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Updated: 2017-03-27T00:00:00-04:00

 



The Cure For Trump-Related News Blues

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

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



Good Punctuation Can Sure Save A Lot of Money

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

"Punctuation Saves Lives," goes the tagline to a meme you might have seen. Above it appear two sentences: "Let's eat Grandma!" "Let's eat, Grandma!" Droll, very droll. But commas are no laughing matter to the Maine company Oakhurst Dairy or to the workers who sued it for unpaid overtime. Ten million dollars might now change hands because of a simple comma—or rather the lack of one. The case turned on what is known as the serial, or Oxford, comma—the comma that (sometimes) precedes the last item in a series, as in: "Ted bought a house, a car, and a boat." Some people hold that such a sentence needs two commas: one after "house" and one after "car." The second comma is the Oxford comma. But others contend the sentence should have only one comma (after "house") and that a second comma would be superfluous. For the remainder of the column, these two groups shall be referred to as (1) Oxford comma proponents and (2) people who should burn in hell. To see why, consider this tweet from writer Justin Hendrix: "When @LouiseMensch reported on the FISA tap, she included details that implicated Putin's own daughters, Carter Page and Paul Manafort." Former Trump aide Paul Manafort is alleged to have links to Vladimir Putin. But this is the first time anyone has ever suggested he and Trump adviser Carter Page are Putin's daughters. An Oxford comma would have made it clear that the details implicated (a) Putin's daughters, (b) Page, and (c) Manafort. A New York Times reporter recently provided another (fictitious) example of the confusion that can arise when the Oxford comma is omitted: "I'd like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope." That would make for quite a scandal. Unfortunately, many news organizations have decided to omit the Oxford comma, although some of them grudgingly permit it in cases where confusion might arise. But that only creates more confusion: First because it looks inconsistent, and second because there is bound to be confusion about whether certain cases might cause confusion. Confusion certainly arose in the Oakhurst Dairy case. (Oops. Make that "the case involving Oakhurst Dairy," since just about every grocery store in the country has a dairy case.) According to Maine law, overtime rules do not apply to: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. This can mean one of two things: (a) Overtime rules do not apply to packing carried out for the purpose of shipping or distribution. (b) Overtime rules do not apply either to packing carried out for the purpose of shipping, or to distribution. If you drive a truck that delivers perishable dairy products, this distinction makes a big difference, because while you do the distribution, you don't do the packing. So your legal claim to overtime pay hangs on exactly what the legislature intended. Unfortunately, the legislative intent is hard to discern from the text of the statute, because the Maine legislature abjures the Oxford comma. If the legislature used the Oxford comma—and used it consistently, not inconsistently the way many news outlets do—then its meaning would be plain. A comma would prove whether the lawmakers meant "packing for shipment or distribution" or "packing for shipment, or distribution." A lower court ruled in favor of the company. An appeals court reversed that decision and found in favor of the drivers because the lack of a comma rendered the sentence unclear. You might think that qualifies as the most expensive comma question ever, but it doesn't. That honor belongs to an errant comma inserted in an 1872 tariff act. Because of the comma's placement, fruit importers successfully argued that fruit was exempt from U.S. tariffs, and American taxpayers had to cough up $2 million, which comes to roughly $40 million in today's dollars. So perhaps good punctuation does not literally save lives. But it can sure save a lot of money. This column origi[...]



Why Trump Can’t Fix Health Care

2017-03-27T00:01:00-04:00

Bill Clinton tried to fix America's health care problems and was shot down by Congress. Barack Obama got his solution enacted only to find most people didn't like it. Republicans who voted repeatedly to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something far better have found it fiendishly hard to agree on how. It could be that our health care problems don't get solved because of partisanship, incompetence, corruption or dishonesty among our elected officials. Or it could be because those problems are not soluble. Oh, some of them can be solved, for sure. But not all at once, and not within the constraints of our political environment. We have trouble accepting that. So we muddle along with a system that is riddled with flaws and causes a lot of dissatisfaction. The changing perceptions of the Affordable Care Act are a marvel to behold. It was so controversial that it barely got through Congress in 2010. Long before it was fully implemented, it was unpopular, and it mostly remained so. Republicans ran against it with great success in the congressional elections in 2010 and 2014, and Donald Trump won last year after calling it a "disaster" that he would repeal and replace with something "much better and much less expensive." As one of Ernest Hemingway's characters said, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" But something shocking happened on the path to the repeal of Obamacare: It began to look better. In the latest poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of Americans said they liked it, the highest figure since 2010, and just 44 percent didn't, down from 53 percent in 2014. What accounts for the shift in sentiment? One factor is that when it comes to their health care, Americans nurse a deep distrust of change. They may not be satisfied with what they have, but they assume anything different will be worse. Another is that a lot of them really didn't know what the ACA did but disliked it because they associated it with a president they opposed. Given that Obama's approval rating hovered around 50 percent for most of his second term, it's not surprising that his signature initiative evoked widespread disdain, particularly among Republicans. Stubborn ignorance also plays a role. An NPR/Ipsos poll in January found that more than half of Americans didn't realize that the number of people with health insurance rose under Obamacare. One in three mistakenly thought it put restrictions on end-of-life care—remember the "death panels"? The ACA also clashed with intractable preferences. It forced individuals to purchase insurance. It meant more government interference in private markets. It expanded a major entitlement, Medicaid. It required new taxes. It didn't reduce total health care expenses for most people. All of these features grated. And Americans are not slaves to logic or consistency. Opposition to this massive federal program has been particularly high among seniors—most of whom are covered by that massive federal program known as Medicare. The implicit attitude: Big government for me, but not for thee. Only lately has it occurred to many detractors that ACA also has elements that they would rather not surrender—such as allowing young adults to stay on their parents' policies until age 26, barring exclusions for pre-existing conditions, mandating free preventive care, giving subsidies to moderate- and low-income people and expanding eligibility for Medicaid. Trump has led voters to believe they can have all the stuff they want and none of the stuff they resent. But neither he nor anyone else has found a plausible way to accomplish that. The mournful realities are inescapable. If you remove the individual mandate, you allow younger and healthier people to opt out, which would mean higher premiums for older and sicker ones. If you cut the cost of Medicaid, you leave a lot of poorer Americans without coverage, forced to rely on expensive emergency room care. If you eliminate the taxes, you raise the federal deficit. You can't have it all. Our aversion to t[...]



Trump’s Military Budget Is Not NATO’s Fault

2017-03-26T17:30:00-04:00

President Trump's budget proposal would increase military spending $54 billion, not quite a 10 percent increase over the current level. According to Quartz, the increase alone is more than all but two countries—China and Saudi Arabia—spend on their militaries. (China spends $145 billion, Saudi Arabia $57 billion, Russia $47 billion, and Iran $16 billion, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reports.) Meanwhile, Trump implies that NATO members take advantage of America by not paying enough for own defense. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington recently, Trump tweeted: "Germany owes … vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!" As we've come to expect, Trump gets it wrong. NATO members don't pay dues to NATO, and they don't pay the United States for defense. However, NATO requires members to budget at least 2 percent of their GDP for their own militaries. Some members haven't spent that much, but that has changed in recent years. Trump leaves the impression that Americans shoulder an unnecessarily large military burden because some NATO members underfund their military establishments. But that's nonsense because that's not how things work in Washington. Americans don't pay more because Germans Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Norwegians pay less. At other times Trump seems to acknowledge this. In his campaign he never said the U.S. military budget would be smaller if NATO members paid up. Rather, he said he wanted to make America "strong again"—so strong that no one would dare "mess with us." His budget message said, "In these dangerous times, this public safety and national security Budget Blueprint is a message to the world—a message of American strength, security, and resolve." His address to a joint session of Congress also did not justify greater military spending by pointing to how little the allies spend. It was all about making America "great again." In other words, Trump's proposed increase is "signaling"—the American military is already powerful beyond imagination—and this signaling has little to do with NATO members' spending. We have no reason to think his Pentagon budget would be smaller if suddenly other NATO members hiked their military budgets. Signaling is not the only driver of military spending. The U.S. government maintains an empire, and empires are bloody expensive. They also generate their own need for greater resources. For example, the so-called war on terror, especially the repeated bombing of noncombatants, provokes a desire for vengeance against Americans, which in turn functions as a justification for greater military spending. And so it goes. Moreover, the Pentagon, as a bureaucracy, exhibits the well-known internal dynamic for expansion. Civilian and military administrators have a natural desire to enlarge their domains and enhance their prestige. Similarly, those who wish to sell products and services to the government—The Complex—have an interest in the growth of the military budget and can be counted on to lobby for it. Finally, members of Congress can advance their careers by maintaining and bringing jobs and military facilities to their states and districts. When the budget sequester was pending, a leading Democratic and progressive member of Congress, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, opposed limits on the growth of military spending because they might reduce jobs in his district. We've all heard stories about legislators authorizing weapons that the Pentagon did not want because of the supposed economic stimulus in their states. Military Keynesian is as mistaken as other Keynesianism: if the government doesn't spend the money, private individuals will spend or invest it. Trump may think that the American military is not powerful enough because its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dragged on for more than a decade and other wars, such as those in Sy[...]



This Former Congressman Is Against the War on Drugs

2017-03-26T09:00:00-04:00

Editor's Note: In January 2013, Trey Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. Radel had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel was and is a critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, Radel documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that always seems to put philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food, is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform. In this excerpt, Radel recounts the immediate aftermath of his drug bust, which was inevitably (and legitimately) tied to a vote to drug-test food-stamp recipients he had cast as part of a farm bill. During this awful time, it felt like every political pundit on the planet; every TV newscast, newspaper, and online publication; and every comedian in the world was coming after me. Although, after all those years of dreaming I'd be on SNL, I made it. Seth Meyers ripped me often on "Weekend Update." Every pundit and comedian seemed to take particular glee in my vote on the provision in the farm bill regarding food stamps and drug testing. Remember when I said that this vote would come back to bite me in the ass? It all started when the Huffington Post ran an article with the headline: "Trey Radel, Busted on Cocaine Charge, Voted for Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients." The irony is the HuffPo reporter, in at least one of the articles, actually expounded on my view on the failed War on Drugs and my past votes focused on criminal justice reform. But, c'mon, who reads articles? At the lowest moment of my life, I was being savaged on national television for getting busted for drugs after voting to drug test food stamp recipients. After the press broke the massive farm bill down to a headline, the public boiled my vote down to one meme—a picture of me with white powder Photoshopped all over my face saying: "Republican votes to drug test food stamp recipients, gets busted for cocaine." The truth was that it had not been a single vote to "drug test these dirty dogs getting handouts!" It was part of the thousand-plus-page farm bill loaded with other provisions, and it gave states more power over how they wanted to administer their food stamps. I believe in "to each state its own," especially when it comes to addressing local issues and concerns. I thought that Washington's constant "one size fits all" mandates were doomed to fail. So while I am a Republican who is so libertarian that I could have been labeled a liberal because of my determination to end the War on Drugs and work with Democrats, it didn't matter. I was just another tea party asswipe who got busted for drugs and voted to drug test food stamp recipients. This was especially tough for me to take because I was and am such a staunch opponent of the War on Drugs. Our drug policies in the United States should be focusing on rehabilitation, not incarceration. There's a fiscally conservative argument for this because we throw away billions of dollars a year locking people up and turning our backs on them. Many times nonviolent drug offenders return to society lacking skills to get a job, or they're turned away from jobs because of their record. Worse, they come out as hardened criminals, which places an even greater economic burden on society. Ironically, shortly before my bust, I worked with Democrats to cosponsor the Justice Safety Valve Act. In fact, I was one of only a few Republicans to do so. The goal: Get rid of m[...]



The Limits of Expertise

2017-03-26T06:00:00-04:00

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols, Oxford University Press, 272 pages, $24.95 Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise. That is the thesis of Tom Nichols' The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it. There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued—and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. "The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of 'uninformed,' passed 'misinformed' on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to 'aggressively wrong,'" Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that "within my living memory I've never seen anything like it." As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that "holding the line [of ignorance] isn't good enough" and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn't know that Americans are not getting more ignorant. The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a "folk theory" holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire. In fact, Americans have long been so uninformed that they barely can be said even to have opinions at all, much less wrong ones. In one of the most extreme examples in Achen and Bartels' book, New Jersey voters in 1916 opposed Woodrow Wilson because they'd experienced a freak series of shark attacks. The president had no way to stop the sharks, but that didn't stop voters from punishing the incumbent for them. (Or at least that's how Achen and Bartels interpret the electoral data. Other experts disagree, as experts will.) Nichols thinks democracy is threatened because Americans know so little about policy, but if democracy depended on Americans knowing something about policy, Achen and Bartels argue, the United States would have collapsed long ago. Nichols' lack of historical perspective on ignorance is mirrored by the second central flaw in his book: a lack of historical perspective on knowledge. Nichols does admit that experts can be wrong in numerous ways. They sometimes make outright mistakes, as when nutritionists decided that eggs were bad for you. They may use their authority to talk about issues beyond their area of expertise,[...]



Appeals Court Embraces Free Speech, Rules Skim Milk is ‘Skim Milk'

2017-03-25T08:00:00-04:00

"The leftover product is skim milk: milk that has had the fat removed through skimming." If those words—from a unanimous 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier this week—sound like some sort of dicta—words in a court decision which represent a judge's ideas or observations but aren't part of the holding of the case and which, therefore, carry little legal weight—then it may surprise you to learn the question of whether all-natural skim milk is skim milk actually go to the heart of the case in question. The case, Ocheesee Creamery v. Putnam, has its roots in 2012, when Florida's state agriculture department ordered Ocheesee, a small creamery in the state's panhandle, to stop selling its skim milk. The state claimed Ocheesee's skim milk ran afoul of Florida's standard of identity for skim milk, which requires creameries and dairies to add vitamin A to their skim milk. In response, Ocheesee, which prides itself on its all-natural milks, proposed instead of introducing vitamin A additive to its milk to label its skim milk as "Pasteurized Skim Milk, No Vitamin A Added." The state rejected that label, telling Ocheesee they could sell their skim milk only if it were labeled as "Non-Grade 'A' Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed" or, later, as "imitation skim milk." For a state that argued it was in the business of protecting consumers, and that Ocheesee's use of the term "skim milk" to describe its skim milk (ingredients: skim milk) was misleading, it's worth noting both of Florida's recommended terms for a skim milk that contains only skim milk are patently and grossly misleading. Ocheesee was forced to sue the state. Last year, the U.S. District Court sided with the Florida regulators. The appeals court win this week is an important victory not just for Ocheesee Creamery but also for free speech, consumers, small businesses, and food freedom. It's also a big win for the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiff creamery. "This decision is a total vindication for Ocheesee Creamery and a complete rejection of the Florida Department of Agriculture's suppression of speech," said Justin Pearson, a senior IJ attorney, in a statement this week. "Today, thanks to the 11th Circuit, [Ocheesee owner] Mary Lou [Wesselhoeft] is no longer denied her First Amendment right to tell the truth." I served as an expert witness for Ocheesee Creamery in the case—writing an expert report and testifying in a deposition on its behalf—and describe the case in some detail in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. Like Pearson, I couldn't be happier with the outcome of the 11th Circuit case. The intervention of one of America's largest dairy lobbies into the case in support of the Florida regulations—which I wrote about in September—is one interesting facet of the case. "Food processors, such as Ocheesee, who choose not to replenish essential nutrients to the standardized level, must label those products as 'imitation,'" the International Dairy Foods Association argued. Thankfully, the 11th Circuit Court saw otherwise. As I've argued for years—and first argued in a 2012 column here—food labels should be open "to any and all statements that aren't demonstrably false." Use of terms like "natural," "almond milk," and "Just Mayo" on food labels are not the least bit misleading. Government efforts to stifle such speech and to rewrite the meaning of common dictionary terms to fit government ends are draconian, Machiavellian, Orwellian, and all sorts of other bad things ending in the suffix "-ian." What's next for the Ocheesee case? I suspect Florida will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its appeal of the case. That's when things could get even more interesting. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides not to hear Florida's appeal, then the 11th Circuit Court's ruling will be [...]



Harlots Doesn’t Sell Out When Detailing Lives of 18th Century British Hookers

2017-03-24T15:30:00-04:00

Harlots. Hulu. Available March 29. Somewhere in the vast terrain between the hooker-as-fairytale-princess fantasy of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and the prim, grim Victorian sociology of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Woman of the Streets lies Harlots, Hulu's odd but engrossing new drama about life inside an 18th-century London brothel. Screenwriter Moira Buffini, one of the five British women who produce, write, and direct Harlots, said in unveiling the project that the goal was "everything from the whore's-eye view." The result is that the women in Harlots are neither glamorous courtesans nor broken flowers, and their depiction is never erotic. There's plenty of nudity, of both sexes, but you've seen commercials for bladder medication that were sexier. The Harlots hookers don't make much money, but it's a living—and they regard the cops and and do-gooder moralists trying to close their house less as saviors than as a circling wolfpack. When a judge who's been asked to close the bordello as a public nuisance haughtily declares that "I grieve for the desperate women I have seen today who, faced with starvation, have sold their flesh," the prostitutes in the courtroom exchange looks laden with the unspoken question: "So you think we'll be better off in jail?" Harlots opens in 1763 with a prologue that claims a fifth of the women in London were hookers. That runs far ahead of police estimates of the day, but there's little doubt prostitution was a major industry. One of the show's early scenes, in which the women amuse themselves by reading their own notices in a Consumer Reports-style guide to the various local hookers and their skill sets ("one of the finest, fattest figures as fully finished for fun and frolick as fertile fancy ever formed...") is drawn from documented history. The brothel at the heart of Harlots is operated by Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton, nominated for an Oscar in 2002 as the troubled young immigrant mother of In America), a veteran of the trade whose virginity was bartered away for a pair of shoes at age 10 by her own mother. Margaret, buffeted by high rent and increasing graft demands by cops, hopes to get a much higher price for the maidenhead of her teenaged daughter Lucy (British TV actress Eloise Smyth). And she's playing the even more lucrative long game with slightly older but much more reluctant daughter Charlotte, who she's trying to place as an indentured consort to a wealthy nobleman. But her plans must be dangerously accelerated when cops raid her house, putting her out of business at least temporarily, and a rival madame (Lesley Manville of the British version of Law & Order) starts raiding her corps of whores. It turns out these two events are not coincidental. In a classic example of the regulatory-economics parable known as Baptists and Bootleggers, the other madame has been funding a decency group to attack Margaret's brothel and clear away the competition. That plot description sounds bleak, which is not entirely fair. Harlots burbles with the bawdy workplace humor of the hookers, from their theories about the sexual ontology of the reformers (the blind leader of the decency group, they speculate, lost her eyesight after putting her eyes out upon seeing her first penis on her wedding night) to, tart—heh-heh—remarks about job training. Told she must undergo instruction in cultural refinements, one of the women inquires, wide-eyed: "So, you will teach my cunny French?" The humor extends to the casting of Charlotte, the steely daughter resisting indenturement. She's played (quite well) by Jessica Brown Findlay, that sweet and gentle Lady Sibyl of Downton Abbey, whose death in childbirth so unhinged PBS cultists that the Washington Post ran a medical story explaining preeclampsia, the obscure condition that killed her, demanding an explanation of her inadequate treatment: "If Lord[...]



Do Muslims Commit Most U.S. Terrorist Attacks?

2017-03-24T13:30:00-04:00

"It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it," asserted President Donald Trump a month ago. He was referring to a purported media reticence to report on terror attacks in Europe. "They have their reasons, and you understand that," he added. The implication, I think, is that the politically correct press is concealing terrorists' backgrounds. To bolster the president's claims, the White House then released a list of 78 terror attacks from around the globe that Trump's minions think were underreported. All of the attackers on the list were Muslim—and all of the attacks had been reported by multiple news outlets. Some researchers at Georgia State University have an alternate idea: Perhaps the media are overreporting some of the attacks. Political scientist Erin Kearns and her colleagues raise that possibility in a preliminary working paper called "Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?" First they ask how many terror attacks have taken place between 2011 and 2015. (The 2016 data will become available later this summer.) The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, which catalogs information on over 150,000 incidents since 1970, defines terrorism as an "intentional act of violence or threat of violence by a non-state actor" that meets at least two of three criteria. First, that it be "aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal." Second, that there is "evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) other than the immediate victims." And finally, that it be "outside the precepts of International Humanitarian Law." The Georgia State researchers report that the database catalogs 110 terrorist attacks in the U.S. over the most recent five-year span period in the database. (Globally, there were more than 57,000 terrorist attacks during that period.) In some cases, the media tended to report several attacks perpetrated by the same people as a single combined story; following their lead, the researchers reduce the number to 89 attacks. They then set out to answer four different questions: Would an attack receive more coverage if the perpetrators were Muslim, if they were arrested, if they aimed at government employees or facilities, or if it resulted in a high number of deaths? From a series of searches at LexisNexis and CNN.com, Kearns and her colleagues gathered a dataset of 2,413 relevant news articles. If each attack had received equal media attention, they would have garnered an average of 27 news articles apiece. Interestingly, 24 of the attacks listed in the GTD did not receive any reports in the news sources they probed. For example, a cursory Nexis search failed to turn up any news stories about a 2011 arson attack on townhouses under construction in Grand Rapids, Michigan. An internet search by me did find several local news reports that cited a threatening letter warning residents to leave the neighborhood: "This attack was not isolated, nor will it be the last. We are not peaceful. We are not willing to negotiate." The GTD reports so far that no one has been apprehended for the attack. For those five years, the researchers found, Muslims carried out only 11 out of the 89 attacks, yet those attacks received 44 percent of the media coverage. (Meanwhile, 18 attacks actually targeted Muslims in America. The Boston marathon bombing generated 474 news reports, amounting to 20 percent of the media terrorism coverage during the period analyzed. Overall, the authors report, "The average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which rece[...]



Is California 'Death Tax' Bill Real or Just More Anti-Trump Spite?

2017-03-24T00:01:00-04:00

This year's California legislative session has been thus far dominated by two persistent themes: the desire to stand up to the Trump administration and the pursuit of new tax dollars to fund infrastructure and other spending programs. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, so Republicans have been able to do little more than complain. A recent proposal by a new state senator from San Francisco captures both of these concepts in one measure. In late February, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced S.B. 726, a direct response to a proposal by President Donald Trump. (Ironically, Wiener has been viewed as a "pro-business" Democrat, at least by Bay Area standards.) The president wants to eliminate the federal estate tax, which imposes a 40 percent tax on estates valued at $5.5 million or more. A couple of Republican-backed bills to repeal the tax are currently making their way through Congress. Wiener's measure would institute a California estate tax that's identical to the federal estate tax. Under Wiener's bill, the tax would only go into effect if Congress does away with the federal version. Such estate taxes, often referred to as "death" taxes, don't apply to a huge number of estates, given the large exemption, but they have earned the wrath of the president and many Republicans. Trump called the tax "just plain wrong." President Barack Obama had proposed eliminating an estate-tax "loophole." And Hillary Clinton had proposed raising the estate tax to an unprecedented 65 percent, according to a Forbes analysis. Republicans dislike such taxes on grounds of "fairness," since many of these estates often are taxed twice and even three times. Such taxes can have a negative effect on small businesses, especially farms, which often struggle to stay afloat after the passing of the owner. Democrats see the tax as a way to find government revenue. They also make social-justice arguments for taxing larger shares of inherited wealth, which they view as exacerbating inequality. "If Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are hell-bent on cutting taxes for our wealthiest residents, we should counterbalance those tax cuts by recapturing the lost funds and investing them here at home in our schools, our health-care system, and our roads and public-transportation systems," Wiener said in a statement. Even if his bill passes both houses of the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it still faces a large hurdle; it would need to be approved by voters on a statewide ballot. That's because voters in 1982 approved two slightly different statewide ballot initiatives (Propositions 5 and 6) that repealed the state's then-existing inheritance and gift taxes and prohibited state or local governments from imposing them in the future. If Congress repeals the estate tax and Californians impose a new estate tax at the ballot box, then the "death" taxes currently flowing to Washington, D.C., would head to Sacramento instead—to the tune of around $4.5 billion annually. Californians pay 26 percent of the nation's total estate and inheritance taxes, according to Wiener's statements. "Considering that California is generally a donor state to the federal government, that would mean significantly more money would remain in California for critical investments," his office explained. "A foolish, unnecessary tax," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "At least they have to go to the voters to do this and I suspect citizens will be skeptical." Wiener's approach, Republicans say, would leave California, which already has among the highest income-tax rates in the nation, at an even greater competitive disadvantage. California already has high tax rates that drive many businesses to other states. If the estate tax is gone [...]



Movie Review: Life

2017-03-24T00:01:00-04:00

(image) Ridley Scott's upcoming Alien: Covenant—the sixth film devoted to the celebrated space monster—is due out on May 19. For those who want an Alien fix right now, though—who just can't wait—please try a little harder to hold on. Despite its robust cast (featuring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal), the rousingly titled Life is an uncalled-for Alien rip—effective in a rote way, with a few icky shocks, but probably not exactly what you seek.

Stop me if you've heard this before (more or less). A team of space explorers discovers a mysterious organism in a cargo of red soil from Mars. One of the crew—the traditional mush-minded science guy (Ariyon Bakare)—hails this discovery as "the first incontrovertible proof of life beyond Earth." He also announces that "We're going to learn so much about life." Much more than he suspects, of course.

Once the predacious visitor escapes captivity in the ship's lab, the crew members—all big-brain exobiologists and epidemiologists—suddenly come down with a collective case of the stupids. As the alien grows and grows, from a tiny Groot-like cuteness in the beginning to its final, squid-like manifestation as a sort of giant sushi special, the crew does just about everything wrong. No sooner do they manage to trap the monster in some secure area than they turn around and let it back in again. And again.

Throughout all this, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (helmer of the Denzel Washington feature Safe House) sprinkles the proceedings with visual quotes from the Alien universe: a tentacle slithering into view behind an unsuspecting character's back, a profile shot of one character coming face to face with the alien interloper. More usefully, Espinosa also raids the Gravity effects closet for complex scenes of on-board weightlessness. (These couldn't have been easy to do, and the director does them well.)

The picture offers a nice line in gruesome doings—a character's hand being crushed into a stump, a very large tentacle writhing out of another character's throat. What's missing, though—and it was a large part of what made the 1979 Alien so involving—is vivid character details: the eerie unflappability of Ian Holme's android science officer, the borderline hysteria of Veronica Cartwright's navigator, the blue-collar wisecracking of Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton as the ship's engineers. Here, while the six lead actors—including Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Hiroyuki Sanada (an alumnus of a much more stylish space movie, Danny Boyle's Sunshine)—are solid, their characters are a little colorless. Even Reynolds, who gets a couple of sharp lines from script-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the team that also wrote Deadpool), barely has time to register in this generally humorless film. And while Gyllenhaal brings movie-star heft to his role, his contemplative performance—especially in a scene of childhood reminiscence—sometimes seems beamed in from another picture.

Life is a serviceable space thriller, largely derivative and agreeably unapologetric about it. What you see is all that you get—the movie doesn't linger in the mind. It's no Alien, but how many sci-fi movies have ever been? Even in the long-running Alien franchise.

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Democrats Shouldn't Dismiss Spying Claims So Quickly

2017-03-24T00:01:00-04:00

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters yesterday that members of Donald Trump's presidential transition team—and possibly Trump himself—may have been caught up in surveillance during the last days of the Obama administration. Nunes says the surveillance, by both the FBI and NSA, looked to be legal "incidental collection" that had nothing to do with concerns over Russia collusion. If true, this isn't the wiretapping of Trump Towers, as Trump claimed in his infamous tweet a few weeks ago, but it is spying in any commonly understood sense of the word. The NSA routinely listens to calls and reads emails of Americans and collects other data "incidentally" from third parties, avoiding warrants. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has been found constitutional, states that government doesn't need a warrant to collect information on Americans as long as the target of the collection is a foreigner. That's one thing. But if we're to believe Nunes, the names of Trump associates were "unmasked," and "details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting." CNN reported that some of the communications picked up were of Trump transition officials talking about the president's family. What possible need was there for those details to be passed around in an intelligence report? Who ordered the unmasking of the people involved? Was the information properly minimized? If the investigation wasn't aimed at collusion with the Russians, what investigation ensnared the president-elect and his transition team? While the answers might not vindicate Trump, they are legitimate questions. If it turns out intel wasn't properly minimized, this is the kind of abuse that civil libertarians have long warned undermines Americans' privacy, a Fourth Amendment right. Many Democrats (and a few Republicans) have been warning about the exploitation of 702 for years. Only last year, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) admitted that "information that we get through 702 can be misused." The American Civil Liberties Union also opposes it ("We Must Rein in President Trump's Spying Powers" reads one headline. Right.). Some Senate Democrats specifically worried that the NSA could spy on politicians. The case of former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) illustrates that it's probably easier to smear a politician than to blackmail one. But in 2014, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) sent a letter to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander asking him whether NSA had spied on members of Congress "or other American elected officials." Spying, he wrote, gathers "any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business," among other things. We can argue with this definition of spying if you like, but the NSA's public affairs office answered: "NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons." Intelligence agencies cannot share details about American citizens with no foreign-intelligence value. If Nunes is right, how were these procedures not broken? If a Bush-era intelligence agency had engaged in "incidental collection" of Barack Obama's phone calls in 2008, and then disseminated that information, the Earth would have stopped in its orbit. (Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claims Obama's phone calls were intercepted 1,227 times and then masked. Being caught up in surveillance doesn't necessarily mean you're guilty of anything.) Now, because the person involved is named Donald Trump, journalists sprinted to the nearest med[...]



Trump Can't Stop Marijuana Legalization

2017-03-23T13:30:00-04:00

"The Trump administration can slow down marijuana legalization, but they can't stop it," says Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum.

Trump already endorsed medical marijuana on the campaign trail, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of old school drug warrior Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is cause for concern.

"First of all, the federal government doesn't have the power to force states to make marijuana legal again," explains Sullum. While the Trump administration could sue to knock down state regulations, that would simply leave behind a legal but unregulated market. According to Sullum, the feds don't have the manpower to crack down on the local level, and there's very little upside for the administration to roll back legalization. "They can create a lot of chaos, but ultimately they're not going to reverse legalization and bring back prohibition."

Produced by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg
Edited by Austin Bragg

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Christians Started the Wedding Wars

2017-03-23T08:15:00-04:00

A man who lived with more than one woman was anathema in the 19th century; the media called polygamy an "act of licentiousness" that deserved to be categorically denounced, its adherents disenfranchised. In 1885, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law making plural marriage a felony, declaring that "the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony [is] the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization." A New York Times editorial celebrated that result, observing cheekily that "we had not supposed there had ever been any serious question." Today, it's the old-timey view that marriage is between one man and one woman only—and that sex should be reserved to that union—that raises the Grey Lady's ire. When Californians sought to ban gay marriage in 2008, the editors of the Times called the initiative a "mean-spirited" effort "to enshrine bigotry in the state's Constitution." Even assuming you think the paper was right the second time around, the reversal is striking. But while the norms have clearly changed, the desire to punish anyone who refuses to comply with those norms appears to be forever. As the nation goes to war over birth control mandates and gay wedding cakes, many religious supporters of traditional marriage and sexual mores understandably feel their rights are being trampled. But so did the Mormons a century ago. To justify the anti-polygamy laws forbidding that group to live out its faith, Christian traditionalists stretched the First Amendment to precarious lengths. Now, the arguments they created and employed are being turned against them. Discrimination Nation "We can't promote a marriage that God says isn't really marriage," the blog post would have read. "Even if our beliefs are a bit different or unpopular, we have to stick to them." But those words, penned by Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, were never published to their website. The authors feared the government of Phoenix might come after them if they were. The young women, aged 23 and 24 respectively, are the owners of Brush & Nib Studio, an Arizona-based custom artwork and calligraphy shop. Shortly after getting their new business off the ground in 2015, they realized that a city ordinance passed two years earlier opened them up to enormous fines and even jail time as a result of their beliefs. The law forbids certain companies not just from discriminating against gays and lesbians but also from saying anything that so much as implies a customer would be unwelcome because of his or her sexual orientation. Duka and Koski don't want to be forced to create wedding invitations and other artwork that celebrate same-sex marriage, so they're suing to overturn the Phoenix regulation as a violation of their First Amendment rights. Their prospects seem grim, however: In September of last year, the Maricopa County Superior Court denied their request for a temporary injunction to stop the law from being enforced while the challenge proceeds. "There is nothing about custom wedding invitations made for same-sex couples that is expressive," the decision, incredibly, reads. That ruling is just one in a litany of recent instances in which small business owners have faced serious legal consequences for not wanting to be involved in commemorating same-sex unions. In Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop was hauled before the state's Civil Rights Commission. In Oregon, the proprietors of Sweet Cakes by Melissa were fined an eye-popping $135,000 and had to shutter their storefront. In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court told photographer Elaine Huguenin that she and her husband would be "compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs tha[...]



Don't Let Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders Kill Tax Day

2017-03-23T00:01:00-04:00

The deadline for filing federal income tax returns is approaching fast. While this is understandably a frustrating time for many, it's also the one time during which many taxpayers are confronted with just how much of their earnings are captured by the government. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), think that is one time too many. They want the Internal Revenue Service to prepare tax returns on behalf of taxpayers instead of leaving it as an individual responsibility. This idea is pitched as a "simplification." And, to be fair, the complexity of our tax code is undeniable. It results in tax-compliance costs that can reach nearly $1 trillion annually, according to my colleague Jason Fichtner. However, the solution to this complexity isn't to add to the opacity of the system and make the cost of government even less visible to those picking up the tab. There's already too much of that. First, automatic tax withholding has gone a long way to hide the amount of taxes we pay annually. Also hidden is the fact that the burden of any tax falls on—and is paid by—people, whether they be consumers, investors or workers. Different types of taxes—individual, corporate, capital gains, dividends, estate, gift, etc.—are all borne by people but not necessarily by the person who cuts the check to the IRS. It results in a fiscal death by a thousand cuts without taxpayers noticing. For example, consider payroll taxes, which are withheld from paychecks. Few people realize that this is likely the biggest tax they pay. It's also sold as something other than an income tax by taxing only qualified wages. Yet, because it's withheld from wages, the same ones that are used as part of the individual income tax base when filing your taxes in April, it's just a clever way to double-tax you without you even knowing. Furthermore, its full burden is hidden by pretending that half of the burden is carried by employers (employers pay 7.65 percent; workers pay 7.65 percent; and the self-employed pay the full 15.3 percent), when in reality, the burden of the employee share is shifted to workers in the form of lower salaries. As a result, without putting serious time and effort into figuring it out, it's all but impossible to tally how much is truly coming out of your pocket. The solution to this cost, however, is not to let the IRS prepare our tax returns and require nothing but a signature of approval from the taxpayer. For one thing, the government's incentive is to maximize tax collection, whereas individuals generally prefer to pay the lowest amount legally possible. And second, the IRS isn't particularly good at understanding its own rules, yet taxpayers would still be held responsible for the errors. Considering the tremendous and one-sided power held by the IRS, many would be scared to question the accuracy of an IRS-created return even if it's warranted. Automatic withholding was first proposed in the midst of World War II. It was considered an emergency wartime measure to fund a greater percentage of war costs with current taxes than was done during World War I, in hopes of avoiding the same degree of inflation seen during the prior war. Free market economist Milton Friedman was a young Treasury Department employee at the time, and he even helped develop the program. Friedman would later lament, "It never occurred to me at the time that I was helping to develop machinery that would make possible a government that I would come to criticize severely as too large, too intrusive, too destructive of freedom." He did it by accident, as he never wanted the program to exist during peacetime. Sens. Warren and Sanders seek to do the same toda[...]



Trump Isn't Running the Government Like a Business

2017-03-23T00:01:00-04:00

Anytime a reporter interviews Donald Trump voters about their reasons for supporting him, you can count on one of them to cite his capitalist credentials. The president has "a businessman's approach to running the country," a Chicago business owner told a Chicago Tribune reporter in a story this week. If only. Trump is completely lacking in government experience, unlike almost every one of his predecessors. But during the campaign, he touted business background as evidence of his ability to handle the presidency. Never mind that his fortune was built on a large inheritance from his wealthy father, that he went through six bankruptcies, and that many of his ventures (Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, among others) vanished without a trace. He and his supporters preferred to focus on his successes, which he promised he could duplicate in the White House. But no competent business executive would operate a company the way Trump has operated his administration. Protecting the brand is a key mission of every company. As plenty of defunct corporations can attest, it takes years to establish a reputation and secure the trust of customers—and that reputation can be destroyed overnight. Ask Volkswagen, whose managers rigged cars to defeat emissions tests; or Samsung, which sold phones that were prone to catching fire; or Chipotle, which had repeated outbreaks of food poisoning. Through ethical lapses or performance failures, these firms drove away the consumers who made them successful. And the damage may never be undone. Those companies are now striving to prove that they have learned from their mistakes and will do better in the future. Trump, by contrast, goes out of his way to raise doubts about his honesty, competence and willingness to correct mistakes. His tweets accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping created a fantastic lie that was promptly debunked by everyone with knowledge of the facts. This embarrassed many of his Republican allies in Congress and drove his approval ratings down to historic lows. Had he done anything so self-destructive as the CEO of a publicly traded company, he would have been fired. A key to success in business is filling jobs with good people. But Trump has failed to fill thousands of jobs with anyone at all. He complains that Democrats have slowed confirmation of his Cabinet appointees, but Democrats don't have enough votes in the Senate to block these nominations. Part of the problem is that he was slow to make some of his choices because he saw no need to devote any attention to such matters until after the election. Another is that some of his nominees, being exceptionally wealthy, require more extensive vetting to head off conflicts of interest. The problem is even worse that it appears. CNN reported that there are some 1,900 job vacancies in the executive branch, most of which don't have to go through the Senate. Even conservatives have chafed at the delays. There is "a personnel crisis in the Trump White House," wrote John Fund in National Review. "Trump has named only 20 sub-Cabinet-level positions, including two who withdrew—a list that includes nominees for ambassadorships, counsel positions, and commissioners, according to a tracker from the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service." Sean Hannity claimed Trump is being sabotaged by "deep-state Obama holdovers" in the government. But if the president wants loyalists who will carry out his policies, he has to actually appoint them. A corporate executive who encountered persistent obstruction from top or middle managers would waste no time replacing them. Trump, by contrast, has wasted two months and will u[...]



Apparently Tax and Spending Cuts are Either Too Small or Too Big, but Never Just Right

2017-03-22T12:05:00-04:00

Donald Trump, the ultimate outsider and former liberal Democrat, and Ed Gillespie, the ultimate insider and GOP veteran, are about as different as two people in the same party could be. But when it comes to taxing and spending, opponents are giving them the same old business. Last week Trump unveiled his budget outline, which jacks up military spending—though not nearly as much as critics allege: His Pentagon proposal is only 3 percent bigger than what Barack Obama sought. To offset his defense hike, Trump has proposed cuts in other domestic programs, from the Appalachian Regional Commission to the Weatherization Assistance Program. The screams of liberal protest still echo through the hills. Some progressives have been horrified to learn the administration might eliminate agencies they had never heard of in the first place. And many have pointed out that the budgets for those and other agencies are, in relation to aggregate federal spending, minuscule. The combined budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, complained one critic in Slate, "total under $300 million, which is less than 0.01 percent of the total federal budget." The Washington Post took this tack as well. When White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the administration did not want to ask a coal miner or a single mom to pay for programs on the chopping block, the paper's fact-checker retorted with "A Coal Miner's Plight: Paying for Public Broadcasting Is Less Than a Dollar of His Taxes." You get the point: Cuts to small agencies make no real difference—so don't cut them. So does this mean Trump's critics favor big cuts that will make a difference? Perish the thought! "Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism," says Rolling Stone, because it would have "devastating effects" on social programs. The left-wing website Common Dreams calls it "morally obscene" for the same reason. "Cuts to education, labor, agriculture and many other departments of double digits," says a piece in U.S. News, amount to a budget that "has no soul." Bottom line? Small budget cuts are bad—and big ones are absolutely heinous. Government must always continue to grow in every direction. The same response greeted Ed Gillespie's tax proposal. The Republican candidate for governor of Virginia has rolled out a plan that would shave Virginia's tax brackets by 10 percent each, and eliminate three punitive business taxes. (Chief among those: the BPOL tax, which applies to gross revenue rather than net profit. Even Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was willing to get rid of that one.) Democrats are not impressed. "The Gillespie campaign's proposal would give the top 1 percent almost $3,200 a year," the Democratic Party complained in an email blast, "while a family of four with an income of $50,000 would get just $246 and a minimum wage worker with two kids just $42." Now, it's certainly true that tax cuts often benefit people who pay lots of taxes. It's pretty hard to avoid that dynamic. And it's doubly hard in Virginia, where the top tax rate of 5.75 percent applies to anyone making more than $17,000. The state badly needs to bring its brackets in line with economic reality. Gillespie should have made his tax plan more progressive by proposing a tax rate of zero percent for anyone making less than $20,000, and progressively higher rates for everyone else. But would Democrats have been any happier? Probably not. Consider the freak-out that greeted Gov. George Allen (R) when he proposed a $2.1 billion tax cut in 1995. Democratic House Majority Leader Richard Cranwell warned that Allen wanted to "take police officers off the street[...]



Journalist Barrett Brown on Prison, Leakers, and Private Intelligence Agencies

2017-03-22T11:00:00-04:00

Barrett Brown was just released from prison last November after four years behind bars for, among other things, posting a series of videos in which he appears to threaten an FBI agent. How things escalated to that point in the first place is a complicated matter involving email hacks, drug addiction, and the murky world of private intelligence contractors.

Often straddling a line between journalist and participant, Brown's rise to prominence tracks that of the hacker collective Anonymous, perhaps best remembered for its campaigns against Scientology. Media outlets characterized Brown, not always entirely to his liking, as the spokesman for Anonymous, and it would be his association with hackers that would later put Brown on the FBI's radar.

For his part, Brown believes that it was his investigation into several private intelligence contractors following the hack of a firm called HB Gary. Brown and his team discovered in the emails that several of the firms had joined together into a conglomerate called Team Themis, and that one of Team Themis' projects was to develop potential lines of attack against critical organizations like Wikileaks and journalists such as Glenn Greenwald.

Brown sat down with Reason TV in the Dallas headquarters of D Magazine, where he now works covering city council meetings, to talk about life in federal prison, the state of the private intelligence industry, what an ever-leakier world means for the future of U.S. politics and culture, and his plans to create a decentralized activism network based on lessons learned from Anonymous meant to shake up media and governmental institutions.

Approximately 19 minutes.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Mark McDaniel and Alexis Garcia. Music by Kai Engel.

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Revisiting Restrictions on the Right to Bear Arms

2017-03-22T06:00:00-04:00

You can't legally own a gun if you have been convicted of most felonies with a potential sentence of more than one year of imprisonment (or, if it's a misdemeanor, more than two years). Federal law, at 922(g)(1) of the U.S. Code, makes that clear. But some offenders who were banned from possessing firearms have succeeded in getting lower courts and a federal appeals court to agree that the statute can, in certain applications, violate people's Second Amendment rights.

In January, the federal government applied for certiorari to the Supreme Court in Binderup v. Holder, which consolidates two such cases.

One of the plaintiffs is Daniel Binderup, who had a consensual but illegal sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in 1998. He was sentenced to probation for three years under a misdemeanor conviction. The federal government believes this bars him from legal gun ownership forever, as it was a crime for which he could have been (though he wasn't) given over two years' incarceration.

The other plaintiff is Julio Suarez, who was found with a gun in his car in Maryland without a carry license. He was given 180 days of prison in a suspended sentence, plus a fine and probation.

Attorney Alan Gura, who won two previous Supreme Court cases for Second Amendment rights—Heller in 2008 and McDonald in 2010—is one of Binderup's lawyers. At issue, he says, is whether 922(g)(1) should cover people whose crimes present no evidence of danger to the public, now that gun ownership has been recognized by the Heller decision as an individual constitutional right.

One of the court filings from Binderup's legal team sums up the relevant issue well: "not one word of the Government's brief discusses the critical issue in this as-applied Second Amendment challenge: whether Daniel Binderup's possession of firearms would be in any way dangerous."

In a complicated September 2016 decision, an en banc panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Binderup's and Suarez's convictions "were not serious enough to strip them of their Second Amendment rights." Reasons given included that the offenses were nonviolent and earned light sentences.

The government hopes the Supreme Court will reconsider, and its certiorari petition spells out what's at stake from its perspective: "Section 922(g)(1) is by far the most frequently applied…firearms disqualification, forming the basis for thousands of criminal prosecutions and tens of thousands of firearm-purchase denials each year."

Gura already has other 922(g)(1) challenges in process and indicates many more could be waiting in the wings.

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Hacking Away at the Budget Is the Humane Thing To Do

2017-03-22T00:01:00-04:00

"Devastating!" shouts Chuck Schumer. Even Republicans are unhappy. Big spending "conservative" congressman Hal Rogers calls President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts "draconian, careless and counterproductive." But Trump's cuts are good! Why do politicians always assume that government spending helps people? It always has unintended consequences. Foreign aid is attached to idealistic notions like ending global poverty and making friends abroad. Politicians also thought that by rewarding countries that behave well, America could steer the whole world toward responsible practices like holding elections and allowing companies (especially U.S. companies) to operate without interference. The young nation of Israel could be propped up with money for its military defense and infrastructure projects. But today, the U.S. sends money to friends and foes alike, and it's hard to know what those countries do with it. Israel gets billions of dollars—but we give even more money to Israel's enemies. Money we give to impoverished nations seldom reaches the poor people we want to help. The funds routinely go to the kleptocrat governments that made those countries such horrible places to live in the first place. Our gifts prop up authoritarians, making it easier for them to avoid free market reforms. We're just as dumb about spending at home. The Department of Education doesn't teach any kids. It imposes standards on local schools that make it harder for them to experiment. It hires bureaucrats who do endless studies—instead of letting competition show us what teaching methods get the best results. The Department of Education also promotes government-subsidized student loans that trick students into thinking that no matter which school they pick, no matter their major, they will graduate with useful, marketable skills. Many go deeply into debt just when they should be getting a start in life. The Department of Agriculture tips American elections. Presidential candidates promise farm subsidies to try to win the early Iowa primary. Politicians say the subsidies will rescue struggling small farms, but they rarely do. Most of the money goes to big, well-connected agribusiness. They shouldn't get subsidies any more than other businesses should. The so-called "war on poverty" has now cost almost $22 trillion, about three times what we've spent on all America's wars. Yet poverty endures, even as markets and technology should have eliminated most of it. Before the war on poverty began, Americans were steadily lifting themselves out of poverty. The well-intended handouts increased dependence and stopped that natural progress. They perpetuated poverty. Obviously, some federal programs do help people. When you spend trillions of dollars, some of it will be put to good use. But that doesn't mean the Economic Development Administration, "Essential" Air Service, Community Services block grants or even Meals on Wheels deserve a penny more of your taxes. "There is no magic money tree in Washington," the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards reminds us. At DownsizingGovernment.org, he lists many more programs that ought to be cut. Even when programs do good things, he says correctly, "It is more efficient for the states to fund their own activities—school and antipoverty programs—because doing so eliminates the expensive federal middleman." Having our money back means being able to pay for things we choose as individuals—including helping out the poor more effectively than the government. Finally, even areas where Trump wants to[...]



Jeff Sessions' Terrible Truth About Drugs Is a Lie

2017-03-22T00:01:00-04:00

"Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life," Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared last week. The main problem with that message: It isn't true. Yes, using drugs, both legal and illegal ones, can destroy your life, but typically it doesn't. By arguing that drug education should proceed from a false premise, Sessions reminds us what was wrong with the Just Say No propaganda he would like to revive. Sessions, a former senator who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in the 1980s, looks back proudly at his efforts, alongside Nancy Reagan, to "create a hostility to drug use." For Sessions as for Reagan, tolerance is a dirty word. "We must create an atmosphere of intolerance for drug use in this country," the first lady wrote in a 1986 Washington Post op-ed piece. "Each of us has a responsibility to be intolerant of drug use anywhere, anytime, by anybody." Sessions likewise emphasizes the importance of "preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place," even if "this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use." The "prevention" Sessions favors is not simply unfashionable; it is fundamentally dishonest. Among other things, Sessions said at a Senate hearing last April, prevention aims to teach teenagers that "good people don't smoke marijuana." According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, something like 118 million Americans have used marijuana, 36 million of them in the last year. Does Sessions honestly think all those people are bad, or that anyone would believe they are? "Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices," Sessions says. But his terrible truth sounds a lot like a lie. Sessions claims marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin, and in 2014 he strenuously objected after President Obama conceded that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. "I'm heartbroken," Sessions said. "It's stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension." Judging from his response, Sessions literally did not comprehend Obama's point. Sessions tried to rebut Obama's statement about the relative hazards of marijuana and alcohol by declaring that "Lady Gaga says she's addicted to [marijuana] and it is not harmless." Let's put aside the merits of treating Lady Gaga as an expert on the effects of marijuana, or of extrapolating from this sample of one to the experiences of cannabis consumers generally. The most disturbing aspect of Sessions' argument was his failure to grasp that one substance can be less dangerous than another without being harmless. Saying marijuana is less hazardous than alcohol by several important measures—including impairment of driving ability, the risk of a fatal overdose, and the long-term damage caused by heavy use—is not the same as saying marijuana is 100 percent safe. Sessions not only has no patience for such nuance; he considers it a menace to the youth of America. Sessions is especially offended by the suggestion that marijuana legalization could reduce opioid-related harm by providing a safer alternative. "Give me a break," he said in a recent speech to the National Association of Attorneys General. "It's just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits." Uncharacteristically, Sessions conceded that "maybe science will prove I'm wrong." If he bothered to research the subject, he would discover that several studies have found an ass[...]



Julian Simon Would Tell Us: America Needs More Immigrants

2017-03-21T15:00:00-04:00

The late economist Julian Simon taught us that people are the "ultimate resource." In the short-term, population growth causes problems. It increases traffic, crowds our schools, and stretches family and government budgets. But over time, population growth pushes us to innovate and find solutions that leave us better off. Population growth drives economic expansion. It makes us richer. And it improves our health and environment. Simon died in 1998, but he left behind decades of controversial and path-breaking work—and an unusually good track record. In 1980, Simon famously offered a wager to back up his work showing that natural resources generally become less scarce and less expensive. Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich accepted the challenge, chose five metals, and bet that between 1980 and 1990, their prices would rise because they would become scarcer. Simon bet that the prices of the metals would fall. In 1990, Simon won the bet. Prices of all five metals fell. I miss Julian Simon more than most. He was my father. I often think about what he would say about the economic issues we face today. On the subject of immigration, I know what he would say: The economic evidence is clear that America needs more immigrants. In his book The Economic Consequences of Immigration, praised by Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, Simon showed that immigrants improve our economy. They work more, save more and start more businesses per person than native-born Americans. They raise the overall incomes of native-born Americans. And, particularly through the taxes they pay, they have an overall positive impact on the public coffers. Their positive impact on federal government finances is greater than their negative impact on state and local government finances. Given Simon's great track record predicting economic and societal outcomes, it is not surprising that so many of his findings still hold true. In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences reported that immigration "is integral to the nation's economic growth." Immigrants have "helped the United States avoid the problems facing stagnant economies created by unfavorable demographics," particularly an aging workforce. Immigrants (who are now better educated than ever) have "boosted the nation's capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change." The National Academy of Sciences confirmed that immigrants make us richer and contribute more to the public coffers than they take out. What kinds of immigrants does the U.S. need? All kinds, Simon would tell us. We need the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who will create the next Google, Comcast and Tesla (all founded or co-founded by immigrants). And we need the immigrants who pick fruit and do other back-breaking work that almost no other Americans will do. Simon also would point out that immigrants make America safer. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than other Americans. The American Immigration Council reported in 2015 that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent "antisocial" behaviors, and less likely than the native-born to be behind bars. Finally, Simon would tell us that the understanding of immigrants' crucial role in America's economic success dates back to July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence attacked King George for obstructing immigration to America. "He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; r[...]



3 Questions for Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch

2017-03-21T13:00:00-04:00

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings this week on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gorsuch is a federal judge with admirers across the political spectrum. But his views on several crucial constitutional issues remain unclear. Here are three questions I'd like to hear Judge Gorsuch address this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

1. Congressional Power

The Supreme Court has upheld the power of the federal government to prosecute cannabis users in California under Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce. Yet the medical marijuana that was the focus of that 2005 ruling was both grown and consumed only in California.

I'd like to hear Judge Gorsuch explain his views on the limits of federal power. Does Congress have the authority to ban a local activity that's legal under state law?

2. Executive Power

The federal courts are currently hearing arguments about the constit utionality of President Trump's ban on travelers from a handful of majority-Muslim countries. According to the Trump administration, the federal courts have no business second-guessing the president's authority on an issue that affects national security.

I'd like to know if Judge Gorsuch agrees that the president's executive orders are beyond the reach of judicial review. How deferential must the federal courts be to the commander in chief?

3. Unenumerated Rights

The Constitution lists a number of individual rights, such as free speech and the right to keep and bear arms. But it also refers to rights that aren't explicitly mentioned.

For example, the Supreme Court has protected the right to privacy, the right of parents to send their children to private schools, and the right to gay marriage. None of these rights are mentioned anywhere in the text of the Constitution.

In his 2006 book, Judge Gorsuch was critical of reading the Constitution in this way. He wrote that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment has been "stretched beyond recognition" in the name of defending unwritten rights.

I'd like to know if Judge Gorsuch thinks the same is true of the 9th Amendment and the Privileges or Immunities Clause, both of which refer to unwritten rights. Does he believe the Constitution protects any rights that aren't explicitly mentioned?

The American people deserve to hear what Judge Gorsuch has to say about these fundamental constitutional issues. Given all the unanswered questions about his jurisprudence, he should fully explain himself at this week's confirmation hearings.

Written by Damon Root. Shot by Jim Epstein. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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The Coming German Energy Crisis

2017-03-21T07:00:00-04:00

Recently, I came across a report by Fritz Vahrenholt, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Hamburg, entitled Germany's Energiewende: a disaster in the making. It made for interesting reading. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the German government decided to shut down its 19 nuclear power stations, which supply nearly 30 percent of the country's electrical power, by 2022. Driven by social pressure, the German government now plans to get rid of all fossil fuels, thus increasing the share of renewable energy to 95 percent of total energy supply by 2050. To accomplish its goal, the government has introduced a "renewable" levy on power bills, thus doubling the price of electricity. This additional cost amounts to €25 billion ($26.8 billion) annually. In a nod to rationality, the government has exempted energy-intensive industries (steel, copper and chemicals) from the renewable levy, thus maintaining their competitiveness. There have been no blackouts so far, Vahrenholt argues, because of "typical German over-engineering of its grid, which was set up with a very wide safety margin. Even if a power line or a power station fails, the power supply remains secure, at least for now." Moreover, Germany has nine neighbors with whom power can be exchanged. Surplus can be sold to the neighbors' electricity grids on sunny or windy days. In return, Austrian oil-fired power stations, Polish coal plants, and French and Czech nuclear power stations, provide stability when German renewables fall short. This is a situation unique to Germany. If the Energiewende were to happen in the UK, for example, the electricity system would have imploded already. As things stand, there is currently no political party in Germany that opposes the Energiewende in parliament. Nevertheless, the report argues, a crisis is coming. The problem with German drive toward renewable energy is not capacity, but intermittency. If for example the capacity for wind energy were to triple, then there would be a huge oversupply of wind energy on windy days and an energy shortage when there is no wind. One way to cope with this volatility is to establish a backup system based on fossil fuels with dramatic economic and environmental consequences. Alternatively, the government could dramatically expand the nation's energy storage capacity, but the needed technologies are still prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, wind parks and other renewables sometimes oversupply energy so much that they have to be temporarily taken off the grid. Yet the producers still get paid under German law—even if they produce no energy whatsoever. The cost of this particular scheme amounts to €1 billion per year. Even so, the oversupply sometimes becomes so large that the price for energy turns negative and Germany has to release its excess power onto the grids of neighboring countries and pay for them to take it! Also, wind is more abundant in the north of Germany than in the south. As such, according to the report, a "total of 6100 km of cable will have to be built by the time the last nuclear power stations shut in 2022. 400 km have been given the go-ahead and 80 km have been built, just 1.3% of the intended total. The government underestimated the opposition that their plans would meet. Building power lines on this scale has brought protests like those against nuclear power in the past." Renewables are also the most la[...]



Obama Finally Finds His Clemency Pen

2017-03-21T06:00:00-04:00

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When They Nullify the Law, Jurors Are Just Doing Their Jobs

2017-03-21T00:01:00-04:00

Why juries do what they do is often a mystery, especially when they protectively interpose themselves between the government and a defendant. Outsiders can't know what really goes on during jury deliberations, and jurors themselves have no way of knowing what truly motivates their colleagues to bring a not guilty verdict. That's why jury nullification—acquittals of defendants who jurors believe did violate the law but don't deserve punishment, either because of specifics of the case or because jurors oppose the law in question—isn't always obvious. It's extraordinarily rare for jurors to tip their hands by setting people loose and then telling them they should keep up the good work, which is what happened in a recent case from New York. But, as with much of what jurors do, nullification is important and potentially powerful. Prosecutors and their groupies don't really care why they were thwarted—just that they didn't get their way. When refused convictions in high-profile criminal cases, they tend to act as if the government has been denied something to which it's entitled by divine word and the laws of nature. Amidst whining by prosecutors about spending a week with "12 idiots," and huffing by editorial boards over an "absurd verdict," it's difficult to know whether a not guilty verdict represents an act of juror rebellion or a simple statement that the government didn't live up to its obligation to prove its arguments. Although, either way, jurors likely consider themselves to be doing what's right. That was certainly the case last year when all the usual people assumed that jury nullification was at the root of the acquittal of seven defendants who had occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in protest of federal dominance of land throughout the West. "The jury plainly failed to enact their Constitutional duty to apply the law rather than their opinions, and speaking as a professor of politics and government as well as a citizen of the United States, that's scary," wrote Lane Crothers of the University of Illinois in the pages of the New York Daily News. He went on to warn, essentially, that the peasants are revolting because they "don't like the federal government's presence in their lives." That's very bad, according to him. Not so fast, one of the actual jurors protested in a letter to The Oregonian. "It should be known that all 12 jurors felt that this verdict was a statement regarding the various failures of the prosecution to prove 'conspiracy' in the count itself—and not any form of affirmation of the defense's various beliefs, actions or aspirations." So, no rebellion at all—except that the one juror couldn't have known what the 11 other people in the room were thinking. Maybe they were being coy in their deliberations. And actual jury revolts are a thing, though we can't know their frequency. On March 2, jurors in upstate New York acquitted four defendants of obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct, and trespass—charges related to a 2015 protest at the Hancock Field National Guard Base. The four opposed the piloting of Reaper drones from the base, particularly for bomb and missile missions in the Middle East that have frequently resulted in civilian deaths. "Following the rendering of the verdict," the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars announced, "a juror approached [acquitted [...]



Trump Budget Cuts: Real or ‘Reality’ Show?

2017-03-20T16:00:00-04:00

Donald Trump ran for office promising to crush the Islamic State, end the influx of illegal immigration from Mexico, and stop the flight of American manufacturing jobs to China. Now that he's in office, he seems to be focusing on different set of targets: Public television's "Big Bird," poor old people who benefit from "Meals on Wheels," and history graduate students and scholars of the Founding Fathers who get grants from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). Some reports even had the Trump administration slashing funding for the Coast Guard. What's going on here? The Trump "budget cuts"—they deserve quotation marks, because no money has yet actually been cut—are best understood in the context of Trump's home city, New York. There, for decades, the mayor would propose draconian "cuts" to popular institutions like museums and libraries. The museums and libraries would dutifully rally their constituencies to fight against the proposed "cuts." And the City Council would intervene to restore the funding, winning the gratitude of those that had been targeted. This was widely and correctly understood as a kind of theater. No funding was genuinely in jeopardy, other than the personal funds of the taxpayers who wound up eventually footing the bill for the government spending. The mayor got to pose as fiscally prudent. The City Council got to claim credit for protecting the museums and libraries, which had never really been in danger. A 2010 New York Times article described it as "something of an annual budget ritual: Public libraries, always among the first city services to be threatened with substantial cuts in financing, are forced to face the abyss, only to be saved in the end, in whole or significant part." A 1998 article from the Queens Courier, a local newspaper in Trump's original home borough, quoted a City Council member, Archie Spigner, who said, "Cutting libraries and culture is a ritualistic maneuver between the Mayor and the Council. In my 25 years on the Council it has always been that way, whether it was a Democratic or Republican mayor. The Mayor proposes the reduction and the Council makes restitution. It's the reality of politics and I don't think the Mayor's serious." For Trump, it's a win-win maneuver. He lets small-government conservatives, many of whom never quite trusted him in the first place, believe that he made a good-faith effort to cut federal spending. And he lets the Republican Congress, which is up for re-election before he is, claim credit with centrist swing voters for sparing popular programs from Trump's budget axe. On the substance of it, there is a strong case for cutting or eliminating many of the targeted programs. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting warns about the risk to Sesame Street, but that program in 2015 made a five-season deal with HBO. HBO is a for-profit network that is part of Time Warner, whose deal to be acquired by AT&T awaits Trump administration antitrust review. The NEH trotted out, in its own defense, the president of Harvard, Drew Faust. Harvard has a $35.7 billion endowment. The NEH's total annual appropriation in 2015 was $146 million. Faust herself earned $1.2 million in compensation from Harvard in the most recently disclosed year, along with an additional $250,000 for her service on the board of Staples, an office supply retailer. She and h[...]



Virginia Cop's Taser Set This Man on Fire—How Much Does the County Owe Him?

2017-03-20T12:00:00-04:00

Let's get one thing clear at the outset: Miles November acted like an idiot. November could have killed someone the night of February 7, 2015, when—driving on a suspended license, with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit—he led police officers on a high-speed chase in Chesterfield that ended when he rolled his car several times and crashed. A few months ago he pleaded guilty to drunken driving, running away from the cops, and driving on a suspended license. For such behavior, he deserved a long stretch in a hard cell—especially given his long record of prior offenses for DUI and assaulting officers. Rosa Parks he ain't. Few people would dispute that. But only a demented sadist would contend that, for his crime, November should have been burned alive. Yet that's what happened. November's car was leaking fluids when Chesterfield police officers caught up to him. They dragged him away from the vehicle because, as one of them allegedly said later, there was gasoline "all over the road and the vehicle was smoking." November's lawyers claim other officers present said they, too, could smell gasoline. County attorneys deny that any of the officers noticed signs of leaking fuel. According to a $95 million lawsuit November's lawyers have filed, November was lying on the ground when fire trucks rolled up and startled him, and he tried to stand. The police say November resisted arrest and struggled with them, and he recently was convicted on that charge. Either way, several officers evidently swarmed him. At about that moment, another officer—Ryan Swope—ran up. The lawsuit alleges that Swope gave November no command or warning before he yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" and fired his stun gun. Soaked in gasoline, November went up in flames. He apparently burned for half a minute before firefighters put out the fire. By then he had third-degree burns over nearly 90 percent of his body. He spent the next six months in the hospital, and in agony. At this point, some people might be inclined to say that November brought his suffering on himself. If he hadn't been drinking and driving—if he hadn't run from the cops—he would be a happier man today. Those things are true, but they are not the whole truth. For one thing, those things also would be true if Swope had drawn his sidearm and shot November in the head, killing him. November acted stupidly, but stupidity doesn't justify anything and everything in response. Yet a review found Swope acted in accordance with department policy. For another, there's apparently more to the story. And if the complaint filed by November's lawsuit is to be believed, a lot more. Example: The complaint says Swope had only recently returned to duty and was on disciplinary probation for several incidents of misconduct. Chesterfield Police Chief Thierry Dupuis later fired Swope for his connections to an outlaw biker gang. And, the complaint adds, Swope was one of the most prolific taser users in the department. The complaint also makes some broader claims—e.g., that Chesterfield officers often have used tasers simply to make people comply with orders more quickly, and even on people who were handcuffed at the time. In one instance, the complaint says, the very officer in charge of taser training "himself tased an unarmed suspect who sat on a to[...]



Opioid Deaths: Another Drug War Failure

2017-03-20T00:01:00-04:00

Illicit drug use is an old phenomenon, and Jeff Sessions has an old solution: take off the gloves. "We have too much of a tolerance for drug use," the attorney general complained to an audience of law enforcement officials Wednesday, promising more aggressive policing. "Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad," he declared. "It will destroy your life." That claim will fall on a lot of deaf ears among the 100 million Americans who have used marijuana—most of whom found it did not destroy their lives and some of whom found it made their lives better. He is right, though, that tolerance is rampant. A Gallup Poll last year showed that 60 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized for recreational use—as eight states and the District of Columbia have done. Medical marijuana is allowed in 28 states and D.C. But in his prepared remarks, Sessions insisted cannabis is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. Oh, please. The nation is in the midst of an epidemic of overdose deaths involving heroin and other opioids. In 2015, 32,000 Americans died of such overdoses. Compare that with the number of people who died from ingesting an excess of marijuana: zero. Pot, in fact, appears to be saving lives. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states allowing medical marijuana had 25 percent fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses than states forbidding it. People often use opioids to relieve pain. But "individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal," said Johns Hopkins University professor Colleen Barry, the lead author. Sessions made a point of commenting on this unwelcome scientific data: "Give me a break." He paid lip service to "treatment and prevention," but don't expect much there. The Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal, has been "the largest expansion of drug treatment in U.S. history," according to Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys. If they have their way, we can expect the largest contraction of drug treatment in U.S. history. Promoting treatment goes against the approach long preferred by hard-line politicians. The most effective remedy for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, with drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. But if you'd like to stop shooting heroin, you may search in vain for help. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that "access to MAT is severely limited by extensive federal and state regulations and restrictions. A scant 12 percent of individuals with opioid dependence receive methadone, and only nine percent of substance abuse treatment facilities in the United States offer specialized treatment of opioid dependence with MAT." Among the people who could most benefit from this sort of treatment are prison inmates. But a DPA survey found no state correctional systems that provide it—even though a report last year from the surgeon general compared it to giving insulin to diabetics. Upon release, opioid-prone offenders are particularly susceptible to dying of an overdose, apparently because addicts' physical tolerance diminishes while they are locked up. Zealous drug [...]



The Failures of the American Health Care Act

2017-03-19T09:30:00-04:00

From the time it was enacted, most Americans disliked the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Republicans, promising to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, rode the wave of public dissatisfaction to repeated election victories. The GOP took the House of Representatives in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016, largely capitalizing on the skyrocketing premiums, rising deductibles, and disappearing choices that characterize Obamacare. Now, as Republicans control both Congress and the White House, they finally have the chance to deliver on their promise. And not a minute too soon. Because the mandates that Obamacare places on health insurance have sent our health insurance system into a death spiral. Premiums continue to soar as insurance companies are pulling out of the market, leaving consumers with fewer and fewer affordable choices. In over a third of the nation's counties, individuals have just one insurance plan as a choice. Soon, many counties will have no plans available. Repealing and replacing Obamacare is no longer an option. It's essential. Answering the alarm, on March 6 the House leadership unveiled the American Health Care Act, their attempt at "repeal and replace." To advocates of health care freedom there is little reason to be pleased. The American Health Care Act does little to stop the death spiral underway. It may even accelerate it. Here's why. A major force behind the death spiral is the series of mandates that Obamacare places on all health insurance sold in the U.S. Companies that offer insurance that is not "ACA-compliant" suffer penalties, as do any individuals that buy such a policy. For example, there are 10 essential benefits, including maternity care, mental health care, chemical dependency rehab, and vision and dental care for children under 18—which all insurance must provide, regardless of the needs or desires of the health plan customer. This makes insurance much more expensive than it would otherwise be for people who don't want or need those benefits. But the mandate that contributes in the greatest way to making premiums unaffordable is called "guaranteed issue/community rating." This is the requirement that insurance providers accept people who are currently sick or have preexisting conditions, yet providers are not allowed to charge such people any differently than those who are not sick and don't have preexisting conditions. In order to have enough money in the risk pool to pay out claims, this feature makes insurance companies thus charge younger and healthier people much more, while charging sicker and older people much less. Even worse, it creates an incentive for people to put off buying health insurance until they get a health problem, when the insurance company must sell it to them and cannot charge them any differently than if they were healthy. Imagine if auto insurance worked this way. There would be no reason to buy it until you got in an accident. But imagine how much that auto insurance would cost. To deal with this problem, Obamacare has the infamous "individual mandate," which penalizes people with a tax if they put off buying health insurance. But the penalty isn't stiff enough because more and more young and healthy people are choosi[...]