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Published: Sun, 26 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2017 16:43:36 -0400


This Former Congressman Is Against the War on Drugs

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:00:00 -0400

Editor's Note: In January 2013, Trey Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. Radel had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel was and is a critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, Radel documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that always seems to put philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food, is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform. In this excerpt, Radel recounts the immediate aftermath of his drug bust, which was inevitably (and legitimately) tied to a vote to drug-test food-stamp recipients he had cast as part of a farm bill. During this awful time, it felt like every political pundit on the planet; every TV newscast, newspaper, and online publication; and every comedian in the world was coming after me. Although, after all those years of dreaming I'd be on SNL, I made it. Seth Meyers ripped me often on "Weekend Update." Every pundit and comedian seemed to take particular glee in my vote on the provision in the farm bill regarding food stamps and drug testing. Remember when I said that this vote would come back to bite me in the ass? It all started when the Huffington Post ran an article with the headline: "Trey Radel, Busted on Cocaine Charge, Voted for Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients." The irony is the HuffPo reporter, in at least one of the articles, actually expounded on my view on the failed War on Drugs and my past votes focused on criminal justice reform. But, c'mon, who reads articles? At the lowest moment of my life, I was being savaged on national television for getting busted for drugs after voting to drug test food stamp recipients. After the press broke the massive farm bill down to a headline, the public boiled my vote down to one meme—a picture of me with white powder Photoshopped all over my face saying: "Republican votes to drug test food stamp recipients, gets busted for cocaine." The truth was that it had not been a single vote to "drug test these dirty dogs getting handouts!" It was part of the thousand-plus-page farm bill loaded with other provisions, and it gave states more power over how they wanted to administer their food stamps. I believe in "to each state its own," especially when it comes to addressing local issues and concerns. I thought that Washington's constant "one size fits all" mandates were doomed to fail. So while I am a Republican who is so libertarian that I could have been labeled a liberal because of my determination to end the War on Drugs and work with Democrats, it didn't matter. I was just another tea party asswipe who got busted for drugs and voted to drug test food stamp recipients. This was especially tough for me to take because I was and am such a staunch opponent of the War on Drugs. Our drug policies in the United States should be focusing on rehabilitation, not incarceration. There's a fiscally conservative argument for this because we throw away billions of dollars a year locking people up and turning our backs on them. Many times nonviolent drug offenders return to society lacking skills to get a job, or they're turned away from jobs because of their record. Worse, they come out as hardened criminals, which places an even greater economic burden on society. Ironically, shortly before my bust, I worked with Democrats to cosponsor the Justice Safety Valve Act. In fact, I was one of only a few Republicans to do so. The goal: Get rid of mandatory minimums and allow judges to impose penalties below the statutory sentences. We often see cases of nonviolent dru[...]

Will the Prospect of Taking Trump Down Ruin Chances for Surveillance Reform?

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:15:00 -0400

It looks like whatever House Intel Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) might have been attempting to accomplish yesterday when he held a press conference to reveal some post-election surveillance of Trump's transition team may have backfired. Nunes, a Trump ally, was clearly attempting to draw attention to the argument that the intelligence community was violating the privacy of the incoming Trump administration in its data and information collection. He said the information he had received showed that the surveillance and data collection of Trump team communications was "incidental," meaning they likely were not surveillance targets themselves. But Nunes running to the press and not actually informing the rest of his peers in the House Committee first subsequently made the story about Nunes and what he was trying to accomplish instead. Trump's critics, both on the left and the right, worry that Nunes' behavior is an attempt to interfere with a congressional investigation of any possible ties between Trump and the Russian government and whether anything possibly illegal has happened. Was this all about trying to help Trump? Trump himself immediately jumped on Nunes' comments in a Time interview to defend his wiretap conspiracy tweets, which at least suggests some interesting timing. Nunes has since apologized to his Democratic counterparts in the House for not telling them first before going to the press. There is likely a very noncontroversial explanation for the data collection that implicates nobody in particular and helps inform Americans about how federal surveillance actually works if people are willing to—for however briefly—set aside their feelings about Trump. Folks may recall that prior to taking office, Trump and his transition team decided to start contacting and communicating with world leaders. In all likelihood the National Security Agency (NSA) had active permission to engage in surveillance of such people. It's not necessarily an indicator of a criminal investigation; it's the business of international intelligence. So members of Trump's team may have ended up dragged into "incidental" surveillance because of the people they were talking to. As such, what happened with Trump's folks is a perfect opportunity for Americans to understand how "incidental" surveillance of citizens' works, what happened to the data, and the inherit risks of this level of collection for all of our privacy so at least we're all informed about how all of this works. Privacy and civil liberties activists are calling for reforms to surveillance authorities in order to reduce the likelihood that private data or communications get retained and exposed the way it might have happened with Trump's team. Also of interest: Nunes has said that actually, some of the names in these reports were still "masked" (redacted), but he was able to tell who the reports were talking about based on the context. In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about mass collection of data from Americans' phone and online communications, government officials (all the way up to President Barack Obama himself) attempted to assure people that nobody was reading through all of our emails or listening in to all of our phone calls. But they were collecting loads of metadata (where and who we were communicating with, for how long, when and how frequently, et cetera), and experiments have shown that enough metadata is available out there to extrapolate a lot about our private behavior. But as long as this is a fight only over the behavior of Trump and his team, it's going to be tough to have a discussion or call for reform of these tools. As I noted yesterday, even vocal Democratic critics of the extent of federal surveillance are using all this to try to attack Trump's administration as potentially breaking the law even knowing full well that's not necessarily what the information collection means. Mind you, it could very well be that Nunes is indeed trying to taint an investigation and that the Trump team might have been[...]

Congress’ Libertarianish Members Might Sink the GOP Obamacare Replacement

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:50:00 -0400

On January 13, a week before Donald Trump would take the oath of office and just days after the new session of Congress opened, Republicans in the House passed a budget resolution that was the first step, GOP leaders said, to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The bill passed, 227-198, with just nine Republicans defecting from the party-line effort. Among those nine "no" votes were the two founding members of the House Freedom Caucus: Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). Another "no" came from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), who isn't a member of the Freedom Caucus but shares many of the small-government, libertarian leanings of the group. "We got a category five hurricane coming when you have to reduce to practice, the differences between Donald Trump's agenda and Paul Ryan's agenda," Massie told Roll Call after the vote. "I think there are going to be some very confusing votes in here." How right he was. That January 13 vote was the first sign—a telling one, in retrospect—that the Freedom Caucus and other libertarian-leaning members of Congress (like Massie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky) would become the biggest stumbling block to passing the House GOP healthcare plan. That bill is scheduled to receive a floor vote Thursday that, if the Republican leadership can cobble together the votes, would approve the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as part of that budget resolution that initially cleared the House on that Friday the 13th. With the House vote on the AHCA looming on Thursday, Republican leaders can afford to lose 22 votes from their ranks. As of Wednesday evening, vote tallies tracked by various media outlets suggest anywhere from 23 to 29 Republican lawmakers intend to vote against the bill—enough to delay the vote or force significant changes to the bill. A significant number of those "no" votes come from Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Dave Brat (R-Virginia), Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina), among others. Freedom Caucus members have been skeptical of the AHCA almost since the moment it was publicly unveiled. "It's Obamacare in a different format," Jordan told The Atlantic on March 6, just shortly after Republican lawmakers got their first look at the proposal. Amash was on the same page: Obamacare 2.0 — Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 6, 2017 Though the Freedom Caucus never took an outright position on the bill, the handful of individual members who promised to vote against the bill have succeeded in at least complicating the Republican effort to get a majority. "I don't think there is any tinkering that will get us to 218," Labrador predicted in an interview with CNN. There's still time for that to change, however, and House Republican leaders were reportedly considering substantial rewrites to the AHCA on Wednesday night. Depending on what changes, some of those expected "no" votes could swing to "yes" votes before the bill hits the floor. Massie is less likely to be swung. On Wednesday, he tweeted a picture indicating that his vote had changed from "no" to "hell, no." Sorry if I let you down. I'm changing my vote on #AHCA — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 22, 2017 Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Wednesday that he was still a "no" and other members of the group promised to sink the bill even after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. By late Wednesday night, though, Meadows' resolve seemed to be wavering as conservative Republicans and the Trump White House continued to negotiate. While obviously not a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has been bird-dogging his like-minded colleagues in the lower chamber over the healthcare bill. He led reporters on a search for the bill, crossing from the Senate side of the Capitol to the basement room on the House side of the complex where it s[...]

Trump Team Was ‘Incidentally’ Snooped on Post-Election, Says GOP Intel Chair Devin Nunes

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:11:00 -0400

Republican House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) held a rather unusual press conference this afternoon to declare that he had received information that the feds did indeed secretly collect and disseminate private info from and about Trump's transition team post-election. To be clear, Nunes (a Trump supporter) said that whatever private information was collected during surveillance was "incidental." This likely means that the team members were not direct targets of federal surveillance but were in contact with people who actually were targets, and whatever happened during conversations or communications got swept up in surveillance. The actual targets could be people under federal investigation, but they could also be any foreign power the government is keeping an eye on. The natural inclination here is to assume this is part of the whole dust-up over ties between the Trump administration and Russia. Funny there's news on that today, too. Nunes wouldn't say a whole lot about what was happening (which makes his run to the media a little weird) but insisted that this incidental surveillance was not connected to Russia at all. He also seems to think the incidental collection itself was "legal," but isn't entirely sure. It seems as though the press conference is intended to bolster the argument coming from some Republicans that the problem here is the leaking or spread of information within the intelligence community. Nunes said that some names had been "unmasked" in intelligence reports that had been distributed internally. This means that, much like what might have happened with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the names of Americans who had been swept up in this surveillance may have gotten into the hands of intelligence community workers who weren't supposed to have them. Nunes is a mass surveillance supporter, and so he's trying to thread a needle here. He wants to present Trump and Trump's staff as having their privacy violated by leaks while not wanting to suggest there's a problem with the amount of surveillance that takes place. But there is a definite "Switch places, everybody!" mentality on surveillance authority now that Trump and Trump's people have been targeted. This tweet by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) is quick to say that the surveillance must have been connected to an investigation or influence by a foreign power. Lieu, however, is also a big opponent of mass unwarranted surveillance, and you'd think he'd be a bigger skeptic than this. Getting your private data and information "incidentially" collected in surveillance is not and should not be treated as evidence of wrongdoing, and that was partly the point of efforts to restrict federal authorities collecting whatever they could. In all likelihood, mass unwarranted surveillance played absolutely no role in this snooping, and the intelligence officials had secret warrants though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts. But for somebody who sits on Congress' Fourth Amendment Caucus to jump in the direction that suggests an assumption of guilt on the basis of it being a political opponent is a problem. Clearly, there will be a lot more to come on this issue. Watch a bit of the presser with Nunes below. Trump has said he feels "somewhat vindicated" (according to the Associated Press) about his insistence that he had been wiretapped. (UPDATE: Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, responds here to the oddness of Nunes running to the press): .@devingnunes: "I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the President-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored…" — CSPAN (@cspan) March 22, 2017[...]

Trump Budget Cuts: Real or ‘Reality’ Show?

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump ran for office promising to crush the Islamic State, end the influx of illegal immigration from Mexico, and stop the flight of American manufacturing jobs to China. Now that he's in office, he seems to be focusing on different set of targets: Public television's "Big Bird," poor old people who benefit from "Meals on Wheels," and history graduate students and scholars of the Founding Fathers who get grants from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH). Some reports even had the Trump administration slashing funding for the Coast Guard. What's going on here? The Trump "budget cuts"—they deserve quotation marks, because no money has yet actually been cut—are best understood in the context of Trump's home city, New York. There, for decades, the mayor would propose draconian "cuts" to popular institutions like museums and libraries. The museums and libraries would dutifully rally their constituencies to fight against the proposed "cuts." And the City Council would intervene to restore the funding, winning the gratitude of those that had been targeted. This was widely and correctly understood as a kind of theater. No funding was genuinely in jeopardy, other than the personal funds of the taxpayers who wound up eventually footing the bill for the government spending. The mayor got to pose as fiscally prudent. The City Council got to claim credit for protecting the museums and libraries, which had never really been in danger. A 2010 New York Times article described it as "something of an annual budget ritual: Public libraries, always among the first city services to be threatened with substantial cuts in financing, are forced to face the abyss, only to be saved in the end, in whole or significant part." A 1998 article from the Queens Courier, a local newspaper in Trump's original home borough, quoted a City Council member, Archie Spigner, who said, "Cutting libraries and culture is a ritualistic maneuver between the Mayor and the Council. In my 25 years on the Council it has always been that way, whether it was a Democratic or Republican mayor. The Mayor proposes the reduction and the Council makes restitution. It's the reality of politics and I don't think the Mayor's serious." For Trump, it's a win-win maneuver. He lets small-government conservatives, many of whom never quite trusted him in the first place, believe that he made a good-faith effort to cut federal spending. And he lets the Republican Congress, which is up for re-election before he is, claim credit with centrist swing voters for sparing popular programs from Trump's budget axe. On the substance of it, there is a strong case for cutting or eliminating many of the targeted programs. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting warns about the risk to Sesame Street, but that program in 2015 made a five-season deal with HBO. HBO is a for-profit network that is part of Time Warner, whose deal to be acquired by AT&T awaits Trump administration antitrust review. The NEH trotted out, in its own defense, the president of Harvard, Drew Faust. Harvard has a $35.7 billion endowment. The NEH's total annual appropriation in 2015 was $146 million. Faust herself earned $1.2 million in compensation from Harvard in the most recently disclosed year, along with an additional $250,000 for her service on the board of Staples, an office supply retailer. She and her fellow star historians can probably survive okay without taxpayer help from NEH grants. This question—is it ritualistic theater, a kind of performance art, or is it real?—is one worth keeping in mind for all of Trump's initiatives, not just his budget. Is, say, the effort to repeal ObamaCare real? Or is it, like the budget cuts, an elaborate show? It's easy to be fooled. Some people thought Trump's entire presidential campaign was an elaborate act designed to fail. Then, he won the election. Even "failed" efforts can be successful in a way by changing the parameters of the political discussion. But[...]

The Brief, Half-Serious, and Sort of Visionary Political Career of Jimmy Breslin

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:59:00 -0400

"Good day to you," Jimmy Breslin told the crowd of cops. "I'd like the record to state that I'm here without a lawyer." It was 1969. By this time Breslin, who died yesterday, was already a well-known newspaper columnist, but he wasn't giving a talk about journalism. He was campaigning to be president of the New York City Council. Also on the bill was Breslin's running mate, Norman Mailer, who was aiming to be mayor. The place was the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Breslin was about to give what Mailer's campaign manager, Joe Flaherty, later described as "the best speech he would deliver during the campaign." (It went over better than Mailer's turn with the crowd, which featured lines like "there were years when I hated some of you guys so much it wasn't funny" and "I'm as yellow as any good cop.") After some opening jokes, Breslin got down to the heart of his pitch—elect his ticket, and "there will be no more New York Police Department as we know it": Our idea is to have this city become a state, have the various sections of this city become cities right inside the state, and let them run their own police. Let's get the wisdom of the neighborhoods, give them the power, and let them run with it. I say the plan is far better from a police viewpoint than the way we're going, because in my estimation policemen today are being used. The police get all the mistakes of all the people who are supposed to be more important and smarter than us. The argument that followed mixed lines a Black Panther could love ("Those days are gone when white people can rule the black neighborhoods") with sentences calculated to appeal to people afraid of Panthers ("I think the time also should be gone that we should ask a white person to go in there"). Breslin called for the radical decentralization not just of the police but of the schools, and he wrapped up with a joke about knowing a guy who could come in to teach a class on bookmaking. After the official event was over, the candidates found themselves shooting the shit with some beat cops who had skipped the lecture. One of them told Breslin he had "doubts about you with your long, curly hair." Breslin shot back that he "wouldn't want to walk into a piss house with you alone either, baby." By this time Mailer and Breslin weren't a conventional ticket so much as a double act, with each candidate taking the spotlight in front of different audiences. Breslin, a more natural populist, was better with Catholics and cops, Mailer with Jews and intellectuals; when they spoke before an audience of feminists, they both bombed. It never was completely clear how serious a campaign they were running. Breslin told one audience that "anyone who runs for office in this city, with the shape this city is in, and takes it as a joke, is committing a mortal sin." But it didn't take Flaherty long to decide that Breslin saw his candidacy "as a brief and witty exercise to discredit the regular pols, then an exit before the real campaigning began." The duo definitely believed that stuff about decentralization and community control. But they were also prone to pitching proposals that were satiric, utopian, or maybe both: banning cars from Manhattan, inviting gangs to fight jousting matches in Central Park, holding a stickball World Series on Wall Street. Mailer took to promoting an idea he called Sweet Sunday—one day a month when, in his words, "New York would stop for 24 hours. Everything would stop running. Electricity, cars, planes, trains, name it. If nothing else, it would give New York a chance to clear itself once a month. And people would hear themselves think for a change." Pressed on whether he'd permit hospitals to run their generators on Sweet Sunday, Mailer backed down slightly and said he'd allow it. And air conditioning? There he held firm, though he acknowledged that the people wouldn't like the results: "On the first hot day the populace would impeach m[...]

We Can’t Find Out How Much Retired Federal Workers Get Paid, and That’s a Problem

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 09:33:00 -0400

Most news coverage about pension issues revolves around the states. Partially, that's for good reason. States are dealing with a collective shortfall of more than $1.75 trillion (and probably more, because of how those liabilities are calculated), and some states truly are screwed by the over-generous, under-funded retirement promises they've made to public workers for the past few decades. Partially, though, the state focus is because we just don't know much about the federal government's pension situation. Sure, it's known that the various federal employee pensions systems covering civilian and military employee benefits have an unfunded liability—that's the gap between what a pension system owes to beneficiaries and what assets it has available to pay them—of about $3.5 trillion (equal to about 20 percent of America's annual GDP), according to Moody's. We also know that the feds pay roughly $75 billion to civilian retirees and their survivors, and roughly $50 billion to military retirees and their survivors, each year. For comparison, there's only two states (New York and California) with annual budgets larger than that. And we also know that all the complicated math beyond those pension payouts, the long-term costs, and unfunded liabilities, is calculated inside a hollowed-out mountain in western Pennsylvania, in a bunker designed to survive a nuclear apocalypse. No, really, that's true. Still, when it comes down to who-gets-what, we don't know much of anything at all. Federal courts have long held that pension payouts to retired federal workers are secret, reasoning that disclosing that information would be a violation of pensioners' privacy. By contrast, most states make that information public. Doing so gives taxpayers (who are funding a not insignificant portion of the pension bill) some transparency about how their dollars are being used, but it also lets watchdog groups look for potential pension abusers. Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Open The Books, one of those watchdog groups that tracks pension spending at the state level, says that needs to change, because you can't reform what you can't see. "If active salaries (by name) are disclosed, why would posting federal retiree pension amounts, service credits and contributions be an invasion of privacy? The same privacy law underlies both records," Andrzejewski wrote Tuesday in an op-ed at Forbes. Open The Books is calling for Congress to change the rules that keep federal pension payouts secret. Andrzejewski told Reason that his organization is working with Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) to introduce legislation to give taxpayers more information about federal pension payouts. Elizabeth Dillon, DeSantis' communications director, declined to comment Tuesday on the details of the bill, which is not yet introduced, but she confirmed to Reason that it would increase transparency in federal pensions. Earlier this year, DeSantis reintroduced his End Pensions In Congress Act, which would end pensions for all future Members of Congress as well as those currently serving who are not yet vested into the congressional retirement plan. DeSantis does not accept a federal pension, Dillon said. Those transparency laws don't necessarily fix America's pension problems, but they help improve the debate—or at least catch individual fraudsters. Transparency at the state level helped Open The Books expose fraudulent pension payouts in Illinois, California, and at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Those same laws making pension information publicly available is why we know about retired municipal officials getting pensions seven times larger than the median household income in the town where they live, and how we know that the most lucrative pension in California during 2015 belonged to Michael Johnson, the former Solano County administrator who got a $388,407 pension that year. When it comes to f[...]

If Gary Johnson Voters Can Tolerate Clinton and Trump Supporters, The Two Groups Can Live With Each Other

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400

A visiting member of my extended family had to brace himself for the next stop on his trip: Calling on his adult children. He intended to try to rebuild his relationships with them after they'd cut ties over his unpardonable sin: He voted for Trump. That's right. Supporters of one major political party's losing presidential candidate cut off their father because he cast his vote for the other major political party's winning presidential candidate in last year's election. This familial cold war is bizarre for at least two reasons: One, that's just unbelievably stupid in a democratic political system which necessarily features opposing candidates competing for office all the frigging time. Disagreement is the basis for the system. There's no way to live a normal life if you cut off contact with even close family members who hold opposing political views. And two, if a Gary Johnson voter such as myself can overcome the vast divide between my preferred non-evil candidate and the stock villains put forward by the Republicans and Democrats, surely Clinton and Trump supporters can find a way to bridge the moral sidewalk crack that separates them. I wish I could say that my family was an outlier on matters of political division, but our internal split unfortunately reflects national divisions. Stories on families torn by politics have become a feature of news reports in our strange age. Reuters/Ipsos polling finds that 16 percent of respondents "said they have stopped talking to a family member or friend because of the election." The poll went on to report that "13 percent of respondents said they had ended a relationship with a family member or close friend over the election." So my family drama is apparently being replayed in living rooms across the country as husbands, wives, parents, and children battle over their contrasting preferences between the intolerant blowhard and the authoritarian robot. Is populist nationalism better or worse than elitist corporatism? Cage match! Actually, "cage match" isn't too far from the truth. On March 4, anti-Trump protesters demonstrated their dedication to democracy by violently attacking supporters of the bloviator-in-chief at a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol. Way to emphasize your message, folks. Trump fans and opponents likewise clashed in Berkeley, California where police confiscated metal pipes, baseball bats, two-by-fours and bricks from the participants in vigorous political discourse. You folks do know that there are lots of elections to come, right? And they just might feature differing ideas that will compete for public support? This simmering tension is remarkable considering how little passionate support either of the two major party candidates stirred among Americans before the election. Last May, FiveThirtyEight noted that "Clinton and Trump are both more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 presidential cycles." Months later, the Republican and Democratic parties locked in the effort in collective fail at their nominating conventions, leading to headlines like USA Today's "Poll: Clinton, Trump most unfavorable candidates ever." Voters were truly torn over whether they were more disturbed by Trump's overweening self-regard, matched only by his dislike of everybody else, or Clinton's deep-seated belief that she should get to make lots and lots of rules that should only apply to little people. Which one was more thoroughly marinated in corruption also was up in the air. Some of us, to dredge up old arguments, thought that Americans should consider voting for a candidate from outside the major parties who was less overtly repulsive than the donkey and elephant offerings, less ethically crippled, and quite clearly not bone-deep evil. And for a while it looked like Americans were considering the possibility of supporting an awkward but competent former two-ter[...]

Why We Have Daylight Saving Time and Why We Should Scrap It

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 11:15:00 -0400

Yesterday was the start of Daylight Saving Time, and if anyone would like to form a SuperPAC to destroy politicians who jack around with my circadian rhythm I'll gladly chip in a few bucks. The twice-annual timepiece adjustment is outdated and irritating. States should pick a time zone and commit. Let's first dispense with some of the myths behind Daylight Saving Time (DST). Many people assume we enacted DST to help farmers. That's nonsense. Most of my relatives who aren't in prison are farmers. I have no idea what time they wake up in the morning because whenever I visit they've already eaten lunch by the time I'm mixing a hangover cure. They rise before dawn to feed the cows, mow the corn, construct scarecrows, etc. All without directives from Congress. Daylight Saving Time came about because of World War I. Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States all pushed our clocks forward to better coordinate waking hours with light bulb use, thereby conserving electricity. The program lapsed until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted "War Time Zones," which were basically the same thing, only with a cooler-sounding name. Astonishingly, despite originating as a temporary FDR government program, War Time Zones actually ceased at the conclusion of the war. Thereafter time zones defaulted to municipalities until 1966, when Congress enacted a permanent annual Daylight Saving Time, in part to standardize the plethora of discordant clocks across the nation. Today all of these reasons are outdated. We probably won't go to war with Germany again for another 20 or 30 years. And all of the economic benefits seem to cancel each other out. While we saved about 1 percent on electricity when first enacting DST, that figure is now offset by an increase in air conditioning. The idea that we'll all revert back to discordant municipal time zones set by the sundial in our mayor's front yard is utter nonsense. Everyone I know owns a smartphone, set automatically by a clutch of nerds in Cupertino. Each year a dozen or so state legislatures consider ending Daylight Saving Time, only to drop the measure and return to squabbling about transgender bathrooms or determining what the official state reptile should be. (The Moutain Boomer, of course.) Legally, if a state decides to drop Daylight Saving Time, it must then procure an exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's possible Secretary Elaine Chao would enforce federal time regulations with an iron fist and scream "this is the hill I will die on!" but I think we could probably win her over. There's a healthy debate about whether places like California should scrap DST and permanently move an hour forward or backwards. Television companies consider darkness their ally, and know that the earlier the sun sets the quicker viewers drop irritating habits like family picnics or soccer games and return to the vital activity of watching The Big Bang Theory. Conversely, the Chamber of Commerce and its chorus of retailers lust for delayed sunsets, because shoppers will stay out later buying The Big Bang Theory paraphernalia at malls. I'm a devout evening person and also a shill for the Chamber of Commerce, so I'd prefer we postpone sunset until around 11:30 at night. If nothing else, to punish all of you sanctimonious morning people for bragging about what you accomplished before breakfast, such as mowing your corn, constructing scarecrows, watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and so forth. That said, I think I speak for most Americans in saying: Just pick one! If Arizona and the territory of Guam can figure out how to commit to one time zone, surely the rest of us can.[...]

Tech Privacy a Top Concern in Early SXSW Government Panels

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 20:50:00 -0500

South by Southwest attendees may not be able to recite the Fourth Amendment on command (unlike yours truly), but two early panels on technology, privacy, and surveillance indicate that protecting this right is important to quite a few of them. Today officially launches the start of this year's South by Southwest conference here in Austin. Peter Suderman blogged earlier the opening address by Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). His piece launched the "government" track segment of the conference, running up through Monday. Reason is represented here not just as journalists covering the conference: Suderman, Jacob Sullum, and I are also moderating panels on important policy issues. Conider my panel, "Get a Warrant: The Fourth Amendment and Digital Data" as a sort of table-setter for tech privacy and surveillance issues that are going to be popping up at several other panels over the next few days. That's how we decided to approach it anyway. Assisted by Sean Vitka of Demand Progress and the advisory committee of Congress' Fourth Amendment Caucus, Neema Singh Guliani, of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Mike Godwin, the media/internet lawyer who helped start the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and also has a famous law you may have heard of), we offered up a sampler platter of top tech surveillance issues in America today. Our ultimate goal, though, was to help people attending the conference understand that legislators play a key role in helping restrain the surveillance and data collection authorities law enforcement and federal intelligence services have brought to bear against America's own citizens. Of course, those who read Reason regularly could have nodded along at the information passed along by our panelists. We only touched on each issue for a few minutes, but you can read more about why President Donald Trump's claims of being illegally wiretapped matter about more than just Trump lashing out or some sort of power play over who controls the government (though that does matter, too). An important provision that gives the intelligence community a significant amount of surveillance authority needs to be renewed this year or it will expire. Congress has a vote coming, and Trump's administration has said they don't want anything changed. But civil liberties and privacy groups are calling for reforms. We touched on border tech searches and the attempts by federal officials to try to essentially intimidate travelers—both foreign visitors and Americans—into granting access to their tech devices. Vitka noted in the panel encryption plays an important role of trying to restrain the government here and likened it to vaccinations and herd immunity. These searches happen because the possibility of access remains. If more or most Americans used tougher encryption to access devices, they'd be denied enough to stop trying. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is trying to get a law passed to require warrants for these border tech searches. And we used the Email Privacy Act to help highlight some of the challenges facing privacy supporters in Congress. The Email Privacy Act, which would close an old legislative loophole that allows warrantless access to old emails, passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but has not been able to get through the Senate. Established Senate leaders (and not just Republicans) have stood in the way of reforming the law, even when it has massive bipartisan support. (And when we polled the audience, many people who followed Edward Snowden's leak coverage nevertheless had no idea that this act even existed.) Following on the heels of my panel was "Are Biometrics the New Face of Surveillance?" The panel drew a large crowd, given that it's probably the latest "hotness" in how technology is facilitating government snooping. The panel was moderated by Sara S[...]

Marine Corps' Nude Photo Scandal is Actually a U.S. Military-Wide Scandal

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:20:00 -0500

The scandalous revelation last week that a private Facebook group for U.S. Marines was used to proliferate nude photos of female military service members appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. Business Insider reports that the originally reported group of nearly 30,000 members — Marines United — was not the only outlet where military members solicited and shared nude and sexual images of their female colleagues without their consent. Another site, AnonIB, is used for the same purpose, only its reach spreads throughout the U.S. military, not just the Marine Corps. Business Insider also notes that AnonIB's members not only share nude photos of female service members, they frequently identify the women "by name or where they are stationed." The Marines have promised an investigation, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is considering pursuing felony charges against the perpetrators, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has scheduled a hearing on the matter before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week. But will any of this matter? Military members and veterans are rightly revered in this country for their willingness to put their lives on the line in service of the nation. Unfortunately, that reverence — and our political leaders desire to cloak themselves in the military's reflected glory — too often leads to a blind eye being turned on systemic problems requiring urgent attention. A 2014 study by the RAND Corporation found that almost 5 percent of female military service members were sexually assaulted in the year prior to the study, and that "52 percent of active-component women perceived that they experienced professional or social retaliation after reporting a sexual assault." 22 percent of active duty women reported being sexually harassed that year, as well. Few institutions in American life are more preternaturally macho than the military, and even minor changes to titles are resisted as political correctness run amok. But for the military to maintain the honor they demand and generally deserve, each service branch should willfully engage the prevalent issues with sexism and abuse which are rampant throughout the service. And while no politician wants to be perceived as disrespecting the troops, every legislator from Congress to President Trump should be willing to use this scandal as a launchpad to make it clear that no one — not even the heroes of our armed services — can engage in a massive ring of ritual sexual humiliation of other service members, and have it be excused as "boys will be boys." The military's honor requires more than that.[...]

Trump Ads Were More Policy-Focused, Less Negative Than Clinton's 2016 Election Ads, Find Wesleyan Researchers

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 06:30:00 -0500

Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but at least she wasn't the candidate turning the 2016 election into a policy-light, personality-driven circus...right? Not so fast. Conventional wisdom may hold that Clinton ran the more serious and substantive campaign, but a new analysis out of Wesleyan University suggests otherwise, at least when it comes to campaign advertising. "Clinton's message was devoid of policy discussions in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests," according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzed election ads that ran between June 8, 2016, and election day. For the analysis, Wesleyan researchers coded Clinton and Trump ads—including those from their respective campaigns and ads from political action committies and allies—as being driven by policy, personality, or both. They found that more than half of Clinton's ads focused on Clinton's positive personal qualities or Trump's negative personal qualities rather than on policy matters, compared to a little over 10 percent of Trump's ads. Campaign advertising for Trump, meanwhile, was both more likely to focus on policy issues alone and to focus on a mix of policy and candidates' personal qualities, as you can see in the chart below.* The Wesleyan researchers also compared Clinton and Trump ads to those run in previous presidential election cycles, dating back to 2000. Clinton's personality-driven ads far outpaced those of either her Democratic or Republican predecessors in these past races. The candidate who comes nearest is Barack Obama in 2008, when around 15 percent of his ads lacked a policy message entirely (compared to around 10 percent of rival John McCain's ads). Throughout the period, Democratic campaigns were more likely to use personality-driven ads than were Republicans with the exception of the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney ran more personality-driven ads than did Obama. In general, the biggest proportion of campaign ads focused on policy messages. Check out more of the Wesleyan Media Project's analysis in the latest issue of The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics (open access through mid-April 2017). Interestingly, the 2016 election cycle saw less negative advertising than the last one, according to the paper. "For all of the vitriol in the 2016 presidential election (in rallies, the debates, on cable news programs), the tone of political advertising was actually less negative than it was in 2012," it states. "The 2016 election did, however, earn the distinction of the second most negative in the last decade and a half." Also notable: Nearly half of all Clinton campaign spots were negative, whereas more than half of Trump ads were "contrast spots, which discussed Clinton negatively but also provided information about Trump." Clinton's anti-Trump ads also emphasized her opponent's negative personal qualities rather than questionable policy positions, while "about 70 percent of ads from Trump and his allies that attacked Clinton contained at least some discussion of policy, and when there were contrasts drawn between the two candidates, those contrasts were almost all policy-based." * This post previously mistated the degree of difference and has been updated.[...]

Preet Bharara’s Crusade to Clean Up New York Politics Is Redundant, Counterproductive, and Curiously Selective

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0500

The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is a tax-and-spend bleeding-heart liberal who ordinarily would be way, way down on the list of people that this center-right columnist would want to spend any time or energy defending. So give the Obama-Trump-Schumer U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, some credit. With his open-ended, leaky, and so far inconclusive yearlong investigation into "corruption" by the mayor and his administration, he's achieved the nearly impossible task of turning de Blasio into a sympathetic figure. Our story begins back in April of 2016, when The New York Times reported that in the preceding month the mayor "learned of a federal corruption investigation into top Police Department officials. The inquiry revolved around two of Mr. de Blasio's big-money political supporters and appeared to extend into his fund-raising efforts more broadly." "Mayor de Blasio's Campaign Fund-Raising Scrutinized in U.S. Corruption Inquiry," was a typical Times headline, one of dozens, heavily reliant on anonymous sources, that have appeared over the past year in various New York outlets. A December 2016 Times article headlined "Grand Juries Said to Hear Testimonies on Inquiries Into de Blasio Fund-Raising" reported that the inquiries "could wrap up in a matter of weeks." Alas, no such luck. The mayor and his top aides have, meanwhile, racked up millions of dollars in legal fees on outside lawyers to defend against the investigation. The lawyer representing the mayor, Barry Berke of Kramer Levin, has tangled with Bharara on a series of white-collar criminal cases and recently got a federal judge in Manhattan, P. Kevin Castel, to order regular updates on federal investigations into unauthorized leaks to the press of grand jury information in insider trading cases. The vague cloud of suspicion cast anonymously over the mayor and some of his aides that have been named in the press coverage risks violating at least five of their Sixth Amendment rights—to confront their accusers, to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and to be informed of the nature of the accusation against them. That amendment isn't just there to allow guilty criminals convenient ways to get out of jail. It exists to provide protection against these sorts of extended whisper campaigns that wind up smearing reputations even before any charges are filed. Beyond the civil liberties issues, even as a practical matter, if Bharara's goal is educating the electorate or cleaning up New York politics, his tactics are redundant, counterproductive, and curiously selective. Redundant, because it was clear to anyone paying attention even before the federal probe that de Blasio's governing mode involved shaking down anyone who wanted anything from the city. When the Collegiate School wanted approval to construct a new school building, the city demanded a related payoff of at least $50 million for "affordable housing." The furniture company West Elm was somehow prevailed upon to cough up $65,000 worth of furniture for the residential quarters of de Blasio's taxpayer-owned mayoral mansion. Counterproductive, because rather than luring honest opponents of de Blasio into the mayoral race, the federal probe has served as a deterrent. The uncertainty about its outcome has frozen the race as potential candidates await either prosecutorial action or an all-clear signal. And the warning that city campaign fundraising is going to be under a federal criminal investigative microscope isn't exactly encouragement for anyone considering getting involved in raising or giving political money in New York City for any office. Curiously selective, because if you had to name the single New York politician most known for aggress[...]

Capitalism and Neoliberalism Have Made the World Better

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 15:10:00 -0500

"People think the world is in chaos. People think that the world is on fire right now for all the wrong reasons," says author and Cato Institute senior fellow Johan Norberg. "There is a segment of politicians who try to scare us to death, because then we clamber for safety we need the strong man in a way."

But despite the political situation in Europe and America, Norberg remains optimistic. His new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, shows what humans are capable of when given freedom and the ability to exchange new ideas. "In the 25 years that have been considered neo-liberalism and capitalism run amok what has happened? Well, we've reduced chronic undernourishment around the world by 40 percent, child mortality and illiteracy by half, and extreme poverty from 37 to 10 percent," explains Norberg

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Norberg during the International Students for Liberty Conference to talk about his book, the current political climate in the West, and how technology is creating a younger generation that will look past politics for answers to societal problems.

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Edited by Alex Manning. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Todd Krainin.

The Social Cost of Carbon Calculation Debate*

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 14:15:00 -0500

"The social cost of carbon is the most important number that you've never heard of," according to University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone. Greenstone led the interagency working group that devised this metric during the Obama administration. Since it was first calculated in 2010, the social cost of carbon has been used to justify 80 different federal regulations that purportedly provide Americans with over a trillion dollars' worth of benefits. "The social cost of carbon is nothing but a political tool lacking scientific integrity and transparency conceived and utilized by an administration pushing a green agenda to the detriment of the American taxpayers," insisted Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Il.), chair of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. LaHood's remarks were made as he opened a hearing called "At What Cost? Examining the Social Cost of Carbon" earlier this week. "This metric did not simply materialize out of thin, and dirty, air," countered Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va). Beyer argued that the social cost of carbon (SCC) metric was devised by the Obama administration through a process that "was transparent, has been open to public comment, has been validated over the years and, much like our climate, is not static and changes over time in response to updated inputs." So what are these politicians fighting about? The social cost of carbon is a measure, in dollars, of the long-term damage done by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in a given year. Most of the carbon dioxide that people add to the atmosphere comes from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The Obama administration's interagency working group calculated that the SCC was about $36 per ton (in 2007 dollars). This figure was determined by cranking damage estimates through three different integrated assessment models that try to link long-term climate change with econometric projections. Notionally speaking, imposing a tax equal to the SCC would encourage people to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions while yielding revenues that could be used to offset the estimated damage, e.g., by building higher sea walls or developing heat-resistant crops. Can citizens take that $36-a-ton estimate to the bank? Not really. First, consider that integrated assessment models are trying to forecast how extra carbon dioxide will impact climate and economic growth over the course of this century and beyond. One of the critical variables is climate sensitivity, conventionally defined as how much warming can be expected from doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The working group calculating the SCC also used various discount rates. (One way to think of discount rates is to consider how much interest you'd require to put off getting a dollar for 10 years.) Finally, instead of focusing on domestic harms, the working group included the global damages in calculating the SCC. Republicans, who convened the subcommittee hearing, argue that the SCC is bogus and therefore many of the regulations aimed at cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide by restricting burning of fossil fuels are too. In his 2013 analysis of the IAMs relied upon by the Obama administration's interagency working group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Robert Pindyck concluded that all three models "have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis." He pointedly added, "These models can be used to obtain almost any result one desires." In other words: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Having tossed the models aside, Pindyck earnestly sought another method for establishing a plausible SCC. In November, he published a new study in which he aske[...]