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All Reason.com articles with the "Politics" tag.



Published: Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2018 04:44:29 -0500

 



Prosecute Former Spymaster James Clapper for Lying to Congress Now. Time is Running Out.

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 12:30:00 -0500

(image) James Clapper, then the Director of National Intelligence, flat out lied to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at Senate hearing on March 12, 2013 when he was asked whether the National Security Agency collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." Clapper replied, "No sir. Not wittingly."

The fact that Clapper had wittingly lied to Congress was made clear just three months later by whistleblower and patriot Edward Snowden's revelations of the vast extent of the NSA's warrantless electronic spying on Americans.

Clapper should have been prosecuted for lying long ago. The statute of limitations on perjury will run out this coming March, so time is of the essence. The Washington Examiner cites numerous lawmakers urgently calling for the prosecution of Clapper including Representatives Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) who argues, "The time for the Department of Justice and the FBI to bring the accusations against James Clapper in front of a grand jury is long overdue. He and others who have held administrative power must be held accountable to the same laws that govern the people of the United States."

Evan Greer from the privacy activist group Fight for the Future tells the Examiner:

"James Clapper lied to Congress, and to the American people, about U.S. government surveillance programs that allow agencies like the NSA and FBI to constantly monitor all of us without due process or any suspicion of wrongdoing. Allowing the government to turn our computers and phones into spies that we take with us everywhere we go is detrimental to human rights and has a chilling effect on freedom of expression, but the worst part is that there is zero evidence that these programs have ever stopped a single violent attack."

"What makes these mass government surveillance programs so dangerous is that they're allowed to operate without any meaningful accountability or oversight," Greer added. "The fact that James Clapper is free to go about his life while Edward Snowden is still exiled is a travesty of justice."

Yes, it is.

Of course, when Clapper is found guility at trial (as he surely would be), the former spy chief should be sentenced to prison for five years for his perjury.

Watch below to see Clapper baldface lie to Congress:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nsmo0hUWJ08" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




Republicans Have Made Two Arguments for Bringing Back Earmarks. They're Both Wrong.

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:59:00 -0500

Republicans took control of Congress in 2010 with promises to clean up Washington's profligate spending and shrink government. One of their first major accomplishments was killing the congressional earmark, a wasteful, corrupt practice scorned by tea party activists and the new generation of GOP lawmakers elected by them. Eight years later, the Republican Party is led by a president who yearns for a return to earmarks and legislative leaders who, with their time in power possibly growing short, could undo one of the few genuinely positive accomplishments on their record. There's a lesson about the nature of politics in here, if you take a careful look. President Donald Trump, during a televised "negotiation session" with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle Tuesday, floated the idea of resurrecting earmarks as a way to grease the skids in Congress. If that was all, it could be easily dismissed. Trump is not exactly a disciplined speaker nor soundly versed in policy—during Tuesday's negotiations, he appeared to agree with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on immigration, only to be corrected moments later by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with whom Trump then expressed agreement. But some Republican lawmakers have been working behind the scenes since last year to revive earmarks. According to Politico, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters this week that he's open to having "conversations" about the idea. That would be most unfortunate. Earmarks are among the most grotesque forms of political privilege, special favors lawmakers hand out as rewards to faithful campaign donors or to help sway voters, paid for by the rest of us. Both parties were guilty of abusing the system, but many of the most memorable abuses were Republican efforts. In the early 2000s, then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) bought land near his farm, then inserted a $200 million earmark to fund the construction of a road through the same plot of land—which, of course, had to be purchased from Dennis Hastert. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) was convicted of taking $2 million in bribes and living rent-free on a private yacht in return for funneling earmarks to defense contractors. The most infamous earmark of all—the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," a $400 million transportation project intended to link an island with 50 residents to the rest of mainland Alaska—was slipped into a 2005 spending bill by the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Even when they're not literal bridges to nowhere, earmarks are pretty good metaphors for what's wrong with our political system, so why would anyone want to bring them back? There are two basic arguments. Trump made one on Tuesday. "Maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a system of earmarks," said Trump. "One thing it did is it brought everybody together." This is pure golden-ageism. There was a higher degree of bipartisanship in the past. There were also earmarks in the past. But bringing back earmarks won't revitalize bipartisanship any more than forcing members of Congress to use rotary phones. Earmarks also run counter to everything Trump supposedly wants to do. "Earmarks are the antithesis of the 'drain the swamp' election that sent President Trump to the White House. They are corrupt, inequitable, and wasteful," says Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscal conservative group that campaigned for killing earmarks. "We urge President Trump to reconsider and withdraw his recommendation upon consideration of the sordid history of earmarks." If a bill can't pass without bribing backbenchers with teapot museums and turtle tunnels—real, actual earmark projects of the past—you have to consider the possibility the bill doesn't deserve to pass. True, getting rid of earmarks hasn't fixed the problem of wasteful government spending. There's still plenty of outrageous executive branch agency spending. Citizens Against Government Waste publishes an annual round-up of the most wasteful exam[...]



Darrell Issa Retiring from Seat He Barely Won Last Time

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 15:00:00 -0500

(image) Darrell Issa, widely considered the most vulnerable Republican in this November's House elections, announced today that he is retiring from Congress.

Issa, who has represented his corner of California since 2001, chaired the House Government Oversight Committee from 2010 to 2015. There he led probes into whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted Tea Party groups; how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) lost track of illegally purchased U.S. guns it allowed to be taken to Mexico; troubles with Transportation Security Administration body scanners; and, of course, Benghazi. He also ended the preposterous congressional hearings into steroid use in baseball.

Unfortunately, little of this led to substantive action. Forget abolishing the IRS—Issa's investigations didn't even let us review or reduce the ATF's budget. As of 2016, nearly 800 body scanners were deployed at 157 airports.

Nevertheless, the investigations were still by and large far more useful than anything the committee, now obsessed with Russia, has produced in the last year.

Also on the plus side: In 2012, Issa prevented an amendment from gutting Texas Rep. Ron Paul's Audit the Fed bill. (Paul's legislation passed the House unanimously but died in the Senate.) Issa also introduced a sensible bill last year aimed at preventing state licensing boards from self-dealing. A vocal critic of asset forfeiture, Issa recently tried to defund the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture fund.

In other ways, alas, Issa was an orthodox Republican. He voted for the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act, and his zest for government oversight faded after President Trump took office.

He faced an uphill battle for re-election: Hillary Clinton won his district by nine points over Trump in 2016, when Issa won over his Democratic opponent by about half a percentage point. With today's announcement, someone else will have to carry the GOP's banner in the race.




Amash, Paul, and Others Trying to Stop Congress from Expanding Domestic Surveillance Powers

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:20:00 -0500

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and a bipartisan group of 42 lawmakers are going to try to stop Congress from expanding the feds' ability to snoop on American citizens. If they fail, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is threatening a filibuster in the Senate. This week the House is considering legislation to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments. This law grants intelligence agencies the authority to snoop on foreign targets on foreign soil without warrants, overseen by a secretive FISA court. This is done in the name of stopping espionage and terrorism. But the surveillance powers have also been secretly used on Americans to track down evidence of other crimes, without a warrant, circumventing both the Fourth Amendment and the FISA Amendments' stated intent. "We think that is unconstitutional, hugely problematic, and we're here to defend the rights of the American people," Amash said this morning at a press conference attended by members of both parties in both houses of Congress. Section 702 had been set to expire at the end of 2017 if it was not renewed. But several lawmakers refused to vote for its renewal unless it is reformed to protect Americans against warrantless surveillance. Unable to reach an agreement, lawmakers kicked the can down the road and just renewed Section 702 unchanged until January 19. Tomorrow, the House may take up one proposed renewal bill. Unfortunately, the bill they're considering is absolutely awful. The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017—pushed by the intelligence committees of both the House and the Senate—explicitly authorizes the exact violations of citizens' privacy that Amash and company are trying to stop. Rather than demanding that the FBI and NSA get warrants before they access Americans' private data and communications, it does the opposite: It gives the feds formal permission to snoop on citizens for a list of federal crimes without getting a warrant first. Amash has introduced a substitute amendment in the House that would replace the text with the contents of the USA RIGHTS Act. This is an alternative bill sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in the Senate and by Amash, Ted Poe (R-Texas), and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) in the House. The USA Rights Act would restrain the feds from using information collected in secret unwarranted FISA searches as evidence in court cases. It would also forbid "about" searches, where feds snoop on communications that are "about" a target as opposed to just communications to and from that target. And it would forbid "reverse targeting," where the feds snoop on foreign targets for the purpose of accessing the communications of the Americans talking to them. At today's press conference, Paul said he would filibuster any plan to renew Section 702 without warrant protections for Americans. To judge from the turnout this morning, it looks like he won't be alone if he does. I've written extensively about the difference between these two bills under consideration and what they do. If you need a refresher, check out this primer. Or read what Paul himself had to say at Reason about FISA reauthorization here.[...]



4 Things Congress Can Do to Stop a Cannabis Crackdown

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 13:50:00 -0500

Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions provoked bipartisan protests from members of Congress when he rescinded Obama administration guidelines discouraging U.S. attorneys from prosecuting state-legal marijuana suppliers. The move united progressive Democrats who support drug policy reform with conservative Republicans who believe in federalism (especially if they happen to represent one of the 29 states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use). Legislators, of course, can do more than complain; they have the power to resolve the conflict between state and federal law in this area more definitively than Justice Department memos ever could. Here are some of their options. 1. Spending Rider Since 2014 a spending rider now known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment has prohibited the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the rider means the DOJ may not prosecute people for marijuana-related conduct that complies with state law, even in cases initiated before the rider was passed. The rider must be renewed every fiscal year, and Sessions has urged Congress not to do so, saying it unwisely constrains prosecutorial discretion. The amendment, which was extended through January 19, will expire after then unless it is included in the overdue omnibus spending bill for this fiscal year. As currently written, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment does not protect state-licensed marijuana suppliers who serve recreational customers. In light of Sessions' decision, there is a decent chance that an expanded version of the rider, covering all state marijuana laws that depart from prohibition, will be included in the next omnibus spending bill. But the rider would last only until the end of the current fiscal year, after which it would have to be renewed again. It is also possible that other federal appeals courts will read the rider more narrowly than the 9th Circuit has (although that circuit does include five of the eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use). 2. Respect State Marijuana Laws Act Recognizing the uncertainty caused by the limited duration and scope of his spending rider, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is also sponsoring the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which he and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) first introduced in 2013. The act is admirable in its simplicity, declaring that the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act dealing with cannabis "shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana." The current version of the bill, introduced last February, has two dozen cosponsors, including 12 Republicans. It may pick up more support thanks to Sessions. "Because of @jeffsessions actions," Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) tweeted on Friday, "I'm joining the 'Respect State Marijuana Laws' bill. I believe in States' Rights & I've seen how cannabis derived medicines can stop seizures in a child, help a veteran cope with pain, or provide relief to a senior with glaucoma." 3. Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which was introduced by Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.) last February, is somewhat more ambitious than Rohrabacher's bill but would have much the same practical effect. Rather than carving out exceptions to the federal ban, it removes marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act entirely while criminalizing its importation into states where it remains illegal. The bill has 15 cosponsors, including five Republicans. 4. Marijuana Justice Act Like Garrett's bill, the Marijuana Justice Act, which was introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) last August, would deschedule marijuana. It also includes provisions expunging federal marijuana possession convictions, allowing reduced sentenc[...]



A Clip-n-Save Speech for Your Next Political Event

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 12:00:00 -0500

Politicians like to give speeches, you might have noticed—and modern communication makes it easier than ever for their speeches to reach a broad audience. But in today's fast-paced world, who has the time to watch or read them all? As a public service, herewith a major time-saver: a distilled version of every speech you can expect to hear over the next 12 months. No need to send thanks—just cash. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you very much. It is so great to be here in (locality), home of the (hometown team). Go, (mascot)! My friends, we stand at a crossroads. This is a defining moment for our (city / state / nation). We face many challenges, and there are no easy answers. We have (come a long way / achieved a great deal), but there is still much to do. There are those who say we are not up to the task. There are those who want to turn back the clock. But I believe that if we work together, there is nothing we cannot achieve. But to achieve great things, we need bold leadership. And that is why I am proud to stand before you today and announce my (candidacy / re-election campaign / new program). As some of you know, I come from humble beginnings. My father was a hobo who rode the railways. My mother was a hotel maid. On the side, she sold paperweights that she made by melting leftover shampoo bottles in the oven. But my parents taught us important values: Honesty and hard work. Courage and determination. And one other pair of values, because audiences like lists that come in threes. It is because of those values that I am the first member of my family to (go to college / avoid indictment / eat three meals a day.) We didn't have it easy. But like my grandma always told me: "If you sit in a closet and pray for hot dogs, you'll get coat-hangers." And so we have a responsibility to the American people. People like you. People like me. People like a person I am about to mention by name, because my consultants say personal stories poll well with focus groups. I'm talking about Joe Brown, who lost his job of 20 years when the sprinkler factory he worked at moved to Mexico because of those who disagree with me. Joe found himself struggling to put food on the table. But with the help of a program that I started, Joe got retrained at the local community college, and he is now night manager at a hose factory. Joe is with us here today. Joe, would you stand up please, so people can see what a blessing I have been to ordinary people? People like Joe are the reason we must build a stronger, more diverse economy. An economy with a world-class business environment. An economy that creates well-paying jobs. But let me be perfectly clear: that strong economy should also provide quality health care, so that nobody is ever one illness away from having to choose between paying for a prescription or paying the rent. Now, make no mistake: To build that economy, we need to invest. We need to invest in infrastructure, and education, and a world-class workforce development program. Studies have shown that for every dollar we invest in X, we get back Y. The fact of the matter is, X is a good deal for taxpayers. But we also need to invest in game-changing ideas that will benefit the forgotten middle class. And we need to strengthen networks that will help us come together to offer solutions and implement plans. That is the vision I want to talk to you about today. My vision for a brighter future includes energy independence. It includes support for law enforcement and our first responders. It includes jobs. It includes public safety. Wmust close the digital divide. We must help struggling areas meet their full potential. We must devote additional resources to address the crisis of (refer to trending topics on Twitter). And above all else, we must make X the capital of Y. Also, something about veterans. Thank you for your service. This is a historical moment. And so I call on (my colleagues / my opponent / th[...]



Warning: The President Wants to Censor 'Fake News'! The President of France

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:45:00 -0500

President Donald Trump is commanding a lot of attention for his lawyers' attempts to scare Michael Wolff and Wolff's publisher out of releasing Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. This attempt to censor the press definitely deserves our attention and condemnation. But if their threats against Wolff stand out, it's not because there's something new about politically powerful people trying to suppress reports that make them look bad. The only norm Trump is breaking here is the one that says not to be so openly self-serving about it. If Trump had the sense to act as though his calls for censorship were about "preserving democracy," he'd be in much better shape. That's exactly what's happening in France. French President Emmanuel Macron, like Trump, is not happy about "fake news." Like Trump, he wants to stop it. But unlike Trump (so far), he's trying to use his power as president to actually censor the internet. Macron claims that he merely wants to protect the people from "fake news" during elections. The Guardian reports: In his new year's speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies. New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped. For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," he added. Is it really liberal democracies that Macron wants to protect? The Guardian notes that Macron faced fake news stories during his presidential campaign that accused him of hiding funds in offshore accounts. Like many Hillary Clinton supporters in America, he claims that Russia-linked outlets spread propaganda to harm him. All this suggests that what Macron really wants to censor is "fake news" that threatens his political fortunes. Fake claims during political campaigns are hardly new. They're less a "threat" to liberal democracies than they are a natural, albeit frustrating, side effect of having campaigns in the first place. Meanwhile, there's not much evidence that "fake news" has had much of an impact on election outcomes. A new report from a trio of political scientists found that in the run-up to the presidential election in America, one out of four people who participated in their study had visited a site with fake news stories. But only a much smaller number, 10 percent, were regular consumers of fake news—mostly older, more conservative voters who weren't likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. While the report was not able to determine whether people actually believe the fake news the read, what did seem to be clear is that people's exposure to fake news seemed to track their desire to consume news about the candidate they already supported. The fake news was a complement to the rest of their news consumption. The fake news told them what they already wanted to hear, which probably tracks the experiences of anybody who has had a Facebook friend post a link to a report that was obviously false. There's something particularly reprehensible about trying to connect the preservation of democracy with the censorship of speech that makes a candidate look bad, regardless of whether that speech is true or false. Given the absence of evidence that fake news stories have been tipping elections, Macron's actions have the same whiff of self-preservation as Trump's. Macron is hardly alone. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has threatened to use her position as a lawmaker to force additional regulations of political speech on social media. By pure coincidence,[...]



'Economists Say' a Lot of Things. Many of Them Are Wrong

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 00:30:00 -0500

"A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation—and may finally raise wages significantly," opens a recent New York Times article surveying the state of the American economy. One imagines that readers of the esteemed paper were surprised to run across such a rosy assessment after having been bombarded with news of a homicidal Republican tax plan for so many weeks. But not to worry! Over the next few thousand words, the authors do their best to assure readers that neither deregulation nor tax cuts are really behind this new economic activity—even if business leaders keep telling them otherwise. For example, they claim that "There is little historical evidence tying regulation levels to growth." A few paragraphs later, we again learn that "The evidence is weak that regulation actually reduces economic activity or that deregulation stimulates it." A reporter without an agenda might have written that evidence was "arguable," because I bet I could corral a bunch of economists to tell you that lowering the cost of doing business spurs economic activity quite often. And though the Trump administration somewhat overstates its regulatory cutbacks, it has stopped hundreds of Obama-era regulations from being enacted. Even better, it has stopped thousands of yet-to-be-invented regulations from ever being considered. There's plenty of evidence, in the article and elsewhere, that this kind of deregulation has plenty to do with investment and job growth. There is also plenty of evidence that econ reporters at major publications have spent the past decade propping up economists who tell them what they want to hear. That is to say, they prop up economists who obsess over "inequality" rather than economic growth, who worry about the future of labor unions or climate change or whatever policy liberals happen to be plying at the moment. There are plenty of economists out there making good arguments for the free market who will never be member of the "economists say" clique. For eight years, we consistently heard about how "economists say" everything Democrats were doing was great (even when hundreds disagreed). Unsurprisingly, "economists" were wrong about a lot. The rosy predictions set by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers regarding the "stimulus," the administration's prediction of 4.6 percent growth by 2012 and the Congressional Budget Office predictions about Obamacare were all way off base. There are thousands of unknowns that can't be quantified or computed, including human nature. But after decades of using data to help us think about goods, services, jobs, consumption and our choices, "economists say" is now used to coat liberal policy positions with a veneer of scientific certitude. And since Democrats began successfully aligning economics with social engineering, we've stopped seriously talking about the tradeoffs of regulations. A good example of this trend is the push for a $15 minimum wage—an emotionally satisfying, popular and destructive policy idea. Most cities that have passed the hike have experienced job losses. When researchers at the University of Washington studied Seattle's $15 minimum-wage hike, one of the largest in the nation, they found that thousands of fewer jobs were created and thousands of people lost hours of work, making them poorer. No doubt a lot of people were surprised. Vox, a leading light in the liberalism-masquerading-as-science genre, ran an article headlined "The Controversial Study Showing High Minimum Wages Kill Jobs, Explained." You might wonder why incessantly quoted studies from liberal "nonpartisan" groups that falsely predicted minimum wages wouldn't hurt cities aren't "controversial." Because if you want to raise th[...]



4 Things That Pissed Us Off in 2017

Sun, 31 Dec 2017 09:00:00 -0500

If you like to rage, 2017 was the year for you. There was so much to be pissed off about and Reason was there every step of the way to chronicle what actually mattered. 1. The assault on free speech No matter which major party presidential candidate was going to win the election last year, 2017 was going to be a bad year for free speech—both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton demonstrated a hearty disdain for it. Since his inauguration, president Trump has reveled in needling the press and its "fake news." Many in the press have reacted with the kind of sloppy, mistake-laden work that has helped justify his criticism. Trump's October tweet asking of NBC, "at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License," was nothing out of the ordinary for Trump, but acting on it might have actually violated the First Amendment, crossing a line from a complaint to government action. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai responded to calls to review the licenses of cable news network before Trump himself tweeted about it. "Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn't license cable channels," Pai said, "these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions." Trump continued an ignominious tradition of assaulting the First Amendment from the White House (his predecessor prosecuted more government whistleblowers than all his predecessors combined), but free speech also got short shrift in some surprising places. More than 200 staffers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization dedicated to protecting constitutional rights, signed an open letter decrying the group's First Amendment absolutism. "Our broader mission—which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment—continues to be undermined by our rigid stance," the letter read. Then there were the students affiliated with Black Lives Matter who shut down an ACLU-sponsored free speech event at the College of William & Mary because "liberalism is white supremacy." Apparently lost on the students was that the police officers they protest against would be responsible for enforcing hate speech laws. That is not a theoretical point—hate crimes laws pushed by progressives are now being used to establish "blue lives matter" provisions that enhance sentences for crimes against cops if you say something mean to them. Louisiana already added police officers to the list of people who can be victims of hate crimes, and there's an effort to do the same on the federal level. There's also the now-fashionable non-argument that because Nazis claim to be for free speech (anyone who takes them at face value is not a critical thinker), supporting free speech means supporting Nazism. The proposition is as preposterous as the suggestion that advocating for the constitutional rights of accused criminals means supporting criminals. Just because an argument is preposterous, unfortunately, doesn't mean it can't be popular, so vigilance about free speech will remain important. 2. The war on "sex trafficking" As much a failure as the war on drugs has been, and despite its increasing unpopularity, not only is the federal government not winding that war down, it's declaring new ones it can't possibly win. Take the escalation of the war on so-called "sex trafficking." Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has been at the forefront of reporting on this disturbing new trend. Brown predicted it in a Reason magazine cover story two years ago, concluding that the results would be disastrous for "perpetrators" and "victims" alike. She was absolutely right. Government agencies have enthusiastically embraced the same failed strategies of the war on drugs to fight a "sex trafficking" threat they have severely overblown. A pair of bills passed by Congress and signed into law earlier t[...]



Congressional New Year's Resolutions

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 10:30:00 -0500

As 2017 thankfully limps to its conclusion, we turn our sights to 2018 and ways in which Congress can be less awful. In this special holiday edition of "Mostly Weekly" Andrew Heaton comes up with some out-of-the-box ideas for our legislators:

And, of course, what to do about that shrimp running on a government-funded treadmill.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind. Watch past episodes here.

Script by Andrew Heaton with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind
Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

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Congress Kicks Surveillance Debate into 2018

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 14:05:00 -0500

(image) As 2017 comes to a close, Congress, still divided over how (or whether) to limit federal surveillance authorities, has kicked the can down the road to at least January 19.

As part of a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running for a few more weeks, Congress extended the deadline to decide what to do about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments.

Section 702 grants the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) the authority to engage in covert, unwarranted surveillance of foreign targets overseas. It is a source of public controversy in recent years because it has become clear and public that the federal government has been using this authority to secretly collect data and communications from and about American citizens and using it as evidence for domestic crime investigations, without getting warrants and without citizens knowing it was happening.

Section 702 expires at the end of the year, or it would have if not for the continuing resolution passed right before Christmas. Before renewing Section 702, civil rights activists groups and privacy rights-oriented lawmakers want to make sure the law's text is reformed so that the use of unwarranted surveillance against American citizens is restricted.

But Congressional leadership, White House officials, and the intelligence community are reluctant to see any changes that might restrict surveillance powers. Right before the holiday, the House tried and failed to advance an absolutely terrible renewal bill that would have given the FBI and NSA formal permission to use unwarranted surveillance to investigate a whole bunch of domestic crimes in this law aimed at foreign targets.

That effort failed and this short-term renewal means the fight is far from over. Technically, the FBI and NSA say that they don't actually have to start winding down their surveillance until April, so there's still time to fight over how to reword the law (for information on which bills are currently in circulation, written in plain English, read here).

But the continuing resolution briefly postponed budget fights to keep the government open. There's still a very high likelihood that some sort of surveillance renewal could get jammed into a spending bill that gets passed with little discussion. Senators like Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) say they'll fight efforts to pass a Section 702 renewal without any debate in Congress. And they've put together the bill that best protects American citizens from unwarranted surveillance.

We thought this fight might be over by the end of the year, but it's going to keep going into 2018.




Will Opening Up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Spark Another Alaska Oil Boom?

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:30:00 -0500

"Please God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away." I heard that phrase several times when I was on a lecture tour in Alaska in the early 1990s. In 1979, just two years after crude had begun flowing down the Alaska pipeline from the North Slope, the real price of oil was nearly $100 per barrel. By the time of my visit, the price had fallen to under $25 per barrel. Back then about 1.5 million barrels per day were arriving at the marine shipping terminal in Valdez. Today the total is under 500,000 barrels per day. The just-passed Tax Cut and Jobs Act authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), so Alaskans may get a shot at that extra oil boom. The region may contain as much as 10 billion barrels of technically recoverable petroleum. The Prudhoe Bay field next door was originally estimated to contain 25 billion barrels, of which nearly 13 billion have been produced. Naturally, environmentalist are upset. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, declared: "As if this tax bill were not terrible enough, it goes after one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This is the biological heart of the refuge and will drive a stake right through it." Let's consider what's actually on the table. In 1980, Congress specifically set aside part of the ANWR coastal plain for future oil and natural gas exploration and production. The tax bill authorizes lease bids on just 2,000 more acres—about one-tenth of one percent of the 19 million acre refuge. While some may consider the mosquito-infested boggy coastal plain "beautiful," the fact is that the remote ANWR (including the more scenic mountain regions) receives between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors annually. Environmentalists claim that hydrocarbon exploration and production will disrupt the caribou herds that roam the refuge. This same argument was made when the original production from Prudhoe Bay began. But as drilling, construction, and production ramped up around the Prudhoe Bay region in the 1970s, the Central Arctic Herd actually expanded from 3,000 animals in 1972 to nearly 70,000 caribou by 2010. Since then the herd size has fallen to 22,000. Researchers don't blame the herd's decline on oil and gas production—which, after all, has not been increasing. Instead they cite increased mortality due to the late arrival of spring in 2013 and 2014. In addition, some animals from Central Arctic Herd migrated to join the larger Porcupine Herd. The Porcupine Herd, which roams areas of the ANWR where no oil or gas production or exploration has taken place, also experienced significant population ups and downs. In the 1970s, the herd contained an estimated 100,000 animals. That number rose to about 175,000 by 1990, then fell back to 125,000 or so by 2000. By 2013, the herd size had grown to 197,000. A report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that number of caribou in Alaskan Arctic herds reached 700,000 in the first decade of the 21st century. This might have resulted in overgrazing, which is now contributing to the decline of some of the herds. In any case, it seems unlikely that oil and gas leasing in ANWR will drive a stake through its biological heart. Even if oil companies are interested in oil production in the ANWR, it will likely take at least a decade before crude begins flowing from the refuge, due partly to the technical complications of working in the Arctic and partly, of course, to the inevitable lawsuits coming from environmental activist groups. Disclosure: As part of my lecture fee, I extracted from my University of Alaska–Anchorage sponsors a visit to the Prudhoe Bay production facilities on the North Slope in February. It was around -50 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill[...]



You Won't Be Able to Pay Taxes on a Postcard, and That's Exactly How H&R Block Likes It

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 15:55:00 -0500

When House Republican leaders unveiled a tax reform bill on November 2, they made a bold promise. "This is a complete redesign of the code, so we can simplify it so much that nine out of 10 Americans can file using a postcard-style system," said Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-Texas). President Donald Trump noted what that could mean for businesses that make their living off helping Americans navigate the awful, complex federal tax code. "The only people that aren't going to like this is H&R Block," Trump said later that same day. "They're not going to be very happy." It was indeed bad news for H&R Block. Shares of the company's stock fell 2.7 percent that day. But this afternoon, as the House cast the final vote on the Tax Cuts And Jobs Act, H&R Block's stock was trading at about $28 per share, up 13.8 percent from where it was on November 2. Intuit Inc., which owns the TurboTax brand, has seen its shares rise by about 5.5 percent over the same period. I'm happy for the shareholders of H&R Block, who will be rewarded for their investment in the company. But the drop and subsequent rise of the company's stock tells you something about how the promises made for the Republican tax bill differ from the reality of the final text. Americans will not, in fact, be able to file their income taxes on the back of a postcard, and the bill does not do much to simplify the tax code (though the higher standard deduction does mean that fewer households will have to itemize deductions, a welcome change). As Kevin Carmichael pointed out at FiveThirtyEight today, increasing the standard deduction doesn't do a whole lot for most people, because even families that take the standard deduction still often need help with their taxes. Simplifying the tax code in a meaningful way would have meant removing the various credits, deductions, and gimmicks littered throughout the code. Most of those remain. Listen to the talking points Republicans are using this week. They aren't saying anything about paying your taxes on a postcard now. Nor is there much bragging about how many pages have been cut from the tax code. The code is still complicated, and so the tax prep companies win. This isn't new territory for them. Intuit spent handsomely in 2013 to defeat a Democratic proposal that would have had the IRS pre-fill tax forms for taxpayers, as a 2013 Propublica investigation revealed. Since 1998, major tax preparers have spent almost $28 million lobbying Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a pro-transparency think tank. They had help, of course. A multitude of special interests deploy legions of lobbyists—like this asshole—to preserve or create exemptions, breaks, and credits. That's why the idea of a postcard-sized tax form has always been a pipe dream. The new tax bill means most Americans will get to keep more of the money they earn. And that's great, because they'll need that money to pay their accountants.[...]



Congress Mulls Passing Most Intrusive Federal Surveillance Bill Available (Update: Bill Is Dead 'For Now')

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:00:00 -0500

Today the House may vote to renew the authority of the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in unwarranted surveillance and codify its use against Americans. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments expires at the end of the year. The regulations are used by federal intelligence agencies to snoop on foreign targets, secretly and without warrants. It turns out the feds have also been using Section 702 to snoop on communications by Americans here on American soil to fight domestic crimes, all without getting a warrant as the Fourth Amendment requires. So as the clock ticks down, privacy-minded activists and legislators have been working to demand changes to Section 702 before renewing it to guarantee that the FBI and NSA get warrants in order to collect, review, or use as evidence communications and data from Americans for domestic purposes. No dice. At least not yet. Last night House leaders scheduled for a vote the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, H.R. 4478. This, among the proposed bills to renew Section 702, is the worst of the lot, hammered out by the intelligence committees of both the House and the Senate. Like many bad laws, it does the opposite of what its promoters claim it does. It "reforms" Section 702 by essentially codifying into law some of the worst ways it has been used. The two biggest problems with the law: Rather than requiring the FBI and NSA to get warrants to collect and use communications from Americans, it authorizes this snooping for a whole host of domestic crimes—any crime involving death, kidnapping, serious bodily injury, crimes against kids, transnational crimes, and even computer fraud. All without warrants. The law says that the FBI "may apply" for a court order to get access but it's not mandatory. In addition, the attorney general has the authority to decide whether the crime being investigated falls under the many warrant exceptions and that decision is explicitly exempt from judicial review. The law will eventually allow for the return of "about" searches. These controversial searches had been used by intelligence officials to collect and access communications that were merely "about" a subject of surveillance, not just to or from that target. These searches were halted earlier in the year after it became clear that the NSA was collecting all sorts of communications it did not have the authority to access. This bill will allow the FBI and NSA to restart "about" searches if they submit a report to the two congressional intelligence committees first and subject themselves to a 30-day review period. Two members of the House's Intelligence Committee, Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.) wrote their opposition to the bill but were outvoted. Speier, who voted against renewing Section 702 last time it was scheduled to sunset in 2012, warned: "Since that time, significant numbers of Americans have been improperly swept up in surveillance activities that the law says must not target Americans. This improperly obtained information is retained for years. It has been used in court against Americans charged with crimes that have nothing to do with national security, with no warrants and without the required notifications to the defense. The government selectively publicizes what it calls Section 702 successes, but has defied Congress by refusing [to] share information on how many Americans are impacted by Section 702 failures. The checks and balances built into the system are insufficient: A rotating cast of federal oversight judges are expected to grapple with highly technical aspects of electronic surveillance, outmatched by an army of expert government lawyers. The only go[...]



Avoid the Deadly Isms

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:15:00 -0500

People want politics to be simple. Left vs. right. Clinton vs. Trump. My side vs. your side. Elect the right guy, and things will be good! The truth is more complicated. Influential political philosophies created the mess we live with today, not just a political "left" and "right." There's socialism, conservatism, populism, progressivism, liberalism, scientism (eugenics), Marxism, totalitarianism, nationalism, fascism, Islamo-fascism, Nazism and probably others I missed. But only two "isms" work well for ordinary people. More on them in a moment. It's in the interests of politicians and activists to tell us society is divided into two armies, one good and one evil, with crushing defeat for one side just about to happen. When primitive parts of our brains see the world as "us vs. them," we're ready to fight each other. We may not realize until it's too late that all those ideologies will reduce our freedom and increase the power of politicians. Matt Kibbe, head of the group Free the People, calls them "the Deadly Isms" in a new series of online videos. He urges people to stop wasting time worrying about which "ism" is on the left or right and worry more about how all threaten individual liberty. Stalin was not the opposite of Hitler. Both were mass murderers who censored the press, seized control of industries and murdered innocent people. We don't benefit by choosing between communism and Nazism, or between the milder forms of them that still find adherents today: socialism and fascism. Whether government gives you orders in the name of the working class or a superior race, it still takes away your right to do as you please. On the other hand, there is an ideology that does leave us mostly free to do what we please. John Locke called it liberalism, saying that: "The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man." We need some government to do some things—keep the peace, for example—but otherwise, government should mostly leave us alone. Unfortunately, today's liberals stole Locke's word. Now liberalism means regulating most every detail of individual behavior and dividing people into grievance groups that use government to take each other's money and freedom. Conservatism claims to love freedom, but its advocates don't mind government starting wars and crushing civil liberties of unpopular groups like drug users, immigrants, gamblers, sex workers and pornographers. Today, both liberalism and conservatism are guilty of encouraging another ism: corporatism. That's what we get when government doles out special privileges to corporations and people who have more lawyers and lobbyists than you do. A genuine free market rewards entrepreneurs who serve customers well. A government that hands out farm subsidies, wind-farm tax credits, mortgage deductions, etc., skews the economy in favor of those who are already rich. That's corporatism, or crony capitalism, or "crapitalism," and that's basically what we've got in America now. Donald Trump practiced crapitalism. That's why cronies like Bill and Hillary Clinton attended his wedding. I don't blame Trump. When government has its fingers all over the economy, developers are smart to get cozy with the political class. But when Trump ran for president, he didn't call himself a crony capitalist; he said he was a "populist." Sometimes he called it "popularist." Populists are angry at the establishment. But populism offers no solution. It leads instead to people following the will of self-appointed leaders who say they share the mob's anger. Bernie Sanders is called a populist, too. Trump complains about regulations one day[...]