Published: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 13:15:33 -0500
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 states towards reform, says Ben DeGrow, director of education policy for the Michigan-based Mackinac Center. Th[...]
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 entails, and of course daddy is also common slang (without age connotations) in some BDSM worlds. The ambiguity of t[...]
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 Obama's historic gains in Georgia's 6th District, it clearly wasn't from class warfare appeals to an educated, up[...]
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.) focused on criminal justice reform and mandatory minimum sentencing. Durbin credited Sessions for breaking w[...]
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 rules is stronger than that of those like Rep. Welch who have set their sights on soy milk, we don't need more du[...]
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 it, but my search to find a op-ed from The Times in 2010 denouncing Democratic "zealots" for using this proc[...]
Wed, 28 Dec 2016 21:35:00 -0500Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican state House member in Montana representing part of Billings, made some waves when he endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson for president. As Matt Welch reported in July, Zolnikov and fellow Montana Republican Nicholas Schwaderer (R-Mineral County) said that especially on spending and 4th Amendment issues, Johnson was clearly superior to Donald Trump. Now Trump is about to be president, and wants Montana's sole sitting federal House member, Ryan Zinke, to be his secretary of the interior. If Zinke gets nominated, Montana will need to hold a special election to fill his seat. Zolnikov said in a phone interview today that he is "strongly considering" a run for the seat. Rather than a statewide primary vote, in which Zolnikov expects he'd do well, the GOP's nominee for such a special election will be chosen by a vote of the state party's Central Committee, according to the Party's state chair Jeff Essmann on the state GOP's website. In such a situation, where Party insiders make the choice, Zolnikov's open rebellion against his Party's (successful) presidential candidate could hurt. But Zolnikov doesn't expect it to necessarily scuttle him. The Central Committee has membership weighted to county population, Zolnikov says, and the county he is from, Yellowstone, is the most populated in the state. His primary objection to Trump, he said in this week's interview, is related to spending. But Zolnikov's legislative career since first winning office in 2012 shows a strong interest in other liberty issues where Trump's Republican Party is unlikely to be of much support, including due process and privacy. Zolnikov says Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is his favorite sitting federal legislator. Zolnikov's says he thinks his opposition to Trump could play out different ways with different Republicans. "Some people might be angry, some people might not care, some people might believe we need some solid checks and balances on the guy. They might like it that I wouldn't just be a yes man" in the House to a President Trump. The composition of the central committee is changing between now and when such a vote on a Republican candidate for a special election would occur, he says, so he's not sure how that will play out. One of his prides as a representative is how he's spent "a year of my life" knocking on voters' doors and he doesn't think being anti-Trump would be poison with a general electorate should he get the Party's nomination. (He won his state House seat this year with 69 percent of the vote, after getting 71 percent in 2014, with what he says is a significantly redistricted electorate.) How might he explain his Trump opposition to doubtful Republicans? "I am a firm believer that the legislative branch is there to keep the executive branch and judicial branch in check, we are all there to keep each other in check, and I think that will be as important in the next four years as it was in the last eight," he says. "Do we want a larger government that one day the Democrats will take control of, or a smaller government that does not violate our rights? I think that will resonate with lots of people." Trump's apparent lack of concern with expanding spending and exploding the debt further, with his belief that we can just print more money whenever we need it, are what most alarm Zolnikov. He'd relish an opportunity to be the "a-hole in the room who can say what needs to be said" in Congress to spell out that "our fiscal situation is not pretty, we can't keep spending and spending." How well does he expect to do? He can't really judge that now, he says, thinking it depends very much on the nature and popularity of the other people who ultimately decide to also seek the Party's nomination. Zolnikov praised in Zinke a qualit[...]
Wed, 21 Dec 2016 15:15:00 -0500Bipartisan members of an Encryption Working Group connected to the House's Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees have put out a year-end report pushing for American policies that support and defend strong data encryption. Sure it's just a report and not an indicator of where policy might end up, but it's important in the wake of the United Kingdom passing a new surveillance bill that gives its government the authority to order tech and communication companies to provide back doors or bypasses in order to access encrypted data. The report was signed by ten members of the House, five from each party. After meeting and discussing issues and concerns with various parties over the past six months, they concluded the year with four observations. This first observation is exactly what's up in the headline: Weakening encryption harms our national interest. Even government officials within the national security community agreed: [S]takeholders from all perspectives acknowledged the importance of encryption to our personal, economic, and national security. Representatives of the national security community told the EWG [Encryption Working Group] that strong encryption is vital to the national defense and to securing vital assets, such as critical infrastructure. Civil society organizations highlighted the importance of encryption for individual privacy, freedom of speech, human rights, and protection against government intrusion at home and abroad. Private sector stakeholders—in particular, their information security officers—and members of the academic community approached the question from an engineering perspective—against a wide array of threats, foreign and domestic, encryption is one of the strongest cybersecurity tools available. The second observation was simply a reminder that encryption tools are developed internationally and that the government probably can't actually control access to it anyway. The end result could actually make the law enforcement "going dark" problem even worse: Encryption technology is free, widely available, and often open source.5 Law enforcement stakeholders acknowledged to the EWG that a Congressional mandate with respect to encryption—requiring companies to maintain exceptional access to data for law enforcement agencies, for example—would apply only to companies within the United States. The consequences for such a policy may be profound, but they are not likely to prevent bad actors from using encryption. The group's third observation is to warn that there's no "one-size fits all" solution to dealing with encryption to the extent that it presents a challenge to law enforcement and anti-terror information gathering. Without directly saying so, it's a crack at the absurdly vague legislation crafted by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) that simply ordered tech companies to assist law enforcement in bypassing and compromising their own security whenever a judge told them to. The final observation is a bland call for cooperation between tech companies and law enforcement. They do notice that part of the problem involves communication. They seem to kind of be diplomatically suggesting that law enforcement agencies think they can just demand tech companies give them information and don't understand why that doesn't work: Stakeholders from all sides were nearly unanimous in describing a significant gap in the technical knowledge and capabilities of the law enforcement community, particularly at the state and local levels. This results in a range of negative consequences that not only hinder law enforcement's ability to pursue investigations but also contribute to its tension with the technology community. For example, from the per[...]
Mon, 19 Dec 2016 11:25:00 -0500It's finally here, the election day after election day, where 538 well-positioned Democratic and Republican party insiders are set to make Donald Trump's improbable election as President of the United States official. Electors will cast their vote in each state's capitol, after which the governors and secretaries of state are expected to certify the vote and send them to Washington, DC, where a joint session of Congress will convene on January 6, 2017 to make the vote official. A great many of Trump's opponents have pulled out all the stops to prevent him from taking office, wheeling out everything from misty-eyed B-list celebrity pitch videos, to promises to pay the fines imposed on rogue electors, and even street protests in states where Hillary Clinton is going to get every electoral vote. A number of electors have claimed to have received attempted bribes, hate mail, and been inundated with email requests to vote for anyone but Trump. In Pennsylvania, all of the state's 20 electors will receive protection from a plainclothes state trooper. For all the talk about "Hamilton Electors" — so named because of the founding father's warning in the Federalist Papers against the election of someone not "qualified" to be president or one improperly influenced by a foreign government — even in the highly unlikely case that the Electoral College denies Trump the requisite 270 votes he needs to win, all signs indicate that eventually the Republican-controlled Congress would just make Trump president anyway. Republican leadership may have been skeptical of Trump for much of 2015 and 2016, but after he received the party's official nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, pretty much all of the elected GOP has fallen into line. While there have been a handful of electors who have indicated they won't vote for Trump despite being legally bound to do so (though no one has ever been prosecuted for violating these state laws), the massive revolt needed to present a speed-bump on Trump's road to the White House is still a longshot. At the moment, only one elector has officially gone rogue — David Bright of Maine — and he has reportedly cast his vote for Bernie Sanders, denying a vote that would have gone to Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. Read my report on "Hamilton Electors" here, and stay tuned later today for a full roundup of electoral votes.[...]
Fri, 16 Dec 2016 16:45:00 -0500
(image) Intelligence officials are preparing a report at the request of members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to provide an estimate of how many Americans have had their personal data snapped up by federal surveillance.
Can anybody imagine this happening before Edward Snowden revealed the evidence that our own national intelligence apparatus was collecting huge amounts of our own communications data while trying to track down suspected terrorists? And yet he's probably not going to be coming home soon, despite his role in helping correct bad privacy-destroying government policies.
How much will be released isn't quite clear based on Reuters' reporting. It's nevertheless a promising development not just for government transparency but for Congress playing its role in serving as oversight over exactly how much authority these agencies should have. And the timing matters, as some of the National Security Agency's surveillance authorities (under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) are up for review next year and Congress will have to act. Dustin Volz at Reuters notes:
Intelligence officials have said that data about Americans is "incidentally" collected under Section 702, due to a range of technical and practical reasons. Critics have assailed such collection as back-door surveillance of Americans without a warrant.
[Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, who is stepping down next month, suggested in April that providing an estimate of Americans surveilled under Section 702, a figure some have said could tally in the millions, might be possible, while defending the law as "a prolific producer of critical intelligence."
Clapper, we may recall, became well-known (seriously, would anybody be able to identify him prior to Snowden's leaks?) for getting caught lying to the Senate about the extent that personal data from Americans' communications was getting swept up in terrorism surveillance.
Several of the House members who signed on to this request directed to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are also members of the relatively new Fourth Amendment Caucus, including caucus co-founders Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California). Keep an eye on them next year as they push for reforms to Section 702 to better protect Americans from secret government surveillance.