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Updated: 2017-08-18T00:00:00-04:00


Republicans Want to Talk Tax Reform. Trump’s Outbursts Mean They’re Talking About Nazis.


Typically, the president of a party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress is the leader of any major legislative push. But with Donald Trump, the opposite is true. Rather than guiding the legislative process, he is its chief impediment. To understand just how difficult Trump's antics have made it for Republicans to pursue policy reforms, consider the interview that Bloomberg News conducted with Rep. Kevin Brady on Wednesday. Brady is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and a leading figure in the GOP's push to overhaul the tax code, the next major item on the party's legislative agenda. The interview was timed to coincide the 31st anniversary of the last time Congress agreed to pursue tax reform legislation. Brady was there to talk about taxes. He ended up talking about Nazis. "I strongly condemn the white supremacists, the KKK, the neo-Nazis and the violence and hatred they bring to this," Brady said in the interview. That's not exactly the pullquote you want to come out of an interview on tax policy. Brady, of course, had to make this statement in the midst of an interview ostensibly about tax reform because it had proven so difficult for President Donald Trump to make a similar condemnation following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly over the weekend. A woman protesting the rally was killed when a car, allegedly driven by a man with white supremacist sympathies, plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters at speed. The chaos surrounding Trump's presidency has ground the legislative process to a halt, and made traditional governance all but impossible. And in the process it has revealed the emptiness at the core of the president, whose only real focus is and always has been crude self-promotion. Trump's initial reaction, to weakly blame violence "on many sides," generated enough pushback, including from fellow Republicans, that he gave a brief statement on Monday specifically denouncing white supremacist groups — a follow-up that he reportedly resisted staff pressure to deliver. But in an angry press conference on Tuesday, Trump doubled down on his initial position, declaring that there was "blame on both sides." Tuesday's press conference was itself a prime example of the way that Trump's belligerence, inexperience, and combative demeanor have combined to make any sort of discussion virtually impossible. The event was supposed to be a no-questions affair about streamlining the infrastructure permitting process, but Trump, reportedly against the wishes of his staff, decided to take questions instead, making it clear, in the process, that Monday's clean-up statement was delivered grudgingly. This is not a problem that is being forced on the president. It is a problem that is a direct result of his own choices. It is Trump's fault, and Trump's alone. The fallout from the Tuesday press conference didn't just interrupt Kevin Brady's plan to tout tax reform. It also led to the breakup of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of high-profile corporate executives that had been formed to provide the new president with guidance on policy. Following Trump's response to the events in Charlottesville, several CEOs stepped down. Others plotted a harsh response to Trump. Finally, the entire council was disbanded. Plans for another planned council of CEOs, intended to focus on infrastructure, were scrapped yesterday. This is the way it has been with Trump since the beginning. During the campaign, his total inability to discuss policy, and his penchant for odious remarks, meant that Republicans ran a primary and then a general election campaign almost entirely divorced from substantive discussion of policy issues. He gleefully touted Trump-branded products like Trump Steaks that didn't actually exist, and chewed through hours of live television airtime, but rarely if ever discussed policy on its merits, preferring to engage in endless presidential flame wars instead. The only "issue" that ever held his attention was Trump himself. That ha[...]

A Free Country Can Do Without a Conscience-in-Chief


The Founders were worried about "progressive" presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and, more recently, Barak Obama using their perch to (image) play moral hero. Obama, in particular, wanted to be a transformative president looking for great causes to reshape the country's moral landscape like Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.

But the Founders never imagined that the country would one day be led by a moral moron with a sixth graders' capacity for moral reasoning and no feel for this country's history of moral progress. That, sadly, is exactly what Trump is, as his fake moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and protesters – and Thomas Jefferson/George Washington, on the one hand, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, on the other, suggests.

Fortunately, in a free country, people don't have to wait for the conscience-in-chief for direction. They think and act on their own and that's exactly what Americans have now started doing to restore the moral balance in their country, I note in my column at The Week.

Go here to read the piece.


Movie Review: Logan Lucky: New at Reason


(image) In Logan Lucky, the famously English Daniel Craig slips into the role of a hillbilly malefactor as if it were custom-made camouflage: he's entirely convincing. He might not be the movie's funniest element—there's quite a bit of competition—but he's a hoot to have around.

When we first meet Craig's blazingly bottle-blond Joe Bang, he's in a West Virginia prison, presumably for blowing stuff up (his professional specialty). Joe has been sought out by the movie's central characters, the lovably dimwitted Logan brothers, Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). They have a scheme to salvage their loser lives by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in nearby North Carolina during a big NASCAR race over the Memorial Day weekend. Joe sure would like to help them out (by blowing a Speedway safe), but as he thought the Logans might have noticed, he is incarcerated. No problem – they've devised a plan to sneak him out of prison to take part in the caper, then sneak him back in afterward. It's complicated, naturally – which is a large part of what makes the movie so much fun, writes Kurt Loder in his latest review for Reason.

View this article.


Operation Choke Point Ending, Women's Suffrage Turns 97, Four Arrested in Barcelona Attack: A.M. Links


  • (image) The White House has announced it will end Operation Choke Point, an Obama-administration program that discouraged banks from doing business with "risky" customers.
  • Following yesterday's terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spanish police "say they have killed several people south of Barcelona in response," AP is reporting. Four have been arrested in conjunction with the attack.
  • On this day 97 years ago, U.S. women got the right to vote.
  • "In Alaska, as in every other U.S. state, it is currently legal for members of law enforcement to have sexual contact with individuals who are under investigation," notes The Huffington Post. "The line is legally drawn at penetration."
  • The #MAGA crowd will meet the Juggalos this September.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has come out against the decisions of companies like Google and GoDaddy to cease doing business with vocal white supremacists. "Because internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world," EFF says.
  • "In this nationally representative cross-sectional study of 5674 adults who reported pubic hair grooming, grooming-related injury was reported by 1430." Science!

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Kat Timpf on Her #MAGA Fanclub, Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Solar Eclipse Sex Trafficking: Sirius XM Insight 9-12 AM ET


On Tuesday afternoon, just after President Donald Trump wrapped his widely panned press conference about Charlottesville, Kat Timpf, the libertarian co-host of The Specialists on Fox News, reacted negatively in a clip that quickly went viral:

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

The resulting backlash against Timpf and fellow co-host Eboni Williams has been voluminous.

I'll be talking with Timpf about her fun week today during my guest-host stint on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick from 9-12 am ET on channel 121. Other guests will include:

* Beloved Reason Associate Editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who will explain why she's shilling for Big Solar Eclipse Sex Traffickers.

* Stanford kid Elliot Kaufman, who will talk about his recent National Review piece, "Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform."

* New York Magazine's Brian Feldman, who will talk about his recent article, "The 'Ironic Nazi' Is Coming to an End."

* Comedian Andrew Schulz, who will talk about all sorts of Charlottesville/race issues, and generally make me uncomfortable.

Please call any time at 1-877-974-7487.


White Supremacy Is a Dead End For White People


The white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville last weekend, as well as their confederates who cheered from afar, are now learning just how expensive it is to own those views in public. In the week since "Unite the Right," Four of the men who marched in defense of Gen. Robert E. Lee's statue no longer have jobs: a roofer, a pizza shop employee, a supermarket employee, and a hot dog shop employee. Last we heard from Christopher Cantwell--the lead subject of Vice's chilling report from Charlottesville--he was holed up in a hotel and weeping into his cell phone. The dating site OKCupid has apparently "banned him for life." The Daily Stormer no longer has a home on the open internet: GoDaddy and Google, as well as Cloudflare, have all severed their ties with the site. VDare, a more thinky group that advocates racial separatism in order to preserve white civilization/culture, had its Paypal account suspended and lost its booking at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, where it planned to hold its annual conference. Milo Yiannopoulos had his MailChimp account shut down. In an interview with the Center for American Progress (of all places), former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon--the alt right's paladin in the White House--described the marchers in Charlottesville as "a collection of clowns" and "losers" All of this is probably insult heaped on injury for the National Policy Institute's Richard Spencer, whose gym cancelled his membership back in May. Nick Gillespie wrote about the freedom to associate and all of its implication last week, so I won't go into that, beyond pointing out that if you click on that Cloudflare link, you'll see the company's CEO has some mixed feelings about terminating the Daily Stormer's contract. (He doesn't have a lick of sympathy for the site's members or mission, but he was able to erase their presence on the internet with the click of a button, and he's not sure anyone should have that power.) Instead, I'd like to piggyback on Kevin Williamson's recent piece at National Review, about what all these angry white men want. "They don't have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely," Williamson writes. His best guess? "They want to be someone other than who they are. That's the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals." I grew up in a town where the Confederate flag was displayed casually and unabashedly, in actual fabric form as well as on mudflaps and bumper stickers. My ancestors fought for Davis and Jefferson and slavery, and my grandparents were members of descendant organizations. Williamson's theory that white supremacists are looking for purpose in all the wrong places reflects what I saw in my hometown. By chance, I made friends in high school with someone who came to identify himself as a Neo-Nazi; he was never able to provide me with a cogent explanation for how a Jewish person, or even all the Jewish people combined, were responsible for his terrible grades, his social anxiety, his parents' inability to find satisfying work in our impoverished town, or the dilapidated state of the trailer into which the three of them were crammed. I'm not sure there were even any Jewish people in our town; I don't remember meeting a Jewish person until college. When I worked construction in the early 2000s, my foreman--who was only 10 years older--was a klansman who could barely pay his bills and showed up to job sites hungover. These people were born into less than ideal circumstances, but those circumstances were not orchestrated by black people or Jews or Muslims or Catholics (I'm assuming the KKK still hates Rome). In May 2012, the FBI arrested some of my former high school classmates as they trained with A[...]

Popehat: Internet Businesses Rejecting Racists Is an Exercise of Free Speech


There are so very many free speech/First Amendment controversies on in the wake of the Charlottesville unpleasantness, and in the run-up to planned alt-right demonstrations (and counter-demonstrations) that will make headlines the rest of summer. Can lefty politicians pre-emptively ban such demonstrations on grounds of incitement? Does the American Civil Liberties Union, in the words of this memorable New York Times headline, need "to rethink free speech"? Are there culture-of-free-speech concerns when big Internet platforms or service providers jettison neo-Nazi or alt-right customers at moments of heightened scrutiny? And what the hell is going on with the Justice Department's subpoena of information about visitors to anti-Trump websites in the run-up to anti-Trump Inauguration protests? So I put out the Popehat Signal Wednesday while guest-hosting Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick, to gain some clarity from one of the best First Amendment commentators in the biz, lawyer Ken White. We discussed his great Charlottesville piece, "America At The End of All Hypotheticals," chewed on the ethics of outing alt-right demonstrators (he's fine with it as long as you've ID'd the right people), and then pivoted to private-company disassociation from deplorables: Matt Welch: […] What should we think about free-speech implications, if any, of large, broad-based Internet service kind of providers kicking people off for their racisty conduct and life? Ken White: […] [H]ere's where I part company with a lot of other free speech advocates. I think those companies have a right to free speech and free association. If I'm going to go all Romney on you, I'll say corporations are people, too. But instead, I can just say these are businesses run by groups of people, and their free speech desires and free association desires are just as valid as those as the Nazis. If they don't want to host Nazis on their private platforms, then that's a free speech choice. Whether or not I agree with it, it's on a plane with the decisions of the Nazis to be Nazis in the first place. So, this is…a situation where some people are suggesting somehow that Group B should shut up and refrain from speech, refrain from free association, to make Group A more comfortable in its speech. I don't think that's a coherent philosophy. MW: I want to get to a phone call, if you won't mind taking one. […] Reno from Florida: […] I don't know the decision, but I've read that the Supreme Court has ruled that certain types of free speech—i.e. hate speech or certain policies and symbols of those, that type of hate speech—is not protected and is thus…sort of overridden by other people's rights of free association, free speech. So kind of like, someone holds a swastika up in front of me, that swastika is a symbol of a policy of racial cleansing and genocide, etc., etc., [then] it's perfectly within my right to defend myself against those policies. Am I wrong? Or have I heard incorrectly? MW: Reno, you came to the exact right person in the entire United States for that question. Popehat, go ahead. White: Reno, yes, respectfully, it's 100 percent completely, unequivocally wrong. There's no such thing, legally, in America, as hate speech as a distinct legal category that's not protected by the First Amendment. In fact, hate speech clearly is protected by the First Amendment. Sometimes, hate speech might fall into other established categories outside the First Amendment. So, for instance, speech that incites and is intended to incite immediate, serious, lawless action. Like, "Go over there and kill those whatever ... those Jews, those Black people." That can be unprotected. But it's unprotected because it falls into an established category. Those categories are narrow and there are few of them. When you say that if someone holds up a symbol to you, do you have a right to defend your[...]

Brickbat: Not Looking for a Few Good Men


(image) The Australian Army has banned recruiters from recruiting men for some 35 different jobs, including armored cavalry. The air force and navy face similar restrictions on many jobs. All those jobs are still open to women. The goal is to get the percentage of women in the military up.


Attack in Barcelona Kills 13, Settlement Over CIA Torture Methods, Massive Lottery Jackpot Grows: P.M. Links


  • (image) A van driven at high speed crashed into a crowd of people in a tourist-filled part of Barcelona. Police believe it was a terrorist attack. Details remain very sketchy. Casualty numbers vary, but the most recent numbers have an official claiming 13 dead, 50 injured. One suspect is in custody. Police have released a picture of the suspect, who is being identified as Driss Oukabir, in his 20s, born in Morocco, according to local media. The Islamic State (ISIS) is claiming responsibility for the attack.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has reached a settlement with two psychologists involved in the development of the interrogation/torture techniques the CIA used during the war on terror. The details of the settlement were not released.
  • President Donald Trump this morning decided on Twitter to come to the defense of maintaining Confederate statues and monuments. A poll shows that most citizens actually don't want them to be removed.
  • After insisting on the importance of preserving history, Trump then tweeted this:

But there's no evidence Pershing actually fought Muslim terrorists in the manner that Trump believes.

  • A state court spokesperson in New York was fired after he accidentally butt-dialed a reporter and was recorded admitting on voicemail that he barely shows up for work at his six-figure-salary government job.
  • The family of the young man arrested and accused of a bomb plot in Oklahoma say Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, is schizophrenic and the FBI knew this when they orchestrated a sting to catch him.
  • If all the other news is making you miserable, go buy lottery tickets. Nobody won the last night's Powerball jackpot, so it's up to at least $510 million.

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San Francisco Politicians Want to Quash a Right-Wing 'Freedom Rally'


In the wake of the violence at Virginia's "Unite the Right" rally, San Francisco politicos are trying to quash a coming right-wing rally in their own city. Figures from current San Francisco mayor Ed Lee to former San Francisco mayor and current U.S. senator Diane Feinstein have demanded that the National Park Service rescind a tentative permit for an August 26 "Freedom Rally." Patriot Prayer, the group organizing the event, hopes to hold it at federally owned Crissy Park. "In an effort to protect our people from hate speech that can result in violence and actual violence that has been perpetrated by a number of groups," Lee said at a Tuesday press conference, "we have demanded that the National Park Service reevaluate their permit." London Bree, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was more emphatic, telling prospective ralliers that "you are not welcome in San Francisco. We will do everything we can to stop you from being in San Francisco." This is not the first time that Patriot Prayer—a group led by internet provocateur Joey Gibson and based in Vancouver, Washington—has sparked this sort of respons. In May, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler demanded that the feds pull a permit for a rally the group had scheduled to hold in the city, similarly citing the dangers of "hate speech." The ACLU of Oregon responded with an unequivocal statement: "The government cannot impose permit restrictions or deny a permit simply because it does not like the message of a certain speaker or group." The ACLU's words were true then, and they remain true now. "Hate speech" is not a legal term, and invoking it does not somehow allow officials to suppress protected First Amendment activity. Patriot Prayer's cast of speakers—which includes Gibson, Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman, and self-described "trannie for Trump" Amber Gwen Cummings—say repulsive things. But they have every right to express those views in public. Even more insidious is the notion that holding a rally is in itself an imminent incitement of violence. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed this idea in a statement opposing the event. ("Free speech does not grant the right to yell fire in a crowded theater, incite violence or endanger the public in any venue," she said.) It is of course true that some violence has broken out at events organized by Patriot Prayer. Three people were arrested in Portland on August 6 after several scuffles broke out at a Patriot Prayer march. But if politicians can invoke the mere possibility of violence as a reason to clamp down on speech they don't like, you can be sure that the alt-right types won't be the only ones suppressed. The National Park Service seems to grasp this perfectly well, saying in a statement that "our highest priority is to ensure public safety, while honoring our obligation to uphold one of our nation's most cherished Constitutional rights, the First Amendment right to freedom of speech." A final permit for the rally is still pending, as the National Park Service undergoes a "thorough public safety review." [...]

ACLU Blames Cops for Charlottesville Violence


CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—As the world sadly knows, three people died this past weekend when a bunch of racist assholes showed up in my town to rally around a statue of Robert E. Lee. The worst moment in the weekend's violence came when one of the white supremacists deliberately ran his car into a crowd of anti-racist counterprotesters, but even before then fights were breaking out around town. Those fights erupted despite the fact that state, city, and police officials mobilized 1,000 first responders, including 300 state police and National Guard members, to control the protests. Many of the cops wore riot gear, carried shields, and were backed by armored vehicles. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, has said the plan was to keep the two sides separated. "There were physical barriers to separate those opposing sides and law enforcement as well, however individuals chose to assemble on the streets," she told The Wall Street Journal. "We are not in a position to tell people where to assemble." So what happened? "It is the responsibility of law enforcement to ensure safety of both protesters and counter-protesters. The policing on Saturday was not effective in preventing violence," said Virginia ACLU chief Claire G. Gastanaga in a statement. "I was there and brought concerns directly to the secretary of public safety and the head of the Virginia State Police about the way that the barricades in the park limiting access by the arriving demonstrators and the lack of any physical separation of the protesters and counter-protesters on the street were contributing to the potential of violence. They did not respond. In fact, law enforcement was standing passively by, seeming to be waiting for violence to take place, so that they would have grounds to declare an emergency, declare an 'unlawful assembly' and clear the area." Here's what I saw as a reporter. First, a disclaimer: I am not a policeman, a lawyer, or a frequent participant in public protests. Second, nobody is ever justified in punching people for their political beliefs, no matter how much I detest their views. That being said, I noticed a great difference in how the cops and barricades were deployed when a month earlier I covered a KKK rally at Charlottesville's Stonewall Jackson statue. At that rally, double-fenced metal barricades separated the Klansmen from the counterprotesters. This created a no-man's-land where a line of police stood, keeping each side from coming into physical contact with each other. Police evidently had no problem telling the Kluxers where to assemble. I stood within 20 feet of the KKK during their whole demonstration, and a not single rock, bottle, or any other missiles were thrown by either them or the hundreds of counterprotesters. And no one got punched or bashed with clubs either. This past weekend, by contrast, police deployed a single line of metal barricades which could easily be reached across. They placed no police between the racists and the counterprotesters. When I got to the park, the police and National Guard all appeared to be standing on the sides and behind—not in-between, as they did at the KKK rally. The state of emergency had apparently been called just as I approached the park, and riot police were marching in to clear out the area. A line of police behind shields basically pressed the neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates down Market Street between crowds of counterprotesters who had lined the street. Despite the dangerous decision to remove them by that route, I am happy to report that I saw only a few scuffles break out between the racists and the counterprotesters. It is hard to believe that the police were less prepared at this event than at the Stonewall Jackson rally. Sadly, Gastanaga's assertions ring true. [...]

Governors Challenge Jeff Sessions' Tendentious Questions About Legal Pot


Officials in Washington and Alaska are pushing back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions' tendentious questions about the consequences of marijuana legalization in those states, and similar resistance is likely from Colorado and Oregon. The exchange suggests how complicated it may be for Sessions to find reasons to crack down on state-licensed marijuana businesses without explicitly reversing the Obama administration's policy of leaving them alone unless they implicate "federal law enforcement priorities." On July 24, Sessions sent letters to the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, the first four states to allow recreational use of marijuana. He argued that legalization had led to serious problems and asked what state officials planned to do about them. The letters relied heavily on reports from High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs), regional task forces that are committed to opposing legalization and skew information with that goal in mind. In his letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, for instance, Sessions asked "how Washington plans to address the findings in the Northwest HIDTA report, including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors." In their August 15 reply, which was obtained by The Cannabist, Inslee and Ferguson say some of those findings are "outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information." Sessions, for example, quoted a 2016 HIDTA report as saying that Washington's medical marijuana market "is considered 'grey' due to the lack of regulation and oversight." But that report preceded legislation that required all dispensaries to shut down or obtain licenses and comply with state regulations. Inslee and Ferguson also complain that "your letter repeatedly fails to distinguish between marijuana activity that is legal and illegal under state law," as when it cites explosions at illegal THC extraction labs or mentions the Northwest HIDTA's claim that Washington marijuana has been found in "43 other states" without specifying whether any of it it was obtained from state-licensed suppliers. In fact, Inslee and Ferguson note, "this statistic covers several years before our recreational sales even began." Sessions' numbers regarding stoned driving are equally unilluminating. "Several of the statistics quoted in your letter on the increasing incidence of marijuana DUIs are distorted by the fact that the testing regime has changed with state legalization," Inslee and Ferguson say. "Prior to marijuana legalization, blood testing for THC at suspected DUI traffic stops was substantially less common. Consequently, comparable statistics do not exist." Another complication is that a positive test for THC does not necessarily mean the driver was impaired. In their August 14 reply to Sessions (which was also obtained by The Cannabist), Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth raise an even more decisive objection to Sessions' numbers. "Pointing to our 2015 Annual Drug Report, your July 24 letter questions whether our regulatory framework adequately protects federal interests," they write. "As an initial matter, the statistics in the 2015 report cannot be fairly attributed to the industry since sales from state-licensed businesses did not begin until 2016. The report simply does not speak to the success or failure of the new regulatory framework." Sessions, like the HIDTAs on which he relies, is obviously eager to impugn legalization, so eager that he does not let facts or logic get in his way. But since he is ostensibly engaged in a collaborative effort with state officials, he[...]

No, the Solar Eclipse Will Not Cause a Spike in Sex Trafficking


In the 1980s, a popular but untrue axiom held that domestic violence spiked drastically during the Super Bowl. In this century the myth got a modern makeover, with people now proclaiming—despite an utter lack of evidence—that the Super Bowl and similar sporting events are huge draws for human traffickers. Now, like all things 2017, the urban legend is taking on an even more ridiculous iteration. Media outlets across the country are claiming that forced prostitution will peak with next Monday's solar eclipse. What, you might wonder, is the theory here? Will sex traffickers be emboldened by the extra bit of darkness? Do they get extra aggressive depending on lunar phases? Alas, this fearmongering is much more mundane. As with the Super Bowl story, the authorities are claiming that an influx of visitors to eclipse-viewing areas will also bring an influx of evildoers. In Kentucky, Allyson Cox Taylor, head of the state's Office of Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Prevention, suggested that "people who weren't trafficking before may decide, there's people in town that are anonymous, people we don't know from another place, and this is an opportunity to make money." Apparently she thinks finding and forcing others to do your bidding is something that people just up and decide one day to do on a whim. In Bend, Oregon, several pre-eclipse seminars focused on how locals could spot the incoming sex traffickers, offering up a mix of the mundane and the absurd. "Among the signs," warns the Associated Press (sigh), are "one man with a large number of girls, multiple guests in a hotel room, unsupervised children, a minor with multiple cell phones, a man who always speaks for the women he is with, or poker chips passing hands." Eclipse-pegged sex-trafficking warnings have also shown up in Oregon, in Ohio, in Wyoming, and in Nebraska. Most of these manage to stop short of total paranoia, and at least acknowledge that the TV/movie version of sex trafficking, with strangers abducting women and children, almost never happens. But a few do suggest that sex traffickers will be lurking in the dark, waiting to snatch up children who get separated from their parents for even a few minutes. (In the midst of all this, however, behold the rarest of rare occurences: TV news and local police in Portland teaming up to announce that "they have no reason to suspect there would be a surge in human sex trafficking in the metro area.") Even "the FBI is looking into the credibility of human trafficking threats during the eclipse," according to WDRB in Kentucky. "We're going to have a lot of people come into Central Nebraska," Tony Kavan of the Nebraska State Patrol told a local ABC affiliate. "Anytime there's a large group or a large influx of people, statistically right now it looks like we can expect an increase in sex trafficking." There are in fact no statistics that support that contention, and there is only the flimiest of evidence that prostitution advertising more generally might increase around big public events. Mainstream media outlets from CBS News to The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Sports Illustrated, and The Huffington Post (to name a few) have cautioned against this bunk theory. (As have we here.) And a 2011 report from The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women states unequivocably: "There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution." But why let reality get in the way of good government propaganda, exciting local news programming, and excuses to do vice stings? [...]

Kmele vs. DeRay, and Trump’s Cherished History: The New Fifth Column


(image) Have you checked out the revamped website of The Fifth Column, your very favorite non-Reason podcast, starring Michael C. Moynihan, Kmele Foster, and me? Episode links—such as last week's, featuring Thaddeus Russell and Radley Balko—now include topic breakouts, relevant book links, and other helpful information. Check it out!

This week's episode is so hot off the presses that even I haven't listened to the featured scrum at the end, when Kmele sits down with blue-vested Black Lives Matter activist and Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay McKesson for a frank exchange of views on race, policing, and "dangerous" ideas. (Read Reason's interview with McKesson from 14 months ago.) The conversation before that is mostly an extended argument over President Donald Trump's reactions to Charlottesville, with me talking about the ideological/comportmental aspects that Trumpism, the alt-right, and a big chunk of the broader right has in common; Kmele giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, and Moynihan spitting fire about LARPing tiki-Nazis. You can listen here:

src="" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0">Reminder: Over the weekend you can listen to an hour-long version of The Fifth Column on Sirius XM POTUS (channel 124) Saturdays at 11 a.m. ET then Sundays at 1 a.m. and 3 p.m. And you can always find more Fifth Column at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play,, @wethefifth, and Facebook.


What to Do With Your Embarrassing Confederate Statue


So you've got an old Confederate statue you need to toss out. Don't worry, many cities in America are going through the same spring cleaning you are. The relevant question is: what do you do with a marble effigy of an old bearded racist once you've knocked it off its pedestal? The main argument against removing these statues hinges on historical preservation, that we shouldn't dynamite historical artifacts whenever the Left gets tetchy. I agree with that in principle: If Michael Moore starts wandering around a Calvin Coolidge statue with a hacksaw, I'll be the first to restrain him. Most of these statues, however, are not memorials to the dead erected by their mourning relatives. They are tributes erected at the height of the Jim Crow era, basically big bronze and concrete middle fingers racists erected to protest integration. And if there's one thing I really hate, it's passive aggressive statuary. That's why I've provided these elegant solutions for all of the Confederate detritus you've got lying around. Discuss them with your mayor next time you run into him at a Rotary Club breakfast or key party. Turn the Statue into Darth Vader Eastern Europe is littered with statues of dead socialists. Lenin is the lawn gnome of Eastern Europe. Commie strongmen are less in vogue since the Soviet Union petered out, however, leaving people with a glut of memorials to murderous psychopaths who murdered millions of people, or alternately, to disastrous technocrats who murdered millions of people inadvertantly. Ukranian artist Alexander Milov came up with the brilliant solution for all of the Lenin clutter: turn them into statues of Darth Vader. I've never visited Columbia, South Carolina but I'm fairly confident tourism would spike if only the city retrofitted its surplus of Confederate ephemera into Sith lords. There could be copyright issues, but that's an easy fix. If Disney protests, simply turn your statue of Stonewall Jackson into a velociraptor riding a Tyrannosaurus-rex. Stonewall Jacksons's horse probably wasn't racist, so there may be no need alter it. But if you're already making one dinosaur, why not splurge and do two? A velociraptor riding a T-Rex makes an awesome cover for your tourism brochure. Another nifty option is to weld boxy metal parts to your Jefferson Davis statue to make it look like a clunky 1950's robot. Be sure to add a plaque that says, "Erected in Eternal Memory to the Robot Uprising of 2046." Three hundred years from now won't that be a great practical joke. Oh, and did I mention installing lasers in Ol' Jeff's eyes? Build a Monument Over It People are preoccupied with the celebration of institutional racism these monuments represent. But has anyone stopped to consider that Confederate statues celebrate losers? We don't celebrate losers in the USA. That sends a bad message to the kids. We look up to winners. Consider building an eighty-foot statue of Ulysses S. Grant triumphantly stepping on your now-dwarfed Stonewall Jackson statue. Voila, you've now got a Union monument. Also makes a phenominal roadside attraction. Donate It to a Third World Country You know how Third World countries wind up with all the t-shirts from Superbowl teams that lost? Well here's an idea: donate your statue to one of those countries. Do your research beforehand because many of them have their own peculiar reasons for disliking confederates. Dump it in the Ocean You might be tempted to round up all of the Confederate statues and put them in one place, say, somewhere like Fallen Monument Park in Moscow. The problem is your park is going to be swarming with bigots and their tiki torches. That's a fire hazard. Your park should be under w[...]

Activist Sentenced to Two and a Half Years in Prison for Sharing BBC Article


Thailand government critic Jatupat Bonnpattaraksa, a.k.a. Pai, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for lese-majeste, or insulting the king. Pai, a former law student who has been outspoken about the military junta running the country, was arrested just two days after Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne as the new king last December. Pai's crime: sharing a BBC Thai profile of Vajiralongkorn. The article was fairly objective—you can read the English-language version of it here—and thousands of people shared it on social media. Pai was the only one targeted by authorities. Pai pled guilty and had a five-year sentence reduced to two and a half. "Pai confessed," his attorney told Reuters. "He knew that if he tried to fight the charges it would not be of any use." As Reuters notes, the number of arrests for the crime of lese-majeste has increased sharply since the military overthrew the democratically elected government back in 2014. The arrests have often targeted government critics. "Jatupat's case is only the latest in the Thai government's increasingly repressive and arbitrary attempts to chill expression online and censor content critical of the state, including banning interaction with certain exiled dissidents and making it a crime to simply view lese majeste content," the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Gennie Gebhart writes. "These extremes are not just about stopping the flow of information; they are also about spreading fear among users that the authorities may be watching what they read, share, and say online." Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict, and in a statement its Asia director, Brad Adam, suggested Pai was "prosecuted for his strong opposition to military rule more than for any harm incurred by the monarchy." Amnesty International also condemned the verdict. "This verdict shows the extremes to which the authorities are prepared to go in using repressive laws to silence peaceful debate, including on Facebook," Amnesty International's Josef Benedict said in a statement. This sort of repression should be a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment. As hate-crime laws are coopted to cover classes of people like police officers, it's easy to imagine how hate-speech rules could be similarly deployed. Pai's persecution also highlights the importance of protecting anonymity online. The rise of trolling has led to calls to eliminate anonymity on the internet; Facebook has made it difficult to use the site without revealing your identity, even as it also becomes a tool and traffic hub for activism. Facebook is free to run its own network the way it wants, but opponents of anonymity need to understand that anonymity doesn't just protect trolls; it protects people from troll governments. Please share your totally appropriate and not-at-all insulting comments about the Thai king in the comment thread below. [...]

Breaking: Van Plows Into Barcelona Crowd. Fatalities Reported (UPDATE: 13 Reported Dead, 50 Injured)


(image) Police and witnesses in Barcelona are reporting that a van crashed at high speed into a crowd into a tourist-oriented part of the city.

Initial details are obviously very sketchy. BBC has been able to talk to witnesses to the crash and is updating information minute-by-minute live here. Police have reported fatalities and injuries but the numbers have not been released. Police are hunting for the driver. BBC also passed along a report that two gunmen have entrenched themselves in a bar.

As always, be very careful about accepting early reports as factual. We'll update this post as facts become available, if necessary. Catalan Police are saying the attack was terrorism.

UPDATE 1 p.m.: Local media outlets are saying there are 13 dead.

UPDATE 1:15: Catalonia Police so far are acknowledging one dead and 32 injured, 10 seriously.

UPDATE 1:50: Spanish public radio reports that one suspect has been arrested. We still do not have anything resembling an official casualty count.

UPDATE 2:30: A Catalonian official affirms that there are 13 dead and 50 injured. Police say they do have a suspect in custody and they're treating him as a terrorist.

UPDATE 3:20: Police have released a picture of the suspect they've arrested. Local media has identified him as Driss Oukabir, of Morocco:


Update 3:50 p.m.: An Islamic State (ISIS) group is claiming responsibility for the attack.


How Liquor Companies Screwed Up Pot Legalization in Nevada: New at Reason


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Nevada is home to casinos, impulse weddings, legal brothels, and, as of July 1, recreational weed.

Despite its reputation, Nevada has never been anything close to a free market paradise. Everything from the Las Vegas taxi industry to prostitution is controlled by a handful of politically-connected companies licensed to operate by the government.

This means exorbitant prices and unnecessary hassles for customers and businesses. And the latest industry to take hold—legal weed—is no exception.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) recently declared a state of emergency because the state's 37 licensed marijuana shops were running out of inventory. Why? The law legalizing recreational cannabis sales in Nevada granted an 18-month monopoly on distribution to liquor wholesalers, who lack the experience and infrastructure to transport marijuana. And most are too afraid to enter the market because they're regulated by the federal government, and cannabis is still illegal on the federal level.

The absurdity of the situation is playing out at Essence, a marijuana dispensary just north of the Vegas strip, which started out as a medical marijuana facility. When it was selling medical weed, owner Armen Yemendijian had his employees move inventory from the grow house to the storefront themselves. Now that the store is selling recreational marijuana, that's no longer an option.

"Our cultivation facility is no more than a couple of miles from our dispensary," says Yemenidjian.

Legal weed could be a huge boon to the state economy, while providing tourists a rsafe way to have even more fun in Vegas. But politicians need to stop using every "Sin City" vice as a means to reward special interests.

Watch the video above, or click the link below for downloadable versions.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello. Music by The Underscore Orkestra, Tri-Tachyon, and Chris Zabriskie.

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School Choice Can Heal the Divisions in Charlottesville: New at Reason


(image) Studies show students in schools of choice have more respect for the rights of people they don't like.

Tyler Kotesky writes:

After last weekend's deadly 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, school choice has taken some of the blame.

Jennifer Steele, an associate professor of education at American University, interviewed by The Hill, argued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' school choice advocacy could fuel the social tensions behind the clashes.

"The purpose of schooling is to expose people to diverse ideas and experiences," Steele said. "By allowing people to opt out of public schooling, we risk having a more fragmented society and in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, that's really an increasing concern."

I share Steele's concerns about the state of our civic culture. A bedrock of our democracy and a societal norm we've established is respect for the rights of people with whom we disagree. James Alex Fields violated this core American value when he ran his car over dozens of protestors last week. Preventing that kind of heinous violence in the future means teaching our kids to disagree peacefully rather than using force.

Evidence makes clear Steele's concerns about school choice are misplaced. In eight of 11 empirically rigorous studies, comparing children in schools of choice and traditional public schools, students in schools of choice were more likely to support the civic rights of their most hated opponents. Three find no visible effects. None indicate school choice has a negative impact on tolerance.

View this article.


Trump’s Idea of Uniting the Country: Complaining About Removal of Confederate Memorials


Another Twitter flare-up from President Donald Trump this morning is going to command the news cycle for the day. Trump began ranting about Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Jeff Flake (Arizona), consistent critics of Trump's behavior. Trump called Graham a publicity seeker and expressed happiness that Flake was facing a primary opponent. And then Trump decided to wade back into the Confederate monument debate, after having been blasted on all sides yesterday. A trio of tweets to get your morning started: Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You..... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017 ...can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017 ...the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017 Trump knows all about removing art that will be missed and cannot be replaced. When Trump was building his tower in New York City he had destroyed art deco friezes a museum wanted to preserve because it delayed the demolition of a skyscraper that needed to come down. Trump also has a monument to a civil war battle that never happened at his golf club in Virginia. As for the slippery slope contention—that this will lead to the tearing down of non-Confederate memorials because people are offended—Eric Boehm and Ronald Bailey have both explained effectively here at Reason how easy it is to draw a line between American historical figures who have owned slaves or have done other bad things versus those who waged war with the United States in order to preserve slavery. It is worth noting that Trump is hardly an outlier in not wanting monuments to come down. An NPR poll released this week showed that 62 percent of Americans want these statues to remain "as a historical symbol." A remarkable nugget from the poll: Even more African Americans (44 percent) want them to remain than want them removed (40 percent). Unsurprisingly, more African Americans were unsure what to do with them (16 percent) than white people (8 percent) or Latino people (11 percent) polled. There are many ways to interpret these results that have nothing to do with support for the Confederacy. The results may say more about the unease of many Americans with what appears to be censorship (even when it's not actually censorship). Perhaps it would be easier if these statues were not in the hands of government, and the social cost of the controversy shouldered by private individuals. And as an added bonus, it wouldn't cost taxpayers to deal with it. I joked on Twitter that cities should sell the Confederate statues to people who care so much about preserving them and redistribute the money back to its citizens. In Los Angeles, a memorial for Confederate soldiers at Hollywood Forever Cemetery was just removed at the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group who placed the marker there at the 1920s. Yes, there was some social pressure to remove it, obviously, but private people making the decision about whether to display such a memorial is preferable to government officials deciding the correct way to remember our Confederate history and Civil War. [...]

Politicians Can't Get Enough Energy Cronyism: New at Reason


(image) Despite the breadth of the current political divide, it appears that there is at least one thing that all politicians can agree upon: energy sector cronyism. The only real dispute is over the preferred beneficiaries.

Under President Barack Obama, green energy subsidies were given out like candy. The failure of solar panel company Solyndra is well-known, but the problem extends well beyond the shady loan deal and its half-billion-dollar cost to taxpayers.

Between 2010 and 2013, federal subsidies for solar energy alone increased by about 500 percent, from $1.1 billion to $5.3 billion (according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), and all federal renewable energy subsidies grew from $8.6 billion to $13.2 billion over the same period. Congressional Budget Office testimony before Congress further reported that 59 percent, an estimated $10.9 billion, of energy-related tax preferences in 2016 went to renewables.

Subsidies have come down from their 2013 peak, thanks to the expiration of some of the post-financial crisis "stimulus" programs, but so-called green energy—solar in particular—still receives vastly higher subsidies on a per- kilowatt-hour basis. However, that didn't stop the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer, SolarWorld, from filing for bankruptcy earlier this year despite $115 million in federal and state grants and tax subsidies since 2012, along with $91 million in federal loan guarantees, writes Veronique de Rugy.

View this article.


A.M. Links: Trump Attacks Graham and Flake, Bannon Calls Alt-Right a 'Collection of Clowns,' Philippine Drug War Kills 58 in 3 Days


  • (image) President Donald Trump took to Twitter this morning to defend his Charlottesville statements from criticism by "publicity seeking Lindsey Graham," "the Fake News," and "Flake Jeff Flake."
  • "President Donald Trump's decision to double down on his argument that 'both sides' were to blame for the violent clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was driven in part by his own anger — and his disdain for being told what to do."
  • New poll: 51 percent of Americans "disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president."
  • "In an interview he said he believed was private, Stephen K. Bannon described the alt-right as a 'collection of clowns' and lashed out at rivals in the Trump administration."
  • In the past three days in the Philippines, police have killed 58 suspected drug users or dealers.
  • Hong Kong student activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law have been sentenced to six to eight months in prison.

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Despite the President's Pandering, White Nationalists Are Still Losing: New at Reason


(image) The hatred and havoc that erupted last weekend in Charlottesville were a reminder that every push toward enlightenment elicits spasms of reaction. The white nationalists who gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park were aggrieved that they no longer enjoy being members of the ruling race, suggests Steve Chapman. That status carried great privileges, and it's no surprise that these modern misfits bitterly resent the changes that undid it—or that they are willing to resort to intimidation and brutality to restore it.

But they are fantasizing to think they can succeed, argues Chapman. The turmoil in Charlottesville may look like the beginning of something big for the cause of white nationalism. But those were not birth pangs. They were death throes.

View this article.


Brickbat: Drug Cocktail


(image) The owners of a Layton, Utah, Subway store have sued the police department after officials falsely accused one its its workers of spiking an officer's drink with meth and THC. State crime lab tests showed no drugs in the drink. The owners say their reputation was damaged and the store lost tens of thousands of dollars in business. After they announced their plans to sue, a city attorney offered to let them cater the city Christmas party.


School to Former Students: Shut Up About James Alex Fields' Nazi Past


When James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, Fields' former classmates, teachers, and neighbors rushed forward with stories of a boy infatuated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement. The one oddly discordant voice was that of Barbara Brady, a spokeswoman for Boone County (Kentucky) Schools, where Fields was a student. In what smacks of a school district striving to cover its own butt, Brady said there were never any complaints about Fields' behavior during his time in Boone County and suggested the young adults interviewed about him were merely hungry for media attention. "Now they are crawling out of the woodwork to get their 15 seconds of fame," Brady said in an email exchange with the Cincinnati Enquirer, "and say they knew something back then." And they certainly did come out. In publication after publication, those who knew Fields as a student at Cooper High School portrayed him as a quiet but anti-social boy who had long taken a liking to Naz ideology, spewing bigotry against nonwhites and glorifying Germany's actions in World War II. Former classmates at the small, predominantly white high school he attended told Vice News that Fields was fond of wearing a belt with swastikas on it, drawing swastikas all over his things, and picking (verbal) fights about race-related topics. Keegan McGrath, who roomed with Fields on a school trip to France and Germany, told the Associated Press that Fields spent the trip praising Hitler, explaining why the French were inferior to Germans, and refusing to associate with French students. Another ex-classmate said Fields would often call a Muslim female student a terrorist. Caitlin Wilson, who went to school with Fields for years, told the Enquirer that he was drawing swastikas and talking about his love for Hitler as early as middle school. Derek Weimer, a former teacher at Cooper High School, told WKRC Cincinnati that Fields was not a behavioral problem, but "it was clear. He loved Hitler and he loved the Nazi movement. They were all geniuses and, you know, the whole white supremacy thing." (At home, however, his behavior was a different story: 911-call transcripts show Fields' mother, widowed and wheelchair-bound, feared for her own safety around her son sometimes.) Weimer and several Cooper High School alums said they talked to school leaders about Fields. Brady said the district had received no such reports, from either Weimer or former students. She then used this alleged lack of official complaints as a way to discredit their accounts. "How can you trust that information now if they didn't do anything about it then?" Brady asked in the email to the Enquirer. Of course, multiple folks say they did raise flags about Fields. But beyond that, not every doodled swastika or bigoted remark from a fellow student is the kind of thing kids would report to authorities. A lack of tattling to the principal that Fields said something nice about Hitler doesn't mean he didn't say nice things about Hitler. And regardless of whether reports were made, the district may have lacked grounds to act, at least in a diciplinary manner. High school students have First Amendment rights, and we don't know if Fields' antics ever crossed the line into prohibited speech or actual misconduct. Still, this incident could serve as a good jumping-off point for exploring what roles and responsib[...]

Police Won't Say Whether Cops Caught Fabricating Charges Were Disciplined


In Hartford, Connecticut, three state troopers stopped Michael Picard at a sobriety checkpoint in 2015, confiscating his pistol, pistol permit, and camera, according to a lawsuit Picard has now filed. The troopers also told him (falsely) that recording them was illegal, but they weren't aware the camera was continuing to record after they took it. On the video, they can reportedly be heard calling a local cop to ask if they had any "grudges" against Picard, who they knew to have organized a previous protest at the state capitol. After learning that the permit was valid, one of the troopers told the other two they had to "cover" themselves, and another responded, "Let's give him something." Picard received a ticket for illegal use of a highway by a pedestrian and creating a public disturbance. Both charged were thrown out in court. Nearly two years after the incident, the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection refuses to say whether the three troopers—John Barone, John Jacobi, and Patrick Torneo—were disciplined for their actions. The department, which oversees the state police, cited state privacy laws and the state police's union contract to reject media requests for a copy of the investigative report and findings. The Associated Press has appealed to the state's Freedom of Information Commission. This kind of obfuscatory use of privacy laws and union contract provisions is, sadly, nothing new. In some states, even prosecutors can't learn about dirty cops. Police reform activists associated with Black Lives Matter launched a project, Check the Police, that tracks union contracts at many of the country's largest law enforcement agencies. Most have provisions that make accountability more difficult—by preventing past misconduct investigations from being retained in personnel files, for example, or disqualifying complaints that are submitted too long after an incident. New York City has treated personnel records the same way since the de Blasio administration decided to reinterpret a decades-old state privacy law. That didn't stop the deputy commissioner of intelligence there from claiming the NYPD is the "most transparent municipal police department in the world." As recently as 2015, the police chief of Fairfield, Connecticut, claimed that any citizen could request police personnel and disciplinary files, telling WNYC that open records have improved accountability in his department. The state police should follow suit. Laws preventing such transparency should be replaced by laws that prevent such transparency from being negotiated away. [...]

Trump Disbands Business Advisory Groups After More Resignations, Presidents Bush Release Statement on Charlottesville, Taylor Swift Urged to Denounce Neo-Nazi Admirers: P.M. Links


  • (image) More CEOs resigned in the wake of President Trump's post-Charlottesville comments, and the president said he was disbanding his White House business advisory groups.
  • George H.W. and George W. Bush released a joint statement in the wake of Charlottesville, calling on Americans to reject "racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms."
  • A tweet by Barack Obama in response to Charlottesville has become the most liked tweet ever.
  • Human rights experts at the United Nations urged the U.S. to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and hate speech.
  • A memorial service was held for Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, where she was killed in a vehicular attack.
  • "It's time for Taylor Swift to denounce her neo-Nazi admirers."
  • Another Game of Thrones episode was leaked, this time after HBO in Spain mistakenly aired it.

Chicago Mandates Security Guards, Cameras on Party Buses


Chicago is cracking down on what one alderman outrageously referred to as "potential rolling cemeteries"—otherwise known as party buses—with a new ordinance requiring expensive security cameras and a licensed guard on trips where alcohol is involved. Over the past two years 11 shootings connected to party bus passengers resulted in three killings (in a city with 762 homicides in 2016). The new ordinance kicked in this June and applies to vehicles that can hold 10 or more people and only provide pre-arranged transportation (called charter and sightseeing vehicles). It is city officials' latest attempt to rein in what they claim are dangerous party buses because, as stated by License Committee Chairwoman and Ward 37 Alderman Emma Mitts, "sometimes fatal violence can break out at a moment's notice thanks to the potent mix of guns and alcohol." Most of the new rules are meant to target the bigger charter and sightseeing vehicles that can carry 15 or more passengers. For bigger buses where alcohol will be consumed on the vehicle or during trip stops, it must be outfitted with a security camera, have a licensed security guard present, all passengers must be informed of the prohibited acts, and the driver must take "affirmative steps" to ensure that no prohibited acts are taking place. Those prohibited acts include underage drinking, disorderly conduct, possessing drug paraphernalia or drugs, unlawful possession or discharging a firearm, throwing items from the vehicle, indecent exposure, and littering. Igor Vulicevic, owner of ChiTown LimoBus told Reason that bus shootings are isolated incidents. "Watch the ten o'clock news. How many were killed on a daily basis in Chicago?" Vulicevic said. "I don't think that the buses are the problem." According to Vulicevic, the ordinance is "very poorly defined," and bus companies have been fined for not having security guards or cameras on trips with fewer than 15 passengers. A press release from the mayor's office states that that these rules apply to "[b]uses that have 15 or more passengers" which makes it sound like the city is targeting large, rowdy parties. However, the ordinance is actually based on the bus carrying capacity. If there are only five people on the bus, the regulations still apply. "Things like this are absolutely mindboggling… ," Vulicevic said. "This is just a simple example so you can see how semantics can actually cost somebody a thousand dollars." Additionally, the city now requires all vehicles that are rated for 15 or more passengers (regardless of alcohol consumption) keep a full itinerary of the trip, and all charter and sightseeing vehicles registered by the city (even those which carry fewer than 15 passengers) must have their city vehicle number printed on the side of the bus. Vulicevic said that it cost his business $4,000 upfront to get each bus up to code—$16,000 for his four buses. He expressed concern that increasing costs of business could actually make roadways more dangerous for consumers. "I think it [the ordinance] will put lots of people at risk. … We provide safe and reliable transportation to the citizens and the residents of this city… ," Vulicevic said. "The rates have already gone up. We simply cannot afford paying for all of this. ... So who has to pay? The consumer has to pay. And if the co[...]

African Americans Are Eight Times More Likely to Be Victims of Homicide Than Whites, Says CDC


Black Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be the victims of a homicide. That's just one of the less-than-cheery bit of news the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reveals in "Age-Adjusted Rates for Homicides by Race/Ethnicity—United States, 1999-2015," where it notes: During 1999–2014, a general decline in homicide trends for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic populations occurred, followed by a significant increase in the rates for all three groups between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, homicide rates were 5.7 deaths per 100,000 for the total population, 20.9 for non-Hispanic blacks, 4.9 for Hispanics, and 2.6 for non-Hispanic whites. The good news is that U.S. homicide rates declined steeply over the past three decades. As the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, the homicide rate increased from 4.6 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1962 to 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980. The rate then fell to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1984, rose again to another peak in 1991 at 9.8 per 100,000, and then started plunging back down. It reached a nadir of 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014 before rising back to 5.7. How does the U.S. fare in comparison with other countries? Our Southern neighbors are for the most part doing much worse than we are. The homicide rate in Venezuela is now estimated at 90 per 100,000 citizens; the rate in El Salvador fell from 103.1 in 2015 to 80.9 per 100,000 last year; the rate in Honduras has dropped from 86.5 in 2011 to 60 per 100,000 in 2015. Mexico's 2016 murder rate, at 16 per 100,000, is comparatively low, but murders there surged to over 2,000 in May, the highest for any month in the last two decades. On the other hand, Canada's 2015 homicide rate was just 1.7 per 100,000 residents. The average in the European Union hovers around 1 per 100,000 residents. The World Bank calculates that the global murder rate is about 5.3 per 100,000 Earthlings. While homicide victimization rates fell among blacks and Hispanics fell during the past three decades, they have remained persistently higher than the rate for whites. At the 1991 peak, black Americans were murdered at a rate of 39.3 per 100,000; the Hispanic toll stood at 6 per 100,000; the white rate was 5.5 per 100,000. As the CDC data show, the murder rates for both black and white residents have essentially been cut in half, whereas the Hispanic rate is only about 20 percent lower. As a result of the differential in dropping murder rates, the gap between black and white homicide victimization rates fell more than 50 percent. Why are homicide victimization rates so much higher in the African-American community? The University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld addressed the question in a 2016 study of murder rates in several big cities. He considered three possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin trade; a greater number of prisoners being released into the nation's cities; and a "Ferguson effect" in which the police respond to protests by de-policing. Rosenfeld concluded that the data that might underpin any of these hypotheses were inconclusive. How can we get back on the track toward falling murder rates? One good first step would be to end the drug war, as my colleague Eric Boehm has[...]

The Federal Government Has Been Subsidizing Phone and Internet Access for Dead People


Lifeline—a federal program that is supposed to subsidize telephone and broadband internet service for low-income Americans—has been handing out subsidies to millions of ineligible recipients, including thousands of dead people. Now a bipartisan group of senators wants answers. On Monday, the leadership of the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to hand over any specific findings of fraud they've found in the Lifeline program for "further investigation and possible enforcement action." This request was prompted by a June GAO investigation of Lifeline, which is funded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The report found that 1.2 million participants' eligibility could not be verified, that 5,510 were receiving multiple subsidies, and that another 6,378 were dead. In all, taxpayers could be paying $138 million annually in potentially fraudulent payments. Even by the feds' standards, the lack of accountability here is shocking. It highlights the inherent dangers that accompanies any government foray into the internet business. Under Lifeline, individuals earning below 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or who are receiving benefits from Medicaid, SNAP, or a similar program, are eligible for a $9.25 monthly subsidy on their internet or phone bill. That subsidy comes in the form of lower bills from participating phone and/or internet providers, who the government reimburses based on the number of Lifeline participants they have signed up. The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC)—a private nonprofit—administers the program, handing out $1.5 billion in subsidies to 12.3 million people in 2016. In its 2017 report, the GAO found several "weaknesses" in the program design. Notably, the government relies on service providers to conduct eligibility checks for Lifeline, and "companies may have financial incentives to enroll as many customers as possible." Indeed, providers have absolutely no incentive to check eligibility adequately. Enrolling more Lifeline participants means a provider receives more subsidies. Servicing more Lifeline participants also allows a provider to raise prices, as the federal government, not their customers, will eat the increased costs. Sure enough: When GAO staff submitted fraudulent Lifeline applications to 19 Lifeline service providers, 12 accepted them into the program. On a macro level, GAO examined the eligibility of some 3.5 million Lifeline beneficiaries in six states. The eligibility of over a third could not be verified. And as mentioned above, more than 11,000 were ineligible either because they were receiving multiple subsidies or because they were dead. GAO notes that "these numbers likely understate the number of people reported dead who were reenrolled in Lifeline," due to inadequate record keeping. The FCC has failed time and again to implement procedural safeguards or even evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The commission promised to review USAC's performance a year after contracting with them to administer the program; then it didn't. In 2005 the FCC awarded a contract to the National Academy of Public Administration to study the administration of the program, then inexp[...]