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Posts from Reason.com Hit & Run



Updated: 2017-11-19T00:00:00-05:00

 



Making History Modern: New at Reason

2017-11-19T09:45:00-05:00

(image) She is an icon of 1920s modernity: an independent woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt, walking with her streamlined Borzoi, the quintessential Art Deco dog. Behind her is a New York City street. But instead of skyscrapers and neon lights, it's lined with old-fashioned chimneyed houses.

This image, with its up-to-the-minute foreground character and historic background tableau, is from a series of 1929 ads promoting the new season's print fabrics from H.R. Mallinson & Co., a major silk-textile manufacturer. In a second ad, the modern woman, hand on hip, twirls her long pearl necklace in a stereotypical flapper gesture. In the background is a monument featuring the Mayflower and a hopeful-looking Pilgrim couple. A third ad shows the woman standing with her hand on a ledge, gazing thoughtfully in a pose that mirrors the bust of Abraham Lincoln looking down at her, writes Virginia Postrel.

View this article.

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The Cops Were Chasing a Shoplifter. They Ended Up Destroying an Innocent Man's Home: New at Reason

2017-11-19T09:12:00-05:00

(image) Leo Lech owns a property parcel at 4219 South Alton Street in Greenwood Village, a sleepy suburban enclave tucked between Denver's bustling Tech Center and the scenic reservoir of Cherry Creek State Park. His quarter-acre plot rests near the end of a quaint cul-de-sac that fits every idyllic American stereotype: two-car garages, well-manicured lawns, the stars and stripes waving in front of each home.

While most houses on this block were built in the 1970s, Lech's is brand new: It received a certificate of occupancy in August after two years of construction.

It isn't the first building to have occupied the lot.

Over the course of June 3 and 4, 2015, a devastating police raid systematically destroyed Lech's old home. The cops were responding to a crime that Lech had nothing to do with: A suspected shoplifter had barricaded himself inside the house after a chase, sparking a 19-hour standoff with a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. Unleashing a display of force commonly reserved for the battlefield, the tactical team bombarded the building with high-caliber rifles, chemical agents, flash-bang grenades, remote-controlled robots, armored vehicles, and breaching rams—all to extract a petty thief with a handgun.

When it was over, Lech's house was completely unlivable. The City of Greenwood Village condemned it, forcing Lech to topple the wrecked structure. Making matters worse, the municipality refused to pay fair market value for the destruction.

Now Lech is suing for compensation. The outcome of his case may bring clarity to the property rights of Americans living in the shadow of police militarization, writes Jay Stooksberry.

View this article.

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Politically Incorrect Punk: New at Reason

2017-11-18T08:55:00-05:00

(image) In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by a New York City band called Agnostic Front.

"I'm approaching this band with caution," it warned. "Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT."

The author of that review was the publication's founder and editor, Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who once worked at the independent record label SST (run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn), told Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History,"there was an ideological development at Maximum RockNRoll, making everything move towards a Socialist bent."

In effect, Yohannan appointed himself as the grand inquisitor of the punk rock thought police, scouring the scene for any signs of deviation from the lefty script. "If it's just 'good sounding' music you want," he admonished readers in the March 1985 issue, "then punk is no alternative at all. For me, what makes punk different is the intelligence and commitment behind it."

Agnostic Front quickly became one of Yohannan's primary targets. In one 1984 column, he claimed "the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front's racist and nationalist attitudes." He rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band's members and their friends as goose-stepping goons.

This August, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret published a new memoir that tells his side of the story, writes Damon Root.

View this article.

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A Push Back Against Wasteful Farm Subsidies: New at Reason

2017-11-18T08:00:00-05:00

(image) As Congress ramps up plans to renew the quinquennial Farm Bill next year, two separate efforts in Washington this month called for cuts to wasteful spending enabled by the stinky current Farm Bill. Both efforts—one a bill introduced last week, the other a report released this week—are making waves.

The Farm Bill, in part, is intended to set federal farm policy for the next five years. While taxpayer-funded payments to farmers—farm subsidies—have under past farm bills always been wasteful, subsidies under the most recent Farm Bill grew by billions of dollars.

Last week, Congress sought to rein in a portion of the out-of-control spending it enabled in 2014 when it passed the latest Farm Bill. A new, bi-partisan bill, dubbed the Harvest Price Subsidy Prohibition Act, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.). The bill—a companion was also introduced in the House—would eliminate the Harvest Price Option (HPO), a subsidy (tied to already subsidized crop insurance) that guarantees a higher price for farmers at harvest if their crop's price rose after planting. Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin explains more.

View this article.

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DEA Raids California Pain Doctor Featured in a Reason TV Video

2017-11-17T18:31:00-05:00

The Drug Enforcement Agency raided the office and home of California pain specialist Forest Tennant on Wednesday. The incident may foretell a new chapter in the federal approach to opioid prescriptions in California, which has a more permissive framework than other states. Tennant, whose West Covina clinic attracts pain patients from across the country who claim they can't get treatment anywhere else, was featured in a Reason TV video in July. The DEA search warrant lists probable cause for distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and health care fraud. Agents seized Tennant's medical records, computers, medications, and financial records. The warrant also names United Pharmacy, which has supplied many of Tennant's patients with their medications. The DEA quotes consultants who speculate that he may be running a "pill mill," over prescribing pain medications for profit. The DEA also alleges that Tennant may be taking kickbacks from the pharmaceutical company Insys, which manufactures a fentanyl-based medicine called Subsys. Tennant admits to earning speaking fees from Insys, which recently settled a lawsuit in Massachusetts for similar pay-for-play allegations. But, according to Tennant, his last paid speech for the company was in 2015 and he's prescribed Subys before and since this "short speaking endeavor." Fentanyl is a powerful opioid considered by some to be deadlier than heroin as a street drug, but in a medical context the FDA approved the use of Subsys as a palliative for cancer patients. The warrant singles out two patients prescribed Subsys by Tennant, one of whom doesn't have cancer. Tennant says he was prescribing the drug off-label, or in a way not explicitly approved by the FDA, which is legal. The FDA, however, recently added additional restrictions on fentanyl medications. "Is prescribing off-label or accepting speaking fees a crime?" Tennant said in a statement emailed to Reason. Many opioid overdoses occur from a combination of three drugs: narcotics, benzodiazepines, and the muscle relaxant Soma. A consultant quoted in the warrant says a number of Tennant's patients were prescribed this "holy trinity" and called it a "red flag." Tennant says his clinic is known for accepting difficult patients turned away by other doctors, and that the DEA failed to throughly examine his treatment methods. Tennant says "in recent years" his clinic "has not had an overdose death," something the warrant does not allege. The warrant also makes note of Tennant's outspoken public defense of opioids, noting that he helped draft California's Pain Patient Bill of Rights, which states that "opiates can be an accepted treatment for patients in severe chronic intractable pain who have not obtained relief from any other means of treatment" and that "a patient suffering from severe chronic intractable pain has the option to request or reject the use of any or all modalities to relieve his or her pain." Tennant, who's published scathing critiques of the government's approach to the opioid problem, believes the DEA is failing to recognize the harmful effects persecuting doctors who prescribe opioids is having on legitimate pain patients. "I take the Hippocratic oath seriously, that my job is to relieve pain and suffering," says Tennant. Watch Reason's video profile of Tennant: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cR0QJxt5sI4" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> [...]



Ohio Supreme Court Justice Brags on Facebook About Having Sex With 'Very Attractive Females'; The Nazis Loved Decaf; California Unveils New Pot Regulations: P.M. Links

2017-11-17T16:31:00-05:00

  • (image) The Keystone pipeline leaked, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil near the small South Dakota town of Amherst.
  • White House Legislative Director Marc Short assures the nation that there is no hypocrisy involved in President Donald Trump's condemnation of Al Franken for groping a woman.
  • Add to the long list of Nazi atrocities their advocacy of decaf coffee.
  • Ohio Supreme Court Justice and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neil has decided to get out in front of any sexual assault allegations by saying on Facebook that he has had sex with roughly 50 "very attractive females."
  • California has announced emergency regulations for its recreational marijuana market.
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Gamers Get Mocked in Time Travel Comedy Future Man: New at Reason

2017-11-17T15:30:00-05:00

(image) Seth Rogen has put together a new comedy for Hulu called Future Man. Would it surprise you at all that it is gleefully and unashamedly sophomoric? Probably not. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look:

Once you know that Future Man is written and produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, the team behind the epically uncouth cartoon Sausage Party, further explanation becomes almost totally unnecessary. It's a comic onslaught against video-gamers and their culture of the past 30 years or so, with the occasional random shot at baby boomers so they won't be left out of the fun.

The plot—which sounds like it could have been lifted from a video game if it weren't already stolen, as the script gleefully acknowledges, from the 1984 teensploitaton film The Last Starfighter—centers around that janitor, Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games).

Nerd to the very bone, Josh lives in his parents' basement and plays video games 18 hours a day. Well, make that a game, singular; he plays the same one, over and over.

But when an apparently dumb strategy unlocks the game's final level, two of its characters pop out with disconcerting news: The cartridge was really a training and recruitment device to locate the man who could save the future from its enemies. Even if his job is sweeping the floor at a herpes pharmaceutical research facility where the activity seems mainly to consist of jamming cotton swab up the urethras of infected lab animals.

View this article.

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Colorado County Spent $88 a Day Jailing Defendants Who Couldn't Pay $55 Fee

2017-11-17T15:01:00-05:00

(image) Jasmine Still, a 26-year-old woman with a newborn, spent 27 days in a Colorado jail after a judge approved her release on her own recognizance.

Why? Still couldn't pay the $55 "pre-trial services fee," charged by El Paso County, so the county spent nearly $2,400 to keep her in jail, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado.

Still, arrested in January after her mother reported her to police over a small bag of meth, pleaded guilty so she wouldn't have to stay in jail any longer, her lawsuit says.

In the last year, nearly 300 people in El Paso County had their jail stays extended because of a failure to pay the pre-trial services fee, according to the ACLU. This week, in response to the ACLU lawsuit, El Paso County's top judge, 4th Judicial District Chief Judge William Bain, ordered the county to release defendants who are granted personal recognizance bonds the day the bond is issued.

El Paso County public information officer Dave Rose defended the program in an interview with local KKTV. "Pretrial Services is a way to get people out of jail who are waiting for trial," Rose said, "and it's a way to lessen the impact on the accused and also reduce the cost of overcrowding and reduce the cost of operating the El Paso County Jail."

The county should not have faced a lawsuit to end the practice of keeping people released on their own recognizance in jail at a rate of $88 a day because they can't pay a one-time $55 fee. Common sense, often absent in the criminal justice system, should dictate that.

Too often, the system's driving force is perpetuating itself. Keeping people in jail for failing to pay a fee that's supposed to facilitate their release makes sense only in that context. It keeps the wheels of justice spinning, which keeps a lot of people employed.

It's hard, too, not to think some prosecutors abuse scenarios like this to extract just the kind of resolution that happened in Still's case—a defendant taking a plea deal to get out of the situation of languishing in jail over an unpaid fee.

Guilty or not, defendants pay when prosecutors choose to target them. It's a system with little incentive, outside of lawsuits like the ACLU's, to become less burdensome for defendants. Were prosecutors forced to pay for their lack of common sense, that would quickly change.

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Here’s What Happens When You Accuse Michael Moynihan of Being in Denial About NAMBLA Because Maybe He’s Gay

2017-11-17T14:17:00-05:00

By every account I've seen, including his own, Robert Mariani got a bum deal from the Daily Caller, the conservative website that relieved Mariani of his opinion-editor duties after he solicited a column from controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos about Kevin Spacey. So we invited the freshly unemployed young man onto The Fifth Column, the weekly podcast (and Sirius XM POTUS program) featuring Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan and myself, to talk about this specific experience, ruminate on the potential pitfalls of skirting up to the acceptability edges of opinion journalism, and reflect on the values (or lack thereof) of publishing Milo and similar outrage-inducers in the first place.

It was on the latter point that things went pear-shaped. Moynihan asked Mariani what useful perspective Yiannopoulos brings, Mariani asserted that it was worthwhile to note that in "the '70s and '80s, there were NAMBLA floats at every single gay-pride parade," Moynihan disputed that assertion with some vigor, and we were off to the races. Here's the whole clip; fireworks are teased near the top, but the exchange really gets started around the 12-minute mark:

src="https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hkzh4-7bb949?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0">

Some related reading:

* Me, on trolls vs. velvet-ropers

* Robby Soave, on Milo's "Sad, Aborted Free Speech Week Disaster at Berkeley"

* Elliot Kaufman, in National Review, on how "Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform."

And here's Moynihan doing a Vice News piece on the fading provocateur himself:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8cqxSKeKN3w" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

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How Trump's (and Obama's) Immigration Crackdowns Screw Over "Real" Americans: Podcast

2017-11-17T14:00:00-05:00

As a candidate, President Donald Trump ran on a platform that called for the deportation of 11 million immigrants. In this, he was merely supercharging policies that had been put in place by his predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, all of whom targeted illegals among us in various ways and to varying degrees.

In a powerful, richly reported piece in the latest issue of Reason, Shikha Dalmia traveled to Arizona to investigate how Trump's war on illegal immigration is causing all sorts of collateral damage in the lives of American citizens and businessmen. There is, she argues, no way to surgically remove millions of people—most of whom are law-abiding and productive members of society—without causing incredible pain to those of us who have every legal right to go about our lives without interference from immigration and border agents.

The war on immigration has taken a great toll on unauthorized aliens, its targets. But it is also badly affecting Americans themselves, its intended beneficiaries. Those who think they can escape the crossfire because they are authorized, naturalized, or native-born, with American ancestors going back generations, are simply fooling themselves.

In the newest Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie talks with Dalmia about the unexamined toll of immigration crackdowns on legal residents. From illegal imprisonment to politically motivated audits to invasive internal checkpoints, we all suffer when immigration policies and realities are way out of whack.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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First Whole Body Transplant Is 'Imminent'

2017-11-17T13:45:00-05:00

(image) The first operation in which the head of a person will be transplanted onto another body is "imminent," according to Italian neuro-surgeon Sergio Canavero. At a press conference in China, Canavero detailed a recent operation in which a team of surgeons practiced by attaching the head of cadaver to the body of another cadaver. The goal was to develop a suite of techniques that enable surgeons to connect blood vessels, nerves, the esophagus and so forth between the head and the body.

In fact, some researchers in China have just published a study in which they detail how they successfully grafted the head of one rat onto the body and head of another rat.

Naturally, some folks are opposed to the procedure. For example, Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons told The Independent, "I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."

Some bioethicists are also worried about Canavero conducting this surgery in China. In USA Today, Assya Pascalev, a bioethicist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. observed, "There are also regulatory concerns. China does not have the same medical standards and requirements that the United States and Europe have." In fact, it is precisely because the medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure that Canavero has chosen China as the country in which he will attempt the first human head transplant. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna. He added, "Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world."

If successful, surgery would raise fascinating questions about how a different body would affect a person's consciousness along with the possible future reproductive issues.

Although most medical experts believe that the head transplant surgery will fail, there is nothing wrong with trying to do it so long as all parties fully consent to the procedure.

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Sacramento Sex Scandal Offers Lessons About Hypocritical California Politics: New at Reason

2017-11-17T13:31:00-05:00

(image) There's an ongoing sex scandal in state politics in California.

Steven Greenhut writes:

There are few areas of private life that California's legislators won't at least attempt to meddle in, which makes it that much more infuriating when the Capitol crowd can't get its own house in order. I'm thinking, of course, about the unfolding sexual-harassment scandal, and lawmakers' amazing efforts to basically look the other way.

Nothing to see here, just keep moving on. Maybe, by the time lawmakers get back to work in January, the whole mess will be off the news pages. Then they can go back to doing what they do best—regulating and hectoring the rest of us. But, for now, the rest of us can at least learn some stellar lessons about political hypocrisy.

One key lesson is that a lawmakers' publicly stated positions and posturing have little to do with how they might handle any particular scandal.

The latest evidence of this comes from KPIX-TV in the Bay Area, which reported that Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), "is a vocal supporter of women's rights, so her silence on the matter of Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra's sexual harassment case is surprising." But "this isn't the first time she's been silent when it comes to sexual harassment" and that particular San Fernando Valley Assembly member, according to the news report.

View this article.

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University of California President Janet Napolitano Offers Weak Apology for Major Misconduct

2017-11-17T13:05:00-05:00

Another day, another scandal for University of California president Janet Napolitano. A damning investigation of Napolitano's interference with a state audit of the university's finances, released Thursday, found that members of her staff told individual campuses to "not air dirty laundry" to state auditors, and even edited negative survey responses from those campuses to auditors. "I regret deeply that I did not show better judgment. I made this decision. I made a serious error in judgment. I apologize," Napolitano said in a public apology the University's Board of Regents directed her to give. The forced mea culpa is a welcome, if insufficient, first step for Napolitano, who presides over a $28 billion public university system, and whose past ethical lapses have been rewarded with a mix of wrist slapping and budget increases for her office. A state audit in April found that Napolitano kept $175 million in a secret fund used to pay out bonuses and retirement benefits to a small number of university administrators, far in excess to what other similarly ranked state employees received. Napolitano's office gave out lavish and inappropriate employment perks, including publicly funded limousine rides, theater tickets, and $350 per-night hotel room stays. These audit revelations surfaced a few months after the University of California voted to raise tuition by 2.5 percent. This same audit found that Napolitano's office was "screening" the responses from individual campuses to the state auditor. At the time, Napolitano claimed that this was to assist campuses that were confused about how to fill out the surveys. Thursday's investigation shows that this is not true. In October of last year, the state auditor, in the course of its investigation of UC's finances, emailed surveys to staff at the university system's ten campuses asking questions about the performance of Napolitano's office. Campus staff were instructed to compete the surveys, and then send them directly back to the state auditor. Before any of these campuses had the chance to be confused, Napolitano had her chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and the deputy chief, Bernie Jones, instruct them to submit these surveys to her office for review before sending them to the state auditor. The surveys were not a time to "air dirty laundry." The clear intention was to prevent negative reviews of the Office of the President's performance from getting back to the state auditor, with one campus employee telling investigators that "the pressure couldn't be any more obvious." Three of UC's ten campuses proactively edited out negative comments in their surveys before sending them to Napolitano's office for review. Another five had their surveys returned with suggestions that they removed negative comments and avoid ranking any service provided by Napolitano's office as "poor." In one instance, a campus was told to change one of its survey ratings from "dissatisfied" to "satisfied." When UC Santa Cruz submitted their survey responses directly to the state auditor, Napolitano made a reportedly "furious" call to the Santa Cruz chancellor, demanding that he retract the survey and have it reviewed by Napolitano's office. The chancellor complied, and submitted a second survey to the state auditor with several ratings changed from "poor" and "fair" to "good". Grossman and Jones resigned several weeks ago over their role in the scandal. Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and Homeland Security secretary under President Barak Obama, is, for the moment, staying put. Spokeswoman Dianne Klein said Napolitano has made it clear she takes "full responsibility" for the survey debacle, responsibility that so far consists of saying she's taking full responsibility. [...]



Dehumanizing Speech on Campus: New at Reason

2017-11-17T12:35:00-05:00

(image) Robert Spencer—the controversial author and founder of the blog Jihad Watch—spoke this week on the Stanford University campus, despite the open letter issued by acadmics and students contending Spencer's views on Islam are "not debatable" because they are "fundamentally dehumanizing," Samantha Harris writes.

This has quickly become one of the most common, insidious, and dangerously slippery-slope arguments against free speech on college campuses and beyond. Let's set aside for a moment that even most truly "dehumanizing" speech is protected by the First Amendment. (Although Stanford is not a public university, California's Leonard Law applies the protections of the First Amendment to non-sectarian private schools.) The reality on campus is that any debate over any controversial issue will, for proponents of this viewpoint, unjustly demean the value of someone's identity.

Consider students at the University of Florida who earlier this week vandalized promotional materials for an upcoming pro-life event on campus put on by the university's Young Americans for Freedom. In a Facebook message bragging about the vandalism, one student wrote: "just poured water on your lovely creations that are an insult to my entire major and life experiences!"

View this article.

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Ban on Abortion Because of Down Syndrome Clears Ohio Legislature

2017-11-17T12:12:00-05:00

(image) Both houses of the Ohio General Assembly have approved making it illegal for women to get abortions because a fetus is found to have Down Syndrome. If the law, as expected, is approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ohio will become the third state to do so.

"Do we want in the state of Ohio to have people making a decision that someone is less valuable because of a chromosomal disorder that they have," state Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson), who recently lost his bid to become Ohio secretary of state, asked during an explanation of his sponsorship of the senate measure for WOSU radio.

Laws like the one LaRose championed are largely symbolic measures (like state bans on sex-selective abortion). Women aren't required to provide a reason to terminate a pregnancy and doctors aren't required to test for Down Syndrome, or anything else, before performing an abortion.

Choosing to abort fetuses found to have genetic abnormalities does not, despite LaRose's grim takeaway, mean that people place less value on the lives of people with these conditions. Many potential parents know they don't have the financial, emotional, or other resources required to raise a special-needs child. And without people lining up to adopt or otherwise take care of these children, that's what we're asking prospective parents of fetuses with Down Syndrome to do.

It's admirable that many families do choose to do it (and of course for many people, religious or moral beliefs mean there's no other option for them). But it's not the state's place to impose this choice on pregnant women and their families. Forcing it on people does not seem likely to produce healthy outcomes or situations in the best interest of the children involved.

Three Ohio Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the Down Syndrome abortion ban. Republican Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) told WOSU that he thinks the bill is constitutionally questionable and will also have unintended consequences.

"If we're going to introduce law that says the patient and doctor's conversation with each other could lead to some liability, I think what we're going to see is reduced conversation," Dolan said.

Democrats added two amendments included in the Senate bill: one saying that no public money would go to defending the ban it court should it be challenged and one saying women should not have to say why they are getting an abortion. "It's ironic," said Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus), "that those who claim they believe in limited government are once again choosing to insert themselves in a relationship that is sacred between that practitioner and their patient."

Disability advocates have had mixed reactions to the bill. Some are opposed because singling out Down Syndrome, but allowing abortions motivated by other genetic conditions or fetal abnormalities, suggests the lives of people with those conditions are less valuable.

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Chicago's Chronic Police Corruption Leads to Its First 'Mass Exoneration'

2017-11-17T11:50:00-05:00

Guess which city's police department is so corrupt that prosecutors this week performed what they're calling the county's first "mass exoneration" of men framed for drug crimes? It's Chicago, of course. Cook County prosecutors have just tossed out the convictions of 15 men framed by a pack of police led by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts was accused of running a drug and protection racket with his fellow officers and was eventually convicted and sent to prison for taking money from a drug courier who was actually an undercover FBI officer. There may be more to come. According to defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, Watts was involved in nearly 500 convictions, all of which are now considered suspect. As for the rest of Watts' crew, Chicago Police announced Thursday night that seven other police officers have been put on desk duty while their behavior is investigated. Asked why they're still on the force, a city official said they hadn't been convicted of a crime. Via the Chicago Tribune: Asked earlier Thursday why several officers tied to Watts' corrupt crew were still on the force, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson noted none had been convicted of a crime — unlike Watts. "They have due process and rights just like any citizen in this country," he told reporters after his speech to the City Club of Chicago. "… But we just can't arbitrarily take the job away from people." Apparently, it was even a struggle to get the police to take them off the street during the investigation. Earlier Thursday, the city was adopting a "wait and see" attitude, but they had changed their mind by the evening. In the private sector, employers don't have to wait for somebody to be convicted of a crime to cut ties with them. It's not "arbitrarily" taking a job away to fire a police officer who is deemed to be dangerous or incompetent or corrupt, even if he or she has not been convicted of an actual crime. The Tribune notes that the exonerations will now allow the 15 men to file wrongful conviction lawsuits against the city. Chicago has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for police misconduct. Two police officers who were blackballed while attempting to expose Watts' misconduct themselves earned a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit. Chicago has a serious police misconduct problem. Chicago also has a serious budget crisis that they're trying to tax and fine their way out of (and failing). It's not "arbitrary" to dump out bad cops that are costing the city millions due to their bad behavior. It, in fact, may be necessary to keep the city solvent. [...]



Finally Fake Meat that Tastes Deliciously Like the Real Thing

2017-11-17T11:00:00-05:00

I am an omnivore with strong carnivore tendencies. I grew up on a farm where my family slaughtered and butchered our own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, turkeys, lambs, and geese. We also ate an occasional squirrel, groundhog, opposum, and mud turtle. My father's rule with regard to butchering beef was cut everything that you can into steaks and make the rest into hamburger. As a result of my upbringing, I am picky about the beef I eat. So I was a bit skeptical when two out-of-town science reporter acquaintances suggested we get together and eat some Impossible Burgers. I am now won over—Impossible Burgers will delight most carnivores. Emma Marris (author of the superb Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World) and Charles C. Mann (author of the excellent 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus) and I trooped over yesterday to the Founders and Distillers restaurant, one of four dining establishments offering Impossible Burgers in Washington, D.C. All three of us opted for the F&D All American—a double patty burger garnished with cheddar cheese, pickled relish, "comeback" sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The Impossible Burger costs a dollar more than the beef version does. The burgers arrived and upon close inspection there were no evident differences in the appearance of the patties from a regular beef burger. Of course, the real test was in the taste. We bit in and looked at each other with some surprise. The burgers tasted really good. They have the texture and mouth feel of a regular burger. There were even some delightful, off-the-grill crunchy charred bits scattered through the patties. Emma quipped that they tasted like the kind of burgers you'd get at a high school fundraising barbecue. Unless you concentrated really hard, you'd never know that the burgers are made entirely of ingredients derived from plants. Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up, manufactures the burgers chiefly from textured wheat protein, potato protein, coconut oil, and leghemoglobin, the key ingredient. Leghemoglobin is an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every single plant and animal. It is the abundance of this heme in animal muscles that gives meat much of its distinctive deliciousness. The heme in Impossible Burgers is derived from soybeans and produced by fermenting yeast genetically enhanced to make it. Other than trying to placate vegetarians and vegans, why bother creating Impossible Burgers? Founder Patrick O. Brown says that the company is on a mission to make the global food system more sustainable. The company claims that compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Assuming that Impossible Burgers and other future plant-based meat competitors catch on with consumers, they will be another happy example of how human ingenuity is continuing our withdrawal from nature. These may be good reasons for people to eat Impossible Burgers, but I will happily do it because I enjoy the taste. [...]



Legalize Medically-Assisted Sex: New at Reason

2017-11-17T10:00:00-05:00

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Nine out of 10 doctors agree sex is good for you, or at least better for you than smoking. But what happens if you have a disability that makes it difficult to engage in sex, or find a sexual partner in the first place? Enter sex surrogates, professionals who help the disabled work through their sexual problems (in large part by having sex with them). Although there's a case to be made for the medical, if not psychological, benefits sex surrogates provide, they're operating in a legal gray area.

In the latest Mostly Weekly, host Andrew Heaton makes the case that we should all be adults about sex and not deprive the disabled of services from which they'd benefit.

Watch above or click here for downloadable versions.

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Liberals' Sudden Concern About Bill Clinton's Behavior Is Cynical: New at Reason

2017-11-17T09:35:00-05:00

(image) The dynamics that led to Democrats protecting Bill Clinton from accusations of sexual assault and rape haven't changed.

David Harsanyi writes:

A number of notable liberals have recently decided to start taking allegations of sexual assault against former President Bill Clinton seriously. Let's just say that discarding the Clintons when they're no longer politically useful in order to retroactively grab the higher moral ground isn't exactly an act of heroism. But if we're going to relitigate history, let's get it right.

In The New York Times, for example, Michelle Goldberg spends around 75 percent of her column titled "I Believe Juanita" rationalizing why it was OK not to believe Juanita Broaddrick, who credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape decades ago. You won't be surprised to learn that Goldberg claims the politics and conspiracymongering of conservatives provoked skepticism among liberals—excuses that will be awfully familiar to anyone following the justification of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's supporters.

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U.S. to Stay in Syria, Big Gender Pay Gap in Government, Chicago Mulls Plans to Up Arbitrary Arrests: A.M. Links

2017-11-17T09:00:00-05:00

ISIS has been driven from Raqqa, but Defense Secretary James Mattis says U.S. forces will stay in Syria to prevent the formation of "ISIS 2.0." The fate of Republican tax-reform schemes now rests with the Senate. A new report looks at gender and pay for Congressional staffers, state public employees, and the 25 largest federal agencies. "We found that top-paid men outnumber women two to one at the federal level," writes Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of the nonprofit that conducted the study, at Fox News. "Across the states, just two in ten top earners were women." Chicago is considering plans to criminalize loitering in any zone declared to be "frequently associated with prostitution." Wisconsin high-schooler and dance-team member Kaiden Johnson has filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over his being forbidden from participating in a dance-team competition with female teammates. Jerusalem has built a half-mile long tunnel under the city to house 22,000 graves. President Trump is facing criticism for quickly commenting on allegations about Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken ("really bad") while staying silent on Judge Roy Moore. The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? ..... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2017 .And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2017 Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily updates for more content. [...]



EPA Blew $690,000 on Parking Spaces No One Was Using

2017-11-17T08:31:00-05:00

(image) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wasted $690,000 over two years to pay for an empty parking space, according to a federal audit released this month. The same audit also found that the EPA blew $840,000 on parking fees for employees in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., despite federal rules prohibiting such subsidies.

Those rules, by the way, are meant to discourage commuting by car in order to protect the environment.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General found that 29 percent of the parking spaces at the agency's D.C. headquarters were unused from January 2015 to December 2016, while 27 percent of parking spaces at the regional office in Atlanta were empty during the same period. Each of those spaces cost taxpayers about $290 per month, according to the report.

During the two-year period examined by the audit, the EPA paid about $1.6 million to rent parking spaces from the General Services Administration (GSA) in the parking garage attached to the Ronald Reagan Office Building. Employees at the D.C. office paid about $850,000 in parking costs. In Atlanta, the EPA paid more than $41,000 to rent spaces in a parking garage attached to the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, where employees parked for free.

Other regional EPA offices do not provide free or subsidized parking for employees and many federal agencies do not either.

"In an age of dwindling federal resources, the EPA's use of taxpayer money—over $840,000 in a 2-year period—to fund employee parking may not be an effective use of federal resources and may take funds away from mission-critical public health and environmental initiatives," the auditors' report says.

In a reponse to the audit, Donna Vizian, acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Administration and Resources Management, said the agency would review parking space usage and stop paying for empty spaces. Of the 73 unused spaces near the D.C. office, Vizian said, 53 will be returned to the GSA. The remaining 20 spaces will be used by "unfilled political appointees" and visitors.

While $1.5 million is not a particularly large sum of money by Washington's standards, the EPA's wastefulness looks particularly bad because it runs counter to stated federal goals about reducing government workers' environmental impact. A 2015 executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama instructed agencies to "promote sustainable commuting and work-related travel practices for Federal employees" and "reward carpooling and the use of public transportation, where consistent with agency authority."

Never would that be more consistent with agency authority, one would expect, than at the EPA.

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Movie Review: Justice League: New at Reason

2017-11-17T08:08:00-05:00

(image) For this week's movie review, Kurt Loder presents the pros and cons (mostly cons) of Justice League. A sampling:

PRO: At least Justice League isn't a grim slog like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What a drag that movie was.

CON: I'd say this film had a little lighter tone, except I don't think it could be said to have any particular tone at all. There are some funny lines, some standard superhero mopery, and clumps of character moments—meet the Flash, say hi to Cyborg—amid acres of hysterical CGI, some of it quite bad. Every now and then you also get an unexpected squirt of all-purpose syrup– something I attribute to Joss Whedon, who did some writing on the movie and later took over post-production and substantial reshoots after director Zack Snyder was sidelined by the death of his daughter last spring. Whether or not Whedon was actually responsible for the scene in which Superman and Lois Lane stand cooing at each other in a (CGI) cornfield, I feel that his presence enabled it.

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Thomas Massie on Tax Reform: “It's highly likely that we pass whatever the Senate comes up with”

2017-11-17T07:30:00-05:00

The House of Representatives Thursday afternoon passed its version of tax reform by a vote of 227-205. Of the 13 Republican no-votes, 12 were from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey, and California, where millions of residents stand to suffer from the replacement of the century-old federal income-tax deduction for all state and local taxes (SALT) with a simple $10,000 cap on the mortgage-interest deduction alone. (The bill also reduces the deductibility cap on the mortgage itself from $1 million to $500,000, while eliminating it for second homes.) The average annual SALT deduction exceeds $10,000 in at least 20 states, with anywhere between 17 percent and 46 percent of a state's filers itemizing it. Of the 16 Republicans from those three high-tax state who voted yes, as well as their six counterparts from the Illinois delegation, that $10,000 mortgage carve-out was critical for their support. It's also totally absent from the Senate version of the bill (which keeps the mortgage cap at $1 million). Therefore, reluctant "yes" votes needed assurances, such as the one given over the weekend by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), that House leadership will not "accept" a take-it-or-leave-it bill from the more politically delicate Senate. But is that really true? House Leadership's message to the Republican conference going into the tax reform vote today was don't bash the Senate tax bill. So either: - They're gearing up to adopt a lot of the Senate bill - They're just being super nice about the Senate's process — Tara Golshan (@taragolshan) November 16, 2017 We already watched this scenario play out last month: After the House sweated over and eventually passed a theoretically deficit-neutral 10-year budget blueprint, the Senate tacked on $1.5 trillion in deficits, and the House responded with a hi-five, because tax cuts. As was the case with the serially failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare this year, even though the policy-poor legislative monstrosities polled terribly with the public, Capitol Hill Republicans were generally not eager to be the ones to tell President Donald Trump that he wouldn't be getting his win. Given that cutting taxes is about the last thing that unifies all elected Republicans, and the clock is running out before 2018 midterm season, the political desperation is already intense—imagine what it would be like if the Senate comes back with a 51-50 vote with zilcho state/local tax deductions, and now the House members who have already voted yes to (a very different) reform wanna get in the way of the tax-cuts train? So on Thursday morning I put the question to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), the iconoclastic libertarian who had voted against the 10-year budget but was about to be an enthusiastic "yes" on tax cuts, during an interview on SiriusXM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick. "Do you think that it will actually go to a conference committee," I asked, "or is it going to be another fold job by your pals in the Freedom Caucus?" Massie's answer: "I think it's highly likely that we pass whatever the Senate comes up with, simply because they've got a narrower path to getting something done, and they'll say, 'If you change it too much, we won't be able to pass it again over here in the Senate.'" Even if it does go to committee, Massie predicted, it will tilt heavily toward the Senate. "I think it is likely the House passes whatever the Senate comes up with, or if[...]



Brickbat: This Will Send Your Blood Pressure Soaring

2017-11-17T04:00:00-05:00

(image) The Toledo, Ohio, SWAT team raided Alfred Miller's home, killing his two dogs and doing thousands of dollars worth of damage. They seized just one pill, for high blood pressure. The name on the search warrant was Joe McDuffey. Miller says he doesn't know who that is. Cops will only say this is an ongoing an investigation

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Permissionless Biotech Crop and Livestock Innovation

2017-11-16T17:46:00-05:00

Obama administration minions issued drafts of biotech crop and livestock regulations just two days before they left office last January. They were apparently motivated by their worry that genetically improved crops and livestock created using precise new genome-editing techniques like CRISPR would escape government oversight. There is good news. The USDA has now withdrawn these proposed regulations. The FDA should immediately follow suit and withdraw the scientifically indefensible regulatory proposals submitted by the Obama Administration. As I reported earlier: Treating each version of new improved livestock as a drug is really bad news for developers and consumers, since it takes years for a new drug to get through the FDA process at an average cost of more than $1 billion. Consider that it took the agency 20 years to approve the Aquabounty salmon that was genetically engineered simply to grow faster. The proposed USDA regulations were designed to change the way the agency approves genetically engineered plants and the draft FDA rules would subject genetically improved livestock to the same onerous process required to get the agency's permission to market new animal drugs. On the face of it, the precision of new genome-editing techniques would seem to call for less, rather than more regulation. The Obama administration proposed that breeders of gene-edited plants submit their new varieties to the USDA for pre-approval. Waiting on agency decisions would very likely slow down the process of developing new biotech crops even more. Under the Obama administration's proposed rules, the FDA would have required pre-approval of genetically improved livestock like Holstein dairy cows engineered to contain the same gene for hornlessness found naturally in Angus beef cattle. Since that gene in Angus cows harms no one, it wouldn't hurt anyone if it were in Holstein cows. So why should breeders have to beg FDA permission to sell hornless Holsteins? Why should breeders have to get regulatory permission at all to sell genetically engineered crop varieties or livestock? Breeders have for nearly 100 years been inducing genetic changes in plants by bathing them in caustic chemicals or blasting them with gamma rays to create hundreds of new crop varieties. The Mutant Variety Database run jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency lists more than 3,000 commercially available crop varieties created using mutagenesis. None of these mutated crop varieties required regulatory approval before their developers could introduce them into the marketplace. Why should crops created using vastly more precise biotech genome-editing need regulation? Animal welfare issues might arise in the cases of gene-edited livestock, but otherwise there is no scientific justification for regulating them as "new animal drugs." The FDA should speedily follow the USDA's salutary lead and withdraw the draft biotech regulations that the Obama administration left behind at that agency. Both agencies should step back and adopt the principle of permissionless innovation with respect to modern biotechnology. Mercatus Institute fellow Adam Thierer defines this as "the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default." He adds, "Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm[...]



ACLU Poll: Majority of Americans, Including Trump Voters, Say Prison Population Should Be Reduced

2017-11-16T17:00:00-05:00

(image) A majority of Americans, including Trump voters, say there are problems with the criminal justice system and that the prison population should be reduced, according to a poll by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released Thursday.

In a telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. residents conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the ACLU, 55 percent of respondents said there are serious problems in the criminal justice system that should be fixed immediately. Another 36 percent agreed that there are some problems in the system that should be fixed eventually.

Seventy-one percent of respondents also said that it's important to reduce the U.S. prison population, including 57 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Trump voters polled.

In a statement, Udi Ofer, ACLU's deputy national political director, said the poll "demonstrates near-consensus support for criminal justice reform, including reducing the prison population, reinvesting in rehabilitation and treatment, and eliminating policies like mandatory minimums. Americans believe that resources should be shifted from incarceration to rehabilitation."

"Americans reject President Trump's 1990s-era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach," he said.

The U.S. currently incarcerates roughly 2.2 million people, but there's been growing momentum over the past few years to reduce prison and jail populations, as well as divert people from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

Several major cities have launched initiatives, backed by the MacArthur Foundation, to change their bail practices, and voters have elected reform-minded district attorneys in key races, most recently in Philadelphia.

Not everything is trending in the same direction. The number of incarcerated women has been rising precipitously. States are passing harsh new mandatory minimum and felony murder laws in response to the opioid crisis. And while many states—most notably red states like Texas—have slowed or reversed prison population growth in response to ballooning costs and high recidivism rates, similar efforts at the federal level are stalled.

Among the other findings of the survey: 72 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports eliminating mandatory minimum laws, and 68 percent said they would vote for a candidate who supported reducing the prison and jail population and reinvesting the savings in drug and mental health treatment.

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Senators Aim to Axe Program Giving Farmers Guaranteed Profits While Sticking Taxpayers With the Tab

2017-11-16T16:45:00-05:00

When crops fail, taxpayers pay. A popular federal crop insurance program—the Harvest Price Option, or HPO—will cost taxpayers an estimated $21 billion over the next decade in order to guarantee profits for farmers who experience crop failures. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are aiming to slash agricultural subsidies by eliminating the Option. The bill would keep traditional insurance crop programs in place. Traditional crop insurance is a safety net protecting farmers during unexpected crop failures. It pays farmers when harvests sell for less than the price predicted at planting season. An HPO policy guarantees reimbursement based on the highest market price, for example, during a drought that hurts yields and creates a crop shortage that drives up prices. If the crop price at harvest is higher than was anticipated at planting season, and crop yield is lower than expected, farmers with an HPO policy get reimbursed for crop losses based on the higher market prices. For that reason, HPO policies are popular, insuring in 2016 more than 90 percent of U.S. acres planted with corn and soybeans, and more than 80 percent of acres planted with wheat, sorghum and cotton. Proponents of HPO claim that without the federal subsidized insurance, American farmers would face harsh economic conditions. The elimination of HPO most likely won't be the death knell for American farms. It won't even be the end of agricultural subsidies in general. As Reason's own Christian Britschgi has reported, it's not like farmers are short of other options when it comes to taxpayer subsidies. Joseph Glauber, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently pointed out to The Hill, prior to HPO implementation in the 90s, the agricultural sector opted to receive similar insurance coverage through the private sector. Yet HPOs are lucrative for insurance companies as well as farmers. The federal program currently guarantees insurance companies a yearly payment of 14.5 percent of premiums, according to a report of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). (Sen. Flake and Sen. Shaheen have filed a bill that would reduce that reimbursement rate to 9 percent.) The federal government also agrees to cover insurance company losses if payouts exceed premiums, the report said. In addition, farmers pay only 40 percent of the insurance premium while the federal government pays the tab for the remaining 60 percent. "HPO is like insuring your car for $5,000, and getting a check for $10,000 after it's totalled," Flake said in a released statement "It's the kind of program that only makes sense in Washington." [...]



Franken Accused of Groping Woman, House Passes Tax Bill, Mistrial in Menendez Corruption Case: P.M. Links

2017-11-16T16:33:00-05:00

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is the latest to be accused of aggressive and unwanted sexual advances toward a woman during a USO tour in 2006, Leeann Tweeden, now a morning news anchor on KABC radio in Los Angeles. He has apologized for his behavior and has asked for an ethics investigation. Republicans passed their tax reform bill through the House. Every Democrat (and 13 Republicans) voted against it. A judge has declared a mistrial in the corruption prosecution of Democratic New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. The jury was deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict. Senators have agreed to a deal on a bipartisan bill that would push states and federal agencies to do a better job reporting crimes to a national background check database for people attempting to purchase guns. A married Republican Ohio lawmaker who touted his conservative values and support for "natural" marriage between a man and a woman has resigned after being caught apparently engaged in "inappropriate conduct" with another man in his office. To be fair, though, that doesn't mean he wanted to marry the guy. Twitter has announced it is removing its verification blue checkmarks from Twitter accounts if they promote hate or violence or harass others. That should totally fix things. Print out this story about a diplomat plunging five stories to his death doing one of those "trust game" falls and show it to your HR department if management ever tries to make you do this in an office team-building exercise. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily updates for more content. [...]



New Gun Bill Urges Everyone to Obey the Other Gun Bills

2017-11-16T15:05:00-05:00

A new bipartisan bill aimed at fixing the holes in the federal background check system was introduced today. Sponsored by an unlikely collection of senators that includes Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the "Fix NICS Act" promises to "enforce current law regarding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System" (NICS) by giving money to states that do a good job of getting records into the system, and by penalizing federal agencies that do a bad job of it. The proposal is a response to the Air Force's failure to report Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley's assault conviction to the NICS, which would have prevented him from passing any federal background check. As far as legislative responses to mass shootings go, this one at first glance seems pretty harmless. For evidence, look at the air of disappointment with which its Democratic sponsors unveiled it. "It's no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns," said sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Murphy had introduced a bill in late October to actually expand background checks. Feinstein likewise demanded more background checks after the Vegas shooting to compliment her proposed ban on bump stocks. The Fix NICS Act does none of this. Instead it would require every federal agency, within a year, to create a plan to do better job of handing over records to the federal background check system. The bill would deny bonuses to these agencies' political appointees should they fail to come up with a plan or otherwise fail to comply with it. The bill would also prioritize certain grants to states that draft similar plans. This is pretty weak sauce, so it's far from clear that it'll be effective at encouraging more compliance. A similar effort 10 years ago—the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007—obviously failed to prevent the murders in Sutherland Springs. Ineffective as it might be, the Fix NICS Act is far preferable to some of the other gun control measures bandied about since the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas. Several days after that shooting, a bipartisan House bill was introduced that would retroactively criminalize not only bump stocks—the obscure weapon modification used by Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock—but also any device that increases a semiautomatic weapon's rate of fire. A few weeks after that, another bipartisan House bill was unveiled that would require background checks for the purchase of bump stocks. Neither has gone anywhere so far. As Reason noted when that second bill was introduced, the outrage machine that is the modern news cycle seemed to have moved on from bump stocks. The November 5 Sutherland Springs shooting sparked renewed interest in some form of gun control regulation, but that second wave appears to have subsided too. What does that leave us with? A bill so bland that both hardcore gun controllers like Feinstein and relatively solid Second Amendment advocates like Cornyn can publicly support it. [...]



House Republicans Just Passed a Major Tax Reform Bill

2017-11-16T14:42:00-05:00

House Republicans passed a major overhaul to the tax code today. The bill passed 227 to 205 on a party line vote, with a handful of Republicans, mostly from high-tax blue states, joining Democrats in opposition. The House plan cuts taxes by roughly $1.5 trillion over the next decade, with tax reductions for both businesses and individuals. The plan would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent down to 20 percent, and would condense the current seven individual income tax brackets into four while expanding the child tax credit and doubling the standard deduction. The lower corporate tax rate would be a permanent change. However, a new $300 tax credit dubbed the "family flexibility credit" that is intended to help middle would expire in 2023, leading one analysis to find that, after that year, only 40 percent of Americans would pay lower taxes under the plan—and 22 percent would pay more. The House legislation also reduces or eliminates many major deductions, including carve outs for medical expenses, cars, moving, tax preparation, and student loan interest. The plan gets rid of the state and local tax deduction for income and sales tax would be eliminated, and caps the deduction for property taxes. That deduction provides the biggest benefit to residents of high-income, high-tax states that tend to vote Democratic—hence the handful of GOP blue state defectors. Unlike the revised Senate tax plan that was released earlier in the week, it does not repeal Obamacare's individual mandate to purchase health coverage. Although some Republican representatives grumbled about the plan's treatment of various deductions, the passage of a tax bill in the House was never really in question. Republicans will now move forward with a related bill in the Senate, where passage is far less certain. Senate Republicans plan to pass the legislation with only Republican votes and a simple majority. They hold just 52 seats, which means they can lose just two votes (Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie). But one Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), has already said he will not vote for the plan. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has said he will oppose any plan that substantially increases the deficit, which potentially puts him in the "no" camp as well. And while the decision to repeal Obamacare's individual mandate helps to offset the budgetary effects of the Senate plan's tax reductions, it also ties the tax bill to health coverage, which, as we saw this summer with the failed health care overhaul, could complicate the vote math too. The possibility of losing a GOP senator in the Alabama special election next month adds a further wrinkle. Indeed, at this point, the GOP's tax reform effort looks remarkably similar to its health care push. After some initial complications, the health care bill eventually passed in the House, despite some GOP objections. Senate leadership tried to rush a health care bill to vote, but found themselves stymied by a handful of holdouts. The same dynamic could play out again with tax reform. Republicans are generally more comfortable with tax policy than with health care, and, after the failure of their first major legislative initiative, are feeling an awful lot of pressure from supporters to pass some sort of tax leg[...]