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Published: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 13:44:41 -0400


Senate Republicans Aim to Block New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rule

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:10:00 -0400

Congress has used the Congressional Review Act to repeal a variety of Obama-era rules this year. Senate Republicans now plan to use it to strike a blow against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and its director, Richard Cordray. Cordray's bureau filed a new rule on July 10 that would stop banks, credit card companies, and payday lenders from using arbitration to settle disputes with customers, thus making it easier for consumers to take financial institutions to court. The regulation is set to take effect next March, Bloomberg reports. But only if Congress allows it. Twenty-four Republican members of the U.S. Senate filed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution yesterday that would block the rule. "Members of Congress previously expressed concerns with the proposed version of the rulemaking—concerns that were not addressed in the final rule," Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee explained in a statement announcing the resolution. "By ignoring requests from Congress to reexamine the rule and develop alternatives between the status quo and effectively eliminating arbitration, the CFPB has once again proven a lack of accountability." Some activists have jumped to defend the regulation. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said today that the rule "helps consumers hold big banks and other financial companies accountable"; the group accused members of Congress of being in a "desperate rush" to undo it so consumers can be ripped off by financial institutions. Such reactions ignore how the federal government is supposed to operate. It's the duly elected members of Congress who should get the final say on laws, not unelected (and potentially unconstitutionally appointed) heads of executive branch agencies who are unaccountable to the people or to other branches of government. "Congress, not King Richard Cordray, writes the laws," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) in a statement supporting the CRA resolution. "This resolution is a good place for Congress to start reining in one of Washington's most powerful bureaucracies." The CFPB's regulation was pitched as a way to level the playing field for consumers, but the justification for the new rule is based on a single study that has been widely criticized for failing to fully consider the consequences of such a shift. It did not address, for example, whether consumers would in fact collect larger settlements after attorneys' fees were deducted from the outcome. Switching to a system that relies more heavily on the courts instead of arbitration may deliver a big payday to trial lawyers, but it would leave consumers worse off in the long term, Republican senators argue. Under the Congressional Review Act, a simple majority of both houses of Congress can block any executive branch regulation or rulemaking within 60 days of its announcement. As Reason's Matt Welch has detailed, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have used the act this year to wipe at least 14 Obama-era rules off the books, including: The "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces" rule, which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor, or workplace safety laws. That regulation, derided by critics as "blacklisting," was already held up in court. A Bureau of Land Management rule, known as "Planning 2.0," that gave the federal government a bigger role in land use decisions. The rule was opposed by the energy industry. Two regulations on measuring school performance and teacher training under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law Obama signed in 2015 with bipartisan support. As Bloomberg notes, there's no guarantee that the bill will pass, given the current congressional struggles over passing Obamacare and a federal budget. Congress is also in the process of rewriting major portions of Dodd-Frank and potentially reconfiguring the CFPB. That effort, contained within the Financial Choice Act, cleared the House last month but is currently stalled in the Senate.[...]

Open the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:31:00 -0400

(image) Hurray for the editorial board at the Washington Post! On Sunday, they published a op-ed forthrightly urging Congress and the Trump administration to move forward on opening the long-stalled Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada.

"It's past time the opposition was sidelined for good," the op-ed declares. "The nation's nuclear regulators have found that technical hurdles can be overcome; the biggest barriers to developing the site are political. Congress should re-fund Yucca Mountain and finally end this gratuitous fight."

More than 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is being stored at nuclear power plants scattered across the countryside. It wasn't supposed to be that way. The plan was to send it all to the Yucca Mountain which was slated to open in 1998.

Since 1982, some $15 billion has been spent on preliminary study and work on the facility. Every environmental impact assessment has found that the repository would be safe for people and the environment. Opposed by environmental activists and the Nevada congressional delegation the facility was mothballed in 2010 by the Obama administration.

Now the Trump administration has asked congress to appropriate $120 million to restart the licensing process for the facility. In late June, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 49 to 4 on a bill that would move along the stalled Yucca Mountain approval process.

Next up: Trump should appoint Nuclear Regulatory Commission members who actually favor nuclear power and direct them to cut through the regulatory embellishments that are stymieing the development of new and safer nuclear power plants.

McCain and the Trump-Russia Dossier: What Did He Know, and When?

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Did John McCain and a controversial D.C. lobbying group conspire to get the infamous "pee dossier" into the hands of the press? A lawsuit making its way through court in the UK hopes to determine just what role the senator and his associates had in making the lurid dossier public. New filings in the lawsuit, obtained by McClatchy, detail how David Kramer—employed by the nonprofit and purportedly non-political McCain Institute—acted as a representative of McCain in the Arizona senator's dealings on sensitive intelligence measures. It also reveals that McCain was one of a just few people with whom the dossier's author, ex-British spy Christopher Steele, shared a copy of his final findings. So how did they get from there to publication in Buzzfeed? One possible—and intriguing—pathway lies with Orion Strategies, a group known for using the media and the McCain machinery to lobby on behalf of foreign governments. While the Steele suit doesn't mention Orion, a closer look at the two-man lobbying shop showcases too-close-for-comfort ties to many principal players in the dossier's leak and a long history of influencing McCain policy and press coverage when it comes to Russia-related issues. By now we know the basics behind the dubious document: it was prepared by Steele in December, largely from work done between June and November 2016 for Fusion GPS, a D.C.-based political consulting firm. Fusion was paid first by anti-Trump Republicans and later by Hillary Clinton supporters to produce evidence of Trump's alleged financial and political ties to Russia. In January 2017, a leaked copy of the dossier was published by Buzzfeed, under the editorial direction of Ben Smith. Smith said the document was obtained by reporter Ken Bensinger and vociferously defended Buzzfeed's decision to run a document it called "not just unconfirmed" but also inclusive of "clear" errors. "This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country," Smith said on Meet the Press. It was McCain who gave the FBI the dossier, in December. It alleges the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to "hack" the U.S. election. "The Russian regime had been behind the leak of embarrassing email messages emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the Wikileaks platform," and as a result Trump had agreed to "sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue," the dossier claimed. It also claimed Trump had personally commissioned a "golden showers" show from Russian sex workers. A federal investigation was reportedly underway before McCain handed over the dossier, but his copy was a more complete version than the one obtained earlier by U.S. intelligence agencies. McCain said he turned over the document out of civic duty. "I received that information from a credible source and I thought the only thing for me to do would be to give to the FBI," he told Fox News in January. Having it and doing nothing "would be a breach of my oath of office." Yet McCain's well-known feud with Trump, his longtime advocacy against Russia, and a possible personal beef with the firm behind the dossier—Fusion was also paid by Russia to push for the repeal of sanctions authored by McCain as part of the Magnitsky Act—provide reason to suspect altruism may not have been McCain's sole motive. It was "late summer/August 2016" when Steele began briefing reporters on his research, according to a recent document filed by Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, in response to the lawsuit Aleksei Gubarev filed against them. Gubarev, a Russian venture capitalist, claims he and his companies (Webzilla BV, Webzilla Limited, and XBT Holding S.A.) were falsely identified as part of the DNC hacking operation in the dossier authored by Steele and published by Buzzfeed. Steele's company first began working with Fusion back in 2010, according to what he told the court. In 2016, he began work on Fusion's Trump opposition-research[...]

There's No Harm in Fantasizing About a Better Future

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 14:03:00 -0400

In Radicals for Utopia, published last month, journalist Jamie Bartlett profiles Zoltan Istvan, who ran for president under the Transhumanist Party's banner in 2016. Along with several other journalists, Bartlett traveled across the southwest on Istvan's "immortality bus" (a rickety camper shaped like a coffin-slash-log cabin), and watched Istvan preach the gospel of transhumanism to fellow futurists and skeptics alike. "Transhumanist science is undeniably exciting and fast-moving," Bartlett writes of watching Istvan tell a half-empty auditorium in Las Vegas that humanity will conquer death within 15 to 25 years. "But the science is not almost there." He knocks Istvan for "flit[ting] with misleading ease between science and fiction, taking any promising piece of research as proof of victory." In another scene, Bartlett channels the frustration of other futurists who have tired of the transhumanism project altogether. "Transhumanists have been promising us jetpacks and immortality," one biohacker tells Bartlett. "We're sick of [their] bullshit promises." Later, we learn that Istvan is not particularly liked by even other transhumanists, that he is terrible at leading a political party, and that the chief goal of his campaign was to get people to pay attention to him. In other words, that he is like every other person who has ever run for president. After painting Istvan as bumbling (when the immortality bus breaks down) and unscientific (when he expresses enthusiasm for cryogenics), Bartlett describes him as something like a villain. "Transhumanism feels like the perfect religion for a modern, selfish age; an extension of society's obsession with individualism, perfection and youth," he writes. He accuses Istvan of "ignor[ing] current problems and overlook[ing] the negative consequences of rapidly advancing technology." It's an odd claim considering Istvan's presidential platform called for "the complete dismantlement and abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere, as rapidly as possible." Nuclear weapons were once a rapidly advancing technology, they are currently a problem, and Istvan seems to be quite concerned about their negative consequences. It's an even odder claim considering that the people who are dedicating themselves to the problems du jour don't seem capable of actually fixing any of them. Last I checked, the Israelis and Palestinians are still at it. Al Qaeda, too. The world is less poor than it once was, but there are still three-quarters of a billion people living in extreme poverty. In the U.S., black lives still matter less than blue and white ones. Is this really transhumanism's fault? What would Bartlett have Istvan do? Go back in time and donate the money he spent on the Immortality Bus to Hillary Clinton? Bartlett then tells us that many other technologists and intellectuals are opposed to the world Istvan hopes one day to live (forever) in. Elon Musk "declared AI to be comparable to summoning the Devil," he writes. "Stephen Hawking said 'the development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.'" Francis Fukuyama "called transhumanism 'the world's most dangerous idea.'" Artificial intelligence seems to worry Barlett more than Istvan's other enthusiasms. He notes that self-driving cars will likely displace human truckers and that drones will displace human warehouse workers. Apparently, no one wants to live in a world where poor little boys and girls can't realize their dreams of living out of a long-haul cab and inhaling particulates in storage facilities. All things considered, Bartlett's treatment of Istvan the candidate is fair. Anyone who desires the powers of the presidency deserves, at the very least, to have his or her vision for the job harshly interrogated. And many aspects of Istvan's vision are pie in the sky. But the techno fear-mongering throughout the rest of the chapter feels off. Everyone can't be expected to worry about everything, and there are plenty of people in Silicon Val[...]

The Union of Politics and Professional Wrestling

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 12:00:00 -0400

ROCKY: "Why'd you get so crazy on me out there?" HULK HOGAN (THUNDERLIPS): "That's the name of the game." — Rocky III How fitting it is that professional wrestling is turning to partisan politics at the same time partisan politics has descended to professional wrestling. Last week attention focused on Daniel Harnsberger, a Richmond real-estate agent who wrestles as The Progressive Liberal. It's a great schtick, and Harnsberger has fun with it. "I know how you stupid Trump voters think," he says in one video. "Allow me to illustrate: 'Dur-dur-dur, I love coal. Dur-dur-dur, I love mountains.'" This makes Harnsberger a natural "heel," as they say in the business: the bad guy in a match, who squares off against the good guy, known as the "face." Generalizations are dangerous, but it's probably fair to say a Venn diagram of the pro-wrestling-fan demographic and the progressive-liberal demographic shows little overlap. Thing is, Harnsberger really is a progressive liberal. When he says Bernie Sanders would make a great secretary of state and Donald Trump is a con man, he means it. Hence Harnsberger is acting out a role, but not entirely. He is an entertainer, but he is also making a point. The same holds true for a lot of people. It certainly holds true of cable news networks, which mimic the pro-wrestling format by having, or at least strongly implying, a good side and a bad side. On Fox, Trump is the face and liberals are the heel. On MSNBC, the roles are reversed. But the script reads much the same. The same goes for entertainers such as Samantha Bee and Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson. And the guests who appear on their shows. Sometimes the guest is the heel. Sometimes he or she is another face, brought on to tag-team the other side. Either way, the straw men always get the stuffing beat out of them. The personalities are playing roles, but the roles are not entirely imaginary; they are simply made-for-TV exaggerations, and when one of the characters makes a point, he or she is also stating an actual belief—albeit one that might be stripped of all nuance and doubt for the sake of audience loyalty. Political campaigns increasingly resemble pro wrestling, too: The rivalries are theatrically exaggerated, the rhetoric over-the-top. Every candidate is always "the most extreme" liberal or conservative ever to run for the office, according to his or her opponent. Every election is always "the most important" in our lifetime, according to all sides. Everything is hyped almost to the point of parody. In this world, then, perhaps we should not be surprised that Donald Trump has done so well. Nor should we be surprised that he has refused to inhabit the role of president in the manner of previous presidents, by assuming a mantle of gravitas and greatness. He already is playing a role that works quite well for him. Trump's antics look absurd in the traditional political realm, but they fit the world of pro wrestling perfectly. His ridiculously bombastic boasts about his own greatness are a standard part of the pro-wrestling repertoire. The puerile, high-volume insults he hurls at his chosen targets also are a regular element of any WWE show. His frequent falsehoods are perfectly natural in a medium where everything is fake to begin with. On Sunday his act reached its apotheosis: Trump tweeted an old video of himself at a pro-wrestling match pummeling someone. In the new version, a CNN logo is superimposed on the victim's face. Many in the media were predictably, and probably theatrically, outraged by what they saw, or claimed to see, as an incitement to violence. But Trump's fans think his offensive tweets are hilarious. In 1989, to avoid the regulations imposed on boxing, professional wrestling admitted it was all just a big act: not real wrestling, but merely a scripted show. A few fans might think the fights are real, but just about everybody is in on the joke. The worris[...]

GOP Pushes Bad, Punitive Anti-Federalist Immigration Bills Through the House

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of two bad immigration-focused bills yesterday that potentially punish those in the United States illegally with new harsh prison sentences and attempts to push cities into helping federal authorities deport people. The first bill, popularly known as "Kate's Law," adds new criminal penalties and federal prison sentences to any immigrant who returns to the United States after being deported for criminal behavior. But it also threatens up to 10 years in federal prison for illegal immigrants who repeatedly return to the United States after being deported, even if they've committed no other crimes. It also forbids the immigrant from challenging the legitimacy of any prior removal orders. The second bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," attempts to push cities, particularly so-called "sanctuary cities," into cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain and eject those in the country illegally. President Donald Trump (and many, many other Republicans) made a big deal about fighting sanctuary cities—which generally don't ask residents or people who interact with government officials about their citizenship status—on the campaign trail. But after Trump took office, his Department of Justice was faced with an awkward truth: Most sanctuary cities are not defying federal laws at all, and there's not much the government can currently do about them. Federal laws do not require that cities and local law enforcement assist immigration officials by detaining people the feds want to deport. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can ask cities to hold illegal immigrants for in "detainer orders." But they're requests. Cities have their own rules about when they'll comply with such orders (often requiring court orders or a warrant for cooperation). Ultimately after the Department of Justice started threatening federal grant money to sanctuary cities, they ended up discovering that really only a handful of governments (eight cities and one county) are behaving in a way that was even remotely in defiance of federal authority. What the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act" does is forbid municipalities from stopping local law enforcement officials from helping federal immigration officials by complying with detainer orders. In areas of immigration enforcement, it overrules the ability of cities to control the behavior of their own law enforcement officers. The act also classifies specifically which grants the federal government would withhold from sanctuary cities that defy them. Previously the administration through executive order threaten to withhold all sorts of federal grants, but the courts have previously ruled such behavior unconstitutional. The grants have to be connected to enforcing the laws themselves. This act specifically defines which grants could be denied sanctuary cities. The votes fell mostly across party lines—Republicans in favor of the two bills and Democrats against them. More Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to vote in favor of harsher criminal sentences for illegal immigrants than to cut federal grants from sanctuary cities, so make of that what you will. Only one Republican voted against both bills, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Amash tweeted his reasons why. He found both bills to significantly violate the Constitution and the concept of federalism: I voted no today on two bills that together violate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. I will always defend our Constitution. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 29, 2017 A spokesperson for Amash's office told Reason, "Rep. Amash supports securing our borders and has voted to defund sanctuary cities, but these bills go far beyond that and are unconstitutional." Though the legislation passed the House, it has a challenge getting through a Senate where Republicans hold just a slim majority. As it stands, Republican Senators have their[...]

Gary Johnson Returns to Politics! (As Soon As He Finishes This Cross Country Bike Tour)

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 13:30:00 -0400

Gary Johnson is back. Well, almost. By the end of today, the two-time Libertarian Party candidate for president will be midway of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests in northern Colorado more than 1,400 miles into the 2,800-mile Tour Divide bicycle race. (You can track him here, although he is occasionally deviating from the race route.) Before leaving for Banff, Alberta, the former two-term governor of New Mexico made plans to return to politics, to mobilize "the largest grassroots army of liberty activists in the nation." Johnson and strategist Ron Nielson have relaunched Our America Initiative, a website "giving voice to the notion of less government and greater freedom, and advocating policies that will allow entrepreneurs, young people and all Americans to achieve their dreams." Johnson issued this statement to Reason while on his Continental Divide bike route: "In November of 2016, 4.5 million Americans cast their votes for liberty, truly free markets and a small-government alternative to the status quo. That vote total, for Governor Bill Weld and myself, is the highest for a "third party" in two decades. That tells us something, especially given that our campaign spent roughly 1/1,000 of what the Republicans and Democrats spent—each. It tells us that more Americans than ever are fed up with a broken political system that simply isn't offering solutions. And it tells me that those Americans deserve a voice in the debates going on in Washington, DC, and state capitals across the nation. As a former Governor who left office after serving two terms and quietly let my successors do their things, I am a firm believer in giving a new President and a new Congress a chance. That's what we do in America. But we've now had enough time to see the directions our government is taking. We are watching as President Trump and the Republicans seem intent on replacing Obamacare with Somebody-Else Care. The whole idea of health care reform for the past decade has purportedly been to reduce costs and increase access. Obamacare isn't doing that...and what we are seeing so far from the Republicans won't do it either. Replacing one version of government-managed health care with another is doomed to fail. There aren't many things the federal government manages well, and our health is certainly isn't one of them. Lower costs and greater access will only come from a legitimately free market, taking the shackles off of innovation, removing crony-capitalist insulation from competition, and allowing patients, not bureaucrats, to make decisions. And to help those who truly need help, send the money to the states to shape programs that will actually work. We've seen a budget proposed that once again ignores the 800-pound gorilla of entitlements, increases defense spending...and claims to put us on a path toward a balanced budget. That's insane, and exactly the kind of political cowardice that has given us trillions in debt. Whether it be trade or immigration, we are watching as the politicians try to lead us down a nationalist path that is not only painful and short-sighted, but not very American. Individual freedoms. Drug policy. Criminal justice reforms. Well, the early signs aren't good. In fact, it seems we have a government today led by folks who are determined to turn back the clock and embrace policies that have not only failed, but have eroded our freedoms almost beyond recognition. I could go on, but one thing is clear. The voices of liberty, free markets and real freedom need to be raised. 4.5 million Americans spoke out in November, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, activists and contributors stood up to help shape a freer, more prosperous future. It's time to stand up once again. That's why I am stepping back into the leadership of the Our America Initiative—a not-for-profit advocacy organization with activists in all 50 states working for the freedoms, opp[...]

Airport Scrutiny to Get Worse as House Moves to Mandate Sex-Trafficking Training

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 13:50:00 -0400

A plan to privatize air-traffic control operations has dominated discussion of the House's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, but the bill's regulatory parameters go far beyond that. An array of government expanding proposals are also included in the House's 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. One of them would require new mandatory training for all "ticket counter agents, gate agents, and other air carrier workers whose jobs require regular interaction with passengers" on "recognizing and responding to potential human trafficking victims." The trafficking-training amendment, from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-California), was one of dozens of AIRR-Act amendments voted on Tuesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. After more than nine hours of markup and amendments, the Committee approved the AIRR Act, by a vote of 32 to 25. On the surface, Brownley's trafficking amendment may seem beneficial, or at the very least harmless. But it's part of a larger and ongoing government project that is anything but benign. Under the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) "Blue Campaign" and related initiatives, federal agents have already been training flight attendants and other airline personnel on how to "detect" human traffickers or trafficking victims on their planes. They've also been conducting public outreach at airports and elsewhere to encourage ordinary travelers who "see something" suspicious to "say something"—by texting the tip directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There is no evidence these efforts have actually yielded any trafficking busts—which shouldn't surprise anyone not immersed in some Taken-style fantasy. Immigrants who wind up victims of sex or labor exploitation here are generally lured via fraud—the promise of an opportunity that either doesn't exist or isn't what it was made out to be. Some enter the country illegally, but many come over on tourist, student, or temporary-work visas, flying into the country alone or with others in the same situation. "Potential human trafficking victims" flying into the U.S. on commercial flights through major U.S. airports aren't the sort who can be pre-screened by well-meaning gate agents. But what do employees do with all that extra "awareness"? A heightened sensitivity to anything out-of-the-ordinary—which in the United States can still mean interracial families or a child traveling with two fathers—means a propensity to profile passengers based on stereotypes. An Asian-American woman traveling with her non-Asian husband, a dad traveling alone with his daughter, a gaggle of young Korean women traveling together are the folks flagged by well-meaning and woke customer-service staff. The ICE, DHS, and other law-enforcement staff who greet them aren't always so well-intentioned, although they are fast. "When reports come in to the hotline, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents come immediately to meet the plane as it reaches the ground," Deborah Sigmund, co-founder and president of the group Innocence at Risk, has said. It's worth noting that Brownley's amendment provides no description of the kind of training airport employees will receive, how often they'll receive it, or who will develop and conduct it. Most likely, responsibility for the training will fall to DHS and its nonprofit advisers, which have already been involved in training truckers, flight attendants, and motel employees on the alleged "signs" of sex trafficking. And from previous experience the training will be useless. The "signs" of sex trafficking they offer range from the rare and ridiculous (the stuff of action-movie lore, like someone with a bar-code tattoo with the word "Daddy" next to it) to excessively broad indicators that could ensnare any one of us on a bad day, such as being dressed "inappropriate[...]

Democrats Accuse Republicans of Mass Murder

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:00:00 -0400

So the Democrats, after opposing Donald Trump in the 2016 election partly out of what they claimed was concern about his incivility and coarseness, are now pursuing a debate about health care legislation in Washington by characterizing the Republicans who disagree with them about policy details as mass murderers. Think that's an exaggeration? Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate who remains among its most prominent and mainstream voices, tweeted Friday: "If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) tweeted, "I've read the Republican 'health care' bill. This is blood money. They're paying for tax cuts with American lives." Ezra Levin, an influential Washington organizer of the resistance to Trump, tweeted Sunday, "TrumpCare will kill tens of thousands of working class people, and with the savings it cuts taxes for billionaires." This line of argument carries a powerful emotional charge. It isn't, though, a particularly useful, constructive, or clear-minded way to think or talk about writing laws. To start with, there's the Washington-centric misconception that the killers are the congressmen. Disregarded are any other actors who play roles in our health care system. If federal politicians are murderers for adjusting health care laws, what about all the state-level politicians who failed to enact Mitt Romney-style comprehensive coverage in their own states before Obamacare? Were they also murderers for failing to act? What about doctors and hospitals who refuse to treat non-emergency patients who are uninsured and can't pay? The system could probably treat more people if doctors, nurses, and medical-device and drug-company executives earned less money. Does that make every BMW-driving surgeon a murderer? Is every individual American a murderer who spends any discretionary income on movies or trips to Disney World rather than charitable donations earmarked for uncompensated care to his local hospital? It may well be that as a moral matter, voluntarily paying for a poor person's health care is a superior use of money than driving a fancy car or taking an expensive vacation. But an individual's choice to consume rather than donate doesn't make that individual a murderer, or even a killer. Neither does a congressman's decision not to compel the individual, by taxing him, to do so. The failure of Democrats to recognize this signals a fundamental confusion. There's also a false certainty in the claim that higher taxes for more health insurance will translate into extended lives. Some of the more honest Democrats acknowledge this if one listens to them carefully. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, in repeating an exaggerated claim that TrumpCare would cause 28,000 unnecessary deaths, conceded, "Nobody, obviously, knows exactly what would happen." Obviously. The "Harvard" study—really more of a blog post by one Harvard professor, two non-Harvard medical students, and two scholars at a liberal think-tank—that Sanders and Clinton cite is more nuanced than they claim. It mentions two studies—"outlier results"—raising doubts about whether insurance coverage translated into better health. It concedes, accurately, "insurance is a necessary but not sufficient factor to receive quality health care." Ironically, its model for projecting what it calls "excess deaths" is based entirely on extrapolation from "analyses of the Massachusetts health reform." Again, that is a state-level reform of the sort that might have spread organically and successfully if President Obama and the Democrats in Congress hadn't decided to impose it nationally. Democratic accusations about additional deaths are often made without any price tag attached. Assume, for the moment, that Democrats are right that money should be taken away from higher earners and[...]

The Illusory Savings From Cutting Medicaid

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

When economists talk in their sleep, they say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This axiom is drilled into them from day one of their undergraduate education and never leaves their minds. Any economist who tried to deny it would find herself suddenly choking in pain and unable to speak. What it means is that if the government does something that costs money, some human somewhere will bear the expense. "Free" public schools, "free" parks, and "free" roads all have to be paid for by the citizenry. Collectively, we can't get something for nothing. This useful insight has long been offered as an objection to costly government programs. But it applies as well to measures that extract savings from costly government programs. In their replacement of Obamacare, congressional Republicans promise to achieve greater frugality in Medicaid, which helps low-income Americans, without inflicting more hardship. The melancholy truth: Not gonna happen. Last year, total spending for Medicaid amounted to $533 billion. Nearly two-thirds of the funds come from the federal government, and the rest comes from the states. Some 69 million people are covered by it, up from 54 million in 2012. The expansion was intentional. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Washington signed on to cover 100 percent of the cost of expanded coverage at the outset, with its share falling to 90 percent from 2020 on. The health care plan offered by Senate Republicans, like the one passed by the House, would reverse the trend by giving states a certain amount per Medicaid recipient or a block grant for a fixed amount. Either way, the federal contribution would steadily shrink compared with what it would do under the ACA. Under the House plan, the federal savings would amount to $880 billion over a decade. The Senate bill is supposed to wring out even more. Supporters say Medicaid enrollees would be better off because states would be free to redesign their programs to make them more efficient and responsive to beneficiaries. But remember that fundamental economic proposition. Just as you can't get something for nothing, you generally can't get more for less. The House changes, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the number of people on Medicaid by 14 million by 2026. Many people who now have coverage would lose it, and many who would have become eligible would be turned away. States could always protect the vulnerable by boosting their contribution to make up for the lost federal funds. But that would mean requiring their taxpayers to foot the bill. Republicans say the changes would be positive because Medicaid coverage is often useless. House Speaker Paul Ryan claims that "more and more doctors just won't take Medicaid." In fact, 69 percent of physicians currently accept new Medicaid patients, and the percentage has been stable for decades. It's lower than for privately insured patients, because Medicaid provides doctors with lower reimbursements, but budget cuts would probably exacerbate that malady. Some recipients would get cut off under the GOP plans, and some would get less coverage. That—surprise!—would leave them worse off, because comprehensive health insurance is a good thing to have. Medicaid coverage, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, is proven to ensure "earlier detection of health and developmental problems in children, earlier diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions in adults, and earlier detection of mental illness in people of all ages." Cutting back Medicaid coverage would save taxpayers some cash, but only by taking it from others. The reduction would raise costs for low-income people and most likely degrade their health. It would also increase the financial load on hospitals, which treat a lot of people who have no coverage. A study by sc[...]

Politicians Choosing Their Voters vs. Voters Choosing Their Politicians

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 15:45:00 -0400

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Gill v. Whitford, a case where the issue is whether the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature drew the state's voting district boundaries in such a way as to give their candidates an overwhelming advantage. Republican candidates garnered just 48 percent of the vote statewide in 2012, but took 60 of 99 seats in the state legislature. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled that the Wisconsin's legislature's latest redistricting plan "constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander." The court ordered the legislature to devise and submit a fairer redistricting plan by November 1, 2017. The practice of drawing district boundaries to establish an advantage for a particular party is called gerrymandering. The name comes from Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed an egregious redistricting bill. One of the voting districts it created resembled the shape of a salamander; thus, "gerrymander." Gerrymandering is generally achieved by either "packing" or "cracking." Packing concentrates the opposing party's voters in one district to reduce their voting power elsewhere. Cracking dilutes the voting power of the opposing party's supporters by spreading them across many districts. With the exception of scrutinizing districts clearly designed dilute the power of black voters, federal courts have been reluctant to involve themselves in redistricting fights. This reluctance stems from courts' difficulty identifying any simple and objective way to determine the extent of gerrymandering. But mathematicians and statisticians have recently turned their attention to the issue, and they may be able to provide some guidance to the courts. In Gill V. Whitford, the federal appeals court that ruled against the state cited a measure called the efficiency gap. Devised by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at the University of Chicago, and Eric McGhee, a political scientist at the Public Policy Institute of California, the efficiency gap scheme measures a state's "wasted" votes. (Basically, votes are "wasted" if they are cast for a defeated candidate or cast in excess of those needed to elect a winning candidate.) In Stephanoupoulos' calculation, the efficiency gap is "the difference between the parties' respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast." If a party is simultaneously getting an unusually high number of landslide victories and an unusually high number of crushing losses, that would be a sign of gerrymandering. "Based on their calculations of the efficiency gaps in all redistricting plans over the past 40 years, Stephanopoulos and McGhee suggest setting thresholds above which redistricting plans would be presumptively unconstitutional; if the efficiency gap is 8 percent or more, or if it is enough to change at least two congressional seats, that would be enough to justify a constitutional challenge. In North Carolina's 2012 congressional election, for example, the efficiency gap was 21 percent,, which resulted in the Democratic candidates winning only 4 out of 13 seats. " Meanwhile, the Duke mathematicians David Mattingly and Christy Graves have devised a program that draws voting district boundaries based on contiguity, geographical compactness, and a difference in population of no more than 0.1 percent. Although Democrats won 50.3 percent of the vote in 2012 in North Carolina, they captured only four of the state's 13 seats in the House of Representatives. In three of the districts drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature, voters were more than three-quarters Democrat. This is a classic example of packing. The program devised by Mattingly and Graves creates thousands of randomly drawn district maps. Of those maps, they find that on average 7.6 seat[...]

Cindy McCain's Charities Are Plagued With Scandal and Corruption. Now Trump Wants to Make Her Human Rights Ambassador

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:30:00 -0400

(image) After "aggressively courting" her for the role, President Donald Trump has reportedly nabbed Cindy McCain to serve in his State Department as an ambassador-at-large for human rights. She would almost certainly concentrate on sex trafficking, which has been the main focus of her recent advocacy—and on which she has a track-record of spreading misinformation, promoting policies that make prostitution more dangerous, and partnering with people who use human trafficking as a cover for all sorts of rights-violating behavior. And this is just one of myriad red flags that the beer empress and senator's wife isn't quite as consistent or staunch a humanitarian as she's made out to be.

It turns out the "freedom, democracy, and human rights" institute launched by Cindy and Sen. John McCain is supported by large donations from entities known for persistent rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, a U.S. defense contractor selling smart bombs to the Saudis, and a Moroccan mining company occupying land in Northwest Africa.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains, examining McCain's philanthropic record reveals a long history of personal abuse of nonprofit resources, shady connections, and shoddy work. For years, McCain has been playing the role of crony philanthropist, and now she is poised to bring her dubious advocacy to the highest levels of government.

Cindy McCain: Crony Philanthropist

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 09:40:00 -0400

After "aggressively courting" her for the role, President Donald Trump has reportedly nabbed Cindy McCain to serve in his State Department as an ambassador-at-large for human rights. She would almost certainly concentrate on sex trafficking, which has been the main focus of her recent advocacy—and on which she has a track record of spreading misinformation, promoting policies that make prostitution more dangerous, and partnering with people who use human trafficking as a cover for all sorts of rights-violating behavior. And this is just one of myriad red flags that the beer empress and senator's wife isn't quite as consistent or staunch a humanitarian as she's made out to be. It turns out the "freedom, democracy, and human rights" institute launched by Cindy and Sen. John McCain is supported by large donations from entities known for persistent rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, a U.S. defense contractor selling smart bombs to the Saudis, and a Moroccan mining company occupying land in Northwest Africa. In fact, examining McCain's philanthropic record reveals a long history of personal abuse of nonprofit resources, shady connections, and shoddy work. For years, McCain has been playing the role of crony philanthropist, and now she is poised to bring her dubious advocacy to the highest levels of government. Friends in Authoritarian Places McCain has been lauded for her work on human trafficking—appearing on numerous panels and giving high-profile interviews on the topic. But she didn't pick up the issue until 2013, when she suddenly emerged as a fully formed crusader against sexual exploitation. The bulk of Cindy McCain's anti-exploitation efforts are channeled through the Arizona government's Human Trafficking Task Force, which she co-chairs, and the McCain Institute for International Leadership, where she is chair of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council as well as one of the institute's most visible spokespeople. Housed within the Arizona State University (ASU) system, the McCain Institute was launched in 2012 with $8.7 million left over from the McCain/Palin presidential campaign fund. (The McCains also set up the McCain Institute Foundation to collect donations for the institute and pass them on to ASU in $500,000 annual increments.) Upon its launch, ASU President Michael Crow said the McCain Institute would be "guided by the values that have animated the career of Senator McCain—a commitment to sustaining America's global leadership role, promoting freedom, democracy and human rights, as well as maintaining a strong, smart national defense." Publicly, the institute's biggest issues are combatting "modern slavery," addressing human rights abuses abroad, using technology to solve humanitarian problems, and pushing a vague pro-development and democracy agenda globally in order to promote peace. In practice, this often looks like advocating for U.S. action in Syria and tougher penalties for prostitution while helping develop new digital surveillance technology and facilitate international business relationships. "I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has. When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful." —McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker The McCain Institute's top donors include a plethora of groups with far from stellar records or reputation when it comes to human rights. Many of these same entities were also donors to the Clinton Global Initiative. For instance, OCP S.A., a state-controlled Moroccan phosphate mining company that has given at least $100,000 to the McCain Institute. OCP controls more than 75 percent of the world reserves of phosphates—which have become a[...]

Mueller Probe Could Set the Stage For Hillary’s 2020 Return

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election is both a preview of Hillary Clinton's 2020 presidential campaign and a re-run of the insider-trading litigation of the past decade. It's a preview of the 2020 presidential campaign, because blaming the outcome of the election on illegal Russian interference takes the blame off Clinton for losing. Clinton can already point out that she won the popular vote in 2016. If her electoral vote loss was the result of foreign interference—rather than, say, a poorly managed campaign, or a candidate who couldn't connect with out-of-work coal miners, or the wrong substantive message—then perhaps a 2020 replay, without foreign interference, might yield a different outcome. It's the difference between, "you had your shot fair and square, now move aside and let the next person have their turn," and "we never even really got a chance to see what would have happened if we had had a fair election that hadn't been subject to illegal Russian manipulation." She wouldn't be the first presidential candidate to need multiple chances to win. Reagan lost in 1976 and won in 1980. Nixon lost in 1960 but won in 1968. Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, is out with a children's book titled "She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed The World." Though the "nevertheless, she persisted" phrase comes from Sen. Mitch McConnell's description of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it could easily be adopted by Hillary Clinton as an informal slogan for a third presidential run. It's not unreasonable that it would take three tries, rather than two, to be the first woman president. In some ways, having done it before might even help. She starts with a large donor list and high name recognition. Trying again would underscore Clinton's personality strengths—doggedness, her ability to bounce back from setbacks like her husband's impeachment and her own 2008 loss to Barack Obama. Some might raise age as an issue, but Clinton is younger than Trump. For a sense of how the Clinton 2020 reasoning and the Mueller investigation are related, keep an eye on the timing. If the probe delivers results long enough before the 2020 primary season for Clinton to get a campaign in gear, watch out. If findings don't emerge until later, then they won't be much use to her. As for the insider trading investigations, some of the key characters are the same. Mueller and James Comey both led the FBI as it pursued the insider trading investigations. Preet Bharara, who as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan led the insider trading charge, attended the recent Comey hearing on Capitol Hill and has been avidly commenting about the whole thing on Twitter. As with insider trading, unauthorized leaks to the press about the investigations are an issue. As with insider trading, there's a risk of operating the whole thing backward—starting with targets and theories, then proceeding to evidence gathering. In the insider trading cases, it was rich hedge fund managers who were targeted by prosecutors who had already decided that insider trading was widespread. In the Russia probe, it is the president and his circle of advisers who are being targeted by prosecutors who have already decided that Russia improperly influenced the American election. In both instances, the warnings of Attorney General Robert H. Jackson in his classic 1940 speech titled "The Federal Prosecutor" apply. Jackson, who later became a Supreme Court justice, warned that the "most dangerous power of the prosecutor" is "that he will pick people he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted." Jackson said, "It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some pers[...]

Tom Shillue Is a Mean Dad for a Better America [Reason Podcast]

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:15:00 -0400

In Mean Dads for a Better America, comedian and Fox News contributor Tom Shillue celebrates "the generous rewards of an old-fashioned childhood" of the kind he had growing up in a Boston suburb in the 1970s and '80s. Shillue's parents, he explains, were old school and never tried to be his and his siblings' friends. In fact, he aspired to be what he calls a "Darth Vader dad," a grumpy, grouchy, and morally absolute figure who inspires fear along with awe and love. Through dozens of richly recollected stories about everything from trying out for sports teams to mental breakdowns to hunting for pornography in the woods, Shillue explains how he learned responsibility, respect, and self-reliance. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie that also covers politics and the demise of the Fox News late-night show Red Eye, Shillue says, "Look, bullying made me stronger"... [there was] a bully across the street, [and my mother said], "Go hit him back." And I punched him back, and maybe I came out on the bad end in that fight, but I felt like it was worth it to fight back, and that most of the book is filled with appreciation [for that sort of guidance]. I appreciate my scary dad. I also appreciate the bullies, because I feel like they made me stronger. Shillue talks about why he believes his rougher-than-the-kids-today upbringinallowed him to navigate young adulthood more easily and how he is trying to raise his own children as free-range kids ready to face a world very different—and in most ways far better—than the one in which he grew up. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi. I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is The Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today, I'm talking with Tom Shillue. He's a Fox News host and contributor, and he's the former host of the late, lamented Fox News show Red Eye. We'll talk about that later in the podcast. More pressingly, he is the author of Mean Dads for a Better America: The Generous Rewards of an Old-Fashioned Childhood. Tom, thanks for joining me. Tom Shillue: Thank you, Nick. Gillespie: Let's dig right into the book. You write early on, and I'm quoting, "My childhood was like the Bing Crosby movie The Bells of St. Mary's, set to the soundtrack from the musical Godspell. It was freedom, love, peace, and fierce individuality, all mixed up with parental authority, moral absolutism, and fear of God. A rich, hearty recipe for happiness if there ever was one." Shillue: Oh my god. I'm glad you read that line. Gillespie: I am assuming that you've lost virtually all of your readers right there, with the exception of people like me, maybe Greg Gutfeld, and a few others who remember Der Bingle as somebody other than a guy who we later found out beat his children mercilessly. But in The Bells of St. Mary's, there was ... That's the sequel, right? To Going My Way, I believe? Or one is ...? Shillue: Oh. I guess so. I never really considered that way. Gillespie: Bing Crosby plays a kind of hip priest who sings on occasion, and he helps the kids navigate their lives, and what was t[...]