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Published: Sat, 27 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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Montana Libertarian Mark Wicks, Who Got 6 Percent Against the GOP's Gianforte, Believes the L.P. Must Focus More on State and Local Races

Sat, 27 May 2017 14:35:00 -0400

It wasn't ultimately surprising that a Republican candidate facing assault charges for allegedly bodyslamming a reporter the day before the election won his House race in Montana anyway. But Greg Gianforte's 6 percent win over Democrat Rob Quist was far lower than most assessments of Montana's relative preference for Republicans would indicate. And Gianforte's winning margin was exactly matched by the unprecedented 6 percent total for a Montana House race for the Libertarian Party's candidate, Mark Wicks. Wicks, a rancher and mailman in Inverness, Montana, thinks the key to his unusually good results for the L.P., for a campaign that could not afford any print, TV, or radio ads and only a few signs, was that the L.P. helped pressure the hosts of a televised debate to include Wicks along with his major party competitors. "When people saw how I handled myself, especially compared to the other two," Wicks said in a phone interview the day after the election, it helped him nearly double the last L.P. House candidate's 3.3 percent. (In Liberty County, next door to his home county, where Wicks says he likely personally known one-quarter of the voters, he pulled 16 percent.) He credits his good showing in the debate not so much to ideology, but to the fact that he was able "to answer questions in a straightforward and honest way. My answers were consistent but [voters] could tell they weren't memorized. I would answer the question asked and not just pivot to a talking point." Wicks expects he'll run for office again, though not sure exactly what office or when. He'd like to have more money, sooner whenever that happens. He's like to be in a better position to hit the ground running with a decent cash pile the way major party candidates usually can. The Libertarian National Committee (LNC) did give him a rare donation of $5,000, but it came too late in the process to do much good, Wicks says. Wicks sees the LNC faced a chicken and egg dilemma--he understands their reluctance to hand over a pile of cash to an untried candidate until after the debate showed he could comport himself well and make a decent run of it, but getting the money within the last couple of weeks before the election gave him no chance to have it serve as seed money for outreach that could have lead to more money. His campaign was able to spend "a couple thousand" on Facebook advertising, he says, but his jobs and the vast sprawl of Montana's one-district state made in-person appearances before crowds of voters also impossible. He lives about 300 miles from any major Montana city. Most of his volunteer support came via the Feldman Foundation, a national organization dedicated to finding and helping liberty-oriented candidates (named after Marc Feldman, a deceased former Libertarian Party activist and presidential aspirant). Wicks credits them with a "tremendous job, it took so much weight off my back." They managed his press releases and phone banks, for which he recalls one activist personally made 3,000 calls. "I've always been a very conservative Republican, very freedom oriented," Wicks says. But "I felt the Republican Party just left me. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, their budgets...they run on cutting spending and don't cut spending." He won the L.P.'s nomination against seven other candidates at a state Party convention. He knows that many in the Party "are upset that I'm not hardcore libertarian enough for them. But we have to realize we have to start in increments. We can't start with hardcore libertarianism." At least some voters thinking about him, he says, would "read the L.P. platform and decide they didn't want to vote for me because it goes too far, a little too much freedom in it for their comfort." For example, he stresses that while he campaigned on marijuana legalization, he does not support the legalization of harder drugs. "Legalizing all the drugs is not going to fly in Montana." Wicks also thinks it's likely he got votes based on what he found as a widespread hate for Gianforte and Quist partisans attacks on each other. [...]

Trump’s Repeal of a Welfare Drug-Testing Regulation Backfires (Thankfully)

Fri, 26 May 2017 16:13:00 -0400

The 1996 Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress a limited time window after a regulation is implemented to repeal it, was successfully used just once in its first two decades in existence. That all changed in the first half of 2017, as a GOP-led Congress took advantage of a new, actively deregulatory Republican president to roll back a total of 14 late Obama-era rules. Eyeballing the list (and also consulting Reason's work on the specific bills; on which see more below), only one of the CRA repeals stuck out at me as facially unfortunate: the rollback of a 2016 Labor Department rule defining which occupations that states can drug-test for (as authorized by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012) when disbursing federal unemployment insurance. The qualifying jobs, according to Bloomberg, were mostly "limited to the transportation and pipeline industries, as well as jobs that require carrying a gun or were already legally mandated to have drug tests, such as nuclear plant staff." Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) found the list too limiting, and therefore "yet another instance of executive overreach by the Obama administration." Republicans do love their drug-testing of welfare cases (individual welfare, mind you, never the corporate variety), regardless of the constitutionality or efficiency. Why, just look at how much fun it is! Another one heads to President Trump's desk. This legislation allows states to have drug testing to receive federal unemployment benefits. — Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) March 19, 2017 Or maybe not. According to a perceptive and somewhat complicated piece by Bloomberg's Josh Eidelson, the CRA repeal actually "takes away some limited [drug-testing] authority states already had." How? Because the 2012 law let states test people suited for jobs specified by federal regulations, now that those regulations have been scrapped, there are no jobs for which states are able to test for drugs. Before Congress revoked Obama's rules, states could have tested aspiring pipeline operators and commercial drivers; now they can't. In other words, congressional Republicans went after the enacting interpretation, while kinda-sorta forgetting the underlying legislation that they themselves wrote. If you don't want the Labor Department making rules, don't pass in your laws language like "an individual for whom suitable work (as defined under the State law) is only available in an occupation that regularly conducts drug testing (as determined under regulations issued by the Secretary of Labor)." There's a lesson here, one that's shot through my June cover story on Trump's deregulatory efforts. The executive branch can do (and already has done) quite a bit of regulatory rollback on its own, but the whole reason you have not just regulations but the agencies writing and enforcing them is that Congress has made laws instructing the federal bureaucracy to do stuff. You can eliminate the Department of Education, but that won't stop the federal government from sloshing money toward public schools in the absence of rewriting legislation from the 1960s. It's easy for a legislator to throw stones at an out-of-control bureaucracy (or more fruitful yet, nobly guide his or her constituents through all the red tape); much harder to undo what Congress has already done. So what's next on drug-testing unemployment recipients? Unless Congress gets off its duff, "States will get to impose broader testing requirements only if the Labor Department goes through its own formal rule-making process to issue stricter regulations," Bloomberg concludes. That process takes roughly one to three years. But even then, there's a catch that likely few people in the Trump administration had thought through: [T]he 1996 review act bans an agency whose regulation has been voided from enacting any new regulation that's "substantially the same." Before Trump took office, the law had been used only once, to undo ergonomics rules issued under President Bill Clinton, and n[...]

Court Ruling Jeopardizes Ranked Voting System in Maine

Thu, 25 May 2017 12:30:00 -0400

A pioneering electoral reform that passed in Maine last November has hit a snag: The state's top court says it violates the state constitution. Maine voters last year approved Question 5, a measure changing the way statewide elections would be tabulated. Under the new "ranked choice" system, voters would not simply select one candidate and check a box. Instead they'd be able to rank each candidate in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority on the first tally, the candidate with the least votes would be tossed from the race. Then the ballots would be recounted, and those who voted for the eliminated candidate would have their votes go to their second choice instead. This would continue until a candidate gets a majority. Ranked choice voting already occurs in a handful of American cities for local elections. Maine was going to be the first place to implement it for statewide and legislative races. But the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously this week that the Maine constitution forbids it. Under that document, the governor and state-level lawmakers must be selected by earning a plurality of the vote, not a majority. The court's ruling is advisory, and it doesn't actually strike down the initiative. The purpose is to let lawmakers know that Question 5 is unconstitutional as-is; how legislators deal with that is up to them. Still, if the state does nothing and lets ranked choice voting commence in 2018, there could be legal challenges to the elections' outcomes. Many Republican leaders in Maine opposed a shift to ranked choice voting. (The state's colorful and controversial Republican Gov. Paul LePage was elected with a plurality.) But a ranked choice system isn't just a threat to the GOP. By essentially eliminating the fear of "throwing your vote away" or bolstering a "spoiler," it could pose a serious challenge to the two-party system's stranglehold. A citizen who isn't satisfied with the Democrat and Republican would be able to pick a third option, then rank one of the major-party nominees higher than the other. If their first choice does poorly and gets knocked out, their vote isn't wasted. Imagine how candidate behavior might change if voters were able to reject the "lesser of two evils" argument. FairVote, a non-profit group devoted to promoting ranked-choice voting reform, is calling for lawmakers in Maine to update the state's constitution so that Question 5 may be implemented without fear of legal challenges: Maine voters embraced ranked choice voting because they wanted a stronger voice, more civil campaigns, and to reform our toxic politics. This opinion must not stand in the way of the will of the people. We call on the Maine legislature to uphold the will of the people and support a constitutional amendment to enact [ranked choice voting] for all statewide elections in Maine. Ranked choice voting is also still plainly constitutional for major offices in Maine, including elections for U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Those elections have been affected by split-votes in the past, and will benefit from the use of ranked choice voting going forward. Independent and third-party voters should keep a close eye on Maine's 2018 election, particularly as the two major parties grow more polarized and perhaps a bit body-slammy. As I wrote in November, ranked choice voting "doesn't necessarily mean an increased likelihood of third-party or independent candidates winning, and that's not how we should grade success. We should look for outcomes like electoral participation, satisfaction with choices, what issues become central to the races, and overall happiness and support for whomever wins." Bonus link: In December, Reason's Zach Weissmueller interviewed Richard Woodbury of Maine's Committee for Ranked Choice Voting about what such a system would mean for American politics. Listen to that podcast here.[...]

New CBO Report Says House-Passed Health Care Plan Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured, Cut $119 Billion Off Federal Deficit

Wed, 24 May 2017 17:31:00 -0400

The House-passed Republican health care plan would increase the number of Americans without health insurance by 23 million over 10 years, but would reduce premiums for those who maintain coverage, according to a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill released Wednesday evening. If the American Health Care Act were to become law this year, an estimated 14 million people would lose coverage by 2018, the CBO estimates, with that number increasing to 19 million by 2020 and 23 million by 2026. That's slightly less than the 24 million Americans that the CBO estimated would lose health care coverage under the original version of the bill, before it was amended in early May. Replacing Obamacare with the AHCA would reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $119 billion over the next 10 years, the CBO estimates, which is less than the $150 billion savings included in the original version of the bill (and baked into the budget plan released by the White House this week). Almost all the budgetary savings—an estimated $834 billion, most of which is canceled out by other elements of the bill—come from changes to Medicaid, the joint federal-state program to provide health coverage for the poor, including a major provision of the AHCA that would allow states to handle more Medicaid decision-making. While the numbers have changed a bit since the initial CBO score for the bill was released in March, the basic trade-offs within the AHCA remain largely the same. The bill would maintain many elements of Obamacare, but would repeal the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance, while allowing insurance companies to offer plans that are considered sub-par by Obamacare's coverage mandates and to price plans differently based on an individual's health record, in some circumstances. The result is that some people will choose not to purchase insurance, while others might not be able to afford to do so—though the bill provides tax credits to help make insurance more affordable. Those tax credits, the CBO says, would "lower average premiums enough to attract a sufficient number of relatively healthy people to stabilize the market." The CBO estimates that premiums would be reduced under the rewritten version of the AHCA, but that would not be the case for everyone, as "premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the funding that would be available." Many of those people would end up in state-run "high risk pools" created by the legislation. Wednesday's release is the first CBO analysis of the AHCA since it was passed by the House with a 217-213 vote on May 4. Republicans faced criticism for rushing to a vote in the House before the CBO could finish scoring the rewritten bill, but so far the Senate has not touched the AHCA and further changes are likely to happen before the bill reaches President Donald Trump's desk (if it ever does). Prior to the re-write, the CBO said the Republican health care plan would result in 14 million fewer people having insurance next year, with a decline of 24 million after 10 years. Premiums were estimated to rise by 15 to 20 percent through 2020, and would continue to rise during the 2020s but at a slower rate than what is projected under current law. The new report is sure to be a major factor in the Senate's deliberations on the AHCA, which remains a flawed (and deeply unpopular) attempt at replacing Obamacare.[...]

Who's Telling the Truth in Washington? Anyone?

Mon, 22 May 2017 12:00:00 -0400

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 National Security Agency was collecting "any type of data at all" on American citizens. Under oath, Clapper answered, "No sir," and "not wittingly." The revelations by Edward Snowden later revealed those statements to be egregiously false. Ronald Reagan swore to the American people that his administration did not trade arms for hostages in the Iran/Contra scandal. He was later forced to concede, "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is[...]

Don't Rush to Impeachment

Mon, 22 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

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 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 of congressional justice, persuading 67 senators to convict would be a heavy lift, absent compelling proof of grave misconduct. After everything that came to light against Clinton, and with Republicans in control of the Senate, only 50 senators voted to find him guilty. It's crucial for impeachment to reflect more than a campaign against a president by the opposition party. Effectively overturning the result of a democratic election demands a national consensus that the president is guilty of serious[...]

These Republican Lawmakers Will Happily Abandon Federalism to Deport More Immigrants

Fri, 19 May 2017 15:05:00 -0400

Texas passed legislation forcing local police to help federal immigration officials detain people for deportation. California is considering legislation that's essentially the opposite. Now some Republicans are introducing federal legislation that overrules the states and dictates how local police officers participate in immigration law enforcement. So, uh, federalism and state's rights? Never mind all that. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced H.R. 2431, the Davis-Oliver Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), and Ted Poe (R-Texas). The bill has a lot of components to it, including an expansion of what counts as a deportable crime and the inclusion of illegal immigrants in the National Crime Center Database. The bill also essentially attempts to overrule leadership of sanctuary cities or states by granting law enforcement personnel (local police) the same authority to investigate, identify, and detain illegal immigrants as federal immigration officials. The law makes it clear that local police would still lack the authority to deport immigrants on their own. But the law does say: [L]aw enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal custody aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States to the same extent as Federal law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may also investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, or detain aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of a State or of a political subdivision of State, as long as those immigration laws are permissible under this section. Further in the bill, it mandates that states and cities inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a "timely fashion" when they've apprehended somebody who is in the country illegally or is deportable. And it provides grants to help law enforcement agencies with implementing these procedures, so long as they put into place a written policy of assisting DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deporting immigrants. In the fight over sanctuary cities (cities that generally don't check on the immigration status of those in custody), there has been quite a lot of confusion over what it means to resist or cooperate with the federal government and ICE on immigration laws. The federal government does not have the authority to force local police officers to assist them or detain deportable immigrants. There is a portion of the U.S. code that forbids states and cities from passing regulations or having policies that prohibit communication between local police and the feds about anybody's immigration status. That's it. It does not require police to assist ICE or even ask about citizenship status. This bill would change and expand the wording of that federal regulation to forbid states and cities from having rules against assisting ICE and DHS in enforcing immigration laws. Under this change the law would be about much more than communication. Cities would be forbidden from telling police they couldn't hold immigrants to hand over to ICE for deportation. It also specifies which federal grants communities could lose if they do not cooperate with the bill. A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order threatening grants to sanctuary cities partly because the grants have to have some sort of connection to regulatory processes and the government cannot simply take grant money away in order to coerce certain behaviors. Don't take this to mean the grants referenced are narrowly defined, though. Despite the fact that the bill is all about immigration enforcement, it would potentially threaten any Justice Department or DHS grant that was related to "law [...]

How To Impeach the President (Or Not)

Thu, 18 May 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Want to get rid of the president?

There are two ways, basically.

First, find an impeachable offense. According to the Constitution an impeachable offense: treason, bribery, or "Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." What counts for that last part? Nobody knows. Some people say it means bad things only people in high office can do—like misusing public assets, dereliction of duty, or having sex and then lying about it. Others say it's any crime or misdemeanor at all, even if it has nothing to do with a president's position or power. Did you steal a pen from work? Petty theft is a misdemeanor. You should no longer be president.

Once you get an impeachable offense, get a majority of House members to vote in favor of the motion and then go to trial in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. After the highest-rated programming in C-SPAN history, the senators vote. If 67 senators find the president guilty, he's gone.

There is another way, however, without all that messy legal stuff.

The vice president and a majority of the cabinet can invoke the 25th amendment and present a written declaration to Congress that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." So what does that mean? In the past it's been used for things like, "Hey, I'm getting a colonoscopy, can you cover for me for ,a few hours?" but now some people want it to mean "I just think this guy is an asshat." Regardless of the rationale, once those articles are invoked, the magic wand is waved and the president is immediately stripped of power. No trial, no witnesses, no evidence, no votes, just gone.

Of course, the president is going to say, "Hey, I'm totally fit for office, get out of my chair." But if the vice president won't budge, then it goes back to Congress, which will have three weeks to decide who gets to run things. This time though, you need two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House. Or maybe it's two-thirds of the total number of members of both the Senate and the House. Nobody really knows because it's never happened before and it'll probably end up going to the Supreme Court anyway.

Anyhoo, if enough of them agree that the president is an asshat or whatever, the vice president stays put and the president is never heard from again. Or, more likely, the former president goes on twitter and says this was an extra-judicial coup by Washington insiders and starts a new civil war. Only this time with bigger guns and planes and bombs and stuff.

So maybe we shouldn't decide to get rid of presidents just because we hate them and then afterwards figure out how to pretend it's the law.

About 2 minutes. Written and produced by Austin Bragg.

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All This Impeachment Talk Is Pure Trump Derangement Syndrome

Wed, 17 May 2017 17:00:00 -0400

Well this didn't take long, did it? Donald Trump, the most-unlikely and least-liked president in the history of the United States, had barely celebrated his first 100 days when calls for his impeachment started flying faster than Anthony Weiner dick pics at a Girl Scout cookout. For the good of democracy, don't you see, the Republicans must not only be kicked to the curb in the 2018 midterms, but the president himself must be thrown into the street, just like he once tried to evict that old lady from her house in Atlantic City! In the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, whose recent testimony on Hillary Clinton's emails was so flawed and incompetent that his underlings immediately issued a clarification to the Senate Judiciary Committee, virtually every non-Republican #NeverTrumper (plus Sen. John McCain, who has some good reasons to hate Trump) has called for The Donald's head on a platter. And this was all before the tantalizing possibility of a "Comey memo" detailing various attempts by Trump to shut down an investigation of possible ties between former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Russian operatives. But let's get real: At this point in the game, all the explainers about how impeachment works (the 1990s called, they want their sex scandals back!) and adapting the 25th Amendment's ability to remove the president from decision-making during colonoscopies to the current crisis are evidence-free exercises in ideological masturbation. If we are going to survive not just the Trump years but eventually get around to kick-starting the 21st century, we're going to have become smarter media consumers and demand more from both our politicians and the press. "The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo," explains the Paper of Record, "but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of it to a Times reporter." As Reason's Scott Shackford has noted, that's what Joe Biden would call a "big fucking deal" if it turns out to exist and to be accurate. It's also a pretty big if at this point. But even before Comey's possible "paper trail" documenting President Trump's demands (which may or may not actually rise to the level of impeachable offense) came to light, his enemies were out in force. For god's sake, they wanted him impeached even before he was the Republican nominee. "An attempt to obstruct justice is an impeachable offense," huffed Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine last week. "And Trump has just openly admitted to such a thing" because "sources close to Comey" said the president-elect asked the FBI director for his "personal loyalty." What unemotional analysis. Remember that a year ago, Sullivan called the possibility of a Trump presidency an "extinction-level threat" to mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Elsewhere in New York, Jonathan Chait, who is as doggedly a Democratic partisan that exists in print, put out an article under the headline, "The Law Can't Stop Trump. Only Impeachment Can." Trump's high crime for Chait was the completely opaque charge that Trump shared classified intel with Russian officials visiting the White House, a charge flatly rebutted by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who said the shared info was "wholly appropriate" and that "the president in no way compromised any sources or methods." For Chait though, and so many more either openly in "the Resistance" or just fellow-traveling, the real problem is that America never anticipated peckerwoods being in the Oval Office. "The system is set up with the unstated presumption that the president is a responsible person who will act in a broadly legitimate, competent fashion," writes Chait. "The system is designed so that the only remedy for a president who cannot faithfully act in the public interest is impeachment." Forget all that Madisonian mumbo-jumbo about "if men were angels, no government would be ne[...]

Will the Trump Fiasco Deprogram Presidential Cultists?

Tue, 16 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Has Donald Trump been sent among us to demonstrate the foolishness of placing cult-like faith in the presidency? I don't mean "sent" in the literal sense, of course. Maybe it's more like he slipped and fell among us, tumbling backwards down the escalator of history, to land on the presidency just in time to squish the hopes of a political also-ran who thought the office was hers. Let's review just last week's parade of horribles (because this week's tales of poor judgment are coming too fast to keep up). There was the clumsy firing of James Comey, which managed to convert an FBI director about whom almost everybody harbored doubts into a martyr. He also left us to wonder whether it's worse that he thinks he originated the phrase, "prime the pump," or that he believes the Keynesian nostrum is a good idea. Then the White House apparently got pwned by a photographer for Russian state media, predictably feeding into the ongoing questions about the president's relationship with that country. The overall impression was certainly not that of "a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise," as Gene Healy of the Cato Institute described Americans' vision for the nation's chief executive in an article published nine years ago in Reason and even more relevant today. Then again, Healy wasn't writing that Americans should view the presidency in that light—only that they've done so, to the detriment of the republic. Healy, who elaborated on his warnings in the 2008 book, The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, cautioned that Americans have piled impossible expectations on the office of the presidency, and increased its power to near-monarchical levels to match—but that authority is still unequal to the demands people place on the office. "What makes presidents—usually aging, and not always physically fit, men—good models for action toys?" Vanderbilt University's Dana D. Nelson asked in Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, published the same year as Healy's book. Pointing to the bizarre spectacle of presidents packaged as action figures and comic book characters like superheroes, she worried that Americans see the president "simultaneously as democracy's heart (he will unify the citizenry) and its avenging sword (he will protect us from all external threats." Continuously granting the presidency authority to match such unrealistic perceptions, too many people attribute abuses to specific officeholders without recognizing that the problem is now the office itself. The office itself is the problem, that is, because as each president inevitably fails to live up to empty promises to, say, micromanage the vast economy, eradicate international terrorism, reform failed states into functioning democracies, and design health systems that deliver top-notch care at low cost, he insists on more power to get the job done. But that accumulating power is never equal to the demands placed on the flawed humans who spend so much time and energy pursuing an opportunity to disappoint the country. And Donald Trump does seem to be disappointing much of the country, with a job approval rating hovering at just above 40 percent, including eroding support among his base. His missteps are the source material for many yuks at the president's expense—and rightfully so. Making powerful officials the butt of jokes is the healthiest treatment we can give them. How could we not laugh? The current occupant of the White House seems deliberately cast to provide comedians with endless material. Trump: Making Saturday Night Live funny again! But while Trump's flaws are readily apparent—he practically rubs them in our faces—his inability to live up to expectatio[...]

White Working-Class Millennials Are Less Christian, More Republican Than Their Elders

Tue, 09 May 2017 15:40:00 -0400

A large new report from PRRI and The Atlantic examines white, working-class Americans in an effort to explain what motivated them "to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of roughly two to one" in the 2016 presidential election. The findings tend toward conventional wisdom—except when it comes to white working-class millennials. It turns out this group breaks from their older counterparts in some unexpected ways. Less than half of young, white, working-class adults identify as Christian. For the report, "white working class" is defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs. Overall, 71 percent of white working-class Americans identify as Christian, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. And among "seniors"—defined as those 65 and older—the percentage calling themselves Christians jumps to more than 80 percent. But among white working-class young adults—defined here as those in the 18- to 29-year-old age range—just 48 percent identify as Christian, with 16 percent describing themselves as evangelical Protestants, 16 percent as mainline Protestants, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as another Christian religion. This is about equal to the percentage that said they have no religious affiliation. At 47 percent, religious unaffiliation for white working-class young adults was significantly higher than religious unaffiliation among 18- to 29-year-old Americans overall (36 percent). White working-class millennials are more Republican than their elders... but less conservative In general, young Americans tend to skew toward Democratic Party affiliation. But for the youth of the white working class, the Republican Party is way more popular than the Democratic, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. More than half of young white working-class voters—57 percent—identify as Republican or at least lean toward the GOP, while just 29 percent identify as or lean toward Democrats It's no surprise that white working-class young folk might lean more Republican than their richer, non-white, or college-educated counterparts. But here's a departure from conventional wisdom: The youngest adults of the white working class are more likely to lean Republican than the oldest members. In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds here lean more Republican than any other white working-class cohort studied. For both seniors and those in the 50- to 64-year-old cohort, 51 percent identified as or leaned Republican and 36 percent identified as or leaned Democrat. The older-millennial/younger-Gen X group—which included white working-class Americans ages 30 to 49—contained slightly fewer Republican Party voters than did the older generations (47 percent) and slightly fewer Democratic Party voters (34 percent). This group was the most likely to identify as politically independent, with 16 percent identifying as such. Just 10 percent of the younger group, 8 percent of those ages 50-64, and 9 percent of seniors in the report identify as political independents. But while the youngest adults of the white working-class are more likely than their elders to describe themselves as Republican, they are less likely to consider themselves conservative. "White working-class young adults are less than half as likely as white working-class seniors to identify as conservative," according to the report. Less than a quarter—23 percent—of white working-class young people call themselves conservative, while 26 percent identify as liberal and 40 percent identify as moderate. White working-class millennials don't think Donald Trump gets it—but their parents love him. Just 34 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old cohort in question agree that President Trump understands the problems facing their communities. Older members of th[...]

No, the AHCA Doesn't Make Rape a Preexisting Condition

Fri, 05 May 2017 11:45:00 -0400

The latest less-than-truthful meme about Republicans' American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the U.S. House on Thursday, is that it makes rape a "preexisting condition" for health-insurance purposes. According to a host of women's publications and an army of outraged tweeters, sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors could soon be forced to disclose their attacks to insurance companies, which could subsequently deny them health-insurance coverage because of it. None of this is true. Like, not even a little bit. And the fact it's not just being shared by shady social-media activists and their unwitting dupes but by ostensibly-legitimate media outlets is another sad indictment of press standards these days. Nothing in the new Republican health care bill specifically addresses sexual assault or domestic violence whatsoever. What it does say is that states can apply for waivers that will allow insurance companies, under certain limited circumstances, to charge higher premiums to people based on their personal medical histories—that's it. (States that are granted the waivers must also set up special high-risk insurance pools to try and help defray costs for these people.) Under Obamacare, no such price variances based on preexisting conditions are permitted. Historically, conditions that could trigger higher premiums or coverage denials have been mostly chronic diseases and syndromes. Some insurance plans also included pregnancy as a preexisting condition, which—contra the current pop narrative—did not mean that any woman who was or had been pregnant would be denied insurance coverage altogether, simply that those applying for new health insurance while currently pregnant might not be eligible for immediate maternity/prenatal care. And for a while, in the 1980s, it was apparently not unheard of for health insurance companies to deny coverage to domestic abuse victims. By 2009, however, all but eight U.S. states had passed laws directly prohibiting the practice, and as of July 2014, all but six states had. Even if Obamacare is replaced by the AHCA tomorrow, insurers in 44 states will still be barred by law from considering domestic and sexual abuse a preexisting condition. (Update: Buzzfeed's Paul McLeod confirmed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners yesterday that there are now only two states, Idaho and Vermont, that don't explicitly "ban insurers from factoring domestic abuse into premium costs." For more detailed information, see this great analysis from Washington Post Fact Checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee and my longer update at the bottom of this post.) Doesn't that mean there's a possibility that those other six states could choose to apply for waivers, and then insurance companies within them could perhaps choose to charge higher premiums for abuse victims? Yes. They also could choose to charge higher premiums for prior victims of car accidents and ingrown toenails. It doesn't mean they will. A Politifact investigation in 2009 could turn up no evidence that such practices were happening in the then-eight states that would allow it. "Just because it's legal in some states for insurance companies to cite domestic violence as a pre-existing condition, it doesn't mean that insurance companies are actually taking advantage of the loophole," it noted. A spokesperson for American's Health Insurance Plans, the health insurer trade association, told CNN this week that "of course survivors of domestic abuse and rape should be covered," and it wasn't simply a federal law stopping insurers from saying otherwise. Kristine Grow, the organization's senior vice president of communications, said the industry willingly follows the guidance in this area set out by the National Association of Insurance Companies, w[...]

Rand Paul: Budget Deal Should Be Renamed ‘The Status Quo Protection Act’

Wed, 03 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

(image) I was at one of those infamous D.C. cocktail parties the other night when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the two most libertarian-leaning members of the House of Representatives, sidled up to me at the bar and croaked, "How ya liking our new trillion-dollar budget deal?!"

The $1.16 trillion agreement hikes current spending levels, largely by vomiting forth $93.5 billion worth of "Overseas Contingency Operations" (OCO)—a disreputable gimmick that current Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has long and correctly railed against. Unlike the budgetary "dark ages" and government-dismembering prophesied by dullard hysterics in the media, this latest last-minute Continuing Resolution very predictably maintains just about every pre-existing spending level and pet project/agency. A House vote is scheduled for this afternoon.

So who's against it? Massie's pal Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for one. Paul has a piece over at explaining why:

It not only rejects President Trump's calls for cuts to multiple agencies, but it increases their funding by millions of dollars.

It paves the way for those agencies to engage in more "use it or lose it" September spending.

It leaves our deficit at well over $500 million. […]

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tried to warn us in 2010 when he called debt "[t]he most significant threat to our national security." History is littered with the ruins of nations who fast-tracked their own decline by becoming overextended. […]

[A]s long as we continue to spend with abandon, pile it on the backs of the taxpayers we claim to serve, and pretend it's all okay, we are ultimately our own worst enemies.

Read my interview with Massie last month basically predicting all this, and my April 2016 column asserting that the GOP's abdication on budgetary/sequestration issues helped sink Rand Paul's presidential bid. Below, Nick Gillespie helps explain why maintaining a "Pentagon slush fund" is no way to run a country.

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Trump’s Mixed Messages on North Korea Show Importance of Congress’ Role in War Making

Wed, 03 May 2017 09:35:00 -0400

The Trump Show's™ latest story line involves North Korea and the authoritarian country's recent missile tests. Just as he did during the campaign, Donald Trump is wont to take diametrically opposite positions on any issue with abandon. Now the world's his stage. Last week, President Trump told Reuters he believed there was a chance of a "major, major conflict with North Korea." The comments came on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the door to potential negotiations with the North Korean regime, as The New York Times noted. "Viewed in the most charitable light, Mr. Trump was, in his own nondiplomatic way, building pressure to force the North to halt its nuclear and missile tests," The New York Times suggested, "the first step toward resuming the kind of negotiations that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has begun to talk about." Then Monday, Trump offered that he'd be "honored" to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, and was open to such a meeting "under the right circumstances." Trump's phrasing re-enforced the notion that Trump has a thing for authoritarian world leaders—such praise highlights his own authoritarian tendencies. But the U.S. has also long had a thing for authoritarian world leaders, and a deep history of supporting authoritarian regimes. There is a case to be made for some strategic ambiguity—that a sort of wildcard foreign policy can create negotiating room and force reflection on long-held and long-uninterrogated assumptions about foreign policy. But Trump's statements don't appear to add up to anything strategic. It's a higher-energy, more frenetic version of the same kind of aimless, interventionist, and ultimately destructive and counterproductive, foreign policy pursued by Barack Obama. For example, while President Trump floated the idea that the South Korean government would have to pay for the U.S. missile defense system the two countries agreed last year the U.S. would deploy in the region, his national security advisor, and the interim South Korean government (elections are next week), insisted that would not be the case. The system went live in South Korea this week. The leading presidential candidate in South Korea, Moon Jae in, has said he would review the system's deployment. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor, says the Trump administration continues to insist American allies pay more for their defense. Trump's comments could make it more likely for Moon to keep his promise of review if elected. In the first month of the Trump administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis went to Europe to tell its leaders that American taxpayers could no longer "carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values," particularly on NATO, which Trump had long critiqued on the campaign trail European leaders more or less called Trump's bluff, and the president eventually decided NATO was "no longer obsolete." Such heel-turns turn Trump's pronouncement into little more than noise. That noise is dangerous largely thanks to Congress. On Face the Nation Sunday, asked if another North Korean nuclear test would yield a military response, President Trump said he didn't know, highlighting the importance of Congress asserting its war-making powers. After Obama committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya, Congress voted against an authorization of the actions, but also rejected a bill by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) which would have defunded the Libya effort. The legislative tool exists, but if there wasn't the political will to use it in a Republican-led Congress against an unconstitutional action by a Democratic president, it's unlikely to be used now. The U.S.-backed intervention in Libya led to the [...]

Transhumanism Is Not an Alt-Right Conspiracy!

Tue, 02 May 2017 17:15:00 -0400

As part of its special issue on the so-called alt-right, New York Magazine has published an especially dim-witted article attacking transhumanism, entitled "Techno-Libertarians Praying for Dystopia." The author, Mark O'Connell, begins by going after Silicon Valley venture capitalist and wrong-headed Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who also happens to have some interest in how the technological Singularity may unfold. Thiel has made no secret about the fact that he has long had "this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing." Thus he finances researchers who hope to develop anti-aging technologies and think tanks that try to foresee the consequences of succeeding at that goal. Fine. To illustrate Thiel's evil intentions, O'Connell points to his 2009 assertion, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." As further evidence of political depravity, he cites Thiel's 2011 observation, "Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead." Based on these statements, O'Connell accuses Thiel of "ethical simple-mindedness." Really? Is it not more ethically simple-minded to believe that democratic authoritarianism cannot run roughshod over minority rights or that ensuring that everybody is equally diseased, disabled, and dead is somehow the height of moral probity. O'Connell then notes that other Silicon Valley "libertarians" share Thiel's interest in human enhancement (and not only those who reside in purlieus of Palo Alto do too). Apparently, for O'Connell, the desire for ageless bodies and enhanced minds necessarily amounts to a rightwing conspiracy. As evidence for his claim that transhumanism is a manifestation of the alt-right, O'Connell digs up a couple of oddballs who've hung around the fringes of transhumanism who now call themselves neoreactionaries. Of course, anybody can apply the labels libertarian and transhumanist to themselves with malice aforethought. Remember how progressives stole the term "liberal" back in the day. Once O'Connell has made the old guilt-by-association rhetorical move, he does admit that one of his two exemplars of supposedly alt-right transhumanism is "these days something of a pariah from the transhumanist movement." Indeed. Transhumanism is a big tent. For example, my sometime intellectual sparring partner James Hughes, who is former executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, is a fierce social democrat and author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future (2005). In his Transhumanist Values manifesto, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom argues for wide access to enhancement technologies: The full realization of the core transhumanist value requires that, ideally, everybody should have the opportunity to become posthuman. It would be sub-optimal if the opportunity to become posthuman were restricted to a tiny elite. There are many reasons for supporting wide access: to reduce inequality; because it would be a fairer arrangement; to express solidarity and respect for fellow humans; to help gain support for the transhumanist project; to increase the chances that you will get the opportunity to become posthuman; to increase the chances that those you care about can become posthuman; because it might increase the range of the posthuman realm that gets explored; and to alleviate human suffering on as wide a scale as possible. The wide access requirement underlies the moral urgency of the transhumanist vision. Wide access does not argue for holding back. On the contrary, other things being equal, it is an argument for moving forward as quickly as possible. 150,000 human be[...]