2017-03-29T16:50:00-04:00As referenced earlier today, last night The Fifth Column invited to its podcast-waves Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the most libertarian members of Congress, and a man well-known to Reason readers (you can consume our previous interviews with congressman from June 2013, March 2016, and May 2016; watch him eat a hemp bar on The Independents, and read what he's written for us). With the Ryancare debacle (in which Massie was a firm "Hell no") still fresh in the memory tubes, and with the Trump administration collaborating with the existing GOP establishment to marginalize the crazies in the Massie-friendly House Freedom Caucus, the triumvirate of Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan, and myself wanted to know how the Obamcare-reboot failure looked like from the inside ("this was a big game of chicken"), where Congress goes from here on swamp-draining, and whether there's any meaningful overlap between Trump/Steve Bannon economic nationalism and Tea Party-flavored libertarianism (in mutual opposition to the World Trade Organization, he suggested). Along the way Massie spelled out the virtues (and limitations) of his bill to abolish the Department of Education, ruminated on whether the HFC's intransigence has allowed libertarian-leaners to retake the lunatic lead from Donald Trump, and busted Moynihan's chops for being a diva. You can listen to the whole thing here; Massie in the first 37 minutes: src="https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6ajs5-6922a1?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0"> After the jump a quickie edited transcript, thanks to Lindsay Marchello: Welch: Give us a bit of a snapshot of what it was like there in the final 24 hours in that push. Massie: Oh my gosh, this thing was like a rocket whose fins had fallen off. It started off in the wrong trajectory 18 days before…and there in the last few days it was traveling erratically, and I said on Thursday—obviously they pulled the bill on Friday from consideration—but on Thursday I said "This rocket has gone crazy. The best we can hope for is it lands in the ocean and sinks." Welch: Now I should just interject here that you are an MIT graduate, so you are only capable of speaking in rocket metaphors. Massie: I'm an electric engineer, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I like to pretend I'm one when I'm in Congress. You know, I did a lot of media last week; I probably went on TV more last week than I've been on TV in my life. And I was trying to get the message out there that this was a big game of chicken, and that reality…is going to come crashing down on Thursday. They were able to avoid reality for one day by postponing the vote, but then reality came crashing down. And I also predicted that they would claim they had the votes right up until they pulled the bill, which is also what happened. The speaker did Congress a great disservice by going on TV for literally the entire week leading up to the debacle of the bill being pulled and saying that they had the votes, so I felt compelled to go on TV and say they don't have the votes. And then, on I believe it was Thursday or Wednesday, Mick Mulvaney came—he's a former Freedom Caucus member who is now the OMB director—he came to our Republican conference, and he was carrying a message from Trump. He said "I've got a message from my boss. He's rather remarkable; he's not like most of us politicians, and he wants you to know that number one, he's done negotiating. There will be no changes to this bill. And number two, the vote is going to happen tomorrow, and he doesn't care if it passes or fails. We are going to have a vote and he's going to find out who is on his side and who's not." And then the third thing he said is, "If this fails, we are done with health care. You're done with health care, we are moving on." Foster: Wow. Massie: They asked me, "What do you make of all that?" And I said it's all a big bluff. Foster: Did you say that before or after you pissed yourself? Massie: Just shaking. I was terrified. In fact I sent out a [...]
2017-03-29T15:20:00-04:00The Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the last decade, but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges. A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA's gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn't relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns. In total, the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures. Those figures do not include other property, such as cars and electronics, which are favorite targets for seizure by law enforcement. All of this is possible through civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property if they suspect it's connected to criminal activity, without having to file criminal charges against the owner. While law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug traffickers and organized crime, the Inspector General's findings echo the concerns of many civil liberties groups, which say asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives for law enforcement to seize property. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the Inspector General warned. Darpana Sheth, an attorney for the libertarian-leaning nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice, said in a statement that the report's findings "fundamentally undercut law enforcement's claim that civil forfeiture is a vital crime-fighting tool." "Americans are already outraged at the Justice Department's aggressive use of civil forfeiture, which has mushroomed into a multibillion dollar program in the last decade," she continued. "This report only further confirms what we have been saying all along: Forfeiture laws create perverse financial incentives to seize property without judicial oversight and violate due process." More than a dozen states have passed reforms to civil asset forfeiture in recent years in response to civil liberties concerns, but the practice remains robust in part because of joint federal and state drug task forces, which share forfeiture proceeds through the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Fund. According to the report, the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture program participants have collected $28 billion over the last decade. As part of its investigation, the Justice Department Inspector General reviewed 100 DEA seizures that occurred without court issued-warrants or accompanying narcotics seizures—cases it said presented "particularly significant" risks to civil liberties. Only 44 of the 100 seizures were connected to or advanced a criminal investigation. The majority of seizures occurred in airports, train stations, and bus terminals, where the DEA regularly snoops on travel records and maintains a network of travel industry employees who act as confidential informants. According to the Inspector General, common red flags for passengers are "traveling to or from a known source city for drug trafficking, purchasing a ticket within 24 hours of travel, purchasing a ticket for a long flight with an immediate return, purchasing a one-way ticket, and traveling without checked luggage." DEA agents then detain and question travelers with large amounts of cash, and, if they determine the money is linked to drug activity, seize it, even if there is no hard evidence that it is connected to illegal activity. As the Inspector General notes, these agents "rely on their immediate, on-the-spot judgment." The passenger is then released, bereft of money but otherwise free to go. The report highlights on[...]
2017-03-29T15:06:00-04:00One of the FBI's favorite tools for nabbing would-be terrorists is a sting: The bureau finds a mark, stokes his interest in carrying out some sort of attack, draws him into a plot, and then arrests him. Every time one of these busts hits the press, I wonder how long it will be before we learn about a perp who takes the FBI's encouragement to heart but decides to launch or join a separate plot that the government doesn't control. I had that on my mind as I read 60 Minutes' report on the Garland, Texas, attack of May 2015. In that incident, two men tried to shoot up a draw-Mohammed contest; fortunately, local police prevented them from killing anyone. "Not only had the FBI been monitoring [one of the gunmen] for years," 60 Minutes recounts, but "there was an undercover agent right behind him when the first shots were fired." The shooter in question, Elton Ibrahim Simpson, had been the target of a previous FBI operation, in which an informant recorded him talking about wanting to fight overseas for Islam. That wasn't enough to send Simpson to jail—he got three years' probation instead—but the discovery that his mosque had spies in it did drive him away from the temple. The alienated Simpson and his roommate then reached out to ISIS about carrying out some sort of attack at home. But ISIS wasn't the only organization that Simpson was in touch with. "After the trial," his attorney told 60 Minutes, "we found out that they had had an undercover agent who had been texting with Simpson, less than three weeks before the attack, to him 'Tear up Texas.'" The report continues: The man he's talking about was a special agent of the FBI, working undercover posing as an Islamic radical. The government sent attorney Dan Maynard 60 pages of declassified encrypted messages between the agent and Elton Simpson—and argued "Tear up Texas" was not an incitement. But Simpson's response was incriminating, referring to the attack against cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo: "bro, you don't have to say that..." He wrote "you know what happened in Paris... so that goes without saying. No need to be direct." But it turns out the undercover agent did more than just communicate online with Elton Simpson. In an affidavit filed in another case the government disclosed that the FBI undercover agent had actually "traveled to Garland, Texas, and was present...at the event."...And this past November, Maynard was given another batch of documents by the government, revealing the biggest surprise of all. The undercover FBI agent was in a car directly behind Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi when they started shooting. Was it incitement? Judge for yourself. From the affidavit: The FBI wouldn't speak with 60 Minutes, aside from an emailed statement denying that its agents had advance knowledge of the Garland plot. So we don't know their answers to the questions the show says it would have liked to have asked: "Are these the only communications that you had with Simpson? Did you have more communications with Simpson? How is it that you ended up coming to Garland, Texas? Why are you even there?" That isn't the first time the FBI has declined to talk about the topic. The bureau refused to answer some questions on the subject from the Associated Press earlier this year—and when a Daily Beast reporter inquired about the "Tear up Texas" text last August, an FBI spokeswoman just hung up the phone. In the best-case scenario, the text was just one irresponsible but ultimately uninfluential remark to a man who was already ready to shoot people. But that would still raise the question of just why exactly anyone thinks this sort of encouragement should be a part of any police investigation. In the meantime, it wasn't an undercover G-man who stopped the plot; it was the local cops in Garland, who were there because they realized that this was the sort of event someone might try to attack. [...]
2017-03-29T15:01:00-04:00In an era of daily internet outrage, Dave Rubin stands out for his willingness to engage a wide spectrum of political opinions with a civil tone. His show, The Rubin Report has hosted the likes of alt-right gadfly Milo Yiannopolous, crusading atheist Sam Harris, and ex-governor-turned-conspiracy-theorist Jesse Ventura, all in a spirit of non-partisan intellectual inquiry. Chatting with political adversaries has affected Rubin's politics in unexpected ways. As his beliefs turned towards individualism, he broke with the progressive show The Young Turks over the issue of identity politics. Rubin explains his ideological shift in his influential video, Why I Left the Left, which has racked up 1.7 million views in just a few months. Today, Rubin describes himself as a classical liberal. "I do believe that the state has some use," he explains. "Now I don't want a huge state. I firmly believe in individual liberty more than anything else. And that you have to live the life you want for yourself." The one-time progressive even cast a vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in the last presidential election. Although his even-keeled approach to dialogue hasn't changed much, he now sees value in the outrageous style of internet punditry. "Sometimes there is use in laying out bombs that are going to upset people, because out of the chaos of that, you can actually build some bridges, you can actually find some people waking up," he says. Edited by Alex Manning. Cameras by Zach Weissmueller and Austin Bragg. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Check against video for accuracy. Rubin: Sometimes there is use in laying out bombs that are going to upset people because out of the chaos of that, you can actually build some bridges, you can actually find some people waking up. Reason: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with ReasonTV, and today we are talking with Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report. It's an online talk show that is extremely well regarded for it's civil tone, and depth, and breath of topics. Dave Rubin, thanks for talking to Reason. Rubin: Nick, it's good to be with you. Civil tone. I'm not bringing that here. Reason: No, no. That's on your show. Now we're doing this. Rubin: I'm going to be doing something completely different. Reason: A lot of cursing and below-the-belt shots. You've hosted people ranging from alt-right rockstar, Milo Yiannopoulos to Sam Harris, the atheist, anti-Islam crusader, and we'll talk a little bit about him. Jesse Ventura, Reason contributing editor Deirdre McCloskey, the economic historian [Ian Herseley 00:00:55]. A lot of people, a lot of different types of people. You also talk about the regressive left a lot. What do you mean by that term? The regressive left? Rubin: Yeah, well first on the guest portion of it, it's funny, people say, "You talk to people from all over the political map," as if that's something so special or inventive, or I'm doing something that is so wild. It's like, "When did sitting down with someone that you might disagree with become so rare?" It's actually kind of sad. I cherish that. I love doing that. I hope in the course of this we'll find some things that we disagree on. Reason: I think we already have. Rubin: That right there. I would say the regressive left, I considered myself a progressive. I was far on the left, I worked at the Young Turks Network, they're an online news network, progressive, and what I realized is that these ideas, they're all based in collectivism, basically, that we should judge as a group, usually on immutable characteristics, so we're judging everyone on their color, on their religion, on their sexuality, on all of these things, and yet they're telling you that everyone else is the bigot, and the racist, and all of that stuff, when really we should all be judged as individuals. Now I know you guys at Rea[...]
Last week saw what is arguably the most terrifying development in India's six-decade-long history as an independent republic: Prime Minister Narendra Modi installed as chief minister (image) (governor) of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state that houses the Taj Mahal (the world's finest Muslim monument), Yogi Adityanath, a rabid Hindu nationalist who makes no bones about his ethnic cleansing agenda against Muslims. During the campaign for state elections, Adityanath repeatedly invoked Trump's Muslim ban to justify his plans.
Of course what Trump is proposing is nowhere close to what this man has in mind. Still, what this clearly shows is that America is losing its soft power to spread pluralism, tolerance, and other liberal values. Instead of remaining a beacon for protecting vulnerable minorities, Trump's America seems to be turning into a giant green light for minorities' persecution around the world, I note in my column at The Week.
This is not merely because Trump has neither the interest nor the moral clout to call them (illiberal leaders) out and deny them international respectability, something that Modi and his ilk desperately crave. It is because the rest of the world sets its moral compass by looking at America. Most Americans don't fully appreciate this, but the moral progress that this country has made by invoking its own principles — liberty, justice, equality, tolerance, religious pluralism — to fight slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation has been the main driver of liberalism around the world over the last several decades. America has offered persecuted groups a moral vocabulary and a modus operandi for securing their rights and holding their regimes accountable.
Go here to view it.
2017-03-29T13:50:00-04:00U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the mothballed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository site in Nevada on Monday. Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General by Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asserting that federal government violated the law in failing to complete the licensing process for permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. President Donald Trump's proposed budget allocates $120 million to restart the licensing process for the facility. In 1982 Congress committed to finding a permanent site to handle the nuclear waste produced by America's nuclear power plants. In 1987, Congress designated Yucca Mountain as that site and something like $15 billion has been spent on readying it since it was selected. In 2002, the final environmental impact statement concluded that nuclear waste could be safely stored there for at least 10,000 years. The final supplemental environmental impact statement in 2008 came to the same conclusion. When it comes to highly politicized topics, nothing is ever really final final about decisions made by federal bureaucracies. So in 2010, President Barack Obama directed the DOE to close the facility as a favor to Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid. Despite the Obama administration's attempt to kill the project, in 2013 the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to resume its review of the license application for Yucca Mountain. The court observed that the agency "is simply defying a law enacted by Congress, and the Commission is doing so without any legal basis." In May 2016, the NRC finally issued its assessment that noted: This supplement evaluates the potential radiological and nonradiological impacts—over a one million year period—on the aquifer environment, soils, ecology, and public health, as well as the potential for disproportionate impacts on minority or low-income populations. In addition, this supplement assesses the potential for cumulative impacts associated with other past, present, or reasonably foreseeable future actions. The NRC staff finds that each of the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on the resources evaluated in this supplement would be SMALL. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 requires nuclear power plant operators to pay a tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour to the government in return for the DOE taking responsibility for spent nuclear fuel. As of 2014 when the Obama administration stopped collecting the fees, the power plants had paid $31 billion to the government to take care of their waste. Some 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is still sitting at their plants. It's well past time to start the process of opening up Yucca Mountain. [...]
2017-03-29T13:26:00-04:00The ridesharing service Uber announced they were "closing in Denmark" because of a new taxi law that requires, among other things, mandatory fare meters and seat occupancy detectors, Agence France-Presse reports. Uber will suspend its service on April 18. "This is not necessarily a farewell to Denmark, but a message that we cannot live with the legislation that's in the field now," an Uber spokesperson said at a press conference in Copenhagen. According to TechCrunch, Uber said it was not planning to close a development operation in Denmark that employs 40 engineers, something TechCrunch suggests "may also be a not-so-subtle attempt to play politics with local lawmakers." Members of two of the three parties in Denmark's governing coalition lamented the lack of support for a liberalization of taxi laws that would make it easier for companies like Uber to operate. The transportation minister, Ole Birk Olesen, a member of the Liberal Alliance, which The Local of Denmark has described as "libertarian-leaning," called the lack of support for taxi deregulation "unfortunate." "I believe that we should be open to new technology and innovative business models, Olesen wrote, saying he was "grateful" that at least there was a measure in the new taxi law to "monitor technological developments and see whether in future there might be a parliamentary majority that supports smarter control of taxi services than there is today with the likes of taxi meters." Conservative member of parliament Rasmus Jarlov, described by The Local as "one of Uber's biggest supporters in parliament" blamed opposition parties that he said "forced" the government "to make a law that has forced Uber out of Denmark. The government parties regret this." Socialists and nationalists, on the other hand, rejoiced. Karsten Hønge, a member of parliament from the Socialist People's Party and its transport spokesperson, said it was a "happy occasion that Uber is being driven to the scrapyard—I have not shed a tear." "I am glad that our society is taking a stand against a company as greedy and avaricious and Uber," Hønge said, as The Local reports. The leader of the Liberal Alliance slammed her for supporting "more expensive personal transport." A spokesperson for the Liberal Alliance pointed out that 200,000 Danes used Uber in Copenhagen and that the law was "hugely regrettable" for them and "for the drivers who have gained an income from it." The nationalist Danish People's Party also supported the restrictive new law, with its leader, Kim Christiansen, saying it was "quite excellent" Uber was leaving the country. "It is good that Uber has realised that the concept and way they want to do business is not something we want to do in Denmark," he said. Uber says it hopes it can work with the government "in the hope that they will update their proposed regulations and again enable Danes to enjoy the benefits of modern technologies like Uber." In December, Uber was indicted in Denmark for allegedly helping drivers skirt taxi laws. Ultimately, Uber connects individuals willing to give others a ride with individuals in need of a ride. But the needs existed before Uber. Laws that target companies like Uber target essentially voluntary transactions, pushing the government deeper into the lives of purportedly free people. [...]
2017-03-29T12:30:00-04:00The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump will announce today the creation of a federal opioid commission. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the chair, and the rollout will feature a who's who of federal bureaucrats, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to acting Drug Czar Richard Baum, to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Drug policy reformers would prefer to see a commission like this chaired by a harm reduction expert, but Christie is not the worst choice in a Trumpian world. He signed a Good Samaritan law in 2013 that protects drug-possessing bystanders from arrest in the event they report another person's overdose. It also provides some legal protection for people who administer the overdose-reversal drug naloxone in a life-threatening situation. The law would've been better if it had provided immunity to drug dealers who reported overdoses, but Christie vetoed that version of the bill. He has also allowed New Jersey pharmacies to sell naloxone without a prescription. (I wouldn't normally applaud that kind of executive inaction if not for Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoing a bill that would have allowed pharmacies in his state to do the same.) Christie's biggest move on opioids--a comprehensive bill he signed in February--is a little more complicated. The American Journal of Managed Care says it contains "the nation's strictest treatment mandates for opioid addiction." It requires: health plans to offer 6 months of treatment, including an initial 28-day period in which health plans cannot deny inpatient care. After that, health plans can do concurrent review no more than every 2 weeks to guide the location of care. Less-noticed, but groundbreaking, parts of the bill require health plans to go out-of-network, if necessary, to ensure that people seeking help are placed within 24 hours. The law, as written, will extend to other forms of substance abuse, not just opioid and heroin addiction. The measure also includes education requirements for licensed professionals who dispense opioids, from physicians, to dentists, to midwives. Patients with cancer or those in hospice care are exempt from the initial [five-day] pill limit. So, we have a five-day pill limit for people who aren't dying, and a requirement that insurance companies pay for six months of care. New Jersey Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a dentist, objected to both facets, saying that the pill limit was too strict and the length of treatment too short. The bill also requires insurers to cover medication-assisted treatment (see: methadone) if a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist recommends it. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication-assisted therapy dramatically reduces mortality among opioid users. Maia Szalavitz, who's not shy about calling bullshit on bad opioid policy, has encouraged drug court operators to make medication-assisted therapy an option for people whose substance use has ensnared them in the criminal justice system. But as Jason Cherkis reported in his fantastic piece for the Huffington Post, far too many treatment programs are dangerously enamored with abstinence-only pseudoscience. The founder of one of those 12-step programs will be at today's commission announcement. More tragic still, pretty much anyone can set up a 12-step program, while regulatory obstacles to offering medication-assisted therapy all but guarantee very few doctors will ever provide it. Unlike with most schedule II drugs, healthcare providers must ask the federal government for permission to provide medication-assisted therapy. If approved, they can provide the treatment to only 30 patients at a time in their first year, and 100 patients at a time in their second year. In 2016, the Department of Health and Human[...]
2017-03-29T12:16:00-04:00In a post yesterday about President Donald Trump's record number of Congressional Review Act-enabled repeals of regulations, I tacked on a bullet-pointed list of other Trumpian moves to roll back the regulatory state. Not included was his proposed budget, despite the fact that it features impressive year-over-year cuts to the executive branch—30.4 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency, 20.7 percent from the Departments of Labor and Agriculture, and so on. So why didn't I include Trump's proposed deconstruction of the administrative state? Because presidents don't pass budgets, and congressional Republicans don't want to cut spending. Last night, in an episode of The Fifth Column, I asked the great libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to assess the realistic possibilities that Congress this year will approve such budgetary measures as a 30-plus percent cut in the EPA. "You want me to give you odds?" Massie said. "I'd go with five percent odds." To be clear, Massie is in the lonely minority that would delight in taking a machete to the regulatory state—the man did, after all, propose a one-sentence bill last month to abolish the Department of Education. But as we lurch from the Ryancare debacle to yet another self-inflicted government shutdown deadline of April 28, congressional Republicans are already going on the record as saying Trump's cuts, as predicted in this space, ain't happening. "We just voted to plus up the N.I.H.," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), complained to The New York Times, referencing Trump's proposed $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health. "It would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it." Also balking at the N.I.H. cuts are Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ("It's penny-wise but pound-foolish") and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who told the Washington Examiner that "You don't pretend to balance the budget by cutting life-saving biomedical research when the real cause of the federal debt is runaway entitlement spending." More GOP objections, as reported by the NYT: Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was more blunt. "I think it is too late for this year," she said about the proposed cuts, echoing several Republican colleagues. As for a border wall, which is not well supported by American voters, "that debate belongs in the next fiscal year," she said. […] "I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a wall," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I'm not going to support a big cut to the N.I.H. I'm not going to support big cuts to the State Department." Recall, too, that Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine quoted a "top House Republican staff member" on Trump's agency cuts thusly: "even the cabinet secretaries at the E.P.A. and Interior are saying these cuts aren't going to happen." So these are your politics for the next calendar month: The media and various activist/constituency groups will sound a never-ending alarm about the terrible effects of Trump's heartless budget cuts, while a unified Republican Congress that cannot even pass a budget anymore blunders along toward another artificial government-funding deadline that will likely result in some kind of spending deal that does not, in fact, cut spending. Good work, America! [...]
(image) A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence voters.
A. Barton Hinkle writes:
If there's one thing this country needs, it's a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers.
A lot of fake news has been floating around in the ether during the past few months, as anyone who has read the mainstream press can attest. Some of the stuff is obviously fictional, such as the story reporting that the pope endorsed Donald Trump for president. That was plainly absurd; everybody knows Francis was a Jim Gilmore man all the way. But sometimes it's a little harder to tell. When the satirical news magazine The Onion reports "Military Aides Try To Cheer Up Kim Jong-Un After Failed Missile Launch By Putting On Surprise Execution," you have to wonder. Maybe it's worth Googling, just to be sure.
Moreover, a certain segment of the public is satire-impaired. This has led to the creation of sites such as literallyunbelievable.org and listicles such as "25 People Who Don't Realize The Onion Isn't A Real News Source," which post social-media reactions from people like Facebook user "T." When The Onion reported, "New Sony Nose Buds Allow Users to Blast Different Smells Into Nostrils," T responded: "Dumbest [expletive] I ever read. Even if they worked who wants to go around with what looks like ear buds in your nose, u would look like a complete idiot." Yes, u would.
Not every false thing on the internet is satire, however, and some false stories can do real harm. Example: Pizzagate, in which a family-run Washington pizzeria was accused of running a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta. The story became a nightmare for the owners of the pizzaria, who suffered harassment and death threats for months.
Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story, but that didn't keep protesters from showing up in D.C. a day later to demand that someone investigate the story anyhow. The Truth Is Out There.
Episodes such as that are rare, but false political claims on the internet are ubiquitous, and Serious People consider this a Very Bad Thing. Now a lawmaker in California has determined to do something about it.
2017-03-29T12:01:00-04:00If there's one thing this country needs, it's a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers. A lot of fake news has been floating around in the ether during the past few months, as anyone who has read the mainstream press can attest. Some of the stuff is obviously fictional, such as the story reporting that the pope endorsed Donald Trump for president. That was plainly absurd; everybody knows Francis was a Jim Gilmore man all the way. But sometimes it's a little harder to tell. When the satirical news magazine The Onion reports "Military Aides Try To Cheer Up Kim Jong-Un After Failed Missile Launch By Putting On Surprise Execution," you have to wonder. Maybe it's worth Googling, just to be sure. Moreover, a certain segment of the public is satire-impaired. This has led to the creation of sites such as literallyunbelievable.org and listicles such as "25 People Who Don't Realize The Onion Isn't A Real News Source," which post social-media reactions from people like Facebook user "T." When The Onion reported, "New Sony Nose Buds Allow Users to Blast Different Smells Into Nostrils," T responded: "Dumbest [expletive] I ever read. Even if they worked who wants to go around with what looks like ear buds in your nose, u would look like a complete idiot." Yes, u would. Not every false thing on the internet is satire, however, and some false stories can do real harm. Example: Pizzagate, in which a family-run Washington pizzeria was accused of running a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta. The story became a nightmare for the owners of the pizzaria, who suffered harassment and death threats for months. Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story, but that didn't keep protesters from showing up in D.C. a day later to demand that someone investigate the story anyhow. The Truth Is Out There. Episodes such as that are rare, but false political claims on the internet are ubiquitous, and Serious People consider this a Very Bad Thing. Now a lawmaker in California has determined to do something about it. Assembly member Ed Chau has introduced legislation that—you'd better sit down for this part—would render it illegal to knowingly "make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site" a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence the vote on any issue or candidate. Let the government punish people for false statements? What a great idea! That has worked out just splendidly for much of human history, has it not? Note that the measure would outlaw not only the making of false statements, but also the publishing and circulation of them—which presumably means that if you share a false post on Facebook or retweet a link to a false story, then California's speech police could come after you, too. (It's not even clear that you would have to know the story is false: the bill's text makes it illegal "to knowingly ... make, publish or circulate" a false story, not "to circulate a story while knowing it to be false.") Note also that the statement doesn't even have to be false, which can be hard enough to prove. (E.g., "Congressman Jones is an extremist.") You can get crosswise with the law for statements that are merely "deceptive." Hmmm. Is it deceptive to write, "Jones' proposal does little to help the poor"? Do we need a government definition of "little" to settle the matter? Probably. And probably one for "help" and "poor," too. To be fair, having the government dictate what qualifies as true in politics makes a certain amount of sense from a Platonic standpoint. Doctors are trained to heal—but as Socrates points out in the Republic, the result of such training is that nobody can poison someone as skillfully as a doctor can. By[...]
(image) Suppose you forget to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag while passing through security at a U.S. airport. How should the TSA "resolve" that issue?
You might think the resolution would involve sending the laptop through the scanner again, this time in its very own bin. It might also include swabbing the laptop to see if it tests positive for explosive residue, based on the dubious supposition that a terrorist with a bomb in his laptop would invite such scrutiny by flouting the well-known rule regarding portable computers. But even that extra measure seems downright sensible compared to what a TSA agent at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport did on Sunday after a 13-year-old boy mistakenly left his laptop in his backback: He repeatedly patted the boy down, paying extra attention to his thighs, buttocks, and waistband, even though the kid had passed through the body scanner without setting off any alarms.
In a Facebook post that has elicited considerable outrage, the boy's mother, Jennifer Williamson of Grapevine, Texas, says he has a sensory processing disorder that makes him especially sensitive to being touched. She therefore asked if he could be screened in some other way, which of course was simply not possible. Williamson's video of the pat-down suggests the boy reacted with more equanimity than his mother, who described the experience as "horrifying." It is especially puzzling that the agent seems to have completed the pat-down a couple of times, only to feel the same areas again. The TSA says the examination, which took about two minutes, was witnessed by two police officers "to mitigate the concerns of the mother."
Williamson evidently did not find the cops' presence reassuring. "We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side," she says. "Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause need to be reined in." Several hours later, she says, her son was still saying, "I don't know what I did. What did I do?"
In addition to the pat-down, the TSA screened "three carry-on items that required further inspection." Williamson says she and her son missed their flight because all the extra attention delayed them for about an hour. The TSA says it was more like 35 minutes. Or maybe 45. According to CBS News, "The TSA said the procedures performed by the officer in the video met new pat-down standards that went into effect earlier this month." The TSA told CNET "all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger's laptop."
The problem, in other words, is not "power tripping TSA agents" who get their jollies by feeling up boys. The problem is the protocol, which makes no sense and, judging from most of the comments in response to Williamson's post, is not even effective as security theater.
One big reason the West is experiencing a massive nativist spasm is its welfare state. Indeed, protecting social programs from foreign moochers has become the biggest rallying cry for(image) restrictionists in Europe, America and even Canada – the paragon of human compassion. Whether immigrants really strain – rather than strengthen – the welfare state is debatable. But what is not debatable is that the welfare state has failed in its central project to create a new kind of person whose humane commitments are driven not by parochial attachments to self, family, and clan – but a more cosmopolitan sensibility. In fact, it may have deepened these attachments, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia.
2017-03-29T10:30:00-04:00The central project of the liberal welfare state is to build a society based on a high-minded ethic of altruism rather than narrow self-interest. The whole point is to create a new kind of person whose humane commitments are driven by a more cosmopolitan sensibility beyond his parochial attachments to self, family, and clan. But the opposite has happened: Protecting the welfare state from foreign moochers has become the single biggest stimulus for nativism in the West. That's true in America, Europe, and, most surprisingly, the paragon of compassion to America's north, Canada. The more the welfare state has tried to elbow self-interest out of our accepted understanding of a "just society," the more this self-interest has asserted itself — and in ever-more vexing ways. In America, the notion that immigrants are a drain on social welfare programs is as popular as it is fallacious. Literally every credible study shows that compared to similarly situated natives, not only do fewer immigrants use welfare, but the average value of the benefits they receive is lower too, including for low-skilled immigrants (many of whom are undocumented). Indeed, the taxes and economic contributions of immigrants — including the low-skilled — dwarf what they consume in public services. This is partly because the 1996 welfare reform act barred immigrants from most means-tested benefits. But the bigger reason is that immigrants come to America for jobs, not welfare benefits. The labor force participation rate of foreign-born men in 2010 was 80.1 percent, a full 10 percentage points higher than that of native-born men. Furthermore, immigrants tend to gravitate to states with the lowest per capital welfare spending — maybe because they have more jobs. Nonetheless, the mere fact that the welfare state exists and that immigrants may theoretically become a drain on it has been enough to trigger a bad case of us-versus-them in this Land of Immigrants. It has become the gateway argument that seduces people to a more general nativist suspicion of foreigners — which is why nativist outfits such as the Federation for Immigration Reform and quasi-nativist ones such as the Center for Immigration Studies constantly pump out studies about immigrant welfare use. One of President Trump's leaked executive order drafts contemplated not only barring immigrants likely to use public assistance, but deporting those who do, perhaps even if no fraud is involved. The situation is even worse in Europe, where nativist politicians have made even deeper inroads — and this despite the fact that many European countries need immigrants even more than America, thanks to their below-replacement fertility rates and aging populations. Austria, Spain, and France — which have never been super-friendly to immigrants — are tightening up. And so are more open nations like Denmark and Sweden, which have introduced a complex set of measures to control their borders. The latest example of this anti-immigrant trend came in the recent Dutch elections, where the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated the ultra-restrictionist Geert Wilders — the Dutch Donald Trump — but only after promising to impose stiff restrictions on migrant benefits to stop alleged welfare tourism. Likewise, although Germany has been heroic in its commitment to absorbing refugees fleeing the war-ravaged Middle East, it is also seeking to expel EU citizens who remain jobless for six months out of fear that they are simply hanging around for welfare benefits — never mind that there is little evidence of mass welfare abuse. Sweden, which prides itself on its cradle-to-grave welfare social programs, is flirti[...]
(image) Early in the evening on October 1, 1984, Catherine Fuller, a 48-year-old mother of six, was robbed, sodomized with a foreign object, and beaten to death in a garage off an alley in Washington, D.C. After police concluded that Fuller had been attacked by a group of young men, prosecutors obtained two guilty pleas and eight convictions. Today the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by seven of those men, who argue that prosecutors violated their right to due process by withholding evidence that would have cast doubt on the government's allegations. As Jacob Sullum explains, the case shows why, more than half a century after the Court told prosecutors they have a constitutional duty to share evidence that might help defendants, prosecutors have little incentive to take that duty seriously.
2017-03-29T09:15:00-04:00Yesterday California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced 15 felony charges against two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, in connection with their hidden-camera recordings of conversations with Planned Parenthood employees they sought to implicate in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. "The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California's Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society," Becerra declared. "We will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations." The right to freedom of the press, which Daleiden and Merritt claim they were exercising, is also foundational in a free democratic society, and it conflicts with California's dubious definition of the right to privacy. That conflict is especially troubling when law enforcement officials use privacy as a pretext to attack political opponents, which is what seems to be happening in this case. Federal law and the laws of 38 states (as well as the District of Columbia) allow any participant in a conversation to record it, with or without the consent of the other parties. California, by contrast, requires the consent of all parties. Recording a "confidential communication" without the consent of all parties is a crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or as a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt include 14 secretly recorded conversations, plus a conspiracy charge. Daleiden told The Washington Post he plans to argue that the conversations did not qualify as "confidential" because no party had a reasonable expectation that the discussion would not be overheard. On July 25, 2014, for instance, Daleiden and Merritt, posing as representatives of the fictitious Fetal Tissue Procurement Company, met with Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, over lunch at a Los Angeles restaurant. While testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in September 2015, Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, said she had told Nucatola "it was inappropriate to have a clinical discussion in a nonconfidential, nonclinical setting." Other Planned Parenthood videos posted by Daleiden's Center for Medical Progress were also recorded in public settings, such as restaurants and conferences. In 1999 a California appeals court ruled that NBC News producers did not violate California's wiretapping law when they secretly recorded a lunch meeting at a Malibu restaurant, since the targets, executives of a company that allegedly sold fraudulent toll-free numbers, "had no objective expectation of privacy in their business lunch meeting." The court noted that one of the executives conceded he "did not say anything he thought was a secret," that the meeting involved a standard sales pitch, and that the executives showed no reticence around the restaurant's staff. According to the Digital Media Law Project's explanation of California's law, however, the setting of a conversation is not necessarily dispositive. "If you are recording someone without their knowledge in a public or semi-public place like a street or restaurant," it says, "the person whom you're recording may or may not have 'an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation,' and the reasonableness of the expectation would depend on the particular factual circumstances. Therefore, you cannot necessarily assume that you are in the clear simply because you are in a public place." Daleiden suggested another possible defen[...]
(image) Government involvement in healthcare drives prices up. Government should do less instead.
John Stossel writes:
President Trump and Paul Ryan tried to improve Obamacare. They failed.
Trump then tweeted, "ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!"
But I do worry.
Trump is right when he says that Obamacare will explode.
The law mandates benefits and offers subsidies to more people. Insurers must cover things like:
--Tobacco use screening.
Some people want those things, but mandating them for everyone drives up costs. It was folly to pretend it wouldn't.
Insisting that lots of things be paid for by someone else is a recipe for financial explosion.
(image) Officials with the BBC are asking the government to mandate that all TV program guides gives its channels and programs greater prominence than those of commercial channels. The say the nation risks losing part of its culture without such a law.
2017-03-29T00:01:00-04:00President Trump and Paul Ryan tried to improve Obamacare. They failed. Trump then tweeted, "ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!" But I do worry. Trump is right when he says that Obamacare will explode. The law mandates benefits and offers subsidies to more people. Insurers must cover things like: Birth control. Alcohol counseling. Depression screening. Diet counseling. Tobacco use screening. Breastfeeding counseling. Some people want those things, but mandating them for everyone drives up costs. It was folly to pretend it wouldn't. Insisting that lots of things be paid for by someone else is a recipe for financial explosion. Medicare works that way, too. When I first qualified for it, I was amazed to find that no one even mentioned cost. It was just, "Have this test!" "See this doctor!" I liked it. It's great not to think about costs. But that's why Medicare will explode, too. There's no way that, in its current form, it will be around to fund younger people's care. Someone else paying changes our behavior. We don't shop around. We don't ask, "Do I really need that test?" "Is there a place where it's cheaper?" Hospitals and doctors don't try very hard to do things cheaply. Imagine if you had "grocery insurance." You'd buy expensive foods; supermarkets would never have sales. Everyone would spend more. Insurance coverage -- third-party payment -- is revered by the media and socialists (redundant?) but is a terrible way to pay for things. Today, 7 in 8 health care dollars are paid by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance companies. Because there's no real health care market, costs rose 467 percent over the last three decades. By contrast, prices fell in the few medical areas not covered by insurance, like plastic surgery and LASIK eye care. Patients shop around, forcing health providers to compete. The National Center for Policy Analysis found that from 1999 to 2011 the price of traditional LASIK eye surgery dropped from over $2,100 to about $1,700. Obamacare pretended government controls could accomplish the same thing, but they couldn't. The sickest people were quickest to sign up. Insurance companies then raised rates to cover their costs. When regulators objected, many insurers just quit Obamacare. This month Humana announced it'll leave 11 states. Voters will probably blame Republicans. Insurance is meant for catastrophic health events, surprises that cost more than most people can afford. That does not include birth control and diet counseling. The solution is to reduce, not increase, government's control. We should buy medical care the way we buy cars and computers -- with our own money. Our employers don't pay for our food, clothing and shelter; they shouldn't pay for our health care. They certainly shouldn't get a tax break for buying insurance while individuals don't. Give tax deductions to people who buy their own high-deductible insurance. Give tax benefits to medical savings accounts. (Obamacare penalizes them.) Allow insurers to sell across state lines. Current law forbids that, driving up costs and leaving people with fewer choices. What about the other "solution" -- Bernie Sanders' proposal of single-payer health care for all? Sanders claims other countries "provide universal health care ... while saving money." But that's not true. Well, other countries do spend less. But they get less. What modern health care they do get, they get because they freeload off our innov[...]
2017-03-29T00:01:00-04:00Early in the evening on October 1, 1984, Catherine Fuller, a 48-year-old mother of six, was robbed, sodomized with a foreign object, and beaten to death in a garage off an alley in Washington, D.C. After police concluded that Fuller had been attacked by a group of young men, prosecutors obtained two guilty pleas and eight convictions. Today the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by seven of those men, who argue that prosecutors violated their right to due process by withholding evidence that would have cast doubt on the government's allegations. The case shows why, more than half a century after the Court told prosecutors they have a constitutional duty to share evidence that might help defendants, prosecutors have little incentive to take that duty seriously. In the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, the Court held that "suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused…violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment." The Court later explained that evidence is "material" when there is "any reasonable likelihood that it could have affected the judgment of the jury." It seems clear that the evidence withheld from the men accused of attacking Catherine Fuller meets that standard. The suppressed evidence included, for example, information that would have further undermined the credibility of purported eyewitnesses who implicated the defendants. The jury, which deliberated for a week and acquitted two of the 10 defendants, evidently had trouble believing the government's witnesses, who contradicted themselves, each other, and the physical evidence. It is hardly a stretch for the defendants' lawyers to suggest that the jurors would have been even more skeptical if they had known one of the witnesses "was high on PCP while she met with investigators and identified photographs and suspects," that the same witness had asked a friend to lie about hearing a defendant's confession, or that the aunt of another witness contradicted his claim that he had told her about seeing the crime. Prosecutors also kept jurors from hearing the accounts of witnesses who were in the alley at the time of the attack but did not see a group of men. Even more egregiously, the government suppressed information about two plausible alternative suspects, including one who was convicted of robbing and assaulting two other middle-aged women in the same neighborhood within weeks of Fuller's murder. In 1992 that man "forcibly sodomized and beat to death a woman in an alley three blocks from where Mrs. Fuller had been found." By 2010 all but one of the surviving prosecution witnesses had recanted, saying they had been pressured into falsely implicating the defendants. A District of Columbia Superior Court judge nevertheless rejected the defendants' motion to vacate their convictions, a decision the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld in 2015. Amazingly, both courts concluded that the suppressed evidence, although favorable, was not material, which suggests how permissive that standard can be in practice. In a brief supporting the defendants' appeal, the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues that the "materiality" standard should be replaced with a presumption that withholding favorable evidence violates due process unless the government can show beyond a reasonable doubt that the omission did not affect the outcome. "For an unethical or indifferent prosecutor," the brief says, "a pretrial materiality requirement is an invitation[...]
(image) If you're interested in the shift from Scandinavian social democracy to Nordic neoliberalism (*), you should check out Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane's new paper on Denmark's deregulation of the telecommunications industry. The Danes, they inform us, have not just shed the state's telephone monopoly but disbanded its telecom regulatory agency, refused to let the government fix telecom prices or push particular telecom technologies, and mostly avoided telecom subsidies.
As is often the case with reforms described as deregulatory, some of these changes did more to rearrange the state's role than to reduce it. (That regulatory agency, for example, had its duties distributed to other arms of the government.) And some weren't really changes at all. ("In Denmark's history there are only three instances of telecom subsidies," Layton and Kane write, "and they are for extremely small amounts targeted to remote areas.") But the net effect was less intervention in the marketplace, not just compared to the past but compared to nearby nations. Despite all the recent liberalization in Sweden, for example, the government there still owns a piece of the country's dominant telephone company.
In any event, it's an interesting case study. It used to be a cliché to suggest that socialism works better in Scandinavia than elsewhere. The best argument that that's true may be the ease with which Scandinavian socialists have moved toward markets.
(* I hate the word "neoliberalism," but alliteration must prevail.)
2017-03-28T20:48:00-04:00A week after releasing the disciplinary record of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014, ThinkProgress has released the disciplinary record of Richard Haste, the cop who shot and killed Ramarley Graham after following him into his grandmother's house, which it obtained from an anonymous now former employee of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) Haste accumulated six complaints over a thirteen month period. Although the CCRB could not substantiate any of the 10 allegations in the complaints, Andrew Case, a former CCRB policy director and spokesperson told ThinkProgress it was "unusual" for an officer to have that many complaints against him in such a short period of time. About 3100 cops, or 8.8 percent of the force, have six complaints against them or more for their entire careers. "There is no transparency related to CCRB and other complaints against officers," Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham's mother, told ThinkProgress. "I have wondered: If Haste's record had been transparent, and if Pantaleo's record had been transparent… is it possible that Ramarley and Eric Garner would be alive today?" I suggested "zero tolerance" for police misconduct a few years ago; such a policy could remove problem officers before the problems become deadly. But police unions, which enjoy broad support from big city leaders even if the rhetoric doesn't always match, help produce rules that protect bad actors. Politicians and voters, meanwhile, continue supporting laws that criminalize inherently non-violent conduct. After Eric Garner's death and a series of other prominent but non-fatal incidents of police brutality, Bill de Blasio insisted police would continue to aggressively enforce petty laws. Malcolm had called on de Blasio to fire Haste and the other cops involved in Graham's shooting (Haste was the only officer there when he shot and killed Haste, but two others participated in identifying him during a narcotics investigation and wrongly claimed he had a gun—Graham was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet before he was shot). Haste was allowed to resign after finding out an administrative judge had recommended he be fired for violating a number of policies in the course of shooting and killing Graham (specifically that if he believed his life was in jeopardy he should've found cover and waited for back up). Because of union-negotiated contracts and state and federal legal protections, firing a cop is exceedingly difficult. The de Blasio administration has also thwarted attempts at more transparency, deciding that a decades-old state privacy law protected the disciplinary records of police officers. State legislators have not yet done anything to stop the administration from interpreting the law that way. Lawmakers and mayors, even in one-party cities like New York, are still easier to fire than cops. Malcolm has said she'd work to defeat de Blasio when he's up for re-election in November. "Election time is coming, and I'll be one of the people campaigning to make sure he doesn't win," she said when calling on him to fire Haste and the other cops. The kinds of substantive police reforms that could reduce police violence have not yet become a major driver in the nascent mayoral campaign. [...]
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5bIzYqnIv0E" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" width="560" height="340">
Rob Pyers didn't set out to bring transparency to establishment politics. In fact, he didn't even have any programming experience before he built the electronic systems for the California Target Book, a go-to resource for political transparency in the state. He initially came to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter, but ended up stuck in his day job, bagging groceries. Then Walgreen's laid him off, and he needed something else to do.
Pyers, who describes himself as "95 lbs of concentrated tech geek," has become an expert on pulling data from hundreds of voter databases, election filings, and campaign finance disclosures. He's done all this despite the fact that the state's main resource for campaign information is an inaccessible hodgepodge of ZIP archives and tables that even the current Secretary of State has called a "Frankenstein monster of outdated code."
"California's Cal-Access website is notorious for being just sort of an ungodly, byzantine mess," says Pyers. "If you have no idea what you're doing, it's almost impossible to get any useful information out of."
The state is currently working on a multi-million dollar upgrade to the site, with an expected rollout in 2019. But while the government builds its new system, the Target Book has already proven its worth.
Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.
2017-03-28T17:50:00-04:00Rob Pyers didn't set out to bring transparency to establishment politics. In fact, he didn't even have any programming experience before he built the electronic systems for the California Target Book, a go-to resource for political transparency in the state. He initially came to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter, but ended up stuck in his day job, bagging groceries. Then Walgreen's laid him off, and he needed something else to do. After joining the Target Book, Pyers taught himself how to code, mostly by watching YouTube videos. Two years later, the 41-year-old has built its systems from the ground up, and now runs the website from his cramped West Hollywood one-bedroom. He is often the first to publicize major donations and new candidates, making his Twitter feed invaluable to campaign consultants and journalists alike. Pyers, who describes himself as "95 lbs of concentrated tech geek," has become an expert on pulling data from hundreds of voter databases, election filings, and campaign finance disclosures. He's done all this despite the fact that the state's main resource for campaign information is an inaccessible hodgepodge of ZIP archives and tables that even the current Secretary of State has called a "Frankenstein monster of outdated code." "California's Cal-Access website is notorious for being just sort of an ungodly, byzantine mess," says Pyers. "If you have no idea what you're doing, it's almost impossible to get any useful information out of." The state is currently working on a multi-million dollar upgrade to the site, with an expected rollout in 2019. But while the government builds its new system, the Target Book has already proven its worth. During one 2016 Congressional race, the L.A. Times used Pyers' data to reveal that candidate Isadore Hall may have misused hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign cash. Pyers believes radical transparency is the best method for rooting out corruption because regulatory interventions tend to backfire. He bases this belief on the real-world effects he's seen in California. In 2010, the state revamped primary elections to make them nonpartisan. Reformers promised this system would help moderates and minor party candidates, but Pyers says it has only increased the power of special interests and cemented Democratic Party rule in the state. Another popular reform is campaign finance limits, but again, Pyers believes such regulations backfire and actively hurt candidates who aren't backed by a major party or special interest. According to Pyers, their campaigns end up being dominated by PACs and dark money organizations that aren't legally required to disclose their backers, and with which the candidates are legally prohibited from coordinating. Watch the video above for the full story. Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Monticello, Alex Manning, and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Grégoire Lourme, Hare, Kevin MacLeod, and MK2. Inspired Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. [...]
2017-03-28T17:15:00-04:00President Donald Trump's big moves today on energy/climate policy, assessed in detail by Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey below, are far from his only deregulatory heaves this week. On Monday, for example, the president signed into law four regulatory rollbacks presented to him via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), or three more than were enacted between 1996-2016 combined. The previously obscure CRA, which Scott Shackford wrote about at length in January 2015, gives Congress 60 working days to reverse any new regulation added to the Federal Register. (That's congressional working days, so in fact the 115th Congress has had the ability to pick off any unwanted Obama-administration reg enacted after mid-June of last year.) The only successful deployment of the CRA prior to Trump came in March 2001, when President George W. Bush signed out of existence a controversial November 2000 Clinton administration rule requiring employers to prevent ergonomic injuries in the workplace. The unified Republican Congress of 2015–2016 presented five CRA rollbacks to President Barack Obama, and he vetoed each one. President Trump now has seven CRA notches on his belt, and more coming his way. The latest, as summarized by USA Today: * The "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces" rule, which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or workplace safety laws. That regulation, derided by critics as the "blacklisting" rule, was already held up in court. [...] * A Bureau of Land Management rule known as "Planning 2.0," that gave the federal government a bigger role in land use decisions. The rule was opposed by the energy industry. * Two regulations on measuring school performance and teacher training under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law Obama signed in 2015 with bipartisan support. The other three CRA reversals so far have been a Security and Exchange Commission rule requiring publicly traded resource-extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, a Department of Interior framework governing stream runoff of coal mining operations, and a Social Security Administration policy (covered by Scott Shackford here) to share the names of people it classifies as having a mental illness with the federal gun database in order to deny them access to weapons. Other Trump deregulatory activity has included: * His January 30 executive order requiring agencies to identify two existing regulations to kill each time they promulgate a new one. * His February 24 executive order instructing each agency to appoint a Regulatory Reform Officer, who will head up a task force that suggests regulations to euthanize. * His appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a judge most famous for his criticism of excessive deference to regulators. * His appointments to the Cabinet critics of and reformers to the departments they now head, including Education's Betsy DeVos, Energy's Rick Perry, Transportation's Elaine Chao, and Health and Human Service's Tom Price. * His nomination of drug-approval-process critic Scott Gottlieb to head up the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and his three paragraphs in the State of the Union Address talking up FDA reform. * His appointment to head up the Federal Communications Commission regulation skeptic Ajit Pai. There is no doubt that the ea[...]
2017-03-28T16:59:00-04:00The Republican health care bill that crashed and burned last week never got anywhere near the Senate, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday that Republicans cannot afford to give up on health care reforms after less than three weeks of legislative effort. "We have got to get it done. Failure is not an option," said Cruz. "That House plan had been public for 18 days. Eighteen days does not a final product make." Though he did not mention the president by name, Cruz' comments stand in stark contrast to President Donald Trump's remark last week that the debate over health care was "enough already." Trump indicated to the New York Times that he was ready to pivot away from health care reform, and Republicans' longstanding promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, in order to focus on tax reform and other issues. Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Cruz said Republicans should focus on reforms that expand competition, give consumers more options, and lower premiums. That combination is easier to talk about than write into legislation, of course, but Cruz said the House GOP bill foundered because it did not do enough to introduce free market reforms into health care policy—something many conservative and libertarian-leaning Republicans want to see. "There is a great deal of consensus among Republicans about how to get this job done," Cruz said. Getting there, the senator said, would require repealing Obamacare's mandates on coverage, expanding the usage of health savings accounts that allow patients to pay for medical costs with pre-tax dollars, and allowing insurance purchases across state lines. That last idea was a central part—actually, it was really the only part—of Trump's pitch for health care reform during last year's campaign. Yet it was absent from the House GOP health care bill that failed to pass last week. More competition across state lines would be a positive development by removing arbitrary limitations on competition, and would provide more options in places where Obamacare has driven insurers out of the individual market. Allowing out-of-state purchases could lower premiums by as much as 13 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Michael Cannon, health policy director for the free market Cato Institute, argues that only insurers, health care providers, and regulators (in other words, everyone except consumers) benefit from the current structure. On it's own, it's not a panacea for the American health care system. An analysis from the Urban Institute found that allowing insurance sales across state lines would be unlikely to reduce premiums without regulatory changes. Five states have already passed laws allowing out-of-state insurance purchases, but no insurers have taken advantage of the opportunity. Still, it's an idea that would find "near unanimity" among congressional Republicans, Cruz predicted. That, he said, is where negotiations should start. "We could do an enormous amount of good," Cruz said of Republicans' control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, "or we could screw it up badly." [...]
(image) This was supposed to be a post about how anybody who wants to easily keep track of U.S. drone strikes overseas can do so through an app on their iPhone. But never mind. They can't anymore.
This morning, Josh Begley, a data artist for The Intercept, wrote about his struggle to get such an app into the iTunes store for the past several years. His post was supposed to be good news: After rejecting the app several times and at one point allowing it on the market, and then yanking it, Apple had approved the app again.
But then this afternoon, Apple yanked the app from the market yet again. The app, titled Metadata+ (formerly Drones+) is not available for download (I have an iPhone and I checked myself). Begley explained at The Intercept that all the app did was send a push notification to the user whenever a report of a drone strike appeared in the news. He has been told by Apple that the content (which he wasn't even writing) was "excessively objectionable and crude."
Begley described what he was hoping to accomplish:
For the past 15 years, journalists on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have worked hard to uncover the contours of U.S. drone attacks — in some cases at their own peril. Filmmakers, academics, and attorneys have done important work documenting their ghastly aftermath. Websites like The Intercept have published whistleblower exposés about how the covert drone program clicks together.
But buried in the details is a difficult truth: no one really knows who most of these missiles are killing.
Because the particulars of the drone wars are scant, we only have 'metadata' about most of these strikes — perhaps a date, the name of a province, maybe a body count. Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn't much narrative to speak of.
Given that the Trump administration appears to be ramping up military escalations overseas (Ed Krayewski has the terrible details here), one would think there would be an increase in interest among those who don't like where this is all heading, even if they ignored these actions under President Barack Obama's administration.
While Begley's app has been yanked yet again, he does still have a Twitter feed (@Dronestream) that tweets out links to all media coverage of U.S. drone strikes. If you have the Twitter app on your phone, you can follow that feed and at least stay informed.