Published: Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2017 01:11:26 -0400
Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:45:00 -0400Under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate, a vast new array of higher-education employees—including all staff and faculty at some schools—would be designated as campus security authorities. The bill would also impose new penalties on colleges and universities for failure to comply with a range of staffing, surveying, training, and outreach demands, which could cost schools millions upon an initial violation. The bill—sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Mark Warner (D-Virginia)—aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically the section colloquially known as the Clery Act. In a press release announcing their "Campus Accountability and Safety Act" (CASA), the senators invoke the Title IX, the federal rule prohibiting sex-discrimination in education, and a need to place "higher incentives on all universities ... to empower student survivors and hold perpetrators accountable." If CASA passes, expect to see campus crime numbers—of all sorts—skyrocket. One of the more bizarre provisions of the bill stipulates that "each individual at an institution of higher education who is designated as a higher education responsible employee… shall be considered a campus security authority." Under federal code, higher education responsible employees are those required to report sexual misconduct to campus Title IX staff, even if the victim/confessor doesn't want to report the incident. But federal law is vague about who exactly falls into this category, leaving schools to develop their own more specific—and expansive—definitions. At some schools, all faculty and staff have been given responsible-employee status; many have expanded it to include all professors, or all people working with student athletics and extracurriculars. What does it mean if each of these folks is designated as a "campus security authority?" It's unclear how much effect it would have on day-to-day campus policy. But for purposes of an institution's annual security report, this change would be a big deal. Under federal law, colleges and universities receiving any federal funding must report annually on the numbers of sexual violence and misconduct incidents reported to campus security authorities or local police each year, along with numbers on a range of other incidents, from murder to burglary to hate crimes. CASA would expand sex-offense reporting requirements to include non-identifying details about each incident (such as whether the victim reported the incident to a Title IX coordinator, whether they sought disciplinary action against the accused, the number of accused found guilty, and whether force or weapons were involved). But more importantly, campus incidents are currently only included on annual security reports if they were reported to local police or campus security authorities—a category which has traditionally meant the campus police department. By drastically expanding the number of people defined as campus security authorities, we drastically expand the category of incidents included in annual security reports. Now we aren't just talking about incidents in which victims wanted to get authorities involved, or in which the offense was serious enough to warrant police attention regardless; any time a student confides in a professor, coach, drama director, resident adviser, etc., about something that could potentially be an offense—a verbally abusive romantic partner, a dorm-mate who shared an offensive web video, a classmate who made a disparaging remark about trans people, a sexual encounter fuzzily remembered—the listener would be obligated to report it to campus administrators for inclusion on the annual crime report. It's a surefire way to discourage students from talking to faculty and staff about their personal lives at all and/or artificially ramp up federal stats on campus crime data. The 2017 CASA is a redux of a stalle[...]
Wed, 12 Apr 2017 17:00:00 -0400The first rule of the Congressional Fight Club, says Trey Radel, is "don't buy cocaine from a federal agent." In January 2013, Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. He had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size, scope, and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel has always been a staunch critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, he documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that puts maintaining the unsustainable status quo and fattening party coffers first and philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really, really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform if the United States is going to avert an entitlements-driven financial crisis and a drift toward even greater polarization and economic stagnation. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Radel explains the compulsions that destroyed his political career; doubles down on libertarian positions regarding the drug war, civil liberties, and foreign policy; and articulates his worries that Americans won't demand systemic change until the country has gone "full Greek." "I fear," he says, "that Donald Trump is going to slip into George W. Bush-era policy that led itself to making Republicans disaffected, which was this: Let's lower taxes, increase spending, and pray to God the economy booms. I'm afraid that's just not going to happen." Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/317397506&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" 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. Subscribe to Reason's award-winning print edition for just $15 a year! This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Trey, thanks for talking to us. Trey Radel: It's great to be with you. Thank you so much for having me. Nick Gillespie: You were a U.S. Congressman from the 19th District in Florida, is that right? Trey Radel: That is right. Nick Gillespie: Okay. Trey Radel: The Fort Myers-Naples area is where many of perhaps your retired grandparents live. Nick Gillespie: You entered office. You ran in 2012 as part of the last surge of the Tea Party, a professional broadcaster before that, and then you listed about a year in Congress. Tell our listeners, Reason's listeners, what happened, which I think will jog a lot of their memories. Trey Radel: Sure. The first rule of Fight Club, don't buy cocaine from a federal agent, is where I'd start. While I poke fun at myself, it sucked. I got caught up in some very bad, bad habits that ranged from drinking too much to making really stupid decisions. I paid a really serious, serious price. It's one thing to pay the price for a position that I worked very hard to get, which was a Representative in the United States Congress, and to get there and just toss it all away, but what was the hardest that I would quickly come to grips with was what it did to my family, to my wife, and really to my son, who's only five years old now but who will grow up knowing that his dad had this notorious label. It sucks, man. It's terrible, it's awful, but you go through life, and you can either choose to dwell in the past, you could be paralyzed for the future, or you can just try and liv[...]
Sun, 02 Apr 2017 10:32:00 -0400A draft bill in the House of Representatives would add sex trafficking to the list of crimes excluded from the protection of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), a Geocities-era law with an important provision on internet publishing. That provision—Section 230—would prove crucial to the development of the "World Wide Web" as we know it, allowing for a world in which social networks and participatory media could thrive. The new House proposal is portrayed as a mere tweak to Section 230, one which would make it easier to catch bad guys while having little effect on online communication. Don't believe it. Simply put, Section 230 protects web publishers and platforms—from Facebook and Reddit to The New York Times to Petfinder.com—from being legally culpable for things that third parties post or upload, at least when it comes to state crimes and civil lawsuits. (Federal criminal offenses are not afforded Section 230 protection.) If you're found to be criminally harassing someone via Twitter, the company can't be prosecuted for it. If a magazine commenter makes libelous statements, the publication can't be sued for libel. If a 16-year-old meets a 19-year-old on Facebook and they begin a sexual relationship, Facebook can't be charged for statuatory rape. And so on. "It's the reason I can't sue [Snapchat CEO] Evan Spiegel for harassment if a dude sends me unsolicited pictures of his dick on Snapchat," writes Kate Knibbs in this excellent and detailed piece about adult-advertising and Section 230. "This protection has been absolutely essential to the development of the internet in this country and really around the world," the Center for Democracy & Technology's Emma Llansó told Knibbs. Without it, web providers would "be in court all the time. And they'd run up inordinately high legal bills, even if they were ultimately successful in defending a case." The new House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and dubbed the "No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act," would carve out an exception to Section 230 for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors. Supporters portray it as a way to "hold sex traffickers accountable," but we already have sufficient penalties—at the state and federal level—for people who force, decieve, or coerce others into prostitution, as well as for anyone directly involved in the prostitution (forced or not) of a minor. And nothing in Section 230 of the CDA, nor in this new proposal, affects the way we treat folks found to be sexually exploiting others. What the change would do is make it possible for states to indict any app, website, or platform that introduces an underage person to a possible sex buyer as a conspirator in sex trafficking. And it would allow any underage person who was paid for sex to subsequently sue any website or web service remotely involved in the transaction. To be very clear, the change would not merely apply to classified-ad sites like Backpage, or to sites and services specializing in escort advertising. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and similar social platforms have all helped introduce underage sex-trafficking victims to perpetrators in recent U.S. cases. Victims often use use popular email providers, messaging apps, and text messaging to communicate with clients (police have been fond of late with charging sex workers with cell phones or laptops for felony possession of the instruments of a crime). Perhaps prosecutors won't go after these sites and services (I have my doubts), but regardless, victims can. With the proposed change, victims will have the right to sue any third-party web service that enabled their participation or exploitation in the sex trade. And in this case, victim means anyone under 18 whom someone paid for sex, regardless of whether any force, fraud, coercion, or middlemen and women were involved. You can see how this might cause problems. The Section 230 bill deals not a wit with the people actually causing sexual exploitation; it simply opens up a new category of defendant[...]
Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:16:00 -0400In a post yesterday about President Donald Trump's record number of Congressional Review Act-enabled repeals of regulations, I tacked on a bullet-pointed list of other Trumpian moves to roll back the regulatory state. Not included was his proposed budget, despite the fact that it features impressive year-over-year cuts to the executive branch—30.4 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency, 20.7 percent from the Departments of Labor and Agriculture, and so on. So why didn't I include Trump's proposed deconstruction of the administrative state? Because presidents don't pass budgets, and congressional Republicans don't want to cut spending. Last night, in an episode of The Fifth Column, I asked the great libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to assess the realistic possibilities that Congress this year will approve such budgetary measures as a 30-plus percent cut in the EPA. "You want me to give you odds?" Massie said. "I'd go with five percent odds." To be clear, Massie is in the lonely minority that would delight in taking a machete to the regulatory state—the man did, after all, propose a one-sentence bill last month to abolish the Department of Education. But as we lurch from the Ryancare debacle to yet another self-inflicted government shutdown deadline of April 28, congressional Republicans are already going on the record as saying Trump's cuts, as predicted in this space, ain't happening. "We just voted to plus up the N.I.H.," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), complained to The New York Times, referencing Trump's proposed $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health. "It would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it." Also balking at the N.I.H. cuts are Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ("It's penny-wise but pound-foolish") and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who told the Washington Examiner that "You don't pretend to balance the budget by cutting life-saving biomedical research when the real cause of the federal debt is runaway entitlement spending." More GOP objections, as reported by the NYT: Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was more blunt. "I think it is too late for this year," she said about the proposed cuts, echoing several Republican colleagues. As for a border wall, which is not well supported by American voters, "that debate belongs in the next fiscal year," she said. […] "I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a wall," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I'm not going to support a big cut to the N.I.H. I'm not going to support big cuts to the State Department." Recall, too, that Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine quoted a "top House Republican staff member" on Trump's agency cuts thusly: "even the cabinet secretaries at the E.P.A. and Interior are saying these cuts aren't going to happen." So these are your politics for the next calendar month: The media and various activist/constituency groups will sound a never-ending alarm about the terrible effects of Trump's heartless budget cuts, while a unified Republican Congress that cannot even pass a budget anymore blunders along toward another artificial government-funding deadline that will likely result in some kind of spending deal that does not, in fact, cut spending. Good work, America![...]
Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:00:00 -0400Editor's Note: In January 2013, Trey Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. Radel had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel was and is a critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, Radel documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that always seems to put philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food, is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform. In this excerpt, Radel recounts the immediate aftermath of his drug bust, which was inevitably (and legitimately) tied to a vote to drug-test food-stamp recipients he had cast as part of a farm bill. During this awful time, it felt like every political pundit on the planet; every TV newscast, newspaper, and online publication; and every comedian in the world was coming after me. Although, after all those years of dreaming I'd be on SNL, I made it. Seth Meyers ripped me often on "Weekend Update." Every pundit and comedian seemed to take particular glee in my vote on the provision in the farm bill regarding food stamps and drug testing. Remember when I said that this vote would come back to bite me in the ass? It all started when the Huffington Post ran an article with the headline: "Trey Radel, Busted on Cocaine Charge, Voted for Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients." The irony is the HuffPo reporter, in at least one of the articles, actually expounded on my view on the failed War on Drugs and my past votes focused on criminal justice reform. But, c'mon, who reads articles? At the lowest moment of my life, I was being savaged on national television for getting busted for drugs after voting to drug test food stamp recipients. After the press broke the massive farm bill down to a headline, the public boiled my vote down to one meme—a picture of me with white powder Photoshopped all over my face saying: "Republican votes to drug test food stamp recipients, gets busted for cocaine." The truth was that it had not been a single vote to "drug test these dirty dogs getting handouts!" It was part of the thousand-plus-page farm bill loaded with other provisions, and it gave states more power over how they wanted to administer their food stamps. I believe in "to each state its own," especially when it comes to addressing local issues and concerns. I thought that Washington's constant "one size fits all" mandates were doomed to fail. So while I am a Republican who is so libertarian that I could have been labeled a liberal because of my determination to end the War on Drugs and work with Democrats, it didn't matter. I was just another tea party asswipe who got busted for drugs and voted to drug test food stamp recipients. This was especially tough for me to take because I was and am such a staunch opponent of the War on Drugs. Our drug policies in the United States should be focusing on rehabilitation, not incarceration. There's a fiscally conservative argument for this because we throw away billions of dollars a year locking people up and turning our backs on them. Many times nonviolent drug offenders return to society lacking skills to get a job, or they're turned away from jobs because of their record. Worse, they come out as hardened criminals, which places an even greater economic burden on society. Ironically, shortly before my bust, I worked with Democrats to cosponsor the Justice Safety Valve Act. In fact, I was one of only a few Republicans to do so. The goal: Get rid of mandatory min[...]
Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:15:00 -0400It looks like whatever House Intel Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) might have been attempting to accomplish yesterday when he held a press conference to reveal some post-election surveillance of Trump's transition team may have backfired. Nunes, a Trump ally, was clearly attempting to draw attention to the argument that the intelligence community was violating the privacy of the incoming Trump administration in its data and information collection. He said the information he had received showed that the surveillance and data collection of Trump team communications was "incidental," meaning they likely were not surveillance targets themselves. But Nunes running to the press and not actually informing the rest of his peers in the House Committee first subsequently made the story about Nunes and what he was trying to accomplish instead. Trump's critics, both on the left and the right, worry that Nunes' behavior is an attempt to interfere with a congressional investigation of any possible ties between Trump and the Russian government and whether anything possibly illegal has happened. Was this all about trying to help Trump? Trump himself immediately jumped on Nunes' comments in a Time interview to defend his wiretap conspiracy tweets, which at least suggests some interesting timing. Nunes has since apologized to his Democratic counterparts in the House for not telling them first before going to the press. There is likely a very noncontroversial explanation for the data collection that implicates nobody in particular and helps inform Americans about how federal surveillance actually works if people are willing to—for however briefly—set aside their feelings about Trump. Folks may recall that prior to taking office, Trump and his transition team decided to start contacting and communicating with world leaders. In all likelihood the National Security Agency (NSA) had active permission to engage in surveillance of such people. It's not necessarily an indicator of a criminal investigation; it's the business of international intelligence. So members of Trump's team may have ended up dragged into "incidental" surveillance because of the people they were talking to. As such, what happened with Trump's folks is a perfect opportunity for Americans to understand how "incidental" surveillance of citizens' works, what happened to the data, and the inherit risks of this level of collection for all of our privacy so at least we're all informed about how all of this works. Privacy and civil liberties activists are calling for reforms to surveillance authorities in order to reduce the likelihood that private data or communications get retained and exposed the way it might have happened with Trump's team. Also of interest: Nunes has said that actually, some of the names in these reports were still "masked" (redacted), but he was able to tell who the reports were talking about based on the context. In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about mass collection of data from Americans' phone and online communications, government officials (all the way up to President Barack Obama himself) attempted to assure people that nobody was reading through all of our emails or listening in to all of our phone calls. But they were collecting loads of metadata (where and who we were communicating with, for how long, when and how frequently, et cetera), and experiments have shown that enough metadata is available out there to extrapolate a lot about our private behavior. But as long as this is a fight only over the behavior of Trump and his team, it's going to be tough to have a discussion or call for reform of these tools. As I noted yesterday, even vocal Democratic critics of the extent of federal surveillance are using all this to try to attack Trump's administration as potentially breaking the law even knowing full well that's not necessarily what the information collection means. Mind you, it cou[...]
Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:50:00 -0400On January 13, a week before Donald Trump would take the oath of office and just days after the new session of Congress opened, Republicans in the House passed a budget resolution that was the first step, GOP leaders said, to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The bill passed, 227-198, with just nine Republicans defecting from the party-line effort. Among those nine "no" votes were the two founding members of the House Freedom Caucus: Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). Another "no" came from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), who isn't a member of the Freedom Caucus but shares many of the small-government, libertarian leanings of the group. "We got a category five hurricane coming when you have to reduce to practice, the differences between Donald Trump's agenda and Paul Ryan's agenda," Massie told Roll Call after the vote. "I think there are going to be some very confusing votes in here." How right he was. That January 13 vote was the first sign—a telling one, in retrospect—that the Freedom Caucus and other libertarian-leaning members of Congress (like Massie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky) would become the biggest stumbling block to passing the House GOP healthcare plan. That bill is scheduled to receive a floor vote Thursday that, if the Republican leadership can cobble together the votes, would approve the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as part of that budget resolution that initially cleared the House on that Friday the 13th. With the House vote on the AHCA looming on Thursday, Republican leaders can afford to lose 22 votes from their ranks. As of Wednesday evening, vote tallies tracked by various media outlets suggest anywhere from 23 to 29 Republican lawmakers intend to vote against the bill—enough to delay the vote or force significant changes to the bill. A significant number of those "no" votes come from Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Dave Brat (R-Virginia), Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina), among others. Freedom Caucus members have been skeptical of the AHCA almost since the moment it was publicly unveiled. "It's Obamacare in a different format," Jordan told The Atlantic on March 6, just shortly after Republican lawmakers got their first look at the proposal. Amash was on the same page: Obamacare 2.0 https://t.co/p0zKkMD3UT — Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 6, 2017 Though the Freedom Caucus never took an outright position on the bill, the handful of individual members who promised to vote against the bill have succeeded in at least complicating the Republican effort to get a majority. "I don't think there is any tinkering that will get us to 218," Labrador predicted in an interview with CNN. There's still time for that to change, however, and House Republican leaders were reportedly considering substantial rewrites to the AHCA on Wednesday night. Depending on what changes, some of those expected "no" votes could swing to "yes" votes before the bill hits the floor. Massie is less likely to be swung. On Wednesday, he tweeted a picture indicating that his vote had changed from "no" to "hell, no." Sorry if I let you down. I'm changing my vote on #AHCA pic.twitter.com/JLUotqaO9L — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 22, 2017 Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Wednesday that he was still a "no" and other members of the group promised to sink the bill even after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. By late Wednesday night, though, Meadows' resolve seemed to be wavering as conservative Republicans and the Trump White House continued to negotiate. While obviously not a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has been bird-dogging his like-minded colleagues in the lower chamber over the healthcare bill. He led reporters on a search for the bill, [...]
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:11:00 -0400Republican House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) held a rather unusual press conference this afternoon to declare that he had received information that the feds did indeed secretly collect and disseminate private info from and about Trump's transition team post-election. To be clear, Nunes (a Trump supporter) said that whatever private information was collected during surveillance was "incidental." This likely means that the team members were not direct targets of federal surveillance but were in contact with people who actually were targets, and whatever happened during conversations or communications got swept up in surveillance. The actual targets could be people under federal investigation, but they could also be any foreign power the government is keeping an eye on. The natural inclination here is to assume this is part of the whole dust-up over ties between the Trump administration and Russia. Funny there's news on that today, too. Nunes wouldn't say a whole lot about what was happening (which makes his run to the media a little weird) but insisted that this incidental surveillance was not connected to Russia at all. He also seems to think the incidental collection itself was "legal," but isn't entirely sure. It seems as though the press conference is intended to bolster the argument coming from some Republicans that the problem here is the leaking or spread of information within the intelligence community. Nunes said that some names had been "unmasked" in intelligence reports that had been distributed internally. This means that, much like what might have happened with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the names of Americans who had been swept up in this surveillance may have gotten into the hands of intelligence community workers who weren't supposed to have them. Nunes is a mass surveillance supporter, and so he's trying to thread a needle here. He wants to present Trump and Trump's staff as having their privacy violated by leaks while not wanting to suggest there's a problem with the amount of surveillance that takes place. But there is a definite "Switch places, everybody!" mentality on surveillance authority now that Trump and Trump's people have been targeted. This tweet by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) is quick to say that the surveillance must have been connected to an investigation or influence by a foreign power. Lieu, however, is also a big opponent of mass unwarranted surveillance, and you'd think he'd be a bigger skeptic than this. Getting your private data and information "incidentially" collected in surveillance is not and should not be treated as evidence of wrongdoing, and that was partly the point of efforts to restrict federal authorities collecting whatever they could. In all likelihood, mass unwarranted surveillance played absolutely no role in this snooping, and the intelligence officials had secret warrants though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts. But for somebody who sits on Congress' Fourth Amendment Caucus to jump in the direction that suggests an assumption of guilt on the basis of it being a political opponent is a problem. Clearly, there will be a lot more to come on this issue. Watch a bit of the presser with Nunes below. Trump has said he feels "somewhat vindicated" (according to the Associated Press) about his insistence that he had been wiretapped. (UPDATE: Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, responds here to the oddness of Nunes running to the press): .@devingnunes: "I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the President-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored…" pic.twitter.com/wCxJu3irPZ — CSPAN (@cspan) March 22, 2017[...]
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 09:33:00 -0400Most news coverage about pension issues revolves around the states. Partially, that's for good reason. States are dealing with a collective shortfall of more than $1.75 trillion (and probably more, because of how those liabilities are calculated), and some states truly are screwed by the over-generous, under-funded retirement promises they've made to public workers for the past few decades. Partially, though, the state focus is because we just don't know much about the federal government's pension situation. Sure, it's known that the various federal employee pensions systems covering civilian and military employee benefits have an unfunded liability—that's the gap between what a pension system owes to beneficiaries and what assets it has available to pay them—of about $3.5 trillion (equal to about 20 percent of America's annual GDP), according to Moody's. We also know that the feds pay roughly $75 billion to civilian retirees and their survivors, and roughly $50 billion to military retirees and their survivors, each year. For comparison, there's only two states (New York and California) with annual budgets larger than that. And we also know that all the complicated math beyond those pension payouts, the long-term costs, and unfunded liabilities, is calculated inside a hollowed-out mountain in western Pennsylvania, in a bunker designed to survive a nuclear apocalypse. No, really, that's true. Still, when it comes down to who-gets-what, we don't know much of anything at all. Federal courts have long held that pension payouts to retired federal workers are secret, reasoning that disclosing that information would be a violation of pensioners' privacy. By contrast, most states make that information public. Doing so gives taxpayers (who are funding a not insignificant portion of the pension bill) some transparency about how their dollars are being used, but it also lets watchdog groups look for potential pension abusers. Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Open The Books, one of those watchdog groups that tracks pension spending at the state level, says that needs to change, because you can't reform what you can't see. "If active salaries (by name) are disclosed, why would posting federal retiree pension amounts, service credits and contributions be an invasion of privacy? The same privacy law underlies both records," Andrzejewski wrote Tuesday in an op-ed at Forbes. Open The Books is calling for Congress to change the rules that keep federal pension payouts secret. Andrzejewski told Reason that his organization is working with Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) to introduce legislation to give taxpayers more information about federal pension payouts. Elizabeth Dillon, DeSantis' communications director, declined to comment Tuesday on the details of the bill, which is not yet introduced, but she confirmed to Reason that it would increase transparency in federal pensions. Earlier this year, DeSantis reintroduced his End Pensions In Congress Act, which would end pensions for all future Members of Congress as well as those currently serving who are not yet vested into the congressional retirement plan. DeSantis does not accept a federal pension, Dillon said. Those transparency laws don't necessarily fix America's pension problems, but they help improve the debate—or at least catch individual fraudsters. Transparency at the state level helped Open The Books expose fraudulent pension payouts in Illinois, California, and at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Those same laws making pension information publicly available is why we know about retired municipal officials getting pensions seven times larger than the median household income in the town where they live, and how we know that the most lucrative pension in California during 2015 belonged to Michael Johnson, the former Solano County administrator w[...]
Mon, 13 Mar 2017 11:15:00 -0400Yesterday was the start of Daylight Saving Time, and if anyone would like to form a SuperPAC to destroy politicians who jack around with my circadian rhythm I'll gladly chip in a few bucks. The twice-annual timepiece adjustment is outdated and irritating. States should pick a time zone and commit. Let's first dispense with some of the myths behind Daylight Saving Time (DST). Many people assume we enacted DST to help farmers. That's nonsense. Most of my relatives who aren't in prison are farmers. I have no idea what time they wake up in the morning because whenever I visit they've already eaten lunch by the time I'm mixing a hangover cure. They rise before dawn to feed the cows, mow the corn, construct scarecrows, etc. All without directives from Congress. Daylight Saving Time came about because of World War I. Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States all pushed our clocks forward to better coordinate waking hours with light bulb use, thereby conserving electricity. The program lapsed until World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted "War Time Zones," which were basically the same thing, only with a cooler-sounding name. Astonishingly, despite originating as a temporary FDR government program, War Time Zones actually ceased at the conclusion of the war. Thereafter time zones defaulted to municipalities until 1966, when Congress enacted a permanent annual Daylight Saving Time, in part to standardize the plethora of discordant clocks across the nation. Today all of these reasons are outdated. We probably won't go to war with Germany again for another 20 or 30 years. And all of the economic benefits seem to cancel each other out. While we saved about 1 percent on electricity when first enacting DST, that figure is now offset by an increase in air conditioning. The idea that we'll all revert back to discordant municipal time zones set by the sundial in our mayor's front yard is utter nonsense. Everyone I know owns a smartphone, set automatically by a clutch of nerds in Cupertino. Each year a dozen or so state legislatures consider ending Daylight Saving Time, only to drop the measure and return to squabbling about transgender bathrooms or determining what the official state reptile should be. (The Moutain Boomer, of course.) Legally, if a state decides to drop Daylight Saving Time, it must then procure an exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's possible Secretary Elaine Chao would enforce federal time regulations with an iron fist and scream "this is the hill I will die on!" but I think we could probably win her over. There's a healthy debate about whether places like California should scrap DST and permanently move an hour forward or backwards. Television companies consider darkness their ally, and know that the earlier the sun sets the quicker viewers drop irritating habits like family picnics or soccer games and return to the vital activity of watching The Big Bang Theory. Conversely, the Chamber of Commerce and its chorus of retailers lust for delayed sunsets, because shoppers will stay out later buying The Big Bang Theory paraphernalia at malls. I'm a devout evening person and also a shill for the Chamber of Commerce, so I'd prefer we postpone sunset until around 11:30 at night. If nothing else, to punish all of you sanctimonious morning people for bragging about what you accomplished before breakfast, such as mowing your corn, constructing scarecrows, watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and so forth. That said, I think I speak for most Americans in saying: Just pick one! If Arizona and the territory of Guam can figure out how to commit to one time zone, surely the rest of us can.[...]
Fri, 10 Mar 2017 20:50:00 -0500South by Southwest attendees may not be able to recite the Fourth Amendment on command (unlike yours truly), but two early panels on technology, privacy, and surveillance indicate that protecting this right is important to quite a few of them. Today officially launches the start of this year's South by Southwest conference here in Austin. Peter Suderman blogged earlier the opening address by Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). His piece launched the "government" track segment of the conference, running up through Monday. Reason is represented here not just as journalists covering the conference: Suderman, Jacob Sullum, and I are also moderating panels on important policy issues. Conider my panel, "Get a Warrant: The Fourth Amendment and Digital Data" as a sort of table-setter for tech privacy and surveillance issues that are going to be popping up at several other panels over the next few days. That's how we decided to approach it anyway. Assisted by Sean Vitka of Demand Progress and the advisory committee of Congress' Fourth Amendment Caucus, Neema Singh Guliani, of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Mike Godwin, the media/internet lawyer who helped start the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and also has a famous law you may have heard of), we offered up a sampler platter of top tech surveillance issues in America today. Our ultimate goal, though, was to help people attending the conference understand that legislators play a key role in helping restrain the surveillance and data collection authorities law enforcement and federal intelligence services have brought to bear against America's own citizens. Of course, those who read Reason regularly could have nodded along at the information passed along by our panelists. We only touched on each issue for a few minutes, but you can read more about why President Donald Trump's claims of being illegally wiretapped matter about more than just Trump lashing out or some sort of power play over who controls the government (though that does matter, too). An important provision that gives the intelligence community a significant amount of surveillance authority needs to be renewed this year or it will expire. Congress has a vote coming, and Trump's administration has said they don't want anything changed. But civil liberties and privacy groups are calling for reforms. We touched on border tech searches and the attempts by federal officials to try to essentially intimidate travelers—both foreign visitors and Americans—into granting access to their tech devices. Vitka noted in the panel encryption plays an important role of trying to restrain the government here and likened it to vaccinations and herd immunity. These searches happen because the possibility of access remains. If more or most Americans used tougher encryption to access devices, they'd be denied enough to stop trying. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is trying to get a law passed to require warrants for these border tech searches. And we used the Email Privacy Act to help highlight some of the challenges facing privacy supporters in Congress. The Email Privacy Act, which would close an old legislative loophole that allows warrantless access to old emails, passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but has not been able to get through the Senate. Established Senate leaders (and not just Republicans) have stood in the way of reforming the law, even when it has massive bipartisan support. (And when we polled the audience, many people who followed Edward Snowden's leak coverage nevertheless had no idea that this act even existed.) Following on the heels of my panel was "Are Biometrics the New Face of Surveillance?" The panel drew a large crowd, given that it's probably the latest "hotness" in how technology is facilitating government snooping. The p[...]
Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:20:00 -0500The scandalous revelation last week that a private Facebook group for U.S. Marines was used to proliferate nude photos of female military service members appears to be just the tip of the iceberg. Business Insider reports that the originally reported group of nearly 30,000 members — Marines United — was not the only outlet where military members solicited and shared nude and sexual images of their female colleagues without their consent. Another site, AnonIB, is used for the same purpose, only its reach spreads throughout the U.S. military, not just the Marine Corps. Business Insider also notes that AnonIB's members not only share nude photos of female service members, they frequently identify the women "by name or where they are stationed." The Marines have promised an investigation, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is considering pursuing felony charges against the perpetrators, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has scheduled a hearing on the matter before the Senate Armed Services Committee next week. But will any of this matter? Military members and veterans are rightly revered in this country for their willingness to put their lives on the line in service of the nation. Unfortunately, that reverence — and our political leaders desire to cloak themselves in the military's reflected glory — too often leads to a blind eye being turned on systemic problems requiring urgent attention. A 2014 study by the RAND Corporation found that almost 5 percent of female military service members were sexually assaulted in the year prior to the study, and that "52 percent of active-component women perceived that they experienced professional or social retaliation after reporting a sexual assault." 22 percent of active duty women reported being sexually harassed that year, as well. Few institutions in American life are more preternaturally macho than the military, and even minor changes to titles are resisted as political correctness run amok. But for the military to maintain the honor they demand and generally deserve, each service branch should willfully engage the prevalent issues with sexism and abuse which are rampant throughout the service. And while no politician wants to be perceived as disrespecting the troops, every legislator from Congress to President Trump should be willing to use this scandal as a launchpad to make it clear that no one — not even the heroes of our armed services — can engage in a massive ring of ritual sexual humiliation of other service members, and have it be excused as "boys will be boys." The military's honor requires more than that.[...]
Fri, 03 Mar 2017 14:15:00 -0500"The social cost of carbon is the most important number that you've never heard of," according to University of Chicago economist Michael Greenstone. Greenstone led the interagency working group that devised this metric during the Obama administration. Since it was first calculated in 2010, the social cost of carbon has been used to justify 80 different federal regulations that purportedly provide Americans with over a trillion dollars' worth of benefits. "The social cost of carbon is nothing but a political tool lacking scientific integrity and transparency conceived and utilized by an administration pushing a green agenda to the detriment of the American taxpayers," insisted Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Il.), chair of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. LaHood's remarks were made as he opened a hearing called "At What Cost? Examining the Social Cost of Carbon" earlier this week. "This metric did not simply materialize out of thin, and dirty, air," countered Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va). Beyer argued that the social cost of carbon (SCC) metric was devised by the Obama administration through a process that "was transparent, has been open to public comment, has been validated over the years and, much like our climate, is not static and changes over time in response to updated inputs." So what are these politicians fighting about? The social cost of carbon is a measure, in dollars, of the long-term damage done by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in a given year. Most of the carbon dioxide that people add to the atmosphere comes from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The Obama administration's interagency working group calculated that the SCC was about $36 per ton (in 2007 dollars). This figure was determined by cranking damage estimates through three different integrated assessment models that try to link long-term climate change with econometric projections. Notionally speaking, imposing a tax equal to the SCC would encourage people to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions while yielding revenues that could be used to offset the estimated damage, e.g., by building higher sea walls or developing heat-resistant crops. Can citizens take that $36-a-ton estimate to the bank? Not really. First, consider that integrated assessment models are trying to forecast how extra carbon dioxide will impact climate and economic growth over the course of this century and beyond. One of the critical variables is climate sensitivity, conventionally defined as how much warming can be expected from doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The working group calculating the SCC also used various discount rates. (One way to think of discount rates is to consider how much interest you'd require to put off getting a dollar for 10 years.) Finally, instead of focusing on domestic harms, the working group included the global damages in calculating the SCC. Republicans, who convened the subcommittee hearing, argue that the SCC is bogus and therefore many of the regulations aimed at cutting the emissions of carbon dioxide by restricting burning of fossil fuels are too. In his 2013 analysis of the IAMs relied upon by the Obama administration's interagency working group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Robert Pindyck concluded that all three models "have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis." He pointedly added, "These models can be used to obtain almost any result one desires." In other words: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Having tossed the models aside, Pindyck earnestly sought another method for establishing a plausible SCC. In November, he published a new study in which he asked selected economists and climate scientists to provide[...]
Fri, 03 Mar 2017 14:15:00 -0500
(image) "The social cost of carbon is nothing but a political tool lacking scientific integrity and transparency conceived and utilized by an administration pushing a green agenda to the detriment of the American taxpayers," insisted Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Il.), chair of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. LaHood's remarks were made as he opened a hearing called "At What Cost? Examining the Social Cost of Carbon" earlier this week.
"This metric did not simply materialize out of thin, and dirty, air," countered Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va). Beyer argued that the social cost of carbon (SCC) metric was devised by the Obama administration through a process that "was transparent, has been open to public comment, has been validated over the years and, much like our climate, is not static and changes over time in response to updated inputs."
So what are these politicians fighting about? Read the column and find out about "the most important number that you've never heard of."
Thu, 02 Mar 2017 12:50:00 -0500One might think that, given that the Trump administration is struggling with national security staff leaks that appear to be designed to cause them political harm (at the very least), they'd maybe realize some of the risks of overly expansive surveillance authority and what happens when secretive government officials are in everybody else's business. But no, they're no really different from other politicians who want one set of rules for themselves and another for the rest of us. According to Reuters, the White House just announced that it does not want Congress to make any changes or reforms that would reduce the authority of federal intelligence agencies to engage in surveillance, even if compromises Americans' privacy. During this session of Congress, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act will sunset. Section 702 grants the National Security Agency (NSA) fairly broad authority to engage in electronic surveillance against foreign targets. While the basic concept that the NSA should be snooping on potentially hostile foreign actors overseas is uncontroversial to most Americans, what has become abundantly clear over the past several years is that any and all surveillance powers granted to the feds ends up being used in extremely broad ways many Americans didn't realize. Under the authorities granted by 702, data and communications from and by Americans have been scooped up during these investigations. And the broad authorities granted federal investigators have given them a path to get private information about Americans without having to get a warrant and to keep it all secret from them in cases that extend not just to the war on terror but to domestic crimes. The massive extent of federal government surveillance was exposed to Americans by the leaks of Edward Snowden. Wasn't the USA Freedom Act, passed in 2015, supposed to end—or at least restrain access—to Americans' private communications? Yes and no. That act focused on the surveillance authorities granted by the Patriot Act and the misuse of them to engage in mass, unwarranted citizens' communication metadata. There are actually several different mechanisms and authorizations that guide federal surveillance. Section 702 is separate from the Patriot Act and also separate from Executive Order 12333, the rules that establish how federal agencies share surveillance data. (President Barack Obama's administration expanded this sharing capacity between agencies right before he left office.) On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee had hearings to discuss whether to make changes to 702 before renewing it to better protect the privacy of Americans. We don't even know how many Americans have had their personal communications collected or accessed through Section 702. In December, intelligence officials said they were going to put together a report attempting to estimate how many Americans have had their privacy compromised via Section 702's search mechanisms, but it hasn't happened yet. And it's not certain whether that report is even going to happen now. Sen. Dan Coates, Trump's nominee for director of national intelligence, told the Senate he would do everything he could to get those numbers, but it's not a guarantee. As Congress mulls what to do, privacy-minded groups like the American Civil Liberties Unions and Human Rights Watch are calling for reforms to put a stop to the use of these snooping tools to engage in warrantless searches of Americans' information. Here's a recent warning from the ACLU: The government justifies warrantless Section 702 surveillance on the theory that this spying is directed at foreigners — but, once the information is[...]