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Updated: 2018-04-23T00:00:00-04:00


Public Transit Yet Another Surveillance Target: New at Reason


(image) City marketers like to say Richmond, Virginia is "easy to love," but loving the city's new bus-rapid-transit system takes more effort. Now there's another reason to harbor a resentment against it: surveillance.

Last week Style Weekly's Brad Kutner reported that the system's 26 stops will have around four security cameras each—"making for more than 100 new surveillance devices on the roughly 7.5-mile stretch."

Moreover: "These stationary cameras will always be on, day and night, and their live feeds will be viewable from 911 headquarters, through the city's Department of Emergency Communications, as well as at GRTC's radio room." The Pulse buses also come with several surveillance cameras. A. Barton Hinkle takes note.

View this article.


Democrats Cling to Collusion as Explanation for Clinton's Loss in New Lawsuit Against Russia, Hackers, and Trump Campaign: Reason Roundup


Democrats are suing over alleged Trump-Russia collusion. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has filed a civil lawsuit against Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Russia, and anonymous entities who "hacked" DNC emails and handed them over to WikiLeaks. DNC Chairman Tom Perez told ABC News Sunday that the purpose was to prevent Russian interference in the 2018 midterm election. It's unclear how, exactly, this is supposed to work. The leaked DNC emails "produced no evidence that the primaries had been skewed—states and state parties, not the DNC, control primaries and caucuses," notes The Washington Post. "But numerous conspiracy theories grew out of the email hack." The new DNC lawsuit, filed in federal court on Friday, claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in a wide-ranging plot that includes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and many others. None of the allegations in the DNC's suit are new. But Perez told ABC that he was not concerned the DNC suit would interfere with special councel Robert Mueller's investigation into the same. He also said he was "confident that we will get a jury trial." Trump's campaign has called the DNC suit "frivolous" and "baseless," based on a "bogus Russian collusion claim" and "filed by a desperate, dysfunctional, and nearly insolvent Democratic Party." (President Trump tweeted Friday that the Democrats were suing "the Republicans for Winning.") Even those who might disagree on the Russian collusion claims being "baseless" are questioning why the official apparatus of the Democratic Party is making this move right now. Obama strategist David Axelrod called the suit "spectacularly ill-timed" and worried that it would give fodder to claims that the Russia-Trump investigation is nothing more than "a partisan vendetta." Others have pointed out that the DNC suit might not even be allowed. It names Russia itself, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), and whoever was behind Guccifer 2.0—the "lone Romanian hacker" who took credit for the DNC email hack and was later found to have logged in via a GRU computer—as defendants, charging these entities with violating six U.S. laws and several Washington, D.C., and Virginia laws. "Typically, foreign sovereign nations are immune from suit in the United States under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)," points out Ingrid Wuerth at the Lawfare blog. But are Russia, the GRU, and the GRU operatives entitled to that immunity? The case has the potential to generate a wide-ranging, blockbuster immunity decision with implications for various interpretive questions under the FSIA....It also raises important questions of international law, some of which I note in the brief overview that follows. Of course, these questions will only arise if Russia and the state-related defendants are properly served and if they decide to litigate rather than default. Default is especially likely for Guccifer 2.0, whose identity is unknown and who may have less to fear from a default judgment. Even for the other defendants, however, execution of a judgment in the case may be difficult due to execution-related immunity and for other reasons such as the location of assets. If the case does goes forward against any of these defendants, immunity from adjudication is a threshold issue that will be litigated at the outset. Both statutory and common law immunity provide a jurisdictional (not a substantive) defense, and the appropriate scope of jurisdictional discovery may become an important issue after the complaint is served. In any event, the lawsuit demonstrates Democrats' absolute commitment to pawning Hillary Clinton's loss off on nefarious outside forces and their refusal to undertake the kind of post-2016 election reflection that could actually boost their party's chances of electoral success. FREE MINDS Anti-Nazi protesters arrested for wearing masks. A Georgia law passed to punish Ku Klux Klan members in the 1950s was just dusted off by local cops targeting anti-Nazi protest[...]

Westworld’s Season 2 Premiere Was a Subtle Salute to Video Game Side Quests


The long-awaited robot revolution was in full swing during Westworld's mostly fascinating, occasionally frustrating second season premiere last night. Viewers were forced to think long and hard about which side—robots or humans—we're even cheering for, though the story's self-awareness subverts the notion that these sides matter much. From the comfort of our couches, Westworld the HBO prestige drama is for us what Westworld the amusement park is for its guests: entertainment. It's a violent, titillating distraction, and nothing more. And yet Westworld's deceased mastermind, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), believes that such stories might disguise a greater truth. "Something deeper, something hidden, perhaps," he says in the first season finale, shortly before sacrificing himself so that his greatest creation, Dolores (Rachel Evan Wood), can achieve full sentience. Here at the start of season two, Dolores isn't exactly the hero. Her crusade to punish humankind for her mistreatment may be perfectly justified, and the way she turns her the tables on her tormenters is hugely satisfying. ("Doesn't look like anything to me," she says to a trio of humans begging for their lives, deliberately deploying the line her programming forced her to utter every time she encountered something incomprehensible.) And yet it's hard to feel particularly invested in her mission—partly because it's straightforward vengeance, and partly because so much of her previous behavior has been scripted that we hardly know the real Dolores, if there even is such a thing. Arguably the closest thing viewers have to a protagonist is Bernard (Jeffrey Wright). Bernard occupies a sort of middle ground between the warring factions: he's a robot who has only recently been made aware of his status, and unlike other hosts, he was designed in the likeness of a specific human, Ford's long-dead partner, Arnold. Bernard seems like he wants to keep the humans and the robots from killing each other—but most of all, he wants to protect his secret. Consider the following question: what is Westworld about? Throughout much for the first season, the answer was relatively straightforward: It was a show about a futuristic park that contained humanoid robots as attractions. The hidden purpose of these attractions might have been to remind man of his hubris, much like the genetically engineered dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (another intellectual property of Michael Crichton, who directed the original 1973 Westworld film). But now Westworld is less Jurassic Park and more Terminator, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Matrix, or the Dune prequels, or Portal, or any other science fiction story involving intelligent machines rising up against their human creators. As the leader of the robot revolution, Dolores is thus the most important character within the central story arc—or "narrative," as Ford would put it. Indeed, Ford christened this his "Journey into Night" narrative, which happens to be the name of the premiere episode. The villains of Dolores's arc appear to be the corporate honchos at Delos, the company that owns the park and is apparently content to let everyone die as long as it can obtain some important piece of information embedded within Peter Abernathy, the robot who played Dolores's father. Bernard is caught somewhere in the middle of this conflict. But because Westworld is an amazingly self-aware show, and because I had just recently re-watched the first season, I found myself drawn to several of the side plots, or side quests. A side quest, most video game fans will know, is an optional adventure the characters can undertake in lieu of continuing the main story. Don't feel like advancing the plot yet? Why not help the sad girl track down her missing chickens, or aid the mysterious mask merchant in peddling his wares, or help an old witch procure the necessary ingredients for an important potion? (These are all side quests from the 1998 Nintendo 64 video game The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina o[...]

In New York, Blight Is Whatever Officials Say It Is: New at Reason


(image) Eminent domain abuse has reared its head in East Harlem. New York City officials plan to seize a family-owned dry cleaning business, raze the buildings, and hand the forcibly vacated land to a private developer.

City officials insist that the property is "blighted," the condition of severe disrepair required to trigger a taking under state eminent domain law. But as Damon Bae, whose parents opened Fancy Cleaners after immigrating from Korea in 1981, told the New York Daily News, "the only 'blight' was in the [city-owned] vacant lots the city allowed to sit empty" nearby. In other words, the local government created the very conditions it is now using as a pretext for seizing the property.

Unfortunately for the Baes and others like them, the U.S. Supreme Court rubber-stamped a similar land grab in 2005's Kelo v. City of New London decision, writes Damon Root in the latest print edition of Reason.

View this article.


Expect the North Korea Talks To Be Fruitless: New at Reason


(image) Donald Trump says that if his meeting with Kim Jong Un "is not fruitful," he will "respectfully leave the meeting." Steve Chapman's advice is for Trump to wear his walking shoes, because he will probably be taking a hike.

Anytime two enemies sit down to resolve their differences peacefully rather than through war, hopes rise that reason will prevail and compromise will emerge. On Twitter, Trump assured everyone, "Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!" It's tempting to think that his combination of insults, threats, and economic pressure has caused the North Koreans to see the error of their ways. But negotiations are often a tedious exercise in killing time. Often one side is not willing to meet halfway. Often neither is.

View this article.


Brickbat: Prying Eyes


(image) A new German law gives those who work in firms with more than 200 employees the right to know what their co-workers in similar jobs are paid. The law is aimed at making sure men and women working in similar jobs are paid the same.


Penn State's 98-Year-Old Outing Club Is No Longer Allowed to Go Outside


(image) What's more dangerous: rugby, or a walk in the woods? At Pennsylvania State University, the administrators apparently think it's the latter.

The student "Outing Club," which has gone backpacking, kayaking, and hiking in state parks over the course of its 98-year-existence, will no longer be allowed to host outdoor events after administrators conducted a risk assessment, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"The types of activities in which [Penn State Outing Club] engages are above the university's threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations," according to an official announcement.

A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn't an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times.

"Student safety in any activity is our primary focus," Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, told The Post-Gazette.

And yet the treasurer of the Outing Club said that he hadn't heard of any injuries sustained on club outings in recent years.

Leslie Demmert, the angry alum who alerted me to this travesty, said in an email:

Students can still play field hockey, rugby, and football at Penn State...but they can no longer enjoy a cave or go scuba diving or even make an outdoor adventure under the guidance of trained student leaders at Penn State. Why? It's too dangerous to be out of cell phone range. I'm an alumna ('71, Liberal Arts) and I'm furious that Penn State administration allows indoor activities but has hobbled healthy, outdoor leadership and controlled risk-taking opportunities.

Where are people supposed to learn to try new things if not in college? How will they learn new adventures and outdoor recreation if they aren't supported?

Penn State wants to be more than a football school. How about they reconsider this shortsighted decision on organizations that have proven themselves to be safe and inexpensive, financially and emotionally, for over half a century?

The Post-Gazette's Don Hopey reports that the administration is hoping to reform the Outing Club into some kind of movie-watching club:

Ms. Powers said meetings between the Outing Club's student leaders and the university are "ongoing" about the club's future role on campus.

Those talks are focused on the possibility of "forming a different kind of club," [current club president Richard] Waltz said, one that still holds film festivals and hosts speakers, but can no longer lead students on walks in the woods.

Maybe they can take virtual reality walks in a padded room—provided there's cell service.


Earth Day and the Plastics Pollution Problem


The theme for the 48th Earth Day is ending plastic pollution. The main concern of the Earth Day Network is the continuing accumulation of plastic trash in the world's oceans. The poster child of the plastic marine debris problem is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that lies between Hawaii and California. Yachtsman Charles Moore identified the vast region—an area more than twice the size of Texas—of floating plastic bottles and lost fishing gear when he sailed through it in 1997. Plastic marine debris is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons, in which users of unowned natural goods like the oceans have an incentive to overexploit and ruin them. In this case, tens of millions of free riding consumers do not suffer the costs of negligently discarding plastic products so that they end up washing into the oceans. The spread of plastic marine debris is a big and growing problem. According to one recent estimate plastic now accounts for 95 percent of the human created waste that accumulates on shorelines, the sea surface and the seafloor. A 2014 report in the journal PLoS One estimated that a minimum of 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing nearly 250,000 metric tons are afloat in the oceans. Researchers in a 2015 study in Science calculated that "275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entering the ocean annually." In a March Scientific Reports study, researchers who trawled through the Patch estimate that it contains at least 80,000 metric tons of plastic. Over three-quarters of the plastic debris mass is in pieces larger than 5 centimeters (2 inches) and at least 46 percent was comprised of fishing gear. Microplastics which are bits measuring between 0.05 and 0.5 centimeters (0.02 to 0.2 inches) accounted for 8 percent of the total mass but 94 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces floating in the area. Drifting lost or discarded plastic fishing gear kills all kinds of sea life including seals, sharks, and turtles. Such ghost fishing may reduce catches in some fisheries by as much as 5 percent. Plastic in the oceans is harming some seabird and turtle populations that mistake the fragments as food. Currently, there is little evidence that consuming fish or shellfish that have ingested plastic bits is causing harm to people. Interestingly, the 2014 PLoS One study noted that over time microplastic particles appear be disappearing from the ocean's surface. Plastics are broken up over time into every tinier pieces by the action of the waves and ultraviolet sunlight. The researchers suggest that the plastics might be being removed from the ocean by being borne down into the depths as they become encrusted with microscopic organisms; being excreted as heavier fecal pellets after being ingested by fish; and being biodegraded by microbes. Such microplastics may well end up in sediment on the ocean's floor. So where is the plastic befouling the oceans coming from? The 2015 Science study estimated the flow of plastic waste that 20 populous coastal countries. The good news is that the United States is at the bottom of that list, dumping less than 1 percent of the plastics that end up in the oceans annually. In the United States, about 10 percent of plastic waste is recycled, 15 percent is burned to produce electricity or heat, and the rest is landfilled. China is at the top of list of ocean plastic polluters, accounting for 28 percent the total amount of plastics thrown into the oceans each year. About 60 percent of plastics in the oceans are discarded by the fast growing East Asian economies of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In fact, all 19 of the top 20 countries on the list of countries contributing to ocean plastic pollution are poor or middle-income countries. The main reasons these count[...]

In Defense of Cash: New at Reason


(image) On the evening of November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 500-rupee notes (valued at about $8) and 1,000-rupee notes would become "worthless pieces of paper" at midnight, no longer recognized as legal tender. The stated goal of his demonetization plan: to catch criminals. The government offered a brief window in which old notes could be swapped for new ones, with the idea that everyone from human traffickers to tax cheats would have to show up at banks with vast sums of money and confess their sins or lose the value of their cash holdings altogether.

The costs of this scheme were large. At the time of the announcement, demonetized notes accounted for 86 percent of all currency in circulation. As George Mason economist Lawrence H. White has written, "A serious currency shortage immediately arose, with predictable consequences. Honest wage laborers in the huge cash economy went unpaid, honest construction projects came to a standstill, honest shopkeepers saw sales dry up, and honest businesses failed. Honest people wasted billions of hours waiting in queues to exchange old notes for the trickle of new notes."

Growth in the country's gross domestic product fell from an annualized rate of 7.37 percent in the quarter prior to the announcement to an average annualized rate of 6.06 percent in the first three quarters of 2017.

What's more, the program utterly failed to impose a levy on those conducting business in the underground economy. Lawbreakers did not find themselves stuck with worthless notes. Instead, the Reserve Bank of India reports that 98.96 percent of all demonetized notes were turned in during the months following the announcement. That is on par with redemption rates in Italy (99.15 percent) and France (98.77 percent) following the introduction of the euro—and in those cases users were given 10 years to convert their old money.

The Indian experiment was a failure. Yet a group of politicians, academics, and do-gooders continues to dream about a cashless world where black markets would shrink and tax coffers would grow, writes William J. Luther for the latest print edition of Reason.

View this article.


Barbie Documentary Shows How She Still Angers Some Feminists: New at Reason


(image) Television critic Glenn Garvin checks out Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, which explores the doll's history and possibly doomed efforts to make her more appealing to her adult critics:

"Feminism, and how a girl sees herself, and self-esteem for girls, to put all that on the tiny shoulders of an 11-and-a-half-inch doll, is quite a burden," says the exhausted Chidoni.

It's a burden explored at delightful and occasionally poignant length in Tiny Shoulders. Nominally an inside look at Mattel's 2016 roll-out of several new chubby dolls (or, as the Mattel corporate-speak dictionary had it, "curvy"), Tiny Shoulders is really a history of Barbie and her feminist tormentors. And it turns out those tiny shoulders conceal some real muscle.

View this article.


Hate Traffic? Learn to Love Congestion Pricing: New at Reason


(image) Americans waste a lot of their lives in traffic, with the average urban auto commuter spending 35 hours a year idling on highways during rush hour. The problem is getting so bad that some cities are beginning to consider a radical market-based solution.

Congestion pricing is a variable toll on drivers that rises or falls based on how many cars are on a stretch of road at a given time. The idea is to harness the power of the price mechanism to ration when and where people drive.

Higher tolls during peak hours push motorists to travel at different times, use alternative routes, or collapse multiple trips into just one—all of which cuts down on the time people spend driving. The revenue generated meanwhile can be spent on additional congestion-reducing projects, such as widening lanes or expanding bus service, writes Christian Britschgi in the latest print edition of Reason.

View this article.


Reason Takes on California's Foie Gras Ban in Supreme Court Brief: New at Reason


(image) Last week, Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes Reason) partnered with the Cato Institute to file an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the foie gras producers and sellers who are challenging California's awful foie gras ban. In March, the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to take up their appeal after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last fall reversed a U.S. District Court ruling that had struck down the ban.

Food law expert Baylen Linniken agrees with every single word in the Reason/Cato amicus brief. He should; he wrote it. He explains the background of the bad law, the implications on interstate commerce, and why the Supreme Court needs to step in and stop it.

View this article.


North Korea Claims It Will Suspend Its Nuclear Weapon and Missile Tests


(image) In advance of planned summit meetings where North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would talk with South Korean leaders and then President Trump, North Korean state media drops a Friday afternoon news dump surprise: they claim they are going to suspend any further nuclear weapon or missile tests and shut down their current nuclear test site.

As per a Washington Post report, this surprising announcement, which seems at least in part a vindication of Trumpian diplomacy on the nuclear issue, "was made after a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea, convened Friday to discuss policy issues related to 'a new stage' in a 'historic' period. However, analysts noted that it made no mention of giving up its program, simply signaling a freeze."

Matt Welch last month praised the possibilities inherent in Trump's controversial decision to meet with Kim Jong Un, which at least as it looks this afternoon is bearing good fruit.


CDC, in Surveys It Never Bothered Making Public, Provides More Evidence that Plenty of Americans Innocently Defend Themselves with Guns


Many people who support gun control are angry that the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are not legally allowed to use money from Congress to do research whose purpose is "to advocate or promote gun control." (This is not the same as doing no research into gun violence, though it seems to discourage many potential recipients of CDC money.) But in the 1990s, the CDC itself did look into one of the more controversial questions in gun social science: How often do innocent Americans use guns in self-defense, and how does that compare to the harms guns can cause in the hands of violent criminals? Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck conducted the most thorough previously known survey data on the question in the 1990s. His study, which has been harshly disputed in pro-gun-control quarters, indicated that there were more than 2.2 million such defensive uses of guns (DGUs) in America a year. Now Kleck has unearthed some lost CDC survey data on the question. The CDC essentially confirmed Kleck's results. But Kleck didn't know about that until now, because the CDC never reported what it found. Kleck's new paper—"What Do CDC's Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?"**—finds that the agency had asked about DGUs in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Those polls, Kleck writes, are high-quality telephone surveys of enormous probability samples of U.S. adults, asking about a wide range of health-related topics. Those that addressed DGU asked more people about this topic than any other surveys conducted before or since. For example, the 1996 survey asked the DGU question of 5,484 people. The next-largest number questioned about DGU was 4,977 by Kleck and Gertz (1995), and sample sizes were much smaller in all the rest of surveys on the topic (Kleck 2001). Kleck was impressed with how well the survey worded its question: "During the last 12 months, have you confronted another person with a firearm, even if you did not fire it, to protect yourself, your property, or someone else?" Respondents were told to leave out incidents from occupations, like policing, where using firearms is part of the job. Kleck is impressed with how the question excludes animals but includes DGUs outside the home as well as within it. Kleck is less impressed with the fact that the question was only asked of people who admitted to owning guns in their home earlier in the survey, and that they asked no follow-up questions regarding the specific nature of the DGU incident. From Kleck's own surveys, he found that only 79 percent of those who reported a DGU "had also reported a gun in their household at the time of the interview," so he thinks whatever numbers the CDC found need to be revised upward to account for that. (Kleck speculates that CDC showed a sudden interest in the question of DGUs starting in 1996 because Kleck's own famous/notorious survey had been published in 1995.) At any rate, Kleck downloaded the datasets for those three years and found that the "weighted percent who reported a DGU...was 1.3% in 1996, 0.9% in 1997, 1.0% in 1998, and 1.07% in all three surveys combined." Kleck figures if you do the adjustment upward he thinks necessary for those who had DGU incidents without personally owning a gun in the home at the time of the survey, and then the adjustment downward he thinks necessary because CDC didn't do detailed follow-ups to confirm the nature of the incident, you get 1.24 percent, a close match to his own 1.326 percent figure. He concludes that the small difference between his estimate and the CDC's "can be attributed to declining rates of violent crime, which accounts for most DGUs. With fewer occas[...]

Southern Poverty Law Center Scraps Its Anti-Muslim Hate List


Last month, I wrote a piece calling out the Southern Poverty Law Center, the country's self-appointed watchdog of hate groups, for putting Ayan Hirsi Ali, the Somali victim of genital mutilation, and Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim militant-turned-reformer, on its anti-Muslim hate list along with genuine Islamophobes like Pamela Geller. And yesterday came word that the SPLC quietly scrapped its list called the Journalist's Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. Poof! It's gone. I wish I could take credit for helping SPLC see the light, but, I suspect, the real reason was that Nawaz recently retained Clare Locke—the same firm that went after Rolling Stone for publishing the University of Virginia rape confabulation—to sue SPLC for defamation. Nawaz claims that SPLC showed a "reckless disregard for the truth"—the legal bar for proving actual malice to make a defamation lawsuit stick—when it put him on its hate list. And instead of fighting him in court, SPLC seems to have folded like a four flusher. Worse, unlike most responsible outfits that issue a correction when they make a mistake, SPLC removed its list without a word. Now, if SPLC has indeed backed down (one can't be sure because it didn't respond to queries for comment), it can't be because it is wanting for resources like some poor non-profit operating out of a trailer park. It owns one of the plushest buildings in Alabama and has net assets upwards of $328 million that it's been doubling literally every decade. No, it is because it probably didn't want probing litigation to expose just how hollow its name-and-shame exercise is. Nawaz believes that Islam is a religion of peace and is publicly spooked by the rising Islamophobia in the West. (How could he not be? He is after all a practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent living in Britain.) He routinely condemns anti-Muslim bigotry and insists that Muslim profiling is counterproductive and ineffective—on Fox News, to boot. So how in Allah's name did he land on a list of people who allegedly "routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms." He is the founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an Islamic reformist outfit fighting against jihadist interpretations of the Quran, and in 2014 he tweeted a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad with the note that "God is greater than to feel threatened by it." This, along with accusations that he exaggerated some aspects of his biography, is apparently why SPLC thought it fit to put him in the same league as Geller who sponsored the infamous Draw-A-Mohammad cartoon. In other words, this righteous outfit sees no difference between constructive pushback by a well meaning dissenter and a cheap stunt by a vicious troll. But painting with such a broad brush is wrongheaded for a whole host of reasons not the least of which is that it disarms reformers by taking away an important tool of protest. When Geller sponsored her odious contest, she was sticking it to Muslims. But that is far from Nawaz's motive, whatever one thinks of his tactics. He is simply trying to push back against his religion's rigid notions of blasphemy and stretch the inner boundaries of acceptable opinion. In any normal universe, he would be applauded for his courageous stance against the forces of orthodoxy and intolerance. But not in SPLC. Indeed, if SPLC had been around when Martin Luther denounced the Papacy as "the institution of the Devil" and called King Henry the Eighth, a devout Catholic who later became a Protestant, "a pig, an ass, a dunghill, the spawn of an adder, a basilisk, a lying buff[...]

Some California Cities Are Making It Harder to Quit Smoking


In a rush to crack down on tobacco use, more than a dozen local governments across California have recently passed laws that will—if they work—nudge more people to use cigarettes instead of potentially less unhealthy alternatives. Led by San Francisco and Oakland, cities including Sonoma, Berkeley, and Manhattan Beach have passed ordinances banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. Similar bans have been passed but not yet implemented in Beverley Hills, Palo Alto, San Mateo, and elsewhere. The prohibitions are aimed at limiting the availability of menthol cigarettes and to stop tobacco products from supposedly being marketed to children, but they are also sweeping up flavored vaping options and other forms of non-combustible tobacco products that are alternatives to cigarettes and have been shown to help smokers quit. The unintended but completely predictable outcome? Former smokers who have already switched to e-cigarettes (or non-combustible tobacco products like snus) might find themselves forced to pick up the cancer sticks again in order to get their dose of nicotine—thanks to the always well-intentioned intervention of government officials. These California cities are moving in exactly the wrong direction, as a growing body of scientific and medical evidence demonstrates that vaping helps smokers quit. In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued an advisory opinion to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showing that e-cigarettes could be life-savers. "E-cigarette aerosol contains fewer numbers and lower levels of most toxicants than smoke from combustible tobacco cigarettes does," wrote University of Washington toxicologist David Eaton, who authored the report. "Laboratory tests of e-cigarette ingredients, in vitro toxicological tests, and short-term human studies suggest that e-cigarettes are likely to be far less harmful than combustible tobacco cigarettes." Even long-time smoking critics like Michael Siegel, who spent two years on the Center for Disease Control's Office on Smoking and Health, have come around to the potential for non-combustible tobacco alternatives. Vaping is an especially powerful anti-smoking tool because it so closely simulates the act of smoking without as serious of health concerns. "Not only do they provide nicotine, but they simulate cigarette smoking," Siegel, now a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, said earlier this year. "Thus, unlike nicotine patches or nicotine gum or other drugs, they address all of the behavioral, physical, and even social aspects of the smoking addiction." Even without the unintended public health consequences, it's worth questioning if these localized bans are likely to succeed in reducing tobacco use. Nicotine addicts are going to get their hit from somewhere, and banning these products is only likely to drive business towards the already-thriving black market for tobacco products in California. Legitimate businesses will be forced to close, but public health won't improve. There's also scant evidence that current smoking trends require a major civic intervention. Cigarette smoking by teenagers has continued to fall despite a surge in experimentation with vaping, and last year it reached the lowest level ever recorded by the Monitoring the Future Study, which began surveying high school students in 1975. If banning flavored tobacco products is meant to make smoking less attractive to youngsters, well, it seems like teens are already well ahead of officials in San Francisco and elsewhere. In some places, smokers are fighting back against the bans. "We just legalized marijua[...]

The Hidden Legacy of Columbine: Ignorance About School Violence


Today, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, students around the country skipped classes as part of a National School Walkout to protest gun violence. This is the latest attempt by survivors of the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, to keep the public focused on school violence and on the various gun control proposals they believe would deter it. Invoking Columbine is meant to remind people that such attacks have been happening for decades, and to imply that this is because national leaders have continually failed to implement solutions. But Columbine should teach us a different lesson: The press, the public, and policymakers are often ignorant, and doing the wrong thing can be just as counterproductive as not doing anything. In the wake of Columbine, so-called experts completely misdiagnosed the causes of the crime, and they decided to implement "safety" policies that gravely undermined students' rights without making schools any safer. On April 20, 1999, two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, marched into Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, and murdered 12 students and one teacher. They had planned to use explosives to kill many, many more, but their bombs failed to detonate. Desperate for answers, the media quickly seized on "bullying" as its preferred explanation: Harris and Klebold were unpopular kids who had been brutally mistreated by their classmates, until finally they snapped and decided to shoot up the school as an act of revenge. The journalist Dave Cullen has done excellent work debunking this and other myths associated with Columbine. No, Harris and Klebold weren't notably victimized by bullying. No, they didn't want revenge on specific students—they didn't specifically target jocks, Christians, popular kids, or any other group of students during their rampage. No, they weren't part of a cult. Neither comic books nor violent video games nor goth culture were responsible for the attack. Harris, according to Cullen, was a true psychopath: He enjoyed hurting people because he hated them and thought himself superior. Klebold was depressed and suicidal, and he largely followed Harris's lead. As Cullen wrote in Slate many years ago: What [Harris] was really expressing was contempt. He is disgusted with the morons around him. [His diaries] are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he's not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority. These distinctions might not seem like they matter much. But partly because of these fundamental misunderstandings, nationwide efforts to stamp out bullying intensified after Columbine. At the same time, zero tolerance policies—already growing more prevalent in the years immediately prior to Columbine, thanks in part to the 1994 Gun Free Schools Act—became even more popular, giving schools all sorts of means for expelling problematic, "bullying" kids. It's no wonder that by 2006 the school suspension rate was double what it had been in the 1970s. These trends were already underway before Columbine, but the massacre made them seem more necessary and intensified the push for them. Schools also continued to employ more and more school resource officers to police hallways and classrooms. The federal Community Oriented Police Services office doled out hundreds of millions of dollars from 1999 to 2005 so that schools could hire cops. Columbine is not solely responsible for this, but the public's massive, sudden post-Columbine terror about violence in sch[...]

Chuck Schumer's Cannabis Conversion Illustrates Democrats' Shameful Hesitance


Today Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he will introduce legislation aimed at repealing the federal ban on marijuana by removing it from the list of controlled substances. The New York Democrat, who telegraphed his plan in a Vice interview that aired last night, says "there's no better time than the present to get this done." I disagree. The past would have been a much better time. Schumer's cannabis conversion—which comes after that of former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican who not long ago was describing himself as "unalterably opposed" to legalization—is embarrassingly tardy. Democratic politicians like Schumer have always been lagging indicators of public opinion on this issue, especially compared to rank-and-file members of their own party. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. That includes 51 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats. Opposition to pot prohibition first broke 50 percent in 2011, when 57 percent of Democrats thought marijuana should be legal. But Schumer, like most Democrats in Congress, has been biding his time. Schumer, who was honored as a "Guardian of a Drug-Free America" by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in 2004, brags that has "spent his legislative career supporting local law enforcement" and "working to keep drugs off our streets." That includes pseudoephedrine, a cheap and effective allergy medication that Schumer targeted for restriction because it can be used to make methamphetamine, as well as myriad synthetic drugs covered by federal bans that Schumer has championed. The dedicated drug warrior also has supported longer sentences for meth offenses. Given that background, it's not surprising that Schumer came late to the marijuana reform movement. In 2014, two years after voters in Colorado and Washington approved legalization, Schumer affirmed that states should be allowed to adopt that policy, although he was not sure it was a good idea. "It's a tough issue," he said on MSNBC. "We talk about the comparison to alcohol, and obviously alcohol is legal and I'm hardly a prohibitionist, but it does a lot of damage. The view I have, and I'm a little cautious on this, is let's see how the state experiments work." In 2015, nearly two decades after California became the first state to legalize medical use of cannabis, Schumer backed the CARERS Act, which would eliminate federal penalties for conduct that complies with state medical marijuana laws. The bill Schumer plans to introduce would extend that accommodation to states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, although the feds could still prosecute people for bringing marijuana into states where it remains illegal. It is not the first bill with that aim. In 2011 Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would repeal the federal ban except as it relates to interstate smuggling. The latest version has 33 cosponsors, including 27 Democrats. The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, first introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) in 2013, would make the marijuana provisions of the Controlled Substances Act inapplicable to "any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana." The latest version has 45 cosponsors, including 31 Democrats. In 2015 Bernie Sanders, the first major-party presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, became the first U.S. senator to propose [...]

How To Talk to People Who Think You're Evil and/or Insane: Podcast


You know what's really difficult? Communicating an unpopular message to people who disagree with you. Today's Reason Podcast digs into the nitty gritty of persuading people to think differently about crime and punishment or to talk calmly about gender and genetics; if there's a theme, it's how to find common ground in a conversation where your interlocutor thinks you're evil and/or insane.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this podcast is also 100 percent women. And it features four—count 'em, four!—ladies. I was joined on the stage by Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, a fellow at the Kinsey Institute, an adviser to, and the author of several books about gender and the way our brains work; Lyn Ulbricht, an activist and the mother of Ross Ulbricht, who is serving life in prison for his role in running the Silk Road website; and Heidi Bogohsian, the executive director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute and a co-host of Law and Disorder, a great radio show and podcast about criminal justice.

Tune in to hear Bogohsian on whether getting arrested repeatedly for activism is a good retirement plan, Fisher on ways to become "an effective human being," and Ulbricht on the power of presenting as "normal."

The estrogen-packed panel was recorded at Reason's donor weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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Democrats Sue Trump Campaign, Russian Government, and WikiLeaks


The Democratic National Committee is filing a massive lawsuit against the Russian government, President Donald Trump's campaign, and WikiLeaks, alleging a conspiracy to disrupt the presidential election in Trump's favor. Trump himself is not being sued, though his campaign, his son Don Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his associates Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and George Papadopoulos are, along with many others. The complaint was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. And what a doozy of a lawsuit it is. It claims violations of everything from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to the Wiretap Act to the Stored Communications Act, plus two racketeering violations, a.k.a. RICO claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the favorite law of conspiracy theorists. To attempt to summarize the 66-page lawsuit is to attempt to summarize two years of accusations about the relationship between the Russian government and people surrounding Trump. The lawsuit accuses Russia of infiltrating the DNC's cybersecurity, stealing data and communications, and then offering them to help Trump's campaign, sometimes with WikilLeaks as a go-between. The DNC claims that this conspiracy "undermined and distorted the DNC's ability to communicate the party's values and vision to the American electorate; sowed discord within the Democratic Party at a time when party unity was essential to electoral success; and seriously compromised the DNC's internal and external communications." This seems like the appropriate spot to remind folks that some of the leaked emails showed the DNC treating presidential candidate Bernie Sanders like gum stuck on the bottom of their collective shoes. It "sowed discord" in the sense that it showed Democrats that their party's leadership had already taken sides and lined up behind Hillary Clinton. The organization claims that it saw a drop in donations and that it paid more than $1 million to repair the cybersecurity damage. The DNC is seeking millions of dollars from the defendants, plus acknowledgment of the conspiracy. There's a bit of a tightrope to walk when it comes to judging the merits of the case. The DNC absolutely should use the courts to seek redress from whoever infiltrated their systems and stole their data. It is absolutely a violation of their privacy and property, just as it would be if people were to break into your home and take your stuff. Step back from the political partisanship and the roiled-up outrage, and you'll see that the DNC does at least have a legitimate case against the individuals who hacked the party and then distributed the data they found. But then, of course, politics gets involved and the rest of this goes bonkers. After all this time, the DNC still appear unwilling to contend with the reality that the party pushed forward an unappealing candidate with a privileged, condescending attitude and an unearned sense that she was entitled to the presidency. It was Clinton who drove people away from the polls, not a vast plot hatched in Moscow. Heck, millions of people who did cast votes that November ignored the presidential race entirely. I won't dismiss the idea that people in the Trump campaign may have been more than happy to get sketchy and potentially illegal help from the Russians. But it really does the DNC no good to act as though they played no role in their own failure. Besides, you know who else really wanted to see Donald Trump become the Republican candidate? Clinton's own cam[...]

Cop Charged With Using Illegal Traffic Stops to Pick Up Women


For most people, the words "speed dating" refer to a matchmaking event where singles sit down with a large number of potential mates in rapid succession. For New Jersey State Trooper Eric Richardson, it reportedly involved threatening female motorists with tickets and arrest until they agree to go out with him. On multiple occasions, the 32-year-old officer pulled over women for traffic violations, according to an indictment filed Thursday. The lovestruck lawman allegedly threatened the women with jail time and fines unless they handed over their phone numbers. Richardson then reportedly badgered the women over text in an attempt to start "an intimate relationship." Richardson has now been hit with six charges stemming from these stops, including official misconduct, criminal coercion, and falsifying or tampering with records. If convicted, Richardson could face up to 33 years in prison and $350,000 in fines. "Police are given great authority and are rightly held to the highest standards of integrity. When officers abuse their authority, as alleged in this case, they must be held accountable," said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in a statement on the charges. Richardson's first attempt at roadside romance reportedly came in November 2016, when he allegedly pulled over a woman for having illegally tinted windows and expired registration. According to the indictment, Richardson "attempted to win favor" with the woman "by not towing the vehicle and letting her drive away." Richardson then allegedly followed her, and—after realizing the nice guy strategy wasn't working—pulled her over a second time, demanding her phone number and refusing to listen to the woman's protestations that she was already in a relationship. The trooper allegedly proceeded to text her multiple times over the coming months and, after receiving no response, pulled the woman over again in January 2017 to ensure that she was in fact getting his messages. Undeterred by the first unsuccessful courtship, Richardson reportedly pulled over a second motorist in Gloucester Township in December 2016. Getting a little kinky, Richardson allegedly pulled out his handcuffs and threatened to arrest this second woman—who had a suspended license and active arrest warrant out for her—unless she handed over her phone number. With both women, the indictment says, Richardson filed false reports about the traffic stops, saying alternatively that he was stopping to aid a motorist, and, in the final case, that he had pulled over a male motorist. The indictment against Richardson does not make clear how or when his behavior was discovered, but the trooper was suspended in May 2017. He remains suspended. That Richardson is being charged for this creepy and coercive behavior is a good but rare thing. As Reason has covered on a number of occasions, police departments are loath to punish their own officers for misconduct, even for abuses worse than this. [...]

California Pension Bills Are Sensible Fixes, but They Have Little Chance of Passing: New at Reason


(image) The California Public Employees' Retirement System's report released last week touts all of the pension fund's good news, which it says "has built a solid path forward for the long-term future of the fund." But as longtime pension reporter Ed Mendel pointed out in his recent blog, the pension fund's future is still quite troubled. Apparently, myopia reigns at CalPERS.

Consider this fact, raised by Mendel: Despite earning more than double its predicted returns during a bull market last year, CalPERS' funding levels only increased by a blip, from 67 percent to a meager 71 percent of the funds needed to pay its future costs. Pension experts say that 50 percent funding is the likely point of no return—if a pension fund's assets fall below that level it will be nearly impossible to ever recover to a healthy funding level.

CalPERS isn't facing the death spiral of, say, New Jersey's pension funds, which are funded at a frightening 31 percent. But the problem should not be taken lightly. The stock market is at record heights. If there's a downturn—and, as Gov. Jerry Brown likes to point out, there always are downturns—local budgets, the state budget and retiree earnings could all be at risk, writes Steven Greenhut.

Read the whole thing.


Republicans Could Face Political Consequences Over Trump's Tariffs


Tariffs have economic consequences, both intended and unintended. They also have political consequences, as Republicans will likely learn in the months ahead. At the intersection of the economic and political fallout from a potential trade war with China lies the soybean. America is the world's top producer of the crop, and China is the world's largest consumer. China bought more than $14 billion of American-grown soy last year, accounting for 61 percent of total U.S. soybean exports and more than 30 percent of overall U.S. soybean production. In response to President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on more than 1,300 Chinese-made goods last month, China has threatened a 25 percent tariff on soybeans and other American agricultural products. If soybeans were commonly grown in Brooklyn or San Francisco, Republicans probably wouldn't have to worry about upsetting the people who produce them. But as the GOP tries to keep control of Congress this year, the fact that Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Dakota are some of the nation's top soybean-producing states is creating some headaches for the party of Trump. Key congressional races across the Midwest could tip the scales in the House, and Republicans are eyeing Democrat-held Senate seats in Missouri and North Dakota to pad a slim 51–49 majority in the upper chamber. With that in mind, The New York Times has dispatched a reporter to soybean country—specifically to Cass County, North Dakota, the nation's top soybean-producing county—to see what farmers think about Trump's trade skirmishes with China. "If he doesn't understand what he's doing to the nation by doing what he's doing, he's going to be a one-term president, plain and simple," Robert Runck, a fourth-generation farmer, informs the paper. Runck tells the Times that tariffs would "cost Kevin Cramer some votes" too. Cramer is the Republican congressman who currently represents all of North Dakota, and he's hoping to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D–N.D.) in November. An analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that Trump's tariffs figure to do the most damage to the economies of red states including Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. (Missouri, remember, is hosting a key Senate race this year.) When it comes to Chinese tariffs on American agricultural products, Brookings found that much of the pain is again concentrated in the Midwest. Trump's tariffs are his way of fulfilling a campaign-trail promise to revive American steel plants. But the protectionist policies that might help boost steel mills come at the expense of a much larger group within the president's political coalition. For every steel-producing job in the country, there are about 46 steel-consuming jobs—many of which are now on shakier ground because of the higher costs created by tariffs. And on the agriculture front, the president "has little to no understanding of the farm coalition," Republican strategist Karl Rove tells the Times. Trump is New Yorker who ran hotels and casinos, then became a TV star. Nothing about that résumé suggests that he would have a detailed understanding of the concerns of a North Dakota farmer—no, Trump Steaks do not count—or an Ohio machine shop worker. But Trump supporters have never seemed to care that the president isn't like them. Indeed, Trump's unwillingness to make phony attempts at courting rural voters is one of the things that made him stand out during the campaign. But it's on[...]

This Could Be the First Cannabis-Derived Drug to Win FDA Approval


Epidiolex, a cannabidiol drug used to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy in children, has moved one step closer to approval by the Food and Drug Administration, which could happen as soon as June. If approved, Epidiolex will be the first cannabis-derived drug recognized as a medicine under federal law. The FDA's announcement comes days before an independent, expert panel will vote on its safety. Because of Epidiolex's success in treating diseases with no alternative treatments, the FDA gave it "priority review" status in December, meaning the agency will review the application for the drug within six months (compared to 10 months under standard review). After the advisory board makes a recommendation to the FDA, the agency has until June 27 to reach a decision. The FDA staff report to the advisory committee says Epidiolex reduced seizures in a "clinically meaningful and statistically significant" way for patients suffering from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The results of those studies provide "substantial evidence" of the drug's efficacy, the report says. Both Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut are difficult to treat, as patients experience several types of seizures and are often resistant to medication. Patients who participated in the studies had taken other medications without adequate relief. Over two weeks, total seizures among Lennox-Gastaut patients who took Epidolex fell, on average, by 38 percent in one study and 44 percent in the other, while placebo patients experienced a drop of 18.5 percent and 23.5 percent, respectively. About 40 percent of patients in the cannabidiol (CBD) treatment groups saw a 50 percent or greater reduction in "drop seizures"—violent seizures that cause the upper body or full body to go limp, resulting in falls or injuries. Injuries from falling and poorly controlled seizures are cited as risk factors in the premature deaths of Lennox-Gastaut patients. The author of one Lennox-Gastaut study, Elizabeth Thiele, director of pediatric epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital, called Epidolex "life changing" in an interview with The Washington Post. "One child who comes to mind had multiple seizures a day," Thiele said. "She had been on every medication possible. She is now talking about college options. She would have never had that conversation before." In a Dravet syndrome study, cannabidiol cut the median number of monthly convulsive seizures in half, from 12.4 to 5.9. The median number of seizures in the control group fell only slightly, from of 14.9 to 14.1 per month. People with Dravet syndrome require constant care because of their frequent seizures, and 15 to 20 percent of them do not reach adulthood, dying at an average age of 8. The FDA has not approved any treatments specifically for Dravet syndrome. Since Epidiolex, made by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals, is not available yet in the United States, many families with children who suffer from Dravet travel to states where they can legally obtain CBD oil. Although 29 states and the District of Columbia allow medical use of cannabis, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is not legal for any use. A synthetic version of THC, another compound found in marijuana, has been available by prescription since 1985. But Epidiolex would be the first FDA-approved medicine derived directly from cannabis. Currently 1,100 epilepsy patients obtain Epid[...]

Chuck Schumer Wants to Legalize Marijuana: Reason Roundup


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) came out in support of federal marijuana legalization Thursday night. The top Democrat in the Senate was previously a major opponent of legal weed, but now says, "I've seen too many people's lives ruined by the criminalization." Schumer made these comments in an interview with Vice that aired on HBO last night. According to a transcript of the interview released ahead of time, he said, "Ultimately, it's the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn't hurt anybody else, why shouldn't we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?" The Hill reports that Schumer plans to introduce a bill that would remove marijuana from the DEA's list of controlled substances, echoing previous legislation that enjoys the backing of several other Democratic senators: Schumer would not be the first Democratic senator to push for looser federal marijuana policies. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in August. That legislation would eliminate marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act and require federal courts to expunge the records of Americans who have prior marijuana convictions related to use or possession. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders(I-Vt.) have all expressed support for the Marijuana Justice Act. A matching bill in the House also has more than 20 cosponsors. Schumer is not the only major politician to change his mind about marijuana recently. Just last week, former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner declared that "my thinking on cannabis has evolved." Despite being "unalterably opposed" to marijuana legalization in 2011, Boehner has now joined the board of advisors for Acreage Holdings, a cannabis corporation, alongside 2016 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Candidate William Weld. Even President Donald Trump has promised to respect the wishes of states that already legalized marijuana, like Colorado. Unfortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions remains adamantly opposed to legal weed, which means states might have a hard time trusting the federal government to leave them alone when it comes to pot. Even so, the fact that former drug hardliners like Boehner and Schumer have suddenly seen the light is good news for supporters of legalization. Some day soon, the federal government might finally get out of the business of punishing pot smokers. Happy 4/20, everybody. FREE MINDS Civil liberties organizations are coming to the defense of Randa Jarrar, the Fresno State University professor under investigation for making offensive comments about recently deceased former First Lady Barbara Bush. Fresno officials initially seemed like they would be content to condemn Jarrar's celebration of Bush's death on Twitter, but subsequently announced they would investigate the controversial English professor. "This was beyond free speech," said Fresno President Joseph Castro. "This was disrespectful." The ACLU of Northern California, Defending Rights & Dissent, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, Project Censored, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression sent a joint letter to Fresno pointing out that disrespectful speech nevertheless enjoys First Amendment protection. "We remind you [...]

Kurt Loder Reviews I Feel Pretty: New at Reason



As one of the dozen or so people who liked last year's Amy Schumer film, Snatched, Kurt Loder wishes he could muster more enthusiasm for her new one. I Feel Pretty tells the story of a New Yorker named Renee Bennett—a Website worker for a high-end cosmetics company—who is depressed by the fact that she's fat and unattractive. Then she falls and hits her head during a SoulCycle spin class, and when she comes to, she's convinced that she's beautiful. Nothing physical has changed—she looks exactly the same—but she has a sudden new self-confidence that changes everything about the way she interacts with the world.

If it need be pointed out, Schumer is hardly "unattractive," and Loder doesn't think she's "fat"—although she's obviously uncowed by the images of chic emaciation that pummel women at every cultural turn. (In a couple of scenes, she blithely invites comparison to the goddessy Emily Ratajkowski, who has a small role as a gym patron.) In the first half of the movie—before it wobbles off the rails—Schumer plays the female social plight for poignant comedy. On a dating site Renee finds nothing but rejection. In a clothes store, she finds nothing in her size and is advised by a contemptuous attendant to try shopping online. Contemplating her body in a mirror brings her almost to tears. And we hear her wondering what it must be like to be "undeniably pretty"—a melancholy turn of phrase, Loder writes in his latest review for Reason.

View this article.


Duke Students Who Hijacked Alumni Event: Punishing Us Would Hurt Us Mentally


Two dozen student activists crashed an alumni event at Duke University on Saturday, using a megaphone to make their demands and drown out the speaker, Duke President Vincent Price. The students were surprised to discover that their interruption had irritated many alumni in the audience, some of whom heckled the activists and turned their backs while the demands were read. Now Duke's administration is considering whether to discipline the students, whose behavior unquestionably violates university policy. That doesn't sit well with them: Protest leader Gino Nuzzolillo accused administrators of aggravating the mental health problems of student activists. The administration's letters informing students that they are under investigation have had the effect of "exacerbating any pre-existing mental health conditions," Nuzzolillo told The Duke Chronicle. The protest happened during an alumni event reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Silent Vigil at Duke, a series of student-led sit-ins on campus. Nuzzolillo and his comrades sought to channel the spirit of the Silent Vigil, although their protest was anything but silent. About 25 students stormed the stage inside Page Auditorium while Price was speaking and chanted, "President Price get off the stage," and "Whose university? Our university," until they had command of the room. Then they read a list of demands, which included raising the university's minimum wage to $15 an hour, hiring more faculty members of color, and spending more money on counseling services. The Duke Chronicle reported that some in the audience supported the students, while others did not: The protesters received mixed reactions from the alumni in the audience. Some alumni did nothing while others booed loudly or clapped in support. Many alumni stood up and turned their backs to the stage, some shouting vulgarities—the protesters reported hearing racial epithets. The protesters noted that they were surprised by the extent of the alumni's negative reactions. [Student organizer Bryce] Cracknell added that he was disappointed that the administrators focused more on stopping the students than angry alumni, Cracknell said. "Instead of actually going to the alumni and saying 'that's not appropriate' or removing them from the space, they were more worried about us," Cracknell said. This was not an uncommon opinion among the protest's leaders. Nuzzolillo expressed disappointment that the adults "whose job it is to care for us" failed to do so. Readers may find it remarkable that these students expected the other people in the room to applaud and validate them for derailing the event. The students also think the university should refrain from punishing them, because any punishment would contribute to their mental health problems. According to Nuzzolillo: I think we are particularly concerned that the University knows that by sending these conduct letters out that they will be concerning the students and that they will be exacerbating any pre-existing mental health conditions and, like Bryce said, traumatizing and starting new ones, especially after Saturday's issues. I think that among the many things that we share in common with the administration, the number one thing is that we all want to see this University be better and be more accommodating and make changes. We're not sure why they're [...]

Brickbat: That Cuts


(image) A woman has hauled Sydney, Australia, barber Sam Rahim before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The woman, an attorney, claims Rahim violated anti-discrimination law by refusing to cut her daughter's hair. Rahim says he politely told her he wasn't trained to cut women's hair and has no experience cutting women's hair and that there were three women's hair salons just a short distance away.


Posing As a Metro Rider on Twitter, D.C. Transit Union Attacks Critics As Paid Plants


The union representing workers for Washington, D.C.'s notoriously dangerous and dysfunctional Metro rail system seems to have been running a Twitter account that purported to express the views of an ordinary, Metro-loving rider. For months now, @DCMetroTruth has claimed to be a Washington-area commuter telling just the facts about the Metro's performance while waging vicious battles with Twitter critics of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), which operates the Metro, and its unionized work force, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689. On multiple occasions @DCMetroTruth accused critics of the Metro, including stalwart watchdogs like @unsuckdcmetro and @DCmetroll, of lying about Metro conditions and serving as paid plants of contractors who want to privatize the transit system. .@ATULocal689 smear campaign. #wmata — Unsuck DC Metro (@unsuckdcmetro) April 18, 2018 Such was the case yesterday, when, during a particularly nasty Twitter fight, one user flipped the tables on @DCMetroTruth and asked who was funding that account. Tellingly, the response came not from @DCMetroTruth but from the official ATU Local 689 account, which declared, "I am a rider here to spread the TRUTH. No one has to pay me to do that!" LOL — Unsuck DC Metro (@unsuckdcmetro) April 18, 2018 That message was immediately followed by accusations that @DCMetroTruth had revealed its true nature as a union front. @DCMetroTruth tried to defend the union as trolling the trolls with its response, but no one was buying it. @DCMetroTruth has since been deleted, although screen shots of the fight can be still be found. The incident is a sad and petty reminder that the Metro's union exists not to serve riders or offer quality service but rather to deflect criticism from its members, regardless of how legitimate or accurate that criticism is. Last year, for instance, ATU Local 689 successfully sued for the reinstatement of a maintenance worker who had been fired for falsifying records about tunnel fans that malfunctioned during a deadly smoke inhalation incident. With its apparent sock puppet gone, ATU Local 689 will have to use its official account to tweet support of tax increases for the Metro and condemnations of WMATA's private contracting. [...]

Don't Overregulate CRISPR Genome Editing


The recently developed genome editing technique CRISPR enables researchers to make very precise modifications in the genes of nearly any organism. Researchers are racing to use the technique to create drought-resistant corn, reduced-gluten wheat, and tastier tomatoes. Research on CRISPR-based treatments for maladies such as cancers, heart disease, and Duchenne muscular dystophy is advancing rapidly. It looks like the current wave of new genetic engineering techniques will largely escape the bans, moratoria, and overregulation that greeted the first wave in the 1970s. More than 40 years ago, the announcement that researchers were able to splice together genes taken from different organisms provoked handwringing over scary scenarios in which infectious cancers break out from biotech labs and activist screeds railing against "unbridled scientific and technological progress" and creeping "corporate hegemony." No epidemics of biotech-generated infectious cancers have occurred, and the global biotech industry now consists of an estimated 77,000 companies with $400 billion in annual sales. Regulators seem to be learning from that earlier overreaction. This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would for the most part not regulate new crops created with CRISPR. That decision opens the way for development of a vibrant new biotech crop and seed industry. University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Jonathan Moreno and Amy Gutman, former head of President Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, make the case for regulatory restraint in a recent Foreign Affairs article. Gutman and Moreno avoid the usual fatuous call for "democratic" decisions about whether and how to deploy new technologies, instead offering sensible proposals for how to proceed safely with CRISPR-based research. They conclude that regulators should stay out of the way for now. One example Gutman and Moreno consider is gene drives, CRISPR-assisted interventions than can, say, make a population of mosquitoes immune to the malaria parasite or cause the extinction of a noxious rat species by favoring the birth of males. Gutman and Moreno reject the demand by some activists for a total ban on gene drives: In lieu of formal regulations on gene drives, scientists could agree to build safety measures into gene-drive systems, such as alterations that would cancel out previous drives or gene modifications designed to grow less frequent over time, so that successive generations would express the gene less and less once the original problem has been sufficiently ameliorated. Researchers will also need to be transparent about their work and consult local communities to gain consent before introducing gene drives into the wild. Gutman and Moreno say existing regulations for biomedical research should be adequate to address CRISPR-based treatments. (Let's set aside for now the question of whether even that much is needed for current therapeutic compounds and techniques.) But lots of folks worry that CRISPR might be used to correct genetic flaws in human embryos. The supposed bioethical horror of using CRISPR to fix genetic mutations is that it would interfere with the "human germline"; that is, children who are born with corrected genes will no longer be able[...]