(image) The government of Little Rock, Arkansas, can no longer enforce a taxi monopoly.
Judge David Laser of the Pulaski County Circuit Court on Thursday struck down a provision of Little Rock's city law that effectively prohibited anyone except Yellow Cab from operating a taxi in Arkansas' capital city.
Under the city law ruled unconstitutional on Thursday, the Little Rock government allowed no more than 125 taxi permits at any time. Since 2001, Yellow Cab has held all 125 permits and has been the only legal taxi service operating in the city.
Ken Leininger, who owns Ken's Cabs LLC, sued the city in March after he was denied a permit. He argued that the city's rules violated the state constitution's prohibition against government-enforced monopolies.
A written opinion has not yet been released, but Laser on Thursday issued an injunction against the city enforcing the taxi permit law and awarded a $1 settlement for Leininger, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Tom Carpenter, Little Rock's city attorney, told the Arkansas Times that the city will appeal the ruling. He told the newspaper that the permit rules were not a "monopoly provision," although Carpenter also admitted that in practice, the city was unlikely to let in new entrants under the rules when Leininger applied.
"It's hard to believe that this concept is unconstitutional since our state hospitals and several other businesses are guided by that same standard," Carpenter said, according to the Times. "It doesn't really make any sense."
What actually doesn't make any sense is the idea that government should be able to set artificial limits on how many taxi companies—or hospitals, or other businesses, for that matter—are necessary. These rules are called Certificate of Necessity (or, in some places, Certificate of Public Need) laws, and they give government the ability to block competition in certain sectors of the economy. That's bad news for people like Leininger, who want to compete against incumbent operators, but it's also bad news for the general public since monopolies can charge higher prices and have less of an incentive to provide good service.
It's impossible to know whether an appeal of Laser's ruling would be successful, but even if Little Rock's Certificate of Necessity laws aren't a direct violation of the state's constitution, they're certainly a violation of common sense. Little Rock doesn't regulate the number of fast food restaurants—or, as it was trying to do here, tell McDonald's that they can't operate in the city because there's already too many Burger Kings.
The market is better able to sort out the supply of taxi cabs than even the most knowledgeable government officials. If Ken Leininger can provide a better service than Yellow Cab, there's no reason why he shouldn't be allowed to try.
2016-12-09T17:20:00-05:00Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, and the various political action committees (PACs) supporting her raised $1.2 billion for the 2016 elections, Politico reports based on the last campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission. Donald Trump, the Republicans, and the various PACs supporting him, meanwhile, raised $600 million. The Trump campaign spent nearly $100 million in the final period, remaining with $7.6 million in the bank. The Clinton campaign spent about $132 million and was left with less than a million in the bank. An analysis of donors by the Washington Post in October found that a hundred individuals and labor unions were responsible for a fifth of all of Clinton's donations—five donors were responsible for one out of every 17 dollars contributed according to the Post: S. Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager, J.B. Pritzker a venture capitalist and brother of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and his wife, Univision chairman Haim Saban and his wife, George Soros, and Slimfast founder S. Daniel Abraham. A few of the donors spoke to the Post, insisting they did not agree with their right to give so much money and wanted it taken away. "It's very odd to be giving millions when your objective is to actually get the money out of politics," Sussman said. "I am a very strong supporter of publicly financed campaigns, and I think the only way to accomplish that is to get someone like Secretary Clinton, who is committed to cleaning up the unfortunate disaster created by the activist court in Citizens United." Citizens United, of course, was the Supreme Court case centering around a film critical of Clinton that a group called Citizens United wanted to air it during the 2008 Democratic primaries. Setting aside how ridiculous it sounds to believe that someone who is exploiting a system can clean it up (after all, Sussman surely never bought Trump's argument that he could clean up cronyism because he participated in it), the right to engage in campaign-related political speech is actually critical to an environment in which substantive dissent is possible. The fight to keep "money out of politics," such as it is, often ends up stifling speech critical of incumbents, whose incumbency makes outside money less important to their ability to engage in political speech. Campaign spending, after all, doesn't affect election results much—Trump being outspent in the primary and general election being just the latest examples of that. Yet money can be useful to spread a message, hence the importance of an unfettered right to political speech that acknowledges that the means to engage in and amplify political speech are part of the right itself. No amount of money can make a flawed message appealing, as Jeb Bush and Clinton, among others, learned. Now that Trump is set to become the 45th president of the United States, perhaps progressives hostile to Citizens United will realize that, like the filibuster and other checks and balances, free political speech plays an important role in curbing the power of government and its ability to act on unilateral agendas without impunity. [...]
2016-12-09T15:32:00-05:00A new report from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released this week called for the federal government to hit electronic cigarettes with high taxes, regulatory restrictions, limits on advertising for vaping products, and bans on the sale of some vaping products. The alarmist report could pave the way for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to take action to curb the growth of vaping, even though doing so would make it harder for smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, which are undeniably safer than traditional, combustible cigarettes. Some state and local governments are already way ahead of Murthy. Two states in particular—California and Massachusetts—account for more than 200 local-level restrictions on the sale or use of electronic cigarettes. A new report from Halo Cigs, a leading producer of e-cigarettes and other vaping products, takes a look at the wide range of regulations on vaping at the state and local levels. Massachusetts, despite its small size, has the most local restrictions on where e-cigarettes can be bought or used. The state is one of several that apply the same rules to vaping products as traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products—despite the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco. That's a common fallacy surrounding the regulations of e-cigarettes, and one that Murphy used repeatedly in his new report, as Reason's Jacob Sullum pointed out yesterday. While the graphic above gives you some idea about which states are most and least welcoming to vaping, it doesn't tell the whole story. Local and state-level restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes are only one way that governments have wacked the vaping industry. In Pennsylvania, for example, there are few local rules prohibiting vaping (as the map above indicates), but a new tax 40 percent wholesale tax on vaping products passed by state lawmakers in June has forced some vape shops to close their doors. None of those local and state-level restrictions may matter much in the long run, since new rules from the FDA could drive the vast majority of e-cigarette products out of the market. Starting next year, manufacturers will have to pay up to $1 million per product to clear the FDA's new permitting process for vaping products. Shutting down vaping with onerous taxes or regulatory decrees makes it harder for nicotine-addicted smokers to kick the habit by taking up a safer alternatives. Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine extracted from tobacco, but considering them the equivalent of cigarettes is an affront to common sense and medical science. There's no combustion, no smoke and no tar in e-cigarettes, along with fewer cancer-causing chemicals. One study from the United Kingdom found that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than their combustible cousins. Government-led efforts to keep people from accessing or using e-cigarettes is not a victory for public health, but, like so many other things, the federal government should let states experiment with different policies to see what works. In 10 years, we might be able to tell whether Massachusetts and Calfornia's heavy-handed approach to vaping has prevented e-cigarettes from being widely used and what consequences that had on general smoking rates and smoking-related diseases. We could compare that to what will have happened in states that took a lighter touch on regulating vaping. If the FDA and the surgeon general get their way, though, the federal government will close that possibility in favor of restrictive policies that hurt small businesses and smokers trying to kick the habit. This post has been updated to correct the spelling of the surgeon general's name. [...]
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/n6h7fL22WCE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">
Each night, tens of thousands of people sleep in tent cities crowding the palm-lined boulevards of Los Angeles, far more than any other city in the nation. The homeless population in the entertainment capital of the world has hit new record highs in each of the past few years.
But a 39-year-old struggling musician from South LA thought he had a creative fix. Elvis Summers, who went through stretches of homelessness himself in his 20s, raised over $100,000 through crowdfunding campaigns last spring. With the help of professional contractors and others in the community who sign up to volunteer through his nonprofit, Starting Human, he has built dozens of solar-powered, tiny houses to shelter the homeless since.
Summers says that the houses are meant to be a temporary solution that, unlike a tent, provides the secure foundation residents need to improve their lives. "The tiny houses provide immediate shelter," he explains. "People can lock their stuff up and know that when they come back from their drug treatment program or court or finding a job all day, their stuff is where they left it."
Each house features a solar power system, a steel-reinforced door, a camping toilet, a smoke detector, and even window alarms. The tiny structures cost Summers roughly $1,200 apiece to build.
LA city officials, however, had a different plan to address the crisis. On the morning of February 9, just as the mayor and council gathered at City Hall to announce their new plan to end homelessness, police and garbage trucks descended on the tiny homes, towing three of them to a Bureau of Sanitation lot for disposal.
Watch the full video above. Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.
(image) Check your metabolic privilege, breather. Not all zombies are desiccated, intestine-dragging, brain-eating ragamuffins. In French television's 2012 Les Revenants and the 2015 A&E remake The Returned, reanimated corpses on missions of reconciliation and revenge were cute as bugs and no meaner than your average reality-show contestant. And the most-bootlegged unsuccessful pilot in Hollywood history was for a proposed 2007 CBS series called Babylon Fields, starring Amber Tamblyn, in which the zombies were presented as the next stage of human evolution, complete with undead super-libidos.
Joining the zombies-are-people-too club is Glitch, an oddly engaging little show from Australian television now streaming on Netflix. Though its opening scene—naked corpses (Aussies apparently prefer their interments commando-style) clawing their way out of a rural graveyard under a full moon—gives every indication of being yet another homage to/ripoff of George Romero, all bets are off the rest of the way. Television critic Glenn Garvin explains more.
2016-12-09T15:00:00-05:00Glitch. Available now on Netflix. Check your metabolic privilege, breather. Not all zombies are desiccated, intestine-dragging, brain-eating ragamuffins. In French television's 2012 Les Revenants and the 2015 A&E remake The Returned, reanimated corpses on missions of reconciliation and revenge were cute as bugs and no meaner than your average reality-show contestant. And the most-bootlegged unsuccessful pilot in Hollywood history was for a proposed 2007 CBS series called Babylon Fields, starring Amber Tamblyn, in which the zombies were presented as the next stage of human evolution, complete with undead super-libidos. Joining the zombies-are-people-too club is Glitch, an oddly engaging little show from Australian television now streaming on Netflix. Though its opening scene—naked corpses (Aussies apparently prefer their interments commando-style) clawing their way out of a rural graveyard under a full moon—gives every indication of being yet another homage to/ripoff of George Romero, all bets are off the rest of the way. For one thing, there's no suggestion that the reanimation phenomenon is taking place anywhere but Yoorana, the country village better known to locals as "the ass-end of the ass-end of the world." Nor are all the dead returning, only a handful. They arise without being able to remember anything at all, even how to speak. But their memories improve with time (the breakthrough is especially quick for the thirst for beer), and clues to their identities emerge, though without shedding much light on what's happening. One craggy old man, glancing at a statue of the Yoorana's 19th century founder, exclaims, "That's me! I'm the fookin' mayor!" Another turns out to be an Italian immigrant, shot while escaping a World War II detention camp. For some, recognition is much quicker: A cop called to the cemetery to investigate what he assumes is the aftermath of an all-night bender is stunned to see his wife walking toward him, two years after he buried her. The cop's reaction—following a short burst of violent denial, he takes his wife to their old rendezvous spot in a park, where they lie on their backs and gaze at the stars—is a big part of what makes Glitch an interesting piece of work. Yoorana's living, confronted with the impossible, shrug in stoic acceptance and make the best of it. A doctor, told the patient she's examining died years ago, replies that that was then, this is now: "I've taken this woman's blood pressure, and she's not dead." The dead themselves seem scarcely more disturbed. When the cops ask one woman—who has just awakened, mossy and muddy, in an open grave—if she can remember her name, she tartly replies: "What business is it of yours?" This matter-of-fact acceptance of the absurd or impossible has long been an element of Australian comedies, particularly Wilfred, in which a morose young lawyer awakens from a suicide attempt to discover the neighbor's puppy now appears to him as a conspiracy-minded man ("Why do you think no dogs died in the Holocaust? Because we knew it was coming!") in a dogsuit. Uncertain whether he's in grips of a drug-induced hallucination, a prolonged death rattle, or some sketchy version of the hereafter, the lawyer just decides to go with the flow. Glitch adapts the formula to drama with considerable success, with help from a capable cast of Australian TV veterans, including Patrick Brammall and Emma Booth as the policeman and his zombie wife. That doesn't mean Glitch isn't spooky. What summoned the dead back and why remains a mystery, only deepened by some spectacularly grisly evidence that their new-found health isn't necessarily permanent. And there are domestic complications, too, as the dead learn that, despite assurances from their spouses, love isn't usually eternal. "When someone you've already said goodbye to comes back in your life," muses the cop, "what does it mean?" Nothing [...]
2016-12-09T14:45:00-05:00The Ohio legislature passed a bill late Thursday night tightening the state's civil asset forfeiture laws, which previously allowed state and local law enforcement to seize property without convicting or even charging someone with a crime. The bill passed both the Ohio senate and house by wide margins, despite opposition from law enforcement groups. If it is signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio will join 17 other states in recent years that has overhauled their civil asset forfeiture laws in response to media investigations and reports from civil liberties groups that revealed shocking numbers of people who've had their cash, cars, and even homes seized. While law enforcement groups argue that civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, civil liberties groups argue the practice inverts the presumption of innocence, forcing property owners to go to court to prove why they should get their own property back, and creates perverse profit incentives that lead police to target everyday citizens. The U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan network of criminal justice advocacy groups, was one of several national organizations that threw its weight behind the bill. "Ensuring that the government cannot take a citizen's property without due process of law makes for smart policy and smart politics," Holly Harris, the executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network said in a press release Thursday. "Our polling found that 81 percent of Ohioans on both sides of the aisle agree that the government should not be able to take property without due process." The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has filed lawsuits in several states challenging asset forfeiture laws, gives Ohio's asset forfeiture laws a "D-" grade for its lax due process protections, lack of reporting requirements, and the high percentage of revenue from seizures that goes back into police and prosecutor budgets. Under the Ohio bill prosecutors will be required to charge citizens with certain crimes in order to forfeit their property, although in some instances prosecutors may still do so without filing any charges, according to the Columbus Dispatch. It also switches the burden of proof from the defendant to the government to show why property is connected to a crime and bars civil forfeiture for amounts under $15,000. Significantly, it also bars law enforcement from using federal asset forfeiture laws for seizures under $100,000. Civil liberties groups argue that state and local law enforcement often get around stricter state laws by participating in federal drug task forces, allowing them to use federal forfeiture laws and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from seizures. The previous version of the bill had a threshold of $25,000. The original bill passed by the Ohio house of representatives earlier this year would have eliminated civil asset forfeiture altogether, barring forfeiture in cases where no conviction was obtained, but it was softened in response to concerns from law enforcement. Law enforcement organizations, such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, still oppose the bill, saying there are already plenty of due process protections for property owners built into the law. However, state groups across the political spectrum, from the Ohio chapter of the ACLU to the Buckeye Institute, a conservative policy think-tank, supported the bill. National organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group that said it drove more than 60,000 calls and messages from members to Ohio lawmakers in favor of the bill. FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon said in a press release that Thursday's vote was a "a "great day for private property rights in my home state." "Ohio will join the growing list of states that have passed civil asset forf[...]
2016-12-09T14:45:00-05:00Each night, tens of thousands of people sleep in tent cities crowding the palm-lined boulevards of Los Angeles, far more than any other city in the nation. The homeless population in the entertainment capital of the world has hit new record highs in each of the past few years. But a 39-year-old struggling musician from South LA thought he had a creative fix. Elvis Summers, who went through stretches of homelessness himself in his 20s, raised over $100,000 through crowdfunding campaigns last spring. With the help of professional contractors and others in the community who sign up to volunteer through his nonprofit, Starting Human, he has built dozens of solar-powered, tiny houses to shelter the homeless since. Summers says that the houses are meant to be a temporary solution that, unlike a tent, provides the secure foundation residents need to improve their lives. "The tiny houses provide immediate shelter," he explains. "People can lock their stuff up and know that when they come back from their drug treatment program or court or finding a job all day, their stuff is where they left it." Each house features a solar power system, a steel-reinforced door, a camping toilet, a smoke detector, and even window alarms. The tiny structures cost Summers roughly $1,200 apiece to build. LA city officials, however, had a different plan to address the crisis. A decade after the city's first 10-year plan to end homelessness withered in 2006, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in February a $1.87 billion proposal to get all LA residents off the streets, once and for all. He and the City Council aim to build 10,000 units of permanent housing with supportive services over the next decade. In the interim, they are shifting funds away from temporary and emergency shelters. Councilmember Curren Price, who represents the district where Summers's tiny houses were located, does not believe they are beneficial either to the community or to the homeless people housed in them. "I don't really want to call them houses. They're really just boxes," says Price. "They're not safe, and they impose real hazards for neighbors in the community." Most of Summers's tiny houses are on private land that has been donated to the project. A handful had replaced the tents that have proliferated on freeway overpasses in the city. Summers put them there until he could secure a private lot to create a tiny house village similar to those that already exist in Portland, Seattle, Austin, and elsewhere. "My whole issue and cause is that something needs to be done right now," Summers emphasizes. But the houses, nestled among dour tent shantytowns, became brightly colored targets early this year for frustrated residents who want the homeless out of their backyards. Councilmember Price was bombarded by complaints from angry constituents. In February, the City Council responded by amending a sweeps ordinance to allow the tiny houses to be seized without prior notice. On the morning of the ninth, just as the mayor and council gathered at City Hall to announce their new plan to end homelessness, police and garbage trucks descended on the tiny homes, towing three of them to a Bureau of Sanitation lot for disposal. Summers managed to move eight of the threatened houses into storage before they were confiscated, but their residents were left back on the sidewalk. If the city won't devote any resources to supporting novel solutions, Summers urges officials at least to make it easier for private organizations and individuals like him to pave the way forward. The city owns thousands of vacant lots, many of which have been abandoned for decades, that could provide sites for tiny house villages or other innovative housing concepts that can have an immediate impact. "Everything that they have been doing doesn't work. It's just years of circles and bureaucratic ho[...]
Today from 2-4 p.m. ET I will be guest-hosting on SiriusXM Insight channel 121's Tell Me Everything With John Fugelsang, talking about Fake News, comfort comedy, Hillary Clinton's bad ideas, Donald Trump's controversial Cabinet ideas, trade policy, and strategizing against the worst (and for the best!) Trump-administration policies, among other topics. Joining to help me out will be National Review's Kevin Williamson, comedy's Jimmy Failla, radio host Rick Ungar, and New York politico Thomas Doherty. Call in and heckle at 877 974-7487!
(image) America's "transition to a clean energy economy is irrevocably underway, and independent of any changes in federal administration or congressional leaderships," asserted the Natural Resources Defense Council activist group in its Accelerating into a Clean Energy Future report this week. Report co-author Ralph Cavanagh added, "The nationwide momentum for pollution-free energy is undeniable and irresistible because clean energy now costs less than dirty energy."
But if clean energy really does cost less than dirty energy, then what is there to resist? In that case, surely the invisible hand of the marketplace will make the transition to a clean-energy economy irrevocable. So can we all put aside our worries about catastrophic climate change?
Not so fast. You see, policies are needed.
2016-12-09T13:30:00-05:00No matter who's running the government, America's "transition to a clean energy economy is irrevocably underway," the Natural Resources Defense Council asserted in its Accelerating into a Clean Energy Future report this week. Report co-author Ralph Cavanagh added, "The nationwide momentum for pollution-free energy is undeniable and irresistible because clean energy now costs less than dirty energy." As if to confirm the Council's claim, the infotech giant Google announced this week by the end of next year, its global operations will be fueled 100 percent by electricity generated by renewable sources. ("The science tells us that tackling climate change is an urgent global priority," the company's press release explained.) This does not mean that Google gets its electricity directly from solar panels on the roofs of its data centers or from wind turbines churning away on its corporate campuses. The company basically makes purchasing commitments to renewable projects that offset the conventionally generated electricity that it gets from local utilities. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a business legally adopting measures that it thinks are in the best interests of its customers and shareholders. If the company is on the wrong track, those stakeholders will let Google's executives know through their purchasing and investment choices. But if clean energy really does cost less than dirty energy, then what is there to resist? In that case, surely the invisible hand of the marketplace will make the transition to a clean-energy economy irrevocable. So can we all put aside our worries about catastrophic climate change? Not so fast. You see, policies are needed. Google notes that during "the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option." Yet even as proponents insist that clean energy now outcompetes fossil fuels, they nevertheless want to enhance their irrevocablabilty with a little help from the government. As Google obliquely puts it, "We believe the private sector, in partnership with policy leaders, must take bold steps." What might that "partnership" look like? Google doesn't say, but you can get a sense of what might be required by reading From Risk to Return, a new report from the Risky Business Project. This group is supported by the media mogul Michael Bloomberg, the Bush-era treasury secretary Henry Paulsen, and the hedge fund manager and prominent Democratic Party donor Thomas Steyer. Its report presents four pathways toward restructuring America's energy infrastructure, with the goal of cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050. While the paper does not favor any of those four pathways—renewables, nuclear, carbon capture, and a mix—it focuses mostly on the costs and benefits of the fourth, which reduces emissions via a combination of renewables, nuclear, carbon emissions captured from fossil fuels, and the transformation of transportation toward reliance on electricity, hydrogen, and biofuels. By 2050, the report projects, the extra expenditures for building out low-carbon energy production and consumption infrastructure would be more than offset by fuel costs. The authors argue that clean energy is unfortunately not yet ready to compete head-on with fossil fuels. "The private sector alone cannot solve the climate change problem," the Risky Business report concludes. "We know from our collective business and investment experience that the private sector will take action at the necessary speed and scale only if it is given a clear and consistent policy and regulatory framework." What sort of policies do they think are necessary? First and more foremost, they want gov[...]
2016-12-09T13:25:00-05:00In my post about PizzaGate earlier today, I mentioned the "white slavery" scare of the Progressive Era, when wild stories circulated of vast conspiracies coercing young women into prostitution. Forced prostitution did exist, of course, but these tales greatly exaggerated both how common and how organized it was. As is often the case, the moral panic manifested itself at the movies. The white-slavery film cycle began with George Loane Tucker's 1913 hit Traffic in Souls; the second major entry was Frank Beal's The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, released the same year. The latter is embedded below. Unfortunately, some scenes from the movie are lost, so additional intertitles have been inserted to describe what happens in the missing sections. In brief, the picture tells the story of a girl who is tricked into a fake marriage with a procurer for a sex-trafficking ring, who then ships her off to be a whore in New Orleans. She tries to break free, fleeing to Denver and Houston, but everywhere she goes she is tracked by the enormous sex syndicate. Unable to find any other job, she finally submits. One of the odder twists comes when she then falls into a conversation with a potential john. A policeman interrupts them, lets the man walk away, and hauls our heroine off to jail. The film disapproves: A placard says, "One law for man—Another for woman." But it just disapproves of the man walking free: The arrest appears to be a good thing, since it leads to the woman's rehabilitation. After her imprisonment, she finally gets a respectable job. (Then she slides back into prostitution and dies. Not a cheery movie!) Like many other "educational" films over the years, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic opens with an earnest-sounding declaration of serious intent before proceeding to the salacious story. The reaction was similarly bifurcated: Anti-vice activists promoted it, but police shut down some screenings on the grounds that the picture was obscene. Judge for yourself: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZZHihjo_eBQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> The opening includes a list of people who have endorsed the film, ending with a dubious invocation of "every Sociologist of note from Atlantic to Pacific." If you know your Progressive Era history, some of those names may be familiar to you. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a prominent feminist, was the author of Herland, a utopian science fiction novel in which an all-female society reproduces parthenogenetically. And Frederic Howe had a long career as a reformer, at various stages becoming everything from a Henry Georgist to a New Dealer; his 1906 book Confessions of a Monopolist has a small libertarian fan base. For the purposes of this picture, though, his most relevant credential may be that he was director of the National Board of Censorship. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.) [...]
2016-12-09T13:10:00-05:00Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit is one of the 21 names floated by President-elect Donald Trump as a possible replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court. Most conservatives would probably welcome a Sykes nomination, as she is a respected figure on the legal right and a favorite among the Federalist Society's rank and file. But liberals—or at least those liberals who genuinely care about civil liberties and criminal justice reform—might also find at least one reason to cheer a Sykes nomination. That reason is Sykes's role in advancing the First Amendment right to record the police. Here's the story. In 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit decided the case of American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. Alvarez. At issue was an Illinois "eavesdropping" statute that made it a felony offense, punishable by as many as four to 15 years in prison, for recording "all or any part of any conversation" without first receiving the consent of all parties to that conversation. The ACLU of Illinois had a big problem with that statute. The organization had recently formed a Chicago-area "police accountability project" whose objectives included recording police officers, without their consent, while those officers were carrying out their official duties in public. To prevent its people from being prosecuted as felons, the ACLU of Illinois filed suit in federal court against Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, seeking an injunction that would bar Alvarez from enforcing the eavesdropping law against individuals whose only "crime" was the act of recording the police in public. To enforce the eavesdropping statute in such a manner, the state ACLU insisted, would be a fundamental violation of the First Amendment. State's Attorney Alvarez took a different view. In the words of Judge Diane Sykes, who wrote the 7th Circuit's majority opinion in the case, "the State's Attorney has staked out an extreme position. She contends that openly recording what police officers say while performing their duties in traditional public fora—streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks—is wholly unprotected by the First Amendment." Judge Sykes then proceeded to explain why the state's attorney was wholly wrong about the scope of this constitutional provision. "The eavesdropping statute restricts a medium of expression—the use of a common instrument of communication—and thus an integral step in the speech process," Sykes wrote. "As applied here, it interferes with the gathering and dissemination of information about government officials performing their duties in public. Any way you look at it, the eavesdropping statute burdens speech and press rights and is subject to heightened First Amendment scrutiny." Judge Sykes then issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the state's attorney from applying the statute in that manner. Two years later, in a decision that both cited and quoted repeatedly from Judge Sykes's Alvarez opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's eavesdropping statute as an overreaching violation of the First Amendment. It was a major victory for free speech, civil liberties, and criminal justice reform and it came about thanks in no small part due to the judgment of Diane Sykes. Related: The Trouble With Trump SCOTUS Contender William H. Pryor [...]
2016-12-09T12:30:00-05:00I first learned about Sherri Papini, the 34-year-old California woman who went missing for 22 days in November, from a Today Show headline asking: "Was Sherri Papini kidnapping linked to sex trafficking?" In People magazine's December 9 issue, John Kelly, "a noted serial killer profiler," said Papini's abduction had all the hallmarks of human trafficking, with her mistreatment typical of the "shaming and degrading" of victims that traffickers deploy. Other wide-reaching media outlets—NBC News, ABC News, Us Weekly, the Sacramento Bee—have likewise floated the idea that the mysterious duo of Hispanic women Papini fingered may have been part of a sex-trafficking ring. Yet there is almost nothing to support the idea that Papini's disappearance was related to sex or prostitution. The whole theory hinges on the fact that Papini was "branded," as her husband Keith initially put it. Police later confirmed that Sherri did have something burnt into her skin, specifying only that it was not a "symbol" but a "message." But even accepting the premise that sex-traffickers frequently "brand" their victims—a common claim also utterly lacking in evidence—Papini's burns could just as easily have been an act of torture or a way to relay a message to Papini, police, or the public. And the latter explanations certainly make more sense than the former when taken with the facts that nothing else about the abduction belied an intent to force Papini into commercial sex and, in fact, Papini's assailants eventually just let her go, according to what she told police. Who is Sherri Papini? For those unfamiliar with the case, Papini—a stay-at-home mother of two living with her husband in Shasta County, California—disappeared on November 2 while Keith was at work and the kids were in daycare. The case came to a happy ending on Thanksgiving day, when Papini was found on the side of a rural road a few hours from her home, malnourished and knocked around but not severely injured. She has since been reunited with her family, the Shasta County Sheriff's Department is investigating, and the Papinis are taking some time away from the spotlight in an undisclosed location. Papini's disappearance, and subsequent return, earned ample national attention. The story seemed to have legs both because of the mystery surrounding Papini's disappearance and because of who Papini is: a pretty, young, white woman with a photogenic family and a Pinterest-perfect collection of hobbies: crafting, baking, exercise, home decorating, party-planning, and prayer. She was quickly dubbed a "supermom" in headlines. California State Police found Papini roadside in Yolo County, near Sacramento, with one hand chained behind her waist. She was "taken to an area hospital, and treated for non-life threatening conditions," according to Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosekno. Keith Papini has said that his wife's captors beat her, cut off her hair, and "barely fed" her. When she was discovered, Keith said, Sherri was bruised, had lost 15 percent of her body weight, and had a broken nose, "severe burns, red rashes, and chain markings." Police, however, have been less forthcoming with details about Sherri Papini's condition. Whatever injuries she suffered, overnight hospitalization was not required, and by Thanksgiving night she was back at home with her family. Sherri told police that her abductors had been two Hispanic women driving a dark SUV. She said they wore masks over their faces and spoke almost exclusively in Spanish. Upon first questioning, she provided police with little detail, which Bosenko attributed to her still recovering from the experience. But if she has since provided more infor[...]
2016-12-09T12:09:00-05:00There was a time not so long ago when the people shouting "fuck you bitch" at a gender-fluid gay filmmaker would have been bigoted right-wing conservatives. But because we currently live in the year 2016, the people who heckled Kimberly Peirce—director of Boys Don't Cry, a groundbreaking film about a transgender man—during her recent appearance at Reed College were far-left students. The students hurled a litany of insults at Peirce, putting up posters that read "fuck your transphobia" and "you don't fucking get it" among other things. Worse, when Peirce ascended to her podium, students had placed a sign there. It read "fuck this cis white bitch." That Peirce is actually gender-fluid is quite beside the point. The students' unbelievable rudeness crossed the line into a kind of censorship when Peirce tried to speak: the students simply shouted over her. Eventually they let her talk, but some students continued to yell things like "fuck your respectability politics" and "fuck you scared bitch." You're probably wondering why the social justice left hates Peirce so much. Bear with me. She had come to campus to do a Q and A following the screening of her 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry. The film is an adaptation of the true story of Brandon Teena, who was born a woman but chose to identify and present as a man, and was murdered because of it. It's a heartbreaking love story that undoubtedly introduced countless Americans to the reality of anti-trans violence. You're probably still wondering why the social justice left hates Peirce so much. Well, the film was ahead of its time in 1999, but in 2016 it's problematic. That's because the main character, Brandon, was played by Hilary Swank, a non-trans person. Students were also incensed at the idea of Peirce having profited from violence against trans people, which isn't a remotely accurate way to characterize things, but there it is. Jack Halberstam, a University of Southern California professor who writes about queer issues and is friendly with Peirce, blogged about the uproar for Bully Bloggers, publishing pictures of the posters. Halberstam also made note of the students' criticisms of the film, but suggested that at the time Boys Don't Cry was released, trans people were often portrayed as "monsters, killers, sociopaths, or isolated misfits." It was revolutionary for audiences to see a trans person who was otherwise a typical twenty-something. Halberstam also pointed out that it would have been much harder to cast a trans person to play Brandon in 1999 than it is today. But whether the criticisms of Peirce are legitimate is a separate matter. Her movie is important, and was worth screening on campus. A spokesperson for Reed College confirmed the posters and the heckling, which he attributed to a handful of students. "It has sparked a lot of debate on campus," the spokesperson told Reason. Dean of Students Nigel Nicholson, to his credit, penned a strongly-worded statement in the campus paper: The actions that I saw were not animated by the spirit of inquiry or the desire to learn that usually animates Reed audiences. The students had already decided what they thought, and came to the Question-and-Answer session to make their judgments known, not to listen and engage. Some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. Others asked questions, that, while grammatically questions (that is, they ended with question marks), were not animated by a genuine desire to explore a question, but rather sought to indict the speaker. It felt like a courtroom, not a college. Some students sought to dominate the space, and to take control of the space away from the speaker. I [...]
2016-12-09T11:40:00-05:00Hillary Clinton has not been seen much since the election, except up in the woods near Chappaqua in her favorite hiking sweater. Sadly, that streak ended yesterday, when she used an appearance at the retirement ceremony for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rail hyperbolically against "The epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year." "It's now clear the so-called fake news can have real-world consequences," Clinton warned, referencing the gunman who arrived at Comet Pizza to investigate a nonsensical conspiracy theory. "Lives are at risk—lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities….It's imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives." Watch a snippet of the alarmist sanctimony here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ViB-9qshANU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> This is the classic Hillary Clinton progression toward the (often unconstitutional) government restriction of speech. Step 1: Declare something that is not remotely an epidemic is, in fact, an "epidemic." As in this hysterical speech Clinton gave in front of the Kaiser Family Foundation in March 2005: [T]he evidence is conclusive that on balance the exposure to this much media and particularly to the violent content of it is not good for children and teenagers. And so what I'm hoping is that all we can come together. If there were an epidemic sweeping through our children of some kind of SARS of some other kind of infectious disease, we would all band together and figure out what to do to protect our children. Well, this is a silent epidemic. Step 2: While the headline-making incident is still fresh in everyone's minds, insist that the epidemic (which, remember, isn't remotely an epidemic) must be confronted "urgently" by both the federal government and California-based media companies. Here she was just after the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack: I know that Americans are anxious and fearful, and we have reason to be. The threat is real. The need for action is urgent....We're seeing the results of radicalization not just in far off lands, but right here at home fueled by the internet. It's the nexus of terrorism and technology, and we have a lot of work to do to end it....They are using websites, social media, chat rooms, and other platforms to celebrate beheadings, recruit future terrorists, and call for attacks. We should work with host companies to shut them down. It's time for an urgent dialogue between the government, and not just our government, government and the high tech community to confront this problem together. [...] [W]e're going to have to ask our technology companies...to help us on this. You know, the government is good in some respects, but nowhere near as good as those of you who are in this field. Right now the terrorists communicate on very ubiquitous sites: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. The woman jihadist in San Bernardino posted her allegiance to Baghdadi and ISIS on Facebook. According to the timing we know so far, she did it either shortly before or shortly after the attack, I'm not sure which. We're going to have to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space. Just as we have to destroy their would-be caliphate, we have to deny them online space. And this is complicated. You're going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, et cetera. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and [...]
2016-12-09T11:25:00-05:00On December 4, Edgar M. Welch carried a rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. Welch had stumbled on the "PizzaGate" conspiracy theory, which claims that the restaurant is part of a sex-trafficking ring tied to Hillary Clinton and her associates; children are supposedly being held prisoner and transported through secret tunnels beneath the business. Welch was armed because he wanted to rescue the kids. He didn't find any prisoners there, but he wound up firing his weapon anyway. No one was injured, fortunately. You've probably heard about that, since it's been all over the news this week. What hasn't been all over the news is the long American tradition that Welch belongs to. This is hardly the first time someone has filled up on fantasies that a conspiracy was holding innocents captive and exploiting them. It isn't the first time a fantasist has set off on a potentially bloody rescue mission either. Take the mob that burned down the Ursuline convent and boarding school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834. The resentments toward that institution had very specific local roots, but the rumors that prompted the riot took an oft-told form: Girls were being held prisoner, and they needed to be saved. These stories were spread not just orally but via anonymous placards and handbills—if a pundit from late 2016 were somehow sent back to 1834, he'd probably call them "fake news"—that said things like this: GO AHEAD! To Arms!! To Arms!! Ye brave and free Avenging Sword unshield!! Leave not one stone upon another of that curst Nunnery that prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy Religion. When Bonaparte opened the Nunnerys in Europe he found cords of Infant sculls!!!!!! That wasn't the only Catholic institution to be raided by would-be heroes. Throughout the era, paranoid Protestants became convinced that convents contained sex slaves, secret tunnels, and other staples of the modern pizzeria; more than once, they invaded intending to liberate the nuns. Nor was Catholicism the only faith to be afflicted by captivity rumors. A couple decades before the Ursuline Convent riots, for example, a youngster named Ithamar Johnson was "rescued" from a Shaker community in Ohio. He promptly returned the next day, and remained a Shaker until he died in his eighties. Much more recently, the cult scare that took off in the 1970s produced a whole profession of "deprogrammers," some of whom felt the best way to liberate a cultist was to kidnap and torture him until he declared himself cleansed of the religion's worldview. The cult scare helped shape the Satanic panic of the 1980s and '90s, when the notion took hold that a web of devil-worshippers was raping, kidnapping, and even killing children. In this case, it wasn't vigilante deprogrammers who would browbeat an alleged victim into saying what they wanted to hear. It was agents of the state. In the most infamous case, the authorities embraced the idea that the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, was run by a coven of child molesters. Interrogators badgered the preschoolers into confirming their suspicions, and the children's imaginations then produced still more lurid details. Naturally, there were tales of secret tunnels beneath the day care center. You'd think it was a convent or a pizza joint or something. Not every captivity fantasy involved unpopular religions. In the white-slavery panic of the early 20th century, a flood of exposés—there's that "fake news" again—made lurid claims about prostitution, greatly exaggerating both the number of women coerced in[...]
2016-12-09T11:10:00-05:00As Peter Suderman noted yesterday, Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Labor, hamburger magnate Andy Puzder, has registered his disagreement over many regulations he thinks strangles jobs in the fast-food industry. The head of Hardee's/Carl's Jr., Puzder says that doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 will push outfits like his to full automation more rapidly than otherwise. There's more: In 2011, he announced that he would stop all restaurant development in the state of California, where CKE is based, and instead focus on opening some 300 restaurants in Texas. California's bulk of regulations could add as much as $50,000 and two years to the cost of opening a restaurant, he told the Associated Press at the time, compared with Texas, where a restaurant could go from a lease signing to opening for business in as little as six weeks. But what about the "gig economy," new, unconventional, and often part-time relationships between outfits such as Uber or airbnb and workers? Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton were dead-set against allowing the gig economy flourish and development. In a major speech at the Brookings Institution, Clinton promised to "crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors." The only good job, she averred, was one that looked like the jobs she remembered from her childhood and early adulthood, with clearly delineated divisions between workers and management, standard benefits like insurance and retirement, and more. The Obama administration, various state level pols, and a few activist lawsuits are working to make sure that "gig employees" are treated the same as traditional wage-and-hour workers and offered the same benfits and protections. Which of course will make them more expensive to owners and raise prices to customers. All while reducing the flexiblity the workers themselves might prefer. Marco Zappacosta, the founder of Thumbtack, which connects contractors and customers, hopes that Pudzer allows the gig economy to proceed without too much interference from Washington, telling CNBC: "I hope the secretary thinks about all workers and this trend that people are moving toward more independent arrangements," said Marco Zappacosta, co-founder and CEO of Thumbtack, an online platform that connects customers to local professionals for tasks like house painting, personal training and voice lessons. "The biggest one is basically leveling the playing field in terms of benefits and privileges between W-2 employees and independent workers of all stripes." (Disclosure: I know Zappacosta and his father, Pierluigi, served on the board of trustees for the nonprofit that publishes this website). Based on past statements, Puzder will almost certainly be more hands-off the gig economy than anyone appointed by Clinton. CNBC again: Puzder credits start-ups as the driver of the U.S. economic engine, calling "entrepreneurial vision and ambition" the invisible hand of America's economy, according to a book he co-authored. Puzder has advocated the repeal of Obamacare and lambasted campaigns to raise the minimum wage or increase overtime pay. "Far too many politicians believe that government can orchestrate economic activity through regulations and taxation. We beg to differ," Puzder wrote in his book. Interestingly, critics of the gig economy often want to increase the social-welfare state by shoving the costs of their plans onto employers. That's understandable from a political angle—you don't raise taxes on everyone, you simply businessmen who can afford it, right[...]
(image) Damien Chazelle's La La Land takes the standard objection to movie musicals—Why are all these people suddenly bursting into song?—and confronts it head-on in its opening scene. We see one of those from-here-to-the-horizon traffic jams on an L.A. freeway, with trapped motorists muttering in the sun. Then one woman starts singing. Then she's joined by others as they climb out of their cars and begin dancing around and on top of them. Why are they doing this? Well, when they allow the director to pack so much intricate Steadicam invention and sky-high musical energy into a single six-minute take, why should they not?
The movie is high on the spirits of classic Hollywood musicals (especially of the Gene Kelly variety) and subsequent French riffs on the form by Jacques Demy (in whose 1967 The Young Girls of Rochefort Kelly also featured). The picture is set in the here and now, but it feels very much like the there-and-then, writes Kurt Loder.
2016-12-09T10:30:00-05:00Damien Chazelle's La La Land takes the standard objection to movie musicals—Why are all these people suddenly bursting into song?—and confronts it head-on in its opening scene. We see one of those from-here-to-the-horizon traffic jams on an L.A. freeway, with trapped motorists muttering in the sun. Then one woman starts singing. Then she's joined by others as they climb out of their cars and begin dancing around and on top of them. Why are they doing this? Well, when they allow the director to pack so much intricate Steadicam invention and sky-high musical energy into a single six-minute take, why should they not? The movie is high on the spirits of classic Hollywood musicals (especially of the Gene Kelly variety) and subsequent French riffs on the form by Jacques Demy (in whose 1967 The Young Girls of Rochefort Kelly also featured). The picture is set in the here and now, but it feels very much like the there-and-then. That tuneful traffic nightmare at the beginning introduces us to the lead characters, already getting on each other's nerves. Purist jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is honking his horn behind aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone). When the jam breaks and he pulls around her car, glowering, she gives him the finger. Later, when he comes into the coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot where Mia unhappily slaves, her presence doesn't even register with him. Later still, she comes upon Sebastian in a lounge where he's glumly playing background piano; when the manager (J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his jazzman in Chazelle's Whiplash) fires him for slipping an original tune into his set, Sebastian leaves in a huff, brushing past Mia with no recognition. Clearly, these two are meant to be together, and Chazelle, who also wrote the script, isn't going to stand in their way. Since both characters are a little beaten-down—Mia by endless rounds of humiliating acting auditions, Sebastian by his inability to land a dignified gig ("I'm letting life hit me until it gets tired," he says)—the director surrounds them with spectacular song-and-dance scenes that rise up out of the story like exhalations of pure joy. In one of them, getting ready for a party at the house they share, Mia and her three roommates negotiate the complex arrangement of a song called "Someone in the Crowd" as if it were not at all incredibly difficult to do; then they march it out into the street. It's a sequence that recalls any number of other classic musicals, but also feels classic in its own right. The movie's first real show-stopper, though, is a twilight scene, set to a song called "A Lovely Night," in which Sebastian and Mia tentatively come together, protesting all the way. ("You're not the type for me," he sings. "I'm frankly feeling nothing," she insists). The setting is an overlook high above L.A., with the city spread out below like a field of stars. Gosling nudges things off with a casual lamppost swing (the famous Gene Kelly move from Singin' in the Rain), then joins Stone for a nifty little sitting-on-a-bench dance, then a bit of tap-and-slide—and by then, like them, you're hooked: the movie's lush and unblushing romanticism has drawn you in. Linus Sandgren's cinematography wraps the movie in swooning atmosphere: the interiors have a warm, pulsing glow, and the exteriors appear to have been shot in some sort of perpetual, salmon-skied Golden Hour—especially the scene in which Gosling strolls the Hermosa Beach Pier singing a melancholy ballad [...]
(image) Democrats have suddenly realized the filibuster plays an important role in governance.
David Harsanyi writes:
I won't lie. After reading the CNN piece titled "Senate Dems, powerless to stop Trump nominees, regret 'nuclear option' power play," I experienced some deeply satisfying schadenfreude. Feel free to keep President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and those who implored Senate Democrats to blow up the filibuster a few years ago in your thoughts as President-elect Donald Trump names his Cabinet and judges. But be sure to remember how recklessness begets recklessness in Washington, D.C.
"I do regret that," Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat who voted to weaken the filibuster three years ago, tells CNN. "I frankly think many of us will regret that in this Congress because it would have been a terrific speed bump, potential emergency brake, to have in our system to slow down nominees."
It always was a terrific speed bump, senator.
(image) Politicians in Calfironia are targeting the bail-bonds system.
Steven Greenhut writes:
Legislators say their intent is to "reform" the system, but it appears the ultimate intent is to move to a risk-based system of the type embraced by the federal government and some local jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C. In other words, details are still hazy, and the bail-bonds industry has plenty of time to gear up for what could pose an existential threat.
The industry has argued that it offers an economical system that minimizes the costs to the court system. That's because bond companies privately assure—without extensive court monitoring—that defendants show up for their trial. But critics argue that far more people remain in jail than would be the case with a risk-based assessment—and that the jail costs (around $100 a day in California) counteract any other savings.
(image) Last week the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a.k.a. S. 10, was introduced in the Senate, read three times, and approved by unanimous consent without debate or amendment—all on one day. That sort of bipartisan consensus, which suggests a bill is so obviously unobjectionable that no discussion is necessary, usually means trouble, and this case is no exception. In the name of protecting Jewish students from discrimination, S. 10, if approved by the House, will encourage universities to suppress dissenting political opinions and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.
S. 10, introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), codifies a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes one-sided criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. Last year the University of California declined to adopt that definition based on concerns that it would violate the First Amendment by deterring pro-Palestinian activism. S. 10 would have the same effect on a national scale, notwithstanding its assurance that "nothing in this Act...shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment."
Read the whole thing in the New York Post.
(image) The federal Environmental Protection Agency has sent letters to several states and cities ordering them to stop using dry ice to kill urban rats. The dry ice is stuffed into rat burrows, and as it outgasses it suffocates the rats. The EPA says it has not approved dry ice as a pest control measure.
2016-12-09T00:01:00-05:00I won't lie. After reading the CNN piece titled "Senate Dems, powerless to stop Trump nominees, regret 'nuclear option' power play," I experienced some deeply satisfying schadenfreude. Feel free to keep President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and those who implored Senate Democrats to blow up the filibuster a few years ago in your thoughts as President-elect Donald Trump names his Cabinet and judges. But be sure to remember how recklessness begets recklessness in Washington, D.C. "I do regret that," Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democrat who voted to weaken the filibuster three years ago, tells CNN. "I frankly think many of us will regret that in this Congress because it would have been a terrific speed bump, potential emergency brake, to have in our system to slow down nominees." It always was a terrific speed bump, senator. One of the reasons we value tradition, norms and process is that we don't know what the future holds. But, you'll note, these Democrats don't regret their vote for majoritarianism or power grabs. They regret that Trump (and it would be the same for Mitt Romney or any moderate Republican, for that matter) will now be able to operate under the rules they set for themselves. It's worth remembering that Democrats didn't used a parliamentary procedure to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can move to confirmation votes with a simple majority for some grand ideological purpose. They did it for short-term political gains that no one will remember. Does any Democrat believe helping Obama name some left-wing populists to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which didn't even exist until 2011) and the National Labor Relations Board was worth it? Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), another leading proponent of destroying checks and balances, charged at the time that without the nuclear option Republicans were "going to disable" the executive branch. "It's come into a realm where it's just unacceptable because if the executive branch can't function, then the nation can't respond to the big challenges it faces," he explained. He seemed to be under the impression that presidents make laws—or maybe just liberal presidents. The liberal punditry hammered the filibuster back then the same way it's hammering the Electoral College today. In 2010, Paul Krugman wrote a column in The New York Times claiming that the filibuster would destroy America. I do not exaggerate. He wrote: "We've always known that America's reign as the world's greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic. What we're getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce." The idea that Democrats hadn't been able to function was a myth. Obama, supposedly powerless to face America's "big challenges," had already passed a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus, a restructuring of the entire health care system and a tangled overhaul of financial regulation. The president also appointed two wholly liberal Supreme Court justices with no meaningful opposition. The American people then said, "That's enough." For Merkley, Krugman, Coons, Reid and others, that wouldn't do. When Reid's party was in the minority, he warned that weakening the Senate filibuster would "destroy the very checks and[...]
2016-12-09T00:01:00-05:00At a press conference in the Capitol on Monday morning, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) explained that although he has long championed various reforms to the state's criminal-justice system, he had in the past rarely even thought about the "money bail" system by which criminal defendants are released from jail after posting a bond. Indeed, the system is so ubiquitous—bail-bonds offices cluster around courthouses—that it's just an accepted part of the system. Yet that could all be changing. As I reported last month, reforming the state's bail system will be a top priority as legislators return to the Capitol. Sure enough, the press conference was held shortly before the new session came to order and included several prominent Democratic legislators. After an arrest, a judge will typically set a bail amount based on the seriousness of the alleged crime and on the defendant's perceived flight risk. The defendant can post the full amount or pay a bondsman 10 percent of the bail, which is nonrefundable. The bail company assumes the financial risk if the defendant is a "no show." The bond is meant to provide a strong financial incentive for the defendant to show up at the appointed court date. But Newsom and the assembled legislators argued that the current system is antiquated and unfair—the "modern equivalent of debtors' prison," as sponsors of a reform bill put it. "We punish poor people literally for being poor," argued Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland. "In many cases, if you have enough money to pay your bail, you can get out of jail regardless of whether you are a danger to the public or a flight risk." And the converse is true, supporters say: Those who are poor but pose little danger or flight risk must stay in jail until the wheels of justice turn. They often turn slowly, which means people in tough financial straits risk losing their job, their home and their car as they languish in a jail cell. A single parent risks losing his or her children to Child Protective Services. It's a tough burden for those who have not been found guilty of a crime. It's the first day of session, so the legislation includes intent language: "It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to safely reduce the number of people detained pretrial, while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail." Legislators say their intent is to "reform" the system, but it appears the ultimate intent is to move to a risk-based system of the type embraced by the federal government and some local jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C. In other words, details are still hazy, and the bail-bonds industry has plenty of time to gear up for what could pose an existential threat. The industry has argued that it offers an economical system that minimizes the costs to the court system. That's because bond companies privately assure—without extensive court monitoring—that defendants show up for their trial. But critics argue that far more people remain in jail than would be the case with a risk-based assessment—and that the jail costs (around $100 a day in California) counteract any other savings. The California legislation is part of a nationwid[...]
2016-12-08T20:50:00-05:00A rumor, not linked to any named source, is circulating (Bloomberg seems to have first reported it yesterday) that Donald Trump is likely to name Jim O'Neill to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). O'Neill is currently a managing director at Mithril Capital, an investment firm co-launched by Peter Thiel, who is on Trump's transition team. Gizmodo is hitting the panic button hard at this rumor, with its headline: "Trump is Considering an Insane Silicon Valley Libertarian to Head the FDA." The bill of indictment against this dangerous madman, who they find "pretty freaking terrifying"? he has advocated for the FDA to give up on vetting the efficacy of new drugs before they come to market. O'Neill, in other words, would like the FDA to stop performing one of its primary functions and let all of us act as lab mice. Such a move might allow drug makers to rake in tons of cash on untested medical treatments that might not ever work. "We should reform [the] FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety—and let people start using them, at their own risk," O'Neill said in a 2014 speech at the conference Rejuvenation Biotechnology. "Let's prove efficacy after they've been legalized." Those "insane" ideas that relate to the FDA may seem familiar to readers of Reason as they have been defended at length and intelligently here by our science correspondent Ronald Bailey, at most detail in this 2012 article. In it Bailey presents some facts and analysis Gizmodo might not be aware of, or maybe not care about. (Gizmodo does not make the slightest attempt to actually explain why O'Neill's ideas are allegedly insane or bad for America.) Bailey notes that "a 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by researchers from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas found ...that the delays caused by requirements for lengthier trials have instead resulted in the loss of 300,000 patient life-years while saving only 16 life-years." Bailey reports skyrocketing costs and time to get potentially lifesaving drugs through the FDA gantlet, and that it is Phase III trial on efficacy and potential side effects that are the largest cause of this time and money sink, "Between 1999 and 2005, clinical trials saw average increases in trial procedures by 65 percent, staff work by 67 percent, and length by 70 percent," Bailey writes. Writing about health policy analyst Avrik Roy's call, like O'Neill's, for allowing drugs that have passed Phase I and Phase II to be conditionally marketed, Bailey notes: Speeding up drug approvals saves lives. A 2005 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that, on balance, the faster FDA drug approvals made possible by new funding legislation passed in the 1990s saved far more lives than they endangered. In fact, new drugs saved up to 310,000 life-years compared to 55,000 life-years possibly lost to the side effects of drugs that were eventually withdrawn from the market. Conditional approval would accelerate access to more drugs, especially drugs that aim to treat the common diseases that afflict more of us. Not only would conditional approval get drugs faster to sick people willing to take a risk on a new treatment, sales of the drug would help fund the Phase III trials neede[...]