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Published: Tue, 27 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2017 03:26:39 -0400


Democrats Accuse Republicans of Mass Murder

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

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

The Illusory Savings From Cutting Medicaid

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

When economists talk in their sleep, they say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This axiom is drilled into them from day one of their undergraduate education and never leaves their minds. Any economist who tried to deny it would find herself suddenly choking in pain and unable to speak. What it means is that if the government does something that costs money, some human somewhere will bear the expense. "Free" public schools, "free" parks, and "free" roads all have to be paid for by the citizenry. Collectively, we can't get something for nothing. This useful insight has long been offered as an objection to costly government programs. But it applies as well to measures that extract savings from costly government programs. In their replacement of Obamacare, congressional Republicans promise to achieve greater frugality in Medicaid, which helps low-income Americans, without inflicting more hardship. The melancholy truth: Not gonna happen. Last year, total spending for Medicaid amounted to $533 billion. Nearly two-thirds of the funds come from the federal government, and the rest comes from the states. Some 69 million people are covered by it, up from 54 million in 2012. The expansion was intentional. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Washington signed on to cover 100 percent of the cost of expanded coverage at the outset, with its share falling to 90 percent from 2020 on. The health care plan offered by Senate Republicans, like the one passed by the House, would reverse the trend by giving states a certain amount per Medicaid recipient or a block grant for a fixed amount. Either way, the federal contribution would steadily shrink compared with what it would do under the ACA. Under the House plan, the federal savings would amount to $880 billion over a decade. The Senate bill is supposed to wring out even more. Supporters say Medicaid enrollees would be better off because states would be free to redesign their programs to make them more efficient and responsive to beneficiaries. But remember that fundamental economic proposition. Just as you can't get something for nothing, you generally can't get more for less. The House changes, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the number of people on Medicaid by 14 million by 2026. Many people who now have coverage would lose it, and many who would have become eligible would be turned away. States could always protect the vulnerable by boosting their contribution to make up for the lost federal funds. But that would mean requiring their taxpayers to foot the bill. Republicans say the changes would be positive because Medicaid coverage is often useless. House Speaker Paul Ryan claims that "more and more doctors just won't take Medicaid." In fact, 69 percent of physicians currently accept new Medicaid patients, and the percentage has been stable for decades. It's lower than for privately insured patients, because Medicaid provides doctors with lower reimbursements, but budget cuts would probably exacerbate that malady. Some recipients would get cut off under the GOP plans, and some would get less coverage. That—surprise!—would leave them worse off, because comprehensive health insurance is a good thing to have. Medicaid coverage, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, is proven to ensure "earlier detection of health and developmental problems in children, earlier diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions in adults, and earlier detection of mental illness in people of all ages." Cutting back Medicaid coverage would save taxpayers some cash, but only by taking it from others. The reduction would raise costs for low-income people and most likely degrade their health. It would also increase the financial load on hospitals, which treat a lot of people who have no coverage. A study by scholars at Northwestern University and Columbia University figured that each new uninsured person costs nearby hospitals an average of $900 a year. Less Medicaid coverage would strain the finances of struggling hospital[...]

Politicians Choosing Their Voters vs. Voters Choosing Their Politicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cindy McCain: Crony Philanthropist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Mean Dads for a Better America, comedian and Fox News contributor Tom Shillue celebrates "the generous rewards of an old-fashioned childhood" of the kind he had growing up in a Boston suburb in the 1970s and '80s. Shillue's parents, he explains, were old school and never tried to be his and his siblings' friends. In fact, he aspired to be what he calls a "Darth Vader dad," a grumpy, grouchy, and morally absolute figure who inspires fear along with awe and love. Through dozens of richly recollected stories about everything from trying out for sports teams to mental breakdowns to hunting for pornography in the woods, Shillue explains how he learned responsibility, respect, and self-reliance. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie that also covers politics and the demise of the Fox News late-night show Red Eye, Shillue says, "Look, bullying made me stronger"... [there was] a bully across the street, [and my mother said], "Go hit him back." And I punched him back, and maybe I came out on the bad end in that fight, but I felt like it was worth it to fight back, and that most of the book is filled with appreciation [for that sort of guidance]. I appreciate my scary dad. I also appreciate the bullies, because I feel like they made me stronger. Shillue talks about why he believes his rougher-than-the-kids-today upbringinallowed him to navigate young adulthood more easily and how he is trying to raise his own children as free-range kids ready to face a world very different—and in most ways far better—than the one in which he grew up. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi. I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is The Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today, I'm talking with Tom Shillue. He's a Fox News host and contributor, and he's the former host of the late, lamented Fox News show Red Eye. We'll talk about that later in the podcast. More pressingly, he is the author of Mean Dads for a Better America: The Generous Rewards of an Old-Fashioned Childhood. Tom, thanks for joining me. Tom Shillue: Thank you, Nick. Gillespie: Let's dig right into the book. You write early on, and I'm quoting, "My childhood was like the Bing Crosby movie The Bells of St. Mary's, set to the soundtrack from the musical Godspell. It was freedom, love, peace, and fierce individuality, all mixed up with parental authority, moral absolutism, and fear of God. A rich, hearty recipe for happiness if there ever was one." Shillue: Oh my god. I'm glad you read that line. Gillespie: I am assuming that you've lost virtually all of your readers right there, with the exception of people like me, maybe Greg Gutfeld, and a few others who remember Der Bingle as somebody other than a guy who we later found out beat his children mercilessly. But in The Bells of St. Mary's, there was ... That's the sequel, right? To Going My Way, I believe? Or one is ...? Shillue: Oh. I guess so. I never really considered that way. Gillespie: Bing Crosby plays a kind of hip priest who sings on occasion, and he helps the kids navigate their lives, and what was that, it was like in the 30s or 40s? Godspell, you know, that's like a musical version of the Warriors, right? Because Jesus ends up being beaten in Central Park, I think. Shillue: Unbelievable. Yeah. It's like West Side[...]

Freedom Caucus Conservatives Break from Trump, Want More Surveillance Reform

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 13:40:00 -0400

The White House and several prominent Senate Republicans want to keep the scope of federal surveillance powers intact, but there's a rebellion afoot. The House Freedom Caucus has said it does not want to renew some federal snooping powers unless there's reform that better protects Americans from unwarranted data collection. Earlier this month, such Republican senators as Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine, among others, announced they were introducing a bill to make permanent some temporary surveillance powers granted by amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The White House has formally declared its support for this bill. The powers under dispute fall under Section 702 of FISA amendments. Section 702 is intended to allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to snoop on the communications of foreign targets. But this surveillance often ends up drawing in data and records and communications from United States citizens as well, all collected without a warrant. While there's a "minimization" process intended to protect U.S. citizens' privacy and due process rights, there's also an "unmasking" procedure government officials have used to investigate domestic crimes beyond threats of terrorism and espionage. Such a process appears to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment's protections, and civil rights advocates across the political spectrum want to reform Section 702 to protect against these "backdoor" searches. Section 702 wll expire at the end of the year if Congress does nothing (or is unable to get enough votes to pass something). So this short announcement from House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is a warning to President Donald Trump, Sen. Cotton, and others that the party is not in total agreement: Government surveillance activities under the FISA Amendments Act have violated Americans' constitutionally protected rights. We oppose any reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act that does not include substantial reforms to the government's collection and use of Americans' data. If this conflict within the party sounds familiar, it's because it played out after Edward Snowden's leaks too. At that time, several privacy-minded Republicans resisted efforts to renew a part of the Patriot Act that was being used to justify the mass collection of Americans' private phone call and online activity metadata. The end result of that fight was that part of the Patriot Act was allowed to sunset and was replaced by the USA Freedom Act, which formalized but also put some restrictions on how the government was able to access that metadata. I noted earlier in the week that the pro-surveillance senators who support the unchanged renewal of Section 702 were in a difficult situation because they did not have a lot of leverage: All opponents have to do to make them fail is nothing at all. This warning by the Freedom Caucus, which has about three dozen members, will let the Senate and the White House know that Republican control over Congress doesn't mean reauthorization is going to be easy. This may be the first step in a USA Freedom Act–style compromise.[...]

Blame the Shooter, Not the "Rhetoric"

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:25:00 -0400

When it comes to violence aimed at politicians, it turns out that Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is quick to blame "rhetoric" for gun attacks on politicians only when the perpetrator apparently disagrees with his ideology, isn't the only hypocrite and fool. In a house editorial that is stunning in its intellectual laziness and mendacity, The New York Times manages to tie the actions of sniper James Hodgkinson not simply to today's over-the-top #NeverTrump #resistance rhetoric but to...Sarah Palin's fictitious role in the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and a dozen other people in a Tucson parking lot. Seriously: Was [Hodgkinson's] attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right. Read the whole thing here. Since its original publication, the Times has graciously seen fit to correct itself thus: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. Where to begin? For starters, only rankly opportunistic insta-commentary by hardcore Democratic partisans—including Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who wrote "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" within hours of the Giffords shooting—drew a connection between Sarah Palin's innocuous fund-raising graphic and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. Indeed, it turned out that the madman was not a devotee of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Fox News, or other right-wing media. Instead, he consumed a diet heavy on what Jesse Walker calls "New Age paranoia." While the Times sees a "direct" "incitement" between one image from Palin and Loughner, whose online videos and history with law enforcement clearly suggested a fully deranged, psychotic personality, the Paper of Record studiously avoids pointing to Hodgkinson's public allegiance to Bernie Sanders and his violent language toward Donald Trump and the Republican Party (he joined a group that wants to "terminate" the latter). The result is similar to blaming John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas to a virulent climate of "right-wing hate," despite Lee Harvey Oswald's commitments to Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism. To be fair, right-wingers are pounding the table in the wake of yesterday's shooting, going so far to shout that "Rachel Maddow Has Blood on Her Hands" for calling Trump a Russian agent. Not to be outdone, Fox News' Eric Bolling called for liberals to censor themselves in the name of saving lives: How many innocent people have to die before we realize that words do matter? Crazy people act on the crazy things they hear from politicians and celebrities. Think before you utter those blind, hateful words next time, liberals. Because there are crazy people out there taking your metaphors literally. All of the above assumes that contemporary political speech is both somehow more virulent than ever and responsible for any actual physical violence that happens. In reality, there are no grounds for either belief. In a country where political violence is vanishingly rare, gun violence has declined precipit[...]

The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock—and of Libertarianism [Reason Podcast]

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 18:00:00 -0400

"There's not a-vote-for-this-party type of politics" in progressive rock, says David Weigel, author of The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, "There is a utopianism about it....'Let's create a new world....It was very much a music and lifestyle where you tuned out, where you went to a festival, where you got into an arena. And a time where there were fewer distractions, as well. Weigel's history of a musical genre that includes bands such as King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Genesis, and more is a rich journey into one of rock's least-appreciated moments. The former Reason staffer (archive here) who now covers national politics for The Washington Post argues that many subsequent forms of music owe significant but often-unacknowledged debts to the organ-centric sounds of prog rock. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Weigel weighs in on politics in the Trump era. "There is not a lot of space for libertarianism in politics right now...except on the issues where libertarianism intersects with the donors who have done the most for Donald Trump. I feel like my friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are pretty happy about Trump's positions on climate. [CEI's] Myron Ebell [has] literally joined the administration," he says. "But the criminal justice reform side of libertarianism has kind of retreated to the states, where it's doing okay but has no clout in DC anymore." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. THIS IS AN UNCORRECTED RUSH TRANSCRIPT. PLEASE CHECK AGAINST AUDIO FOR ACCURACY BEFORE QUOTING. Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is the Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we are talking with David Weigel, he's a politics reporter at the Washington Post, a former Reason employee, but the reason that we're talking today is he's the author of the incredible new book, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Dave Weigel, thanks for talking to us. Dave Weigel: Thank you for having me to talk about it. Appreciate it. Nick Gillespie: All right, well let's get right to it. The rise and fall of Prog Rock, of progressive rock. What is the thesis of The Show That Never Ends? Dave Weigel: It's that rock history, which I take pretty seriously, which honestly occupied a lot of my mind before I got into covering politics like I do now. That rock history had cut out what I thought was actually really dynamic, important, informative music, the progressive rock movement. And I also, I kind of lean in...right, the book in arguing that the progressive musicians, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel. These people invented a lot of stuff that was happily taken by more let's say critically approved bands. You know, the stuff that is credited to electropop or to punk, I mean a lot of that these guys did first, and they did it in a very popular and arena-filling way that was left out once people said, actually that was garbage, we're going to go with punk. And by people I mean's a really clear decision by the record industry and critics. We can get into that. Nick Gillespie: Well, define...what are the core elements of progressive rock? You know, how do we...and throughout the book you kind of talk about how like Led Zeppelin, which in many ways certainly, probably the biggest selling band of the pe[...]

GOP Lawmakers Attacked in Shooting at Virginia Baseball Practice. Update: Shooter Identified

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 09:04:00 -0400

Update: Law enforcement has identified the shooter James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, according to The Washington Post and other media outlets. On Twitter, Post reporter Greg Miller notes that Hodgkinson is "an avid letter writer to the local paper in Belleville, many of them critical of GOP economic policy" and that the alleged shooter's social media "amounts to extended screed against Trump." Update: In a statement this morning, President Trump said that the shooter has died from injuries sustained during the firefight. "Authorities are continuing to investigate the crime. And the assailant has now died from his injuries," the president said. Trump's full statement is online here. A shooter opened fire on Republican lawmakers practicing baseball in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning. Among those reportedly hit during the attack was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and at least one congressional aide. A lengthy shootout with Capitol Police ensued, and Alexandria police say they have the shooter in custody, but have not released further details. All of the victims are reportedly in stable condition. Witnesses, including Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ken.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), described a grisly scene to reporters this morning. "It was a killing field," Paul told CNN. Scalise reportedly dragged himself off the field after being shot in the hip. Republican lawmakers were practicing for the annual bipartisan congressional baseball game at a location they have been practicing at for several years. The attack happened during batting practice. Flake said the shooter "had a rifle of some kind. It was obviously a large gauge rifle" and described the attack as lasting for roughly 10 minutes. Flake estimated that more than 50 shots were fired. Flake also said he assumed that the GOP lawmakers were purposely targeted. "It looks like only one shooter. You gotta assume he knew what he was doing," Flake told CNN. No official statement as to the shooter's motivation has been released. Witnesses have said that at least one member of the security detail was wounded in the attack. "Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill Police," Paul said on CNN this morning. "It would have been a massacre without them." Reason's Meredith Bragg was nearby and took the following photos of the crime scene. This story is developing.[...]

Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

So far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm. One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules. Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons." And Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to instruct law enforcement across the land that their efforts to fight human trafficking must "include a demand reduction component"—i.e., must target prostitution customers. Sessions would also have to declare "that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," opening the way for possible hate-crime enhancements for anyone who tries to pay for sex. This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In a statement, Rep. Klobuchar invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing. A companion bill (H.R. 2803), sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, was introduced in the House on Wednesday. A statement from Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller." The official soundbites from almost all of these bills' co-sponsors mention the benefits for cops and prosecutors, showcasing our government's lopsided approach to sexual exploitation. While lip service is paid to the "victims," it's law enforcement agencies that get all the consideration and tools—tools that help them conduct ever more intrusive investigations in the service of less and less deserving targets, wring whatever money and assets they can from defendants, and collect laurels as they ship convicts off to fill federal-prison beds. Here are a few more key things that S. 1311 and H.R. 2803 would do: Add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and "transportation for prostitution or any illegal sexual activity" to the crimes which could establish someone as part of a "criminal street gang." Enhance maximum penalties—not for folks who actually force others into sex or other work, mind you, but for those who tran[...]

The Financial Choice Act Doesn't Repeal Dodd-Frank, but It's Still a Big Deal

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 18:31:00 -0400

The number of regulations on American banks has doubled since 2010, which means plenty of work for regulators in Washington but less time (and money) for banks to do the things they are supposed to be doing. The culprit behind those growing piles of financial regulations is the Dodd-Frank Act, passed by Congress in response to the banking collapse that led into the so-called Great Recession. Congress on Thursday took a step towards reducing those piles of regulations, as the House voted straight down party-lines to approve the Financial CHOICE Act. Though the bill is expected to face significant opposition in the Senate, its passage is the surest sign yet that Republicans are serious about rolling back Obama era regulations that force banks to spend more time (and money) dealing with government imperatives. "This law may have had good intentions," said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Thursday, referring to the Dodd-Frank Act, "but its consequences have been dire." Republicans said the reforms contained in the Financial CHOICE Act would rein-in regulations that have made it harder for small banks to operate, while providing a better mechanism for unwinding large banks that become unstable. Despite the rhetoric from both major parties in advance of Thursday's vote, the Financial CHOICE Act does not repeal Dodd-Frank and does not deregulate the financial sector. As Thomas Hogan, a professor of finance at Troy University, noted at The Hill, the bill actually leaves many Dodd-Frank provisions intact and puts "an emphasis on financial stability while trimming excessive regulations that have harmed consumers and business activities." A major component of the House-passed bill would give small banks an escape from complying with the complex Dodd-Frank rules that attempt to stop banks from taking on too many risky investments. Though those rules are only necessary for larger banks, all financial institutions must abide by them. Under the Financial CHOICE Act, smaller banks would have the option of ignoring those rules if they maintain a larger reserve of cash as a backstop against bad investments. Another key element of the bill would create a new chapter in the bankruptcy code to allow failing banks to be unwound through bankruptcy instead of relying on bailouts or government-imposed restructuring. Even though Dodd-Frank was passed, in part, to prevent future bailouts of banks deemed "too big to fail," the law may have created a regulatory environment that makes future bailouts more likely by giving the federal government a larger role to play. Politically, though, the biggest change in the Financial CHOICE Act is the restructuring of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As I wrote last week, the proposal would allow the president to remove the director of the CFPB at will, and would force the bureau to go through the congressional appropriations process (instead of getting its budget directly from the Federal Reserve). The bill also gives the CFPB a Senate-confirmed inspector general, requires cost-benefit analyses of CFPB regulatory proposals, and prevents the CFPB from collecting consumers' financial information without permission (something that it has a history of doing). Democrats oppose the dismantling of Dodd-Frank and particularly dislike the idea of reining in the CFPB, setting up a potential battle in the Senate, where Republicans don't have enough votes to force the bill through without Democratic support—though some elements of the bill could be passed with a simple majority through the reconciliation process. During debate in the House, Democrats indicated support for some parts of the bill, which provides a potential way forward for some, but likely not all, of the Financial Choice A[...]

Will Congress Finally Pass 'Audit the Fed' Legislation?

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 13:55:00 -0400

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2017 could finally fulfill a dream by many of eliminating the Fed's unique exemption from Government Accountability Office (GAO) oversight. Under H.R. 24—popularly known as "Audit the Fed" legislation—the comptroller general would conduct an audit of Board of Governor operations and report his findings to Congress. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), and companion legislation is sponsored by Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) in the Senate. The same legislation passed the House in 2012 and 2014, only to die in the Senate. Janet Yellen and other Fed officials are consistently opposed to GAO oversight. (This bill has previously been covered by Reason here). It should come as no surprise that the bill hits a nerve with Fed officials. As summarized by a Rand Paul spokesman: "Clearly the Federal Reserve fears the information that may be disclosed as part of an audit." After the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform quickly passed the 2017 bill in late March, Democrats reacted with similar dramatics. Committee member Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–D.C.) claimed that "This bill would open the floodgates to political interference in monetary-policy making." Oversight of the Fed requires a delicate balancing act. A central bank too sensitive to political pressure could attract the political business cycle: Intentionally lowering interest rates to give the economy a little pre-election boost resulting in an economic boom then bust. But under H.R. 24, such hypothetical floodgates would remain closed. In an emailed response to Reason, George Selgin, director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute, provides some perspective: "Fed officials' reaction to proposals to 'audit' the Fed—proposals that in fact call for nothing more than a relaxation of some very severe current restrictions on the GAO's ability to investigate the Fed's activities—can only be described as hysterical. The changes in question would not at all increase Congress's ability to influence or interfere with the Fed's conduct of monetary policy. They would merely allow Congress access to more information, from a disinterested, independent, and highly reputable source, to assist it in performing its existing oversight responsibilities. The spectacle of so many officials, many of them well-trained economists, arguing, in essence, that so far as this Congressional duty is concerned, less information is better, is frankly rather shameful." Rep. Massie has been an outspoken critic of the Fed, blaming the 2008 financial crisis on low interest rates. In an op-ed, he describes how the Fed has not earned their privilege of privacy through successful policy: "One hundred years ago, Congress established the Fed and delegated its constitutional authority 'to coin money and regulate the value thereof.' Under the Fed's reckless inflationary policies, the dollar has lost over 95 percent of its value since then. My bill, H.R. 24, the 'Federal Reserve Transparency Act,' would remove the veil of secrecy around the Fed." While the previous attempts to audit the fed have failed, Republican control in both houses and vocal support from President Trump may make Federal Reserve oversight a reality.[...]

The New Book Alyssa Milano Thinks Every Congressman Should Read [Reason Podcast]

Sat, 03 Jun 2017 10:30:00 -0400

Congress's Constitution is a 500-page academic book about legislative authority, written over the course of a decade. How fortunate for author Josh Chafetz, a professor of law at Cornell University and contributor at The Hill, that his topic has suddenly become rather trendy, as the general public takes a newly keen interest in the question of what leverage the House and Senate have over, say, a newly elected president. Even America's (one-time?) TV sweetheart is wondering who's the boss in Washington? I want to buy a copy for everyone in Congress. — Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) June 1, 2017 Tune in to hear Reason magazine Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward talk with Chafetz about how what you learned in school about the balance of powers isn't quite right, the story behind why filibusters are so common these days, and why former House Speaker John Boehner (R–S.C.) is underrated. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Katherine: Hi, I'm Katherine Mangu-Ward, and I'm here with Josh Chafetz to record the Reason Podcast. Josh is a Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. He received his B.A. from Yale University and his doctorate in politics from Oxford. He has a new book, 'Congress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers'. Thanks for talking with us, Josh. Josh Chafetz: Thanks for having me. Katherine: Everybody hates Congress. Should Congress feel slighted or does Congress deserve it? Josh Chafetz: I should start by saying everybody has always hated Congress. Hating Congress is an American national pastime, and I think partly that's for reasons that we wouldn't want to change, which is to say that Congress is the institution where disagreement, and debate, and the good parts of democracy are most apparent, and it turns out that while Americans like those things in the abstract, they don't always like seeing them. Right? They say they like compromise but they don't like fighting and they don't like unprincipled behavior. The reasons that we don't like Congress when we actually see it working are also the reasons that we say in the abstract that we do like things like democracy. I think it's just inevitable that Americans dislike Congress to be honest. Katherine: Every school could learn that the separation of powers is one of the great things about the American system. You suggested that maybe we should complicate that idea a little bit. I think people have this idea that there are a list of things government does and it was divvied up among the branches, and the end, but that's not right, is it? Josh Chafetz: Yeah. My view is that the list of things that each of the branches does is not particularly static or written in stone, but there's actually a relatively small number of discreet tools that each branch has granted in the constitution, and then how much power the branch has actually exercised in practice is largely a function of how successful they are at wielding those tools. That is to say how successful they are at engaging with the public. Over the course of American history for instance, the court system has managed to successfully convince Americans to allow it to wield significantly more power [...]