. Nyhan also included a correction pointing out the inaccuracy. Partisans were actually more likely to believe the inaccuracy after reading the correction—a phenomenon called the backlash effect. People seem to be hard-wired to act this way. Using brain scans, Emory University researcher Drew Westen found that the reward centers of the brain light up when partisans reject information that contradicts their political preferences, in the same way the reward centers of a drug addict's brain light up when he uses drugs. This would be troubling enough if people were consistent in their beliefs. But they aren't. Far from it. For instance: Four years ago, during the Obama presidency, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that just 22 percent of Republicans supported a missile strike to stop Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people. But a poll taken after Donald Trump ordered air strikes for the same reason found that 86 percent of Republicans supported it. The same phenomenon has played out with regard to Russia. Republicans used to view Vladimir Putin with hostility, and ridiculed efforts at rapprochement such as Hillary Clinton's "reset" button. Since Trump took office Republicans view Russia more favorably than Democrats do. Democrats exhibit similar changes of heart. Although their views are more consistent on Syria, Democrats' positions on a host of other issues have shifted markedly. The anti-war movement that had bedeviled George W. Bush largely disappeared when Obama took office, as did concerns about the dangers of the national-security state—even though Obama ratcheted up both the war in Afghanistan and warrantless electronic surveillance. As one research paper put it, "Democrats, who had been motivated to participate by anti-Republican sentiments, withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success." Even political identity itself is undergoing a shift. The Atlantic reports on recent findings by two political scientists examining the views of the conservative base. Grassroots activists now judge senators with very conservative voting records—such as Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska—as moderate, while deeming others with moderate records more conservative. The researchers posit that this is because Flake and Sasse have sharply criticized Trump—neve[...]

Seizing Private Property in the Trump Era


Donald Trump boasted of his love for eminent domain during the 2016 presidential campaign, calling it an "absolute necessity." And the billionaire real estate developer has a long record of pushing government redevelopment agencies to seize private property to make way for his projects. Little Pink House, a new feature film written and directed by Courtney Balaker, looks at eminent domain abuse by recounting the true story behind of an epic 2005 Supreme Court case. Though Trump is no longer directly managing his real estate business, given his authoritarian tendencies, the story depicted in the film is more relevant than ever. (Little Pink House, which stars Academy Award nominated actress Catherine Keener, was produced by Balaker's husband and creative partner, Ted, who is also a former Reason TV producer.) Eminent domain is when the government forces the sale of private property to make way for a so-called public use. That could mean a highway, a school—or in the case of Kelo v. the City of New London, a pharmaceutical plant In 2000, Susette Kelo was a registered nurse who had just moved into a small, pink house in a middle-class area of New London, Connecticut. Seven months later, the city announced plans to turn her Fort Trumbull neighborhood into new research facilities for the Pfizer corporation. She was told she'd need to find a new place to live. City officials and a nonprofit economic development group claimed the new facility would bring business and jobs to the area. Kelo didn't want to sell, so the city moved to take her house by force. She joined with six other residents and sued the city on the grounds that New London's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional. The case made it to all the way to the Supreme Court. Though the city prevailed, the decision led to a public backlash, causing many states to pass new laws limiting the use of eminent domain. When working on the script for Little Pink House, Balaker says she was inspired by Kelo's courage and humility—which Catherine Keener perfectly captured in the film. "What resonated with [Keener] was this concept of your spot," says Balaker. "When you find your place and you can really root yourself into that place and how disruptive that is to somebody to uproot you against your will." "Apart from putting you in jail or killing you, to take away your home or your livelihood is about the most serious thing that a government can do," says Scott Bullock with the Institute for Justice, who was Kelo's lawyer all the way up to the Supreme Court. Actress Jean Tripplehorn plays Charlotte Wells, who in the movie spearheads the initiative to forcibly take Kelo's home to build a pharmaceutical plant. Wells gives voice to all of the typical rationales for seizing private property: Creating jobs, economic revitalization, and restoring a sense of grandeur to a fallen industrial town. But don't look for any mustache twirling villains here. "Jean, had a great way of describing it—this is a very misguided woman," says Balaker. "Someone who was on the right path but then went down the very, very, wrong path to get what she wanted." Pfizer's facility was never built in Fort Trumbull. After the city seized and bulldozed many of the homes in the area, the company walked away from the venture. Today, the site of the proposed project is a wasteland. Balaker's film opened the Athena Film Festival this year and was screened at the Vail Film Festival where it picked up the audience award. Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Alexis Garcia and Alex Manning. Dama-May - Primal Drive by Kevin MacLeod is licensed unde[...]

Where Radar Cameras Fear To Tread


Arizonans aren't big fans of being nagged about the weight of their feet on their accelerators. A few years ago, county officials set up a mobile radar speed sign along the road to my old house. It looked lonely out there amid the tumbleweeds with only coyotes and rattlesnakes for company. Sure enough, within a day, I was treated to the sight of sheriff's deputies and county workers clustered sadly around the device, which had—apparently in despair over its isolated condition—leapt head-first into an arroyo. State residents were also unhappy when speed cameras sprouted along the roads with ticket books attached. In 2008, Arizona officials signed a deal with Redflex, an Australian photo-enforcement company, to pioneer the first statewide system for robotically extracting money from people's wallets—oh, and "to modify driver behavior and make our roads safer," as Redflex creepily puts it. It wasn't particularly plausible that officials were chasing people down for their own good, but the appearance in the state budget of a line item for revenue from "Highway Photo Radar" was a bit of a giveaway about the real motivations for the contract. Pasting Post-It notes over lenses of the Aussie speedcams was one tame but effective response. So was dressing up in Santa suits and dropping gaily decorated gift boxes over the machines. Silly String and spray paint worked just fine for obscuring the cameras' views, though smashing the spying little snitchbots with pickaxes had a more permanent effect. One particularly creative scofflaw took to driving around the Phoenix area wearing monkey and giraffe masks. As it turned out, Arizona law requires that tickets be connected to drivers, not just vehicles. Few wildlife photos appear in the Department of Motor Vehicles database, complicating the process of serving the "offending" motorist within the required 90 days. State officials responded with a surveillance operation to identify the dissident; this project almost certainly cost more than they finally extracted. It is possible to push back too hard. One annoyed driver far overstepped the boundaries of good judgment when, in 2009, he shot up a manned photo enforcement van and killed the operator. But the most effective response turned out to be throwing the tickets the cameras generated into the garbage. "Only 39 percent of those ticketed drivers (432,367 of 1,109,035) knuckled under and paid up," Car and Driver magazine reported in 2010. The people trying to link drivers to all of those fast-moving vehicles were a tad "overtaxed," The New York Times added. Britain's Telegraph observed that "a mere $37 million of the $127 million in fines and surcharges has been collected." There goes that revenue line item. If process servers felt overtaxed, so did Arizonans in general—in a more literal sense, since they were on the business end of the devices. Their resistance paid off. After Gov. Janet Napolitano left office in 2009, Gov. Jan Brewer pulled the plug on the radar camera scheme. That was the statewide program. Peoria and Tempe soldiered on for a while, then dropped their programs in 2011. By 2013, Scottsdale was reduced to concealing cameras "in tan metal boxes that kind of resemble big trash cans," according to the Phoenix New Times. The alternative weekly was happy to publish the cameras' locations along with a convenient map. Tucson voters banned traffic photo enforcement in 2015 by an impressive 2-1 majority. State legislators, thwarted several times by local lobbyists, passed a more limited ban in 2016. But Attorney General Mark Br[...]

Earth Day Dopes


Expect more craziness this weekend. Earth Day is Saturday. This year's theme: Government must "do more" about climate change because "consequences of inaction are too high to risk." They make it sound so simple: 1) Man causes global warming. 2) Warming is obviously harmful. 3) Government can stop it. Each claim is dubious or wrong. This weekend at a movie, I was surprised to be assaulted again by former Vice President Al Gore. In a preview, a puffy-looking Gore suddenly appeared, attacking Donald Trump and mocking critics of his previous movie, An Inconvenient Truth, the deceitful documentary that spreads fear in classrooms today. Yes, teachers play it in class. Now Gore claims "the most criticized" part of the film was his assertion that the 9/11 memorial site would flood. Then, during Hurricane Sandy, it did But Gore creatively misremembers his own movie. He had claimed the World Trade Center would flood because of a permanent 20-foot sea-level rise. Actual scientists called that nonsense. It would take hundreds of years for such a thing to possibly happen. But since the area flooded, briefly, Gore spins that as confirmation of his exaggerations. This preview was the first I learned that theaters will soon show a sequel to Gore's film. Google tells us that An Inconvenient Sequel got a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Trendy Hollywood is so dumb. At least critics who've watched it gave it poor reviews. Let's go back to points 1, 2 and 3: 1) Man's greenhouse gases contribute to warming, but scientists don't agree on how much. Of 117 climate models from the 1990s, 114 overpredicted warming. 2) Warming is harmful. Maybe. But so far it's been good: Over the last century, climates warmed, but climate-related deaths dropped. Since 1933, they fell by 98 percent. Life expectancy doubled. Much of that is thanks to prosperity created by free markets. But some is due to warming. Cold kills more people than heat. Carbon dioxide is also good for crop growth. Even The New York Times admits, "Plants have been growing at a rate far faster than at any other time in the last 54,000 years." But what if Al Gore is right? Maybe our greenhouse gases will eventually cause Greenland's icecaps to melt and flood our cities. Shouldn't government act now? No. 3) Nothing we do today will stop global warming. The Obama regulations that Trump recently repealed, horrifying the Earth Day crowd, had a goal that amounted to a mere one percent reduction in global carbon dioxide. And that was just the goal. Of course, some think any cut is better than nothing. But cuts are costly. They kill jobs, opportunity. All to accomplish... nothing the Earth will notice. If warming does become a problem, we're better off if our economy is very strong when the science tells us clearly that action will make a difference. We should be especially wary of expensive government projects given how often alarmists were wrong in the past. As Cato's Pat Michaels says, "I've lived through eight environmental apocalypses... overpopulation... resource depletion... Silent Spring... global cooling... acid rain... the ozone hole... global warming... the next one is going to be ocean acidification." In the '70s, environmentalist Paul Ehrlich won fame with his book The Population Bomb. Ehrlich predicted: "I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Oops. Ehrlich now admits: "When you predict the future, you get things wrong." But he says there's a grain of truth in his prediction, because: "If you look closely at England, [...]

Harm Reduction an Alternative to Incoherent Opioid Addiction Policies


You can't pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or radio, or access any online news source without encountering headlines screaming "opioid epidemic." There is the alarming rise in the number of chronic pain patients who have become addicted to opioids. And the explosion, in recent years, of opioid prescriptions by health care providers now under government pressure to curtail their prescribing. This pressure has driven many opioid addicts to the illicit drug market to avoid the pains of withdrawal. There, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they often find opioid heroin cheaper and sometimes more readily available despite a 50-year "War on Drugs." Thus they become heroin addicts. Media hysteria begets calls to action. Politicians and the administrative state devise new laws to control this "evil plague." As a surgeon who regularly prescribes painkillers for patients suffering from postoperative pain or painful conditions, I see a painful cognitive dissonance. Begin with US policy towards heroin. Originally developed in the 1870s, diacetyl-morphine was marketed under the brand name Heroin, by the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Despite pleas by the Surgeon General and the American Medical Association to keep it legal, Heroin was banned in the US in 1924 because political leaders believed it the drug corrupted an individual's moral character. Meanwhile, dilaudid, 3 to 4 times more potent than morphine, is legal and is routinely administered for pain both as an oral and an injectable agent. Fentanyl, or Duragesic, is legal, too, although it is more than 50 times the potency of morphine. There is even greater cognitive dissonance with methadone, the powerful opioid approved for use in the US in 1947 and commonly used in this country to treat addiction to heroin and other opioids. Chronic users of opioids develop a tolerance, requiring ever-increasing doses to achieve the desired effect. A low, oral dose of methadone binds with enough of a person's opioid receptors to prevent withdrawal symptoms yet not produce the euphoric effects. The idea behind "methadone maintenance" programs is to transfer the addiction from heroin or another opioid. Because they do not experience the euphoria and "escape" of their chosen opioid, methadone addicts can resume a normal, productive—even conventional—life. Some can be tapered off from methadone and "detoxified." But many remain on methadone, sometimes for their entire lives. To put things in proper perspective, chronic alcohol use is much more dangerous. Chronic use can cause cirrhosis of the liver, cardiomyopathy (heart failure from damaged heart muscle), encephalopathy and dementia, chronic pancreatic inflammation, and has been linked to cancer of the stomach and the esophagus. In addition, one can overdose on alcohol as well—which may cause a person to stop breathing, become hypoxic, and die. And here's where the cognitive dissonance comes in: it is perfectly acceptable and permissible—even public policy—to allow people to be chronically addicted to the opioid methadone. The side-effects of prolonged use are considered serious yet tolerable. But it is unacceptable and counter to public policy for a person to be chronically addicted to any other opioid, even if that person self-doses to prevent withdrawal while avoiding the "high" in order to lead a peaceful and productive life. The concept of "harm reduction" as an approach to substance abuse has gained increased acceptance by health care practitioners[...]

Gorsuch Is More Liberal Than Garland


Democrats are understandably bitter about the Republican intransigence that ultimately allowed Neil Gorsuch to take a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court this week. But for Democrats who care about civil liberties, Gorsuch is a better choice than Merrick Garland, the nominee Republican senators refused to consider after he was nominated by President Obama last year. Garland, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 1997, was frequently described as a "moderate" after Obama picked him to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Garland earned that label mainly by siding with the government, sometimes in cases where conservatives liked the result and sometimes in cases where liberals did. Despite his reputation on the left as an authoritarian, Scalia defended the rights of the accused more consistently than some of his purportedly more liberal colleagues. And as SCOTUSBlog publisher Tom Goldstein noted, Garland is "to the right of Scalia on criminal justice issues." Gorsuch, who served for a decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, seems closer to Scalia in this area. Like Scalia, he is a critic of vague criminal statutes and a stickler when it comes to requiring that prosecutors prove all the elements of an offense. Both tendencies were apparent in a 2015 case involving merchants charged with violating the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act by selling "incense" containing a synthetic cannabinoid. Even without delving into the "vagueness concerns" raised by the Analogue Act, Gorsuch said, it was clear the defendants had been improperly convicted because the jury instructions "effectively relieve[d] the government of proving each essential element specified by Congress." Gorsuch's concern about the proper application of criminal statutes was also apparent when he dissented from a 2016 decision in which the 10th Circuit upheld the arrest of a New Mexico seventh-grader who burped up a storm during P.E. class, to the amusement of his peers and the annoyance of his gym teacher. According to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, Gorsuch pointed out, the law under which the boy was charged, which makes "interfering with the educational process" a misdemeanor, "does not criminalize 'noise[s] or diversion[s]' that merely 'disturb the peace or good order' of individual classes." Another 2016 dissent shows that Gorsuch shares Scalia's respect for the zone of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment. When the 10th Circuit said it was constitutional for police to ignore multiple "No Trespassing" signs on the property of a suspected drug dealer, Gorsuch criticized his colleagues for endorsing "an irrevocable right to enter a home's curtilage to conduct a knock and talk." Although progressives may be willing to concede that Gorsuch is preferable to Garland on criminal justice, they tend to view another contrast between the two judges with alarm. Gorsuch is more inclined than Garland (or Scalia) to question the authority of administrative agencies. While Goldstein found that Garland has "strong views favoring deference to agency decisionmakers," Gorsuch is a prominent critic of the Chevron doctrine, which gives agencies wide authority to resolve ambiguities in the laws they are charged with enforcing. Gorsuch sees excessive deference to executive-branch agencies as a threat to the separation of powers. It is also a threat to individual freedom. Giving one agency the power to interpret and rewrite t[...]

How Florida Entraps Pain Patients, Forces Them to Snitch, Then Locks Them Up for Decades


On April 11, 2002, Cynthia Powell entered the criminal justice system for the first time in her life, for what could be the rest of her life. Two detectives for the Sunrise Police Department in Florida had arrested Powell in the parking lot of a Starbucks for agreeing to sell 35 of her Lorcet pills—basically Tylenol with a small amount of hydrocodone—and some of her Soma pills (a muscle relaxant) to an undercover police officer. Powell, a 40-year-old African-American woman, had no prior convictions and no arrest record. Her occupation was listed on the arrest report as "unemployed." On her criminal history sheet, it's listed as "disabled." "Anyone who knows my mother knows she's a sweet lady," Powell's daughter, Jacqueline Sharp, says in an interview with Reason. "Even before she went, people would drop their kids off for her to watch them." In many other states, Powell would have been a candidate for a diversion program or maybe probation. Under Florida's ruthless anti-opioid laws, she received a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison on charges of drug trafficking and possession with intent to sell. As fentanyl and heroin use have spiked across the U.S. in recent years, lawmakers and prosecutors have responded by pushing tough new sentences to crack down on dealers and users. The Pennsylvania Legislature is advancing a bill, pushed by state prosecutors, to restore mandatory-minimum sentences for drug crimes. An Ohio town has started filing misdemeanor charges of "caus[ing] serious public inconvenience or alarm" against overdose victims, simply for receiving treatment from emergency first-responders. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) introduced a bill last year to dramatically lower the weight threshold to trigger a five-year mandatory federal prison sentence for fentanyl possession. And in Florida, where lawmakers seem to have exceptionally short memories, a state senator has introduced a bill, with the backing of the Florida Sheriff's Association and the Attorney General's office, that would create harsh new penalties for fentanyl trafficking. But before legislators pass new laws, they should look at Florida's recent history. Two decades ago, the state enacted strict mandatory-minimum sentences to combat prescription pill abuse. In an effort to shed light on the effect of those laws, Reason pored over the cases of every current inmate in the state admitted for trafficking hydrocodone or oxycodone pills. Those cases, rarely examined at the macro level and never at the individual level, show Florida's war on prescription pain medicine has been an abject failure for 20 years and counting. A Reason analysis revealed that there are more than 2,000 inmates serving sentences in the state for trafficking oxycodone/hydrocodone. Although Florida legislators passed the laws with the intention of going after large-scale traffickers, 63 percent of those currently serving time for pill trafficking offenses are first-time inmates like Powell. Many, like Powell, were set up by confidential informants who started working for the police after their own arrests. The mandatory-minimum sentences stripped judges of their discretion, saddled the state with an aging, expensive inmate population with no possibility of early release, and have been woefully inadequate at getting pills off the streets or treating addicts, many of whom are now turning to more powerful opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Mandatory Minimums Were Supposed to Crack D[...]

100 Years After the Russian Revolution, Russians Are Still Paying


On April 16, 1917, which is to say 100 years ago last Sunday, a train from Helsinki arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd. The "sealed train" originated in Zürich, Switzerland. It carried on board 32 Russian revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin and his wife, as well as millions of German "goldmarks." Lenin, who desperately wanted to return home from his Swiss exile in order to take over the leadership of the Russian Bolsheviks, needed German logistical help to cross the Eastern Front as well as financial help to foment a revolt against the sitting Russian government of Alexander Kerensky. Both were duly furnished by the German imperial high command. As such, Russia experienced two revolutions in 1917. The February revolution deposed the Tsar, while the October revolution put the Bolsheviks in charge. Subsequent to the Bolshevik putsch, Russia withdrew from the Great War, thus allowing the Germans to move their divisions to the Western Front to face the combined might of the French, the British and the Americans. Once in charge, Lenin established one-party dictatorship and the first gulags. The Soviet Union, with its accompanying horrors, was born. Communist apologists have often blamed Bolshevik crimes on Joseph Stalin, who took over the Russian government following Lenin's death in 1924. The Russian historian and politician Alexander Yakovlev, who headed the Presidential Commission for the Victims of Political Repression, however, noted that the "truth is that in punitive operations Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: executions, hostage taking, concentration camps, and all the rest." Violence was inherent in the Bolshevik revolution. Per Lenin: "If we are not ready to shoot a saboteur and White Guardist [i.e., anti-communist Russian soldiers], what sort of revolution is that?" Estimating the cost of the Bolshevik rule is not easy, although Yakovlev argues that 20 million lives were lost to state-sponsored violence, malnutrition, man-made famine, slave labor, etc. That seems like a very conservative estimate. Looking at other consequences of Russian communism, the story is similarly depressing. Comparing Russia with any other country is difficult. Russia's geography and history are unique. That said, I went back to Maddison's data in search of a European country that was, roughly speaking, at Russia's level of economic development in 1917. With average annual per capita income of $1,212 (in 1990 dollars), Portugal was closest to Russia's $1,085. Where would Russia be, had it matched the economic performance of Portugal—a country that is even today considered as something of a European basket case? Let data tell the story. 1. GDP per capita, per person, per year, 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars (1917-2010) 2. Life expectancy, years, 1960-2015 3. Democracy vs. autocracy, scale -10 (worst) to 10 (best), 1917-2015 4. Civil liberties, scale 1 (best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015 5. Political rights, scale 1(best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015 [...]

United and the Cops Are Just the Latest Violent Partners in a Long History of Dysfunction


After Chicago aviation cops violently dragged David Dao, a paying passenger, from his seat on United Airlines Flight 3411, I had what at first glance might be an odd reaction. I immediately remembered waking from a doze in the shotgun seat of my then-girlfriend's car many years ago to find that she'd cut into the line at a busy gas station, starting a confrontation with a driver who was under the impression that his patience had earned him a turn at the pump. "My boyfriend is going to kick your ass," she yelled. "I am?" I remember wondering to myself, before proceeding to face the poor guy down. Let's say I was a guilty partner in an unhealthy relationship. United and the Chicago aviation police have an awfully familiar dynamic going in their own relationship. United sold seats on its flight to customers who were given the impression they'd be transported from Chicago to Louisville in return for cash. Then United suffered seller's remorse when company officials realized they had employees who needed to get to the same destination, and the easiest way to get them there was to pull a fast one and cut in line for the seats they'd already sold. When Dao objected, they got the aviation police to kick his ass. "This violent incident should never have happened and was a result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel," the United pilots' union objected after the incident—which is true as far as it goes. Just as I doubt my old girlfriend would have cut that line if she hadn't been sure I'd back her play, it's unlikely that United would have been so comfortable ordering paying customers off the plane if the cops hadn't been there to twist arms. But that still leaves people making skeevy decisions based on confidence that a partner will back them with violence. Like I said, unhealthy relationships. This is hardly the first time that a government agency has played the part of the meathead in the shotgun seat on behalf of a partner with bad judgment. Politicians, police chiefs, and military officers have frequently exercised violence at the urging of powerful people who found arm-twisting to be more convenient than negotiation for settling disputes. Corporations have benefited on numerous high-profile occasions from the deployment of truncheons and bullets, even if their reputations ultimately took as much of a beating as labor union representatives as a consequence (something that continuously comes as a revelation to them, as United is currently demonstrating). While labor and business people might both have pushed their disagreements over the line to brutality during the heated strikes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are few private disputes that can't be made worse by the addition of troops. That may have been most effectively demonstrated during the "Ludlow Massacre" of 1914, when Colorado National Guardsmen attacked a strikers' tent colony at the bidding of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CFIC) and killed dozens of people, including women and children. That calling in government force, however attractive it might have seemed at the time to CFIC management, had some public relations downsides is apparent from the fact that the Rockefeller family which was heavily involved in the firm is still trying to atone for the incident, with David Rockefeller Jr. visiting the site earlier this year. And Flight 3411 was hardly the first ti[...]

Cuomo Scholarship Turns Golden Door Into Golden Handcuffs


"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,"—but once you arrive in New York, don't dare try moving somewhere else, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be chasing you to take back your college scholarship money. Leave it to Cuomo to transform what Emma Lazarus's poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty called the "golden door" into a modern version of golden handcuffs. Cuomo's new "Excelsior Scholarships," included in the recently passed New York state budget, require students to live and work in the Empire State for as many years following graduation as they received the scholarship. Cuomo's press release doesn't say how this requirement will be enforced. Maybe he will make like Donald Trump and build a physical wall around the state to keep the scholarship-winning graduates in. Perhaps he will ask New York's representatives in Congress to pass a "Fugitive Scholarship-Winner Act," compelling to other states to capture and return any scholarship winner who ventures beyond New York's boundaries. The point was touched on recently by a New York Times columnist, David Brooks, in his article memorably headlined, "The Cuomo College Fiasco." Brooks had a long list of reasons that the scholarships were counterproductive and ill-conceived. But the one that caught my eye was his concern that scholarship recipients "won't be able to seize out-of-state opportunities during the crucial years when their career track is being formed. They'll be trapped in a state with one really expensive city, and other regions where good jobs are scarce." If Cuomo had succeeded as governor, he'd be confident that recent graduates would want to stay in the state without either being bribed by a scholarship or being threatened to have to pay it back. Massachusetts, for example, grants a somewhat similar, four-year, tuition-free John and Abigail Adams Scholarship without any such demand that recipients remain in the state for years after graduation. The sad reality is, though, that New Yorkers are fleeing in droves. I'm one of those who left, saying goodbye to New York and Gov. Cuomo in 2013 after 15 years in the state. I was able to escape the state without devastating personal financial consequences, which is more than can be said for the Excelsior Indentured Servants, er, "scholarship recipients." One can't blame Cuomo, who became governor January 1, 2011, for identifying population loss in his state as a problem on which to focus. From 2010 to 2016, the population of Texas grew 10.8 percent, or more than 2 million. Florida's population grew 9.6 percent, about 1.8 million people, during those six years. Even high-tax California's population grew 5.4 percent, about 2 million people, during the same period. Massachusetts, where I moved to from New York, saw its population grow 4 percent, or about 250,000 people. During the same time span, New York's population grew a paltry 1.9 percent. It's not clear that Cuomo's plan for a scholarship clawback is even constitutional. A professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Daniel J. Hemel, floated the question of whether the stay-in-New York requirement risks violating something called the "Dormant Commerce Clause," a restriction implied by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and limiting the states from erecting their own obstacles to interstate commerce. As an ideological matter, the idea t[...]

23 Tax Facts and Tips


Just in time for the filing deadline, here are a few tips and facts you may not know about America's Rube Goldberg hellscape of a tax code.

They include:

Written by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Produced by Austin Bragg.

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Publicly-Funded Ballparks Are for Suckers


Talk of a new ballpark for Richmond has all but disappeared in the past few months. Former Mayor Dwight Jones' plans for one imploded, and his successor, Levar Stoney, has trained his focus on the nuts and bolts of local government that Richmond has too long ignored: public safety, sidewalk maintenance, leaf collection. This is a good thing. To see why, look north to Hartford, Conn. A recent story in The Wall Street Journal lays out the unfortunate details. Hartford looks somewhat like Richmond: One third of its 124,000 residents live in poverty, and its unemployment rate is twice the state average. The city also has been wrestling with financial difficulties. Despite that, Hartford has built a new stadium for the AA-level ball club, the Yard Goats, and issued $68.6 million in bonds to do so—even though Dunkin' Donuts paid an undisclosed, but no doubt pretty, sum for the stadium naming rights. Mayor Luke Bronin has said the park by itself cannot recoup the investment. The city hopes ancillary development nearby will do so: There had been talk of a $350 million mixed-use development—shops and apartments and so on. You've heard it all before. But the development has not materialized. Richmond's poverty and unemployment numbers look better than Hartford's. But under Jones the city maxed out its credit card; there's almost no debt capacity left. Jones' vision for a new ballpark also relied heavily on ancillary development, both in Shockoe Bottom, where the park was to have been built, and on the Boulevard, where the old ballfield was to have been torn down to make way for "a gleaming, 60-acre complex of apartments, retail stores, restaurants, entertainment and office buildings," as a Richmond Times-Dispatch news story put it. Yet The Diamond still stands, as it has ever since the Richmond Braves left town in a snit almost a decade ago because they weren't getting a new stadium. The Braves ended up in Gwinnett, Ga., which built them the citadel they wanted. "We anticipate it paying for itself from Day One," said the county manager at the time. Well. As in Hartford, the project ran into cost overruns, and the county had to move $19 million from general-fund revenue to cover the hole. The stadium has been a disaster since its first year, when parking revenue came in at a mere 15 percent of projections. "Seven years into the experiment that is the Gwinnett Braves," reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2015, "the numbers make it clear: The county built it. They have not come." Coolray Field has the second-lowest attendance in its league. Just like Hartford, Gwinnett hoped the stadium would provide the catalyst for new development nearby. It hasn't happened. "None of the planned shops or restaurants has materialized," according to the AJC. And the bond payments for the stadium are bigger than the revenue it brings in. Gwinnett has had to take money meant for other functions to subsidize its money pit. A fluke? Hardly. Last year, in a story headlined "The Braves Play Taxpayers Better Than They Play Baseball," Bloomberg Businessweek reported on the way the Braves organization has turned public investment by others into its own private profit: Over the last 15 years, the Braves have extracted nearly half a billion in public funds for four new homes, each bigger and more expensive than [...]

Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus


Future generations will look back on the recent upheavals in sexual culture on American campuses and see officially sanctioned hysteria. They'll wonder how supposedly rational people could have succumbed so easily to collective paranoia, just as we look back on previous such outbreaks (Salem, McCarthyism, the Satanic ritual abuse trials of the 1980s) with condescension and bemusement. They'll wonder how the federal government got into the moral panic business, tossing constitutional rights out the window in an ill-conceived effort to protect women from a rapidly growing catalogue of sexual bogeymen. They'll wonder why anyone would have described any of this as feminism when it's so blatantly paternalistic, or as "political correctness" when sexual paranoia doesn't have any predictable political valence. (Neither does sexual hypocrisy.) Restoring the most fettered versions of traditional femininity through the back door is backlash, not progress. I didn't exactly mean to stumble into the middle of all this, and I hope that doesn't sound disingenuous. Sure, I like stirring up trouble—as a writer, that is—but I'm nobody's idea of an activist. Quite the reverse. Despite being a left-wing feminist, something in me hates a slogan, even well-intentioned ones like "rape culture." Worse, I tend to be ironic—I like irony; it helps you think because it gives you critical distance on a thing. Irony doesn't sit very well in the current climate, especially when it comes to irony about the current climate. Critical distance itself is out of fashion—not exactly a plus when it comes to intellectual life (or education itself). Feelings are what's in fashion. I'm all for feelings. I'm a standard-issue female, after all. But this cult of feeling has an authoritarian underbelly: Feelings can't be questioned or probed, even while furnishing the rationale for sweeping new policies, which can't be questioned or probed either. The result is that higher education has been so radically transformed that the place is almost unrecognizable. There are plenty of transformations I'd applaud: more diversity in enrollments and hiring; need-blind admissions; progress toward gender equity. But I dislike being told what I can and can't say. When I first heard, in March 2015, that students at the university where I teach had staged a protest march over an essay I'd written about sexual paranoia in academe, and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows, I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual assault—a Columbia University student became known as "mattress girl" after spending a year dragging a mattress around campus in a performance art piece meant to protest the university's ruling in a sexual assault complaint she'd filed against a fellow student—whereas I'd been talking about the new consensual relations codes prohibiting professor-student dating. I suppose I knew the essay would be controversial—the whole point of writing it was to say things I believed were true (and suspected a lot of other people thought were true), but weren't being said for fear of repercussions. Still, I'd been writing as a feminist. And I hadn't sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed incoherent. According to our student newspaper, th[...]

Recognize, Resist, Report


In April 1990, a guidance counselor at a Searsport, Maine, elementary school summoned a fifth-grader to her office. The counselor asked the 11-year-old, Crystal Grendell, whether her parents used drugs. After the counselor reassured her that "nothing would happen," Crystal eventually admitted that her parents occasionally smoked pot. At school a few days later, Crystal was greeted by three D.A.R.E. police officers, who interrogated her about her parents' drug use. The officers threatened Crystal, saying her parents would be arrested if she didn't tell them everything she knew about her mother and father's recreational drug habits. The officers then warned her against telling her parents about their encounter, claiming that "often parents beat their children after the children talk to police." Scared, the girl agreed to carry out a spy mission on her family. The D.A.R.E. officers instructed Crystal to count her parents' marijuana plants and to provide details about their schedules and the layout of their home. When Crystal reported back to the cops, they informed her that her house would be raided and that she would not be able to stay there that night. After the police raided the house and found several marijuana plants, Crystal's parents were arrested and her mother was fired from her jobs as a teacher's assistant and a bus driver. The D.A.R.E. officers had failed to make arrangements for where Crystal and her younger sister would stay while their parents were in police custody, and when the police couldn't find any nearby family members, they had to take the girls to the house of a distant relative. Feeling that the police and school officials had manipulated her, Crystal—who was once outgoing and gregarious—became socially withdrawn and suffered from psychological distress. Reflecting on how the incident had turned her life upside down, Crystal later told The Wall Street Journal: "I would never tell again.…Never. Never." When a federal judge awarded Crystal a civil judgment against the D.A.R.E. officers, he issued a strong condemnation of how they had turned the fifth-grader into an informant against her own family: "This type of coercive extraction of indicting information from an 11-year-old girl about her parents is reprehensible behavior unworthy of constitutional protection." This reprehensible behavior, unfortunately, is all too characteristic of a program that has long been criticized for using children to gather information about their families and communities. The only unique thing about this story is that the D.A.R.E. officers coerced the girl in an especially callous way. Most D.A.R.E. programs involve coloring books and special certificates, not threats. But whether they use coercion or persuasion, D.A.R.E. and similar programs have much to teach us about American snitch culture. By conditioning children and teens to scrutinize and regulate their parents' and peers' conduct, these programs encourage kids to act like cops. And that makes them part of a long tradition. Boy Police and Girl Coppettes At the turn of the 20th century, "Boy Police" patrols sprouted throughout the United States. As crime rose in many of the nation's cities, burgeoning urban police departments calculated that by recruiting a large number[...]