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Updated: 2017-05-28T00:00:00-04:00

 



Long Strange Trip: The Grateful Dead's Radical Anti-Authoritarian Streak

2017-05-27T10:45:00-04:00

The Grateful Dead, a band forged during the Bay Area Acid Tests of the 1960s that grew to become one of the most popular live acts in American history, is the subject of a new 4-hour documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Amir Bar-Lev. Using a trove of archival images, Long Strange Trip follows the band over three decades, delving into the group's history, music, and fans.

"There is sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Bar-Lev told Reason. "But also a different attitude towards fame and the relationship with fans that I think people–whether you like the band or not–are going to find informative and interesting."

At the heart of the Grateful Dead's unique connection with fans was founder Jerry Garcia's emphasis on community over hierarchy. During a 1981 interview with New Musical Express, Garcia explained that "a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it."

"I think Jerry was radically anti-authoritarian," says Bar-Lev. "All the guys are in the band. So when people began to elect them to be authorities, they had a natural concern and skepticism around that. I think that's healthy. I wish more people in power were concerned about power and wielding power."

Bar-Lev sat down with Reason to discuss the film, why he considers the Grateful Dead "the musical Statue of Liberty," the implications around the band's decision to allow bootleggers to record and trade their music, as well as his thoughts on conservative Deadheads Anne Coulter and Tucker Carlson.

Long Strange Trip is now playing in theaters and will become available for streaming through Amazon on June 2.

For more on the Grateful Dead, read: "Come Hear Uncle Sam's Band: The hippie capitalism of the Grateful Dead."

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Austin Bragg, Paul Detrick, and Alexis Garcia.

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Mandating Menu Labeling is Foolish, Not 'Easy'

2017-05-27T08:00:00-04:00

This week, New York City—the first place in America to require chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus—expanded the reach of its menu-labeling law. The city is now "the first municipality to require grocery and convenience stores with more than 15 outlets nationwide to clearly display calorie counts for prepared foods and beverages and have additional nutritional information available upon request," reports New York's Fox 5. "The rules will apply to about 1,500 food retailers." This expansion is a microcosm of a larger, ongoing debate in Washington over the fate of federal menu-labeling rules. In a column last month, I correctly predicted the agency responsible for implementing the rules, the FDA, was likely to delay—once again—implementing enforcement of its menu-labeling rules. The agency delayed enforcing the rules—which were mandated by Congress under 2010's Affordable Care Act—for one year, just days before enforcement was set to begin. I oppose mandatory menu labeling for many reasons. For one: it's ineffective. Research has shown that posting mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus doesn't help people make better choices. One key sticking point in Washington is whether the federal rules should apply (as they now do in New York City) to grocery and convenience stores, along with pizza chains. This week, the USA Today editorial board weighed in on the issue. Apparently, the USA Today editors have never seen a less intractable problem than devising and complying with menu-labeling rules. "It's not rocket science," the USA Today editors note. It's "so seemingly simple." Isn't it even a little bit difficult? Nope. "[H]ow hard can it be to post a small sign over each offering with a calorie count?" they ask. "Not very." The alleged simplicity of devising and complying with menu-labeling rules is a common argument in support of them. If it's so easy to provide calorie information, then certainly one place that must have figured it out is the Breaking News Café, located inside USA Today's Mclean, Va. headquarters. I called this week to ask. The woman who answered the switchboard at Gannett (USA Today's parent company) at noon on Thursday said she could not connect me with the cafe because she did not have their updated number. But she volunteered to me that she has not seen calorie information during the times she has been in the Breaking News Café. (She then connected me with catering, where the phone rang a few times before I was disconnected.) I did a bit more poking around. While many of the two-dozen or so photos of the cafe show food on sale, I did not see any calorie counts displayed. Maybe this is because the calorie information just isn't there. Or it could be because the information is present but goes unnoticed (which would track with research that most people don't even see calorie counts on menus, hence defeating their very purpose). Or maybe there's a long, sad trail of unanswered internal memos from USA Today's editors demanding calorie counts be displayed at the Breaking News Café. I don't know. (No one responded to my Thursday email to the editorial board.) One thing I do know, though, is that the USA Today editorial gets at least one key fact wrong about menu labeling when it argues the FDA rules place "no burdens on small business, as the law applies only to chains with 20 or more outlets." As I've written time and again, that's not how it actually works. Franchisees—small-businesspeople who own one or more restaurants that USA Today argues should be subject to the rules, such as your local Domino's franchisee—could be forced to comply with the rules. A small businesswoman who owns one Pizza Hut location, for example, would have to pay perhaps thousands of dollars to buy one or more new menu boards if the FDA applies its rules to small businesses like hers. Ultimately, despite the claims of menu-labeling supporters, it's neither easy nor cost-free nor effective to force food sellers to add calorie counts to their menus.[...]



That Old-Time Civil Religion

2017-05-27T06:00:00-04:00

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest, by Walter A. McDougall, Yale University Press, 408 pages, $30 Never mind the First Amendment; the United States has an official religion after all. It's a civil religion, and the deity's role is to bestow blessings on the state. The "Supreme Architect," "the Almighty Being," "the Infinite Power," and "the Being Who Regulates the Destiny of Nations" are just a few of the sobriquets that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison gave to the nation's nondenominational guardian spirit. For some the civil religion might be mere symbolism; others might conflate it with Christianity. Either way, it helps give the nation a sense of purpose, or so historian Walter McDougall contends. In The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy, McDougall traces how changes in the American civil religion (or "ACR") have shaped the country's attitudes toward war and peace. From the founding until the Spanish-American War of 1898, what McDougall calls the "Classical ACR" (or "Neo-Classical ACR" after the Civil War) prevailed. It was a faith of national expansion on the North American continent, but it did not, in the words of John Quincy Adams, "go forth in search of monsters to destroy" overseas. A new faith took hold in the last decade of the 19th century: the "Progressive American Civil Religion," which became an even more firmly entrenched "Neo-Progressive ACR" during the Cold War. This was a militant faith that conceived of the nation's mission as being, in George W. Bush's words, to "end tyranny in our world." Today a third faith, the "Millennial ACR," aspires to unite the world through a global economy and regime of universal rights. It too has roots in the Cold War, though McDougall identifies it primarily with presidents Clinton and Obama. You'll notice a pattern. Each civil religion has a "neo" phase that emerges when its original formulation runs into trouble. The basic impulse—toward staying at home, asserting American primacy in international affairs, or uniting the world—stays the same, but the rhetoric gets updated. And the progression from one civil religion to the next is not strictly linear: After World War I, for example, the Progressive ACR was partly discredited and the broadly non-interventionist Classical ACR enjoyed a slight return. Similarly, the globalist Millennial ACR was knocked back by the 9/11 attacks and the wars of the George W. Bush years, which brought the Cold War–style "Neo-Progressive ACR" back into fashion. McDougall, who teaches history and international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, is a zestful writer as well as a meticulous scholar. He sometimes writes like a prophet—not in the sense of foretelling the future, but in relying on compact insight rather than step-by-step logical argument. He covers the sweep of U.S. foreign policy over some 200 years in a little more than 350 pages. Hang tight and enjoy the ride. McDougall is at his best when zooming in on the details of history and revealing the truth to be rather different from what other writers have led us to believe. The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy is, among other things, a rejoinder to Robert Kagan's 2006 book Dangerous Nation, which argues that America has always aspired to remake the world in the image of its own values. McDougall shows that Abraham Lincoln, for one, never supported wars to promote revolution or to spread liberalism through empire building. Lincoln's son Robert made a rare public statement to denounce an attempt by then–President Theodore Roosevelt to link his father's name to an imperialist foreign policy. Peopling the continent—even when it already had quite a few other people—was the great mission that America's first civil religion endorsed. God wanted America to grow. But projecting power into Europe or Asia, acquiring bases or imperial possessions overseas, was not part of the divine plan. "Manifest Destiny rema[...]



ABC’s Baffling Sequel to Romeo and Juliet Fails to Live Up to Bard’s Name

2017-05-26T15:00:00-04:00

Still Star-Crossed. ABC. Wednesday, May 31, 10 p.m. I cannot say Still Star-Crossed, ABC's aptly named sequel to Romeo and Juliet, was a complete waste of my time. It briefly brought back a memory of the epiphanic moment in college when I learned that a laudatory reference to anal sex was concealed in the bowdlerized version of Romeo and Juliet that we read in my high-school English class. Sadly, this Interwebs thing has practically obliterated delayed gratifications like that one; every 12-year-old in America can now discover what a filthy dog Shakespeare was and get a head start on having him banned from their school curriculums. Sadly, the previous paragraph pretty much exhausts discussion of any merits of Still Star-Crossed, an opinion which is apparently shared at ABC. The network once considered this Shonda Rhimes project the spearhead of its mid-season replacement corps; instead, it's being dumped out of the car during Memorial Day week, when Neilson ratings sweeps are safely in the past and a good percentage of America is on vacation. If Still Star-Crossed was taken hostage by a hacker the way the way the new Pirates of the Caribbean film reportedly had been, ABC and Disney would probably break out into delighted giggles and spend the promo budget on a karaoke party for the staff. To be precise in assigning blame for Still Star-Crossed, it was adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by Melinda Taub (a writer at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), which I might conceivably read at gunpoint, but only if the caliber was pretty high. The series was produced and written by Heather Mitchell, a veteran of several Rhimes shows whose biography says she once worked as an editor on the "Peanuts" comic strip, perhaps making sure the obscure dialect of Snoopy's pal Woodstock didn't include any secret avian obscenities. The conceit of Still Star-Crossed is that after Romeo and Juliet kill themselves (oops, spoiler alert), Verona is reeling with political jitters, not to mention murderous swordfights between the warring Capulet and Montague families that erupt about every seven minutes. The local pols decide this can only be cured by an arranged marriage between the two families, notwithstanding that the last wedding involving the two clans ended in a mutual suicide and—well, we get this entire mess. Minus the occasional scene of Katherine Heigl having sex with a ghost or haggling over malpractice-insurance prices, this sounds like reasonably good fodder for one of Rhimes' glossy, sex-and-murder soap operas. Instead, Still Star-Crossed is off the tracks from the opening moments. Rhimes' customarily snappy dialogue has been replaced with something that sounds like special-ed Shakespeare, interrupted by the occasional thudding anachronism. (My fave: A Montague yelling at a Capulet, "Maybe this is all on you!" Not exactly up there with, "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs" or even, "A boy like that would kill your brudder/forget that boy and find anudder.") Then there's the weird Hamilton-style post-racial casting, with black and white actors playing cousins, brothers, sisters and whatever, as if 16th-century Italy was one big blended utopian family. Call me un-woke, but I found it not just distracting but extremely confusing in a show featuring a collection of indistinguishable 20-somethings, all clad in the same frocks and frills. (It should be admitted that fashion-porn addicts may have a good time watching Still Star-Crossed, as will firebugs—the production's candle budget must have wiped Pottery Barn's stock for the next 10 Christmases.) About the only member of the cast to stand out in this mess is British TV actress Lashana Lynch, playing Juliet's cousin Rosaline, one of the partners in the forced marriage. Lynch's nationality is fortunate, because like costume-drama Italians since the dawn of Hollywood, every character speaks in the posh British accent of the Cambridge Union debating team. That's one Shakespearean t[...]



Teachers Unions Losing Long War Over Parental Choice

2017-05-26T00:01:00-04:00

Supporters of charter schools, homeschooling and other forms of school choice are so used to fighting in the trenches against the state's muscular teachers unions that they often forget how much progress they've made in the last decade or so. Recent events have shown the degree of progress, even if they still face an uphill—and increasingly costly—battle. The big news came from a local school-district race, although it wasn't just any school district but the second-largest one in the nation. Charter-school supporters won two school board seats (there's still some vote counting in one of them) in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, and handily disposed of the union-allied board president. The race was followed nationally, and set the record for the most money spent on a school-board race in the United States, ever. The total cost was estimated at $15 million, with charter supporters spending $9.7 million, according to estimates from the Los Angeles Times. Typically, choice supporters get eaten alive by the teachers'-union spending juggernaut. It's usually good news if our side can at least raise enough money to get the message out, but it's a shocker—in a pleasant way—to find the charter folks nearly doubled the spending of the union candidates. Various reformers, including Netflix cofounder and Democrat Reed Hastings, invested serious money in the race. He donated $7 million to one charter group, the Times reported. Another top donor was former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican, who spent more than $2 million. Once again, we saw that this was not some right-wing attack on unions. Victory didn't come cheap, but it's hard to understate the importance, from a reform perspective, of having a major school board run by a pro-charter majority. LAUSD's school Board President Steve Zimmer led the board in March to make a controversial—and largely symbolic—vote in favor of one of the more noxious school-union-backed bills to get a hearing in the state Capitol. Some charter supporters say Senate Bill 808 could be the death knell for most of the state's charter schools, yet Zimmer's support for it appears to have badly damaged his re-election chances. That's another good-news event. SB 808 is a brazen attempt to bring charter schools under the total control of local school districts, many of which are hostile to their very existence. According to the Senate bill analysis, "This bill requires all charter school petitions to be approved by the governing board of the school district in which the charter school is located, prohibits a charter school from locating outside its authorizer's boundaries, and limits the current charter appeal process to claims of procedural violations." If educators wanted to create a charter school within any district in California and that district is run by a union-controlled school board that hates charters, then there would no longer will be any real workaround if the bill passes. That's because the bill would wipe out appeals to the county and state level, except for some minor procedural matters. Furthermore, the bill would let school boards decommission or reject charter schools if they are a financial burden. As the 74 Million blog reports, "that argument could be made about any charter, as state funds follow students as they leave school districts." The bill allows the board to revoke a school's charter upon a variety of broad findings, including any improper use of funds or "sustained departure" from "measurably successful practices," or "failure to improve pupil outcomes across multiple state and school priorities..." So, one instance of improper use of funds could shut down a school. Imagine if that standard were applied to the LAUSD itself, given its scandals. Charters succeed because they have the freedom to have a "sustained departure" from the failed union-controlled teaching policies. Under this bill, the core of their succe[...]



Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

2017-05-26T00:01:00-04:00

Can it really be said that dead men tell no tales? Even the long-deceased might have an indignant response to the latest entry in the never-frickin'-ending Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Well, the news isn't all bad, I suppose: English actress Kaya Scodelario, an ornament of the Maze Runner films, here lends her tilted smile and twinkly spirit to a colorless love story undeserving of her lively presence. As good news goes, though, she's about it. A serious problem for Dead Men Tell No Tales is the number of key Pirates personnel who have jumped ship. Founding director Gore Verbinski is long gone, of course, now replaced by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Norwegian helmers of the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski is absent for the first time, as are screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. (Rossio did take a first pass at the script, but it was judged inadequate, and he was replaced by veteran script-doctor Jeff Nathanson.) Also among the missing, it might be said, is series star Johnny Depp – Captain Jack Sparrow himself – who over the course of 14 years of playing this character has run out of new things to do with his performance, and is now pretty much emailing it in. The story, substantially incoherent, can be related only in outline. The MacGuffin this time around is the "Trident of Poseidon," an ancient artifact that has the power to "control the sea." Keen in pursuit of this item is young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, back briefly from the first three Pirates films). Henry believes the Trident can free his father from bondage aboard Davy Jones's fearsome ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman. Jack Sparrow would like to lay hands on the Trident, too—he would use it to defeat his nemesis, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a pirate-hunting Spanish navy officer whom Sparrow consigned to zombie perdition during a long-ago confrontation in the spooky Devil's Triangle. Salazar is now back on (and under) the bounding main; he wants the Trident in order to put an end to piracy altogether, and he also has an interest in Jack's magicky compass, which you may remember from the earlier films (or not, it doesn't matter). Scodelario, playing a feisty young woman named Carina, is on hand to demonstrate that the filmmakers are down with this feminist thing, and of course to hook up with young Henry Turner. She encounters him imprisoned on the isle of Saint Martin, and tells him she can find the Trident with the aid of a diary she inherited from her father. When it is discovered that she is both smart and highly educated (she's an astronomer, which might come in handy on a nautical adventure), Carina is judged to be a witch and sentenced to death by hanging. (To emphasize what dark times these were for females, the filmmakers give us a passing shot of a shop sign that says No Dogs, No Women.) Also behind bars on Saint Martin is Captain Jack, who passed out in an alcoholic stupor while robbing a bank and is now due to test out the island's newly acquired guillotine (and in the process provide the movie's funniest scene—which is followed by its most laborious, in which an entire building is hauled through the streets of a town). Soon, Jack and Carina and Turner are all on the run, pursued by Salazar and a reluctant subordinate, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush in his fifth Pirates go-round, now outfitted with a poufy new wig). Another island is visited, a jungle is slogged through, and there's some witless horology banter among the dimwit sailors. (Ho-rology, get it?) The picture also offers a mini-moment with Paul McCartney (playing a beardy pirate telling a cute/bad joke), and a bald-headed sorceress who appears for very little reason. (She's played by Golshifteh Farahani, and the movie could have used more of her.) There's a pretty clever shark attack and a pretty dumb ugly-woman interlude (she's offe[...]



A Brief History of Politicians Body-Slamming Journalists

2017-05-25T19:07:00-04:00

In the twilight hours of a special election to replace Montana's lone congressman, Republican hopeful Greg Gianforte reportedly "body slammed" and punched a Guardian reporter after the journalist tried to ferret out an answer about GOP health care plans. In this video Reason TV imagines a world in which other, high profile politicians give into violent impulses when confronted by the press.

Polls opened in Montana less than twenty-four hours after Gianforte's confrontation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, and his subsequent assault charge. In the event that Mr. Gianforte is elected to Congress there is a reasonable chance he will interact with more journalists in the future, and possibly even have to formulate responses to Republican legislation at some point.

Written by Andrew Heaton, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg

Performed by Andrew Heaton and Austin Bragg

Produced by Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg

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Trump's Budget to Preserve the Swamp?

2017-05-25T12:15:00-04:00

President Donald Trump's first budget proposal is finally out, and it boldly promises to deliver a "new foundation for American greatness." I guess that grandiose language is supposed to resonate with those voters who don't understand how the budget process actually works. The sad reality is that this budget would accomplish no such thing, for several reasons. First, notice that I said "would," not "will." That's because the proposal is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. Even if one believed the Trump budget would be successful in achieving its stated aims, congressional Republicans have made clear that they won't be carrying the administration's water. Specifically, GOPers have already made clear that they have zero appetite for pursuing the spending cuts and program terminations recommended in the administration's budget proposal. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Republicans have had many opportunities over the years to ax such budget zombies as the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting subsidies and the Economic Development Administration. They're not going to finally go to war for those spending cuts now. Other reforms will most likely be met with wobbly knees from congressional Republicans, too. For example, the administration wants to strengthen work requirements for able-bodied people using federal welfare programs. That should be a no-brainer, but with Democrats and their media allies ready to pounce, don't expect the GOP to put up much of a fight. The budget also proposes reforms to Medicaid that would reduce the growth in the program's ballooning costs. On top of that, studies have shown that Medicaid beneficiaries don't experience better health outcomes than uninsured people. Will congressional Republicans fight for these reforms when GOP governors start complaining about having to assume greater responsibility for the joint federal-state program? If the Obamacare reform debacle is our guide, the answer is no. Second, although the administration's proposal contains many good ideas, it also contains the sort of budget gimmicks that have turned previous presidential budget proposals into punching bags. It claims it could balance the budget in 10 years, using rosy estimates of growth and revenue alongside a continued abuse of the budget for "overseas contingency operations," which is stuffed with $77 billion in extra spending. As Taxpayers for Common Sense notes, if the fund for overseas contingency operations were an agency, it would be the fourth-largest in terms of federal discretionary spending. There are other problems with this budget, too. Though its designers are willing to ax counterproductive low-income programs, they won't tackle programs that serve wealthier Americans, such as Medicare and Social Security. In fact, though the budget would cut Medicaid, it might even prop up Medicare, as Reason's Peter Suderman explains in a piece about the budget. It's not OK that seniors, who are overly represented in the top income quintile, require younger and poorer Americans to transfer massive amounts of money to them through these insolvent programs. It also would add billions to the already bloated defense budget, bringing it up to $668 billion. That would be $22 billion above the current level. Even though the proposal acknowledges the approximately 20 percent excess capacity spread across the military departments—that, if eliminated, could save $2 billion over 10 years—it fails to tackle the $125 billion of waste in the Pentagon that the president decried on the campaign trail. It renews a commitment to unworkable weapons systems and a shadow army of defense contractors. It also caves to Ivanka Trump and would implement a paid family leave program, and it falls for the fallacy that the federal government is the best entity to pay for and implement infrastructure improvements. Tha[...]



Cory Doctorow on Cyber Warfare, Lawbreaking, and His New Novel 'Walkaway'

2017-05-25T09:37:00-04:00

Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother, and Makers, is a three-time Prometheus Award winner, an honor bestowed on the best works of libertarian science fiction. In his most recent book, Walkaway, the super rich engineer their own immortality, while everyone else walks away from the post-scarcity utopia to rebuild the dead cities they left behind. Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Doctorow about cyber warfare, Uber-style reputation economics, and that most overused and poorly understood of sci-fi themes: dystopia. Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Krainin. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Do you think that the underlying conditions of free speech as it is associated with dubious technologies, are they getting better or worse? Cory Doctorow: There is the—there is a pure free speech argument and there's a scientific argument that just says you know it's not science if it's not published. You have to let people who disagree with you—and who dislike you—read your work and find the dumb mistakes you've made and call you an idiot for having made them otherwise you just end up hitting yourself and then you know your h-bomb blows up in your face, right? And atomic knowledge was the first category of knowledge that scientists weren't allowed to freely talk about—as opposed to like trade secrets—but, like, scientific knowledge. That knowing it was a crime. And so it's the kind of original sin of science. But there's a difference between an atomic secret and a framework for keeping that a secret and a secret about a vulnerability in a computer system. And they're often lumped together. I was on a family holiday. We were on like a scuba resort in the Caribbean, in a little island called Roatan in Honduras. And there was this family of D.C.-area spooks. Like multigenerational. And Grandpa what had been like with USAID when the tanks rolled on Hungary and in Budapest. And all of the kids worked for undisclosed three-letter agencies. And so we're like sitting in in the pool one day and talking about cyberweapons and cyberwar. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Like you do. On vacation. Cory Doctorow: On vacation. That's what I do. That's my idea of a good time. So the guy said like, "Well what about cyber weapons? Like why shouldn't we develop cyberweapons? Why shouldn't we a cyberwar?" And I said, "There's a difference between a secret bomb and a secret vulnerability in a computer operating system." Because if I invent the h-bomb, it may be unwise. But keeping the physics of the h-bomb a secret does not make Americans more vulnerable to atomic attack than disclosing it. Maybe it would help them at the margins build slightly better bomb shelters. But it's really—it's not the same thing as me discovering a vulnerability in Windows and saying, "It would be great if I could attack former Soviet bloc countries or countries in Middle East or jihadis or drug runners by keeping this vulnerability a secret and assuming that nobody else discovers that vulnerability and uses it to attack the people I'm charged to protect." That mistake calls into question the whole scientific enterprise. Because we really only know one way to make computers secure and that is to publish what we think we know about why they're secure now and see what dumb mistakes our enemies and friends can locate and help us remediate. And so you end up in this place where these vulnerabilities—that you are blithely assuming won't be independently rediscovered by your adversaries and exploited against you and yours—end up getting exploited against you and yours. And not just by state actors but by [...]



Alaska Cops Fight for the Right to Sexually Exploit Prostitution Suspects

2017-05-25T08:30:00-04:00

Once again, cops are arguing that they need to be allowed to have sex with suspects in order to investigate prostitution allegations. And once again, lawmakers and journalists are acting like exploitation and assault of sex workers by law enforcement is a rare occurrence, rather than a national epidemic. Most people would agree that the deception, the power differential, and the subsequent arrest of sex workers make such contact utterly unacceptable, even if they don't think that it rises to the level of rape. Yet the behavior is common enough to bring police unions to its defense on a regular basis. This month the fight is in Alaska, where the Anchorage Police Department is opposing two bills that would criminalize "sexual contact" with suspected sex workers. House Bill 112 states, in part, "An offender commits the crime of sexual assault in the third degree if the offender...while acting as a peace officer in the state, engages in sexual penetration with a person with reckless disregard that the person is...the victim, witness, or perpetrator of a crime under investigation by the offender." Deputy Chief Sean Case told the Alaska Dispatch News that the freedom to engage in sexual behavior with people under investigation is vital to doing police work. That's because sex workers can engage in "cop-checking," he says—vetting possible clients by asking them break laws that restrict law enforcement. A suspect might ask him to touch her breast, he explained. "If we make that act (of touching) a misdemeanor we have absolutely no way of getting involved in that type of arrest." In the same interview, however, Case claimed that police "are not out there to go out and find that street prostitute….What we're interested in now is the trafficking." In other words, Anchorage police are arguing that they must be allowed to molest trafficking victims in order to do their jobs. The Alaska bills were introduced through the efforts of sex worker activists, who well know that in every place where sex work is criminalized or even semi-criminalized (and that includes all 50 American states) police and/or their paid informants routinely take sexual liberties ranging from groping to full intercourse with women they're "investigating." Sometimes they claim this is necessary for "gathering evidence" or (as in the Anchorage excuse above) part of the process of arresting the sex workers. Other times the activity somehow doesn't make it into police reports at all. (Imagine that!) This is exactly why Alaskan activists want the contact prohibited. Coverage of specific stories on this topic rarely make reference to the prevailing pattern, even when there are other recent examples. Virtually none of the coverage of the Alaska story mentions that just last month a Michigan law that gave cops immunity from prosecution for penetrative sex with people under investigation for prostitution is finally being challenged. Unlike the Alaska bills, the Michigan state Senate Bill 275 doesn't define this exploitation as a form of sexual assault; it merely allows the offending cop to be charged with "prostitution-related offenses" if the sex worker reports that "the officer engaged in sexual penetration while in the course of his or her duties," prior to arresting her (apparently, groping or other non-penetrative sexual activity are are still allowed). In this respect, Michigan's status quo closely resembles one in Hawaii which scandalized reporters and readers three years ago. The legislature tried to repeal a 1970s-era immunity clause for cops engage in prostitution investigations. The police union argued vociferously against the reform, just as they are doing now in Alaska, before eventually dropping their opposition in the face of a tide of popular condemnation. Yet despite that resemblance, most treatment[...]



We All Scream for the Ice Cream Man's Head

2017-05-25T06:00:00-04:00

Paul DiMarco has been selling ice cream in Poughkeepsie, New York, for two decades. He owns a fleet of trucks. When one mom confided to him, "You gotta be careful because there's a lot of pedophiles in this world," he recalls replying, "That attitude falls into the same category as 'All black people that drive Cadillacs are pimps,' and 'All clowns kill little kids.'" Of course, some real-life ice cream men do have soft-serve for brains. There were the guys in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who sold weed from their truck. Elsewhere in New York, an ice cream guy named Kenneth Leiton was busted in 2009 for selling pills and coke; cops caught him when he was dumb enough to park the truck in front of his dealer's house. In Philadelphia in 2011, an ice cream truck was spotted weaving through the streets. Its operator was found guilty of driving drunk, and in his freezer authorities found not only ice cream novelties but a couple of bottles of his frozen pee. (In his defense, I've read it's hard to find a bathroom while on the job.) And yes, even the classic nightmare scenario has happened: An ice cream man in upstate New York was found guilty of violating a 9-year-old in his truck in 2004. The incident inspired a state law making it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to operate an ice cream truck. The New York State Senate is now considering bumping that up to a Class D felony. But hard cases make bad law, and this is no exception. There are more than 700 Mister Softee trucks alone in 15 states, and that's not counting all the other brands. A predator or two, a gaggle of drug dealers, and a horror movie—1995's The Ice Cream Man didn't do the industry any favors—do not an entire profession dishonor. Fear of ice cream peddlers points to a larger problem few parents want to admit to: our collective mistrust of any man who chooses to work with kids. From male day care employees to school bus drivers to Cub Scout leaders, they're all potential predators until proven otherwise. And they can't prove otherwise. How can you prove a negative? If we insist on background checking all ice cream salesmen, do we also have to background check all pet shop employees? All pediatric cardiologists? Is any male who interacts with a child automatically suspect? And how about women? They abuse kids, too. Once you start insisting on government vetting, you're trusting a system that has made "sex offenders" out of teenagers in love, streakers, and public urinators (even the ones who don't freeze their pee). You're also buying into the mistaken belief that no one convicted of a sex crime can ever be rehabilitated—even though the actual recidivism rate is only around 5 percent. Most importantly, you're looking in exactly the wrong direction. "It's so much more comfortable to fear the unknown, the stranger," says Sandy Rozek, spokeswoman for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. "But that doesn't fit the facts. Depending on the age of the child, between 90 and 99 percent of those who sexually molest children are the friend, the acquaintance, the family member." Not the ice cream guy. DiMarco, the fleet owner, does run background checks on his operators, as state law requires. But the idea that ice cream men cruise around looking for victims is simply an urban myth. As he told that worried mom, "Let's get one thing straight. As far as these little kids go, there's only one thing I want and that's their money." And in the end, that may be the real reason parents are so scared: Somewhere in this bubble-wrapped, baby-proofed world, one group of adults is treating kids as human beings, not snowflakes. How chilling. [...]



Trump's Half-Baked Budget

2017-05-25T00:01:00-04:00

Donald Trump's first budget proposal is a brazen mix of ideology and dishonesty, seasoned with irresponsibility and pulled out of the oven as soon as it was half-baked. Those qualities make it surprisingly similar to the budgets of Barack Obama and George W. Bush—and largely in accord with public desires. Its defects are neither new nor accidental. The plan has been assailed by Democrats and various activist groups for coddling the rich, punishing the poor and shortchanging important functions. Trump proposes to cut outlays for Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start and Social Security disability. Ditto for Environmental Protection Agency enforcement and State Department security. He would close the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This list may give the impression that the president is fiercely determined to tame runaway federal spending. Not so. The portions of the budget that he attacks are those that matter least. As Brian Riedl of the conservative Manhattan Institute points out, Trump has spared Social Security, Medicare and defense, and he can't control interest on the debt. These outlays make up more than half the federal budget, and under his plan, they would balloon over the next decade. "Advocates of all other budget priorities are left to fight viciously over the rapidly—shrinking scraps," writes Riedl. Even if he got everything he requests, overall spending would not fall. It would rise. But many of the proposed cuts stand little chance on Capitol Hill. The problem with cutting small programs is that it can produce a lot of bad publicity without saving much money. Diplomatic security? That would invite "a lot of Benghazis," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). Medicaid? Some dozen Senate Republicans have expressed worry about the impact back home. The NEA? Its grants are disbursed to every single congressional district. And what member of Congress wants to be pilloried for endangering Daniel Tiger? A lot of these ideas are familiar because they've been raised before and rejected. Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia notes that Ronald Reagan's budget director wanted to eliminate funding for the agency, but by the time Reagan left office, its budget was bigger than ever. "Republicans have been trying to strip government subsidies from public broadcasting almost since the inception of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967," reported Politico in 2010. Yet it's still there, where it is likely to remain. Cutting expenses is thankless work that carries more political risks than rewards, which is why many of these programs will come through intact. Democrats have no powerful attraction to fiscal austerity. Republicans champion it mostly when there is a Democrat in the White House. Touching Social Security and Medicare is even more politically explosive, and the payoffs come mostly in the future. For the member of Congress worried about the next election, bringing down entitlement costs in 2035 is not a priority. Tax cuts hold more allure, because they let lawmakers assume the posture of giving something to voters rather than taking things away. It's possible Trump could work out a tax plan satisfying enough members in both parties to get through Congress. The catch is that it would leave the government spending far more than it takes in, just as it did under Bush and Obama. But that's not a deal breaker. Few of our leaders care to insist that the public pay for all the government it gets. They would rather go on running big deficits and let posterity figure out how to pay the cost, and the American people are OK with that. Putting off hard choices indefinitely is the common theme of the Bush, Obama and Trump[...]



Drone Registry Repeal a Victory for Permissionless Innovation

2017-05-24T08:30:00-04:00

Model aircraft enthusiasts and small-scale drone hobbyists enjoyed a major victory last week when a federal court struck down the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) controversial non-commercial small drone registration mandate. On May 19, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the FAA's requirement that recreational operators of "small Unmanned Aircraft Systems," or UASs, weighing between 0.55 and 55 lbs. must register their crafts with the agency or risk fines and even jail time. The registry is nullified—at least for now—and sUAS buffs are once again free to zip around the troposphere without getting a go-ahead from the FAA first. Incredibly, this big win for permissionless innovation and tinkerers across America comes to us thanks to a single dedicated model aircraft enthusiast named John A. Taylor who just happened to be a lawyer who knew that the FAA was breaking the law. The FAA rules, first promulgated in December of 2015, came as a major surprise to the many hopeful small drone sellers for that year's Christmas season. Suddenly, tiny toys not much different from the remote-control helicopters that were a gift staple in holidays past would be considered UASs under the express oversight of the nation's aviation authority. In fact, in the eyes of former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, little Timmy with his new drone would be considered an "aviator" and "with that title comes a great deal of responsibility." Small drone buyers would need to first pay to register the gadget with an FAA website and mark it with the assigned identification number before allowing their child to enjoy their coveted new toy. But another group took particular umbrage with the new rules: model aircraft enthusiasts, who had previously been exempt from this kind of regulation. It's not hard to sympathize with their plight. These small and responsible of DIYers had been safely flying their crafts with no issue long before "drones" were a household name. For decades, model aircraft activity had a de facto deregulatory assurance because the recreational community adequately policed its own. Specifically, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) maintained its own voluntary registration system and enforced community-based safety standards that obviated the need for (and likely exceeded the potential outcomes of) government-driven regulations. Indeed, since 1981, the FAA itself encouraged this kind of voluntary arrangement by merely offering guidelines that the model aircraft community could follow. In a nod to the effectiveness of this self-policing arrangement, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which explicitly carved out a space for the model aircraft community to continue to tinker without the FAA breathing down their necks. Section 336 of the Act clearly states that the FAA may not "promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft." It's hard to get more clear-cut than that. But the FAA nevertheless ignored Congress and proceeded with its half-baked drone registration program despite the major logistical and legal issues involved. This is where Taylor and his one-man crusade against FAA wrongdoing comes in. Taylor is a model plane hobbyist and insurance lawyer who lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Like others in his community, he was distressed by the FAA's sudden about-turn on model aircraft. Says Taylor: "I wanted to be able to fly my drone and I didn't want to have to register. It pissed me off on a very sort of visceral level." But unlike many of his comrades-in-flight, he had a law background that helped him prepare a solid legal case against FAA malfeasance. In his petition to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Taylor challenged both the leg[...]



From SoHo to Bushwick

2017-05-24T06:00:00-04:00

The New Brooklyn: What It Takes To Bring a City Back, by Kay S. Hymowitz, Rowman & Littlefield, 198 pages, $27 Some decades ago, the great divide in New York City culture was between uptown and downtown. The former contained the prominent museums, the commercial publishers, and the WASP establishment. The latter held the less established artists and writers, the best galleries for selling recent art, and the independent intellectuals. Uptown New Yorkers often took pride in never going downtown, where people lived in shabbier lodgings, often renovated from factories. Those of us residing downtown, as I did from 1966 to 2010, thought we might get a nosebleed if we traveled north of 14th Street. Toward the end of the last century, as downtown Manhattan became slicker, uptown people and institutions started to move downtown, often creating replicas of the areas they had left in a process commonly called gentrification. SoHo, the downtown neighborhood south of Houston Street, started as an industrial slum but became within 40 years a populous artists' colony and then a high-end shopping mall. Kay S. Hymowitz's The New Brooklyn describes how, in the late 20th century, a comparable gentrification developed across the East River in Brooklyn, a borough that had previously been a bedroom community for people who couldn't afford Manhattan. The crucial truth of this sort of gentrification is that it's essentially extragovernmental. Politicians can't encourage it, because it starts with decisions made by individuals about where they want to live, often renovating newly purchased buildings for themselves and their partners, legal or informal. Developers, who by definition build for others, sometimes follow; other times, not. Governments customarily acknowledge gentrification at the behest of developers and voting residents, who are often in conflict with each other. In SoHo, the most extraordinary concentration of artistic excellence in American history wasn't "planned"—not by individuals and not by any public agency. Major developers never entered SoHo proper because some artists campaigned early to have it officially declared a "historic district" whose architectural integrity couldn't be violated. (The Trump SoHo hotel is actually several blocks west of SoHo proper, exploiting the neighborhood's fame at another address.) The central setting of The New Brooklyn is Park Slope, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Hymowitz and her family moved during the 1980s. Running slightly downhill from magnificent Prospect Park to the once-polluted Gowanus Canal, it was a century ago a mostly Irish working-class neighborhood filled with uniform-looking handsome brownstones arrayed on long streets. Into Park Slope after 1980 moved young urban professionals, customarily called yuppies, who, 'tis said, couldn't afford the similar housing found on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They renovated the brownstones, often quite elegantly and sometimes idiosyncratically, as they occupied the streets running down from the park. The lower the number of the nearby crossing avenues (running down from No. 8), the less classy the side-street housing. Different subway lines could get Park Slope residents into Manhattan within 30 minutes. While this story of What It Takes To Bring a City Back, to quote the book's subtitle, is a good and true account for Park Slope, Hymowitz appears to know less about other Brooklyn neighborhoods with slightly different histories. Just east of there, on the other side of Flatbush Avenue, is Prospect Heights, which had fewer white people than Park Slope; east of it is Crown Heights, which is still occupied by West Indians and ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Jews. Well north is Boerum[...]



The New York Times' Hostility to Industry Gets Worse

2017-05-24T00:01:00-04:00

The New York Times' hostility to industry gets worse every day. Last week, The Times ran a big picture of a bay in Alaska with the headline "In Reversal, EPA Eases Path for a Mine Near Alaska's Bristol Bay." While this was just another of their stories about how Donald Trump will poison America, it caught my eye because of the big photo and because I once reported on that mine. Attempted mine, I should say. No holes have been dug. I reported on Pebble Mine because the EPA rejected the mine even before its environmental impact statement was submitted. The Obama EPA squashed Pebble like it squashed the Keystone XL pipeline. It just said no. This shocked CEO Tom Collier. He's a Democrat who managed environment policy for Al Gore and Bill Clinton. He was convinced Pebble could be developed safely and assumed EPA regulators would follow their own rules. They didn't. "They killed this project before any science was done, and there are memos that show that!" Collier complained. I'm skeptical when sources say things like that, but in this case, there are documents that reveal collusion between the EPA and Pebble's political opponents. One of America's richest environmental groups (they collect more than $10 million per month) is the Natural Resources Defense Council. Their website claims "Science empowers NRDC's work," but the NRDC is run by lawyers, not scientists, and many are anti-progress activists upset about "corporate greed." NRDC spokesman Bob Deans told me that the NRDC isn't anti-progress—it just wants the "right" kind: "Wind turbines, solar panels ... this is what the future needs." "But we also need copper and gold," I said. "Well, that's right," he replied. "But we have to weigh those risks." "Are there some mines where NRDC says, 'Go ahead!'?" I asked. After thinking for a while, he said, "It's not up to us to greenlight mines." I asked, "Are there any you don't complain about?" "Sure," he told me. He said he'd send us names. He never did. Unfortunately, there's a revolving door between groups like the NRDC and the EPA. One NRDC activist who walked through that door was Nancy Stoner. EPA administrators aren't supposed to conspire with former activist colleagues, but she did, telling them that she couldn't coordinate with them directly but could meet with them so long as they communicated via other people and invited people besides her to meetings. After her correspondence about that was revealed, Stoner left the EPA, but Pebble had already been rejected. Now Trump's in charge and his EPA says it will reevaluate the mine. Good. It should. But New York Times reporters can't stand that. They've smeared Pebble year after year in their headlines. 2008: "Mine would irreparably harm a centuries-old salmon fishing industry." 2012: "A Threat to Bristol Bay." 2013: "Native Alaska, Under Threat." Last week's smear piece was written by Tatiana Schlossberg. Name sound familiar? She's Caroline Kennedy's daughter, granddaughter of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Her Times articles are a litany of enviro-hysteria: "Mass Die-off of Whales"; "...Bring Coal's Hidden Hazard to Light"; "How Lowering Crime Could Contribute to Global Warming." I'm not making this up. Her last anti-Trump column was headlined: "23 Environmental Rules Rolled Back." But the article lists only nine. Fourteen others were "under review" or in "limbo"—not rolled back. Her Bristol Bay story claimed the proposed Pebble Mine was "on" Bristol Bay. But it isn't. It's more than 100 miles away. When we asked Schlossberg about that, she replied, "I'm not going to comment on that. If you have a problem or a question, you can direct it to the standards editor." So we did, and to my su[...]



Did Trump Know Enough to Obstruct Justice?

2017-05-24T00:01:00-04:00

For almost a year, Donald Trump has been complaining that FBI Director James Comey gave Hillary Clinton "a free pass for many bad deeds," as the president recently put it on Twitter. Trump thinks his opponent in last year's presidential election should have been prosecuted for her loose email practices as secretary of state, even if she did not deliberately expose classified information. The president might want to reconsider that hardline attitude. The reason Comey cited for not recommending charges against Clinton—a lack of criminal intent—could prove crucial in rebutting the allegation that Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the FBI's investigation of ties between his associates and the Russian government. When Comey announced the results of the Clinton investigation last July, he criticized her "extremely careless" handling of "very sensitive, highly classified information," saying she "should have known" the unsecured private email system she used "was no place" to discuss such matters. That description sounded like grounds for charging Clinton under 18 USC 793, which makes it a felony to "mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way." But Comey argued that "no reasonable prosecutor" would pursue a case against Clinton based on gross negligence. He said he was aware of just one case where the government had used that standard in the century since the law was passed, which suggests federal prosecutors "have grave concerns about whether it's appropriate." While prosecuting Clinton might have been legally feasible, Comey told a congressional committee, it would have been unjust. "In our system of law, there's a thing called mens rea," he said, referring to the state of mind required for a conviction. "We don't want to put people in jail unless we prove that they knew they were doing something they shouldn't do." That brings us back to Trump, who has done (or allegedly done) several things that could be viewed as attempts to undermine the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election, including the hacking of embarrassing Clinton-related emails. The FBI probe, Comey confirmed during congressional testimony in March, encompasses possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. After Comey said that, The Washington Post reported this week, Trump asked Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to publicly say there was no evidence of such collusion. Both declined, deeming the request improper. The previous month, according to a Comey memo described by The New York Times, Trump interceded with the FBI director on behalf of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, one of the associates whose ties to Russia are of interest to the bureau. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump reportedly told Comey. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." A few months after that alleged encounter, Trump fired Comey. Two days later, Trump admitted that the Russia probe, which he had denounced as a "taxpayer-funded charade" on Twitter the day before he gave Comey the boot, was on his mind when he made the decision. Some Democrats are already calling for Trump's impeachment, arguing that his response to the FBI investigation amounts to obstruction of justice. But that crime requires proof of intent, and it is not at all clear that Trump knew he was doing something he shouldn't do—the standard that Comey applied to Clinton. If Trump was acting "corruptly," as the statute that seems most relevant requires, why would[...]



The Intractable Politics of Impeachment: New at Reason

2017-05-23T12:00:00-04:00

The litany of potentially impeachable offenses by Donald Trump grows longer by the day from the possible violations of the foreign emoluments (image) clause to firing a sitting FBI director investigating the "Russia thing." And while the talk of using the 25th Amendment option to remove him from office is nuts and counterproductive, Trump has offered more than enough fodder for an investigation that could potentially result in his impeachment.

But Republicans control Congress and are afraid to proceed aggressively not because they love their president, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia, but because they are afraid of their base. Had Democrats been in control, they could have hidden behind them as they pursued Trump, saving both the republic and Republicans from this disastrous presidency. She notes:

Illegal behavior by the president is only a necessary condition for impeachment. It is not sufficient. For that, you likely need divided government. The politics of impeachment are much more tractable when the same party doesn't control all branches of government.

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Another Advantage of Divided Government: Easier to Impeach the President

2017-05-23T12:00:00-04:00

If the events of last week demonstrate anything at all, it's the pitfalls of united, one-party government. If the Democrats controlled Congress, President Trump would be more in danger of impeachment, saving both the Republicans and the republic from this destructive presidency. But with Republicans in control, lawmakers from the president's party, with the exception of Michigan's Justin Amash, can barely muster the courage to utter the "I" word aloud. It's all we can do to get a special prosecutor to look into Trump's Russia connections. The case for Trump's impeachment is overdetermined at this stage. Trump entered the Oval Office in open violation of conflict of interest guidelines and the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which requires certain federal office holders to have no assets that would allow them to benefit from dealings with foreign governments. Past presidents have satisfied that requirement by divesting or putting their assets in a truly blind trust. Trump refused to do that. He supposedly relinquished the management of his vast global empire to his sons, but continued to hold an ownership stake in the Trump Organization. This means that every time a foreign government invests in Trump's business, he personally benefits from it (his charade of handing over all profits to the Treasury Department notwithstanding). Then, within weeks of assuming office, he outrageously accused former President Barack Obama, who he mused should be impeached for "incompetence," of bugging Trump Tower — without a shred of evidence. Last week, he fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia's meddling in the election, for refusing to wrap up — as he himself put it — the "Russia thing" and to pursue the leakers in the intelligence community. These leaks revealed, among other things, that erstwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had improper contacts and conversations with the Russian ambassador and then lied about them, forcing his ouster. As if Comey's firing wasn't bad enough, Trump took to Twitter to intimidate Comey, warning him not to leak his side of the story lest Trump release secret tapes of their conversations. This week, Trump admitted (again, on Twitter) that he revealed intelligence about ISIS plots to the very Russian ambassador at the heart of the Flynn firing. This may not have been technically illegal, since the president has the absolute right to declassify whatever he wants. But this was careless beyond words — not to mention hypocritical after Trump repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton's right to receive classified briefings because she jeopardized national security given her use of an unsecure email server as secretary of state. Then came the most incriminating of all revelations: that Trump allegedly tried to shut down the FBI's investigation of Flynn, telling Comey in a private meeting that he "hopes you can let this go." Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has subpoenaed all the memos that Comey kept documenting these conversations with Trump. Regardless of what the memos reveal, Trump's established pattern of behavior has already shown him to be unfit for office. His violation of the emoluments clause is unethical if not outright illegal. His accusations of wiretapping are unhinged. His firing of Comey over the Russia investigation amounts to obstruction of justice. His threats to leak secret tapes of his conversations with Comey are straight out of The Godfather. His casual leaking of highly classified information to a foreign adversary is reckless. And all of this in just a few mont[...]



The United Nations’ 'Lords of Poverty'

2017-05-23T07:00:00-04:00

In 2004, I attended a gathering of African libertarians in Mombasa, Kenya. Our goal was to discuss economic reforms that sub-Saharan Africa needed in order to achieve higher rates of growth and a greater reduction in poverty. In many a developing country, taxi drivers are founts of wisdom, and so I struck up a conversation with the man who drove me from the airport to the hotel. When he asked me what brought me to Kenya, I responded that I was partaking in a conference about economic development. My taxi driver shook his head and muttered, "You all fly here for a few days, stay at the nicest hotels, and nothing ever changes." Our hotel in Mombasa was nothing special and libertarian gatherings are not, as a general rule, opulent affairs (especially in Africa!), but my brief conversation with the Kenyan taxi driver was instructive. Clearly, he assumed that I was a part of the travelling circus of thousands of officials from aid agencies, international organizations and NGOs, who enjoy business-class travel to some of the world's most exotic destinations, where they are housed and dined at the taxpayers' expense. To wit, consider a recent story from the Associated Press, which found that the United Nations' World Health Organization "routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel—far more than what it doles out to fight some of the biggest problems in public health including AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria." According to the WHO's internal documents, which were obtained by the AP, "staffers are breaking the rules by booking perks like business class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels." "On a recent trip to Guinea, where WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan praised health workers in West Africa for triumphing over Ebola," the AP found, "Chan stayed in the biggest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry. The suite has an advertised price of 900 euros ($1,008) a night." Some aid specialists, including the inestimable William Easterly, who is the Professor of Economics at New York University and co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute, have long complained about this sort of behavior. In his 2007 book, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, Easterly drew the readers' attention to the aid establishment's ineptitude in stimulating growth in poor countries and attempting to implant Western institutions "from the top down." Graham Hancock's 1994 book, The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business, is still worth reading. As the author explains, much of foreign aid is used to subsidize opulent lifestyles within the aid establishment. "Only a small portion of [aid money]," Hancock writes, "is ever translated into direct assistance. Thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency, misguided policies, large executive salaries, political corruption, and the self-perpetuating 'overhead' of the administrative agencies, much of this tremendous wealth is frittered away." President Donald Trump is said to be considering large cuts to foreign aid. Those cuts cannot come soon enough. But Trump should take his reform agenda (provided that it is genuine) a step further and order a thorough audit of our international commitments. American membership in hundreds of international and supra-national agencies should be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis (I volunteer to sit on such a panel and wield an axe on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer) and withdraw from ineffective or outdated organizations. That, alas, is [...]



Will Florida Ban Fracking?

2017-05-23T06:00:00-04:00

Florida produces very little oil and natural gas. According to the state's Department of Environmental Protection, it has just 64 wells in operation, which gave the world a total of 2 million barrels of oil and 20 billion cubic feet of natural gas in all of 2016. None of those were drilled using fracking techniques.

So why did the Florida Senate consider a ban in March? It turns out that familiarity breeds acceptance, according to a January 2017 working paper by the Oregon State University sociologist Hilary Boudet and her colleagues. In the Sunshine State, the inverse seems to be true.

The authors wanted to find out how Americans who live next door to fracked wells feel about them, compared to folks who don't. So they analyzed nationally representative survey data probing the attitudes of nearly 20,000 people in nine waves between 2012 and 2016. They combined the survey results with data about how close respondents actually lived to oil and gas wells.

Among respondents who said they were familiar with fracking, which involves injecting high-pressure fluids into wells to create minute cracks that release trapped oil and natural gas, the researchers found "generalizable empirical evidence that those who are located closer to new unconventional oil and gas wells are more familiar with and more supportive of hydraulic fracturing." In other words, folks who live closer to wells are more likely to come down on the side of yimby—Yes In My Backyard.

Conversely, people living farther away from oil and gas development are more likely to associate fracking with negative impacts. Respondents in Denver (12 miles away on average from a newly active well) are more supportive of fracking than respondents in Orlando (400 miles away on average). So Floridians say nimby—Not In My Backyard—even though fracking is nowhere near their backyards.

Combined with directional drilling, this form of unconventional well development has boosted daily U.S. oil production from 5 million barrels in 2008 to nearly 9 million barrels now, and it has increased annual U.S. natural gas production from a plateau in 1970–2005 at 18 trillion cubic feet to over 27 trillion cubic feet today. This helped to cut the prices of these fossil fuels to about half of what they were a decade ago.

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History Lessons Are Turning My Kid Into a Scofflaw (and I Couldn’t Be Happier)

2017-05-23T00:01:00-04:00

"If I'd lived then, I'd have still gone to saloons," Anthony, my 11-year-old son, said as we watched the Ken Burns documentary, Prohibition. "But I'd have carried a gun in case I had to deal with police or militia." He commented after a scene in which Portland, Maine's Mayor Neal Dow—nicknamed "the sublime fanatic"—ordered troops in 1855 to fire on an angry crowd outside City Hall. They had gathered to protest the statewide ban on alcoholic beverages that Dow pushed through in his zeal to make the world a better place as he conceived such a thing. Like most fanatics, sublime or otherwise, the mayor didn't have a lot of patience for disagreement. One man was killed and seven wounded that day by the forces of mandatory sobriety. Interesting, well-produced, and drawing on multiple sources and experts, Prohibition lends itself beautifully to our homeschooling efforts. It does a thorough job of exploring the religious, reformist, and nativist roots of first the Temperance movement and then the push for full-on Prohibition. We've recently studied the Progressive Era and the fight for women's suffrage, and the documentary pulls in those histories, showing how social movements influence one another and often come together to achieve common goals—sometimes good, and other times leading to disastrous exercises in self-righteous presumption like Prohibition. The Prohibition website includes excellent additional material, too, including an activity asking students to decide between two conceptions of the role of government: In a democracy, people should have the freedom to make their own choices and be responsible for their actions. If they want to indulge in destructive personal behavior, that's their business, not the governments. A democratic government is made up of its citizens and a major responsibility of government is to guarantee equal opportunity for all. The government has a duty to alleviate social ills and guarantee that no one is in need. Those competing views of the state play an ongoing role through many of our lessons. Anthony knows my own opinions, and is no doubt influenced by them, but I always make sure to present him with competing viewpoints. Personally, I think the past speaks for itself as to which of those roles works better in practice, but I also see my job as raising my son to be a rational adult, not a clone of me. So when we studied the Progressive Era we worked with a series of Great Courses lectures by a college professor sympathetic to the progressives, online lectures from Hillsdale College that have a broadly conservative tone, readings from Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States, and excerpts from Illiberal Reformers by Thomas C. Leonard. Anthony got an earful of would-be reformers decrying poverty and abuses in the world around them, but also disparaging individuals as "plastic lumps of human dough." He read pre-presidential Woodrow Wilson dismissing individual rights as "nonsense," and perused objections that adherence to respect for natural individual rights "prevent us from determining what social or individual tendencies we shall favor, what we shall depress; It will in general prevent us from imposing a social ideal, and compel us to leave a social anarchy." Anthony considered the Great Courses presenter too respectful of self-appointed shepherds who he found to be condescending and bossy, and the Hillsdale lectures overly deferential to religious authority—off-putting, to him, in its own way. To him, the pseudos[...]



How Deregulation Gave Us FM Radio, HBO, and the iPhone

2017-05-22T14:14:00-04:00

"We've gone to a modern [broadcast] system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission," says Thomas W. Hazlett, who's the FCC's former chief economist, a professor at Clemson University, and author of the new book The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. "And we have seen that the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned...That comes from deregulation." So-called net neutrality rules are designed to solve a non-existent problem and threaten to restrict consumer choice, Hazlett tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "The travesty is there's already a regulatory scheme [to address anti-competitive behavior]—it's called antitrust law." Greater autonomy and consumer freedom led to the development of cable television, the smartphone revolution, and the modern internet. While we've come a long way from the old days of mother-may-I pleading with the FCC to grant licenses for new technology, Hazlett says, "there's a lot farther to go and there's a lot of stuff out there that's being suppressed." He points to the history of radio and television. Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson exercised extraordinary control over spectrum allocation, which they used for their own political and financial gain. With liberalization, we now have hundreds of hours of varied television programming as compared to the big three broadcast networks of the '60s, an abundance of choices in smartphone providers and networks as compared to the Ma Bell monopoly, and more to come. Hazlett also discusses his views on current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, how the FCC delayed the arrival of cable television to protect incumbent broadcasters, and "the most infamous statement ever made by an FCC regulator" in a 1981 Q&A with Reason magazine. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: HI. I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason. Today, we're talking with Thomas Winslow Hazlett, an economics professor at Clemson, a long-time Reason contributor, former chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, and author most recently of the epic new book, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. Tom, thanks for talking to us. Thomas Hazlett: Thanks for having me, Nick. Nick Gillespie: Your book is a masterful counterblast, I think, to the intellectual status quo when it comes to broadcasting, cable, Internet, especially related to things like spectrum auctions and net neutrality and whatnot. Your large argument is that government inhibits innovation rather than encourages it. Is that accurate? Thomas Hazlett: Yeah, that's the starting point, but I certainly go farther, a lot farther in this book, because there has been significant liberalization, and we learn a lot from the directions we've gone. We see the suppression through administrative allocations of spectrum, which just means that we have this Mother-may-I system where the government's in charge of who does what in wireless and has to give explicit permission. We've gone from a system like that to a modern system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without[...]



Who's Telling the Truth in Washington? Anyone?

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

If you are among the small cohort of Americans who want to know what is really going on—rather than simply wanting more ammunition to support your preferred political team—then you have a problem: It's hard to know who is telling the truth. Hardly a stunning new insight. But it bears down with more weight now, because the public is confronted with competing narratives from what an English professor would call two unreliable narrators: the press and the Trump administration. Take the press first. It's well known that, with a few salient exceptions, the media tilt heavily to the left. That tilt shows up in decisions about what subjects merit scrutiny, how much scrutiny they deserve, and the tone of that scrutiny. Some of the decisions are conscious, some less so. (Nobody ever issued a newsroom memo stipulating that stories should sometimes call the NRA "the gun lobby" but must never call NARAL "the abortion lobby." It just happens.) But even if you set political slant aside, the media sometimes get stories badly wrong. Think of Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" memos about George W. Bush's service in the National Guard. Or Rolling Stone's retracted cover story about a rape at U.Va. Or CNN's retracted story about how the U.S. military used sarin gas against defectors. Or The New York Times' reporting on Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction—reporting The Times eventually recanted. Partly. Sort of. With qualifications and so on. That combination of ideological slant and human fallibility gives Republicans reason to be skeptical of the press. So doubt is a natural reaction when a long train of allegations against Donald Trump, based largely on unnamed sources and unseen memos, dominates the headlines. Say this much for the establishment press, though: For all its shortcomings, it doesn't lie to your face. Newspapers and news shows are not going to run with a claim they know is a steaming pile of bogus. Politicians and their henchmen do. All the time. At this writing, the most recent case in point involves House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. At a meeting of Republican congressional leaders last June, McCarthy said, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." (Dana Rohrabacher is a Republican congressman from California.) House Speaker Paul Ryan swore those present to secrecy, but the remark was caught on tape. Asked about the comment on Wednesday, Brendan Buck—a spokesman for Ryan—said it "never happened." McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks said the very idea that his boss would make such a comment "is absurd and false." Reporters then told the spokesmen the comment was on tape. "This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor," Buck said. Sparks agreed, calling it "a failed attempt at humor." As lies go those are venial sins, not mortal ones. Officials are guilty of far worse falsehoods—some of which are now infamous: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Bill Clinton said in a televised public statement. Clinton also was fined $90,000 for lying under oath in a sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones. Hillary Clinton lied early and often about her emails. Then she lied about lying: After FBI director James Comey's testimony before Congress exposed her lies, Clinton claimed on TV that "Director Comey said that my answers were truthful." In 2013, as director of national intelligence, James Clapper was asked whether the [...]



Don't Rush to Impeachment

2017-05-22T00:01:00-04:00

To everything there is a season, the Bible and Pete Seeger told us. The season to impeach Donald Trump may come, or it may not. Trying to do it now would be like harvesting sweet corn before it's ripe, yielding something stunted and indigestible. Plenty of critics don't want to wait. "We're fiddling while Rome is burning," insists Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, agrees. "The mantra should be ITN—impeach Trump now," he says. The liberal activist group MoveOn.org insists that the president "must be impeached immediately." J.B. Pritzker, a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois, said, "We simply do not have the luxury of time to wait for months or years." Anyone infuriated and exhausted by the chaos of the Trump administration can be forgiven for wishing it would end as soon as possible. But as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted the other day, a lot of Democrats "wanted the president gone on November the 10th of last year." They don't want to miss a chance to be rid of Trump. Forcing a president from office is among the gravest tasks members of Congress can undertake, and they should refrain unless he gives them no choice. To attempt it with so many questions yet unanswered would look like partisan revenge—not just against Trump but against the people who voted for him. Presidential impeachment is a club that has been taken out of the closet only three times—for Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. Johnson and Clinton fought in the Senate and survived. Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal. It's a last resort, and anyone who sees it as a first resort is not to be trusted. Given that we have a president who campaigned as though he didn't want to win and governs as though he doesn't want to serve, the eagerness to evict is hardly surprising. No president has done so much so soon or so often to indicate he won't carry out his duties in a responsible and honest way. Trump gives the impression he is hellbent on self-destruction and won't rest until he achieves it. But that's no reason for Congress to rush. Too much is still unknown about his campaign's connections with Russia and his conversations with James Comey concerning the FBI's investigation of those ties. The independent counsel named on Wednesday will need months to gather evidence, interview witnesses and draw conclusions. Only then will the House have enough information to decide whether to take such a momentous and weighty step. The framers of the Constitution were careful to limit the applicability of this drastic remedy. In considering what sort of conduct to cover, they rejected the terms "malpractice" and "maladministration" in favor of the narrower "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." That formula was the work of James Madison, who didn't want the president to serve at the "pleasure of the Senate." Impeachment is not a task for the impatient. More than two years passed after the Watergate break-in before the House Judiciary Committee voted against Nixon. The special prosecutor's investigation of Clinton began in January 1994, and the Monica Lewinsky affair came to light in January 1998. Not until December of that year did the House approve articles of impeachment. Madison and company didn't want to make impeachment easy. They wanted to make it hard, and they succeeded. Even if a majority could be assembled in the House to bring Trump to the bar o[...]



'To Live and Let Live'

2017-05-21T06:00:00-04:00

Thanks to a long-standing border dispute between two parts of the former Yugoslavia, there was a little slice of unclaimed land on the west bank of the Danube River. Croatia would prefer recognizing a border more closely corresponding to an older flow of the Danube, while Serbia is happy with the current Danube-defined border. That leaves a teardrop-shaped piece of land about 7 square kilometers on the Croatian side that neither country wants to claim. In April 2015, Vit Jedlicka, a Czech activist and market analyst, declared the disputed turf terra nullius and established his own country there: Liberland. In contrast with the gradualist approach taken by seasteaders and charter city founders, Liberlanders essentially came at Croatia "with both middle fingers up right away and just talked to the press," says Joe McKinney of the Startup Societies Foundation. Since then, Jedlicka has been traveling the globe flacking for a nation that will govern according to the principles of Bastiat, Mises, and Rothbard. Liberland's motto is "to live and let live." Its constitution vows, "No law shall prohibit any act or omission which does not directly harm any other Person or cause unwarranted suffering to an animal capable of conscious behaviour or harm to the environment beyond the boundaries of one's property." It also declares that the tiny nation will never go into debt, raise an army, or start a war. No one lives in Liberland. For one thing, Croatian law enforcement tends to arrest anyone who tries to enter. For another, there's nowhere to live. The microstate boasts a single structure: an old logging storage house without water or power. The ramshackle building was pictured on Liberland's website in late February festooned with the country's yellow and black flag. It's unclear how the flag got there. Neither Jedlicka nor others associated with Liberland will say, but Liberland's website insists this flag raising marks "their permanent presence in the area." What's more, "the Liberland government announced a plan to restore the building on its territory" and, shades of seasteading, "to begin construction of a floating Liberland community on the Danube River." Jedlicka and his people are holding an event in April to celebrate the second anniversary of Liberland's founding, but the website advertising the festival admits that "we are unable to stop at Liberland due to current regulations in force on the River Danube." Technically, Liberland has around 300 citizens (all living abroad, obviously), but Jedlicka boasts over 430,000 online applicants for citizenship, a national budget so far of over $200,000, and even a hint of an "in" with the Trump administration. Jedlicka came to America for the inauguration and told The Washington Post of "friends of friends" connections, saying that "Trump being in place definitely opened new doors" for Liberland. Jedlicka seems untroubled by the lack of resident citizens. "We can achieve 100 percent of our goals even without having full access to our territory," he says. The current model relies on "e-citizenship" and registering businesses—though the benefits of such registration are not yet clear. The latest Liberland brochure does promise a "tax advantage" and speculates that Liberland's digital currency, the "Merit," will become "another global alternative digital currency." And Jedlicka insisted in a March email that "companies operate[...]



Seasteading in Paradise

2017-05-21T06:00:00-04:00

For nearly a decade, the Seasteading Institute has been working to create autonomous floating communities on the ocean, where settlers can make their own rules de novo, unbound by the principalities and powers based on land. Founded by Google software engineer Patri Friedman—grandson of the libertarian economist Milton Friedman and son of the anarchist legal theorist and economist David Friedman—it has weathered its share of thin years, previously dwindling to a two-staffer, no-office operation. But on January 13 in San Francisco's Infinity Club Lounge, institute chief Randolph Hencken signed a memorandum of understanding with a new partner, one Jean-Christophe Bouissou**, and put the construction of an actual seastead onto the cusp of reality. See also: 'To Live and Let Live' - The micronation of Liberland turns 2 Bouissou is no buccaneer or eccentric billionaire. He is minister of housing for French Polynesia, a collection of 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific, technically an "overseas collectivity" of France. Seasteading will not begin on the government-free open seas after all. If Hencken, Bouissou, and their respective colleagues have their way, the first seastead will float next year in a lagoon within French Polynesian waters. As Hencken prepared to sign the agreement, he declared that this shift from a freewheeling vision of a libertarian society in the open ocean to a more tightly managed experiment in an existing nation's territory was probably inevitable. "We are not turning our backs on who we are," he said just before the ceremony, "but we are recognizing that when we made the choice in 2012 that we weren't going to the open ocean—we didn't have a billion dollars to build a floating city—that we'd have to engage in the politics of nations. It's challenging, but that's the reality of the human world, right?" French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch was supposed to be there, but he had to stay behind to tend to some minor upheaval in his cabinet. (Bouissou informed the audience that he got on the plane in Tahiti as minister of tourism but landed in California as minister of housing.) But none of this was a big deal, Fritch assured the crowd via Skype. Bouissou was there representing the government's intention that seasteading will happen in French Polynesia. The agreement commits the parties to "studies addressing the technical and legal feasibility of the project in French Polynesia" and to preparing a "special governing framework allowing the creation of the Floating Island Project located in an innovative special economic zone." Since the Seasteading Institute is an educational nonprofit, the signing ceremony was also the public debut of a for-profit spinoff called Blue Frontiers, which intends to build, develop, and manage the first Polynesian seastead. Considering all that can go wrong when trying to craft a bold plan to save the planet from its political, economic, and environmental troubles, the path to the agreement was surprisingly short and untroubled. The Polynesian Fixer Marc Collins is kind of a big deal. Around Tahiti and its sister islands, he knows people who know people, and he knows all the people they know. A former Silicon Valley resident himself, Collins grew up in Mexico and made his bones in French Polynesia as a retail jewelry king and an internet service provider telecom magnate. He al[...]



Ninth Circuit Should Strike Down Idaho's 'Ag-Gag' Appeal

2017-05-20T08:00:00-04:00

Last week I attended oral arguments in Seattle in a case that could determine whether the government may grant special protections to agricultural producers that supersede the First Amendment rights of others. The case, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden, pits nonprofits such as the ALDF, ACLU, and several other concerned groups and individuals against the state of Idaho. The case centers on an Idaho law, passed in 2014, that prohibits "interference with agricultural production." The law was "draft[ed] and sponsor[ed]" by the Idaho Dairymen's Association after an undercover investigation by the group Mercy for Animals showed dairy cows being mistreated in the state. "Video shows dairy employees using a tractor and chain to drag a cow by its neck, and workers beating, kicking and jumping on cows," reads one piece that describes the video. Such awful examples aren't common. But they're not uncommon, either. In 2012, I highlighted an investigation in California by the group Compassion Over Killing that revealed horrific cases of animal abuse at a slaughterhouse in that state. The Idaho law—one of several such state laws around the country—is intended to prevent agricultural whistleblowers from sharing such evidence of animal abuse with the general public (hence the term "ag-gag laws"). The U.S. District Court ruled in 2015 that the Idaho law is an unconstitutional violation of free-speech and equal-protection rights. "Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho's agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech," the court held in overturning the law. "The Idaho Ag-Gag law represents a direct assault on food transparency and undercover journalism," attorney Justin Marceau, who argued the plaintiffs' case in the lower and appellate courts, told me this week. "The law criminalizes all persons who gain access through deceptions—including investigative journalists. It criminalizes recording at agricultural facilities—including the sort of whistleblowing that led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history." Based on my take from oral arguments—including the three-judge panel's comments and lines of questioning—I believe the Ninth Circuit is rightly hostile to many of the worst elements of the law. And while the court may wish to salvage some facets of the law, I suspect it won't be able to do so and will uphold the lower-court ruling. Others who've followed the case closely agree. "Based on the oral argument, the days of Idaho's ag-gag law appear to be numbered," said appellate attorney Mahesha Subbaraman, in an email to me this week. "The panel's questions demonstrate a significant appreciation of the speech interests at stake when it comes to food journalism and that Idaho's ag-gag law targets these interests based on content and viewpoint." Subbaraman wrote an excellent brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case that he filed on behalf of more than a dozen food-law scholars across the country, including me. In the brief, we argue that agricultural whistleblowers make a vital and unique contribution to the marketplace of ideas. "Idaho's ag-gag law.... ultimately deni[...]



P.J. O'Rourke: Things Are Going to Be Fine

2017-05-20T06:00:00-04:00

"The politician creates a powerful, huge, heavy, and unstoppable Monster Truck of a government," P.J. O'Rourke writes in his new book, How the Hell Did This Happen? (Atlantic Monthly Press). "Then supporters of that politician become shocked and weepy when another politician, whom they detest, gets behind the wheel, turns the truck around, and runs them over." In the book, O'Rourke's 19th, the former editor in chief of National Lampoon uses his celebrated blend of acerbity and warmth to explore the 2016 election, which he refers to as a "rebellion" against people in control. O'Rourke, a regular panelist on NPR's Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, worries our changing economy is fueling a populist wave of fear and anger. "There's a segment of America that feels threatened by change, change of all kinds," he says. Still, he's optimistic for the future. His kids might have three or four careers over the course of their lives, but "I think they're pretty hip to that, actually. I don't think that they're particularly frightened by it." In March, Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with O'Rourke by phone about what he saw on the 2016 campaign trail, what it means for the country, and how libertarians should respond to this new populist moment. Reason: Do you consider yourself more of a libertarian or a conservative? Where do you see the border between those concepts? O'Rourke: It really depends upon from what angle we're looking at things. Politically, I consider myself primarily to be a libertarian. I am personally conservative. I'm conservative about religion. I'm conservative about moral values. I'm probably even somewhat more conservative than many libertarians are in foreign policy. When you look at something that happens, especially in politics, you say, "Does this increase the dignity of the individual? Does this increase the liberty of the individual? Does this increase the responsibility of the individual?" If it meets those three criteria, then it's probably an acceptable libertarian political policy. What is good about the new populism for you, and what scares you about it? Well, let's talk about the good, because it's more limited. I think there's a worldwide animus going on against the elites. Part of this is that the shift toward a much more high-tech economy is leaving a lot of people who have manual skills, or simply the capacity for hard labor, way behind. This is something that needs to be addressed, needs to be recognized, because it's not so much that the divide between the rich and poor has gotten greater. There's actually been tremendous strides around the world at abolishing the worst level of poverty. But [people are] feeling a sort of aspirational ceiling. The fact that a lot of it has to do with lack of rule of law in places—not only in utterly chaotic places like, say, Somalia or Sudan, but in very corrupt places like Russia and China—is making people very angry. Rule of law is something that's fundamental to a free society. Define rule of law. Do you mean that the same rules apply to everybody? Exactly, and you can sort of extrapolate from this that it doesn't have to be perfect law. That as long as the rules of the society apply to everybody, there is a kind of justice in the air. But when there's an exception because of wealth or power or holiness or fame, you name it[...]



Net Neutrality Nixed: Why John Oliver Is Wrong

2017-05-19T17:35:00-04:00

Democrats and progressives are concerned that the internet is about to descend into a corporate hellscape since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving to repeal Net Neutrality regulations, which prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking particular sites or throttling traffic from specific services. We tackle the issue in the latest episode of Mostly Weekly. The idea that Net Neutrality and Title II regulations are a vital barricade protecting the internet is an interesting position to arrive at given that a free-and-open internet managed to exist without these edicts for decades. Net Neutrality rules are still on the books, but the FCC made a procedural vote on Thursday to begin the prospect of peeling off Obama-era internet regulations like an old Band-Aid. The main progressive arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they'll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn't sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier's low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers. Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have—one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility. We don't know how the internet is going to evolve over time, but neither do the government administrators trying to rein it in. But given the record of free-market innovation vs. government-regulated services, the odds are with market forces and entrepreneurs. Written and performed by Andrew Heaton, with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind and David Fried. Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind. Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg. Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. [...]



HBO Ignores Madoff's Victims in Favor of Family Drama

2017-05-19T15:00:00-04:00

The Wizard of Lies. HBO. Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m. Sorry, guys. Showtime has decided not to offer advance screenings of its reboot of the milestone of television weirdness, Twin Peaks, which premieres this weekend. This is either a canny make-'em-beg marketing strategy or a desperate effort to conceal an epic bomb. So instead of an incisive analysis of boogalooing and backwards-talking midgets, I can offer only the observation that every criminal breeds his own cult. Just as there are women who want to marry Charles Manson, there are people anxious to buy Bernie Madoff's underwear. And Madoffian salirophiliacs compose much of the audience for The Wizard of Lies, HBO's windy new docudrama on the decline and fall of the all-time Ponzi champ. The $65 billion collapse of Madoff's smoke-and-mirrors trading empire in 2008 would seem to offer great dramatic potential. Unlike the largely faceless, institutional banking collapse around the same time that triggered the Great Recession, the Madoff scandal had an easily identifiable villain driven by evil intention rather than carelessness. And his betrayal was breathtakingly personal; the thousands of victims included most of his friends and even his in-laws. There was even a potential hero: Harry Markopolis, an investment officer at a rival firm who for a decade fruitlessly warned that Madoff's returns were too good to be true. All these elements are present in Wizard, not to mention a marquee cast headed by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, with frequent Oscar nominee Barry Levinson producing and directing. Yet it all comes together with much more fizzle than sizzle. Much of what's wrong with Wizard can be traced to Levinson's decision to go with a script by three relatively inexperienced writers (including his son Sam) that begins relatively late in the story—the day before Madoff's chicanery was exposed—and concentrates mainly on the damage he did to his own family. That precludes any real examination of any of the characters on their way to the top; all we see is their precipitous fall. Madoff's fraud is believed to have begun in the 1970s. His sons Mark and Andrew were both traders for the company, and his wife Ruth its bookkeeper in the early days. But they all denied any knowledge of his scheming, a claim grudgingly accepted by investigators (who never charged any of the three with anything), if not the public. Wizard follows Mark (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards) as they're bullied to the line of sanity and ultimately beyond it, alternately by their parents for disloyalty—the boys were the ones who revealed the fraud to federal authorities, then refused to help raise bail money for their father—and by friends who were wiped out. More fascinating, in a bug-under-the-magnifying-glass sort of way, is the case of Ruth (crisply played by Pfeiffer), cagey enough to give away a small fortune in jewelry before the cops can seize it, but utterly oblivious to the cracks in her cocoon of wealth and social standing until the mounting rage of her friends-turned-victims gets her kicked out of her regular beauty salon. Despite the mounting toll, she can't break away from her husband of more than five decades. As they lie in bed, awaiting for t[...]