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Published: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Trump Wages War Wherever and Whenever He Wants

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 00:01:00 -0400

The day before Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on three sites tied to chemical weapons production in Syria, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that the president needn't worry about getting permission from Congress. "He has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said, referring to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." That eyebrow-raising assertion—which seemed to suggest that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had helped Al Qaeda, his archenemy, crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—was striking evidence of Ryan's cognitive dissonance. He and most of his colleagues are happy to let the president do whatever he wants with the country's armed forces, as long as they can pretend that Congress is still ultimately in charge. As much as Ryan might like us to believe otherwise, last week's attack on Syria, which was a response to the Assad regime's use of chlorine (and possibly sarin) against rebels in Douma on April 7, had nothing to do with 9/11. By Trump's account, the 105 missiles fired from American, British, and French aircraft and ships were aimed at creating "a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," which he declared "a vital national security interest of the United States." Members of Congress may or may not agree with that assessment. But under the Constitution, which gives Congress the power "to declare war," it was their call to make. That, at least, was the position taken by Donald Trump in 2013, when Barack Obama was weighing a missile attack on Syria in very similar circumstances. "Obama needs Congressional approval," Trump tweeted back then. It turns out Trump meant Obama specifically, not the president in general, certainly not when the president happens to be Trump. But that double standard seems only fair, since Obama played a similar trick. As a presidential candidate in 2007, Obama declared that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." As president, Obama did that very thing, repeatedly. Mike Pompeo, at the time a Republican congressman from Kansas, tried to curtail Obama's unilateralism, opposing his unauthorized intervention in Libya's civil war and urging legislators to play "our constitutional role" by voting on a resolution approving the use of military force against Assad. Pompeo, currently Trump's CIA director and his choice to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, seems to take a different view of the president's military powers nowadays. "For a long time, multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to…take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval," Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing last week. "I don't think that has been disputed by Republicans or Democrats." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—one of the few legislators who has consistently demanded that the president, regardless of party, respect the constitutional limits on his powers—could not let that slide. "It was disputed mostly by our Founding Fathers, who believed they gave that authority to Congress," Paul told Pompeo. "The fact that we have in the past done this doesn't make it constitutional, and I would say that I take objection to the idea that the president can go to war when he wants, where he wants." Make no mistake: That is the power Trump is asserting. "As our commander in chief," Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared the day of the missile assault, "the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests." Since the president alone defines those interests, this understanding of his authority as commander in chief effectively expurgates the War Powers Clause from the Constitution. Pusillanimous lawmakers like Ryan are supplying the correction fluid. © [...]

The Real Constitutional Crisis Is Congress' Unwillingness to Do Its Job: Podcast

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 14:30:00 -0400

Another week, another volley of American bombs on a Middle Eastern country that wasn't remotely posing a direct threat to the United States. By letter of the law, Congress is supposed to provide the necessary authorization to use force, but if any single pathology marks our crappily governed 21st century it's the legislative branch's full-scale retreat from anything that even resembles performing its basic duties. So we maintain on the latest editors' roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and me chewing on the news of the day/week. In this episode, that also includes James Comey's ABC interview on Sunday night, the latest in the Mueller investigation, President Donald Trump's caliber of insult comedy, Paul Ryan's failures, horror stories in advance of tax day, and a look at what cultural products the editors are binging on these days. Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="0"> Audio production by Ian Keyser. "The First" by Scott Gratton is licensed under CC BY NC 4.0 Relevant links from the show: "Trump Attacks Syria Without Congressional Authorization (or Clearly Defined Goals)," by Eric Boehm "'Mission Accomplished'? Maybe Ask George Bush About That," by Stephanie Slade "Rand Paul Worries Mike Pompeo Will Keep America in Afghanistan Even Longer," by Eric Boehm "Rep. Justin Amash on Trump, Ryan, and the 'Stupidity' of How the Government Spends Your Money," by Nick Gillespie and Alexis Garcia "Trump, a reluctant hawk, has battled his top aides on Russia and lost," by the Washington Post "The Deep-State Liars of the #Resistance," by Matt Welch "Republicans Have Finally Been Revealed as the Party of Fiscal Ruin," by Peter Suderman "It's Good News for Libertarians When Paul Ryan Quits Congress," by Nick Gillespie "RIP Miloš Forman, a True Hollywood Anti-Authoritarian," by Matt Welch "Keynesian Economics in under 1 minute," via The Fifth Element src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" 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.[...]

What Should Have Happened at the Facebook Hearing

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 11:10:00 -0400

Whether or not you like Facebook, it was hard to watch Mark Zuckerberg's congressional hearing without liking congress a lot less. In between the rampant showboating and clumsy soundbites, it became clear that a lot of legislators don't know enough about technology to competently regulate it. And even if they did, the federal government's track record on surveillance and privacy rights is less than sterling.

In the latest Reason video, we explore what we would have liked to see during Facebook's congressional hearing.

Written by Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton. Starring Bragg and Heaton. Produced and edited by Bragg.

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Libertarian Party Vice Chair Jokes About Shooting Up a School Board; Party's National Committee Declines to Suspend Him

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 16:30:00 -0400

Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee (LNC), prides himself on being rhetorically uncompromising in staking out the most radical and potentially outrageous outer frontiers of libertarian thought. His past comments on the age of consent (he says it isn't the government's business) and the proper moral attitude toward members of the U.S. military (he says they're hired killers) caused the party's New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe (singled out by Politico as a "rarity...a serious Libertarian candidate") to quit his position on the National Committee after it failed to suspend Vohra back in February. Since then, the rhetorical outrages have continued. In a post last month on the social network site MeWe, Vohra wrote: "Bad Idea: School Shootings. Good Idea: School Board Shootings." Vohra insists that was not a serious threat but a joke in "poor taste." But he also has tried to use it as a teaching moment over the question of when violent resistance might be justified. Vohra tries to connect the dots between the fact that the Libertarian Party says "taxation is an immoral violation of your sacred rights" and the fact that the Libertarian Party has "routinely argued that guns are not for hunting, they are for opposing government overreach." So? Well, as he wrote on Facebook, "I've routinely argued against any violence against the state, since I consider it unlikely to work. But for all the hardcore gun supporters who wear taxation is theft t-shirts: what is the level of tyranny that would be great enough to morally justify using violence in self defense?" He has "no plans to ever advocate violence against the state," but only for pragmatic reasons. "I consider it unnecessary," not wrong. "I believe that Dr. King and Gandhi have showed that violence is not needed to fight the state. I consider it unlikely to work." He absolutely believes in the right to use violence to defend yourself against state actions. Many LNC members found the seeming threat of school board shootings to violate a pledge party members take to "certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." Vohra seems to doubt that striking at agents of the state with violence is initiating such violence, but even he wrote off the school board shooting line as a joke. At the end of March, some LNC members publicly asked Vohra to resign, which he opted not to do. Another motion to suspend Vohra was introduced on April 3, and last night it failed. The vote was 11–6 in favor of suspending him, but the party's rules require a two-thirds vote of the total body for suspension, so it fell a vote short. The motion singled Vohra out for "sustained and repeated unacceptable conduct that brings the principles of the Libertarian Party into disrepute, including making and defending a statement advocating lethal violence against state employees who are not directly threatening imminent physical harm. Such action is in violation of our membership pledge. These actions further endanger the survival of our movement and the security of all of our members without their consent." As per the announcement from LNC Secretary Alicia Mattson, the "ayes" to get rid of Vohra were Whitney Bilyeu, Sam Goldstein, Tim Hagan, Caryn Ann Harlos, Daniel Hayes, Jeffrey Hewitt, Joshua Katz, Alicia Mattson, Justin O'Donnell, William Redpath, and Elizabeth Van Horn. The "nays" were David Demarest, Jim Lark, Ed Marsh, Nicholas Sarwark, Starchild, and Vohra himself. Starchild says that Vohra's disavowal of any serious threat in the "joke" made him vote against suspension. O'Donnell stresses that he shares Vohra's anarchism but voted to suspend because Vohra "has displayed a persistent and consistent ignorance as to the impact of his statements....I do fundamentally and philosophically agree with much of what Mr Vohra says in his posts, but I also understand the need to frame such arguments in a manner that reache[...]

The Zuckerberg Hearings Prove Government Shouldn't Regulate Facebook

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 00:15:00 -0400

In the year 2018, at the height of The Russia Scare, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of a tribunal of tech-illiterate politicians and asked to explain himself. "It was my mistake, and I'm sorry," Zuckerberg told senators who are upset about the company's exploitation (and fumbling) of user data—which, unbeknownst to them, was social media's entire business model. A number of panics have brought us to this preposterous place: the idea that Russian trolls on Facebook could swing the 2016 election and undermine our "democracy"; the idea that Facebook's leftward bias is so corrosive that we should regulate it like a utility; and, finally, the general way in which social media tends to reveal the ugly side of human nature—which is indeed scary but has little to do with any particular platform. If one could brush aside the bipartisan preening and sound bites during the Zuckerberg hearings, he would still be subjected to an infuriating mix of ignorance and arrogance. It's true that the United States is, in large part, run by a bunch of elderly politicians completely unsuited to regulate the tech industry. The obvious lesson, though, was still lost on many. Rather than trying to elect more technocrats, we should come to terms with the fact that in an increasingly complex world, politicians will be unsuited to regulate most industries, which is why they should do so sparingly. Not that ignorance has ever stopped senators from grandstanding. Republican Sen. John Kennedy, for instance, believes Facebook should be disciplined because its users erroneously assumed the service was free. "Your user agreement sucks," said Kennedy, describing a perfectly legal document that had already been subjected to an array of contractual regulations and was probably read by only a fraction of the social media giant's users. He went on to say: "The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook's rear end. It's not to inform your users about their rights. ... I don't want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God I will." So if a private entity follows the law but happens to upset the sensibilities of the United States Senate, it will, by God, be punished with some nannyistic intrusion or byzantine regulation? Well, not really punished, right? Because of course the rent-seeking Facebook desires more regulation. For one, it would make the state partially responsible for many of the company's problems—meting out "fairness," writing its user agreements, and policing speech—but more importantly for Zuckerberg, it would add regulatory costs that Facebook could afford but upstart competition almost certainly could not. It's a long-standing myth that corporate giants are averse to "regulations," or that those regulations always help consumers. We've already seen the hyper-regulation of health care "markets" create monopolies and undermine choice. We've seen the hyper-regulation of the banking industry inhibit competition and innovation. Politicians, often both ignorant of specifics and ideologically pliable, tend to fall sway to the largest companies, which end up dictating their own regulatory schedules. I mean, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina actually asked a compliant Zuckerberg to submit a list of government interferences he might embrace. The bigger ideological problem with the Facebook circus is that our politicians are acting as if being subjected to an opinion—or an ad—they dislike is some kind of attack on an individual's rights. Not one senator will ever tell constituents: "Hey, if you don't like the way Facebook conducts itself or you're unhappy about its political bias, then leave. No one is forcing you to open or maintain an account with Facebook, much less voluntarily hand over data. And if you're constantly falling for 'fake news,' well, that's a you problem, because the state can't fix stupid." Yet to assure senators that he could, in fact, control billions of interactions, Zuckerberg n[...]

Rand Paul Worries Mike Pompeo Will Keep America in Afghanistan Even Longer

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 14:15:00 -0400

Some senators may be worried that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, tapped by Donald Trump to be the next secretary of state, agrees with the president too much. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says his concern is exactly the opposite. Paul worries that Pompeo might disagree with Trump's instincts on the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan. The senator argues that Trump was elected in part because of his desire to end that war and his strong opposition to nation building. "The president has been very specific, at times, on this," Paul said during Pompeo's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. "He said, 'It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and bridges and schools for people who hate us. It is not in our national interest.'" Of course, Trump being Trump, there are always other quotes that can be used to refute almost anything he has said. Pompeo parried Paul's questions by pointing out that Trump has changed his stance on Afghanistan in recent months. "I share the president's view that we have a continued role there," Pompeo said. "We're not at a place yet where it's appropriate [to leave]." Will we ever reach that place? "I think we won the battle," Paul said. "We did. We literally did. There is no one left alive who plotted the attacks on 9/11. We are now sending people to war who were not even born when 9/11 happened." Paul's position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could be critical to Pompeo's confirmation. If the committee's 10 Democratic members oppose him, Paul would be the swing vote on the 21-member committee. A committee vote is expected later this month. A spokesman confirmed that Paul still plans to vote "no." If the nomination makes it to the Senate floor via a different route, Republicans, with their slim 51–49 majority, could face another close vote. Paul opposed Pompeo's appointment to run the CIA last year, saying in January 2017 that Pompeo's "desire for security will trump his defense of liberty." He was the lone GOP vote against Pompeo's appointment. While senators on both sides of the aisle queried Pompeo about his views on the Iranian nuclear deal, the rise of China as a geopolitical force, the threat posed by North Korea, and the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, there were few direct confrontations over Pompeo's own record. Sen. Johnny Iskason (R-Ga.) ended a long non-question by inviting Pompeo to "feel free to brag about yourself." But Pompeo's record deserves serious scrutiny, because it's a record that includes support for domestic surveillance, opposition to a free press, and a call for the execution of Edward Snowden. One of the few attempts at forcing Pompeo to explain himself was made by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who pointed out that Pompeo had voted on multiple occasions when he was a member of the House to restrict then-President Barack Obama's ability to wage war in Libya, and elsewhere, without permission from Congress. "Now that I'm in the executive branch, my views on that have not changed," Pompeo said before pivoting to argue that "multiple presidential administrations" have engaged in limited military assaults—as the Trump administration did last year when it launched missiles at Syria, something it may be preparing to do again—without congressional authorization. The implication was that Pompeo believes that sort of unapproved military activity is perfectly fine. "That we have done it in the past doesn't make it constitutional," Paul said, picking up on the earlier exchange between Pompeo and Kaine. "I take objection to the idea that the president can go to war where he wants, when he wants."[...]

Today's 'Balanced Budget Amendment' Is a Month Late and $1 Trillion Short

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:00:00 -0400

Thursday's planned vote in the House of Representatives on a so-called balanced budget amendment perfectly sums up the current era of Congress under Republican control. Coming the day after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) announced his decision to retire, the metaphor is even more apt. Republicans reclaimed the House in 2010 with promises to oppose the runaway spending of the Obama and Bush eras, with their stimulus and bailouts and expansion of government control over health care. Conservatives elected by the newly founded Tea Party movement railed against trillion-dollar deficits that threatened to bankrupt the country and the GOP got in line, at least rhetorically. The Republican Party platform in 2012 promised "immediate reductions in federal spending" and "long-range fiscal control." Ryan became the dashing young leader of the fiscal hawks, with his charts and graphs predicting economic catastrophe unless drastic action was taken. He had a plan to balance the budget, and he parlayed his commitment to fiscal austerity into the chairmanship of the powerful House Budget Committee, and then a turn as House speaker. If you knew nothing about what this Republican-run Congress has done for the past 15 months, Thursday's vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment would make perfect sense. It would be the crowning achievement of a conservative government that—having rid themselves of a spendthrift Democratic president—pledged to set the nation on a course toward fiscal sanity; the next step perhaps being a constitutional amendment to spare future lawmakers the temptation of straying from Ryan's carefully calculated path. Instead, Thursday's vote is an empty gesture. Worse, it's a hypocritical one. Ryan's final term in Congress will be remembered for the passage of a major tax cut, yes; but also a massive $1.3 trillion spending binge that will guarantee trillion-dollar deficits for at least the next 10 years, and probably much longer. Passing a balanced budget amendment won't change that. "There is no one on Capitol Hill, and certainly no one on Main Street, that will take this vote seriously," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told Politico. Without a plan to achieve a balanced budget and efforts to implement one, the amendment is not a serious proposal, says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "We need a budget with a long-term fiscal plan that can be implemented and addresses our unsustainable debt, head-on, not more meaningless messaging, delay, and denial," she said in a statement. The time to pass that budget, and to take substantial steps towards addressing the debt, was over the past few months. Instead, Congress voted to hike spending by $400 billion over the next two years, shattering the very spending caps that Ryan had once campaigned to impose. Republicans agreed to just keep on funding Obama-era domestic programs they'd literally spent years railing against, and threw billions to the Pentagon without even waiting for the conclusion of an ongoing audit of the federal government's most labyrinthine department. Trump signed the spending bill—but only after complaining about it, threatening to veto it, and then saying that he'd never sign another bill like it ever again. More empty gestures. Combined with last year's tax reforms, the spending bill will produce annual deficits of at least $1 trillion for the rest of the Trump presidency, the Congressional Budget Office reported this week. Which means that the tax bill Ryan sold as a first step to reducing the overall cost of government will only have put our fiscal situation further out of wack. If Congress does not allow individual tax rate reductions to expire as planned in the middle of next decade, the deficit will balloon by another $722 billion. By 2028, the CBO projects the national debt to equal the nation's overall e[...]

Mark Zuckerberg vs. Silicon Valley's Richard Hendricks: Why Facebook 'Welcomes' Regulation

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 15:37:00 -0400

Mark Zuckerberg is the multi-billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook. This week he testified before Congress, assuring lawmakers that his company will play nice with government regulators.

Richard Hendricks is a character on HBO's sitcom Silicon Valley, the bumbling CEO of the unfortunately named Pied Piper. His memorable moments include evacuating his bowels, vomiting, and then lunging into a glass wall in front of his workers.

One is poised when being grilled by Congress and the other can't deliver a pep talk to his staff without hurling under his desk.

But Hendricks is a better hope for the future of the internet than Zuckerberg. Here's why.

In his testimony, Zuckerberg welcomed regulation—and agreed to help craft it. He's in the same position as late-19th-century railroad tycoons. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these robber barons embraced regulation as a way to raise the barriers to entry for competitors who were eating into their profits and market share.

Still sporting a hoodie, Richard Hendricks is at an earlier stage of his career. He's trying to build a new internet in an effort to outmaneuver Hooli, a fictional amalgamation of Google and Facebook. Richard represents the next wave of innovation—the competitor who, if government stays out of it, will eventually erode Facebook's market share by offering a better product.

Even Richard's approach to disrupting Facebook is more than just TV fantasy. There's a real movement in the tech world to build a new decentralized web that would give users actual control over their own data and create open platforms that aren't controlled by any single all-powerful CEO. One reason to bet on real-life projects such as Blockstack and Ethereum to decentralize the internet is that talented engineers are beating down their doors, because working at Google and Facebook is lucrative but soul killing.

As Facebook and Congress start to write new rules for cyberspace, all of us who believe in free expression and permissionless innovation have a stake in making sure that the future of the internet remains as open as possible.

Written by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie, who also narrates. Produced by Todd Krainin.

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Clear the Runway: The Fight Over 'Uber for Planes' Is Coming to Congress

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 15:05:00 -0400

Long before anyone was talking about the sharing economy, private pilots across the United States were already engaging in it. They used bulletin boards at general aviation airports to advertise planned trips to prospective passengers who might want to come along for the ride and share the costs of the flight. Pilots do that because flying is an expensive hobby. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association warns would-be aviators to be prepared to spend more than $225 an hour when all flying costs—including fuel, insurance, and airport fees—are included. Since private pilots have to log at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to maintain their licenses, there aren't many viable ways to dodge those costs. So they've been sharing costs with passengers since at least the 1960s. For pilots, it's a crucial method of financing a flying habit. For passengers, it's an alternative way to reach a destination. In the age of Uber, it has the potential to be much more. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stands in the way. In 2014, the FAA shut down attempts to turn those analog billboards into digital ones, ruling that pilots who use online flight-sharing apps would be regulated as "common carriers" like commercial airlines. While that ruling doesn't directly ban those apps, no private pilot making weekend trips in a single-engine Cessna is going to subject himself or herself to the additional licensing and certification requirements (or mandatory liability insurance) necessary to be a commercial pilot in the eyes of FAA. In the wake of the agency's ruling, one of those just-launched apps, FlyteNow, took the federal regulator to court. But last year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case, seemingly grounding the apps for good. Now Congress has an opportunity to overrule the FAA. "A personal operator or a flight operated by a personal operator does not constitute a common carrier," reads part of the Aviation Empowerment Act, a bill introduced today by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). The legislation maintains the current prohibition on private pilots making a profit off flights offered via flight-sharing apps, but it would otherwise allow for the creation of digital billboards advertising trips. "Innovation is key to competition and accessibility," Lee told Reason. "Studies and experience with cost-sharing services have proven to be safe and effective in other countries, and it is past time we enact them in our country as well." Allowing flight-sharing is a win-win for aviation enthusiasts, whether they are pilots or just enjoy flying. And the small number of private planes and pilots, along with those rules against letting noncommercial pilots earn a profit for their services, means that flight-sharing is unlikely to disrupt commercial airlines in the same way that Uber disrupted the taxi industry. Almost everyone has a car; very few people own private aircraft. Apps like Flytenow and AirPooler launched in 2013, not long after Uber was becoming a ubiquitous part of non-airborne transportation. Naturally, the apps were often referred to as "Uber for the skies" as the subsequent regulatory and legal battled played out. But that characterization is not entirely accurate. Unlike Uber or Lyft, these flight-sharing apps intended to do nothing more than the bulletin boards in general aviation airports: They connected pilots and passengers for the purposes of sharing the cost of a flight. Unlike with the ride-sharing services, no one was earning a profit—that, they feared, would violate the FAA's rules. In other ways, the apps did resemble ride-sharing services. Pilots and passengers had individual profiles, and a ratings system provided feedback for other users. Running the current bulletin board network through an online app is likely to increase transparency and safety for all involved, even as it[...]

It's Good News for Libertarians When Paul Ryan Quits Congress

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 10:02:00 -0400

UPDATED 10:21 A.M.: Paul Ryan has announced he will leave Congress in January 2019, when his current term ends. ----------------------------------------- Axios reports that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will not be running for re-election. The Washington Post's Robert Costa says that's right, thus confirming months of rumors about the 48-year-old Wisconsin Republican, who had to be forced into taking the speakership after John Boehner's resignation. I'll let others do the math on how this will influence the midterm elections and the downward-sloping mood of the GOP caucus. (Sample: "The dread in Wisconsin is only a taste of what it must be on Capitol Hill for Republicans. Ryan is the latest in dozens of retirements, including some senior GOP figures...") From the perspective of a libertarian who wants to shrink the size, scope, and spending of the federal government, Ryan's time in Congress has been little short of a disaster. Since first taking office in 1999, Ryan has basically never met a war or a Republican boost to regulation or spending that he didn't like. He supported the expansion of Medicare under George W. Bush, and for all his supposed budget wizardry he routinely submitted proposals that would only balance the federal ledger in 40 to 50 years (read: never). A social conservative, he was resolutely in favor of keeping the government involved in issues about marriage and women's reproductive rights. For a Republican (a major disclaimer), he was relatively kind toward immigrants and the working poor, and that set him apart from such characters as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). But let's not damn Ryan with faint praise. Let's damn him with his own record: He voted for No Child Left Behind, after all, and TARP (on the first vote), The Patriot Act (and its various renewals), invading Iraq, and Medicare Part D. He'll always vote for more military spending because, well, the military can always use more money, right? The Medicare reform plan that the left pillories him for (it would restrain costs far in the future, don't you know, by replacing open-ended payments with a capped annual amount seniors could use to buy insurance) doesn't actually question the wisdom of the state paying for retirees' health care independent of their need or the fundamental unsustainability of the program whether it's "voucherized" or not. But it's Ryan's tenure as speaker that sets him apart from the typical Republican officeholder who mouths limited-government rhetoric while voting to increase federal interference in our everyday lives. In a recent interview with Reason, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) explains why he preferred John Boehner—who openly cursed out Amash at various points—to Ryan, who studiously ignored him and his calls for more open votes on everything from spending to wars. UPDATED 10:10 A.M.: Speaker Ryan will be holding a live press conference. Click here to watch. Story continues below video. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> [Story continues below] "The speaker has not been protecting the institution. You need a speaker in there who is an institutionalist, who cares about the institution first, who is not a partisan," Amash told me. "Let Republicans and Democrats and others offer their amendments, and let's have votes on all sorts of things, substantive things, not just post offices, like they do now." This is more serious stuff than your pedestrian Team Red–Team Blue fight. For the entirety of the 21st century (and we're nearly 20 years in, goddammit!), Congress has rolled over for the Executive Branch like a drunken hobo. As speaker, Paul Ryan continued that shameful abnegation of basic constitutional duties. From my conversation with Amash: Amash: People at home can vote new peop[...]

Is Facebook Doomed? What To Expect from Mark Zuckerberg's Senate Testimony

Tue, 10 Apr 2018 11:45:00 -0400

Today at 2 p.m. ET, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate Judiciary and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees on the social media platform's use and protection of user data (watch live at C-SPAN). Tomorrow, he'll sit down with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. What will he be asked and how will he answer? Republicans and Democrats are lining up to use Zuckerberg as a social-media punching bag. Liberal Sen. Dick Blumenthal (D–Conn.), whose bluster in the past has included lying about serving in Vietnam, has said "it's really kind of a high noon" for Zuckerberg and warned the young billionaire to come prepared with a better answer than, "'I made a mistake.' He didn't just spill milk on the breakfast table. There is a more fundamental issue related to Facebook's business model—they sell your information without your consent. That's what has to change." From the right, Zuckerberg can expect to be grilled over questions about tamping down conservative news and opinion at Facebook. Recall it was only two years ago that Zuck met with prominent media conservatives to assure them that not only was Facebook's trending news system not biased against right-wingers but that Donald Trump and Fox News were big fish in the platform's pond. Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas), who was the first Republican presidential candidate to contract with Cambridge Analytica, the data-scraping service at the center of the current controversy, has said he's "very concerned" about political bias at Facebook. Sen. John Kennedy (R–La.) has opined that, "our promised digital utopia turned out not to be all the land of milk and honey." The political dynamic at today's hearing should actually be excruciatingly fun to watch. Historically, Congress has made a fool of itself when weighing in on technology and new media ("a series of tubes," "Buffcoat and Beaver," etc.). But its ignorance also comes with a heavy dose of power. Zuckerberg is a liberal and presumed to share more with the very Democrats who will be grilling him over how his company cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election (which it didn't, but dreams die hard). Russian trolls, fake news, fake ads—that's what Dems will be talking about. Republicans will be threading a different needle. To satisfy conservatives, they need to attack Zuckerberg as a millennial snowflake who is running the greatest con around. In the representative words of National Review's Rich Lowry (channeling a very old man), Zuck "pretends to have stumbled out of the lyrics of John Lennon's song 'Imagine.' To listen to him, Facebook is all about connectivity and openness—he just happens to have made roughly $63 billion as the T-shirt-wearing champion of 'the global community,' whatever that means." Yet if Republicans suggest that Facebook somehow "let" or helped Trump win in an underhanded way, they will be accused of undermining their own party's fearless leader. Cruz, one of the most camera-hogging, tendentious interrogators to hit the Senate in decades, is in a particularly tight squeeze, since he was the original client of Cambridge Analytica and yet failed to make much good use of whatever data it stole or bought (depending on who's talking) from Facebook. Expect both Dems and Reps to puff up their chests and demand restitution in the form of favors of going forward. That will include threats to sic the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after Facebook. There's a 2011 consent decree in which Facebook admitted it deceived users into thinking some information was private when in fact it was being sold to app makers and other third parties. Expect Dems to push for more protocols on who is allowed to advertise and under what circumstances, especially when it comes to political speech. Republicans will push[...]

Americans Can’t Stand Each Other, So Let’s Stop Forcing Our Preferences on One Another

Tue, 10 Apr 2018 00:01:00 -0400

As a display of Americans' seemingly growing intolerance for one another, last week presented something of a perfect storm. The flash career of a prominent conservative writer at The Atlantic, the seeming endorsement by several tech executives of one-party rule, and the president waging war against businesses to punish media companies that criticize him provide the latest suggestions that some Americans don't play well together and should probably withdraw to separate corners. Kevin Williamson's mayfly tenure at The Atlantic represented a rare and aborted effort by a mainstream media organ to connect with ideas with which many of its readers are unfamiliar. Williamson is "an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don't yet cover comprehensively," editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg told staffers in an internal email. But maybe people prefer that some things remain mysteries. At least, that seemed to be the case once the blunt and provocative Kevin Williamson was revealed to actually believe that aborting a pregnancy should be treated as homicide, and subject to the applicable penalties—potentially including capital punishment. When Goldberg discovered that Williamson's hard-core social conservative opinions "did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views," Williamson was fired. Exposure to opposing views can be scary for some—so scary, in fact, that prominent tech gurus think perhaps we should sideline them entirely somehow. "We can't have one step forward, one step back every time an administration changes. One side or the other has to win," Peter Leyden, CEO of Reinvent Media, insisted recently. Leyden puts forward California, where the GOP has collapsed and been swept aside by a nearly one-party state, as the ideal outcome for "the new American civil war." Leyden doesn't fret that the disappearance of one of America's two major parties would turn democracy into a sham, because in the California primary system "the voters still got a choice between, say, a more progressive candidate and a moderate candidate…who almost all operate within a worldview that shares much common ground." The rest of the country should follow California's lead on embracing one-party rule, Leyden opined. Evan Williams, cheif executive at Medium and the former head of Twitter, called this an "interesting take." Current Twitter chief Jack Dorsey named it a "great read." Sure—if you're into creepy bedtime stories. While we're on creepy, let's talk about President Trump's battle against the Washington Post via Amazon. By all accounts, the nation's chief executive has declared war against the online retail giant to punish the company's CEO, Jeff Bezos, for his ownership of the Trump-critical Washington Post. "Mr. Trump sees Mr. Bezos's hand in newspaper coverage he dislikes and is lashing out at Amazon as a proxy," according to the Wall Street Journal. Given my own family's long experience with Trump's thin skin (he threatened to destroy my father over the publication of an unauthorized biography), it's easy to imagine the guy acting on his own intolerance of criticism (as well as the example set by his White House predecessors) to attack his political opponents. And why shouldn't we attack and try to sideline one-another at this point in our mutual loathing? Americans increasingly want very different things from their political system. "[I]n recent years, the gaps on several sets of political values in particular—including measures of attitudes about the social safety net, race and immigration—have increased dramatically," Pew Research Center reported last October. Just two weeks ago, Pew added that while Democrats and Republicans embrace their political loyalties out of support for the[...]

Rep. Justin Amash on Trump, Ryan, and the 'Stupidity' of How the Government Spends Your Money

Mon, 09 Apr 2018 14:30:00 -0400

Since arriving in Washington in 2011, Justin Amash has cast more consistently libertarian votes than any other member of Congress. A lawyer by training, the 37-year-old Michigan Republican is an outspoken defender of due process, civil liberties, and defendants' rights. He is also resolutely non-interventionist and friendly toward immigrants. Outspoken in his principles, he rarely misses an opportunity to excoriate his GOP colleagues when they fail to live up to the party's limited-government rhetoric. "There is such a level of stupidity right now in the way we spend money," says Amash, an opponent of ever-increasing Pentagon budgets and adventurism overseas. He is also a fierce critic of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.): "The speaker has not been protecting the institution. You need a speaker in there who is an institutionalist, who cares about the institution first, who is not a partisan." Instead, Amash tells Reason's Nick Gillespie, Ryan is protecting individual members from having to cast votes for which they might be held responsible. "Let Republicans and Democrats and others offer their amendments, and let's have votes on all sorts of things, substantive things, not just post offices like they do now." He is also fed up with Republican scapegoating of immigrants and refugees. "My parents are immigrants," he explains. "My dad's a Palestinian refugee. I think that a lot of his experience rubbed off on me. That he came from a place where he had no rights. He came here as a refugee. He told me all the time how wonderful it was to be in this country. How blessed we were to have been born in this country. That we have an opportunity here." Amash is known for explaining each of his votes on Facebook and for maintaining a lively Twitter feed, where he excoriates Democrats and Republicans whenever they seek to expand the size, scope, and spending of the federal government. "The omnibus is one of the worst—and most costly—pieces of legislation ever to become law. Period. That's why I voted no," Amash tweeted after his congressional colleagues passed a 2,300-page bill they clearly had not read. This interview was conducted at Reason Weekend, our annual donor event, which was held this year in West Palm Beach, Florida. NOTE: Podcast version contains full interview and audience Q&A. Run time 1 hour. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg. Edited by Alexis Garcia. "Destiny Day" by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: "Dimmy" by Podington Bear is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License ( Source: Artist: "Saunter" by Podington Bear is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License ( Source: Artist: Photo Credits: Jim West/ZUMA Press/Newscom—Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom—Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. PLEASE CHECK QUOTATIONS AGAINST AUDIO FOR ACCURACY. Nick Gillespie: Over the past couple of months, Congress has passed a budget deal that increases spending by about $300 billion dollars. It lifted the last of the budget caps from 2011, reauthorized domestic surveillance. The House overwhelming passed a sex trafficking bill that goes directly— It'll do les[...]

How Congress Could Stop Trump's Trade War, and Why It Might Not

Fri, 06 Apr 2018 16:40:00 -0400

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told Kentucky farmers and business leaders this week that President Donald Trump's trade policies could create a "slippery slope" that "can't be good for our country." "I'm not a fan of tariffs, and I am nervous about what appears to be a growing trend in the administration to levy tariffs," McConnell said Tuesday, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Tariffs on steel and aluminum issued last month by President Donald Trump will do significant damage to a wide range of American industries, from farming to housing to manufacturing, that will have to pay higher prices for those materials. Trump followed those tariffs by calling this week for a 25 percent import tax on some 1,300 Chinese-made goods. If approved by the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative, those tariffs will force American businesses and consumers to pay higher prices for almost everything, including necessities like food and clothing. Reciprocal tariffs imposed by China will hurt American farms and businesses a second time, and Trump has already threatened an additional $100 billion in tariffs as a tit-for-tat to China's response. No wonder, then, that McConnell says he is "nervous about getting into trade wars and I hope this doesn't go too far." If only he were in a position to do something about it, right? He could, of course, and there's several ways Congress could push back against the White House's protectionist trade policies—but there may not be consensus on what to do, and Republican leaders so far seem unwilling to cross Trump, even as he pursues a course that's unclear in its aims and risks doing serious damage to the economy. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the explicit power "to lay and collect taxes, duties," and the like. Although the legislative branch has delegated much of its authority over trade and tariffs to the executive branch in the past century, it could take steps in the next few months to restore those original powers and check Trump's dangerous protectionist impulses. It will have at least one major opportunity to do so, thanks to a June 30 deadline for the reauthorization of one such provision delegating trade power to the White House. Timing is a factor for other reasons too. Republican lawmakers that could face Trump-backed primary opponents are unlikely to want to break openly with the White House on trade. As spring turns to summer and primary season passes, that's less of a concern. "Congress will have leverage, but it seems like they've been unwilling to use it," says Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "It has more leverage today than it had a month ago, and that leverage gets stronger as the general election approaches." The first round of tariffs—the ones issued in early March and applying to imported steel and aluminum from a variety of orgins—were imposed under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the president more or less carte blanche to impose tariffs on national security grounds. Officially, the Trump administration says that American weapons of war depend on steel and aluminum supplies, so domestic producers must be protected from international supplies that could be cut-off in the event of a conflict. That's a weak rationale for a whole slew of reasons, but it exists, and under Section 232, that's enough. Congress could threaten to revoke Section 232 or modify it through new legislation. There is precedent for this—Congress overturned Jimmy Carter's national security restrictions on oil imports in 1980—but it would veto-proof majority and is therefore unlikely to happen. The newer tariffs, issued by Trump la[...]

GOP Senate Candidate Austin Petersen Wants You to Be Able to Legally Buy a Machine Gun

Tue, 03 Apr 2018 09:45:00 -0400

Austin Petersen, the 2016 runner-up for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination and current contender for the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Missouri, has always believed in free possession of fully automatic weapons (machine guns) for American citizens. As he reminded me in a phone interview this week, one of his colorful slogans during his L.P. run was, "I believe in a world where gay married couples are free to protect their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns." "I've been saying this for years," Petersen notes. But he felt inclined to say it again in the past week because his most prominent rival vying for the GOP Senate nod, current state Attorney General Josh Hawley, "on the day he declared [for the nomination] also declared for banning firearms accessories via executive orders. He's to the left of Obama, and he made it important for me to differentiate myself." It's one thing for someone from the knowingly radical-for-freedom Libertarian Party to say that sort of thing. But such an attitude is rare among would-be candidates for the major parties. Still, Petersen is confident that doing so in the context of the fight for the GOP nod to run against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will help, not hurt. "Not just Republicans, but even Democrats in Missouri are pro-gun," Petersen says. "The Missouri Senate voted to nullify federal gun laws in the state; we have permitless concealed carry as well as open carry." In "response to Democrats pushing hard left and saying we should repeal the Second Amendment," Petersen says that we should repeal the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA), which among other things placed strong licensing and tax requirements on machine guns, and also repeal the Hughes Amendment to the 1986 Firearms Owner Protection Act, which barred all possession of machine guns made after its passage. Second Amendment advocates "need to stop playing defense, and go on the offense," he tells me. "If they talk about repealing the Second Amendment, let's push in the opposite direction. The best defense is a good offense so let's talk about repealing the NFA and the Hughes Amendments." Petersen recently got himself into a Twitter squabble with gun control advocate Shannon Watts that dragged in television personality Montel Williams. Petersen thinks Watts made a fool of herself by prodding him about ordnance and nukes, which are matters not relevant to the NFA. Petersen doesn't think NFA repeal is that out-there a position, pointing to a petition to do so with over 285,000 signatures. "It's time to stop placating people having a conversation about how to limit our rights; let's get the conversation to where people are talking not about limiting gun rights but expanding them, and that's what I'm trying to do" by calling for NFA repeal. He's running Republican, Petersen says, because thousands of phone calls made to past supporters from his L.P. run showed that nearly all of them wanted him to wave the GOP banner. But that doesn't mean his fans don't have a hardcore radical streak when it comes to Second Amendment liberty. "Dollars talk. We had our single greatest fundraising day" after reiterating his support for private machine gun ownership. "We got a lot of 'attaboys' and as far as anger from the left, well, those people weren't going to support me anyway. Missouri is a pro-gun state, we don't have a lot of gun-grabbers." Petersen pushes back against the idea that advocating private civilian machine gun ownership is unbearably eccentric in the current gun control debate. "I want to bring the conversation back to our rights, rather than being about trying to justify why I need something, [...]