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Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

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Backpage Backed Into Corner Over Adult Ads. Is Government's Goal a Goodbye to Sex Trafficking, or Free Speech?

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:15:00 -0500

"After consultation with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the 5th and 1st Amendments." Again and again, these words rang out through the crowded Congressional inquiry into "Backpage.com's Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking" Tuesday. A function of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—literal heir to the Joseph McCarthy-era espionage and subversion investigations—the hearing was ostensibly organized to shed light on the business practices of online classified-ad forum Backpage. Led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), the bipartisan effort represented the culmination of a 20-month long investigation and accompanied a lengthy report on the findings. The point of the hearing, said McCaskill, was "understanding how criminals systematically use online platforms to transform normal American teenagers into sex slaves." But if so, it was as much a look at the laws governing online publishing, user-generated content, and sex work in America. And those in the hot seat—Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla, General Counsel Elizabeth McDougall, and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin—refused to answer any of the subcommittee's questions with more than a nod to the 5th Amendment. Launched around 10 a.m., the portion of the hearing featuring Backpage leadership was concluded, with nothing conceded, in under an hour. As the Backpage witnesses filed out, a swarm of reporters followed, trailing a silent Ferrer and his handlers until the third-floor door of Dirksen Building elevator closed in front of them. Lacey hung back, but mostly to say that he had said all he would say for now. "I guess you don't know what will happen next?" I asked him. "Right now," he said, "a drink." Backpage Background Portman and McCaskill's inquiry into Backpage began in 2015. After the site's execs refused to appear for questioning or turn over private business documents, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations filed a civil contempt action against them—the first authorized by the Senate in more than 20 years—and was rewarded with a federal court order compelling Backpage to turn over subpoenaed documents. The resulting report on these documents "conclusively shows that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone imagined," Portman said Tuesday. In both the report and live testimony, the subcommittee moved seamlessly between allegations that Backpage intentionally profited from the prostitution of children and statements from Backpage representatives with regard to prostitution more broadly, leaving the unmistakable impression that Backpage leadership admitted—at least internally—to the horrible things alleged by the government. But the inquiry actually ascertained no such thing. The most significant policies the inquiry uncovered were a) moderators employed by Backpage would sometimes edit user-generated ads to remove direct references to sex for money before allowing them to post and b) between 2010 and 2012, the site employed an automatic filter to remove some blacklisted words from ads before they were posted. Subcommittee summaries of these editing and filtering processes suggest that Backpage moderators deliberately stripped words like "teen," "young," "daddy's girl," and "barely legal," from ads before allowing them to post, and this indicates that they knew about and encouraged underage ad-posting. But, of course, none of these words necessarily signals anything nefarious. Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are both "barely legal" and "teens," yet still legally adults. "Young" is a term someone well beyond 18 might use. Terms like sugar baby and sugar daddy are widely used in describing arrangements between adults, with all the attendant use of terms like daddy's girl this entails, and of course daddy is also common slang (without age connotations) in some BDSM worlds. The ambiguity of these terms led to Backpage processes, described in more detail below, that both ba[...]



If You Want To Find Freedom in Trump's America, Read This Book! (Reason Podcast)

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 19:50:00 -0500

(image) "You probably have a sense—vague as it may be—that the weirdness of American life, and the intractability of its predicaments, large and small, are intimately, inexorably bound up with the craziness of everyday life. It's entirely possible that the motto on our coinage, IN GOD WE TRUST, still captures the most popular response to that. But, increasingly, a more useful motto for us might be 'DEAL WITH IT.'"

A lot of people are unhappy these days, writes James Poulos in his brilliant new book, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us from Ourselves. The hardest cases among us are invested deeply in politics, especially partisan politics. You probably know some longtime Hillary Clinton fans or Democrats who are still struggling to get out of bed since November (maybe you're reading this from bed). But hell, even Republican Trump boosters can't go five minutes without complaining how the world is going to hell for this or that reason. Trump's whole appeal was that he was going to sand the rust off America and make it (and us!) great again.

When you throw in folks who are terrified that global warming is about to swamp the Midwest along with good old-fashioned religious end-timers, just about everybody is convinced these are the last days of modern Rome. Against such a background, Poulos' The Art of Being Free isn't just a pleasant diversion from the dog-eat-dog world of 24/7 news and partisan bickering. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mind, groaning with allusions to history, political science, economics, literature, and pop culture: Socrates, Nietzche, Netflix, The Smashing Pumpkins, Seinfeld, Stendahl, and Scooby-Doo all make appearances in this essay about getting beyond superficial politics to the parts of life that really matter. And along the way, he charts a path that just might lead back to politics that will help us all be free to become whomever we think we want to be.

A late-thirtysomething writer for The Week, National Interest, The Daily Beast, and elsewhere, Poulos talks with Nick Gillespie about how Americans have historically tied ourselves in knots because "we love equality, we want unity, we fear uniformity." Using Tocqueville's Democracy in America as his lantern, he wanders far and wide through today's noisy landscape and brilliantly dispels "the sense of haunted despair" that so many of us wear like our favorite hoodie.

Listen now by clicking below. Subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode (rate and review us while you're there)!

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How a Libertarian Can Win a Congressional Seat in Georgia

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:00 -0500

Election Day 2016 is finally behind us. The shock has worn off, the disappointment has mostly dissipated. Now it's time to pore over the results, drill down to state, county, and even precinct level, and try to glean what we can from the data. From that data, analysts are plotting how to fashion future electoral strategy, and looking for electoral opportunities uncovered by this year's vote totals that might not have been apparent or even have existed before this uncommon election year. Democrats and Republicans have been doing this since November 9, and have been doing so post-election for decades. It's time for Libertarians to start doing this, too. From President-elect Donald Trump's announced cabinet picks, a Libertarian electoral opportunity may already be in the cards: a special election is expected to fill the seat of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary. Price's constituency—Georgia's 6th Congressional District—consists of some of Atlanta's growing, affluent northern suburbs in parts of Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb counties. The potential for Libertarian electoral inroads in Georgia's 6th District—and the potential for Trump's association to cause damage to the Republican brand—starts to crystalize when we look at the district's demographics and how those played out in the 2016 election results. First, a stark fall-off in the Republican vote for president: In 2012 Georgia's 6th District went for GOP nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by a 61 percent to 37.5 percent margin. This year, Trump squeezed past Hillary Clinton by a single percentage point (48 percent to 47 percent) even as Rep. Price was winning re-election with 61 percent of the vote (down from 65 percent in 2012). The Gary Johnson-William Weld Libertarian ticket's solid 5 percent tally in Georgia's 6th District over-performed its statewide and national percentage, stretching past 7 percent in some precincts. Georgia is a state whose upward demographic trends encouraged confident Clinton strategists to talk up as a possible upset. According to The Almanac of American Politics, Georgia's 6th District leads the Peach State in income level, ranking 39th out of 435 congressional districts nationwide. Over half the district's workers are white collar, more than one out of five have put in some post-graduate study. Trump's anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric that riled up white working class voters up in the Rust Belt and Georgia's stagnant rural redoubts turned off thousands upon thousands of business-minded voters in Georgia's 6th District. In the district's Cobb County, Clinton became the first Democrat to carry the county since favorite son Jimmy Carter did so in 1976, attracting 27,000 more votes than Obama earned in 2012. Meanwhile, Trump slumped in the 6th District, tallying 20,000 fewer votes than Romney. Previously considered a "safe Republican" seat, this new data led Roll Call to suggest that the special election in Georgia's 6th District "could offer" an "opportunity for Georgia Democrats." But if wariness of Trump does offer an opportunity, from their post-election rhetorical positioning, Democrats don't seem ready to exploit it. In the wake of Trump's surprise bursting of the "blue firewall" (be it "blue state" or "blue collar"), Democrats are doubling down on their trade-bashing and anti-rich guy rhetoric, seeking to win back the scare points they scored against Republicans for so many decades, when the white working class was the dominant demographic. But bashing big business and billionaires doesn't look like the way to wring out more Democratic votes in a congressional district with a disappearing blue collar work force and an apparent respect for economic success. If the uber-unpopular Hillary Clinton could grow her vote totals significantly past Barack Obama's historic gains in Georgia's 6th District, it clearly wasn't from class warfare appeals to an educated, upwardly mobile suburban electorate. Trump's post-electio[...]



Porn, Abortion, Muslims, and Hillary Clinton: Jeff Sessions Confirmation Hearings Begin

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:15:00 -0500

The Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings into Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) nomination for attorney general began this morning with the nominee being peppered with questions about topics including crime, abortion, porn, mandatory minimums, racism, and potential future investigations into Hillary Clinton. The hearings, which expect to be contentious, began with the typical formal pleasantries and some broad strokes about policy. There were also a few interruptions from members of Code Pink and others dressed as Ku Klux Klan members before both were escorted from the room. In his introduction, Committee Chairman Sen. Check Grassley (R-Iowa) lauded Sessions for his record of public service, but expressed concern over what he characterized as the Justice Department not enforcing existing immigration laws. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) testified on behalf of Sessions, praising his "integrity" and decrying accusations of racism leveled against him. In Sessions' opening statement he cited recent FBI statistics showing an increase in violent crime from 2015 to 2016, but failed to note that the U.S. murder rate is at about where it was in 2008, just before Barack Obama took office, and still less than half of where it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Grassley asked Sessions about critical comments he made during the presidential campaign about Hillary Clinton and the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server. Sessions conceded that the statements he made while serving as a Donald Trump campaign surrogate put "my objectivity in question," and he promised to recuse himself from any prospective investigation into the Clinton or the Clinton Foundation if confirmed as attorney general. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) focused on Sessions' lack of support for hate crime legislation in her opening statement, and later asked Sessions about the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015, and whether he would deny federal funds provided by the act to pay for abortions for victims of rape in sex trafficking. The staunchly pro-life Sessions assured Feinstein that his DOJ would defer to Congress, which passed this law. Feinstein reiterated that the funds in this law are not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds being used for abortion except to save the life of the mother. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Sessions' introduction of a resolution demanding federal obscenity laws be "vigorously enforced throughout the United States." Hatch also cited the Utah legislature's resolution declaring pornography as a "public health problem," and asked if Sessions' still believes anti-obscenity laws should be "vigorously enhanced." Sessions said he would consider reconstituting a special Justice Department unit to prosecute obscenity laws. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grilled Sessions about his vote against a resolution which opposed the U.S. barring anyone from entering the country based on their religion, something Trump had proposed with regards to Muslims during the campaign. Leahy asked the nominee if he agreed with President-elect Trump's stated position, but Sessions pivoted, saying that Trump has since indicated his focus would be on "strong vetting" of people wishing to enter the U.S. from "countries that have a history of terrorism." Sessions also clarified that while he opposes blanket bans on certain religions, he says he voted against the bill because, in his view, certain religious views should be fair game in the vetting process. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Sessions point blank how he feels about being painted as a racist by some prior to the hearings, to which Sessions replied it was "very painful," and that as a Southerner he has witnessed discrimination "in a systematic way" and "we can never go back" to those ways. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) focused on criminal justice reform and mandatory minimum sentencing. Durbin credited Sessions for breaking with members of his party and supporting the reduction i[...]



Congressman Attempts to Meddle in D.C.’s New Assisted Suicide Law

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 11:30:00 -0500

(image) Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) previously attempted to interfere in Washington, D.C.'s legalization of recreational marijuana use, warning City Council that the ballot initiative passed by voters was illegal.

Now Chaffetz is back at it again, trying to block a new law that would respect an individual's right to choose what to do with his or her body. In December, D.C.'s City Council passed a right-to-die law that authorizes doctors to prescribe drugs to aid in assisted suicide.

Chaffetz is the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has the power to intervene and block municipal legislation by D.C. On Monday Chaffetz told the press he opposed the law and planned to introduce a disapproval resolution to try to block it, saying "Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly."

The council member who introduced the legislation, Mary M. Cheh, is not having it. From the Washington Post:

"This is entirely a local matter and he may have philosophical or perhaps even religious objections, but we have made our own choice and it should be respected," Cheh said. "Is he not aware there are a number of other states that have approved this? Why isn't he using his federal powers to intervene with them? It's only because under our degraded democracy there are some members of Congress who think they can use us a plaything."

Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Oregon-based Death with Dignity National Center, said, "Congress has better things to do than meddle with the District's business . . . Representative Chaffetz should stay focused on Utah."

Six states currently legally permit assisted suicide (Utah is not one of them). While Congress has the power to void laws passed by D.C., the Post notes that it's actually relatively rare that it does so, though it can use its appropriation powers to financially meddle with the city's ability to implement laws, like it has attempted in response to the marijuana legalization.

California just recently joined the small group of states permitting assisted suicide. Montana also allows it as the outcome of a state supreme court decision. ReasonTV took a look at the struggle in Montana over who has the authority to decide when you may end your life. Watch below:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CTKZ0HSfQDQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




Government Must Stop Protecting Cow Milk Producers from Competition

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Last month more than 30 Members of Congress wrote a letter to the FDA asking the agency to require makers of non-dairy milks—including almond, rice, and soy—to stop using the term "milk" to describe their milk. The congressional letter is ridiculous, and reeks of a mix of unconstitutional protectionism and unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), who's spearheading the misguided effort, says he's pushing the FDA to act in order "to protect Vermont's dairy farmers." Such action is neither part of the FDA's mission nor job. Neither is it within the agency's power. Thankfully, others agree—and are pushing back. "Terms such as 'soymilk' and 'almond milk' clearly and accurately describe these plant-based beverages," says Nicole Negowetti, policy director with the Good Food Institute, which works to promote and defend plant-based foods, in an email to me this week. "This letter from lawmakers is a thinly veiled attempt to appease the dairy industry, discount consumer choice, and undermine competition by restricting free speech." The dairy industry has been making a living out of seeking government protection against its competitors since, perhaps, the dawn of time. And the federal government (along with state governments) has a long and sordid history of obliging the industry. Examples are this are so legion, and provide such foul evidence of ways the government wrongly protects one segment of the food industry, that I typically devote a whole week of the Food Law & Policy classes I teach to issues of dairy protectionism. Dairy prices too low? No worries. The USDA will buy up your surplus cheese, or pay Domino's to develop a cheesier pizza. Don't like non-dairy coffee creamers competing with your cow-milk creamer? The state will force your competitor to call its products by a bizarre, made-up name—"melloream"—that no one would ever buy. Problem solved. No lesser an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on government protection of dairy producers. In the late 1890s, the Court got it right, overturning a trio of mind-numbingly awful states' laws restricting the production and sale of margarine. In the 1930s, in a case many scholars argue forms much of the basis of modern law—take that for exactly what it's worth—the Court ruled Congress had the power to ban the sale of a dairy-milk substitute, Milnut. More recently, powerful dairy groups like the National Milk Producers Federation have attempted to use their considerable clout, as I note in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, to compel the FDA "to bar foods such as almond milk, soy milk, and other plant-based drinks from using the term 'milk' to describe their non-dairy milk." Enter Rep. Welch and his colleagues, to the rescue. I have an alternate proposal: If the FDA is going to take a hard look at use of the term "milk," it should probably look past soy milk and almond milk and look instead at the carve-out that exists for the unmodified use of the term by dairy cow makers alone. "Milk" today means cow's milk and cow's milk alone. It shouldn't. Americans are drinking many types of milk they've long consumed—cow, goat, camel, etc.—and newer types as well, including almond, coconut, hemp, rice, and soy. Rules that reserve use of the term "milk" for dairy-cow milk alone, at a time when Americans drink so many different types of milks, may be misleading. Perhaps rules should be established that force dairy-cow makers to modify their use of the term "milk" with the word "cow," in a way that would be consistent with every other use of the term ("goat milk," "almond milk," etc.). Perhaps not, too. While I'm confident my argument in favor of such rules is stronger than that of those like Rep. Welch who have set their sights on soy milk, we don't need more dumb rules. We need fewer. That said, from this day forwa[...]



Did the Libertarian Party Blow It in 2016?

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:00:00 -0500

Objectively speaking, 2016 was the Libertarian Party's best year ever. It was also a savage disappointment. On the positive side, the presidential ticket of two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts, received more than 4.46 million votes, amounting (as of press time) to 3.28 percent of the national haul, smashing the party's previous highs of 1.28 million and 1.06 percent, respectively. The L.P. nominee was on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the first time since 2000, and he outperformed the Green Party's Jill Stein in each one. "We are the only political party in the country that's growing," Libertarian Party National Chair Nicholas Sarwark crowed the morning after the election. "We've tripled our vote totals [over] 2012.…We control a bloc of the electorate that covers the spread in almost all if not all of the battleground states. We've beaten the other third party...in every single state." For the first time, the L.P. now has more than a half-million registered voters. The Johnson/Weld campaign raised around $12 million, according to internal accounts (the final Federal Election Commission reports have not yet been filed). That destroys the previous record of $3.5 million, set in 1980 (and $2.1 million of the 1980 total came from billionaire vice-presidential candidate David Koch). The national party pulled in nearly $3 million in additional donations this year, too. U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska received 30 percent of the vote in his race, the highest such total in party history—especially impressive as he had both a Republican and a Democratic opponent. (Generally, if an L.P. candidate for any legislative seat gets double-digit percentages, it's because one of the major parties sat the race out.) GOP defections in 2016 also gave the L.P. sitting state legislators in Nevada, Nebraska, and Utah. All told, the party has come a long way since its founding in 1971, when a small gang of dreamers hoped it would become a vehicle to get press attention for libertarian ideas. Still, measured against expectations—let alone the basic standard that successful political parties must win elections—the Libertarian Party had its most disappointing year ever. "We wanted to win, and we didn't achieve that goal," Johnson's campaign manager, Ron Nielson, acknowledged shortly after the election. "We were hoping to get into the presidential debate, and no matter how hard we tried we could not achieve that goal. After that our goal was to get 5 percent, and for the last 45 days we pushed toward that effort, which was entirely achievable but for the fact that the election came down to such a tight margin between Clinton and Trump. That put pressure on third-party support, and a lot of Johnson support moved in the end toward Trump, or possibly chose not to participate." While 3.28 percent marked an all-time high for the party, it was also just a third of the campaign's highest polling average, which came in late July. All summer long Johnson had avoided the typical third-party fade, with such forecasters as FiveThirtyEight projecting a finish higher than 7 percent for months on end. But the plates came crashing down over the final eight weeks, prompting much anguish and fingerpointing among activists and supporters. "The Libertarian Party," wrote 2016 L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen on Election Day, "has blown a chance that it may never have again in my lifetime." There was plenty of bad news to go along with Johnson's late collapse. One of the party's sitting state legislators, Utah Sen. Mark Madsen, did not run for re-election and will be gone in January. A second, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, suffered what might be a historic mangling for an incumbent, finishing a distant third place with just 7 percent of the vote. (The third legislator, Nebraska Sen. Laura Ebke,[...]



Hillary Clinton Likely Lost Because More Democrats Stayed Home

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 12:32:00 -0500

Stop the presses. Turns out it wasn't Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin that cost Hillary Clinton her spot in the Oval Office, it was the fact that a significantly greater number of registered Democrats than Republicans just stayed home rather than cast a ballot for the former secretary of state. Of the approximately 100,000 registered voters who took a post-election SurveyMonkey poll, over 3,600 were non-voters, according to FiveThirtyEight. Unsurprisingly, about 90 percent of registered Democrats and Republicans voted for their party's candidate, and the data also shows a preference for unaffiliated voters for Clinton—which is partly why the conventional wisdom narrative immediately formulated around the theory that third party voters had selfishly denied Clinton her rightful ascendance to the presidency. But hang on. All the ballots cast for third party candidates combined only amounted to a little more than about 7,000,000, yet according to the SurveyMonkey poll, 35 percent of registered voters who didn't vote self-identified as Democrats. Self-identified Republicans who didn't vote amounted to only 32 percent of the total. FiveThirtyEight summarizes the consequences here: That means that had the non-voters cast a ballot in accordance with their party identification, Clinton's advantage over Trump nationally would have expanded by about 2 to 3 percentage points. That almost certainly would have been enough to flip enough states for her to win the Electoral College. Throughout 2016, polls indicated that voters found Trump and Clinton to be the least popular major party presidential candidates in history, and this latest poll confirmed that dislike of both candidates was the biggest factor for non-voters in deciding to opt out of the choice. The SurveyMonkey poll also showed Trump and Clinton earning favorability ratings in the low 30s among non-voters, and only in the low 40s among people who actually voted for one of them. Clinton was unable to motivate key Democratic demographic groups to vote for her. The poll found that non-whites amounted to about 42 percent of non-voters, but just 25 percent of voters. Worse for Clinton, black voters abandoned her in dramatic numbers. In 2016 black non-voters outnumbered black voters—a reverse of 2012's results—and 46 percent of black voters under the age of 30 (who tended to favor Bernie Sanders to Clinton far more than older black voters) did not vote in this past election. Trump, for his part, was able to turn out significantly higher numbers of white voters without a college degree than Mitt Romney did in 2012, which FiveThirtyEight writes is "pretty remarkable that a group of voters that is shrinking as a percentage of the population made up a larger share of the electorate in 2016 than in 2012." It's unlikely this inconvenient (for Clinton supporters) data will change any minds about which non-compliant voters cost Clinton "her turn" in the White House. After all, almost two decades later Democrats are still blaming Ralph Nader for costing Al Gore the 2000 election, but have engaged in precious little soul-searching over the fact that Gore lost his own state or that more Florida Democrats voted for George W. Bush than Nader by a factor of 12:1. But the data is there in case Democrats ever want to consider that candidates matter, and not just the candidate you're running against.[...]



3 Things Congress Got Wrong in its Fetal Tissue Report

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 11:45:00 -0500

This week marks the end of the House of Representatives panel looking into fetal-tissue procurement by U.S. research companies. Using tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research is legal in America, though profiting off the sale of said tissue is illegal. Despite a 15-months-long investigation into Planned Parenthood practices regarding tissue from aborted fetuses, the now-disbanded Select Investigative Panel could not show that the nonprofit health-care conglomerate made a profit off of fetal-tissue provided to researchers. The panel's final report suggests that fetal-tissue procurement companies DV Biologicas and StemExpress may have violated this no-profit mandate, but the most it said about Planned Parenthood was that one of its hundreds of clinics, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, "may have violated both Texas Law and U.S. Law when it sold fetal tissue to the University of Texas" by using an imprecise or unapproved method of determining reimbursement costs. The matter was referred to the Texas Attorney General's Office. Still, the panel recommended that Planned Parenthood be barred from accepting Medicare patients going forward (a move Republicans have misleadingly described as "defunding" Planned Parenthood) and that the National Institutes of Health stop funding fetal tissue research. "Human fetal tissue research makes a vanishingly small contribution to clinical and research efforts," the panel's final 413-page report states. But as Science writer Meredith Wadman points out, several key statements used to support the assertion that the impact of fetal-tissue research has been negligent are wholly and demonstrably false. Wadman, a veteran science journalist with a medical degree from the University of Oxford, dissected three of these false claims yesterday, starting with the statement that "in over 100 years of unrestricted clinical research, human fetal tissue has failed to provide a single medical treatment." In fact, "several important medicines now on the market were created using fetal tissue," notes Wadman. "Amgen's Enbrel battles rheumatoid arthritis; Genentech's Pulmozyme helps children with cystic fibrosis clear the thick mucus that clogs their lungs; and Nuwiq, made by Octapharma, treats boys and men with hemophilia, a life-threatening bleeding disorder." Equally untrue: the Congressional panel's claim that "none of the nearly 75 vaccine formulations currently licensed in the United States is produced using human fetal tissue." In reality, "the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, derived from two fetuses that were aborted, respectively, in 1962 in Sweden and in 1966 in the United Kingdom, are used to produce" quite a few vaccines that are licensed and marketed in the U.S., notes Wadman. These include vaccines for rabies, chicken pox, shingles, Hepatitis A, polio, rubella, and the adenovirus, produced by pharmaceutical companies including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Pasteur. Along these same lines, the report's claim that "human fetal tissue has never been used to make the polio vaccine" is inccorect. Swedish scientists used fetal cells to develop and propagate polio vaccines in the 1950s; Yugoslavia did so in the 1960s; and U.S. polio vaccines made by Pfizer in the 1970s were derived from fetal-cell lines. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur still uses polio vaccines derived from cells from an aborted fetus.[...]



Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) Wants to Repeal Gun-Free School Zones Act

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 23:10:00 -0500

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has relaunched the Congressional Second Amendment Caucus, as I reported last month. Today he announces the re-introduction of an old Ron Paul bill to further the Caucus' goals, this one to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (as amended after aspects of the original bill were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court under the Commerce Clause in U.S. v. Lopez. The usual handwaving about how the guns affected by law must have moved in or just "affected" interstate commerce was added in 1996.).

(image)

This Massie bill, H.R. 34, is being called the "Safe Students Act."

From a press release draft emailed from his office today:

"Gun-free school zones are ineffective. They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments," said Massie. "Gun-free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals."

The Safe Students Act has garnered the support of three major gun organizations: National Association for Gun Rights, Gun Owners of America, and the National Rifle Association...

Cosponsors include: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX).

Gun free zones are clearly not going to prevent anyone with the plan or intent of committing violent mayhem with a gun, and if we assume any rationality on the part of such a would-be spree killer, one can assume on the margin the promise of a zone where the law-abiding have legally been disarmed increases the likelihood of attracting such a killer.

It's conceivable that not having a gun around might prevent some sudden act of momentary anger from turning tragic in some imagined case. But as Jacob Sullum wrote here in 2015, armed self-defense in public against armed killers can and does happen, though thankfully the conditions under which it might ever need to happen are still vanishingly rare.




The New York Times' Hypocrisy on Budget Reconciliation to Repeal ObamaCare

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 11:15:00 -0500

The editors of The New York Times are running an editorial today warning "Republicans Are Courting Disaster on Health Care" that generally decries the "repeal and delay" strategy for eliminating ObamaCare that appears to be emerging among the GOP denizens of Capitol Hill. And surely there are concerns about how such a ploy would affect insurance markets. The editors are especially in high dudgeon over a parliamentary strategy to which the Republicans in the Senate might have to resort in order overcome the cloture requirement for 60 votes to end debate and take a vote on legislation. From The Times: With a narrow 52-to-48 majority in the Senate, Republicans are seeking to evade a Democratic filibuster by instructing congressional committees to draft a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the tax and spending provisions of the A.C.A., gutting the law and increasing the deficit. ... It should perhaps come as no surprise that zealots would resort to using a budgetary maneuver to fundamentally change national policy. Of course, this is precisely the same manuever that Democrats used back in 2010 to pass vital parts of the legislation that created the structure of ObamaCare. Briefly, versions of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) passed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives when the Senate Democrats had 60 seat majority which enabled them to avoid a Republican filibuster. However, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) died and Republican Scott Brown won his seat. Generally, differences in House and Senate bills have to be hammered out in conference committees and then voted on again. In this case, the Democrats knew that since they no longer had a 60 vote majority, they would not be able to pass a bill that had undergone the conference committee process. So the House Democratic majority voted on March 21, 2010 to accept the Senate bill without any changes on condition that the Senate would pass another bill that incorporated the changes that the House Democratic members wanted. In order to satisfy the demands of the House Democrats, the Senate Democrats cobbled together the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act and passed it as a budget reconciliation bill which takes only a simple majority to pass. That "budget reconciliation" passed both Houses on March 26, 2010. In other words, the Democrats in 2010 used the same procedure to complete ObamaCare that The Times is now denouncing the Republicans for planning to use to repeal aspects of ObamaCare. Back in February 2010, The Times reported: White House officials and their allies in liberal advocacy groups are making an all-out push to persuade Congress and the public that budget reconciliation is a legitimate procedure used often in the last 30 years to pass major legislation, including President Ronald Reagan's domestic agenda in 1981, an overhaul of welfare programs in 1996 and President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he knew those precedents. But, he said, they amount to "peanuts compared with this total restructuring of one-sixth of the economy." The No. 2 Republican in the House, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, asked the House Democratic leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, to renounce use of the budget reconciliation procedure for health care. But in an exchange on the House floor on Friday, Mr. Hoyer refused to do so. Use of the procedure is "in the Republican tradition," Mr. Hoyer said. In any event, he said, Senate rules requiring a 60-vote majority to cut off a filibuster "are impeding the work of the American people." I may have missed it, but my search to find a op-ed from The Times in 2010 denouncing Democratic "zealots" for using this proc[...]



Libertarian-leaning Montana State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov is Thinking About Montana's One Federal House Seat

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 21:35:00 -0500

Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican state House member in Montana representing part of Billings, made some waves when he endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson for president. As Matt Welch reported in July, Zolnikov and fellow Montana Republican Nicholas Schwaderer (R-Mineral County) said that especially on spending and 4th Amendment issues, Johnson was clearly superior to Donald Trump. Now Trump is about to be president, and wants Montana's sole sitting federal House member, Ryan Zinke, to be his secretary of the interior. If Zinke gets nominated, Montana will need to hold a special election to fill his seat. Zolnikov said in a phone interview today that he is "strongly considering" a run for the seat. Rather than a statewide primary vote, in which Zolnikov expects he'd do well, the GOP's nominee for such a special election will be chosen by a vote of the state party's Central Committee, according to the Party's state chair Jeff Essmann on the state GOP's website. In such a situation, where Party insiders make the choice, Zolnikov's open rebellion against his Party's (successful) presidential candidate could hurt. But Zolnikov doesn't expect it to necessarily scuttle him. The Central Committee has membership weighted to county population, Zolnikov says, and the county he is from, Yellowstone, is the most populated in the state. His primary objection to Trump, he said in this week's interview, is related to spending. But Zolnikov's legislative career since first winning office in 2012 shows a strong interest in other liberty issues where Trump's Republican Party is unlikely to be of much support, including due process and privacy. Zolnikov says Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is his favorite sitting federal legislator. Zolnikov's says he thinks his opposition to Trump could play out different ways with different Republicans. "Some people might be angry, some people might not care, some people might believe we need some solid checks and balances on the guy. They might like it that I wouldn't just be a yes man" in the House to a President Trump. The composition of the central committee is changing between now and when such a vote on a Republican candidate for a special election would occur, he says, so he's not sure how that will play out. One of his prides as a representative is how he's spent "a year of my life" knocking on voters' doors and he doesn't think being anti-Trump would be poison with a general electorate should he get the Party's nomination. (He won his state House seat this year with 69 percent of the vote, after getting 71 percent in 2014, with what he says is a significantly redistricted electorate.) How might he explain his Trump opposition to doubtful Republicans? "I am a firm believer that the legislative branch is there to keep the executive branch and judicial branch in check, we are all there to keep each other in check, and I think that will be as important in the next four years as it was in the last eight," he says. "Do we want a larger government that one day the Democrats will take control of, or a smaller government that does not violate our rights? I think that will resonate with lots of people." Trump's apparent lack of concern with expanding spending and exploding the debt further, with his belief that we can just print more money whenever we need it, are what most alarm Zolnikov. He'd relish an opportunity to be the "a-hole in the room who can say what needs to be said" in Congress to spell out that "our fiscal situation is not pretty, we can't keep spending and spending." How well does he expect to do? He can't really judge that now, he says, thinking it depends very much on the nature and popularity of the other people who ultimately decide to also seek the Party's nomination. Zolnikov praised in Zinke a qualit[...]



House Report: ‘Any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest’

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 15:15:00 -0500

Bipartisan members of an Encryption Working Group connected to the House's Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees have put out a year-end report pushing for American policies that support and defend strong data encryption. Sure it's just a report and not an indicator of where policy might end up, but it's important in the wake of the United Kingdom passing a new surveillance bill that gives its government the authority to order tech and communication companies to provide back doors or bypasses in order to access encrypted data. The report was signed by ten members of the House, five from each party. After meeting and discussing issues and concerns with various parties over the past six months, they concluded the year with four observations. This first observation is exactly what's up in the headline: Weakening encryption harms our national interest. Even government officials within the national security community agreed: [S]takeholders from all perspectives acknowledged the importance of encryption to our personal, economic, and national security. Representatives of the national security community told the EWG [Encryption Working Group] that strong encryption is vital to the national defense and to securing vital assets, such as critical infrastructure. Civil society organizations highlighted the importance of encryption for individual privacy, freedom of speech, human rights, and protection against government intrusion at home and abroad. Private sector stakeholders—in particular, their information security officers—and members of the academic community approached the question from an engineering perspective—against a wide array of threats, foreign and domestic, encryption is one of the strongest cybersecurity tools available. The second observation was simply a reminder that encryption tools are developed internationally and that the government probably can't actually control access to it anyway. The end result could actually make the law enforcement "going dark" problem even worse: Encryption technology is free, widely available, and often open source.5 Law enforcement stakeholders acknowledged to the EWG that a Congressional mandate with respect to encryption—requiring companies to maintain exceptional access to data for law enforcement agencies, for example—would apply only to companies within the United States. The consequences for such a policy may be profound, but they are not likely to prevent bad actors from using encryption. The group's third observation is to warn that there's no "one-size fits all" solution to dealing with encryption to the extent that it presents a challenge to law enforcement and anti-terror information gathering. Without directly saying so, it's a crack at the absurdly vague legislation crafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) that simply ordered tech companies to assist law enforcement in bypassing and compromising their own security whenever a judge told them to. The final observation is a bland call for cooperation between tech companies and law enforcement. They do notice that part of the problem involves communication. They seem to kind of be diplomatically suggesting that law enforcement agencies think they can just demand tech companies give them information and don't understand why that doesn't work: Stakeholders from all sides were nearly unanimous in describing a significant gap in the technical knowledge and capabilities of the law enforcement community, particularly at the state and local levels. This results in a range of negative consequences that not only hinder law enforcement's ability to pursue investigations but also contribute to its tension with the technology community. For example, from the per[...]



The Unkillable Two-Party System

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 06:00:00 -0500

The unprecedentedly bizarre presidential election we have just survived taught us many unpleasant lessons. Among the most startling was the extent to which, even in a year dominated by voter revulsion at the two leading candidates, the two-party mindset nonetheless continued to maintain a powerful magnetic pull on the actions and reactions of so many people. Consider Bill Maher's treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback created a national stir in August by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, explaining: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.…There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." There were follow-up controversies about Kaepernick wearing game socks that portrayed cops as cartoon pigs, about the correlation between anthem protests and plunging NFL TV ratings, and about his truly terrible performance on the field in two blowout losses. But what infuriated the HBO comedian to the point that he called Kaepernick a "fucking idiot"? This: After the first presidential debate, the QB noted that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are "proven liars" and suggested that the election was about "the lesser of two evils." Also a "fucking idiot" in Maher's view: Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, who unlike Clinton and Trump has positions similar to Maher's on civil liberties and war. But after The New York Times in September published a scare story about how Johnson-leaning millennials might throw the election away from the presumably entitled Clinton, supposedly independent-thinking comedians of all stripes had a unanimous message to their fans: Don't even think third party. Stephen Colbert called Johnson "laughable." HBO's John Oliver said the Libertarian was "around 80 percent sure that he's running for president." And all three comics were just as harsh on Green Party nominee Jill Stein. Fewer and fewer voters are buying into this dreary us vs. them shtick—the percentage of people who self-identified as "independents" at mid-September of an election year has increased since 2004 from 29 to 35 to 38 to 40, according to Gallup—but that still leaves three-fifths of the adult population with a Pavlovian impulse to mobilize against the Other Guy every time someone bangs the "most important election of our lifetimes" gong. Human hearts, no matter how damaged, wrong, or plain cruel, can always be changed. More challenging is to uproot what might be called the ghost architecture of the two-party system, the hidden edifices that trap us in a political duopoly. Ballot access laws, the bane to every third party's existence, are written, enforced, and interpreted by politicians with primary affiliations to the Democratic and Republican parties. In September, Florida's Division of Elections, which reports directly to GOP Gov. Rick Scott, ruled that independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin, who had been nominated legally by the Independent Party of Florida, would nonetheless not appear on the November ballot. Why? Because, in a reversal of an order given five years before, the state suddenly decided that qualifying political parties had to be one of the 13 officially recognized "national parties" in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, even though states obviously have the legal leeway to set their own election guidelines. "Now that the [major] parties are suffering in Florida and are less powerful," Ballot Access News guru Richard Winger told Politico, "the state feels it can change the rule with impunity." Blocking out a candidate who takes most of his support from Republicans was a blatant attempt [...]



Are 'Russian Hacks' the New 'WMDs'?

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 08:30:00 -0500

The Russians have hacked our democracy! At least, that's been the chorus from much of the American media following anonymous reports on a secretive CIA assessment of the 2016 presidential election. Even President Obama has started to beat the drums of "cyberwar," announcing last Friday that the U.S. must "take action" against the Russian government for "impacting the integrity of our elections." This is some tough talk given the very tenuous evidence offered so far about Russia's alleged influence. Obviously, it is crucial that America maintain a fair electoral process—flawed though "democracy" may be—and the prospect of a foreign power deliberately sabotaging this can strike a primal fear in Americans' hearts. Yet this kind of mass anxiety can also be opportunistically stoked by government operatives to further their own agendas, as history has demonstrated time and again. Responsible Americans must therefore approach claims made by unnamed intelligence officials—and the muddying media spin on them—with clear eyes and cool heads. And we must demand that these extraordinary claims be backed by appropriate evidence, lest we allow ourselves to be lead into another CIA-driven foreign fiasco. So, let's start by separating reporting from spin. What, exactly, is being claimed here? Back in October, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into American political organizations in order to influence the presidential election. In early December, The Washington Post went a step further, reporting on a secret CIA assessment that Russia intervened specifically to help Donald Trump win. Citing only anonymous "officials briefed on the matter," the Post wrote that "individuals with connections to the Russian government" provided Wikileaks with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails, exposing the party's sordid underbelly to the world. The next week, another gaggle of unnamed intelligence officials would tell NBC News that the rascally Vladimir Putin personally directed the hacks. Later reports scaled back some of these claims. Reuters, for instance, cited more unnamed intelligence officials who claimed that other intelligence bodies dispute the CIA's conclusions. Russia might have hacked us, they think, but we can't know that it was specifically to help Donald Trump. Then The Washington Post rustled up yet another batch of unnamed officials, who cited an internal memo from CIA Director John Brennan claiming that FBI Director James Comey is on the same page. Neither the FBI nor the CIA has publicly commented upon such stories, and they refuse to brief congressional intelligence panels on the hacks. Meanwhile, Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange broke the site's longstanding prohibition against discussing sources to deny that Wikileaks received the explosive leaks from the Russian government. There are quite a few problems with the claims made by this veritable army of unnamed intelligence agents, as we'll soon discuss. And media commentators often confused the situation further with muddying rhetoric and bombastic leaps of logic. Somewhere along the way, earlier campaign paranoia that Russia could hack into voting machines morphed into the rhetorically useful but epistemologically questionable soundbite that "Russia hacked our election." Consider the Clinton supporters. Rather than doing some soul-searching about their candidate's revealed corruption and amazing tone-deafness to the concerns of the American working class, these petty partisans prefer to just blame Putin instead. Indeed, Clinton herself took to the podium to declare that the Russian president "has a personal beef" with her.[...]