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Updated: 2017-11-23T00:00:00-05:00


How Grocery Stores Got Good


Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, by Michael Ruhlman, Abrams Press, 307 pages, $28 Of all the stories in the busy news cycle of 2017, the one with the most meaningful long-run effects may be Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods. What this marriage means for the future of the food industry remains to be seen, but the combination of Amazon's reach and delivery skills with Whole Foods' high-quality products opens many possibilities. In Grocery, his look at the central role the grocery store has played in American life, food writer Michael Ruhlman more or less predicted the coming together of Amazon and Whole Foods. In 1988, he notes, Walmart opened its first Supercenter, enabling it to extend its skill in distribution and cost cutting to the grocery business. That same year, Whole Foods opened its first store outside of Texas, starting the process of becoming a national chain and establishing a new sort of shopping experience. "The next sea change in food retailing," Ruhlman wrote, prior to the purchase being announced, "may come from another master of distribution, Amazon." Ruhlman made his name writing about great chefs and cooking, but here he takes on the social and economic changes in the grocery business over the last century. He does so through a study of Heinen's, a mid-sized regional chain based in his hometown of Cleveland. Ruhlman uses the company's history and practices as a window on the role the grocery store has played in American culture. As recently as the 1970s, grocery stores tended to be smaller, had far less variety and quality of food, and weren't always as clean as they are now. Such changes are among the most powerful evidence we have that nearly all Americans today surpass the living standards enjoyed by even very wealthy people a generation or two ago. Growing up in an upper-middle-class Detroit suburb in the '70s, I knew nothing of avocados, kiwi fruit, or basmati rice. The closest a grocery store had to a "ready to eat" dinner was some frozen pizza that barely deserved the name, not the variety of hot, fresh food-to-go found at a typical supermarket today. When we consider what's now available at food palaces like Whole Foods or Fresh Market, or even just at Kroger, their 1970s counterparts seem closer to the Soviet experience than the modern American one. This is part of a longer trend. At the dawn of the 20th century, Ruhlman notes, the average grocery store carried about 200 products. By 1975, it had about 9,000. The number now approaches 50,000. The grocery store of my youth had 5 or 10 chip options; today, chips command an entire aisle. Walk past the dairy cases and consider the varieties of milk, cheese, and eggs, then ask someone in his 50s what his dairy options used to look like. And these new choices are available and affordable even to relatively poor Americans. Food takes up a substantially smaller portion of the average family's budget than it did in the past. The changes don't stop there. At the turn of the 20th century, most people purchased their food from a specialty store. You got your meat from the butcher, your dry goods from the general store, your dairy from someone else. Perhaps your vegetables were homegrown. The idea of a broader "grocery store," let alone a "supermarket," was still decades away. The key early player in this evolution was A&P—the Walmart of the early 20th century in terms of its size, its buying power, and its influence on its competition. A&P's innovations in inventory and management let it dramatically reduce grocery costs for a large group of consumers, much as Walmart has done; it too was vilified for outcompeting mom-and-pop stores in the process. The emergence of a true supermarket—an establishment carrying a wide range of perishable and nonperishable food under one roof—was the result of several non-food innovations of the 1920s and '30s. There was the shopping cart, which liberated clerks from getting things and enabled people to buy more at one time. Businesses started locating stores away from downtown, i[...]

Turkey, Stuffing, and a Side of Subsidies


It's that time of year again, when millions of Americans gather for Thanksgiving meals of turkey and plentiful sides. I hope you enjoy yourself, because as a taxpayer, a consumer or even a producer of some of that food, you're paying a stiff price for the privilege of celebrating this cherished American holiday. Every year, the federal government dishes out north of $20 billion in farm subsidies. Five crops (wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and cotton) make up more than 80 percent of agricultural subsidies. They go to big agribusinesses and investors, many of whom are in cities far away from the fields of harvest. The result is that for us taxpayers, the rolls, long-grain rice, stuffing and creamed corn on our plates, as well as the cotton tablecloths we're dining on, cost us before we even went to the store. Our turkeys are subsidized, too, through government giveaways to livestock producers. And so are our potatoes and cranberry sauce, which benefit from payments by crop insurance programs on a regular basis. Pretty much everything we swallow on Thanksgiving and in the days of eating leftovers that follow will have been subsidized once, if not twice. As a consumer, you might think that you are a net beneficiary. After all, aren't subsidized goods cheaper? Nope. The economic literature shows that abolishing subsidies would actually lower the world price of crops. For instance, a 2011 study by the World Bank looked at the effects of removing agricultural protection and subsidies from rich countries and found that poverty rates would fall in virtually all of the developing countries included in the sample as a result of the lower world prices for farm products. Rich countries' consumers would benefit, too. Take the ridiculous protective scheme built around a politically powerful cartel of domestic sugar processing companies. Between protective tariffs that reduce cheap foreign supplies, loan guarantees and bailouts, American consumers pay about double the global average price for sugar. Obviously, consumers are hurt, but so are all the producers of goods that require the use of sugar, such as bakers and candy-makers. The rationale to use farm subsidies to keep farm households out of poverty might have made some sense in the 1930s, but it doesn't today. Yet advocates of farm subsidies never tire of arguing that providing a safety net for farmers is an important function of these government handouts. But this claim doesn't hold up under examination. For one thing, according to the Agriculture Department, only 2 percent of farm households fall below the federal poverty line. Second, our country already has a safety net, in the form of such programs as food stamps and Medicaid. If poverty is an issue, why on earth should farmers get treated any differently than other Americans? Finally, a recent study by Montana State University economist Vincent Smith, published at the American Enterprise Institute, shows that farm subsidies do not mostly benefit poor farmers in rural and urban areas. He writes, "About 70 percent of all crop insurance and other farm income safety net payments flow to 10 percent of the largest crop-producing farm businesses." That's fewer than 100,000 farms with an average income of over $140,000. Considering the median household income in the United States is $59,000, these guys are doing well. If you include net wealth, the picture becomes even clearer. Taxpayers, consumers and other low-income Americans redistribute a large amount of their wealth to the largest farm operations and wealthiest farming households. This system is also incredibly unfair to younger farmers. All of these subsidies increase the cost of farmland (whether one wants to rent or buy) and makes it more difficult for newcomers to break into the farm business. It's also worth thinking about the absurdity of a system that puts, in one single piece of legislation, the subsidies that raise food prices and the food stamps that help low-income Americans pay overinflated prices for food. So this Thanksgiving,[...]

Arkansas Universities Want to Be Able to Fire Professors Who Aren't Collegial


In addition to plagiarism, theft of property and acts of violence, the University of Arkansas system is considering adding a failure to maintain "collegiality" as a reason to terminate tenured professors. Using collegiality as an evaluation tool has long been blasted by the American Association of University Professors for its potential to create a faculty of "genial Babbitts" to which society is not likely to look for leadership. Joshua Silverstein, a law professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, first drew attention to the proposal, quietly added to the second page of a draft provision by system's general counsel, flagging a "pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues." Silverstein called this collegiality clause "a striking attack on academic freedom and tenure." Richard J. Peltz-Steele, a former colleague of Silverstein and a law professor at the University of Massachusetts, blogged that a tenured professor can be terminated for showing a "pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues." "That provision would allow the termination of a faculty member who ignores instruction to teach the politically correct or anti-intellectual version of a subject in the classroom," Peltz-Steele wrote. Nate Hinkel, a spokesman for the university system, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in an email in late October the proposed changes were part of a broader effort in recent years to update its Board of Trustees' policies so they align with "current law and best practices." The university professors association considers it a worst practice. "The elevation of collegiality into a separate and discrete standard is not only inconsistent with the long-term vigor and health of academic institutions and dangerous to academic freedom; it is unnecessary." The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization focused on civil liberties in academia, warns of the chilling effect on professors' academic freedom if policies enforcing vague "collegiality" standards move forward. "Collegiality-related charges are easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick," Peter Bonilla, a writer for FIRE, explains. "It's a difficult charge for faculty to fight — just about any behavior could be subjectively cast as un-collegial, after all—and therefore an easy charge with which to gain leverage." FIRE has also condemned a provision in Ohio Northern University's faculty handbook. The provision reads, "faculty members are expected to treat colleagues and staff with civility and respect." "How is one to define 'civility'? What constitutes 'respect'?" Bonilla writes. "Of course, the Ohio Northern policy provides no answers, leaving it all too easy for administrators to conveniently define it however they please, whenever it suits their interests." The vagueness in U of A's and ONU's policies is the crux of the danger to academic freedom, leaving plenty of room for administrators to oust professors who don't fall in line with their beliefs. These policies encourage homogeneous groupthink and disincentivizes professors from exploring different perspectives in academia. Daring to dissent should not be a reason to fire a professor. Having a separate provision for collegiality only serves to stifle academic freedom. If universities are serious about fostering a healthy environment for learning then they should heed the advice of the AAUP and FIRE and ditch "collegiality" policies. Punishment based on the subjective whims of administrators only further traps universities in a bubble of their own creation. [...]

Who Really Held the First Thanksgiving in the United States?


Thanksgiving is a great American tradition. As is disputing the holiday's origins. National mythos portrays the first Thanksgiving as taking place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in celebration of a bountiful harvest. buys into the myth when it refers to "the original 1621 harvest meal"—although it also acknowledges that "for some scholars, the jury is still out on whether the feast at Plymouth really constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States." As a possible contender for the first Thanksgiving on the U.S. mainland, the website cites a 1565 meal of thanks hosted by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé in Florida. It likewise notes an event that took place "on December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia's James River" and "read a proclamation designating the date as 'a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.' " The latter event has given rise to a long-running complaint that Virginia does not get the credit it deserves for kicking off the national holiday. Two years ago retired newspaper executive Graham Woodlief related the origin story (which included an ancestor of his) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "It all began in the spring of 1618 after four gentlemen had been given a grant, by England's King James I, of 8,000 acres of beautiful land in Virginia on the James River. The four gentlemen were John Throckmorton, George Thorpe, John Smythe, and Richard Berkeley. They formed the Berkeley Company and needed someone to lead the expedition to the New World. "The group chose John Woodlief (and) made him a captain and the first governor of the new colony of Berkeley Hundred. Woodlief prepared for the trip and leased the good ship Margaret... "On Dec. 4, 1619, the ship arrived at its destination, Berkeley Hundred, and the men rowed ashore. Clifford Dowdey wrote in his book 'The Great Plantation': 'The men placed their personal luggage on the hard ground, gazed at the woods enclosing them and listened in complete silence. Then at a command from Captain Woodlief, the men kneeled and said a prayer of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for their safe voyage.' "They did this in accordance with the proclamation they received from the Berkeley Company in England, instructing them, upon arrival, to give thanks and to do so annually and perpetually. The first English Thanksgiving in America had just occurred." Other colonists held feasts of thanksgiving from time to time, Woodlief notes, "but they were spontaneous and one-time events." Thanksgiving at Berkeley took place every year—until 1622, that is, when the Powhatan Indians attacked the settlement and killed 347 of its inhabitants. This put a bit of a damper on things, and the settlement was abandoned. "For three centuries," Washingtonian magazine notes, "Virginia's first Thanksgiving was lost to history." That allowed the Johnny-come-lately crowd up in Plymouth to get their hooks into the national psyche and convince Americans they actually came up with the idea. Not everyone fell for it, though. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that began, "Over three centuries ago in Plymouth, on Massachusetts Bay, the Pilgrims established the custom of gathering together each year to express their gratitude to God." Kennedy was a Yankee, and didn't know any better. But John Wicker Jr., a former state legislator from Richmond, did—and he took umbrage. He fired off a telegram (like a tweet, only slower) to the White House expressing said umbrage. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote back confessing error: "You are quite right and I can only plead an unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff... I can assure you the error will not be repeated in the future." Kennedy's next Thanksgiving proclamation not only mentioned Virginia, but listed it first. Other presidents, unfortunately, have not been so punctilious. In their own proclamations Jimmy Carter, Ron[...]

Thankful for Property Rights on Thanksgiving Day


Ready for Thanksgiving? Before you eat that turkey, I hope you think about why America has turkeys for you to eat. Most people don't know. Everyone's heard about that first Thanksgiving feast—Pilgrims and Indians sharing the harvest. We like the drawings of it we saw in schoolbooks—shared bounty. Fewer people know that before that first feast, the Pilgrims nearly starved. They almost starved because they acted the way some Bernie Sanders fans want people to act. They farmed collectively. But communal farming creates what economists call "the tragedy of the commons." Think about what happens if a bunch of ranchers hold land in common. Everyone brings cattle to graze. While that sounds nice, it also means every rancher has an incentive to bring lots of cattle to the pasture. They bring cow after cow until the pasture is overgrazed -- destroyed. For this week's YouTube video, I repeated an experiment economics teachers sometimes do to demonstrate the tragedy of the commons. I assembled a group of people, put coins on the floor in front of them and said, "I'll give you a dollar for each coin you pick up. But if you leave them down there for a minute, I'll give you two bucks per coin, and then three bucks. Each minute the coins increase in value by a dollar." If the group waited, they'd make more money. Did they wait? No. As soon as I said "Go!" everyone frantically grabbed for coins. No one wanted to wait because someone else would have gotten the money. Collective action makes people more greedy and short-sighted, not less. Then I changed the rules of the game. I divided the floor into segments, so each person had his or her own property. Then we played the game again. This time there was no coin-grabbing frenzy. Now patient people anticipated the future. "I want to reap the most benefit," said one. "[On the previous test] I wanted it now, whereas this is going up, and it's mine." Exactly. When you own property, you want to preserve it, to allow it to keep producing good things. That beneficial pattern disappears under collectivism, even if the collectivists are nice people. The Pilgrims started out sharing their land. When crops were ready to harvest, they behaved like the people in my experiment. Some Pilgrims sneaked out at night and grabbed extra food. Some picked corn before it was fully ready. The result? "By the spring," Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary, "our food stores were used up and people grew weak and thin. Some swelled with hunger." Adding to the problem, when people share the results of your work, some don't work hard. The chance to take advantage of others' joint labor is too tempting. Teenage Pilgrims were especially likely to steal the commune's crops. Had the Pilgrims continued communal farming, this Thursday might be known as "Starvation Day" instead of Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the Pilgrims were led not by Bernie Sanders fans or other commons-loving socialists, but by Bradford, who wrote that he "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could... that they might not still thus languish in misery... After much debate [I] assigned each family a parcel of land... This had very good success, because it made every hand industrious." There's nothing like private ownership to make "every hand industrious." The Pilgrims never returned to shared planting. Owning plots of land allowed them to prosper and have feasts like the ones we'll have Thursday. Private property became the foundation for building the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, a place where people have individual rights instead of group plans forced on everyone. When an entire economy is based on collectivism, like the Soviet Union was, it eventually collapses from inefficiency and misuse of resources. So this Thanksgiving, thank private property. Every day, it protects us from the tragedy of the commons. COPYRIGHT 2017 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC. [...]

When Good-Faith Medicine Raises ‘Red Flags’


Forest Tennant, who has been treating and researching pain at his clinic in West Covina, California, since 1975, is well-known as an expert in the field, having published more than 200 articles in medical journals and given more than 130 presentations at professional conferences. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), all of that was an elaborate cover for drug trafficking. Or so you would have to surmise from the affidavit supporting the search warrant that the DEA served on Tennant's offices and home last week, which describes "invalid prescriptions," "red flags of diversion and fraud," and "combinations of drugs that are consistent with 'pill mill' prescribing practices." The allegations and insinuations show how the DEA has tried to criminalize differences of opinion about pain treatment, encouraging doctors to think about their legal exposure first and their patients second. Tennant says the "red flags" perceived by the DEA are consistent with a practice like his, which specializes in treating severe, intractable pain caused by conditions such as arachnoiditis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and post-viral neuropathy. "We only take people who have failed the standard treatments," he says. Tennant's willingness to take hard cases explains why some of his patients live in other states, a fact the DEA considers suspicious. "We only see them in conjunction with their local doctors," he says. In addition to severe pain, Tennant's patients often have metabolic abnormalities that make them less sensitive to opioids and have developed tolerance after years of pain treatment. Those factors explain the doses that struck the DEA as suspiciously high and the drug combinations it deemed reckless. By the time Tennant starts treating them, his patients are already taking large doses of opioids, often in combination with muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines. "We didn't start anybody on high dosages," Tennant says. "We took them to study them to figure out how to get them off of high dosages, and that has remained our goal." In nine out of 10 cases, Tennant says, he has been able to reduce patients' opioid doses substantially, by as much as 80 percent. At the same time, he defends the use of high doses for patients who need them, a stance that bothers the DEA. The search warrant affidavit cites a 2009 article in which Tennant and two other doctors defended the prescription of "ultra-high opioid doses" for certain patients with severe chronic pain. The affidavit also notes that Tennant championed the California Pain Patient's Bill of Rights, a 1997 law affirming that "opiates can be an accepted treatment" for "severe intractable pain." The DEA seems to be arguing that Tennant's sincere medical opinions and advocacy on behalf of pain patients should be considered evidence of criminal activity. The DEA suggests that speaking fees Tennant received from Insys, which makes the oral fentanyl spray Subsys, amounted to kickbacks. The DEA also implies that it's improper to prescribe Subsys for anything other than cancer pain, the application for which it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Tennant notes that it's common practice for doctors who have experience with a drug to get paid for training colleagues to use it. He says Subsys "turned out to be somewhat disappointing," but he prescribes it for half a dozen patients who find it useful for breakthrough pain, including a few who do not have cancer—"off-label" uses that are perfectly legal. Tennant, who has testified against "pill mills," says his clinic looks quite different: It has a six-hour intake process, sees a maximum of 10 people a day, and has "big thick charts" for its patients, who come with their families and tend to be middle-aged. He adds that his practice, which treats about 150 patients, has never had any overdoses, suicides, or diversion problems. "I invite anybody to come[...]

Stossel: Happy Thanksgiving!


Did you know that the pilgrims almost starved after they arrived at Plymouth Rock? That's because they were forced to farm "collectively." The corporation that funded the expedition said, "grow food together. Divide the harvest equally."

This is a terrible idea. It creates what economists call the "tragedy of the commons." When you share property and the results of your work, people farm until the land is barren, don't work as hard, or steal food from others.

John Stossel gathers young people from Students For Liberty and runs an experiment to demonstrate this "tragedy of the commons." It shows the solution is private property, which is what saved the pilgrims.

Governor William Bradford finally decided to "assign each family a parcel of land". Once the pilgrims had property rights, they became much more productive and brought in huge harvests -- which they were then able to share with the Indians.

So this Thanksgiving feast, don't forget to say "thanks, private property!"


Why You’re All Wrong To Be Raging Against Lena Dunham


Everyone loves being part of a pile-on against Lena Dunham, I know. I do too. But the current Twitter-mauling of Dunham after she defended her friend and 'Girls' colleague Murray Miller against sexual-assault allegations is really nothing to celebrate. If we could all turn down the Schadenfreude for five minutes, we might realize the furious social-media ostracism of Dunham for expressing her inner conscience reveals just how far out-of-control the post-Harvey Weinstein climate has spun. Dunham is getting it in the neck for tweeting her doubts about the accusations made by actress Aurora Perrineau. Perrineau says she was assaulted by Miller when she was 17. Dunham said that she and her fellow 'Girls' executive producer Jenni Konner believe Miller is innocent. Even that Perrineau is making it up. "While our first instinct is to listen to every woman's story, our insider knowledge of Murray's situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 % of assault cases that are misreported every year," she tweeted. Cue social-media meltdown. The response was instant, and intense. Dunham was accused of being a rape apologist. A sell-out. A phony feminist who claims to believe women but swiftly changes her tune when one of her male friends stands accused of sexual wrongdoing. Her feminism is too white, too upper middle-class, too capitalistic, an army of tweeters said. The right got stuck in, too. Of course it did. Dunham-hunting is its favorite bloodsport. Fox News called out her "shocking hypocrisy." She's now being accused of "hipster racism' by Lenny Letter contributor—now resigned—Zinzi Clemmons. "It is time for women of color, black women in particular, to divest from Lena Dunham," said Clemmons. Right now it feels like women of all colors — alongside the somewhat tragic male feminists who clog up certain sections of Twitter—are divesting from Dunham. Her moral stock is down, down, down. So down that she has apologized for defending Miller. "[I]t was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry," she says. "We regret this decision with every fiber of our being." Every fiber—ouch. This sounds to me like a woman in turmoil. I think Dunham's apology is sad, tragic, and unnecessary. The problem here, the niggling difficulty, is that Dunham both deserves and doesn't deserve the onslaughts against her morals and her social (media) standing. She deserves it for the simple reason that she has played a key role in pushing the problematic—to use their language—cult of belief around accusations of sexual assault. We live in a time when, increasingly, every woman who makes an accusation against a man is instantly believed. No questions. No skepticism. No "Let's test this in court." No presumption of innocence. "Believe the women," the cry goes. This cult of credulity, this discouragement of doubt in favour of instant, tweeted assumptions of guilt, feels dangerous. Or certainly damaging—damaging to reason, public debate, and justice. Instant belief lay behind the Rolling Stone fiasco, where a journalist fell for a concocted story of gang rape at the University of Virginia. Instant belief fueled the hysteria and injustices of the pedophile panics of the 1980s and 1990s: back then the rallying cry was "Believe the children." If we want to go back further, instant belief was the cause of unspeakable horrors in the Old South, where black men were frequently punished, even destroyed, by accusations of sexual harassment. This is why the great civil-rights warrior Ida B. Wells said we should "appeal to the public for the presumption of innocence"—because she knew the dangers of speedy, uncritical belief in accusations. Of course, everyone who makes an accusation of sexual assault—whether it's against Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, or some ordinary Joe—should be treated symp[...]

The Good, the Bad, and the Unspeakably Ugly: A Reason Surveillance Reform Bill Primer


Before the year's end Congress needs to decide what it's going to do about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which permits the federal government to engage in surveillance of foreign targets that are not on U.S. soil, secretly and without warrants. Section 702 amendments sunset at the end of the year if Congress does not act to renew it. These amendments were originally passed in 2008 and renewed in 2012. These surveillance authorities have become a source of controversy because it has become increasingly clear to the public that Section 702 has drawn in domestic communications from Americans when they were speaking with (or even just talking about) targets of foreign surveillance. There are "minimization" procedures to limit the ability of intelligence agencies from reading private communications from and by Americans without a warrant, but civil rights groups and surveillance experts have warned FBI and NSA intelligence agents bend the rules with "back door searches" and "reverse targeting" in order to keep tabs of Americans or people on American soil. Intelligence agencies have also engaged in searches "about" a subject of foreign surveillance, in addition to communications to or from the target, futher drawing in communications of Americans. The top concerns here are that the surveillance is done without warrants and overseen by the deliberately secret FISA court. The secrecy is to protect intelligence investigations and anti-terror and anti-espionage efforts. Since the intended targets are not supposed to be American citizens and not on American soil, the Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches are not compromised. But when the feds access and use data from Americans, there are problems. Privacy-minded groups and some supportive lawmakers are looking to reform Section 702 to provide stronger protections for American citizens against unwarranted surveillance. The White House, however, has said they do not want any changes in Section 702, even though President Donald Trump has complained about people in his 2016 presidential campaign having their conversations collected through such surveillance. Below is a useful primer on the three Section 702 bills floating around in Congress, what each bill hopes to accomplish and a subjective assessment of its chances. It's entirely possible all three fail and a renewal with no changes is added to a must-pass, end-of-year omnibus bill. It's also possible Congress will fail to get a renewal approved and Section 702 sunsets. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among other groups, would love to see Section 702 surveillance authorities go away entirely. But there is little evidence lawmakers are willing to take that political risk at a time of public concern over mass violence or terrorist attack within the U.S. borders. USA Liberty Act of 2017 (H.R. 3989) This is an intended "compromise" bill that has been offered up to rein in the use of unwarranted use of Americans' communications to fight domestic crimes while still allowing some access intended to assist the FBI and NSA in fighting terrorism and espionage from foreign actors. What does it actually do about surveillance? The USA Liberty Act requires federal investigators to get a court order in order to access the content of domestic communications when looking for evidence of a crime. The information accessed must be directly related to an investigation. The bill provides exceptions for getting foreign intelligence information (which is the point of the surveillance authorization in the first place), if the subject qualifies under federal law for an emergency surveillance authorization, or if the target's life is directly threatened and the information may be used to assist them. The bill creates specific procedures to document requests for the "unmaski[...]

Why Does Hawaii Hate American Workers?


In Hawaii, it takes an average of 988 days and $438 in fees to become licensed to perform one of many occupations under the thumbs of state regulators. Given that the average requirement across the United States to enter such fields as painting contractor, landscaper, or manicurist is an already burdensome year of people's lives and $267 in fees, you have to wonder what officials in the Aloha State have against people trying to make a buck. But Hawaii isn't the only offender—and in some ways it's not the worst, given that it licenses "only" 63 of 102 mostly lower-income occupations examined in a recent report from the Institute for Justice. Louisiana and Washington are both the worst offenders in this sense, imposing licensing requirements on people seeking work in 77 of the jobs examined in the report. Or you could combine the worst of both worlds, like California which licenses 76 occupations at an average of $486 in fees and 827 days in time, or Nevada which requires an average $704 in fees and 861 days for 75 jobs. Ouch. "In 1950, only about 1 in 20 jobs required a license," Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta noted during a speech to state legislators on July 21 of this year. "Today, more than 1 in 4 Americans need a license to legally perform their work." He added, "Taking up this issue is one way that you, as legislators, can have immediate, consequential and measurable impact. You have a tremendous opportunity to help create millions of jobs, without spending a dime." Acosta voiced rare bipartisan concerns in this politically tribal day and age. The preceding Obama administration was also worried about the proliferation of occupational licensing, warning in 2015, "Fewer workers means higher wages for those who secure a license, but lower wages for excluded workers and higher prices for consumers. Research finds that more restrictive licensing raises prices for goods and services provided by licensed professionals by between 3 and 16 percent." Bipartisan agreement that occupational licensing is out of control! That means we can make progress, right? Well, some. Arizona, where I live, for instance, has eliminated licensing requirements for a handful of occupations. These are "regulations that are often designed to kill competition or keep out the little guy, including the elimination of licenses for talent agents," in the words of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's office. But explicitly eliminating licensing requirements for more jobs has been challenging—the state still licenses 68 of the 102 occupations examined in the IJ report, at an average of $612 in fees and 765 days. So Arizona has taken a new tack, this year adopting a law that eases the way for people to sue the state government over licensing requirements that restrict competition and create unnecessary barriers. Really, that's all of them, so this could be promising. Another law requires regulatory boards to justify their licensing requirements. Why the tough battle to achieve reform that enjoys bipartisan support? Apparently, so we're told, it's to save us from doom. Advocates of licensing constantly invoke health and safety concerns. Without licensing, "Any person without any formal education would be able to practice cosmetology, putting consumers at risk of injuries, burns, infections, and the spread of diseases, such as hepatitis and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA), due to unsanitary practices," argued Bridget Sharpe, Manager of Government Affairs for the Professional Beauty Association. Sure. Except that a 1997 study by Morris M. Kleiner and Robert T. Kudrle, of the University of Minnesota, found that "increased licensing restrictiveness did not improve dental health, but did raise the prices of basic dental services." Yes, that means that licensing hasn't improved the quality of dentis[...]

L.A. Is Creating Traffic Jams to Push Commuters to Ride Bikes and Rail


In July of 2017, Los Angeles imposed a "road diet" in the quiet beach community of Playa del Rey, replacing car lanes with bike lanes and parking spaces. The roads were suddenly jammed with traffic. The community was livid. "Most of Playa Del Rey didn't know this was happening," says John Russo, a local resident and co-founder of Keep L.A. Moving, a community group formed to fight back against the city's unilateral decision to reconfigure the streets. "It really created havoc for us because we have no other roads to take." Road diets are part of a strategy known as Vision Zero, in which Los Angeles aims to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities by 2025. It's an idea borrowed from Sweden, which in the '90s started experimenting with reconfiguring the roads to encourage more commuters to bike or take mass transit to work. "In order to achieve zero deaths, public officials have been doing some odd things," says Baruch Feigenbaum, the assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) that publishes this website. Road diets aren't "based on science" or any "empirical findings." "After the road diets were put in, we actually saw traffic accidents go through the roof," says Russo. "We had an average of 11.6 accidents per year on these roads in Playa Del Rey. We've had 52 accidents in the last four months." According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 American Community Survey, about one percent of Los Angeles' commuters bike to work. Sixty-seven percent drive. "You're taking something from a whole bunch of people just to benefit a few people," says Feigenbaum. "That's not a good cost-benefit analysis." City planners also want to incentivize residents to move closer to their jobs. Or, if they do have to commute, to ride the city's public transit system. Los Angeles has the third largest transit network in the country, yet only 10 percent of commuters use it to get to work. "In Los Angeles, a majority of the folks simply cannot get from their homes to their jobs in a short period of time using transit," Feigenbaum explains. "Trying to force people into one type of behavior doesn't tend to work and it's why, even in Los Angeles, the vast majority of people are still commuting by automobile." In October, the Los Angeles City Council reversed itself in Playa del Rey after community members filed two lawsuits against the city and launched a recall election of local Councilman Mike Bonin (D), who had backed the plan. But the city is still planning to implement over 40 road diet projects in other areas of Los Angeles, and major cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Atlanta are pursuing similar policies. "In the 1960s we were building interstate highways, freeways through downtown areas, which was definitely the wrong approach," says Feigenbaum. "Now we don't want to build any roads at all. We just want to build bike paths. We want to narrow lanes. We're saying that transit is going to solve everybody's needs. Neither extreme is what we need." "It's not about cyclists versus drivers," says Russo. "These are all of our roads and they should be safe for all users. And the road diet didn't make our roads safer and they're not making it better for the cyclists." Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Garcia, Alex Manning, Todd Krainin, and Paul Detrick. CLIMAX by Soft and Furious is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: Cooperation Road by Unicorn Heads is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: https://[...]

Film Subsidies Are Real Losers


Put a question to any two economists and you will get three answers back. That old joke is not very funny, and it is even less accurate. On some topics economic analysts are, if not unanimous, at least largely in accord. Example: sports stadiums. As the St. Louis Fed pointed out earlier this year, 86 percent of economists agree that state and local governments "should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises." Study after study has found that giving public money to pro sports teams brings little to no return on the investment—and sometimes actually induces negative effects on the local economy. Another example: film subsidies, which get close scrutiny in a new report by Virginia's legislative watchdog agency. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission: Virginia's "film tax exemption has little effect on film location decisions, a negligible benefit to the Virginia economy, and provides a negligible return on the state's investment." The film tax credit provides a return of 20 cents on the dollar; direct grants return 30 cents on the dollar. Yet in five years, the commonwealth has more than doubled its film subsidies, from $5.8 million in 2012 to $14.3 million last year. The idea—as with so many other subsidies—is to lure economic activity. But JLARC points out that this hasn't worked—not for Virginia, and not for the many other states that have engaged in a bidding war over Hollywood during the past couple of decades: "The percentage of nationwide film production employment located in California and New York (67 percent) in 2016 has barely changed since 2001 (69 percent)... Georgia, which offers one of the most generous film tax credits in terms of the rate, ranks third after California and New York, but its share of national film production employment is only four percent (12,500 workers)." The JLARC report adds useful data specific to Virginia. But its overall point hardly breaks new ground. Massachusetts has been fighting over its film subsidy since 2008, when the state issued its first critical review of the program. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, each job ostensibly created by the subsidy costs the state $118,000. "State Film Subsidies: Not Much Bang for Too Many Bucks," was the title of a 2010 study by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report noted that "subsidies reward companies for production that they might have done anyway." And because most people outside California and New York don't have the requisite skills, "the best jobs go to non-residents." And "subsidies don't pay for themselves. The revenue generated by economic activity induced by film subsidies falls far short of the subsidies' direct costs to the state." Two years later, the conservative Tax Foundation reported similar findings: "Surveying the literature, we found that aside from studies paid for by economic development authorities and the Motion Picture Association of America, an industry trade association, almost every other study has found film tax credits generate less than 30 cents for every $1 of spending." "Film Tax Incentives Are a Giant Waste of Money, New Study Finds," ran a headline in Variety last year. The story reported on a study by the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy's Michael Thom. He found that tax credits produced zero to minimal employment gains and zero to only short-term gains in wages. Sales tax and lodging tax breaks also accomplished bupkes, and "none of the incentives had a measurable effect on the share of the motion picture business located in each state." To be fair, having a major motion picture filming on location in your hometown brings non-monetary benefits, just like having a pro sports team[...]

The Cops Were Chasing a Shoplifter. They Ended Up Destroying an Innocent Man's Home.


Leo Lech owns a property parcel at 4219 South Alton Street in Greenwood Village, a sleepy suburban enclave tucked between Denver's bustling Tech Center and the scenic reservoir of Cherry Creek State Park. His quarter-acre plot rests near the end of a quaint cul-de-sac that fits every idyllic American stereotype: two-car garages, well-manicured lawns, the stars and stripes waving in front of each home. While most houses on this block were built in the 1970s, Lech's is brand new: It received a certificate of occupancy in August after two years of construction. It isn't the first building to have occupied the lot. Over the course of June 3 and 4, 2015, a devastating police raid systematically destroyed Lech's old home. The cops were responding to a crime that Lech had nothing to do with: A suspected shoplifter had barricaded himself inside the house after a chase, sparking a 19-hour standoff with a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. Unleashing a display of force commonly reserved for the battlefield, the tactical team bombarded the building with high-caliber rifles, chemical agents, flash-bang grenades, remote-controlled robots, armored vehicles, and breaching rams—all to extract a petty thief with a handgun. When it was over, Lech's house was completely unlivable. The City of Greenwood Village condemned it, forcing Lech to topple the wrecked structure. Making matters worse, the municipality refused to pay fair market value for the destruction. Now Lech is suing for compensation. The outcome of his case may bring clarity to the property rights of Americans living in the shadow of police militarization. The Destruction The story starts in a Walmart parking lot. At 1:22 p.m. on June 3, Aurora police officer John Reiter was dispatched to the store after a security camera caught a man stealing a shirt and two belts. The official police affidavit described the thief as "a white male approximately in his thirties, 6'5" with a muscular build, short blond hair, clean shaven and lots of tattoos on his arms and shoulders"; he was wearing blue jean shorts and a red backpack. His name was Robert Jonathan Seacat. Seacat ran to his gold-colored 1999 Lexus. As he was fleeing the scene, he nearly assaulted Reiter with the vehicle. The car was later discovered abandoned at a light rail station less than a mile away. Police found drugs, brass knuckles, and some cash inside the trunk. In the ensuing pursuit, Seacat—now on foot—crossed a pedestrian bridge, a fence, one of Denver's busiest highways, another fence, and Village Greens Park, which backs up directly to the 4200 block of South Alton Street. The suspect broke into Lech's property by entering through the back door, tripping one alarm. While inside, he attempted to open the garage door, tripping a second alarm. At 1:54, the City of Greenwood Village Police received a report that the alarms had gone off. The house was rented at the time to John Lech (Leo's son), Anna Mumzhiyan (John's girlfriend), and Anna's 9-year-old son. At the time of the incident, the boy was alone in the home while Anna was out running errands. The Greenwood Village cops called Anna, who informed the police that her son was inside. The frightened boy quickly managed to escape unharmed and was reunited with his mother by 2:17. The child reported that Seacat was armed, telling police that he clearly saw a gun in Seacat's right hand when the intruder walked upstairs. A witness at the train station had also reported seeing Seacat conceal a "black compact semi-automatic pistol into the front of his pants." And at 2:23, while Officer William Woods was parking two police vehicles in the driveway to block Seacat from using any of the cars in the garage to get[...]

Making History Modern


She is an icon of 1920s modernity: an independent woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt, walking with her streamlined Borzoi, the quintessential Art Deco dog. Behind her is a New York City street. But instead of skyscrapers and neon lights, it's lined with old-fashioned chimneyed houses. This image, with its up-to-the-minute foreground character and historic background tableau, is from a series of 1929 ads promoting the new season's print fabrics from H.R. Mallinson & Co., a major silk-textile manufacturer. In a second ad, the modern woman, hand on hip, twirls her long pearl necklace in a stereotypical flapper gesture. In the background is a monument featuring the Mayflower and a hopeful-looking Pilgrim couple. A third ad shows the woman standing with her hand on a ledge, gazing thoughtfully in a pose that mirrors the bust of Abraham Lincoln looking down at her. Mallinson sold its silks around the world, but it was a resolutely American company, boasting from the start that it produced "national silk of international fame." It carried its identity into its textile designs. Earlier themes had included state flowers, National Parks, American Indians, and "Wonder Caves of America." The prints were promotional items, offering retailers something splashy for their windows and their newspaper ads—but the goal was to attract customers to the company's basics. "You went in and you bought a yard of an American Indian silk to make a blouse and five yards of navy blue to make a suit, and that's where they made their money," says textile historian Madelyn Shaw. The prints ran $4.50 a yard, or $64.42 in today's dollars, a price point that explains why they tended to sell in smaller quantities. "This was not an inexpensive silk," Shaw says. "You thought about it as an investment." Investing in fabric with pretty pictures of flowers, scenery, or Native American motifs is one thing. But why would someone want to wear "Life of Lincoln," "Mayflower Pilgrims," or "Old New York"? After all, modernity, not history, was exciting and glamorous in the late 1920s. Intoxicated by the promise of a world made new, artists and intellectuals were ready to scrap all that had come before. But Mallinson wasn't selling to artists and intellectuals. It was selling to American women, and in that context, its historical motifs were right on trend. Influenced by old movies, we imagine interiors from the 1920s and '30s with Art Deco furnishings. In real life, Americans who could afford nice things outfitted their homes with Georgian styles: four-poster beds, Wedgwood china, Windsor chairs, chintz fabrics, and pastel colors. This Colonial Revival look was sleeker and lighter than fussy Victorian styles, but traditional enough to seem homey. Everyday Americans wanted to be modern. They wanted automobiles, refrigerators, and washing machines. Women wanted to bob their hair, shorten their skirts, go on dates, and maybe even vote. But they didn't want to start the world from scratch. Few were looking to give up family life, good manners, religious faith, or the Constitution. They sought continuity as well as change. With words and images, Mallinson's prints told customers they could have it all: pride in America's heritage and the best modernity had to offer. Abstracted and collage-like, the designs themselves were au courant. Slanting lines reaching toward the sky through fields of stars dominate "Betsy Ross-Liberty Bell." The play of stripes and stars recalls streamlining and movie-premiere searchlights, not patriotic banners. "The story of the flag [is] so cleverly treated there is a modernistic effect," pronounced a Louisiana department store ad. Overlaid with speed l[...]

Current Farm Bill Waste Targeted as Congress Moves Toward Next Farm Bill


As Congress ramps up plans to renew the quinquennial Farm Bill next year, two separate efforts in Washington this month called for cuts to wasteful spending enabled by the stinky current Farm Bill. Both efforts—one a bill introduced last week, the other a report released this week—are making waves. The Farm Bill, in part, is intended to set federal farm policy for the next five years. While taxpayer-funded payments to farmers—farm subsidies—have under past farm bills always been wasteful, subsidies under the most recent Farm Bill grew by billions of dollars. Last week, Congress sought to rein in a portion of the out-of-control spending it enabled in 2014 when it passed the latest Farm Bill. A new, bi-partisan bill, dubbed the Harvest Price Subsidy Prohibition Act, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.). The bill—a companion was also introduced in the House—would eliminate the Harvest Price Option (HPO), a subsidy (tied to already subsidized crop insurance) that guarantees a higher price for farmers at harvest if their crop's price rose after planting. If that sounds needlessly confusing, it is. The short of it is, as Sen. Flake says, is that the HPO acts as "a taxpayer-subsidized profit guarantee." No business—small or large, farm or industrial, rural or urban—should have its profitability guaranteed by the government. Why not? "HPO is like insuring your car for $5,000, and getting a check for $10,000 after it's totaled," says Sen. Flake. "It's the kind of program that only makes sense in Washington." The HPO program has cost taxpayers more than $21 billion. Along similar lines, a report issued Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group, which monitors and criticizes farm subsidies, exposes how two other Farm Bill-enabled programs waste billions more. The EWG report, "Double Dipping: How Taxpayers Subsidize Farmers Twice for Crop Losses," focuses on two Farm Bill programs, known as Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). Farmers who receive taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance may still choose to participate in either ARC or PLC, even though "all three programs essentially pay subsidies for exactly the same reasons." According to the EWG report, hundreds of thousands of farmers have taken advantage of the loophole by double dipping. That's put American taxpayers on the hook for nearly $24 billion in unnecessary double payments to farmers. "Farm state politicians sell farm subsidy programs to taxpayers on the premise that they help keep family farmers on the land," said Don Carr, a senior advisor with the Environmental Working Group, in an email to me this week. "But when year after year the same well off mega farms enjoy millions in redundant subsidies while the bruising agriculture economy continues to drive small and mid-sized farmers out of business, it becomes clear that the original intent of these programs has strayed way of course." These out-of-control giveaways are even more galling because the current Farm Bill was touted as the one that would help rein in spending. (To be clear, though, pretty much every Farm Bill is touted by Congress and lobbyists as a cost-saving measure.) Farm Bill critics, including me, predicted growing waste under the current Farm Bill. "During the most recent debates over passage of a Farm Bill, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) urged support for crop insurance, which he referred to as a set of 'important risk management tools for farmers and ranchers nationwide' that 'can help reduce costs,'" I detail in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our [...]

Politically Incorrect Punk


In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by a New York City band called Agnostic Front. "I'm approaching this band with caution," it warned. "Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT." The author of that review was the publication's founder and editor, Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who once worked at the independent record label SST (run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn), told Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, "there was an ideological development at Maximum RockNRoll, making everything move towards a Socialist bent." In effect, Yohannan appointed himself as the grand inquisitor of the punk rock thought police, scouring the scene for any signs of deviation from the lefty script. "If it's just 'good sounding' music you want," he admonished readers in the March 1985 issue, "then punk is no alternative at all. For me, what makes punk different is the intelligence and commitment behind it." Agnostic Front quickly became one of Yohannan's primary targets. In one 1984 column, he claimed "the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front's racist and nationalist attitudes." He rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band's members and their friends as goose-stepping goons. This August, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret published a new memoir that tells his side of the story. "A writer for this crappy but influential fanzine, Maximumrocknroll, started talking shit about us and calling us a bunch of fascist skinheads," Miret writes in My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grits, Guts & Glory (co-authored with journalist Jon Wiederhorn). "The crazy thing about Timmy calling me a fascist is that I was an immigrant Latino kid dating a Jewish girl, and she never accused me of being a Nazi sympathizer." But because his band had the nerve to occasionally dissent from left-wing tenets, it drew the ire of the powers in punk at the time. Nor was Agnostic Front the only band to run afoul of Yohannan's insistence on ideological purity. Born in Cuba in 1964, Miret came to the U.S. as a young child after his parents fled the Castro regime. He grew up rough in "the slums of New Jersey towns like Passaic and Paterson." From there he found his way to Manhattan, where the loud, fast sounds of bands such as the Stimulators, Reagan Youth, and Even Worse were blaring out of clubs such as Max's Kansas City, A7, and CBGB. Miret's life changed forever when he saw the Bad Brains play in 1981. It was an "inspiring" and "absolutely mind-blowing" experience, he writes. "They played faster than anyone and still sounded tight and furious." The aggressive music attracted a wild crowd. John Joseph, the singer for NYC legends the Cro-Mags, once remembered that "at a Black Flag show I was sent flying across the dance floor by none other than the late John Belushi, who was a huge punk/hardcore fan and was at a lot of the early shows." As Joseph explained in his memoir, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, Belushi "was a big dude and when he slammed his way across the dance floor you'd just see bodies going airborne." Miret slammed his way around the scene for a couple of years before joining Agnostic Front in 1983. "Some people think we were all lowlifes who wanted to kick the shit out of each other. That couldn't be further from the truth," he writes in My Riot. "We hung ou[...]

Future Man Is Gleefully Sophomoric, and That's Part of the Charm


Future Man. Available now on Hulu. I am officially on record as complaining that television relies on time travel just a tad heavily. But then along comes Future Man, in which a mild-mannered and generally witless janitor has been selected by some tough bastards from the future to interrupt a sexual act in 1969 (and yeah, "sexual act" and "1969" are a smirky non-coincidence), which, if performed, will a couple of hundred years later plunge the world into fascism. The janitor has what passes in Future Man as an epiphany. "We cock block him!" he exclaims. One of the tough guys nods in approval: "Okay, rip his cock off, he bleeds out slow. I like it." How is any past or present 13-year-old boy not gonna cackle in joy at that and break out the popcorn to binge-watch the next the next 12 episodes? Sophomorically funny and hormonally twitchy, Future Man is just too stupidly engaging to pass by. Once you know that Future Man is written and produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, the team behind the epically uncouth cartoon Sausage Party, further explanation becomes almost totally unnecessary. It's a comic onslaught against video-gamers and their culture of the past 30 years or so, with the occasional random shot at baby boomers so they won't be left out of the fun. The plot—which sounds like it could have been lifted from a video game if it weren't already stolen, as the script gleefully acknowledges, from the 1984 teensploitaton film The Last Starfighter—centers around that janitor, Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games). Nerd to the very bone, Josh lives in his parents' basement and plays video games 18 hours a day. Well, make that a game, singular; he plays the same one, over and over. His nerd friends are certain it's because he wants to diddle himself while watching one of the game's female characters. (Not that they judge; in a group harboring unnatural designs on Ms. Pac-Man or Mario's brother Luigi, the gender spectrum is pretty wide.) But when an apparently dumb strategy unlocks the game's final level, two of its characters pop out with disconcerting news: The cartridge was really a training and recruitment device to locate the man who could save the future from its enemies. Even if his job is sweeping the floor at a herpes pharmaceutical research facility where the activity seems mainly to consist of jamming cotton swab up the urethras of infected lab animals. The two warriors who escape from the game, Tiger (Eliza Coupe, Quantico) and Wolf (Derek Wilson, Preacher), come from a future where the veneer of civilization has been pretty much worn away from everything, and their sanguinary work habits—Wolf's favorite plan is "Rip his fucking dick off!"—supply much of Future Man's staple humor. (Bodily effluents, emitted in always surprising but ever disgusting ways, are pretty much the rest.) But it's hard to resist a show a show that so relentlessly mocks its own origins. Future Man is a tapestry of withering allusions to everything from The Terminator movies to the Mortal Kombat video games (can you guess which organ gets ripped out of losing contestants?) to Animal House. Even entire epochs get the shiv. When Josh, Tiger, and Wolf take their time machine back to the Age of Aquarius in hopes of stopping the forbidden sexual act, they wind up in the home of Josh's grandparents—who promptly try to kill them, assuming they're drug-crazed hippies. Coupe, Wilson, and Hutcherson all show a nice facility for playing off of one another as well as a sense of balance with the material, deftly avoiding the temp[...]

The Spurious Move to Stifle Speech on Campus Because it is 'Dehumanizing'


Robert Spencer — the controversial author and founder of the blog Jihad Watch — spoke Tuesday at Stanford University at the invitation of the university's College Republicans. The event proceeded relatively peacefully, with minimal disruption. But there were many who believed Stanford should never have allowed Spencer to speak in the first place, including a group of Stanford faculty and students who published an open letter urging the university to block Spencer's talk. The argument of the letter's authors is that while they "fully support the principle of academic freedom that allows us to disagree about issues," Spencer's views on Islam are "not debatable" because they are "fundamentally dehumanizing." Whenever the claim is made that an identity group is inherently less worthy of full personhood — whether that claim is made about people who are Muslim, Rohingya, Jewish, Black, trans or gender non-conforming, Bosnian, queer, immigrants, Mexican, etc. — it is always unacceptable. This has quickly become one of the most common, insidious, and dangerously slippery-slope arguments against free speech on college campuses and beyond. Let's set aside for a moment that even most truly "dehumanizing" speech is protected by the First Amendment. (Although Stanford is not a public university, California's Leonard Law applies the protections of the First Amendment to non-sectarian private schools.) The reality on campus is that any debate over any controversial issue will, for proponents of this viewpoint, unjustly demean the value of someone's identity. Consider students at the University of Florida who earlier this week vandalized promotional materials for an upcoming pro-life event on campus put on by the university's Young Americans for Freedom. In a Facebook message bragging about the vandalism, one student wrote: "just poured water on your lovely creations that are an insult to my entire major and life experiences!" To others, an opposing view on immigration policy is an attack on the humanity of undocumented immigrants. As NYU professor and provost Ulrich Baer wrote last spring in The New York Times, "[s]ome topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms." Meanwhile, after Laura Kipnis — the feminist Northwestern professor who was twice investigated by Northwestern for Title IX violations over her criticism of campus sexual politics — spoke at Wellesley College, the faculty on the school's Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity issued a statement calling for changes to the outside speaker policy. Speakers like Kipnis, the statement said, require students to "invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers' arguments… in order to affirm their humanity." When Heather Mac Donald, a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke last spring at Claremont McKenna College, violent protesters attempted to shut down the event, forcing the Manhattan Institute fellow to give her talk via livestream. Three students from nearby Pomona College issued a statement saying "[t]he idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald's hate speech is illogical. If engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist." And who can forget the reaction of Yale students to Erika Christakis's thoughtfully worded email, in October of 2015, questioning whether an institution of highe[...]

Legalize Medically-Assisted Sex


Nine out of 10 doctors agree sex is good for you, or at least better for you than smoking. But what happens if you have a disability that makes it difficult to engage in sex, or find a sexual partner in the first place? Enter sex surrogates, professionals who help the disabled work through their sexual problems (in large part by having sex with them). Although there's a case to be made for the medical, if not psychological, benefits sex surrogates provide, they're operating in a legal gray area.

In the latest Mostly Weekly, host Andrew Heaton makes the case that we should all be adults about sex and not deprive the disabled of services from which they'd benefit.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton, with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.

Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton and Brian Sack.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

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Sacramento Sex Scandal Offers Lessons About Hypocritical California Politics


There are few areas of private life that California's legislators won't at least attempt to meddle in, which makes it that much more infuriating when the Capitol crowd can't get its own house in order. I'm thinking, of course, about the unfolding sexual-harassment scandal, and lawmakers' amazing efforts to basically look the other way. Nothing to see here, just keep moving on. Maybe, by the time lawmakers get back to work in January, the whole mess will be off the news pages. Then they can go back to doing what they do best—regulating and hectoring the rest of us. But, for now, the rest of us can at least learn some stellar lessons about political hypocrisy. One key lesson is that a lawmakers' publicly stated positions and posturing have little to do with how they might handle any particular scandal. The latest evidence of this comes from KPIX-TV in the Bay Area, which reported that Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), "is a vocal supporter of women's rights, so her silence on the matter of Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra's sexual harassment case is surprising." But "this isn't the first time she's been silent when it comes to sexual harassment" and that particular San Fernando Valley Assembly member, according to the news report. Last month, a longtime legislative staffer, Elise Flynn Gyore, told the Sacramento Bee that in 2009 then-staffer Bocanegra followed her like "prey" at a nightclub and unexpectedly "put his hands up my blouse and down my blouse and was grabbing me." The Assembly Rules investigation found it "more likely than not that Mr. Bocanegra engaged in behavior that night which does not meet the Assembly's expectations for professionalism." Bocanegra was disciplined, but the matter was brushed under the rug. Per the TV station, Bocanegra ran for his seat with the backing of the Democratic Party. He recently apologized but remains the powerful majority whip. KPIX obtained a copy of a letter 11 women sent to the rules committee seeking the file on the sexual-harassment complaint. Skinner was the chairwoman of the committee, and the TV station interviewed one of the letter's signers "who confirmed, Nancy Skinner never responded to their request." This might not be as hypocritical as when, say, former Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat known for his strident gun-control positions, was arrested on corruption and gun-trafficking allegations after an undercover operation in that city's Chinatown that was worthy of a Hollywood movie. But it's close. That leads to another lesson: Any new rules apply to us, not them. You'll hear hyperbolic rhetoric on the Assembly and Senate floors warning about the crisis du jour, such as a wave of sexual abuse on college campuses. In 2014, the governor signed a "yes means yes" law that "requires affirmative consent—affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity—throughout the encounter, removing ambiguity for both parties," according to its authors. I'm certainly not downplaying campus assaults, but there's far less of a zeal to do anything about the cascading evidence of deep, cultural problems regarding sexual harassment within the Capitol. Some scandals apparently are more worthy of action than others. Gyore spoke out following publication of an open letter from 140 influential women—including six sitting lawmakers—complaining that many men in the Capitol "leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like." Why didn't they speak out? They didn't want to make waves given t[...]

Movie Review: Justice League


PRO: At least Justice League isn't a grim slog like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What a drag that movie was. CON: I'd say this film had a little lighter tone, except I don't think it could be said to have any particular tone at all. There are some funny lines, some standard superhero mopery, and clumps of character moments—meet the Flash, say hi to Cyborg—amid acres of hysterical CGI, some of it quite bad. Every now and then you also get an unexpected squirt of all-purpose syrup– something I attribute to Joss Whedon, who did some writing on the movie and later took over post-production and substantial reshoots after director Zack Snyder was sidelined by the death of his daughter last spring. Whether or not Whedon was actually responsible for the scene in which Superman and Lois Lane stand cooing at each other in a (CGI) cornfield, I feel that his presence enabled it. PRO: It helps to have a team. With four new characters on hand – Jason Momoa's Aquaman, Ezra Miller's Flash, Ray Fisher's Cyborg, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman (no longer a newbie, of course) – we don't have to spend two whole hours hanging out with Ben Affleck's po-faced, chokey-voiced Batman. (Affleck is so clearly over this role that he might as well have a FOR SALE sign stenciled on his cape.) CON: The team hasn't quite jelled yet, even with Whedon—Mr. Avengers!—on hand. Momoa's matey submariner ("My man!") and Miller's lovably frazzled speed freak are well-worked-out characters, and the prospect of their future stand-alone movies now seems promising. But the personable Fisher hasn't been able to make much of Cyborg's tragic backstory—he's a mostly metal guy with a lot on his mind, that's about it. And Wonder Woman, as you might expect, is slumming here—Gadot is so electrically alive in her every shot, she makes the other actors look as if their batteries have died. CON: The sexy. You know Gadot's not in Patty Jenkins land anymore when you hear one character bellow "You're gorgeous!" at her, and then, in another scene, watch as the camera travels up her legs to her tightly leather-clad bottom. Meanwhile, back on the island of Themyscira, some of WW's fellow Amazons have been reintroduced to traditional hot-goddess bikini-wear. Not that I object to this sort of thing myself, but I'm told there are many who do. CON: Nobody fears a lame supervillain. The one here—a crude digital confection called Steppenwolf—might have been designed on an Etch A Sketch screen. He growls and waves around his axe a lot, and is snarlingly concerned with three otherworldly boxes, one of which was long ago given to humans, another to Aquaman's undersea people, and a third to the Amazons. Steppenwolf's evil scheme to trigger "The Unity" (whatever) naturally requires that he find and possess all three of these boxes. I kept wishing somebody had provided him with One Box To Rule Them All, but we know how litigious the Tolkien estate can be. CON: Nobody fears a lame supervillain's lame subsidiary villains, either: Steppenwolf is attended by a winged horde of ghoully sub-demons who resemble nothing so much as a huge swarm of flies. When they bear down on a family's home in…Iceland, I think…a little girl actually pulls out a can of insect-spray and fixes them with a menacing moppet squint. A teeny joke, I suppose, although a bit light in the laughter department. CON: As noted above, the CGI in this movie is of a surpassing cheesiness. Every one of the many, many sky-fights, meg[...]

Liberals' Sudden Concern About Bill Clinton's Behavior Is Cynical


A number of notable liberals have recently decided to start taking allegations of sexual assault against former President Bill Clinton seriously. Let's just say that discarding the Clintons when they're no longer politically useful in order to retroactively grab the higher moral ground isn't exactly an act of heroism. But if we're going to relitigate history, let's get it right. In The New York Times, for example, Michelle Goldberg spends around 75 percent of her column titled "I Believe Juanita" rationalizing why it was OK not to believe Juanita Broaddrick, who credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape decades ago. You won't be surprised to learn that Goldberg claims the politics and conspiracymongering of conservatives provoked skepticism among liberals—excuses that will be awfully familiar to anyone following the justification of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's supporters. The most notable problem with Goldberg's contention is that the Broaddrick allegation was uncovered by NBC News, not Richard Scaife. Well, specifically, it was uncovered by NBC News after the network sat on the story throughout the president's impeachment proceedings. According to the network, the story had to be put through an arduous fact-checking process that included figuring out where Clinton had been the day of the alleged rape—something that had been worked out in a few days' time. Then again, the myth that most of the media was enthusiastic about uncovering damaging stories related to Clinton's background persists today. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, for example, both had their hands on Broaddrick's rape allegation in 1992 but dropped the story. It's also worth remembering that reporter Michael Isikoff was suspended after fighting with his editors at The Washington Post for having dragged their feet on the Paula Jones story in 1994. And in 1998, Isikoff's reporting on Monica Lewinsky for Newsweek was shelved until the Drudge Report brought it to the public's attention. Only after that point did the reporting take off. In any event, Broaddrick's story had a short shelf life despite the fact that five witnesses claimed she had told them about the rape right after it happened. There were other credible sexual assault allegations against Clinton that went largely ignored. However reluctant editors might have been in moving forward with these stories, though, the fact is that most of them were ultimately brought to the public's attention by established news organizations, not shady right-wing outlets. Still, Democrats weren't just skeptical of these women; they often treated them with disdain and smeared them for political expediency. Even today, there is so much throat clearing and blame shifting when it comes to talking about Clinton that it is highly unlikely the dynamics have really changed. Goldberg, for instance, links to a Brian Beutler article in which he cautions liberals to treat future accusations against Democrats in the same way liberals treated Broaddrick. MSNBC host Chris Hayes recently tweeted, "As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right's 'what about Bill Clinton' stuff is, it's also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him." Why is it gross to point out that Democrats were celebrating Clinton only last year at the Democratic National Convention—a convention focused specifically on the ascension of women in public life—ev[...]

Dear Prudence Meets Due Process


"There is no doubt that until recently, many women's claims of sexual assault were reflexively and widely disregarded," journalist Emily Yoffe wrote in a three-part series published in September at The Atlantic. "But many of the remedies that have been pushed on campus in recent years are unjust to men, infantilize women, and ultimately undermine the legitimacy of the fight against sexual violence." These problems, Yoffe explains, are rooted in a set of directives from the Obama-era Department of Education, which nudged college administrators to adopt new procedures for adjudicating sexual assault disputes under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in higher education. While the goal of such changes may have been to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, the rules have in practice made it vastly more difficult for the mistakenly or maliciously accused to clear their names, obtain legal assistance, confront their accusers, or even make sense of the specific charges against them. What's more, Yoffe shows, many of these efforts were predicated on junk statistics and misconceptions about how human beings cope with unpleasant experiences. The same week Yoffe's trio of articles went live, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her intention to address some of these issues—a significant victory for supporters of reform. But this arena is fraught, as Yoffe has discovered. When in 2013 she wrote a piece encouraging young women to avoid the punch bowl at parties, it received a "wave of denunciation." Daring to suggest that campus assault claims be subjected to basic scrutiny, she says, can get a person branded a "rape apologist" or worse. But "I didn't get into journalism to be intimidated about writing about difficult issues," she adds. Yoffe, 62, recently became an Atlantic contributing editor, following a nine-year stint answering letters for Slate's popular "Dear Prudence" advice column. In September, she sat down with Associate Editor Robby Soave, who covers many of the same topics at Reason, for an animated conversation about her work and why it's worth the risk of backlash. Reason: Betsy DeVos recently announced that she wants to chart a new direction regarding the department's guidance to colleges on dealing with sexual harassment and assault. What was your takeaway from that announcement? Emily Yoffe: For one thing, I was surprised. I kind of thought given Trump's own problems in this area that they might stay away from this. It's very strange to have an administration led by a president I find absolutely loathsome and a disaster for this country, and to listen to a speech by his secretary of education and find myself agreeing with many of the things she had to say. I think a danger is that it just becomes a response to the Trump administration. Schools say, "We will resist," and there's a possibility that the worst excesses will get entrenched just because of who the messenger is. The simple narrative is, "Trump doesn't think consent is important, so he's changing these guidelines to help people like him get off the hook for sexual assault." What's missing from that story? The problem [with rape adjudications on college campuses] hasn't penetrated the public consciousness. This three-part series of mine just ran in The Atlantic, and as we were working on the first part, which was mostly about due process—how we got here and how things have gone off t[...]

Keeping the Export-Import Bank Honest


Last week, Boeing confirmed the purchase by China of 300 planes for the listed price of $37 billion. This deal occurred without any backing from the infamous Export-Import Bank of the United States—an outfit that lowers the cost of borrowing for foreign companies when they buy some American goods, such as Boeing aircraft. This is interesting because anyone listening to many lawmakers and the special interests that used to benefit from the Ex-Im Bank (e.g., Boeing, General Electric and the National Associations of Manufacturers) wouldn't know that such trade is possible in an era when the agency has been incapacitated. Indeed, for well over two years now, Ex-Im hasn't been able to subsidize foreign companies abroad or at home because its charter expired for five months. Even once it was reauthorized, the bank didn't have enough members on its board to authorize deals over $10 million. That was over 85 percent of Ex-Im activities in the past. During a recent confirmation hearing for former Rep. Scott Garrett (R – N.J.) as the head of the agency, many senators deemed the state of the bank a grave injustice. Yet though his nomination would put Ex-Im back in business entirely, they still hope to block him. You see, Garrett was a staunch opponent of the Ex-Im Bank when he was in Congress, so he's exactly the kind of guy who could bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the agency. As a reminder, during the heyday of the Ex-Im Bank, just 10 massive domestic companies benefited from 65 percent of the agency's activities, which subsidized loans to equally massive and often state-owned foreign companies. Boeing alone benefited from 40 percent of Ex-Im's activities. The company shows no signs of slowing down, and its profit and market caps are much higher than when Ex-Im's charter expired. Yet somehow, these facts are happily ignored by those who want to see their crony win. Other irrational arguments are made to justify the existence of the bank. For instance, it's supposed to level the playing field against countries that are hurting us on trade, such as China and Mexico. Yet the agency used to subsidize—and will go back to subsidizing—billions of dollars in loans to companies in these same countries. For instance, Mexico's state petroleum conglomerate, Pemex, is by far the biggest borrower of Ex-Im's largesse—with $8.5 billion in loans backed by American taxpayers. The scandal-plagued company is also rich (98th on the Fortune Global 500 list). I'm sure the Mexican government is delighted to know that many in Congress are working hard to restore its line of credit. This is why Garrett's nomination matters. Make no mistake; I'm not happy that his appointment would put Ex-Im back in business. But at least he understands the many problems with the institution—including fraud, abuse and mismanagement. In fact, even if you are an Ex-Im supporter, Garrett is still the kind of guy you should want there. For one thing, there's really nothing he could do to destroy the bank from the inside. However, he could flag inappropriate loans, making sure that when Iran buys Boeing planes, taxpayers aren't subsidizing the deal. Keep in mind that economists have shown these export subsidies to boost the profits of Ex-Im beneficiaries while hurting the country as a whole. He could make sure the mission of the bank is honored with as little economic distortions as possib[...]

Should the Government Get to Define ‘Native-American’ Art? One Woman’s Free Speech Fight.


Peggy Fontenot has had a successful career as a Native American artist working in beading, silver jewelry and black-and-white photography. She's won numerous awards at art shows and has shown her work at top-tier museums.

Today her career is in jeopardy because of a 2016 state law that says only members of federally-recognized tribes can market their work as "Native American" or "Indian made." Fontenot is a part of the Patawomeck tribe, which is recognized only in the state of Virginia.

Now she's suing the state on the grounds that the law violates her First Amendment rights. "To call every state-recognized tribe fake and illegitimate is just broad sweeping and wrong," Fontenot told Reason.

Anastasia Boden of the non-profit Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing Fontenot, says the law is intended to restrict competition. She notes that State Rep. Chuck Hoskin (D), who sponsored the bill, has also served as the chief of staff for the federally-recongized Cherokee Nation. The group "certainly would have an interest in putting a law on the books that says that only federally recognized tribes can call themselves Native American," Boden says. (Rep. Hoskin declined our interview request.)

Rebecca Tushnet, a Harvard law professor, says the Oklahoma law may have been poorly crafted, but was well-intentioned. She says fraud in the Native American art market is big problem.

Oklahoma isn't enforcing the law as the case is being deliberated, allowing Fontenot to continue marketing her work as she always has. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Detrick, Alex Manning, Mark McDaniel and Meredith Bragg.

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No, The Electoral College Isn't Rigged to Favor Rural Trumpism


It's time to shed the mythical claim that electoral features of the United States Constitution somehow infuse our national political system with a rural Republicanism, conservatism, or Trumpism. This charge appears prominently in Nancy MacLean's controversial book Democracy in Chains, which cites the U.S. Senate's equal representation clause as well as the Electoral College as evidence of the Constitution's anti-democratic features. MacLean accuses libertarians of seeking to enhance these features with further constitutional "locks and bolts" that supposedly thwart the popular and progressive-leaning "will" of the electorate. But she also does little to conceal her own contempt for these existing provisions, attacking our "grossly malapportioned Senate" in which "the vote of a Wyoming resident carries nearly seventy times more weight than the vote of a Californian." Suggesting that this feature constitutes a built-in bias towards conservative voters, she describes it as even "more egregious departure" from equal voting rights than the notorious manipulations of state legislature apportionment that typified the segregation era. Indeed, to MacLean, the claimed Senate and Electoral College biases are a pernicious anti-democratic relics of slavery's influence over the drafting of the Constitution. Today they are "change-blocking mechanisms [that] prevent us as a polity from addressing our most profound challenges," which in her mind entails imposing radical tax hikes on the wealthy to stave off "inequality" and adopting a favored package of aggressive regulatory policies to combat global warming. Is there in fact a detectable electoral bias in a Republican direction that supposedly emerges from the Constitution itself? While the Senate and the Electoral College indeed mathematically disfavor high-population states, the specific claim that they "rig" a supposed rightward bias into our politics is far more often asserted than substantiated. A simple examination of recent electoral results reveals that there is no reason to believe that Republicans or conservatives are the exclusive beneficiaries of these constitutional features. Rather, the much-discussed Republican-leaning rural states of the west are basically canceled out by the overlooked Democrat-leaning small states of the northeast. To see how, let's take the 10 smallest states in terms of population (2016 estimates) and tabulate how they vote. Beginning with the least-populous state and increasing in size, the list includes Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire. This is also a mathematically defensible cutoff point, as New Hampshire's apportionment of House seats sits well below the national average of population per district. The next state on our list, Hawaii, sits slightly above. Note also that this list does not include the heavily Democrat-leaning District of Columbia, which has 3 electoral votes but no senators. The nation's capital would sit below Alaska and above Vermont in terms of population if it obtained statehood. The current U.S. Senate representation of these ten smallest states actually shows a slight bias towards the Democrats. They currently elect nine Republicans, nine Democrats, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Note that this pattern is basically a w[...]

Legalize Sex Work


Who owns our bodies? I think that we do. Therefore, once we're, say, 18, we ought to have the right to rent our bodies to someone else. But we don't. Women who do that get arrested. So do their customers. I refer to prostitution, of course. Sex work is a better term. Under any name, it's illegal in America, except in eight counties in Nevada. Some feminists say sex work must be outlawed because prostitutes are exploited. Julie Bindel of Justice for Women says, "I've interviewed a lot of sex buyers, and they talk about women like they're human toilets or spittoons for men's semen." Maybe some men do. But does that mean women should not be allowed to rent their bodies? "No!" says sex worker Christina Parreira: "I feel more exploited by these supposedly liberal women telling me that I'm being exploited." Parreira is a University of Nevada Ph.D. student who, to study prostitutes, became one. She told me, "We don't need protection. We're consenting, adult women." For this week's YouTube video, I confront her about sex for money being "shameful, degrading, disgusting." "I used to waitress," replies Parreira, "get hit on and provide conversation. That's what I do now, except I'm serving sex, not food." She says the 60 sex workers she's interviewed do not say their customers treat them as "spittoons for semen." The men "want conversation, companionship... texting in between their appointments," she says. "They want the girlfriend experience without the girlfriend hassle... and maybe 20 minutes having sex." But Bindel says that sex workers like Christina, who speak to reporters, are atypical. "They're so unrepresentative of the majority... Prostitutes are victims," Bindel says, held captive by pimps. "All women on the streets are there because they have no other choice." But "they have a choice," I said. "They could work at McDonald's, they..." She replied, "Many say, 'McDonald's is a rubbish job. I'd rather be in the sex trade!'" But isn't that the point? No job is perfect, but we let people make choices. Some customers and pimps are violent. Some women are forced into the sex trade. But prostitutes who want that trade legalized say legality would reduce violence and sex trafficking by bringing victims out of the shadows. "If, God forbid, somebody's going to assault you, (in legal brothels) you can call the cops. You can hit the panic button," Parreira told me. "If you're an illegal worker, you're not going to call the cops because they're going to arrest you!" Some of you readers believe it's immoral to rent bodies or body parts, to, as Bindel puts it, treat them as "part of a marketplace." But why? Boxers, in effect, rent their bodies to sports promoters. So do football players, dancers, models, etc. We let people do dangerous things with their bodies all the time, like driving race cars and climbing mountains. Recently, a California appeals court ruled that legalization advocates have a right to challenge California's prostitution ban. During the legal arguments, a judge asked the state's lawyers, "Why should it be illegal to sell something that's legal to give away?" That was a good question. The state has no good answer. Legalization has already been tried in places like New Zealand. It doesn't make the business perfect, but it helps. Sociologist Ronald Weitzer of George Washington Univer[...]

Trump’s ‘Great Relationship’ With a Vicious Drug Warrior


When Maximo Garcia heard that he was on a list of local drug suspects in Mayombo, he tried to clear his name with the police chief, explaining that he no longer used drugs and had never sold them. Four days later, the Philippine news site Rappler reports, a masked gunman shot up Garcia's house as he and his family were eating lunch, wounding him and killing his 5-year-old granddaughter. So it goes in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, which has claimed somewhere between 7,000 and 13,000 lives since he took office in June 2016. Although Duterte's bloody crusade has drawn international criticism, Donald Trump evidently did not think the subject was worth broaching during his meeting with Duterte in Manila on Monday. Trump, who this week bragged about his "great relationship" with Duterte, had previously praised his Philippine counterpart's "unbelievable job on the drug problem." Trump meant that as a compliment, but the viciousness of Duterte's anti-drug campaign does beggar belief. "If you know any addicts," Duterte told a crowd of supporters after taking office, "go ahead and kill them yourself, as getting their parents to do it would be too painful." A few months later, he likened himself to Hitler, saying "there's 3 million drug addicts" in the Philippines, and "I'd be happy to slaughter them." Police officers and vigilantes have taken Duterte at his word, assassinating people identified, rightly or wrongly, as drug users or dealers. Duterte says the carnage is not really a human rights issue, because drug users are not really human. "Crime against humanity?" Duterte said during an August 2016 speech to soldiers. "Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?" He dismisses the deaths of children killed by bullets intended for drug suspects—children like Maximo Garcia's granddaughter—as "collateral damage." Even while endorsing murder as a morally legitimate response to drug abuse, Duterte periodically insists that he does not condone lawbreaking. Yet he has created an atmosphere of impunity by promising to pardon police officers accused of using unnecessary deadly force. The thousands of drug suspects killed by police officers in the last 16 months supposedly offered violent resistance. But investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and news outlets such as Rappler and The New York Times have found that police routinely plant drugs and weapons to justify what amount to summary executions. Last August police in Manila shot and killed 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, claiming he had fired a gun at them. A police photo showed a pistol and two packets of methamphetamine next to his body. But witnesses contradicted the official account, and video from a neighborhood security camera showed police dragging the boy, still alive, into the alley where his body was found. That incident sparked public outrage in the Philippines, leading to charges against the officers who killed the teenager. We may never know how many innocent people have been killed in similar circumstances, but without surveillance footage to prove it. The U.S. State Department notes that "extrajudicial killings" in the Philippines "increased sharply" last year, amid "numerous reports that the [Philippine National Police] committed arbitrary or unla[...]

Trump Trade Speech Undermines Beleaguered Free Trade Consensus


President Trump raised some valid concerns about America's trade relations with the rest of the world in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam on Friday. For example, it's true that U.S. firms are subjected to intellectual property rights violations and industrial espionage by foreign state-affiliated actors. Unfortunately, Trump's speech was both economically illiterate and factually incorrect. It's likely to undermine what remains of the pro-free trade consensus and embolden those on both sides of the U.S. political spectrum who advocate in favor of prosperity-destroying protectionism. The case for free trade has been clear for 200 years, since David Ricardo described what has come to be known as the "theory of comparative advantage." Ricardo's 1817 theory, which I have discussed in greater detail elsewhere, states that a country should produce and export only those goods and services which it can produce more efficiently than other goods and services, which it should import. To be fair to Trump, he did, on a number of previous occasions, note that he loves free trade. Regrettably, love does not equal understanding. Take, for example, Trump's concern over America's "trade imbalance" with China. According to Trump, "the current trade imbalance [with China] is not acceptable." "I do not blame China or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade," Trump said in his Vietnam speech. "If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs." But is the trade imbalance as much of a problem as Trump implies? No, because as any student of economics knows, there is a direct relationship between trade balance on the one hand and the savings and investment balance on the other hand. The relevant accounting formula here is: Savings - Investment = Exports – Imports. It's true America sells less to the rest of the world than it buys from it. But the United States also receives more capital from overseas than Americans send abroad. Trade balance and capital balance must be equal over the long run, because the American dollars that foreigners earn by selling to Americans can only be spent in so many ways. Foreigners can convert the American currency into local currency, thereby driving up the price of the local currency and driving down the price of the U.S. dollar. That then translates into more competitive U.S. exports and, consequently, lower trade imbalance. Or they can invest their export earnings in U.S. assets—ranging from U.S. government bonds to San Francisco apartments. Lo and behold, China is hemorrhaging capital at a record speed, and some of that Chinese money is coming to America. China, for all of its growing economic might, is still a country with dodgy property rights and an underdeveloped rule of law. Its government is even more opaque and less predictable than our own. By sending some of their money overseas, in other words, Chinese people and corporations are hedging against expropriation and drastic changes in economic policy. The United States, with its relatively well-developed institutions and investment-friendly policies is, comparatively speaking, a safe haven. "I wish," Trump continued in his speech, that "p[...]