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Updated: 2017-04-30T00:00:00-04:00


Are High Taxes to Blame for Minnesota’s Championship Drought?


Of the 13 metropolitan areas in the United States currently hosting teams in each of the four major professional sports leagues, none have been waiting longer to celebrate a championship than the Twin Cities. One possible reason why? Minnesota's high personal income tax rate. "You get a lot of complaining about professional sports in Minnesota, because this problem is especially acute there," Dr. Erik Hembre, told The Washington Post this week. "People complain about, 'Oh, we can't get good free agents. It really hurts us.'" Hembre, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, claims to have found a direct relationship between state tax rates and the success of professional teams based in those states. His research shows that, since the mid-1990s, a ten percentage point increase in income taxes correlates with a 2-3 percentage point decline in team's winning percentage. The effect is greatest in the National Basketball Association (where signing one major free agent arguably has a greater impact on a team's success than in any other major sport) and smallest in Major League Baseball, according to Hembre. Minnesota's high tax rate, Hembre says, costs the Minnesota Timberwolves a total of 4.5 victories per season when compared to pro basketball teams in low-tax states like Florida or Texas. Minnesota's state income tax is one of the highest in the country. The top marginal rate of 9.85 percent applies to anyone making more than $157,000 annually (or married couples making more than $262,000). That high rate might force teams in Minnesota to pay higher rate for the same talent, or might give highly-sought-after free agents a reason to play somewhere else. The Twin Cities last celebrated a major sports championship in 1991, when the Twins claimed the World Series with a dramatic extra inning victory in the seventh and final game. Since then, not a single Minnesota-based team has reached the final round of their respective league playoffs. Bad luck may be part of the answer. The Vikings of the National Football League reached the final round before the Super Bowl in 1998, 2000, and again in 2009, only to lose all three times (twice in overtime). The Minnesota Twins made regular playoff appearances during the 2000s, but only advanced past the first round on one occasion, which might say more about the comparatively random nature of Major League Baseball's playoff system than anything else. The Twin Cities' professional basketball and hockey teams have been occasionally competitive but never considered strong championship contenders since joining the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League in 1989 and 2000, respectively. (It should be noted that the Minnesota Lynx are something of a dynasty in women's professional basketball, having won WNBA championships in 2011, 2013, and 2015.) Other metropolitan areas with all four major professional sports have higher taxes than Minnesota does—the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area in California, for example—but professional athletes might be willing to pay a premium, in the form of higher taxes, to live in places like that. As great as the Twin Cities can be (full disclosure: I lived there for three years and loved it), they have a hard time competing with South Beach and Hollywood for celebrity culture. "Professional athletes are paid very well and therefore they have large incentives to consider the tax implications of the teams they choose to play for," Hembre told the Post. Well-paid professional athletes are a particularly mobile sector of the workforce, and can more easily make decisions about where to live and work than most of us who can't slam dunk a basketball or throw a baseball at 90 MPH. Still, technology is making it possible for ever-larger segments of the workforce to have the kind of flexibility that once was possible only for those people with such specialized, and highly valued, skills. That's something that states should keep in mind when trying to attract talented workers, whether on the football field or i[...]

You Got a Permit for That Ice Cream Machine? New at Reason


(image) Among a series of cuts Rhode Island lawmakers are considering to the state's litany of excessive regulations, one would seem to be rife for elimination before the start of summer: the state's bizarre license for selling "frozen desserts."

The Rhode Island law requires "any restaurant, supermarket, amusement park, snack bar or clam shack selling processed ice cream or frozen yogurt from a machine needs the annual license in addition to any other permits to sell food or beverages," reports the Providence Journal.

The license is stupid and redundant. Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin explains more.

View this article.


On the 'Invasion' of 'Libertarianism,' Pope Francis' Ignorance Is Showing


"Pope Francis had harsh words to describe libertarians Friday," Breitbart reports. That's OK. I'm a Catholic libertarian, and I've had some harsh words to describe Pope Francis. My main critique, which I published here at Reason on the eve of his 2015 visit to the United States, was that the pontiff's ignorance of basic economics has led him to a bad conclusion about which public policies are best able to reduce the crushing yoke of poverty in the world. I went on to encourage him to consider that, as a matter of empirical fact, markets are the single greatest engine for growth and enrichment that humanity has yet stumbled upon. I don't doubt for a second that Pope Francis cares deeply about the least of his brothers and sisters. But I deny that his chosen prescriptions would do anything but make the problem worse. This is not a bad time to be reminded that popes aren't infallible, according to Catholic doctrine—instead, they are possessed of the ability to deliver infallible teachings on matters of faith and morals. As I pointed out in my piece, "In practice, such 'definitive acts,' in which a pope makes clear he's teaching 'from the chair' of Jesus, are almost vanishingly rare." Arguably, though, the pope's remarks today to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences do pertain to faith and morals. He seems to be arguing that an outlook that places the individual above "the common good" is morally suspect. As with his comments about capitalism, then, the problem is not so much that he's speaking to issues that go beyond the scope of his office; the problem is his speaking to matters on which he is ill-informed. In this case, his statements betray a shallowness in his understanding of the philosophy he's impugning. If he took the time to really engage with our ideas, he might be surprised by what he learned. He might, for instance, be taken aback to discover that many libertarians hold beliefs that transcend an Ayn Randian glorification of selfishness (and that Ayn Rand rejected us, too, by the way). Or that what Pope Francis calls an "antisocial" paradigm in which "all relationships that create ties must be eliminated" (Breitbart's words) is better known by another name: the liberty movement, a cooperative and sometimes even rather social endeavor among people who cherish peaceful, voluntary human interactions. Or that lots of us are deeply concerned with the tangible outcomes that policies have on vulnerable communities, and that libertarians' support for capitalism is very often rooted in its ability to make the world a better place. Or that some of us are even—hold on to your zucchetto—followers of Christ. Most of all, he would likely be startled to find that, far from thinking "only the individual decides what is good and what is evil," few libertarians are moral relativists. (Except the Objectivists, of course. Or am I getting that wrong?) Speaking as a devotee of St. John Paul II, one of the great articulators of the importance of accepting Truth as such, this one is actually personal. It's hard not to wonder whether Pope Francis knows any libertarians. In the event he's interested in discussing the ideas of free minds and free markets with someone who ascribes to them, I'd be happy to make myself available. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> [...]

Roger Goodell Says Medical Marijuana Might Not Be Safe Enough For Grown Men Who Hurt Each Other For a Living


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn't ready to take medical marijuana off the league's list of banned substances because the drug might be "negative to the health of our players," he told ESPN on Friday. More from the man who suspended Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson--who's undergone two surgeries related to Crohn's disease--for 10 games as a result of his medical marijuana use: "I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use," Goodell said. "Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? "Listen, you're ingesting smoke, so that's not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long term. All of those things have to be considered. "And it's not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. We really want to help our players in that circumstance, but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren't something that is going to be something that we'll be held accountable for some years down the road." Aside from the apparent connection between marijuana and people who are genetically predisposed to schizophrenia, there is no compound in cannabis worse for human beings--in the short term or the long term--than football itself. Marijuana will not tear your meniscus or your ACL or your MCL or your achilles tendon. Marijuana will not give you bursitis. Marijuana will not break your back or neck. Marijuana will not give you chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As for the carcinogenic effect: You don't even have to smoke it anymore! How does Goodell not know these things? I have never run a sports league before. Maybe he genuinely lacks the time to read on the merits of liberalizing cannabis laws and workplace policies. (Then again, I have to imagine he makes time for Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones, the league's loudest voice in favor of dropping the pot ban.) Goodell could also be setting the stage for negotiations with the players union in 2020. As Reason's Eric Boehm noted earlier this month, banned substances are part of the collective bargaining agreement. Or perhaps Goodell's busy navigating the consequences of things the league does condone, and which are demonstrably more dangerous than marijuana.'s Kevin Seifert reports that 1,800 former players are suing the NFL for "improper and deceptive prescription drug-distribution practices." The league is also on the hook for a billion dollars in benefits to retired players suffering from traumatic brain injury. Making those problems go away doesn't leave a lot of time for leisure reading. In which case, Goodell should just check out this video from src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> [...]

Donald Trump Visits the NRA, David Clarke for Homeland Security Job? P.M. Links


  • (image) President Donald Trump paid a visit to National Rifle Association headquarters, promising to end the "eight-year assault on your Second Amendment rights."
  • This school district has the most ridiculous haircut policy ever.
  • Here's a tip about how to tip like a libertarian.
  • Sheriff David Clarke is being considered for Homeland Security job.
  • National Review writer says we should keep fighting the Drug War—at least when it comes to hard drugs.
  • Alex Jones lost his custody battle.

NSA Ends One Particular Type of Domestic Email Data Collection


Let's hear it for a little bit more communication privacy for Americans! Charlie Savage at The New York Times is reporting via sources that the National Security Agency (NSA) is ending a particular type of intrusive surveillance that scanned the contents of Americans' emails for key words. Specifically, the NSA monitors messages for references of foreign individuals under their surveillance, even when such communications originate here domestically from Americans. This is often referred to in shorthand as "about" searches, meaning they're looking for messages that are "about" people they're watching, not just from or to these people. The NSA argues that this is legal as part of its job to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats. But this happens without warrants and and the implication here is at the very least the scanning of the contents of Americans' communications without evidence of wrongdoing. Furthermore it appears as though NSA employees were not able to confine themselves to collecting just the communications that referenced the foreign target. This technical issue had been raised before in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC): Through this process, the NSA was collecting and potentially getting access to all sorts of communications it wasn't supposed to be looking at, even if one were to accept that the "about" searches were legal. From Savage: The problem stemmed from certain bundled messages that internet companies sometimes packaged together and transmitted as a unit. If even one of them had a foreign target's email address somewhere in it, all were sucked in. After the N.S.A. brought that issue to the court's attention in 2011, a judge ruled that it violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches. The agency then proposed putting the bundled messages in a special repository to which analysts, searching through intercepts to write intelligence reports, would generally not have access. The court permitted that type of collection to continue with that restriction. But last year, officials said, the N.S.A. discovered that analysts were querying the bundled messages in a way that did not comply with those rules. The agency brought the matter to the court's attention, resulting in a delay in reauthorizing the broader warrantless surveillance program until the agency proposed ceasing this collection practice. And now it looks like, at least for the time being, they're stopping these searches. This is potentially a significant change because of what's called "backdoor" searches. Once the NSA collects information from this warrantless surveillance, it can be used by other federal agencies to search for information about specific Americans in order to target domestic criminal behavior. And they're allowed to do so even though this private information was collected without warrants. So naturally reducing the amount of communications the NSA is collecting will reduce the potential for backdoor, warrantless searches. It won't eliminate the possibility of these backdoor searches, though, and this decision from the NSA might just be temporary until they figure out a way to resolve the problem of incidental collection of unrelated emails. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which sets up some of the rules and authorization for this data collection, will sunset this year unless Congress renews it. Privacy and civil rights advocates would like to see reforms to 702 to better protect Americans from unwarranted snooping. This change helps a touch, but there's still going to be a push to try to stop those backdoor searches. More about Section 702 reforms and federal surveillance issues were discussed in a recent South by Southwest panel moderated by yours truly. Listen in on that lively talk here. LATE-BREAKING: Here's the NSA's official formal announcement confirming Savage's report. [...]

Prostitution-Ring-Running Cop Sees Court, But Police Who Extort Sex Often Go Unpunished


It's been an astounding week for abuses of power and sexual violence committed by state agents. In New York City alone, one former cop is on trial for running for running a prostitution ring, another was sentenced to federal prison for soliciting child pornography from mothers he met online, and three others have been indicted on suspicion of trading gun permits for sex, travel, and cash. The first, former officer Michael Rizzi, was with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for nine years before retiring due to disability. He's now accused of running an upscale prostitution service and its 50 related websites. Meanwhile, former NYPD officers Paul Dean, Robert Espinel, and Gaetano Valastro were indicted Tuesday for conspiracy to commit bribery, in conjunction with the aforementioned gun-permitting plot. "Getting a gun license in New York can be a lengthy and intensive procedure, which includes getting approval from the NYPD," notes The Daily Beast's Katie Zavadski. An industry of "expeditors" popped up to help clients speed through the process, sometimes aided by crooked cops looking to make a buck by pushing applications along from the inside. All the men charged Tuesday were implicated by alleged co-conspirators who have pleaded guilty, including ex-NYPD licensing division sergeant David Villanueva and former expeditor Frank Soohoo, according to the U.S. attorney's office. NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said an internal review flagged more than 400 gun licenses as suspicious. Of the around 200 already reviewed, 100 led to permits being suspended. In a related complaint, former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chamberswith was also indicted for bribery. Head south to Atlanta, Georgia, and arrests continue in a police take-down of two escort services, Atlanta Gold Club Escorts and Lipstick and Shoes Escorts, that also ensnared Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Quinn in January. Quinn was caught on camera paying for and having sex with a woman who worked for one of the escort agencies. For weeks after his mid-January arrest, Quinn remained employed with and working at the district attorney's office. He eventually resigned at the end of February because "he did not want to subject this office to any more controversy," the county district attorney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. By the end of March, Quinn had found a new position as an assistant district attorney with the South Georgia Judicial District. Head further south (and far west), to the U.S. territory of Guam, and we have former police officer Paul John Santos. Santos was found guilty this week of criminal sexual conduct, bribery, and official misconduct after threatening to arrest a sex worker if she didn't have sex with him. "The defendant was a police officer put in position of trust by the public, by individuals he is supposed to be protecting and serving," but "his actions show the exact opposite of that," Assistant Attorney General Matt Heibel said in a sentencing hearing, requesting Santos receive 30 years in prison. The judge sentenced him to 21 years. That sort of punishment for sex-predator cops is rare. Kate Mogulescu, who heads up the Legal Aid Society of New York's s human trafficking advocacy program, recently talked to Gothamist about this issue. She said her organization repeatedly hears from sex workers "about inappropriate policing, coercive policing. We have inappropriate sexual conduct during the course of arrest, officers who want to take photos of clients on their personal cell phones." While police abuse against men tends to be more public, investigation and anecdote suggest that it's just as common with women—it just tends to take different forms. "The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence," Jacqueline Robarge, of Batlimore women's organization Power Inside, tol[...]

I Gave My Waitress a 'Libertarian Tip': Taxation Is Theft!


Have you seen the viral "libertarian tip"? Someone in Missouri left a cash tip with a note explaining it was actually a personal gift and so not subject to state and federal income taxes, and wrote "taxation is theft" in the tip line on the check. Who knows if the note is authentic? "Taxation is theft," an old libertarian bromide, has in the last year or so become a fairly popular internet meme. By some accounts, the meme wars were an important aspect of the 2016 election and its outcome—and you can expect the trend of political memes to grow. Maybe the "libertarian tip" was staged by someone who wants to promote libertarianism or encourage others to leave libertarian tips, or even just someone who wanted to play with the "taxation is theft" meme. Nevertheless, I went out to lunch today to replicate the meme so I could give you an authentic photo of an authentic non-tip left as an untaxable personal gift. Here it is: Some tips for you: the original photo looked like a note, not an envelope. I thought putting the money in an envelope would more clearly separate it from a tip. A note is better to show off how much you've tipped—I put the money in the envelope after snapping the photo. You should probably make sure to have the change you need to give the tip you want. Asking for change from the wait staff might strengthen the case your untaxable non-tip is actually a taxable tip. Afterward, I asked my waitress if my ploy would work. She seemed as if she wanted to tell me it would, even though she knew it didn't, because, as she explained, tips count as sales. She said that the tips that bring her wage up to the minimum wage (waiters and waitresses are generally exempt from minimum wage laws under the assumption tips get them to at least the minimum wage) get taxe like income, and that "40 to 50 percent" of tips beyond that get declared. The intersection of libertarianism and wait staff is not new. During the 2012 election, then Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a Republican presidential candidate, became an "unlikely hero" (the New York Post's words) to wait staff for his efforts to pass the Tax Free Tips Act. In 2013, The New Yorker appeared to discover and bemoan that wait staff were hiding tips from the taxman. The horror. Meanwhile, wait staff are also among workers most negatively impacted by higher minimum wages—they are often asked to do more work as restaurants look to mitigate the costs of a higher minimum wage in an already low-margin business. Just last month, Eric Boehm reported that San Diego had lost 4,000 restaurant jobs in the year-plus since they raised their minimum wage at an even faster pace than the state, which has so far only seen a slowdown in the growth of restaurant jobs. And while we're so directly on the "taxation is theft" topic, here's one of my favorite chyrons ever on FreedomWatch with Judge Napolitano, a show I produced for. Thanks go to Media Matters for preserving the screen cap: [...]

Cult Fave American Gods Makes Small Screen Debut: New at Reason


(image) When Shadow Moon, a newly released prison inmate flying home for a funeral, expresses his admiration for a con artist he's just spotted hustling his way to a free upgrade in first class, the scammer shares his secret: "It's about getting people to believe in you." That's as good a summary as any of American Gods, the cult-favorite 2001 novel finally making its way to the screen on the Starz cable network. Is religion just a gigantic hustle? And does it matter, as long as people believe? Most importantly of all, what happens if they stop believing?

A rambunctious sci-fi/fantasy slice-and-dice of theology, myth, and hot-button sociology, with a generous dollop of pure depravity thrown in just for fun and Nielsen points, American Gods is a dizzying journey through humanity's obsession with theism and dogma. It doesn't always make sense—maybe it never makes sense—and its pace is dreadfully uneven. But a show in which a religious pilgrim trekking through the wilderness of a big-box electronic store is tempted by a goddess disguised as Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy, murmuring from a TV screen, "Hey, you ever wanted to see Lucy's tits?" is not easily dismissed. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look.

View this article.


Oregon Democrats (Reluctantly) Look to Address Budget Deficit with Spending Cuts


While a Republican-controlled Congress continually fails to address persistent budget deficits at the national level, Oregon's constitutional requirement for a balanced budget is forcing its Democratic governor and legislature to take major steps to address theirs. Yesterday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown came out with a three-pronged plan to cut the cost of state government in the face of a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. These proposals come on top of a statewide hiring freeze announced last week. Prong one of Brown's plan calls for creating a task force that will study which state assets can be privatized or borrowed against to pay down pension debt. The task force will also study the feasibility of getting state employees to contribute more toward their pensions. Oregon currently has $22 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, but more conservative estimates put that figure closer to the $50 billion mark. Prongs two and three of Brown's plan instruct state agencies to use market compensation as a standard for salary negotiations with public sector employees, and to get tougher on collecting some $560–760 million in unpaid taxes owed to Oregon's general fund. And the belt tightening is unlikely to stop there. Back in February, budget committee co-chairs from the Oregon House and Senate laid out a plan that relied wholly on spending cuts to tackle the state's looming budget deficit. The supposedly nightmarish vision of this plan—which called for 1–3 percent cuts to K–12 and higher education spending—was never truly intended to pass in progressive Oregon, but it served to focus the minds of legislators on the need to do some substantial slashing within the state budget. State Sen. Richard Devlin—the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee—came out in March with a budget plan that would rely in equal measure on tax increases and spending cuts. Then on April 21, a bipartisan letter from the legislature's budget writers to the governor bluntly expressed the need for the state government to slim down as a solution to baked-in budget deficits. "Without action to contain the growing costs of state government now, the structural imbalance will cause even greater deficits in future years," the letter reads before going on to elaborate a number of ways the state could save money. These include some pretty good ideas, such as a two-year extension of the governor's hiring freeze—the current policy is set to last two months—and cutting the state's workforce from 1.5 percent to 1 percent of the population. The legislators' letter also contains some face-palmingly obvious suggestions, such as to "not create new programs or funds that have no money to support them," and to fix existing infrastructure instead of building more of it. None of this is to suggest that Oregon's bright blue politicians and voters have all the sudden become libertarian state-smashers. Indeed, intermingled with all the calls for spending cuts and efficiency savings have been more than a few ill-advised proposals for a gross-receipts tax and for brand new levies on hospitals, coffee, and junked cars. (The latter two were, mercifully, killed.) Instead, the lesson—and one that should be instructive on the national stage as well—is how to get Democratic lawmakers to consider spending cuts in the first place. One reason for this seeming change of heart is the spectacular failure of Measure 97, a 2016 ballot initiative that called for a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on corporations making over $25 million in sales, which was expected to bring in $3 billion annually. Had that revenue materialized, spending cuts would no doubt be off the table. But a shortage of tax receipts to match their wish list doesn't stop Democrats in Washington from becoming hysterical at the thought of sm[...]

Peoples Climate March This Saturday: New at Reason


(image) Tomorrow around 100,000 Americans are expected to join the Peoples Climate March, which plans to stream from the Capitol up Pennsylvania Avenue while demanding jobs, justice, and—oh, yes—action on climate change. The plan is to "literally" surround the White House, then stage a 100-second sit-in, symbolizing the first 100 days of Donald Trump's administration. (Perhaps President Trump will hear the protests tomorrow afternoon, but he plans to hold a rally in Pennsylvania that evening.) It's another example of social justice movements hijacking the problem of climate change and using it as a pretext for attacking our system of market-tested betterment and innovation.

View this article.


Australian Police Admit Illegally Snooping on Journalist


Today we have a reminder from Australia that when government collects massive amounts of private information abuse ultimately follows. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) admitted today that an officer illegally accessed a journalist's call records (metadata) in order to track down a source who was leaking confidential police information. Remarkably, the AFP commissioner then subsequently described the breach in a press conference as a result of "human error." Clearly it was not some sort of mistake that a police officer just happened to get his or her hands on this information. What he really meant was that the proper rules were not followed. Apparently the investigator "failed in their obligation to know the law," the commissioner stated, according to The Guardian. But he also laid some of the blame on "the system," the extremely familiar argument that this is all a "training issue." The timing is particularly interesting. In 2015 Australia passed a law mandating communication companies collect and store the metadata from their customers for two years so that authorities can access it. It was sold to Australians as a mechanism to fight terrorism and crime, just as similar mass surveillance authorities have been sold to citizens in other countries. Media companies and journalists were worried that police would access their data in precisely this way. So the law included a provision that required police to get a warrant to access the metadata of journalists. Mind you, the journalist would not be informed that the police had requested or received access to said metadata, but at least there would be an additional layer of oversight. But even that didn't happen here. The AFP official did not get a warrant. Furthermore, despite the breach of the law, they have not identified or told the journalist who was affected due to the ongoing investigation. The metadata has been destroyed, but the commissioner acknowledged that the officer who violated the law cannot unsee the information. He also said the officer would likely face no discipline because there was no "ill will or bad intent." While the law was passed two years ago, the full data retention orders were just formally implemented just weeks ago in order to give internet and telecom companies time to comply. Media and privacy advocates in the country are appalled. From The Guardian: The Human Rights Law Centre legal advocacy director, Emily Howie, told Guardian Australia the breach showed that the metadata powers were putting "press freedom at risk". "The fact that police can so easily access a honey pot of personal information at any time surely has a chilling effect on free speech," Howie said. "Let's not forget that it is not only journalists whose metadata might be accessed. "Australia's metadata regime is the most oppressive in the western world. It effectively allows law enforcement bodies to watch everybody, all of the time, without them knowing." It's also a reminder that metadata reveals an awful lot about who we are and what we're doing. Government officials who support this type of metadata collection are constantly reminding citizens that they're not eavesdropping on actual conversations or reading the content of emails. But in this case, just the government's access to a list of people who spoke to a journalist over a specific time frame has the potential to implicate them. Metadata is useful to the government entirely because it does actually reveal private behavior. Libertarian (technically Liberal Democratic) Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm had been warning about expanding the government's access to citizen metadata back in 2014 when he joined the Senate. In response to this latest breach he told the Australian Associated Press the laws were fun[...]

Trump's First 100 Days: At Least He Picked Some Good People to Run Things


As President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office draw to a close, it's tempting to slap a letter grade on the administration's opening act, where much was promised and little was delivered. It's possible that the best grade is, for now, an "incomplete" because the greatest potential of the Trump administration to affect that change has little to do with the attention-craving septuagenarian in the Oval Office, and much more to do with who Trump has appointed to run other parts of the government. Trump, it hardly needs to be said, is unlike any president who came before him. He was elected on a promise to remake the federal government in total. To drain the swamp. To "dismantle the administrative state," as Steve Bannon, one of Trump's top advisers, put it. He was also elected with less than a majority of voters supporting him, and low approval ratings have dogged him since Inauguration Day. The gap between Trump's mantle and his mandate is greater than any president in recent memory. It's also true that Trump faced a steeper learning curve than any other president, given his complete lack of knowledge and experience in politics. Whether Trump even wants to climb that curve has been a matter of some debate, though he's at least now admitting ("This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier," Trump told Reuters in an interview published Friday) that he's in over his head. Trump can't do it all. No president can. The federal leviathan is simply too large. Enter the appointees. There's plenty of room to quibble with the men and women whom Trump has selected to run many of the federal government's top agencies and departments (looking at you, Attorney General Jeff Sessions), but libertarians should be at least mildly optimistic about several choices: Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, Scott Pruitt as the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to name just three. The FCC's status as an independent regulatory agency means Pai is in a position to make the biggest, or at least the most immediate, impact. This week, Pai announced plans to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. Net neutrality was a political response to a problem that doesn't really exist—Obama's FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, struggled to find any examples of how Internet Service Providers had throttled data or blocked websites, and worked in secret with the White House to create a set of regulations that would pass legal muster—and loosening government regulation of the Internet is a win for businesses and users. Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie, won't harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere "phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to over-regulate the internet," Pai told Gillespie. "We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015." src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" height="340" frameborder="0" width="560"> Trump and Congress teamed-up to use the Congressional Review Act 13 times during the first 100 days to repeal Obama-era regulations, including the FCC's 2016 privacy rule. "This regulation imposed uniquely rigid requirements on broadband providers, suppressing competition in the market for online advertising," says Ryan Radia, a research fellow for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank. Pruit, at the EPA, announced in March that the agency will reconsider the final determination and decide by April 1, 2018 whether the Obama-era CAFE (Corporat[...]

On Health Care, Republicans Are Only Negotiating With Themselves


From a certain perspective, the Republican effort to repeal (or at least rewrite) Obamacare made slow progress this week. The Freedom Caucus, one of the main sources of GOP opposition to the bill, endorsed an amended version. Republicans seem to have settled on state opt-out waivers, which, as Yuval Levin writes at National Review, could allow the party to navigate its internal political and policy differences. Key outside groups such as Heritage Action have dropped their strong objections to the bill. And yet it's far from clear that the bill will actually move forward, because for all the progress Republicans appear to have made, the bill is still stalled. Despite multiple reports that the House would proceed with a vote on a bill to partially repeal Obamacare, another week has gone by with no actual vote. There has been no vote for the simple reason that the bill lacks the support to pass. Still. For now, at least, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), remains dead. And if you want to understand why, it helps to compare the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare with the process by which Democrats put together the bill in the first place. In some ways, the movement we have seen so far on the AHCA resembles the drawn-out process by which Democrats drew up and passed Obamacare in the first place. When Democrats put together the health care law in 2009, they were aiming to have the entire process completed by early or mid-summer. Instead, the process stretched out for more than a year, as holdouts negotiated tweaks and carve-outs. Then, as now, the process moved in in fits and starts, with various versions floated and then discarded, and congressional support levels hovering at some difficult-to-determine level below the threshold for passage. But the GOP process this time around is distinct in at least one important way: Unlike Democrats, Republicans are only negotiating with themselves. Democrats spent much of the summer of 2009 letting Senator Max Baucus, who oversaw the bill-writing process, negotiate with Senate Republicans, in hopes of picking up a veneer of bipartisan support. At the same time, the White House and Senate Democrats negotiated various deals with major players in the health care industry, including drug makers and trade groups representing hospitals and doctors. As a result of those deals, the industry groups helped sell the bill to both the general public and skeptical legislators, promising air cover in exchange for certain carve outs. Finally, President Obama used the bully pulpit to make the case for the law to both congress and the public. All of this followed years of discussions amongst liberal wonks and activist groups. There was the usual internal wrangling as well, of course, with Democrats cutting deals with their members in exchange for support. But part of the reason that Democrats could make those deals was that they had gathered backers from other quarters, and had created a sense that passage was inevitable. External support created internal support. The process was self-reinforcing. Republicans, in contrast, are negotiating entirely within their own congressional ranks—and really only within a small subset of House Republicans. The amendment released this week was written by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-New Jersey), a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, but it is designed almost entirely to appeal to members of the House Freedom Caucus. It's not clear that Senate Republicans want anything to do with this bill. "The Freedom Caucus has done a good job of trying to make the bill less bad," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) this week--not exactly a ringing endorsement. And outside of Congress, there appears to be little or no effort[...]

Trump Executive Order Could Empower State and Local Governments to Manage Federal Lands


The Bears Ears National Monument was established on 1.3 million acres of federally owned land in southern Utah by President Barack Obama on December 28, 2016 on his way out of the White House. Obama used, or as his critics would say, abused his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to make this designation. The Act was adopted chiefly as a way to punish people who were looting prehistoric Indian sites in the West, but has since been used by presidents as way to limit development on various federally owned lands. This order infuriated some local people and politicians including Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) who told the Salt Lake Tribune: "This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand. I will work tirelessly with Congress and the incoming Trump administration to honor the will of the people of Utah and undo this designation." Heeding these objections, President Donald Trump issued an executive order earlier this week instructing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review and determine the appropriateness of national monument designations under the Antiquities Act from January 1, 1996 until now. The order directs the the Secretary to "consult and coordinate with the Governors of States affected by monument designations or other relevant officials of affected State, tribal, and local governments." How is Zinke's review likely to come out? Terry Anderson, the founder of the free-market Property Environment Research Center* in Bozeman, Montana, reviews Zinke's history with public lands policy in a column published at the Forbes website. Anderson points out that Zinke was a supporter of the Protecting Agriculture, Conservation, and Recreation and Empowering States (ACRES) bill that would limit executive power to unilaterally establish national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Anderson points out that that bill bill would require state governors, adjacent counties and adjacent property owners to approve monument designations. In addition, Zinke voted for the Residual Federal Forest Act which would allow logging companies to have access to federal forests in order to thin them as a way to prevent massive forest fires. As Anderson notes, "Timber left unmanaged provides tinder for massive wildfires, making it a far bigger threat to wilderness lands than chainsaws." Anderson also praises Zinke for voting for Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act that would transfer management of millions of acres of federal land to states under a management board appointed by state governors. Zinke, on the other hand, has opposed the transfer of federal lands to local and state governments. Let us hope that the review will limit federal overreach and enable more local control over federally-owned lands. The final review is due in 120 days. *Disclosure: I have been the happy beneficiary of grants, conferences, and intellectual enrichment from PERC for many years. [...]

How'd President Trump Do in First 100 Days?


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As President Donald Trump's first hundred days in the White House approaches, how do you think he did? Reason TV's editor in chief Nick Gillespie came up with the three worst—and the three best—achievements of Trump's first 100 days.

Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.

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Protectionism Isn't National Security: New at Reason


(image) The biggest threat to U.S. national security, Daniel Griswold writes, is not steel imports, but new steel protectionism.

The other 97 percent of domestic steel production is consumed by a broad swath of U.S. industry, including construction, and such manufacturing sectors as automobiles, machinery & equipment, energy, and appliances.

If the Trump administration imposes new barriers to imported steel, it will drive up the domestic price of steel, imposing higher production costs on those other sectors of the economy and making their products less competitive in global markets. Economists estimate that for every U.S. worker in the steel industry, there are 60 workers in steel-consuming industries whose jobs will be made less secure by any new steel tariffs. Those tariffs will weaken, not strengthen, America's industrial base.

View this article.


Yes, Science, But How About a March for Math?: New at Reason


(image) Innumerates number the ranks of politicians and bureaucrats.

Steven Greenhut writes:

Tens of thousands of people marched in hundreds of cities last weekend as part of something billed as the March for Science. The event, which coincided with Earth Day, was meant to rebuke the Trump administration's global-warming skepticism and its plan to cut taxpayer funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that arguably deal with "science."

"The job of science is to both understand the Earth, understand the things that we can get out of the Earth, how we're going to interact with it, how we're going to make the Earth a better place," said a representative of the Carnegie Institution of Science in a news report. "So seeing it fall under such hard times or negative impressions of it is just amazing to me."

It's a stretch to suggest that the prominence of scientific knowledge in general is falling under "hard times" because of recent proposals to trim the budget of some massive government bureaucracies. Judging by the anti-Trump signs and demands for more funding for various programs that proliferated at the marches, it seems they were more about political science than the kind of hard science that March for Science organizers had touted.

Nevertheless, the marchers are onto something, although their concept should be applied instead to a different discipline. "I think we need to have a March for Math. How you gonna be over $19 trillion in debt and still spending?" wrote commentator Julie Borowski. Indeed. Our political leaders, in California especially, are enthralled by climate science and have embraced myriad programs to deal with the issue of man-made global warming.

View this article.


That Time New York's Department of Education Decided to Teach Kids What an 'Oreo' Is


For your "They Used to Do Children's Television Differently" files, here's a moment from the '70s show Vegetable Soup. Produced by the New York State Department of Education from 1975 to 1978, this multicultural-themed series aired on both PBS and NBC; the scene embedded below celebrates black slang. Not a bad idea for a segment. But at the 1:01 mark they casually throw in an expression that these days would've been vetoed long before the show got to air:

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For the full episode, which originally aired in 1975, go here. For a nightmare-nostalgia look back at the surreal and disturbing side of the show, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.


CNN Erroneously Claims Illegal Drugs Are a 'Deadlier' Highway Hazard Than Alcohol


CNN claims "a new report found" that "driving under the influence of drugs was deadlier in 2015 than driving while drunk." That is not what the new report found, and CNN's confused, alarmist story is a good illustration of how not to cover this subject. The report, an updated version of a guide originally published by the Governors Highway Safety Association in 2015, summarizes data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In 2015, the introduction notes, FARS "reported that drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with a known test result, more frequently than alcohol was present." That comparison was the basis for CNN's assertion that drugs are now "deadlier" than alcohol and for its headline, which says "drugged driving surpasses drunken driving among drivers killed in crashes." But neither claim is supported by the FARS data, because saying "drugs were present" is not the same as saying they impaired the driver or played any role in the crash. CNN reporter Robert Jimison would have realized that if he had read the report a little more carefully. "FARS records only drug presence, not drug concentrations analogous to BAC [blood alcohol concentration] levels for alcohol," notes the author, traffic safety researcher James Hedlund. In fact, the goal of establishing "drug concentrations analogous to BAC levels for alcohol" has proved persistently elusive. On that point, Hedlund quotes the "generally accepted" conclusion of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (where he used to work): "At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment." A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office likewise noted that "identifying a link between impairment and drug concentrations in the body, similar to the 0.08 BAC threshold established for alcohol, is complex and, according to officials from the Society of Forensic Toxicologists, possibly infeasible." In short, FARS does not collect information about drug concentrations, which in any case cannot be reliably related to impairment. "The relations between a drug's presence in the body, its concentration, measured in blood, breath, saliva or urine, and its impairing effects are complex and not understood well," Hedlund writes. "A drug may be present at low levels without any impairing effects. Some drugs or metabolites may remain in the body for days or weeks, long after any impairment has disappeared. In particular, marijuana metabolites can be detected in the body for weeks after use." That last point is crucial to understanding the data cited by CNN, since marijuana is by far the most commonly detected illegal drug, and "the FARS marijuana codes do not distinguish clearly between the active impairing component THC and various inactive and non-impairing metabolites." Even when active THC is detected, the level may be too low to affect driving ability. Despite all those caveats, Jimison repeatedly conflates drug "presence" with impairment, calling drivers who test positive "drugged" and saying they were "under the influence of drugs." Although that mistake is common in reporting on "drugged driving," Jimison really should have known better. Not only did Hedlund's report clearly explain why the premise of CNN's story is wrong; sources Jimison interviewed (including Hedlund, who observes that "drug impairment is a complicated topic") tried to warn him away from claiming that illegal drugs pose a bigger highway h[...]

Trump Thought Presidency 'Would Be Easier,' Gun Sales Down From 2016 Peak, Against Another Korean War: A.M. Links



  • "There are few good reasons to welcome North Korea" to "the nuclear club," writes Charlie Campbell at Time. "But there are absolutely no good reasons to start another Korean War."
  • "There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea," Donald Trump told Reuters.
  • The presidency "is more work than in my previous life," said Trump in the same interview. "I thought it would be easier."
  • "Having a President Trump in the White House hasn't been very good for" gun sales, reports The Daily Beast. "Unlike the boom years under President Barack Obama, when gun sales spiked and reached an all-time high in 2016, gun sales have dropped since Trump was elected."
  • Could White House Correspondents Dinner weekend in D.C. get any more self-congratulatory and insufferable? Yes! "All signs point to a less lavish, more sober affair Saturday night, with fewer over-the-top parties, less buzz and more recognition of the First Amendment and journalism's watchdog role in American democracy," according to U.S. News.
  • Moral panic of the week: "Stealthing."

Movie Review: The Circle: New at Reason


(image) If Facebook were a tech company headquartered in Hell—and who's to say it actually isn't, eh?—it might closely resemble The Circle, the blandly creepy organization at the center of the new movie by director James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour). The picture is based on a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, and it shows us a world in which individual privacy has withered, and heedless vigilantism is routinely fanned into online witch hunts. This ugly digital future is a little less-disturbing than it might have been, because in many ways it's already arrived.

Emma Watson is Mae Holland, a young Bay Area woman who's rescued from a dismal temp job by a call from her longtime friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who works at The Circle and gets a job interview for Mae so that she can come onboard, too. (The interview is a typically whimsical nerd interrogation: "Joan Baez or Joan Crawford? Sushi or Soylent?") The company is a shiny paradise in which employees are coddled at every turn. There are support groups for all sorts of life annoyances, and off-campus party excursions at which stars like Beck provide the entertainment. All of the employees seem to be young, and all are deliriously enthusiastic. Soon Mae is installed in a deluxe dorm room, marveling at her amazing luck, writes Kurt Loder.

View this article.


Brickbat: What a Trip


(image) Police in Pennsylvania have charged Mt. Lebanon High School teacher Christian Stein with stealing almost $5,000 from students who were planning a trip to Germany. Stein, who has been suspended from his job, said he did it because he was having financial problems.


'F*CK DPD' Sign Leads to Felony Hoax Bomb Charge in Denver


(image) A man who says police mistook his anti-police sign, which he says was written on a card board box he taped to his parked BMW SUV, is now facing a count of "hoax explosives and incendiary devices," a class-five felony that comes with up to 3 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

Charlie Dent told Denverite he was upset over the manners of a Denver cop who had written him a speeding ticket when he decided to put up a sign on his parked SUV that said "Fuck DPD," saying he knew not to say anything to the cop at the time because "you can't do nothing to a cop."

Dent says after his first two signs were blown away by the wind, he wrote "Fuck DPD" on a shoe box-sized cardboard box and used electrical tape to attach it to his parked SUV. The morning after he was ticketed and put up the sign he told Denverite he returned home from work to find cops surrounding his SUV. Police told him staff from the elementary school across the street called them, according to Hunt, who also suggested police mistook an LED light and red button connected to the car for a bomb part.

Police arrested Dent "for having an explosive device displayed," according to a statement of probable cause provided to Reason by the district attorney's office.

"A sign displaying 'Fuck DPD' along with a series of wires, electrical components, and metal tube prominently displayed upon the hood of" the car, the statement read. "The sign, along with wiring and device appeared to be an explosive device intended to draw and cause alarm."

The arresting officer added in his report that vehicle was also parked within 100 feet of an "active/open elementary school."

Dent says when he asked officers on the scene if he was going to jail over this, they told him it depended on "what side of the bed the bomb squad woke up on."

Since his arrest, Dent says he was suspended from work after requesting to take off on his court date and asked to move out of his apartment by his landlord.

Denverite notes that the law the felony cites "doesn't give a lot of guidance on this charge, simply saying that it applies to anyone who possesses 'false, facsimile, or hoax' devices.

The DPD referred questions for comment to the district attorney's office, which provided the probable cause statement.

h/t Dan S


Barrett Brown Taken Back Into Custody for Talking to the Press


Barrett Brown, famous "hacktivist" who spent four years prison in an arrest that started with his role in releasing linking to some hacked documents online (though that investigation led to a video in which he was taken to be threatening FBI agents, another crime he was charged with) was taken back into custody today, according to D Magazine, for whom Brown had been working as a reporter. (The complicated details of his original charges and conviction are explained in this 2015 Wired article.) Relying on reports from Brown's mother, Karen Lancaster, with whom Brown had been living, Brown was tossed back in the pokey for conducting interviews with the press without explicit permission from the Bureau of Prison bureaucracy—even though Ms. Lancaster insists that the Bureau, even when asked, could not provide written proof that he was legally required to do so: Barrett was re-arrested during routine check-in this morning and is being transferred to a BOP facility that is unknown. He has not missed a check-in over the last five months of his early release. He has not failed any of the random drug tests administered. He has been on home confinement status since February and has been home each and every time they called the landline at 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. for "bed check." He believes this is only because of his refusal to get "permission" from crews to film and interview him. He has had many interviews since his early release, on November 29, both by phone and in person. Last week VICE had a group in to film him for two days [ed: they filmed a bunch up here at D Magazine headquarters], and he was scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow by a group working on a documentary for PBS. Ms. Luz Lujan, his BOP contact, refused to provide him with copies of program statement rules saying this is a requirement during halfway house and/or home confinement status. The forms that they finally came up with yesterday, after he had been requesting documentation for the past two weeks, are forms offered to media when requesting a visit with an inmate in a federal prison setting. There was never any mention of these rules during the past four months of his federally approved employment at D Magazine when he was working with media and involved with a range of interviews. The Bureau of Prisons acknowledged in an email today that Brown "is no longer in home confinement and he is presently located at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Seagoville in Texas (our inmate locator webpage should updated tomorrow), but we can not disclose the reasons for a specific inmate's transfer of locations." The Bureau of Prisons, contra Ms. Lancaster's implication, seems to believe that any regulations that would have bound a Barrett Brown literally behind bars similarly binds him on his current "early release" (distinct legally from the probation that is scheduled to begin next month, at the end of his original sentence). Kevin Gallagher, who runs the Free Barrett Brown website, said in a phone interview today that the specific terms of Brown's supervised released did not mention restrictions on talking to the media. Gallagher notes both that Brown has been doing media since his release began (including with Reason TV, see below) and that Brown has a record of "being critical of the Bureau of Prisons in many different ways." Thus, an element of pure punishment for speech seems involved in their locking him [...]

‘Thin Blue Line’ Bill to Expand Federal Death Penalty Advances in Congress


A bill to expand the federal death penalty to include the killing of state and local police officers advanced through a Republican-controlled committee in Congress Thursday, over the objections of civil liberties and criminal justice groups who argue it is unnecessary and duplicative. The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday, the Thin Blue Line Act, by a 19-12 vote that would make the killing of a state or local law enforcement officer during the commission of a federal crime an aggravating factor for juries to consider when weighing a death penalty sentence. The legislation would be largely symbolic. Federal death penalty cases are exceedingly rare, and executions at the federal level are even rarer. The last federal execution took place in 2001, when Timothy McVeigh was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing. Most homicide cases are prosecuted by states. While Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted that the practical application of the law would be limited, it "is nevertheless vitally important in the scenarios where it will apply," he argued in a statement Thursday. "For example, it would likely apply in some terrorism cases," Goodlatte continued. "We all remember that the terrorists who bombed the Boston Marathon killed a MIT police officer during their flight from justice. It also would apply to situations where a state or local officer is killed serving as a member of a Federal task force." Including officers serving on federal task forces would be notable, since many state and local police officers participate in federal anti-drug and anti-terrorism task forces. The bill was supported by police unions, such as the Fraternal Order of Police. Over the past several years, members of Congress and state legislators have introduced numerous "blue lives matter" bills to strengthen penalties for assaulting and killing police officers, including making police a protected class under hate crime laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced similar legislation in 2015, when he was a U.S. senator, saying "the alarming spike in violence directed against the men and women entrusted with ensuring the safety and order of our society must be stopped," However, civil liberties and criminal justice groups oppose the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Thursday that the bill "is an unnecessary expansion of the federal death penalty." "Congress should be advancing police reforms that are supported by both law enforcement and the communities they serve, but, unfortunately, these bills only cater to Attorney General Sessions and President Trump's misguided 'law and order' agenda," ACLU legislative counsel Kanya Bennett said. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund also called the legislation "duplicative" and "unnecessary," saying it will worsen the racial disparities in the already-troubled criminal justice system. [...]

Michael Flynn’s Payments from Foreign Countries Investigated, Ann Coulter Counter-Protests at Berkeley, Dems Threaten Government Shutdown over Healthcare: P.M. Links


The Pentagon is investigating Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, to determine whether he failed to obtain permission before accepting payments from foreign interests (Russia and Turkey in this case). That he's a retired lieutenant general requires him to follow some additional rules. White House spokesman Sean Spicer attempted to deflect the controversy by pointing out the Obama administration gave him security clearance in 2016. Protests are now organizing at UC-Berkeley because Ann Coulter didn't speak. Democrats are saying they won't support a stopgap spending bill (potentially leading to a government shutdown) if Republicans push forward trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. If you like your 401(k) deduction you can keep your 401(k) deduction. Here's a look at all the national monuments under review by the Trump administration to be reconsidered and possibly eliminated. United Airlines has announced a list of customer service improvements and changes they're making in the wake of the massive public relations disaster of David Dao's forced removal from a flight. United has also reached an undisclosed settlement with Dao. Be sure to shove the news in the face of anybody who said that Dao should have just cooperated with authorities. McDonald's has been partnering with Uber to test food delivery and is expanding to more cities. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily updates for more content. [...]

Trump Targets NAFTA, But Will an 'Update' Just Be an Excuse for More Government Meddling?


President Trump's push on trade and NAFTA this week appears more motivated by the symbolic 100 day mark emphasized by Trump and the media than any coherent approach to trade neogtiations. The Trump administration followed up the imposition of a 20 percent tariff on Canadian lumber—a long-standing stalking horse for the timber industry—earlier this week by floating the idea that the U.S. would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which liberalized trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Shortly after, the White House announced that in phone calls with Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, President Trump "agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time" and that the two leaders " agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries." As Republicans alarmed by the prospect of a NAFTA withdrawal speculated yesterday, the threat was a "negotiating tactic" to bring Mexico and Canada to the table or otherwise extract a better deal. Yet there's little indication either Mexico or Canada needed such a push for new negotiations. The election of Trump, who campaigned on a protectionist platform that was one of a few principles he's held on to consistently for decades, sufficed. The perception of bringing Mexico and Canada to the negotiating table over NAFTA can be chalked up as a victory, but it doesn't contribute to any clarity on what might happen next. Trump has not articulated what kind of "improvements" he wants to negotiate. His trade views are mostly based on the idea that foreign competition is bad, and that returning Americans to factory jobs would make America great again. The whole thing could just more noise signifying nothing, a tactic explained in the Art of the Deal. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told senators the administration was interested in "updating" NAFTA, not not withdraw from it, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told Politico. Given the prevailing anti-trade mood in Washington, it's doubtful that such an update would involve reducing government interventions instead of increasing them. The troubling migration of anti-trade rhetoric from left to right is nevertheless unsurprising. It's easier to convince people their problems are caused by foreigners than by their own government's policies, and more politically beneficial for those deploying such rhetoric in a quest for public office, especially when politicians who understand that free trade benefits everyone are unwilling or unable to articulate it effectively. Related: Have Republicans Turned Against Trade? We Asked Them. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="340" width="560"> [...]

Drunk Man Assaults R2D2-Style Security Robot and Gets Arrested


(image) While on patrol in the parking lot of its manufacturer, a K5 security robot was assaulted by Jason Sylvain. Sylvain, who was apparently drunk, pushed over the 300-pound R2D2-style robot made by the Knightscope company. Alerted by the robot, two Knightscope employees detained Sylvain until the local police showed up. The K5 robots operate autonomously and provide 360 degree video of the areas they patrol. The robots are equipped with two way audio that allows intercom conversations between the security operations center and a person near the robot. In addition, the robots can broadcast pre-recorded and live audio messages in the areas where they are operating. They also monitor environmental conditions, keep track of license plates, and detect wireless activity. The company promises that the robots will soon offer a gun detection feature.

Going beyond mere gun detection, the Russian FEDOR humanoid robot can now shoot guns. As Futurism reports: FEDOR — short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research — is a humanoid robot developed by Android Technics and the Advanced Research Fund in Russia. "Final" does sound a bit ominous. In any case, the FEDOR bot can drive a car, use various tools (including keys), screw in lightbulbs, and even do pushups. It has now added the ability to hold and fire two pistols at the same time to its skill set.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted, "Robot FEDOR showed the ability to shoot from both hands. Fine motor skills and decision-making algorithms are still being improved." Rogozin further explained, "Shooting exercises is a method of teaching the robot to set priorities and make instant decisions. We are creating AI, not Terminator." Very reassuring.

Enabling mall security robots to protect themselves by, say, administering a mild electric shock to someone Sylvain is OK, but arming them lethal weapons is, well, premature. On the other hand, I am against banning the development of warbots. See FEDOR in action below.

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Marijuana: Now Officially As Normal As Steel, Cement, and Rubber


(image) Mark another milestone in the mainstreaming of marijuana: One of the world's largest and oldest organizations for developing technical standards is now making space for the pot business.

The group is ASTM International, a hub of consensus-based self-regulation. Originally founded in 1898 to work out testing and material standards for the steel used on railroad lines, the organization soon branched out beyond steel, debating and adopting guidelines for cement, petroleum, rubber, and more than 100 other areas. As of June, when its cannabis committee first meets, those areas will include marijuana. Different subcommittees will tackle such topics as pot horticulture, quality management, processing and handling, security and transportation, personnel training, and even terminology. In an industry where federal regulations consist mostly of penalties for possessing or selling the goods, setting these standards means working out an elaborate collection of best practices from the ground up.

The most important effect will be to bring more stability to the industry and more predictability to its products. But don't discount the cultural change that this represents too. You know you're a long way from the just-say-no years when a video like this can exist:

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