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Updated: 2016-12-08T00:00:00-05:00


4 Ways the Trump Administration Could Help Minorities


Republicans running for president haven't done very well with minority voters, and although President-elect Donald Trump fared slightly better this year than Mitt Romney did in 2012, the numbers still show that the GOP has a long way to go to make inroads with black and Hispanic voters. According to the Pew Research Center, Trump received only 8 percent of the black vote and 28 percent of the Hispanic vote. With demographic trends projecting that the share of non-Hispanic whites will continue to drop, it would be wise for the incoming Trump administration to pursue sound policies that have the additional benefit of helping minorities. First, support the decriminalization of drug possession and the complete legalization of marijuana. Like alcohol prohibition, the federal government's war on drugs has been a costly failure. In 2015, only 16 percent of drug arrests were for manufacturing and sale; the clear majority were for mere possession. Drug usage rates are similar between whites and minorities, with blacks representing about 14 percent of regular drug users. But blacks account for 37 percent of drug arrests. Marijuana, which is arguably safer than alcohol, account for almost 43 percent of drug arrests, and of those, 90 percent are for marijuana possession. Again, even though usage across the races is similar, blacks are almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana as whites. Second, pardon all nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons. A whopping half of those in federal incarceration are there for drug offenses, and a disproportionate share of the federal prison population is nonwhite. According to The Sentencing Project, African-Americans serve almost the same amount of time in prison for drug offenses as whites do for violent offenses. Indeed, the federal government's draconian drug policies have led to the highest incarceration rate in the world. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. In addition to being wildly expensive to taxpayers, the mass incarceration of drug offenders has destroyed families and ruined the job prospects of young minorities. Third, eliminate the federal minimum wage. Minimum wage laws are intended to help put more money in the pockets of workers, but the unintended consequences of these laws on minorities are problematic. Government-imposed wage floors artificially inflate the cost of labor. Businesses might respond by seeking cost reductions in other areas. For workers, that could translate into fewer hours, reduced benefits and even termination. For example, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour wouldn't help a worker if his company decided it would be more economical to replace the worker with an automated kiosk. Lower-skilled workers, who are likelier to be minorities, are the first on the chopping block when labor costs are higher than what the market can bear. Fourth, target federal regulations that inhibit job creation. It's interesting that many of those advocating a higher federal minimum wage are often the same people in favor of the federal government's piling regulation after regulation onto businesses. Like the federal minimum, artificially higher costs resulting from regulations cause businesses to seek savings elsewhere, including cutting the labor force or, worse, closing the doors. According to my colleagues at the Mercatus Center, if federal "regulation had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the U.S. economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it actually was as of 2012. ... This amounts to a loss of approximately $13,000 per capita, a significant amount of money for most American workers." I have listed four ways the incoming Trump administration could help minorities, but there are more. And while these policy prescriptions would be of particular help to blacks and nonwhite Hispanics, they would benefit all Americans—men and women, young and old, rich and poor—well, perhaps not those in the prison business or the government employees responsible [...]

Are E-Cigs the Market Solution that Can Save a Billion Lives?


"This is a market solution to one of the biggest health crises we've ever seen in the history of the world," says Aaron Biebert, director of A Billion Lives, a documentary that makes the case that regulatory agencies and non-governmental organizations are engaged in a campaign of misinformation against e-cigarettes. "It's disturbing to me that something that's working is being demonized."

Biebert sat down with Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller to discuss the film and the state of the vaping industry in the wake of new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines that the American Vaping Association, a pro-vaping industry group, claims could wipe out 99 percent of existing e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers. The FDA, for its part, plans to "hire additional Office of Small Business Assistance staff to provide assistance to small tobacco product entities wherever possible." And just today, the Surgeon General issued a report claiming that e-cigarettes are "now a major public health concern."

But are e-cigarettes actually dangerous, or is this simply fear-mongering propaganda from public health agencies that are slow to adapt to innovation?

Watch the full interview above to hear more on that question.

Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Alex Manning and Lexy Garcia. Music by Chris Zabriskie.

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Can Trumpcare Cure Obamacare?


President-elect Donald Trump may be a disaster on many policy fronts but he may well be just what the doctor ordered for America's ailing health care system. And his pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services—Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)—is a good indication of that. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, isn't perfect. But he has clear ideas about health care reform that may well cure some of the worst aspects of Obamacare. Obamacare promised near-universal coverage while lowering premiums without jeopardizing existing plans or providers. Remember President Obama's "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period."? In reality, Obamacare will account for $1.8 trillion in new spending over 10 years. Yet it will cover only 31 million of the 48 million uninsured. That's partly because more employers have dumped their workers on ObamaCare than originally anticipated—and partly because 8 to 9 million fewer people have enrolled in the exchanges than expected. The big reason why the exchanges aren't able to lure customers is that median premiums have skyrocketed 116 percent in the last four years, notes Avik Roy of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. Rising premiums price out too many young and healthy people, especially if they aren't sufficiently poor to qualify for big subsidies. This has left the exchange pools with older and sicker patients, which, in turn, leads to more premium increases, which prices out more healthy people, and so on and so forth. Some fear that Obamacare may have already entered an irreversible death spiral of adverse selection. Liberals want to prop up Obamacare by throwing more money at insurance companies (by extending the risk corridor and reinsurance programs beyond their 2016 expiration date) while forcing more people to buy coverage through harsher penalties. This would be both pricey and draconian, while doing nothing to actually bend the spending cost curve, another failed Obamacare promise. Price, who authored a 250-page Obamacare replacement bill called the Empowering Patients First Act, has a better answer. There is much to quibble about in his plan. (For example, his proposal to end defensive medicine by having a federally empowered board prescribe best practices that would provide doctors a safe harbor from lawsuits is an attack on patients' rights.) But he gets the fundamentals right. Price understands that the reason 48 million Americans lacked health insurance before Obamacare even though the country spent 16 percent of its GDP on health care—more than any industrialized country—was a combination of two things: One, half of all Americans received a blank check to consume virtually limitless health care via lavish tax-exempt employer plans. And, two, too many mandates and regulations on providers and insurers prevented them from innovating new and cheaper ways of delivering care. The limitless demand and the limited supply was a recipe for inflation that left coverage out of the reach of working-age Americans who didn't get employer insurance and didn't qualify for Medicaid. The Price plan attacks both those problems. For starters, Price would deregulate the medical industry, scrapping Obamacare's many mandates on insurance companies, save the one concerning pre-existing conditions. (Insurers won't be allowed to turn away patients, no matter how sick, if they have maintained continuous coverage. And those who haven't maintained coverage will be required to pay 150 percent of the normal rate for two years.) Price would also stop ordering insurers to cover a lavish set of minimum benefits to qualify to sell their plans on exchanges. Furthermore, Trump's new HHS secretary would cap tax deductions for work-based insurance coverage at $8,000 for individuals and $20,000 for families. This is by no means stingy, but over time it would save the government money. This money—plus the money generated when Obamacare's subsidies are scrapped—[...]

A Strong Leader


President-elect Donald Trump's first decisions were exciting. His new team seems to include good people like Betsy DeVos, Andy Puzder and Paul Atkins. It's refreshing to watch Trump mock the media and political correctness. How dreary the world would be today if we faced four more years of condescension from Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks. But I worry. Many of Trump's supporters like him because they say he's a leader who will "get things done." That's not necessarily a good thing. Recently, my Twitter feed contained Trump saying: "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!" Yikes! Mr. President, burning a flag is free speech. And don't we have property rights? If I buy the flag, it's mine. No one has a right to tell me what I can do with it. Recently, Trump bullied and bribed executives from the Carrier air conditioner company into withdrawing plans to move a factory to Mexico. "Like a despot drunk and delirious with power," wrote economist Don Boudreaux, Trump "bellowed that '(c)ompanies are not going to leave the U.S. anymore without consequences.'" Those are the kind of things socialist dictators say. Trump's no socialist. He is obviously a businessman who loves making money. But that doesn't mean he understands the conditions necessary for other people to prosper. Trump proposes some bad socialist policies: a $10 minimum wage, restrictions on imports and travel, and tougher libel laws. These are terrible ideas. I think about how "strongmen" leaders have worked for other parts of the world. Venezuela voted in a strong leader. Now the country's collapsing into economic chaos: looting, shortages of food, riots. That's what an autocrat can do. Venezuela was once the most prosperous country in South America. Then Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez. He promised to throw out the establishment and make Venezuela ... well, better, if not "great." American celebrities loved Chavez. Oliver Stone made a movie praising him and then invited the tyrant to join him at the film's premiere. After Chavez's death, Stone released an even more absurd documentary called My Friend Hugo. Stone's other friend, actor Sean Penn, called Chavez a "fascinating guy" who does "incredible things." Model Naomi Campbell called Chavez an "angel." A hack at Salon wrote about Chavez's "economic miracle." This was ludicrous, as the chaos in Venezuela now makes clear. But many Americans still want a leader who offers similar solutions. Thousands backed Bernie Sanders' call for a socialist America. Celebrities led the way. Actors Will Ferrell and Mark Ruffalo, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, comedian Margaret Cho, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jackson Browne and many others got behind Bernie's plan for "democratic socialism." Why?! I naively assumed that the collapse of the Soviet Union would make it obvious to everyone that socialism kills both prosperity and freedom. If that didn't, then the poverty in Cuba, Cambodia, Tanzania, Somalia, North Korea, etc. would convince them. But no! People still think socialism will make a country more "fair" or "equal" by punishing the rich. British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn praised Venezuela's strongman, saying he was "conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting the neoliberal policies of the world's financial institutions." By "neoliberal," Corbyn didn't mean left-wing. He meant support for global trade. Donald Trump wants to rein that in, too. In Venezuela, Chavez cut off foreign trade. When shortages occurred, his successor blamed an "economic war" waged by capists. Trump often blames China—although economists estimate 12 million U.S. jobs depend upon our trade with China. He mocks NAFTA, our trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, but economists call that a job creator, too. What Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders don't realize is that commerce is not zero-sum—trade with China does not mean China wins and we lose. In [...]

The Triumph of Falsehood


In 1644, the English poet John Milton made an eloquent case against censorship. Freedom of thought and inquiry was not only a God-given prerogative but also the best protection against error: "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?" Milton was fortunate enough to live before the internet. It has shown that among many people, truth doesn't have a chance in an encounter with manufactured falsehoods aimed at not only smearing enemies but obliterating the idea of objective reality. There is now a bustling industry of websites and Twitter accounts whose chief product is fiction masquerading as fact. Their success was both cause and effect of the rise of Donald Trump, who went beyond any previous major presidential candidate in saying things that were utterly baseless and easily refutable. He didn't have to wait to reach the White House to fulfill his promise to create new jobs. His campaign generated a new demand for fact-checkers, who found that trying to expose his lies was like trying to stay dry in a hurricane. The torrent was too big, fierce and persistent to overcome. Trump peddled bogus information and profited from that spread by others. Of the 20 most read phony election-related stories circulated on Facebook during the campaign, 17 made him look good or Hillary Clinton look bad. The top two: the pope's endorsement of Trump and Clinton's selling arms to the Islamic State, neither of which contained a particle of truth. Trump voters are not the only ones with a penchant for believing things purely because they are convenient. The website Vox reported that most of Bernie Sanders' followers want universal health care and free public college tuition but aren't willing to pay anything close to what they would cost in higher taxes. Most Americans can't name their member of Congress or the three branches of government. It's no accident that so many Americans choose to be uninformed or misinformed. Educating yourself about candidates and their platforms by getting reliable information has little payoff. Your vote, wise or foolish, rarely makes a difference in the policies that affect you. Being wrong about candidates generally costs you nothing, unlike being deluded about more practical matters. If you think you can fly, you will get a painful lesson when you leap off your roof. But if you believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim—as more than half of Republican primary voters did—you suffer no injury from indulging that fantasy. In fact, you gain something: a powerful sense of connection with others who share your outlook. For most people who have great interest in politics, argued George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan in his 2007 book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, ideology is a form of religion, and its disciples act more on faith than on evidence. "Human beings want their religion's answers to be true," he wrote, and stick to them in the face of contradictory information. We have little reason to behave differently on Election Day. "Why control your knee-jerk emotional and ideological reactions if you can't change the outcome?" asked Caplan. Conventional politicians shade and embellish the truth, but within established bounds. They have enough respect for voters to ration their deceptions. What made Trump different was his conviction that most people are happy to be fed nonsense as long as it is palatable. He lied without reservation or limit, about topics big and small, and he got away with it. Among his followers, some believed he was telling the truth and some didn't care. "Fake news" sources exploit the same cynical strategy, confident that many readers will seek out anything that confirms their prejudices and reject anything that doesn't. The news media have discovered that while there is a demand for accurate information, there is also a market, possibly bigger, for malignant myths. No lie is too big or absurd to find a gulli[...]

What Can Donald Trump Really Do About Sanctuary Cities?


Last week, President-elect Donald Trump re-emphasized the approach he will take in enforcing the nation's immigration laws, which is much different from the manner of enforcement utilized by President Barack Obama. The latter pointedly declined to deport the five million undocumented immigrants in the United States who are the parents of children born here — children who, by virtue of birth, are American citizens. Trump has made known his intention to deport all undocumented people, irrespective of family relationships, starting with those who have committed crimes. In response to Trump's stated intentions, many cities — including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — have offered sanctuary to those whose presence has been jeopardized by the president-elect's plan. Can they do this? Here is the back story. Under the Constitution, the president is the chief federal law enforcement officer in the land. Though the president's job is to enforce all federal laws, as a practical matter, the federal government lacks the resources to do that. As well, the president is vested with what is known as prosecutorial discretion. That enables him to place priority on the enforcement of certain federal laws and put the enforcement of others on the back burner. Over time — and with more than 4,000 criminal laws in the United States Code — Congress and the courts have simply deferred to the president and permitted him to enforce what he wants and not enforce what he doesn't want. Until now. Earlier this year, two federal courts enjoined President Obama — and the Supreme Court, in a tie vote, declined to interfere with those injunctions — from establishing a formal program whereby undocumented people who are the parents of natural-born citizens may lawfully remain here. It is one thing, the courts ruled, for the president to prioritize federal law enforcement; it is quite another for him to attempt to rewrite the laws and put them at odds with what Congress has written. It is one thing for the president, for humanitarian reasons or because of a lack of resources, to look the other way in the face of unenforced federal law. It is another for him to claim that by doing so, he may constitutionally change federal law. Trump brilliantly seized upon this — and the electorate's general below-the-radar-screen disenchantment with it — during his successful presidential campaign by promising to deport all 13 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, though he later reduced that promise so as to cover only the two million among them who have been convicted in the United States of violating state or federal laws. Enter the sanctuary cities. These are places where there are large immigrant populations, among which many are undocumented, yet where there is apparently not a little public sentiment and local governmental support for sheltering the undocumented from federal reach. Trump has argued that these cities are required to comply with federal law by actively assisting the feds — or at least not aggressively resisting them. Thus the question: Are state and local governments required to help the feds enforce federal law? In a word: No. The term "sanctuary cities" is not a legal term, but it has been applied by those in government and the media to describe municipalities that offer expanded social services to the undocumented and decline to help the feds find them — including the case of Chicago's offering undocumented immigrants money for legal fees to resist federal deportation. As unwise as these expenditures may be by cities that are essentially bankrupt and rely on federal largesse in order to remain in the black, they are not unlawful. Cities and towns are free to expand the availability of social services however they please, taking into account the local political climate. Enter the Supreme Court. It has required the states — and thus the [...]

Trump and McAuliffe Share a Lot


Republicans Corey Stewart, who is running for governor of Virginia, and Del. Glenn Davis Jr., who is running for lieutenant governor, are both positioning themselves as apostles of Donald Trump. Yet in some ways the president-elect's closest Virginia analog is a Democrat: Gov. Terry McAuliffe. True, McAuliffe wouldn't say so. When he looks in the mirror, Trump is probably the last thing he sees. Trump has slammed the governor for restoring felons' voting rights and alleged (incorrectly) that McAuliffe funnelled money to the FBI official investigating Hillary Clinton's emails. In turn, McAuliffe has excoriated Trump's outreach to African-Americans and laughed at his claims of voter fraud. And then there's the minor matter of Trump beating McAuliffe's good friend Hillary in the election. You might say the two men have their differences. But they also have their similarities. Last week Trump jawboned air-conditioner maker Carrier into reversing a plan to move jobs to Mexico. The deal gives Carrier $7 million in state tax breaks. Trump also has warned companies thinking about offshoring that they will face steep tariffs if they try to ship goods to the U.S. (No word on what threats Trump might have made regarding the cancellation of Defense Department contracts with Carrier's parent company.) And he has dangled "incentives" to convince Apple to start making iPhones in the U.S. This is nothing new. In fact, it's how Trump has run his own business. As a New York Times investigation reported in September, Trump "used his father's, and, later, his own, extensive political connections, and relied on a huge amount of assistance from the government and taxpayers in the form of tax breaks, grants and incentives to benefit the 15 buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire." Trump also once tried to use eminent domain to take a widow's home so he could bulldoze it and use the land for limousine parking. Because he's such a friend of the little guy, you see. McAuliffe has not gone that far. But McAuliffe—another deal-maker—also sees politics as just another side of business. When he put his electric-car company, GreenTech Automotive, in Mississippi rather than Virginia, he said he did so because "I have to go where, obviously, they're going to put incentives." Mississippi loaned GreenTech $5 million, and McAuliffe has been chummy with Republican Haley Barbour, who was governor of Mississippi until not long before GreenTech's production launch. GreenTech also tried to raise funds from Chinese investors by using a special immigration visa, called EB-5, eligible to foreigners who sink money into U.S. projects. The spearhead for that effort was Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother. A federal investigation later found McAuliffe got special treatment from an official at the Department of Homeland Security. As governor, McAuliffe has continued his enthusiasm for the political allocation of economic resources. He approved $7 million in incentive grants to bring German grocer Lidl to Virginia. He approved a $5 million grant to lure a Chinese paper company to Chesterfield. He approved another $4 million for a Dollar Tree expansion in Chesapeake. Last year the McAuliffe administration ladled out $1.15 million to convince Hardywood Park Craft Brewery it should stay in central Virginia rather than build a new production facility in North Carolina—a nearly perfect analog to Trump's Carrier deal. And the governor gave $5 million to Stone Brewing for its brewery and restaurant in Richmond. To be fair, McAuliffe hardly invented such behavior. In one 10-year period preceding his tenure, Virginia (under both Democratic and Republican governors) handed out more than $700 million to various projects. McAuliffe simply stepped on the gas: He passed out incentives so fast that he burned through nearly all the money in the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund in less t[...]

Trump's Problem With Free Speech


Last week Donald Trump had a nice telephone chat with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocrat who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, two years before it broke away from the Soviet Union. According to the Kazakh government, the president-elect "stressed that under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, our country over the years of independence had achieved fantastic success that can be called a 'miracle.'" One aspect of the Kazakh miracle that Trump surely admires is Nazarbayev's ability to make criticism (and critics) disappear. As Trump's constitutionally contemptuous comments about flag burning illustrate, he supports free speech the same way he supports free trade: with preferential exceptions designed to protect the people he cares about most. Trump thinks "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag," notwithstanding two Supreme Court decisions saying such expressive activity is protected by the First Amendment. Both rulings were joined by Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Trump says he wants to replace with someone similar. Trump's call for jailing flag burners or stripping them of their citizenship may sound like the sort of knee-jerk patriotism that elevates a piece of cloth above the principles it represents. But in light of the fact that anti-Trump protesters in several cities burned flags after his election, attributing his position to mindless jingoism probably gives him too much credit. Trump has a long, astonishingly petty history of using the legal system to punish people who offend him. In 1984, for instance, he sued Chicago Tribune architecture critic Paul Gapp for calling a Manhattan skyscraper proposed by Trump "aesthetically lousy" and "one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city." The thin-skinned developer demanded $500 million in compensation for those insults, which seemed like a lot until he sought 10 times as much—$5 billion—in a 2006 lawsuit against Tim O'Brien, a financial journalist who had dared suggest that Trump was not worth as much as he claimed. Although Trump lost both of those cases, he recently told The Washington Post he got what he wanted from his suit against O'Brien: "I did it to make his life miserable, which I'm happy about." Trump nevertheless thinks it should be easier for him to win lawsuits against people who say things he does not like. "We're going to open up those libel laws," he promised at a rally in February, "so when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post…writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected." The president actually has nothing to do with writing libel law, which is done at the state level and is any case constrained by the First Amendment—the source of the protection that frustrates Trump. His buddy Nursultan Nazarbayev has no such problem. In Kazakhstan, the State Department notes, libel is a crime as well as a tort, defendants are required to prove the accuracy of any challenged statement, and "the law provides enhanced penalties for libel against senior government officials," who use the threat of defamation claims "to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information." Another aspect of Kazakh law that should appeal to the notoriously sensitive and secretive Trump: "The law prohibits insulting the president or the president's family" and "criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president." Trump, who argues that "it is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false," might also be intrigued by the Kazakh law that makes "intentionally spreading false information" a crime punishable by stiff fines and up to 10 years in prison. B[...]

The Future of Free Speech on Social Media Looks Grim


Reddit has suffered a rocky year, having weathered months of censorship concerns and subreddit shutdowns. Recent revelations that co-founder and current CEO Steve Huffman was surreptitiously editing Reddit posts critical of him have thrown the community into still more chaos. But Reddit is far from the only social network struggling with the tension between speech and sensitivity. Similar snafus at other services have been dominating recent headlines: there's "fake news" on Facebook, "hate speech" on Twitter, and the continued scourge of rude comment sections. Social-media platforms are finding it harder to mouth free speech platitudes (and enjoy the corresponding cultural benefits) while at the same time actively curating a sanitized media feed. Yet to not curate or censor is to be accused of aiding and abetting a parade of horribles ranging from online jihadis to the "alt-right." The so-called "Reddit Revolt" has pitted a coterie of left-leaning "social justice warriors" against a ragtag, right-leaning, and rambunctious crew who call themselves free-speech activists. Tensions between Reddit administrators and certain subreddits—most notably, the pro-Trump subreddit called r/The_Donald and a now-banned conspiracy theory subreddit called r/pizzagate that believes high-level world leaders operate and patronize international child-trafficking rings—have been high over the past year, as these communities' impolitic and often impolite content raised the hackles of the website's generally more liberal operators. Where Huffman, or u/spez as he is known on Reddit, really crossed a line with certain Redditors is when he admitted to amending user comments that were critical of him to appear like they were criticizing moderators of r/The_Donald instead. While some have been able to forgive Huffman's faux pas as an immature but benign troll against a community that constantly causes problems, others have decided to leave the platform all together in search of more censorship-averse websites. Of course, internet companies like Reddit and Twitter are private corporations that can run their businesses however they see fit. If that includes censorship, so be it. Users are free to seek or build a better alternative—as users of the still relatively-obscure Voat or Gab platforms have—or just stop using the service altogether. Yet a social network is only as valuable as, well, its network. If everyone you know insists on using a certain service, you're probably going to use that one, too. Even if you don't personally use a particular network, if enough people in a country or planet do use it, then its policies and priorities could have a major impact on your life. And then there's the value of "free speech" on a conceptual level. If you hold free speech to be an ideal worth fighting for, you will push platforms to protect it, even if it is costly or inconvenient. This is a conundrum that we didn't have to seriously deal with for a long time. In their early days, social-media platforms were "open" merely by virtue of their limited scale. Far fewer people used these websites, and the early adopters who did were largely internet-hardened veterans of forums and IRC channels who were not exactly allergic to a good flame war. For years, social media platforms touted this openness as a key cultural and design feature of their services. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo famously characterized the microblogging platform as "the free speech wing of the free speech party." Mark Zuckerberg marketed Facebook as a "place where people across the world share their views and ideas." And of course Reddit has long positioned itself as a "free speech site with very few exceptions"—even when said speech was personally revolting to its operators. Only criminal acts, "doxing," IP violations, and perhaps targeted harassment were[...]

Italy Referendum Results Illustrate Sense of Alienation Electorate Has From Governing Elites


On Sunday evening, I watched as Matteo Renzi acknowledged the negative outcome of the constitutional referendum and resigned, as promised, as Italy's prime minister. Renzi called the plebiscite in order to streamline Italy's baroque governing bureaucracy—a necessary prerequisite, he claimed, for much-needed economic reform. By a margin of close to 20 percentage points, the Italians said "No" and Renzi threw in the towel. As he spoke, I emailed an Italian friend of mine to gauge her reaction. As a professor of economics and a free marketer, I expected her to be horrified by the events. Instead, she responded on Monday morning by saying that she too voted "No." "Nothing ever changes in Italy, anyway," she continued. I guess that I should not have been surprised. It is 2016, after all, and, in the political arena, anything seems possible. Thinking about my friend's response more carefully, however, I have come to see some parallels between what happened in Italy, and the British decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Tying all these events together is a profound sense of alienation of the electorate from their respective governing elites. Vast chunks of the populace in these three countries see their governments as, at best, inept, and, at worst, venal. They feel that no matter who wins, be it center-left or center-right, "nothing ever changes." So, yes, Italy needs reforms, but the people did not trust Renzi, a conventional center-left apparatchik, to deliver them. What will follow is unclear. A new prime minister from the center-left could emerge. Or, the Italian Parliament could opt for a caretaker government under an unelected technocrat. Or, there could be an early election. The party that stands to benefit most from early elections is the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, who wants to call a referendum on whether Italy should stay in the Eurozone or return to the Lira. (Many Italians believe that the euro is responsible for Italy's economic problems. Whether they are right or wrong, there is no doubt that the country's economy is in dire straits—as my charts below show.) As such, I expect the forces of the European establishment to do everything possible not to allow Grillo anywhere near the Palazzo Chigi. And that could be a problem. As I explained in my recent paper on the European Union, "With every electoral cycle, 'establishment' parties committed to further European integration are growing weaker and anti-EU parties are getting closer to power. The EU has been very successful in plodding along, but its rearguard action cannot succeed indefinitely. At some point, one of the EU's 28 member states will elect an anti-EU government. I fear that the longer the EU establishment ignores its opponents, the more belligerent the latter will become." [...]

Governments Trash Cash, Making Alternative ‘Money’ More Attractive


If governments are trying to jump-start the development of alternatives to their traditional monopoly on money, they're doing a fine job of it. Through methods old and new, political officials seem hell-bent on eroding the shared trust that gives importance to dollars, euros, and all the other currencies we use to facilitate transactions. Recent developments in India and Venezuela reveal jaw-droppingly stupid policies destined to erode the value of the local means of exchange—or else dastardly clever marketing schemes for gold, bitcoin, or anything else that could serve as a store of value. Despite all of the arguments over the stuff, the basics of modern money are pretty simple. Unconnected to gold, salt, peppercorns, or anything else that's valued in its own right, paper and electronic money keeps the wheels of commerce greased only because people have some faith that's it's a reasonably stable store of value. "In short, money works because people believe that it will," a 2000 article by International Monetary Fund economists Irena Asmundson and Ceyda Oner explains in plain language. But if shared belief makes money useful, then betraying that trust can make the folding stuff revert to whatever intrinsic value it has in a stack next to the toilet. The IMF piece adds, "Countries that have been down the path of high inflation experienced firsthand how the value of money essentially depends on people believing in it," and notes that when governments play games with their money, "trust in money will be eroded, and it may eventually become worthless." Inflating the supply of money in circulation is a traditional favorite way for governments to screw with a good thing, because it buys them short-term favor. "[T]he authorities will always be tempted to issue money, because governments can buy more with it, hire more people, pay more wages, and increase their popularity," note Asmundson and Oner. That's what the socialist government of Venezuela has been up to for years, tanking its currency, the bolivar, in the process. "This is being caused by the authorities ordering those bolivars by the planeload," explained Adam Smith Institute's Tim Worstall last summer as Venezuela increased the money supply by 127 percent in just one year. Officials manufactured money out of thin air so they could spend to win the favor of voters even as their policies destroyed the private businesses that could have generated real wealth. As inflation nears 2,000 percent, creating a situation under which "a backpack full of cash is often required to pay bills at a restaurant or supermarket," the Venezuelan government has a solution: print new bills with more zeroes on them. The largest of the new bills, the 20,000 bolivar note, will be worth five American dollars. Well, it will initially be worth that—there's no reason to doubt that the country's astonishingly incompetent Maduro regime can drive those new high-denomination notes toward outhouse-only utility very quickly. India is also on the road to becoming a cashless society, though there it's actually an intended outcome of grasping policy rather than an accidental byproduct of stupidity. It's all part of a plan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to smoke out the country's vast untaxed wealth – up to 40 percent of India's economy takes place off the books. To that end, India's government announced last month that the country's two highest denomination notes are no longer legal tender. Overnight, 85 percent of the bills in circulation became worthless. People holding them can exchange limited quantities for new notes—but that leaves a lot of people with large holdings of the bills out of luck. "Anyone trying to swap large sums of cash that they can't legally account for will be subject to investigation and legal [...]

Trump-Schumer Bromance Is Bad News


The most dangerous threat to free markets and the rule of law at the moment just may be the budding bromance between President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Democratic leader in the Senate, Charles Schumer. Trump's decision to reappoint the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, was met with horror and dismay among those who, like myself, consider Bharara's string of insider trading prosecutions, reversed by appellate courts, to be "sadistic" and "sleazy." Those aren't my words—they are descriptions that two distinguished federal appellate judges have applied to Bharara's tactics. There's plenty of blame to go around for Bharara's reappointment, which was announced last week. The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank with a distinguished record that ought to have known better, published a piece under the headline "Memo to Trump: Let Preet Stay," lauding the prosecutor's efforts against political corruption. But Sen. Schumer's role was central. The New York Times reminded its readers that before becoming U.S. attorney, Bharara was chief counsel to Sen. Schumer. "Mr. Trump also asked Mr. Schumer how best to reach Mr. Bharara, and the senator provided Mr. Trump with Mr. Bharara's direct line," the Times reported. Trump had called Schumer to ask his advice on keeping on Bharara, which Schumer recommended, the Times said. Trump ran as a change candidate, criticizing Hillary Clinton as "secretary of the status quo." Now he's taking personnel recommendations from Sen. Schumer, who has been serving in Congress since 1981, or nearly 36 years. It is breathtaking. Yet it's not only the Bharara re-appointment where President-elect Trump appears to be singing from Schumer's songbook. Consider Trump's high-profile personal intervention to prevent Carrier, a division of United Technologies Corp., from moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico. It's a repeat of Schumer's treatment of New York-based manufacturing jobs, as when he called a bank CEO to try to save 600 jobs at a Rochester clothing manufacturer, Hickey Freeman, or wrote to another CEO to try to save 1,300 jobs at an engine control system factory near Binghamton, N.Y. If there's a silver lining to the Trump administration, it's that all of a sudden the mainstream media, including NPR and The New York Times, are giving prominent attention to libertarian economists like George Mason University's Tyler Cowen, who argue that politicians are being foolish when they take the Schumer-Trump approach of trying to preserve jobs on a case-by-case basis, rather than improving incentives for everyone. Trump is even getting his trade policy from Schumer. Consider Trump's tweet this week: "Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete)." The China currency manipulation complaint has been a Schumer hobbyhorse for more than a decade; back in 2005, Lawrence Kudlow was writing in the New York Sun about how "Smoot Schumer" was "using the issue of floating currencies as a smokescreen for his protectionist package against China." Schumer is also already salivating about Trump's plans for $1 trillion in federally backed "infrastructure spending." "Schumer said he stands ready to work with the incoming administration to pass a major infrastructure bill with a trillion dollars in real federal funding, and believes it is possible in the first 100 days of the new Administration," the senator said in a press release. If you thought the Obama "stimulus" was a taxpayer-funded bridge to nowhere, wait until you see the Trump-Schumer spending binge. Prescient observers saw this coming. A New York Sun editorial back in March suggested that Trump choose Schumer as his running mate, observing, accurately, "The [...]

Welcome to the New Reason


When Lanny Friedlander assembled the first issue of Reason in a bedroom in his mother's house in 1968, he was working with a limited budget and an even more limited set of tools. The name of the magazine was applied using Letraset press type—each black letter painstakingly transferred from a transparency onto the cover by rubbing the back of the page with a rounded stick or a ballpoint pen. Helvetica, the type he picked, is now so famous and fetishized that there's a cult-hit documentary about it. At the time, the choice was revolutionary. The rest of the text was executed on IBM compositor typewriters and copies were run off on a mimeograph machine, because that's all Reason could afford. Subscription labels were hand-addressed. Within those limitations, perhaps even because of them, Friedlander wound up making bold choices that continue to inform Reason's look and feel. His selection of Helvetica and the simple, open, text-based aesthetic (see, at left, the sovereign singular numeral that adorned the cover of the September 1975 issue) were in keeping with the International Typographic Style of graphic design then popular at MIT Press, where the Boston-based Friedlander liked to hang out. The Swiss grid, as the style is also known, with its emphasis on rationality and objectivity in presentation, was an obvious choice for a fledgling Objectivist magazine, but an inspired one nonetheless. In fact, the "form follows function" aesthetic is so baked in to modern style that it's nearly invisible to today's casual consumer; it dictates the look of everything from retail websites to the menu at that hot new restaurant in your neighborhood. Here's what Reason got right from its very first issue: Instead of trying to compete with top-of-the-market mainstream glossy magazines, Friedlander served up a cheap product with almost no bells and whistles to a segment of the market previously disregarded for being too small, too weird, too low-margin, and too hard to reach. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of disruptive innovation, a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in 1995. The phrase is now so commonplace in business bigthink that it has become a PowerPoint cliché. As applied in the for-profit world, it's one part inspiration for entrepreneurs (look for the untapped niche, the underserved market, the problem that you can solve to get your foot in the door) and one part cautionary tale for incumbents (while you're busy offering an ever-increasing slate of expensive premium services and add-ons, better watch your back for the scrappy upstart creeping up on your market share). Reason's quirky philosophy, simple look, and disconcertingly direct sell were a classic case of disruptive innovation, decades avant la lettre. Our task, in redesigning Reason, was easier than Friedlander's in many ways. Every hour of every day, millions of robots scramble to assemble and label photos and images for us to choose from. Contacting photographers, artists, and writers in Johannesburg or Bangkok is only a moment's work. When we set out to choose our new typeface, Art Director Joanna Andreasson was afloat in a sea of typographic options. Necessity is the mother of invention, but abundance can be too. In a world where nearly everyone was hungry all the time, Henry VIII's girth (and gout) were status symbols. But when everyone can feast on overstuffed steak burritos, the rich stay thin. For most of history, the only thing scarcer than printed matter was educated, free people with enough leisure time to fill those pricey pages. Reason is a child of plenty, and one response to profusion is to experiment with empty space. Not every inch of every page needs to be dense with data when print[...]

Sorry, Elon Musk! Driverless Cars Will Take Longer Than You Think.


If you listen to Elon Musk, driverless cars are a technology that are just around the corner.

"I really consider autonomous driving a solved problem," Musk said in June 2016 in The Guardian. "I think we are probably less than two years away."

But, Bob Poole, Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy at Reason Foundation is skeptical of Musk's timeline. "Skepticism is coming partly from researchers [...] at UC Berkeley, at Carnegie Mellon, at MIT who say this is a much harder problem than a lot of people, including Elon Musk, make it out to be."

Poole suggested to Reason TV's Editor in Chief, Nick Gillespie, that it will take a few decades at least before engineers are able to figure out the unexpected surprises of driving on city streets, not to mention the high cost of implementation into a market of cars that are not driverless. Further, Poole points out that once driverless options are available, they may completely throw a wrench in city transportation projects that are projected to take 30 to 40 years to build.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Editing by Paul Detrick. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein.

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Time to End Discrimination Against Gays?


On gay rights, America has come a great distance in a short time. Remember the days, not so long ago, that gays stayed in the closet, sodomy was a crime, same-sex marriage was banned and people could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation? Actually, you don't have to try to remember that last. It's still the case in 28 states, including Mike Pence's Indiana, that holding hands with your same-sex partner in public can mean losing your livelihood. A bigoted boss can cashier a good employee for loving someone of the wrong gender. This unprotected status is an anomaly under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids employment discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." African-Americans and other racial minorities are protected, Catholics and Muslims are protected, women are protected and immigrants are protected. Gays are not. Many libertarians, whose general principles I share, think the law is an intolerable infringement on contractual freedom. When Gary Johnson, the party's presidential nominee, said at the Libertarian Party's national convention in May that he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he was booed. But pretty much everyone else agrees that ship has sailed, as well it should have. The question now is not whether federal law should ban discrimination on the basis of certain criteria. It's merely which criteria deserve inclusion. On this issue, the public took the side of gays even before coming around on same-sex marriage. Most Americans think discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be illegal. Not only that, a 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 75 percent think it already is. A study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reported, "A majority of Americans in every U.S. congressional district support laws that protect against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." Such an expansion would make sense, because gays are similar to other minorities that have long been targets of hostility and mistreatment. But when the 1964 law was passed, no one was thinking of protecting gays, who were widely viewed with ignorant disgust. And a bill known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been repeatedly introduced in Congress, to no avail. So federal law leaves gays out in the cold. Or does it? A lawsuit heard on Nov. 30 before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago argues that the federal law against discrimination on the basis of sex should be interpreted to cover sexual orientation. Nearly all of the judges who asked questions appeared to find much merit in the argument. Frank Easterbrook, a renowned conservative appointed by Ronald Reagan, noted that in its 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down a law forbidding interracial marriage because it treated people of different races differently. A black woman could marry a black man but not a white man. She was penalized solely because of her race. In the gay rights case, community college teacher Kimberly Hively said she lost her job after she was seen kissing her female partner goodbye in the parking lot. Had she been seen kissing her male partner, she would not have lost her job. "Why isn't that sex discrimination by exactly the reasoning of Loving?" demanded Easterbrook. Hively allegedly suffered retribution not for having a female partner, which would be perfectly fine if she were a man, but for being a woman who has a female partner. How can that not qualify as sex discrimination? The obvious retort is that the lawmakers who approved the 1964 Civil Rights Act didn't mean to prohibit discrimina[...]

Why Trump’s War on the Media Matters


Throughout his presidential campaign Donald Trump complained extensively about biased news coverage, singled out individual journalists for criticism, challenged the very foundations of freedom of the press, and called for loosening of the libel laws. Now as president-elect, Trump's war on the media continues. At a recent meeting with top television executives, for example, Trump berated the networks for their "outrageous" and "dishonest" coverage and, according to a source, he told CNN chief Jeff Zucker that "everyone at the network is a liar and you should be ashamed." The same day, rather than holding a press conference where journalists might ask him difficult or uncomfortable questions, Trump instead released a YouTube video updating the public on the White House transition, which he said had proceeded "very smoothly, efficiently, and effectively." As president, Trump's mistrust of the media will certainly make life difficult for journalists trying to provide the public with a clear view of presidential decision-making. To be clear, presidential animosity toward the press is nothing new. All presidents get frustrated by what they view as an unsympathetic press corps that mangles and reinterprets their words for the news, making it difficult to communicate clearly to the American public. As a result, presidents have long sought to reduce the number of press conferences they hold while increasing the amount of communication they do through other means. The emergence of social media has simply allowed Trump to take that trend to the next level. Though distasteful and dysfunctional, the Republic won't fall just because journalists have to watch YouTube like the rest of us to learn what Trump's been up to. But the deeper danger is that Trump's war will undermine the media as an effective forum for debate and deliberation. By avoiding engagement with journalists and by stifling media critics through public shaming and other strong-arm tactics, Trump will weaken the ability of the press to play the role of watchdog and critic envisioned by the Founders and embodied in the First Amendment. By attacking the media's objectivity and credibility, the Trump administration will weaken what's left of public confidence in the public sphere and, by extension, in the entire project of democratic self-governance. Trump already enjoys a disturbing level of support for his assault on the news media. In a post-election Pew survey, for example, just 22 percent of Americans gave the press either an A or B for its campaign coverage, with 59 percent giving it a D or F. A September 2016 Gallup poll found that just 32 percent of the public trust the press a fair amount or a great deal to report news "fully, accurately, and fairly," the lowest figure since Gallup first asked the question in 1976. Nor is the timing of Trump's war on the media an accident. The media have become an arena of conflict in the partisan battles of an increasingly polarized political system. To those who believe that the media exhibits a liberal bias, Trump is a welcome corrective. Not surprisingly then, the recent collapse of trust has been driven primarily by Republicans, just 14 percent of whom now believe the mass mews media deserves even a fair amount of trust compared to 30 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats. A related trend is the increasing Balkanization of news audiences around competing news sources. As a 2014 Pew study showed, for example, 47 percent of "consistent conservatives" name Fox News as their primary (and trusted) source of news about politics, while almost completely avoiding other major news outlets like The New York[...]

HBO Documentaries Illuminate Castro’s Brutal Cuba


Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death. HBO. Sunday, December 4, 9:45 a.m. Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution. HBO. Tuesday, December 6, 5 p.m. HBO should get a little trophy from the television industry for giving executives something to talk about at holiday parties besides falling ratings and the specific level of Hell that should be reserved for whoever invented this internet thing. Instead, they can ponder over the question: Is HBO's documentary division the most genius outfit in television, or just the luckiest? Months ago, HBO acquired two unheralded documentaries on Cuba, then booked them for the very moment when Fidel Castro would head off to the great workers' collective in the sky. Water-cooler buzz galore, Latin American Policy Wonk Department. And if that department had an Emmy, Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death would win it right now. First-time director Olatz López Garmendia is better known as a model and a fashion designer, but she must have had a career in operating heavy construction equipment, too, because Patria O Muerte takes a merciless wrecking ball to the Potemkin Village imagery of Cuba promoted by most of the American chattering class. The desolation and despair of Castro's Revolution—its actually existing socialism, as Marxist theoreticians of the 1950s would have called it—has never been on such devastating display for American audiences. Garmendia lived in Cuba as a child, when her Spaniard parents joined the flocks of European Fidel groupies moving to Havana to stand by their man, but she clearly didn't swallow the Kool-Aid; Patria O Muerte is not her first demythology project on Cuba. She also informed the sensibilities of her then-husband, Julian Schnabel, when he was making his epic anti-Castro movie Before Night Falls. (Garmendia worked on the film as music supervisor.) She made Patria O Muerte as something of a samizdat work; the film was shot without Cuban authorization, and she had a devil of a time getting the footage off the island. Without narration and little archival footage, Patria O Muerte makes its points through a series of interviews of ordinary Cubans, filmed in their seedy tenement apartments in Old Havana. The stories they tell, with only occasional exceptions, are not of lurid torture or persecution, but of the quiet desperation of life in a dead-end society weighed down by decay of every type: economic, physical, mental. There's a cadaverous old man named Julio who bluntly declares his life useless and is clearly talking about more than his grubby apartment when he responds to a question: "What am I missing? Everything." Or Valery, a goth transvestite who took to the streets as a jinatera, as the island's part-time hookers are known, after the remittances from a sister in the United States dried up and she found herself without enough money to buy a new toothbrush. That career ended, though, one night after she was lectured by a tourist whose appreciation for cheap commercial sex had not diminished his more-revolutionary-than-thou ardor for the Castro regime. He told her that "Cubans were shameless, that Cubans said they had problems, when there weren't any problems in Cuba." Retorted Valery: "If that's true, then what am I doing here with you for $20?" She left the streets, fearful that she was "about to kill [herself], or kill one of these foreigners." Or Mercedes, a housewife living in a tottering building built in the 1870s in which she must sleep with one eye open to avoid being hit by chunks of falling masonry. Her young son, injured in a balcony collapse, needs surgery, but building repairs ma[...]

Indian Prime Minister's Shake Down of Private Wealth


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned his country earlier this month when, out of the blue, he declared 85 percent of the nation's currency notes null and void. India's two highest rupee notes — Rs. 500 ($7.50) and Rs. 1,000 ($15) — will no longer be legal tender, and will be replaced with redesigned Rs. 500 notes and new Rs. 2,000 bills. Indians can swap a relatively small number of old bills for new ones by the end of the year, but only at designated banks and with proof of ID. Anyone trying to swap large sums of cash that they can't legally account for will be subject to investigation and legal action. And all the unswapped currency will stay with the government, a massive transfer of wealth from private citizens to the state/ Modi's fans see this as an audacious move to smoke out untaxed "black money" from India's informal economy, which constitutes anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the nation's GDP. But in reality, this demonetization scheme is the equivalent of killing the patient to cure a headache. And it marks an end to India's three-decade flirtation with market liberalization. Modi was elected in a landslide on the slogan of "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance." He promised to end babu raj — the rule of corrupt, petty bureaucrats who torment ordinary citizens for bribes — and radically transform India's economy. But rather than tackling government corruption, he has declared war on private citizens holding black money in the name of making all Indians pay their fair share. Tax scofflaw behavior is indeed a problem in India. But it is almost always a result of tax rates that are way higher than what people think their government is worth. The enlightened response would be to lower these rates and improve governance. Instead, Modi is taking his country down what Nobel-winning political economist F.A. Hayek called the road to serfdom, where every failed round of coercive government intervention simply becomes an excuse for even more draconian rounds — exactly what was happening in pre-liberalized India. Last year, Modi went after black money stashed in Swiss banks, demanding that Indians with such accounts pay a 30 percent penalty and bring their money home or face a lengthy jail sentence. This scheme was a flop. Next Modi offered Indians hoarding illegal assets amnesty from prosecution in exchange for paying a 45 percent penalty. But this flushed out only a small fraction of the expected haul, for the simple reason that the penalty was higher than the taxes people were trying to avoid. So now Modi has ripped a dusty page from the playbook of communist dictatorships (Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba), military juntas (Myanmar, Pakistan), various other kleptocratic banana republics, and India circa 1978 — all of whom tried demonetization and failed. The theory with Modi's new scheme is that rich hoarders of illicit cash would simply forfeit their money rather than risk jail. Meanwhile, middle-class folks who work for legitimate businesses and poor laborers who have small cash savings would be free to legally swap old bills for new. The reality is different. Yes, the rich have indeed gotten poorer. But the poor have been decimated. Call it trickle-down poverty. About 600 million Indians don't have bank accounts, many because they are poor and uneducated. Roughly 300 million don't have official identification. It's not easy to swap their soon-to-be worthless cash, which is a catastrophe given that they live hand to mouth. It is heartbreaking to see these people lined up in long queues outside post offices and banks, missing day[...]

My Kid Packs Heat


There is no greater joy than seeing the wide-eyed look of wonder in a child's face the first time he's successfully shredded a target with a full magazine of hot lead death from a rifle. My wife and I always intended to teach our son Anthony to shoot. It's a good skill for anybody to add to his personal quiver. If you can shoot, you have a means for putting food on the table in tough times. If you can shoot, you can defend yourself against dangerous animals (javelina and coyote wander our rural Arizona neighborhood, while mountain lion and bear frequent some of our favorite hiking trails) and malicious assailants (if he runs into a gang of tax collectors, is he supposed to beat them with his shoe?). Shooting encourages concentration and develops hand-eye coordination—and enables bonding with friends who have similar interests. Those friends might include other kids his age in our boomstick-friendly region—but they could also include the nonagenarian rancher and former cop who took a shine to Anthony at a gun show. He'd flown his private plane to town to man his table, but was a bit downcast that his doctor was no longer willing to perform the medical assessment required for him to maintain a pilot's license. "Maybe I'll just fly anyway," he said. "At my age, what are they going to do to me?" We saw value in the self-confidence and personal responsibility Anthony would gain from learning to engage in the sport safely. We'd seen him grow and mature through five years (and counting) of Tae Kwon Do and were certain he'd benefit just as much from discovering how to properly handle guns. But I had told him we'd wait until he wanted to learn, and for years he'd shown little interest. Then in June 2015 I had a fairly serious health scare. Suddenly, it seemed that I might have a limited window of opportunity to transmit my hard-acquired knowledge and skillset—such as it is—to my pre-adolescent kid. So I started pushing to get him ready for life. In between seemingly endless bouts of medical tests, I taught him to bore holes in wood with an eggbeater drill and to drive screws and nails. I shared with him my wisdom (or lack thereof) and insights into the world. I showed him how to do some basic repairs and passed along the secrets of making a campfire. "I know what you're doing," Wendy, my wife, said to me one day when she had me cornered. "You think you're going to die." "Maybe," I responded. As it turned out, I was fine after a period of recovery, and even better after the end of all that damned poking and prodding. But my come-alongs had had an effect. Of his own accord, 10-year-old Anthony announced that he was ready. "Dad, if it's OK, I'd really like to go out shooting some time." We made a family outing of it. We loaded the car up with a .22 rifle, reactive targets, a cardboard box for affixing the same, and plenty of ammo. Then we headed for an old sandpit in the desert that's commonly used for exactly this activity. Anthony already knew the four basic safety rules, which we'd run through with his Nerf revolver: The gun is always loaded (that is, you assume so). Never point the gun at something you are not prepared to destroy. Always be sure of your target and what's behind it. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Admittedly, not everybody thinks children should learn to shoot. The usual control freaks not only oppose gun ownership but think that, despite the spectacular failure of Prohibition and the war on drugs, they've hit on the one activity that enthusiasts will happily surrender when[...]

Can Egg Producers Recover from November's Great Fall?


Supporters of animal agriculture—of the sort that can feed people inexpensively and on a large scale, at least—are reeling after two stinging defeats last month. The first blow came in Massachusetts, where residents voted to adopt Question 3, which mandates a minimum cage size for raising livestock on farms in the state, around the country, and around the world that sell eggs, pork, and veal in Massachusetts. That law effectively means chickens, pigs, and veal calves must be raised in a "cage-free" environment. The second blow came with the defeat of an appeal in federal court challenging a similar law in California. The purpose of the California law is to "to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals." Similarly, the Massachusetts law is intended to "to prevent animal cruelty." The latter also claims that caged livestock "threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, increase the risk of foodborne illness, and have negative fiscal impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." But a closer look shows it's these two laws, in fact, that may harm the health of livestock and humans and wreak negative economic consequences. As I described in a column this summer, "'cage-free' hens are typically raised in aviaries—large, cramped egg-laying warehouses in which hens are more likely to attack, kill, and eat one another, and hens and livestock workers are more likely to become sick." If that sounds grim, it is. "In short, liberating hens from cages—and holding them in aviaries—doesn't necessarily make them, or the workers who handle them, any healthier," wrote the New York Times's David Gelles, in an eye-opening piece earlier this year that pierced the halo surrounding cage-free eggs. Notably, research backs up Gelles's expose. If the health benefits of mandating cage-free eggs are questionable at best, the financial benefits of doing so appear to be nonexistent. As Wired reported earlier this year, in an excellent article that's worth reading for the great flow chart alone, shifting from caged to cage-free methods poses a host of existential perils for many farmers. For farmers who want (or are forced) to make the switch, the costly transition will take years—a decade or more, in many cases—to achieve. Egg prices rose last year after a massive outbreak of avian flu. But the price some farmers charged for a dozen eggs had already doubled in California in 2014, as its cage-free law was set to take effect. As these charts show, the days of eggs serving as cheap protein available to the masses could be ending. If that happens, then we'll have foolhardy regulations to blame. Unlike the Massachusetts law, California's applies to egg-laying hens but not to pigs or veal calves. Like the Massachusetts law, the California law violates the dormant Commerce Clause, as I explain here. That issue had been at the heart of the California lawsuit case. Last month, though, the Ninth Circuit Court upheld a 2014 lower court ruling that the plaintiffs—attorneys general from six egg-producing states—did not have standing to challenge the law. I agree with the plaintiffs on the premise behind the challenge, but with the Ninth Circuit's ruling on the standing issue. "In short," as I wrote in 2014, "the wrong people made the right arguments." But that doesn't mean that law—or the new Massachusetts law—could or should withstand a court challenge. "Large egg producers certainly could file an action like this one on their own," wrote Ninth Circuit Court judge Susan Graber. That's something suppor[...]

Aging Is a Disease and It's Time to Cure It


Emma Morano turned 117 on Tuesday. The Italian woman is, as far as we know, the oldest person in the world and the only living person who was born in the 1800s. The secret for her longevity? Eating three raw eggs a day and being single since 1938. The person known to have lived the longest ever was Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at 122 years of age. In October, Nature published an article, "Evidence for a limit to human lifespan," by three researchers associated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Noting that the longest known lifespan has not increased since the 1990s, they argue that there is a fundamental limit to human longevity. The occasional outlier aside, they think that limit is about 115 years. Maybe, maybe not. In the 21st century, almost everything that kills people, except for accidents and other unintentional causes of death, has been classified as a disease. Aging kills, so it's past time to declare it a disease too and seek cures for it. In 2015, a group of European gerontologists persuasively argued for doing just that. They rejected the common fatalistic notion that aging "constitutes a natural and universal process, while diseases are seen as deviations from the normal state." A century ago osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and senility were considered part of normal aging, but now they are classified as diseases and treated. "There is no disputing the fact that aging is a 'harmful abnormality of bodily structure and function,'" they note. "What is becoming increasingly clear is that aging also has specific causes, each of which can be reduced to a cellular and molecular level, and recognizable signs and symptoms." So why do people age and die? Basically, because of bad chemistry. People get cancer when chemical signals go haywire enabling tumors to grow. Heart attacks and strokes occur when chemical garbage accumulates in arteries and chemical glitches no longer prevent blood cells from agglomerating into dangerous clumps. The proliferation of chemical errors inside our bodies' cells eventually causes them to shut down and emit inflammatory chemicals that damage still healthy cells. Infectious diseases are essentially invasions of bad chemicals that arouse the chemicals comprising our immune systems to try and (too often) fail to destroy them. Also in 2015, another group of European researchers pointed out that we've been identifying a lot of biomarkers for detecting the bad chemical changes in tissues and cells before they produce symptoms associated with aging. Such biomarkers enable pharmaceutical companies and physicians to discover and deploy treatments that correct cellular and molecular malfunctions and nudge our bodies' chemistry back toward optimal functioning. As a benchmark, the researchers propose the adoption of an "ideal norm" of health against which to measure anti-aging therapies. "One approach to address this challenge is to assume an 'ideal' disease-free physiological state at a certain age, for example, 25 years of age, and develop a set of interventions to keep the patients as close to that state as possible," they suggest. Most people's body chemistry is at its best when they are in their mid-twenties. In fact, Americans between ages 15 and 24 are nearly 500 times less likely to die of heart disease, 100 times less likely to die of cancer, and 230 times less likely die of influenza and pneumonia than people over the age of 65 years. For lots of us who are no longer in our twenties, tel[...]

Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Save The World From Zika?


Every Wednesday and Friday, members of the Clovis Mosquito Abatement team pick up a box from the post office, shipped to them from a lab in Kentucky. Inside that box are 20 tubes, each containing 1,000 male mosquitoes infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia that will render the eggs of any female they mate with infertile. Project manager Steve Mulligan says it took a little explaining to persuade residents of a neighborhood in Clovis, Calif., to allow them to dump 40,000 mosquitoes in their front yards every week. "It is unusual," says Mulligan. "The idea of releasing mosquitoes to control mosquitoes, that is thinking a little outside of the box." But in the age of Zika virus, which has spread from South America to parts of Florida and even to Central California, people are open to new ideas to eliminate a species of mosquito that is responsible for millions of human deaths around the world. While the residents of Clovis have been open to the audacious experiment of releasing bacteria-laden insects into their neighborhoods, other proposals have stoked far more controversy. A company called Oxitec engineered a mosquito in a laboratory to produce similar infertility effects to the Wolbachia infection method. But because this approach involves genetic modification as opposed to bacterial infection, Florida Keys residents formed a resistance movement to the GM mosquito. "We don't want to be guinea pigs," says one Florida Keys resident at a town hall meant to field concerns about the mosquito release. But with so many lives on the line, scientists like Zachary Adelman at Texas A&M questions the morality of opposition to genetically modified mosquitoes and has harsh words for those invoking the precautionary principle to halt the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. "While you're waiting, and while you're being 'precautionary,' tens of thousands of people—children—are going to die of hemorraghic fever from things like Dengue, or thousands of children will be born with microcephaly because of Zika," says Adelman. Adelman and his team have modified the genomes of mosquitoes with the cutting-edge gene-editing technology CRISPR. When the transgenic mosquitoes mate with non-modified mosquitoes, the off-spring will almost all be male. "We can link it with the so-called 'gene drive' where the gene would be inherited beyond 50 percent, at these super rates, where almost all the progeny would carry this gene... And eventually, the mosquitoes would run into a problem. They would run out of females, and then there would be no more eggs, and then that would be that for them," says Adelman. One common objections that Adelman encounters is that wiping out a species of mosquitoes could have unintended consequences on our ecosystem. But he points out the particular mosquito he's targeting, Aedes Aegypti, is only native to certain parts of Africa and has spread across the planet only with human colonization. "There are no species that are dependent on it, that must eat it to survice," says Adelman. The Clovis release program concluded in mid-October, and scientists are still collecting data on the population effects. The trial release in the Florida Keys was approved by public referendum, but the Keys Mosquito District now has to seek FDA approval. Adelman says his CRISPR-modified mosquitoes still need further study in the lab before they're ready to be released into the wild. Watch the full video above. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. [...]

You Opposed Donald Trump, So Why Aren't You Freaking Out?


"You opposed Donald Trump, so why aren't you freaking out?" Well, for starters, allowing liberals to determine my level of anxiety—which would be full-blown, round-the-clock histrionics—over what's nothing more than another election would be foolish. Until it's not. The era of Trump hasn't even started yet, and the entire establishment keeps using the term "era of Trump" as if things have actually changed. They haven't. If you're genuinely interesting in being an effective critic of the next president, acting like Adolf Hitler is pounding at your doorstep every time Trump tweets something might not be the most effective plan in the long run. Not to mention, the left has been such an astonishing hypocrite on so many issues related to Trump that it's a bit difficult to move forward without pointing it out. Joining activists who've spent years attacking the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Tenth Amendments—and now the Electoral College—in a newfound veneration of the Emoluments Clause is a bit much. Of course, Trump should be held accountable for his potential conflicts of interest, and one hopes conservatives who value good government will stand up when tangible evidence emerges that they exist. But the critics on the left aren't serious about the Constitution. They're serious about the Democratic Party. Who can take journalists seriously—who've never once uttered a word of concern over the Democratic Party's crusade to empower government to ban political speech by overturning Citizens United—when they lose it over a tweet about flag-burning? If it were up to them over the past eight years, Trump would now be imbued with far more power to achieve the things they fear—unilaterally. There was more angst over the president-elect ditching a reporting pool to have a steak than there was over any of President Obama's numerous executive abuses. So when you hear people say democracy needs journalism "now more than ever," remember that they're admitting they weren't doing their job yesterday. We also needed journalism more than ever back then. Those who kept telling us that Hillary Clinton's corrupt foundation and blatant favor-trading with the world's most illiberal regimes were merely a conspiracy theory now act as if the republic will crumble if Trump's hotel hosts the same Bahraini princes that were buying access in the Obama administration. The same people who told us Clinton's emails were "bullshit" and a silly distraction are now horrified that former Gen. David Petraeus—who, like Clinton, shouldn't be in any Cabinet, but who, unlike Clinton, actually paid a price for his mishandling of classified information—is under consideration for a position in the new administration. Moreover, Trump hasn't really done anything out of the ordinary—not yet. What's really upset Democrats, it seems to me, is that traditional conservative policy proposals—the sorts of thing Republicans have campaigned on for years, and the policies that have helped them win over 1,000 local seats and governorships and two wave elections—will probably be moving forward. The overwrought rhetoric used to describe the overturning of Obamacare or the reforming of entitlements—"gutting," "privatizing" etc.—would be precisely the same if we had President-elect John Kasich. Trump's Cabinet nominees are the kind of run-of-the-mill selections any Republican would pick. You'll remember that last week America was supposed to freak out about[...]

Police Reform Spotlight Shines on the Local Level


The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as "law and order" and "Black Lives Matter." Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect's expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama's Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level. Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments—the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a city council meeting on Tuesday. The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows "the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times." One officer is recorded saying "f— this guy" shortly before they shot him. The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city's willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials—the police chief, city attorney and city manager—didn't release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife—and council debate—ever since. In September, the newspaper's editorial board published this pointed editorial: "The city could have been upfront with Mann's family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven't responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department's policy." Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn't go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager's office to the mayor and City Council—thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters. The city's proposal also does the following: "This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting." That attempts to deal with the public[...]

Movie Review: Jackie


Just returned from Dallas, where her husband was assassinated as he sat by her side in the back of a presidential limo, Jacqueline Kennedy finds herself surrounded by people with little help to offer. A reporter, summoned by the widow to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, asks, "What did the bullets sound like?" Her brother-in-law suggests she see a priest, and while Jackie is reluctant ("Bobby, I want to talk to the press"), a priest is duly wheeled in. "Let me share with you a parable," he says. Jackie seeks to inform us that the glittery Kennedy Administration launched a new style of politics—politics as a campaign of never-ending media manipulation. (We see a careful recreation the White House tour Jackie whisperingly conducted for CBS-TV in 1962, faithfully rendered in primordial black-and-white.) But this is hardly a fresh observation; and so by default, the movie devolves into a suffocating examination of its star, Natalie Portman, as she unleashes a tsunami of acting—weeping, simpering, smoking and snapping—much of it captured in relentless, oppressive close-ups. (Portman's accent seems odd at first—it feels haunted by the ghost of Gildna Radner's old "Baba Wawa" character on SNL. A quick visit to YouTube, however, establishes that this is in fact the way Jackie Kennedy spoke, so…points for meticulous preparation.) The movie doesn't feel like it's really about anything—it has no warmth, no spirit, and its dialogue is sometimes dead. ("You left your mark on this country.") Chilean director Pablo Larrain deals with the assassination itself with an overhead shot of startling economy, and there's a resonant image in which we see Jackie peering out through a car window as the reflection of a well-wishing crowd outside passes across her face. But much of the rest of the film is staged like a historical reenactment, with actors representing Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch), social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and occasionally JFK himself (Caspar Phillipson, bearing an eerie resemblance) moving from room to tastefully appointed room, pausing here for a Pablo Casals cello recital, there for a sudden glimpse of the Oswald assassination, live on TV. The movie's most grounded performance is by Billy Crudup, who plays Theodore H. White, a journalist interviewing Jackie on assignment for Life magazine. White was both a distinguished historian and a malleable Kennedy insider, and Crudup gives us glimmers of the man's self-awareness about his conflicted position When Jackie goes on about JFK's love of the Broadway hit Camelot and its original-cast album (cue Richard Burton's vintage bellowing of the show's title song), White realizes there's a metaphor being forged. And when Jackie takes up a pen and starts editing his interview notes, we can see that while White may not be entirely happy about it, he knows that his role has become one of craven acquiescence. The film is considerably burdened by a pointlessly weird score by Mica Levy (whose work on the Scarlett Johansson movie Under the Skin was so hair-raisingly effective). Levy's shivery central motif sounds like a synthesizer sliding sideways off a cliff; it's certainly distinctive, and you can imagine it being perfect for another kind of picture. But not this one. The movie's main problem, however, is Portman—or rather the use to which she's put. The direc[...]

Reason's Secret Recipe for Nutrient-Rich Coverage of the Trump Era


Warning: Our actual recipe for covering politics in the coming year doesn't actually include eggs (cage-free, of course), milk (raw and unpasteurized), poultry (no left or right wings, thank you very much), Fruit Loops, and booze. Instead, we'll be combining investigative reporting; a commitment to "Free Minds and Free Markets"; in-depth interviews with friends and foes; a brand-spanking-new daily podcast (subscribe for free!); and award-winning videos that inspire other outfits to follow suit (watch this from us in 2013, read this from Rolling Stone in 2014, and then watch this from Vice's Weediquette in 2016). Since 1968, when we began as a humble mimeographed magazine, Reason has broken the mold of tired left-right politics and provided a radically alternative way of thinking about politics, culture, and ideas—one that says all of us should be the authors of our own lives, planners of our own destinies, and masters of our own domains. As important, we're not only giving you a heads-up about really bad government policies and actions that threaten to limit our freedom, we're showing the ways in which people all over the world are using human ingenuity and technological innovation to create the world they want NOW. From printing 3D guns to making the moral case for free trade to showing how amateur filmmakers are building on legendary franchises such as Star Trek, you'll read about it, watch it, or hear about first at Reason. Over the past 12 months, averaged 4 million monthly visits and Reason TV videos doubled their audience, pulling more than 2 million views here, at Facebook, and at YouTube. With a small but dedicated staff, we publish thousands of words every day at and covered the ups-and-downs of the Libertarian Party presidential campaign like nobody else. We are your voice for libertarian ideas in the media, appearing on thousands of TV and radio shows, making the case for maximum human freedom and minimal government. We love what we do—and we can't do it without your help. That's why we're hosting our annual webathon through Tuesday, December 6. We're asking readers of this site to make tax-deductible donations in dollars and Bitcoin to Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes our award-winning journalism in video, audio, and print form. Different giving levels come with different levels of swag: $100 Reason magazine sub (includes print or digital) {digital includes access to archives of 46 years of Reason Magazine} Receive invitations to Reason events in your area. $250 Includes print and digital subscription to Reason plus a Reason T-Shirt custom designed for this webathon by Reason Magazine art director Joanna Andreasson. Receive books by Reason authors. $500 All of the above and a copy of the film "Can we Take a Joke?" $1,000 Receive all of the above plus a private lunch in Washington, DC with a Reason editor and an invitation to Reason Weekend. $5,000 Receive all of the above plus a Reason 1oz silver Bastiat Coin & 2 tickets to the Reason Media Awards in NYC (includes VIP seating and a reception with Nick, Katherine, & Matt). $10,000 All of the above & 2 tickets to Reason Weekend for 1st time attendees. The 2016 election was about the weirdest campaign in history, pitting two manifestly unpopular candidates against one another, with neither one being able to win in a convincing f[...]

House Republicans Want to Make the Wrong Change to the Corporate Tax


Economic research shows that the corporate tax is harmful to workers' wages and overall economic growth. If left to their own devices, politicians still wouldn't be likely to reduce or eliminate the destructive tax. They only act when tax competition—whereby taxpayers shop around for favorable tax environments—forces their hand. That's why it is alarming that House Republicans—I repeat, House Republicans—are talking about a change to the corporate tax that would insulate it from competitive pressures going forward. The change in the Ryan-Brady blueprint (as in Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee Kevin Brady) would turn the corporate income tax into a "destination-based cash flow tax" with many similarities to European-style value-added taxes. To be sure, it would also lower the U.S. corporate tax rate—which is currently higher than any other in the developed world—and move to a common-sense territorial system in which income would be taxed only in the country where it was earned. It would also alleviate some of the double taxation of savings and somewhat simplify the tax code, even as it could become a compliance nightmare for companies. But it would be simpler to just do away with the corporate tax altogether. Many people know that, but Republicans continue to appease those who view all money as belonging first to the government by insisting that tax cuts must be "paid for" according to the Keynesian math of the Congressional Budget Office. So here's where we are: To pay for their desired cut to the corporate tax rate, Republicans are suggesting a conversion of the corporate income tax into a "cash flow tax," or a consumption tax base with a deduction for payroll. Protectionist "border adjustments" then make it "destination-based" by exempting exports from taxation and denying deductions for imports. The move might be better described as belonging to the idiotic school of export mercantilism, meaning there would be higher prices for consumers (including domestic producers that use imported parts). I can also guarantee that contrary to the promise lawmakers will make about it, this feature would not appreciably boost exports. But the real danger from the plan comes from how it would change political incentives. Whereas corporate income tax rates have declined throughout the rest of the world as nations compete to keep businesses from fleeing their jurisdiction, the destination-based cash flow tax would be inescapable. If you sell in the U.S. market, you would pay the tax, regardless of where your company is located. That means that future politicians would have little incentive to keep rates down. This is just a recipe for bigger government, as Europe discovered when it instituted the very similar value-added taxes. In part because of their regressive nature—yes, VATs hit lower-income taxpayers the hardest—they are revenue engines and have helped fuel the dramatic growth of European governments in recent decades. Academic supporters of the new tax admit that their goals are to grow government and institute more progressive tax burdens. Republican lawmakers think they need it to trade for lowering the corporate rates, but they ought to know better than to hand future Congresses the means to easily power government growth. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM [...]

Is Partisan Gerrymandering Unconstitutional?


Ronald Reagan was president when Michael Madigan, a Democrat, became speaker of the Illinois House in 1983. Reagan served two terms and died in 2004, and his name adorns schools, roads, parks and an airport. A generation has passed since he left the White House. And Madigan? He is still speaker, and has been for all but two years since he started. He appears to be as permanent a feature of the Illinois landscape as the Mississippi River. Illinois is a blue state, voting Democratic in the past seven presidential elections. But the Democratic Party's control of the state House is not the simple result of its ability to satisfy the citizenry. Democrats have also had the help of district lines drawn to help them at the expense of Republicans. In 2012, Democratic House candidates got 52 percent of the votes statewide but captured 60 percent of the seats, report political scientist Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois Springfield and policy consultant Cynthia Canary. In 2014, Democrats got 50.5 percent of the vote and 60 percent of the seats. This year, Madigan's party again won 60 percent of the races. That's why Illinois Republicans may side with Wisconsin Democrats on one issue: partisan gerrymandering. In November, a federal district court struck down Wisconsin's legislative map on the ground that it unfairly favors Republicans, who dominate the Legislature. It had been more than three decades since a federal court invalidated a reapportionment plan for partisan bias. In that case, the justices upheld an Indiana redistricting plan but affirmed that a gerrymander could be so biased toward one party as to violate the Constitution. The district court said the Wisconsin plan fits the bill. Republicans captured the Wisconsin Legislature in 2010, just in time for the decennial reapportionment. They made the most of the opportunity. In 2012, GOP candidates got 48.6 percent of the statewide vote—but 60 of the 99 seats in the lower house, the Assembly. In 2014, they got 52 percent of the vote and 63 seats. A scholar they had asked to analyze the plan before its adoption said Democrats would need at least 54 percent of the statewide ballots to regain control of the Assembly. It was a recipe for Republican control in good times and bad. In 1986, the Supreme Court noted that when legislators are entrusted with redistricting, the results are bound to have a partisan tilt. But it concluded there is a limit to what is permissible. "Unconstitutional discrimination occurs," it said, "when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter's or a group of voters' influence on the political process as a whole." Wisconsin Republicans insist they have a natural advantage: Democrats are concentrated in cities, limiting the number of districts in which they enjoy majority strength, while Republicans are more scattered. But the federal court said these facts don't explain the GOP's formidable edge. It is instead the product of efforts to dilute the votes of Democrats by "packing" large numbers into a few districts, where they can't lose, and "cracking" the rest into many more districts, where they can't win. The Supreme Court (which will get this case on direct appeal) has hesitated to intervene in such matters because of a knotty question: how to separate the acceptabl[...]

Flag Burning Might Be Offensive, But it is Protected Speech


"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion." — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson Is flag burning protected speech? This old issue returned front and center earlier this week after President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted that he found it so reprehensible, it should be criminal. He even suggested a punishment — loss of citizenship or one year in jail. Is the president-elect correct? Can the government punish acts that accompany the expression of opinions because the government, or the public generally, hates or fears the opinions? Here is the backstory. Last weekend, in a series of continued emotional responses to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and prodded by the death of Fidel Castro — the long-time, brutal, profoundly anti-American dictator of Cuba — students on a few American college campuses publicly burned American flags. These acts regenerated the generation-old debate about the lawfulness of this practice, with the president-elect decidedly on the side of those who condemn it. For the sake of this analysis, like the U.S. Supreme Court, which has addressed this twice in the past 17 years, I am addressing whether you can burn your own American flag. The short answer is: Yes. You can burn your flag and I can burn mine, so long as public safety is not impaired by the fires. But you cannot burn my flag against my will, nor can you burn a flag owned by the government. Before the Supreme Court ruled that burning your own flag in public is lawful, federal law and numerous state laws had made it criminal to do so. In analyzing those laws before it declared them to be unconstitutional, the Court looked at the original public understanding of those laws and concluded that they were intended not as fire safety regulations — the same statutes permitted other public fires — but rather as prophylactics intended to coerce reverence for the American flag by criminalizing the burning of privately owned pieces of cloth that were recognizable as American flags. That is where the former statutes ran into trouble. Had they banned all public fires in given locations, for public safety sake, they probably would have withstood a constitutional challenge. But since these statutes were intended to suppress the ideas manifested by the public flag burning, by making the public expression of those ideas criminal, the statutes ran afoul of the First Amendment. The First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from enacting laws infringing upon the freedom of speech, has consistently been interpreted in the modern era so as to insulate the public manifestation of political ideas from any government interference, whether the manifestation is by word or deed or both. This protection applies even to ideas that are hateful, offensive, unorthodox, and outright un-American. Not a few judges and constitutional scholars have argued that the First Amendment was written for the very purpose of protecting the expression of hateful ideas, as lovable or popular ideas need no protection. The Amendment was also written for two additional purposes. One was, as Justice Jackson wrote as quoted abo[...]

The Two-Party System Is a Shambling Zombie


Reporter: "Are they slow moving, Chief?" Officer: "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up." Dialogue from the 1968 pop-cult classic Night of the Living Dead sums up the condition of America's two venerable political parties. Like Zombies, Democrats and Republicans brainlessly plod along, barely hanging on as organizers of choice in our campaign and governance politics. Impotent shells of their former selves, they spawn no new committed partisans, with the upcoming millennial demographic seeking more than just two choices, declaring independence from one-size-fits-all politics. The parties are two old oak trees, providing some shade but rotting at their cores. The Grand Old Party is split into five branches—actually three limbs, a twig, and a re-surfaced rotting root. The Party of the People has two divisions competing for dominance among its presidential, congressional, and state electoral wings. Reason TV: Trump and Hillary vs. The Walking Dead - story continues below src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Here are findings from autopsies of the bodies left on the political landscape after the Zombie Political Apocalypse of 2016. The GOP's five divisions (which overlap of course) Main street, Wall Street conservatives. They are the Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan Republicans, who say they seek small government, with little regulation of a fabled free market, demanding low taxes and balanced budgets. Many of them make comfortable livings on K Street in Washington, as corporate welfare lobbyists. Social conservatives. The anti-gay, anti-choice TV preachers and their flocks are reliable Republican voters, with exit polls revealing a remarkable 81 percent of white, self-identified evangelicals supported Trump, the twice-divorced and thrice married-to-foreigners New Yorker, who has held various positions on abortion and gay rights. Economic libertarian conservatives. Northeastern, country club Episcopalian Republicans are a dying breed. They make wealth-centric voting decisions, holding blue blood noses in the presence of their Southern, Bible-beating soc-con brethren. Some were publicly part of the #NeverTrump crowd, but probably supported the cheesy real estate magnate in the privacy of no-selfies-allowed voting booths, to protect their bank accounts. Neo-conservatives. Few in number, they are a twig, not a branch of the GOP tree. But they loom large in old print media editorial and op-ed page propaganda. With help from The Washington Post and The New York Times, these ideologues are always ready to sacrifice American lives and treasury. They gave us the Bush-Cheney elective war in Iraq and Obama's 2009 surge in Afghanistan, working with the neo-con lite faction in the Democratic Party, headed by Hillary and Bill Clinton. The white nationalist alt-right. Just when we thought it can't happen here, it did. Alt-right Stephen "Breitbart" Bannon was designated as chief White House strategist by Donald Trump, becoming part of the definition of Republican. Sweep back dirt from the rotting roots of the Republican Party tree, and you expose the white nativists, given aid and comfort in the past year by their chosen leader Trump, haranguing against M[...]