Published: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 07:16:25 -0500
Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500
(image) As more and more Americans grow comfortable with exempting marijuana from the drug war, we've seen massive shifts in state regulations toward decriminalization and legal use (medicinal and recreational).
Federal laws and regulations still lag terribly behind, leaving Americans in an area of uncertainty in enforcement, particularly as we change administrations. President Donald Trump has stated that he thinks marijuana regulation is a state issue, but he has also been acting like a pretty major drug warrior as part of his border control push. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a lengthy history as a supporter of tough drug laws as well.
Now four members of the House of Representatives, two from each party, have come together to form a Congressional Cannabis Caucus. From the left, we've got Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). From the right, we've got Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska). Note that all four come from states where voters have legalized recreational marijuana use.
The four had a short press conference on Thursday to preview their agenda. Fundamentally, they want federal regulation to catch up with what the states are doing. They explained they want to do everything from making sure medical marijuana research is permitted and that veterans get access to allowing marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws to use the banking system and not have to operate cash-only. And of course, there's the ultimate goal of getting marijuana removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, an absurd federal classification that the drug has no medical use.
The four representatives all have a history of attempting to legislatively loosen cannabis laws. As more and more Americans agree, maybe some more of those 431 other members of Congress will join the caucus as well.
Watch their press conference below:
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Tue, 07 Feb 2017 14:05:00 -0500Once again, legislation that would give American citizens better privacy protections for their emails has passed the House of Representatives, but we're going to have to see what happens in the Senate. The Email Privacy Act aims to correct a flaw in federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Passed in the relatively early days of home computer use, it established a policy that private electronic communications held by third parties that were more than 180 days old could be accessed by law enforcement and government investigators without the need for a warrant. A subpoena delivered to the communication provider was enough. A law this old obviously preceded the arrival and dominance of private email communications, and tech privacy activists and tech companies have been pushing for reform. The way the system stands now can result in people having their old private communications searched and read by authorities without the citizen's knowledge. The Email Privacy Act fixes some of these problems, though it doesn't fully resolve the controversy Under the act, officials will need to get actual warrants to access emails and online communications, which provides at least a little more judicial oversight. But the warrants are to the providers, not to the actual people who wrote and sent the communications. It will be up to companies to decide whether to pass along the news of the warrant to customers. Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that this is a flaw with the legislation. The original version of the bill required that government provide notice. Without that rule, the third-party provider can resist the warrant if they choose to, but the actual customer probably might not even know. "If you don't have notice, you really can't effectively [challenge the warrant]," Singh Guliani said. The bill does permit third-party providers to let customers know about the administration of warrants, but also allows for the government to delay this information for 180 days under a handful of exceptions—if the target is a flight risk or may destroy evidence or otherwise compromise the investigation. And while some major tech and communication companies have fought back against orders to pass along data or to keep searches secret, Singh Guliani says we shouldn't have to be "reliant on the business practices of providers that can change over time to make sure people get the full protection of the Fourth Amendment." Still, the compromise bill is better than the current rules. No representative voted against it last session of Congress, and it passed again yesterday by a voice vote. But while the bill enjoys popular bipartisan support in the House, the last attempt to get it passed hit disaster in the Senate. Senators attempted to meddle with the wording of the bill to weaken it or add other unrelated regulations. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) attempted to add an amendment to expand the surveillance reach of secretive National Security Letters. Sponsoring senators ended up yanking the legislation from consideration. The Senate sponsors last session were Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). A representative from Sen. Lee's office said that he intends to co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill again this year, but it has not yet been introduced. This could be the first legislative test of whether increased privacy protections can make its way to and through a presidential administration openly hostile to limits on any sort of investigative or law enforcement authority (as we saw earlier today). President Donald Trump is hardly alone and he's not responsible for its previous problems, but it's nevertheless legislation that should not be struggling at all. And a little bit of self-promotion: I'll be leading a panel discussion on the Fourth Amendment, tech privacy, and Congressional lawmaking in this March's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. Singh Guliani will be one of our panelists. Check out the details here if you find yourself in Austin on M[...]
Mon, 06 Feb 2017 17:30:00 -0500
(image) Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots was a stunner of a game, the first Super Bowl to be decided in overtime.
But the playing on the field was hardly the only topic of conversation. Conspiracy nut Alex Jones prophesied that performer Lady Gaga would perform a satanic ritual during her half-time show while others complained that pro-immigration TV commercials from Anheuser-Busch and 84 Lumber were spoiling the pleasure of seeing millionaires beat each other for the Vince Lombardi trophy. In the end, Lady Gaga didn't spill any blood or summon any demons, though she did jump off the roof of Houston's NRG stadium in a remarkable entrance. After the Patriots staged an unparalleled comeback, it was the alt-right that politicized the effort, with the vile Richard Spencer tweeting an image of QB Tom Brady kissing his supermodel wife and announcing, "For the White race, it's never over." That the official pre-game show honored Black History Month by saluting football Hall of Famers who had graduated from historically black colleges and universities doubtless enraged Pepe the frog fans all over the planet.
Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor at Large Matt Welch, and I talk about all this plus Donald Trump's second week on the job as president of the United States. Trump spent part of last week attacking the "so-called judge" who issued a temporary stay against his refugee and immigration ban and just minutes before the Super Bowl he caused a stir by responding to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly charge that Russia's Vladimir Putin is a killer by saying, "You think our country is so innocent?"
We discuss all that, plus the increasingly tight confirmation votes slated for Trump's picks for Secretary of Education and Attorney General in the newest Reason Podcast.
Produced by Mark McDaniel.
Click below to listen to the conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode.
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Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:46:00 -0500President Donald Trump will announce plans to build a wall on Wednesday, but the things his administration are trying to tear down might end up being more important. It's no secret that Trump wants to hack away at the federal regulatory state—during the campaign, he promised to repeal two regulations for every new one approved; on Monday, during a meeting with several business executives, Trump promised to cut 75 percent of all federal regulations, "and maybe more." Those claims seem more like campaign trail promises and typical Trump bluster than achievable goals, but give Trump credit for getting straight to work on the issue. Axios, citing an unnamed "senior transition source," reported Wednesday that Trump plans a deconstructing of the regulatory state that will target the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Energy, and Interior during his first 100 days in office. "President Trump plans to attack the regulatory state from every angle," the source told Axios. "The government has been captured by elites, which gets to the very core of what animates the president." Citing a different source, the same report says Trump plans to undermine the regulatory powers of various federal agencies by executive order, rather than going through Congress in an effort to dismantle the agencies' authority. If true, that would mean Trump could move more quickly to curtail the EPA and other agencies that he sees as holding back businesses and the economy as a whole. On the other hand, using executive orders to implement his agenda of deregulation would mean the next president could undo many of those changes—in the same way that Trump is now unwinding some of President Barack Obama's "pen and phone" policies. Trump's inclination to act quickly certainly is understandable, but the way to reform America's regulatory state permanently, as I've written before, will require working with Congress. On that front, there might be more good news. In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) outlined a series of regulatory reforms that take aim at the federal bureaucracy. The first step, McCarthy says, is passage of the REINS Act, which would require any new regulations that cost $100 million or more to be approved by Congress before taking effect. As I wrote last week, the REINS Act would only apply to about 3 percent of all federal regulations, but it would be a meaningful reform because it gives Congress a way to check executive rules with the potential to be particularly harmful. House Republicans also plan to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would undermine the so-called "Chevron deference" within the legal system. The Chevron doctrine grants federal agencies wide leeway when challenged in court, essentially instructing judges to defer to an agency's own interpretation when determining whether a rule is necessary or proper. McCarthy's plans for the House seem to follow Trump's outline. The majority leader says the House will vote to repeal the Department of the Interior's Stream Protection Rule, which has limited access to the nation's coal supply, and will trim the Obama administration's methane regulations that limit oil and gas production. Other federal rules that limit energy production, like the Securities and Exchange Commission's disclosure rules for American drilling firms, will also be axed, McCarthy writes. There are still many, many reasons to worry about Trump's presidency, but regulatory reform could be a silver lining.[...]
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:20:00 -0500
(image) Lots of activists are gnashing teeth and rending garments over the passage in the House of Representatives of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act which would require both houses of Congress to vote on any new regulations issued by federal agencies that have an economic impact exceeding $100 million. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts the REINS Act exists "to 'rein in' public health, safety, and environmental protections, and nothing more. They have been written and drafted by corporate lobbyists not to improve the federal regulatory process, but to stymy it, and add yet another roadblock for implementing sensible safeguards."
Over at The New Scientist, physical sciences editor Lisa Grossman dismisses the REINS Act supporters' claim that its purpose is "increase accountability for and transparency in the Federal regulatory process." Instead she sees a darker motive: "In practice, [passage of the REINS Act] could mean that years of painstaking research that go into writing regulations can simply be ditched, replaced with simple political whims....the fact that Congress seems eager to strip science out of the rule-making process is part of a larger trend: replacing scientific expertise with the vagaries of politics."
As necessary and valuable as scientific expertise is, scientists and federal bureaucrats are not experts at evaluating and making benefit-risk tradeoffs. If members of Congress get those tradeoffs wrong, voters can fire those whom they believe are not acting in ways that adequately protect their health, safety, and livelihoods.
As my colleague Eric Boehm has reported the federal regulatory state is out of control with new rules proliferating under President Obama at near light speed. As Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler points out the Constitution vests the power to make laws in Congress, not in federal executive agencies. Adler concludes:
Federal regulation reaches nearly all aspects of modern life and is pervasive in the modern economy. Much of this regulation may be necessary or advisable, and nothing in the REINS Act would hinder a sympathetic Congress from approving new federal regulations. In all likelihood, however, the REINS Act's congressional approval process would prevent the implementation of particularly unpopular or controversial regulatory initiatives. The primary effect of the legislation would be to make Congress more responsible for federal regulatory activity by forcing legislators to voice their opinion on the desirability of significant regulatory changes.
It is past time for Congress to take responsibility to reassert its authority to make the rules that affect the health and livelihoods of millions of Americans.
Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:30:00 -0500Once Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, Republicans will control all the levers of power in Washington, D.C., for the first time since 2006. That does not mean there will be smooth sailing ahead for federal policymakers. Already, Trump and congressional Republicans determined to "repeal and replace" Obamacare have been stymied by the complexities of the health care law and the difficulty of fitting 330 million people into a single policy proposal. On infrastructure, Trump has promised a massive stimulus—as much as $1 trillion in new spending—but he's likely to face opposition from inside his own party, which spent most of the last eight years debunking the idea that federal deficit spending is good for the economy. The appointment of Betsy DeVos, a champion for school choice and charter schools, as the next secretary of education is meant to indicate a clean break from the Obama administration on policy for schools, but there will be challenges on that front too. Unwinding federal education mandates like Common Core and No Child Left Behind are unlikely to be much easier than hacking away at the Affordable Care Act. In place of major federal action to implement new policy, then, the new Republican-controlled government might want to take a page out of their pocket constitutions—the page with the Tenth Amendment printed on it. When the federal government struggles to find solutions, states can lead the way on these, and other, important issues. The biggest policy debates facing America in 2017 will not be solved—or at least not solved best—by monolithic decision-making in the White House and the halls of Congress. Letting states sort out thorny issues provides other advantages too, like the fact that it is relatively easy for individuals and businesses to voluntarily exit from states that make poor policy choices. To get a sense of how state governments can improve the prospects for liberty, both with and without help from the feds, Reason surveyed a group of wonks toiling to change policies in state capitals from coast to coast. This is what federalism in the age of Trump could look like. Expanding Choice in Education No Child Left Behind, the federal law that increased spending for schools in exchange for more testing to track student learning, turned 15 this month. It's old enough to be high school sophomore, but it's hasn't earned good grades. By the end of the 2014 school year, 100 percent of all American students were supposed to meet the standards outlined by the Bush era law. Schools that failed to meet those goals were supposed to face consequences like restructuring. Most of that hasn't happened. States lowered standards to make sure that more students could meet them and the Obama administration issued blanket waivers for the schools in states that adopted a new set of federal teaching guidelines called Common Core. The problems with No Child Left Behind illustrate two of the biggest problems with the current status of public education. First, it was a one-size-fits-all solution that, second, funded education infrastructure—school buildings, administrators, and teachers—instead of funding students. Yet the past decade-and-a-half has seen an upwelling of innovative education policy ideas from the state level, including expansions of charter schools, voucher programs, and education savings accounts. Many of those reforms have been focused on giving families a choice when it comes to public education, particularly for students trapped in failing schools for no reason other than their ZIP code. DeVos, in her home state of Michigan, has a long history of fighting for those kinds of reforms. In 2000, she was heavily involved in an unsuccessful effort to remove the state constitution's ban on voucher programs via ballot initiative, and since then she has backed efforts to expand public charter schools there. In her new federal post, she could help nudge st[...]
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 12:16:00 -0500There were more than 90,000 pages added the Federal Register, that behemoth of a book that annually tracks the growth of the federal leviathan, during 2016, making last year's list of federal rules and regulations a full 10,000 pages longer than the previous record. Including last year's record-breaker, 13 of the 15 longest registers in American history have been authored by the past two presidential administrations (Barack Obama owns seven of the top eight, with George W. Bush filling in most of the rest), according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market D.C. think tank that diligently tracks the pages of the registry each year. If Donald Trump's incoming administration aims to reverse that worrying trend—something the president-elect has claimed to want to do—then it could use a helping hand from Congress. The growth of the regulatory state is inextricably linked to the expansion of the executive branch's powers in recent decades, but those powers have expanded in part because congress has willingly winnowed its own authority. "Congress has been all too happy to delegate away those powers to executive branch agencies," says Ryan Young, a fellow at CEI. "Suppose a regulation passes that is unpopular or backfires or is burdensome, then congressmen, who do have to face re-election every couple of years, can say 'don't blame me, blame the EPA or the FCC' or whichever agency is responsible." Last year, for example, Congress passed 211 bills while federal regulatory agencies approved 3,852 regulations, Young says. To stop Congress from passing the buck like that, Young says federal lawmakers should pass something called the REINS Act—the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act. The REINS Act would require every new regulation that costs more than $100 million to be approved by Congress. As it is now, agencies can pass those rules unilaterally. Such major rules only account for about 3 percent of annual regulations, but they are the ones that cause the most headaches for individuals and businesses. "What the REINS Act would do is add a little bit of democratic accountability to the regulation process," Young told me during this week's episode of American Radio Journal. Congress would also be required to review all existing regulations that surpass that $100 million threshold. Right now, there's no clear accounting of how many such rules exist, so assessing the landscape would be a necessary step before reforms could be enacted. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that for congress to reassert its authority it first has to want to reassert its authority. It's not clear that a majority of its members do, probably for the political reason that Young outlined. Still, the REINS Act did pass the House on four occasions during the Obama administration. Lack of support in the Senate and the threat of a presidential veto kept it from ever reaching Obama's desk. That might change under President Trump, who has made no secret of his desire to slash federal regulations. He's promised to rescind two federal rules for every one new regulation added to the books. "REINS is an important first step toward increasing accountability, oversight, and transparency in Washington, and it's one of the best ways President-elect Trump and the new Republican Congress can show we're responding to the American people's demand for change," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) in a statement earlier this month when he co-sponsored the Senate version of the REINS Act along with 25 of his colleagues. Listen to my whole interview with Young here.[...]
Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:15:00 -0500"After consultation with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the 5th and 1st Amendments." Again and again, these words rang out through the crowded Congressional inquiry into "Backpage.com's Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking" Tuesday. A function of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—literal heir to the Joseph McCarthy-era espionage and subversion investigations—the hearing was ostensibly organized to shed light on the business practices of online classified-ad forum Backpage. Led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), the bipartisan effort represented the culmination of a 20-month long investigation and accompanied a lengthy report on the findings. The point of the hearing, said McCaskill, was "understanding how criminals systematically use online platforms to transform normal American teenagers into sex slaves." But if so, it was as much a look at the laws governing online publishing, user-generated content, and sex work in America. And those in the hot seat—Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla, General Counsel Elizabeth McDougall, and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin—refused to answer any of the subcommittee's questions with more than a nod to the 5th Amendment. Launched around 10 a.m., the portion of the hearing featuring Backpage leadership was concluded, with nothing conceded, in under an hour. As the Backpage witnesses filed out, a swarm of reporters followed, trailing a silent Ferrer and his handlers until the third-floor door of Dirksen Building elevator closed in front of them. Lacey hung back, but mostly to say that he had said all he would say for now. "I guess you don't know what will happen next?" I asked him. "Right now," he said, "a drink." Backpage Background Portman and McCaskill's inquiry into Backpage began in 2015. After the site's execs refused to appear for questioning or turn over private business documents, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations filed a civil contempt action against them—the first authorized by the Senate in more than 20 years—and was rewarded with a federal court order compelling Backpage to turn over subpoenaed documents. The resulting report on these documents "conclusively shows that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone imagined," Portman said Tuesday. In both the report and live testimony, the subcommittee moved seamlessly between allegations that Backpage intentionally profited from the prostitution of children and statements from Backpage representatives with regard to prostitution more broadly, leaving the unmistakable impression that Backpage leadership admitted—at least internally—to the horrible things alleged by the government. But the inquiry actually ascertained no such thing. The most significant policies the inquiry uncovered were a) moderators employed by Backpage would sometimes edit user-generated ads to remove direct references to sex for money before allowing them to post and b) between 2010 and 2012, the site employed an automatic filter to remove some blacklisted words from ads before they were posted. Subcommittee summaries of these editing and filtering processes suggest that Backpage moderators deliberately stripped words like "teen," "young," "daddy's girl," and "barely legal," from ads before allowing them to post, and this indicates that they knew about and encouraged underage ad-posting. But, of course, none of these words necessarily signals anything nefarious. Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are both "barely legal" and "teens," yet still legally adults. "Young" is a term someone well beyond 18 might use. Terms like sugar baby and sugar daddy are widely used in describing arrangements between adults, with all the attendant use of terms like daddy's girl this entail[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:00 -0500Election Day 2016 is finally behind us. The shock has worn off, the disappointment has mostly dissipated. Now it's time to pore over the results, drill down to state, county, and even precinct level, and try to glean what we can from the data. From that data, analysts are plotting how to fashion future electoral strategy, and looking for electoral opportunities uncovered by this year's vote totals that might not have been apparent or even have existed before this uncommon election year. Democrats and Republicans have been doing this since November 9, and have been doing so post-election for decades. It's time for Libertarians to start doing this, too. From President-elect Donald Trump's announced cabinet picks, a Libertarian electoral opportunity may already be in the cards: a special election is expected to fill the seat of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary. Price's constituency—Georgia's 6th Congressional District—consists of some of Atlanta's growing, affluent northern suburbs in parts of Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb counties. The potential for Libertarian electoral inroads in Georgia's 6th District—and the potential for Trump's association to cause damage to the Republican brand—starts to crystalize when we look at the district's demographics and how those played out in the 2016 election results. First, a stark fall-off in the Republican vote for president: In 2012 Georgia's 6th District went for GOP nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by a 61 percent to 37.5 percent margin. This year, Trump squeezed past Hillary Clinton by a single percentage point (48 percent to 47 percent) even as Rep. Price was winning re-election with 61 percent of the vote (down from 65 percent in 2012). The Gary Johnson-William Weld Libertarian ticket's solid 5 percent tally in Georgia's 6th District over-performed its statewide and national percentage, stretching past 7 percent in some precincts. Georgia is a state whose upward demographic trends encouraged confident Clinton strategists to talk up as a possible upset. According to The Almanac of American Politics, Georgia's 6th District leads the Peach State in income level, ranking 39th out of 435 congressional districts nationwide. Over half the district's workers are white collar, more than one out of five have put in some post-graduate study. Trump's anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric that riled up white working class voters up in the Rust Belt and Georgia's stagnant rural redoubts turned off thousands upon thousands of business-minded voters in Georgia's 6th District. In the district's Cobb County, Clinton became the first Democrat to carry the county since favorite son Jimmy Carter did so in 1976, attracting 27,000 more votes than Obama earned in 2012. Meanwhile, Trump slumped in the 6th District, tallying 20,000 fewer votes than Romney. Previously considered a "safe Republican" seat, this new data led Roll Call to suggest that the special election in Georgia's 6th District "could offer" an "opportunity for Georgia Democrats." But if wariness of Trump does offer an opportunity, from their post-election rhetorical positioning, Democrats don't seem ready to exploit it. In the wake of Trump's surprise bursting of the "blue firewall" (be it "blue state" or "blue collar"), Democrats are doubling down on their trade-bashing and anti-rich guy rhetoric, seeking to win back the scare points they scored against Republicans for so many decades, when the white working class was the dominant demographic. But bashing big business and billionaires doesn't look like the way to wring out more Democratic votes in a congressional district with a disappearing blue collar work force and an apparent respect for economic success. If the uber-unpopular Hillary Clinton could grow her vote totals significantly past Barack Obam[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:15:00 -0500The Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings into Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) nomination for attorney general began this morning with the nominee being peppered with questions about topics including crime, abortion, porn, mandatory minimums, racism, and potential future investigations into Hillary Clinton. The hearings, which expect to be contentious, began with the typical formal pleasantries and some broad strokes about policy. There were also a few interruptions from members of Code Pink and others dressed as Ku Klux Klan members before both were escorted from the room. In his introduction, Committee Chairman Sen. Check Grassley (R-Iowa) lauded Sessions for his record of public service, but expressed concern over what he characterized as the Justice Department not enforcing existing immigration laws. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) testified on behalf of Sessions, praising his "integrity" and decrying accusations of racism leveled against him. In Sessions' opening statement he cited recent FBI statistics showing an increase in violent crime from 2015 to 2016, but failed to note that the U.S. murder rate is at about where it was in 2008, just before Barack Obama took office, and still less than half of where it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Grassley asked Sessions about critical comments he made during the presidential campaign about Hillary Clinton and the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server. Sessions conceded that the statements he made while serving as a Donald Trump campaign surrogate put "my objectivity in question," and he promised to recuse himself from any prospective investigation into the Clinton or the Clinton Foundation if confirmed as attorney general. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) focused on Sessions' lack of support for hate crime legislation in her opening statement, and later asked Sessions about the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015, and whether he would deny federal funds provided by the act to pay for abortions for victims of rape in sex trafficking. The staunchly pro-life Sessions assured Feinstein that his DOJ would defer to Congress, which passed this law. Feinstein reiterated that the funds in this law are not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds being used for abortion except to save the life of the mother. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Sessions' introduction of a resolution demanding federal obscenity laws be "vigorously enforced throughout the United States." Hatch also cited the Utah legislature's resolution declaring pornography as a "public health problem," and asked if Sessions' still believes anti-obscenity laws should be "vigorously enhanced." Sessions said he would consider reconstituting a special Justice Department unit to prosecute obscenity laws. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grilled Sessions about his vote against a resolution which opposed the U.S. barring anyone from entering the country based on their religion, something Trump had proposed with regards to Muslims during the campaign. Leahy asked the nominee if he agreed with President-elect Trump's stated position, but Sessions pivoted, saying that Trump has since indicated his focus would be on "strong vetting" of people wishing to enter the U.S. from "countries that have a history of terrorism." Sessions also clarified that while he opposes blanket bans on certain religions, he says he voted against the bill because, in his view, certain religious views should be fair game in the vetting process. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Sessions point blank how he feels about being painted as a racist by some prior to the hearings, to which Sessions replied it was "very painful," and that as a Southerner he has witnessed discrimination "in a systematic way" and "we can never go back" to those ways. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 11:30:00 -0500
(image) Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) previously attempted to interfere in Washington, D.C.'s legalization of recreational marijuana use, warning City Council that the ballot initiative passed by voters was illegal.
Now Chaffetz is back at it again, trying to block a new law that would respect an individual's right to choose what to do with his or her body. In December, D.C.'s City Council passed a right-to-die law that authorizes doctors to prescribe drugs to aid in assisted suicide.
Chaffetz is the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has the power to intervene and block municipal legislation by D.C. On Monday Chaffetz told the press he opposed the law and planned to introduce a disapproval resolution to try to block it, saying "Assisted suicide is not something we take lightly."
The council member who introduced the legislation, Mary M. Cheh, is not having it. From the Washington Post:
"This is entirely a local matter and he may have philosophical or perhaps even religious objections, but we have made our own choice and it should be respected," Cheh said. "Is he not aware there are a number of other states that have approved this? Why isn't he using his federal powers to intervene with them? It's only because under our degraded democracy there are some members of Congress who think they can use us a plaything."
Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Oregon-based Death with Dignity National Center, said, "Congress has better things to do than meddle with the District's business . . . Representative Chaffetz should stay focused on Utah."
Six states currently legally permit assisted suicide (Utah is not one of them). While Congress has the power to void laws passed by D.C., the Post notes that it's actually relatively rare that it does so, though it can use its appropriation powers to financially meddle with the city's ability to implement laws, like it has attempted in response to the marijuana legalization.
California just recently joined the small group of states permitting assisted suicide. Montana also allows it as the outcome of a state supreme court decision. ReasonTV took a look at the struggle in Montana over who has the authority to decide when you may end your life. Watch below:
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Sat, 07 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500Last month more than 30 Members of Congress wrote a letter to the FDA asking the agency to require makers of non-dairy milks—including almond, rice, and soy—to stop using the term "milk" to describe their milk. The congressional letter is ridiculous, and reeks of a mix of unconstitutional protectionism and unconstitutional restrictions on free speech. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), who's spearheading the misguided effort, says he's pushing the FDA to act in order "to protect Vermont's dairy farmers." Such action is neither part of the FDA's mission nor job. Neither is it within the agency's power. Thankfully, others agree—and are pushing back. "Terms such as 'soymilk' and 'almond milk' clearly and accurately describe these plant-based beverages," says Nicole Negowetti, policy director with the Good Food Institute, which works to promote and defend plant-based foods, in an email to me this week. "This letter from lawmakers is a thinly veiled attempt to appease the dairy industry, discount consumer choice, and undermine competition by restricting free speech." The dairy industry has been making a living out of seeking government protection against its competitors since, perhaps, the dawn of time. And the federal government (along with state governments) has a long and sordid history of obliging the industry. Examples are this are so legion, and provide such foul evidence of ways the government wrongly protects one segment of the food industry, that I typically devote a whole week of the Food Law & Policy classes I teach to issues of dairy protectionism. Dairy prices too low? No worries. The USDA will buy up your surplus cheese, or pay Domino's to develop a cheesier pizza. Don't like non-dairy coffee creamers competing with your cow-milk creamer? The state will force your competitor to call its products by a bizarre, made-up name—"melloream"—that no one would ever buy. Problem solved. No lesser an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on government protection of dairy producers. In the late 1890s, the Court got it right, overturning a trio of mind-numbingly awful states' laws restricting the production and sale of margarine. In the 1930s, in a case many scholars argue forms much of the basis of modern law—take that for exactly what it's worth—the Court ruled Congress had the power to ban the sale of a dairy-milk substitute, Milnut. More recently, powerful dairy groups like the National Milk Producers Federation have attempted to use their considerable clout, as I note in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, to compel the FDA "to bar foods such as almond milk, soy milk, and other plant-based drinks from using the term 'milk' to describe their non-dairy milk." Enter Rep. Welch and his colleagues, to the rescue. I have an alternate proposal: If the FDA is going to take a hard look at use of the term "milk," it should probably look past soy milk and almond milk and look instead at the carve-out that exists for the unmodified use of the term by dairy cow makers alone. "Milk" today means cow's milk and cow's milk alone. It shouldn't. Americans are drinking many types of milk they've long consumed—cow, goat, camel, etc.—and newer types as well, including almond, coconut, hemp, rice, and soy. Rules that reserve use of the term "milk" for dairy-cow milk alone, at a time when Americans drink so many different types of milks, may be misleading. Perhaps rules should be established that force dairy-cow makers to modify their use of the term "milk" with the word "cow," in a way that would be consistent with every other use of the term ("goat milk," "almond milk," etc.). Perhaps not, too. While I'm confident my argument in favor of such rule[...]
Fri, 06 Jan 2017 11:45:00 -0500This week marks the end of the House of Representatives panel looking into fetal-tissue procurement by U.S. research companies. Using tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research is legal in America, though profiting off the sale of said tissue is illegal. Despite a 15-months-long investigation into Planned Parenthood practices regarding tissue from aborted fetuses, the now-disbanded Select Investigative Panel could not show that the nonprofit health-care conglomerate made a profit off of fetal-tissue provided to researchers. The panel's final report suggests that fetal-tissue procurement companies DV Biologicas and StemExpress may have violated this no-profit mandate, but the most it said about Planned Parenthood was that one of its hundreds of clinics, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, "may have violated both Texas Law and U.S. Law when it sold fetal tissue to the University of Texas" by using an imprecise or unapproved method of determining reimbursement costs. The matter was referred to the Texas Attorney General's Office. Still, the panel recommended that Planned Parenthood be barred from accepting Medicare patients going forward (a move Republicans have misleadingly described as "defunding" Planned Parenthood) and that the National Institutes of Health stop funding fetal tissue research. "Human fetal tissue research makes a vanishingly small contribution to clinical and research efforts," the panel's final 413-page report states. But as Science writer Meredith Wadman points out, several key statements used to support the assertion that the impact of fetal-tissue research has been negligent are wholly and demonstrably false. Wadman, a veteran science journalist with a medical degree from the University of Oxford, dissected three of these false claims yesterday, starting with the statement that "in over 100 years of unrestricted clinical research, human fetal tissue has failed to provide a single medical treatment." In fact, "several important medicines now on the market were created using fetal tissue," notes Wadman. "Amgen's Enbrel battles rheumatoid arthritis; Genentech's Pulmozyme helps children with cystic fibrosis clear the thick mucus that clogs their lungs; and Nuwiq, made by Octapharma, treats boys and men with hemophilia, a life-threatening bleeding disorder." Equally untrue: the Congressional panel's claim that "none of the nearly 75 vaccine formulations currently licensed in the United States is produced using human fetal tissue." In reality, "the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, derived from two fetuses that were aborted, respectively, in 1962 in Sweden and in 1966 in the United Kingdom, are used to produce" quite a few vaccines that are licensed and marketed in the U.S., notes Wadman. These include vaccines for rabies, chicken pox, shingles, Hepatitis A, polio, rubella, and the adenovirus, produced by pharmaceutical companies including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Pasteur. Along these same lines, the report's claim that "human fetal tissue has never been used to make the polio vaccine" is inccorect. Swedish scientists used fetal cells to develop and propagate polio vaccines in the 1950s; Yugoslavia did so in the 1960s; and U.S. polio vaccines made by Pfizer in the 1970s were derived from fetal-cell lines. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur still uses polio vaccines derived from cells from an aborted fetus.[...]
Thu, 05 Jan 2017 23:10:00 -0500
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has relaunched the Congressional Second Amendment Caucus, as I reported last month. Today he announces the re-introduction of an old Ron Paul bill to further the Caucus' goals, this one to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (as amended after aspects of the original bill were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court under the Commerce Clause in U.S. v. Lopez. The usual handwaving about how the guns affected by law must have moved in or just "affected" interstate commerce was added in 1996.).
This Massie bill, H.R. 34, is being called the "Safe Students Act."
From a press release draft emailed from his office today:
"Gun-free school zones are ineffective. They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments," said Massie. "Gun-free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals."
The Safe Students Act has garnered the support of three major gun organizations: National Association for Gun Rights, Gun Owners of America, and the National Rifle Association...
Cosponsors include: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX).
Gun free zones are clearly not going to prevent anyone with the plan or intent of committing violent mayhem with a gun, and if we assume any rationality on the part of such a would-be spree killer, one can assume on the margin the promise of a zone where the law-abiding have legally been disarmed increases the likelihood of attracting such a killer.
It's conceivable that not having a gun around might prevent some sudden act of momentary anger from turning tragic in some imagined case. But as Jacob Sullum wrote here in 2015, armed self-defense in public against armed killers can and does happen, though thankfully the conditions under which it might ever need to happen are still vanishingly rare.
Thu, 05 Jan 2017 11:15:00 -0500The editors of The New York Times are running an editorial today warning "Republicans Are Courting Disaster on Health Care" that generally decries the "repeal and delay" strategy for eliminating ObamaCare that appears to be emerging among the GOP denizens of Capitol Hill. And surely there are concerns about how such a ploy would affect insurance markets. The editors are especially in high dudgeon over a parliamentary strategy to which the Republicans in the Senate might have to resort in order overcome the cloture requirement for 60 votes to end debate and take a vote on legislation. From The Times: With a narrow 52-to-48 majority in the Senate, Republicans are seeking to evade a Democratic filibuster by instructing congressional committees to draft a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the tax and spending provisions of the A.C.A., gutting the law and increasing the deficit. ... It should perhaps come as no surprise that zealots would resort to using a budgetary maneuver to fundamentally change national policy. Of course, this is precisely the same manuever that Democrats used back in 2010 to pass vital parts of the legislation that created the structure of ObamaCare. Briefly, versions of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) passed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives when the Senate Democrats had 60 seat majority which enabled them to avoid a Republican filibuster. However, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) died and Republican Scott Brown won his seat. Generally, differences in House and Senate bills have to be hammered out in conference committees and then voted on again. In this case, the Democrats knew that since they no longer had a 60 vote majority, they would not be able to pass a bill that had undergone the conference committee process. So the House Democratic majority voted on March 21, 2010 to accept the Senate bill without any changes on condition that the Senate would pass another bill that incorporated the changes that the House Democratic members wanted. In order to satisfy the demands of the House Democrats, the Senate Democrats cobbled together the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act and passed it as a budget reconciliation bill which takes only a simple majority to pass. That "budget reconciliation" passed both Houses on March 26, 2010. In other words, the Democrats in 2010 used the same procedure to complete ObamaCare that The Times is now denouncing the Republicans for planning to use to repeal aspects of ObamaCare. Back in February 2010, The Times reported: White House officials and their allies in liberal advocacy groups are making an all-out push to persuade Congress and the public that budget reconciliation is a legitimate procedure used often in the last 30 years to pass major legislation, including President Ronald Reagan's domestic agenda in 1981, an overhaul of welfare programs in 1996 and President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he knew those precedents. But, he said, they amount to "peanuts compared with this total restructuring of one-sixth of the economy." The No. 2 Republican in the House, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, asked the House Democratic leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, to renounce use of the budget reconciliation procedure for health care. But in an exchange on the House floor on Friday, Mr. Hoyer refused to do so. Use of the procedure is "in the Republican tradition," Mr. Hoyer said. In any event, he said, Senate rules requiring a 60-vote majority to cut off a filibuster "are impeding the work of the American people." I may have missed[...]