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Corporate Welfare

All articles with the "Corporate Welfare" tag.

Published: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 08:28:42 -0400


A One-Page Provision About Minor League Baseball Shows How Broken Congress' Legislative Process Is

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 11:15:00 -0400

An excellent example of the screwy process that led to the omnibus budget bill that passed last week—and of the ways special interests can manipulate that process—is the inclusion of a provision that exempts minor league baseball players from federal minimum wage laws and laws regarding overtime pay. The provision has little, if anything, to do with the federal budget. But it is by no means insignificant. Major League Baseball successfully lobbied for its inclusion in the omnibus bill as a way to codify a longstanding de facto exemption and to undermine a lawsuit being brought by several players who argue they are due additional pay under federal rules, according to The Washington Post, which first reported on the provision's inclusion in the omnibus. In other words, Congress bowed to the wishes of a powerful special interest and used the federal budget bill to put a big thumb on the scale of a lawsuit that has nothing to do with the budget. It did all that as part of a piece of legislation that totaled more than 2,200 pages and was made public just over a day before both chambers passed it. The baseball provision is found on page 1,967 of the bill, tucked in between a grant for increasing background checks for people who work with children and a grant to "protect young athletes from abuse." The language included in the budget omnibus was lifted from a bill introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), called the "Save America's Pastime Act." The bill did not get any cosponsors and has not received so much as a committee hearing or a vote. Yet it's now law. It's an example of "how our government is operating right now," Garrett Broshius, a minor league player turned attorney who is the players in their lawsuit, told Bloomberg Law. "You have billionaires lobbying on something proposed in secret and rushed into a spending bill even though it has nothing to do with spending." In the suit filed against Major League Baseball and its minor league affiliates, players argue that some athletes make as little as $3,000 for a season that lasts about five months. Ballplayers have been exempted from federal minimum wage laws in the past because they've been considered employees of an "amusement or recreational establishment." The players were challenging that de facto arrangement (which dates back to 1922), but Congress' action last week means the arrangement is no longer de facto and the lawsuit is likely to fail now. This doesn't mean—as Mother Jones and others have suggested—that Congress has condemned minor league ballplayers to work for "poverty wages." No one is forcing anyone to become a minor league baseball player, nor to sign a $3,000 contract for five months of work. Each player chooses to work for those terms, and most are doing so in hopes of reaching the major leagues and getting a much larger paycheck in the future. There are many circumstances in which people might choose to defer compensation in the present for the promise of greater opportunity. It's also not clear to me that the ballplayers were headed toward victory in their lawsuit before Congress stepped in. Courts had been split, so far, on the question of whether minor league ballplayers are amusement or recreational employees—certainly, professional ballplayers, even minor league ones, don't have much in common with most people who fall into this class, which is mostly reserved for summer jobs and the like—and the two lawsuits have progressed slowly since they were launched in 2014. Yet Congress' decision to kneecap those lawsuits and include the minimum wage rider in the omnibus bill is still a mistake, one that highlights just how broken the legislative process is. If Congress believed legislation was necessary to address the situation raised by the ballplayers' lawsuit, it should have crafted that legislation in an open and honest process, with all interested parties having an opportunity to have their say. Instead, lawmakers slipped a bill that had zero co-sponsors into massive, completely unrelated piece of legislation and didn't allow any time [...]

If SCOTUS Lets States Legalize Sports Betting, Will They Be Ready?

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 08:00:00 -0400

Last December, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Christie v. NCAA, most of the justices seemed inclined to agree that a 1992 law barring states from legalizing sports betting unconstitutionally "commandeers" state officials in service of a federal goal. With the Court expected to issue its decision this spring, Michelle Minton notes in a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, at least 15 states "have enacted regulations for sports gambling within their borders in anticipation of when the federal government steps out of the way." Minton has some tips for those states and any others that hope to replace the black market in sports wagers with a legally regulated industry, a move that promises to protect consumers, control corruption, and raise revenue for the government. Well, two out of three ain't bad. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) effectively gave Nevada a legal monopoly on single-event sports betting. But that does not mean Nevada dominates the market. The $4.9 billion in wagers that legal Nevada bookies accepted last year represented something like 4 percent of all sports betting in the United States, Minton says, meaning the share for illegal bookies was more than 20 times as big. This situation makes game fixing easier to hide, undermining the main goal of PASPA, which the big leagues demanded to protect the integrity of sports. As Minton points out, legalization promotes transparency and data sharing, which make cheating easier to detect. The sports leagues continue to defend PASPA, which they are asking the Supreme Court to uphold in Christie. But their leaders' perspective on legal sports betting seems to be shifting along with public opinion, which since the 1970s has swung from majority opposition to majority support. "The commissioners of Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer have called for examinations into what a regulated sports betting market would look like," Minton notes. "NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has advocated for full legalization, arguing that 'sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.'" Minton's idea of appropriate regulation includes five major features: "adequate license availability" to ensure there are enough legal businesses to serve the market; "reasonable tax rates," somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of gross gaming revenue, to keep legal operations competitive (and, not incidentally, maximize the government's take); "diverse product offerings," including online options, to attract and keep bettors who would otherwise bring their wagers to illegal bookies; "robust consumer protections," including age, identity, and location identification and self-exclusion lists for problem gamblers; and "regulatory cooperation" among gambling businesses, between gambling businesses and sports leagues, and between states. Some state plans already run afoul of these guidelines. In Pennsylvania, Minton notes, the legislature "set the tax rate at 34 percent of gross gaming revenues, on top of the $10 million one-time licensing fee. These costs represent an enormous barrier to entry that significantly increases licensed bookies' operating costs. As a result, few operators will be able to enter Pennsylvania's legal market and those that do will not be able to offer rates as competitive as those of their illegal counterparts. This makes it likely that the legal sports betting market in Pennsylvania will fail to thrive, causing consumers to either cross the state line seeking friendlier regulatory environments or continue patronizing illegal operators." Like the states that have legalized marijuana, states that legalize sports betting have to take into account a black market that will continue to thrive if taxes and regulations in the legal market are too burdensome. "For the last 25 years, the states have lost out on millions in tax revenue they could have collected from sports betting, thanks to a ban pushed by an[...]

Florida Government Employee Arrested for Mining Cryptocurrencies at Work

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 14:25:00 -0400

(image) The Florida state government has nabbed its first bitcoin bandit.

Yesterday Matthew McDermont, IT manager for the Florida Department of Citrus, was booked into the Polk County, Florida, jail on charges of grand theft and official misconduct. More specifically, he used department computers to mine for cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and litecoin.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), McDermont spent some $22,000 in department funds on the graphic cards needed for the energy-intensive mining process, which also saw him run up the agency's power bill by $856. According to a FDLE spokesperson, McDermont had netted an estimated $11,857 from his illicit activities.

Using taxpayer-provided resources for personal enrichment is both wrong and illegal, and if McDermont is guilty he deserves the penalties coming his way.

But it's not all that clear that Floridians would have been better off if the Citrus Department's resources had gone to their intended use instead.

According to its website, the Florida Department of Citrus is tasked with the "promotion, protection, and regulation" of the state's $800 million industry of orange and grapefruit growers, a mission for which this bitter bureaucracy was given $18.4 million for the 2016–2017 budget year.

About $6.4 million of this came from direct tax assessments on citrus growers and producers. Another $7.6 million came from general Florida tax revenue, and the rest came from federal Foreign Agricultural Service funds.

In turn for this generosity, the Florida Department of Citrus spent $8.6 million on public relations campaign to promote the use of those famous Florida fruits. That included a paid social media campaign aggressively pushing original content like recipes for 15-minute nachos and whiskey sour punch, along with a printable Advent calendar.

The department's annual report says its social media campaigns garnered 4.5 million clicks at the average cost of 41 cents per click. Were it not for McDermont's alleged illicit crypto-mining, taxpayers could have afforded another 55,746 clicks.

Mind you, that $8.6 million is only what the department spent promoting oranges to other Americans. Their efforts to hawk the Sunshine State's fruit on the international market cost another $4.5 million. Another $1.5 million went to the Gift Fruit program.

While there is a lot in these items that could be said to benefit the citrus industry, there is very little that can be said to benefit the individual taxpayers, both in Florida and across the nation, that fund most of the department's activities. Taxpayers are being asked to essentially support the advertising budget of a major industry that can easily afford its own promotional materials.

If McDermont is guilty, he spent thousands of tax dollars for his own private benefit. That is both wrong and illegal. His employer, meanwhile, spends millions of tax dollars each year for the private benefit of a single industry. That's still wrong, but it's totally legal.

Brickbat: Red Card

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza travels the country with his own soccer team, playing local teams. The teams he plays usually know the score: Go easy on the president's team and maybe let him score. But in a recent game in the town of Kiremba, the president played a team that contained a number of Congolese refugees who didn't know who he was. They didn't go easy on the team or the president, and he fell several times as the other team attacked him when he had the ball. Kiremba's administrator and his assistant were later arrested and charged with "conspiracy against the president."

Georgia Lt. Gov. To Delta: No NRA Discounts, No Corporate Welfare

Mon, 26 Feb 2018 17:15:00 -0500

Casey Cagle—Georgia's lieutenant governor and Republican gubernatorial candidate—says he will not support any more corporate welfare for Delta Airlines until the company starts giving National Rifle Association members discounts again. "I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with NRA," Cagle said on Twitter today. "Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back." I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back. — Casey Cagle (@CaseyCagle) February 26, 2018 The Atlanta-headquartered Delta had previously extended a group travel discount of 2 to 10 percent to NRA members traveling to the organization's national conference to be held in Dallas in May. On Saturday, Delta said via Twitter that it would be ending these discounts and asking the NRA to remove any information about Delta and its travel programs from its website. Several corporations, including United Airlines and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, have likewise pulled special discounts they have given to NRA members in response to pressure from activists demanding companies cut ties with the organization following its adamant pro–Second Amendment stance in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting. The revocation of these discounts provoked a bevy of criticism from right-wing media. Breitbart has spread calls for boycotts of Enterprise, while Fox News writer Todd Starnes livetweeted his call with Delta customer service to see if he, as an NRA member, could still fly with the airline. I'm on the phone right now with a @delta @DeltaAssist Diamond Medallion agent asking if NRA members would still be permitted to fly @Delta. She put me on hold to ask a supervisor. — toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) February 24, 2018 Cagle's threat appears to be the first angry reaction to come with potential policy consequences for Delta airlines. Currently the Georgia state legislature is considering a large tax cut bill that includes an exemption for jet fuel from state and local taxes. The provision is reported to save all airlines $50 million, $40 million of which would accrue to Delta. The Georgia House of Representatives easily passed the bill last week. The measure is now being considered by the state Senate, where Cagle—by virtue of his position as lieutenant governor—serves as president. Should the 56-member state Senate have a tie on the tax cuts, Cagle would get to cast the deciding vote. The lieutenant governor's threat has provoked a range of reactions on Twitter. Some have offered criticism of Cagle for threatening to punish a company through the withholding of state benefits solely because of their political expression. Others have spotted a free-market silver lining. Business Insider's Josh Barro tweeted: If the culture war makes it harder to get corporate welfare bills through state capitals, that might be a silver lining of the culture war. — Josh Barro (@jbarro) February 26, 2018 Libertarians would not be remiss for being split on the matter. One the one hand, a politician refusing to back a special tax break because of his pro–Second Amendment views sounds pretty good. On the other hand, making opposition to corporate welfare contingent on whether businesses themselves hand out special deals to favored interest groups sounds less appealing.[...]

Curling Is the Closest the Olympics Ever Get to Anarchy

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 10:15:00 -0500

Until the American men made a shocking run to the gold medal final, one of the biggest surprises of the Olympic curling tournament was a tiff between the Canadian and Danish women's teams that was over so fast non-curlers might have missed it entirely. That brief moment summed up one of the best things about the game that, once every four years, captures Americans' attentions for two short weeks. And maybe it offers a lesson for American politics too. Curling is a game where teams of four players slide 42-pound granite stones along a 150-foot sheet of ice, aiming for the center of a large target painted on the ice. Players use brooms to sweep in front of sliding stones to make the rocks travel farther. After all 16 rocks have been thrown, the one that's closest to the center of the target scores. That's one "end." After 10 ends, the team with the most points wins. The Canada-Denmark controversy occurred in the fifth end of their match last week. Danish "skip" (captain) Madeleine Dupont was sweeping one of her own team's rocks as it slid to a stop inside the house (target). At the very end of the shot, her broom contacted the rock—a fact that she immediately admitted to her Canadian counterpart, Rachel Homan. In the parlance of the game, this is called "burning" a rock. When a rock is burned, the skip of the other team—in this case, Homan—has three options. She could choose to leave all the rocks exactly where they are, like declining a penalty in football. She could choose to remove the burned rock from play. Or she could choose to move the burned rock (and any rocks it might have hit after it was burned) to where she, and the opposing skip, mutually agree it would have ended up without having been touched. On this particular shot, the burned rock had nearly stopped before it was touched. The touch likely made only the smallest of changes in the outcome of the shot. In those circumstances, traditionally, the skips will either leave the shot where it stopped or make small adjustments to the rocks and continuing playing. Taking the rock off the sheet, while legal, is frowned upon as bad sportsmanship (and bad strategy, since everyone burns rocks once in a while, and all skips want the benefit of the doubt when it happens to them). But that's exactly what Homan did. She yanked the burned rock off the sheet, and lined up her team's next shot while Dupont gave a disapproving look and slight shake of the head. That's all. Well, not all. Commentators noticed what had happened. "I think that was a rash move to take it off," said Joan McCusker, an Olympic gold medalist who was calling the game for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. "They should have left it in play. It doesn't look good on you." Homan's unsportsmanlike move rankled curling fans from Alberta to Winnipeg, and older curlers dutifully stepped up to blame the younger generation for ruining the spirit of the sport. Still, maybe the most notable thing about the entire incident is what didn't happen. There were no referees blowing whistles, no instant replay reviews from six different angles. There was no appeal to authority of any kind, not even by the Danish skip who felt, well, burned by what had happened (though Denmark rallied to win the game, 9-8). Curling is a sport that, more so than almost any other, is played in a state of anarchy. That's not to say that curling doesn't have rules, of course. The length of the sheet, the size and weight of the rocks, and the method for scoring are standardized. Players aren't allowed to touch the rocks with their brooms. Sliding past the "hog line" before releasing a shot is forbidden. But it is a game with very little in the way of law enforcement, even in games played at the highest competitive levels. This makes curling quite an outlier at the Olympics, where every sport has judges determining winners and losers based on a scoring rubric that no one really understand, or referees call[...]

Why It's a Good Thing We're Fighting Over Coverage of Kim Jong Un's Sister

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:10:00 -0500

"North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics' most important medals: the diplomatic gold." So declared Reuters after the Winter Olympics' opening ceremony, during which Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, waved a lot while seated behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. "Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong-un's sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy," tweeted The New York Times. It was younger media outlets and personalities such as Buzzfeed and CNN's Jake Tapper that called bullshit on such stories. Buzzfeed insisted Kim Yo Jong was "a garbage monster" and asked, "What the hell is wrong with you people?" Tapper tweeted, "If you hate US leaders more than you hate the Kim Jong-un regime, you really need to read up on North Korea" and supplied a link to Human Rights Watch's analysis of North Korea. Fox News contributor Stephen Miller (not THAT Stephen Miller) tweeted: Reuters looked strong in bringing home the gold for North Korea today but coming through late, the New York Times. Think Progress will have to settle for the bronze #olympics — Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) February 11, 2018 At the New York Post, Bethany Mandel laid into what she called "the perverse fawning over brutal Kim Jong Un's sister at the Olympics" even as NBC fired opening-cermonies analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo for having himself fawned over the Japanese economy during the Games' first big night. "Ramo said that 'every Korean' respected Japan for their recent achievements as a nation, insinuating that South Korea had forgotten about the 35 brutal years of Japanese rule that ended after World War II," said The Hollywood Reporter, which incensed South Korean residents and officials. NBC failed to catch the gaffe before Ramo's comments aired 14 hours later on tape delay in the U.S. and announced that "it was 'grateful' Pyeongchang's organizing committee accepted its apology." And so it goes. This sort of side drama, which doesn't involve anything about sports, is what the Olympics has always done best. We should never forget that the modern Games were explicitly created as a showcase for nationalism, not individual achievement. That's why athletes compete for their countries of birth (or, increasingly, whatever country gives them the best chance of getting to compete). As journalism professor and historian Michael J. Socolow reminded Reason readers just a few days ago, "Sports, and sport broadcasting, can never be apolitical when nations are going head-to-head on the field of play." Indeed, the French aristocrat who restarted the Games in the late 19th century, Pierre de Coubertin, "figured his country could better avenge its ass-whupping in the Franco-Prussian War on playing fields rather than battlefields." Which leads to statements such as this one: "What's the difference between propaganda for tourism - like in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 - or for a political regime?" -Baron de Coubertin responding to criticism that 1936 Berlin Games were exploited to make Nazis look good — Michael Socolow (@MichaelSocolow) February 12, 2018 The good news in all of this? Overall viewership for the Olympics is in decline. At least in the United States, we seem to care less and less about nationalist spectacles, at least when they appear outside of our nation's borders. Deadline reports: Garnering a 13.8 in metered market results for Saturday's primetime coverage of the official Day 1 of the XXIII Winter Olympics, the network was down just over 9% from the first day of Sochi just over four years ago. That February 8, 2014 night of tape-delayed coverage was even with the first official day of the Vancouver Winter Olympics back in 2010. With the overall viewership numbers just in, last night's Day 1 coverage on NBC snared an audience of 21.4 million from 8 – 1[...]

The Dark Side of the Olympics—and How to Fix it

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 10:25:00 -0500

This week marks the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Olympic games are a great sports event, featuring amazing athletes. Sadly the games also have a terrible dark side. Most of what I wrote about it in this 2016 post, written at the time of the 2016 Summer Olympics, remains relevant today: Host cities routinely lose enormous amounts of money on the games, and end up with decaying stadiums that have little or no value. Even worse, governments often forcibly displace large numbers of people from their homes and businesses in order to make room for Olympic venues. Over 1 million people lost their homes for the 2008 Beijing games alone. Brazil has similarly evicted large numbers of people for the currently ongoing Rio Olympics, and even more to build stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. Most of those evicted are the poor and people lacking in political power. The Olympics also often become propaganda showcases for authoritarian regimes, as happened with the 2008 Olympics in China, and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.... These problems are not inevitable results of holding a major international sports competition. I outlined some ways to eliminate, or at least cut back on them: None of this has to happen. We can reform the Olympics to put an end to it. The forcible evictions are perhaps the easiest problem to fix. The International Olympic Committee and the international community more generally should insist that organizers commit to building the necessary venues without forcibly displacing residents. If a city cannot or will not do that, it should not be allowed to host the games. No sports event is worth the forcible displacement of innocent people from their homes. We can also put an end to the economic harm caused by the Olympics by insisting on private funding, instead of government subsidies. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, almost the only modern games to avoid massive losses, did so by relying on almost entirely on private funds. Government subsidies for sports facilities have a strong tendency to cause more economic harm than benefit. Private investors have stronger incentives to use resources efficiently, since their own money is at stake. And if they do err, at least the taxpayers won't be left holding the bag. Finally, we can end the use of the games as propaganda tool for repressive regimes by limiting host rights to liberal democracies. If the IOC again awards the games to authoritarians, the West should boycott. The mere threat of a large-scale boycott might well disincentivize such regimes from trying to host in the first place, and prevent the IOC from awarding them the games if they do bid. There is even a way that all three problems can be solved simultaneously: instead of rotating to a new city every four years, the summer and winter Olympics can each be held at a permanent host site. That cuts down on construction costs and potential evictions by eliminating the need to build new facilities each time. And it should be possible to find permanent homes that are located in liberal democratic states, thus eliminating the problem of authoritarian propaganda. Over the last few years, potential host cities have become increasingly reluctant to bid for the Olympics, because of their notorious history of cost overruns. That may force some much-needed fiscal restraint on the notoriously wasteful and corrupt International Olympic Committee. Sadly, less attention has been paid to the other two major flaws of the games: authoritarian propaganda and forcible displacement of local populations. Much remains to be done to banish the dark side of the Olympics and other sports events with similar shortcomings, such as the World Cup.[...]

The Olympics Can't Transcend Politics. Just Ask the Nazis.

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 00:01:00 -0500

This week, all eyes turn to the Korean peninsula. Not for the regular reason—that nuclear apocalypse seems likely to begin somewhere near the DMZ. No, it's the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang that are providing us this thaw in geopolitical tension. And all over the world, television executives are hoping Pyeongchang can restore some traditional primacy to the old media in a new media universe. The management at NBC, America's Olympic network, very much wants American television viewers to forget all the recent warmongering, Presidential tweeting, and Matt Lauer for a few weeks. "I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics," NBC Olympics host Katie Couric told the press last month. "I feel that this is one instance when domestic politics are really going take a back seat. This is going to be a really wonderful opportunity for the country to unify, and stand together, support the athletes and really help celebrate their stories." Clearly some Olympic stories are worth celebrating, and others aren't. NBC is probably in no mood to discuss Olympic gymnastics anytime soon, with endemic corruption within the governing body of the sport recently exposed in the Larry Nassar trial. News about the sexual abuse of athletes, and doping, and IOC malfeasance doesn't really help sell ads. But the larger issue Couric alludes to—that the Olympics offer an opportunity to ignore our fractious national politics—represents a hope that's been continually dashed since global Olympic broadcasting began in 1936. That was the year Germany's Nazi administration assembled the world's most technologically-sophisticated broadcasting operation in order to delight a global radio audience estimated at 300 million listeners. The Nazis understood the Olympic Games offered a unique propaganda opportunity, and they seized it. Ever since, every dictator and totalitarian government dreams of impressing the world through the supposedly apolitical lens of sports broadcasting. But sports, and sport broadcasting, can never be apolitical. To argue that sports can transcend politics is to miss the obvious fact that politics often structure our shared experience of sports. The greatest moments in American sports history—like the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling in 1938, and Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games run by Nazi racists—were all intensified by the political context in which they took place. Ironically, it was Nazi broadcasting advances that created the global superstardom enjoyed by Owens. But his legend wouldn't be the same had he won his gold medals in, say, Ecuador. Context matters. He won in front of Hitler, just as the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team won when the Soviet Union seemed ascendant and the Carter administration weak and vacillating. The Olympics have always been embedded in politics, and that's what makes them worth watching. Well, that and curling. Both NBC and CBS struggled with how to present the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Even before those Games began, NBC downplayed advance programming and promotional opportunities because a domestic boycott movement proved enormously popular. "Keep as far away from any controversy as possible," NBC's programming chief, John F. Royal, warned his staff when preparing them for Olympics coverage. Talk of official Nazi antisemitism, or totalitarian restrictions, would ultimately be severely constricted on the American airwaves. Instead, American listeners heard all about how great the "new" Germany had become. "Everywhere anyone goes in Berlin there is a great sense of joyful freedom," CBS's Bill Henry told a nationwide audience just before the games began. "Everybody seems to think that this is a wonderful holiday for all those who are in Berlin[...]

The Super Bowl, Brought To You By Taxpayers

Sat, 03 Feb 2018 09:00:00 -0500

When the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles meet Sunday for the Super Bowl, they'll play inside the newly completed U.S. Bank Stadium near downtown Minneapolis. The $1.1 billion stadium was built with almost $500 million from state and local taxpayers, with the city paying an additional $7.5 million each year for operations and maintenance. Taxpayers got soaked again when the National Football League (NFL) picked Minneapolis to host this year's Super Bowl. The city had to negotiate against the NFL's 153 pages of specifications, which include 35,000 free parking spaces within one mile of the stadium, shouldering the cost of providing police and emergency services, and priority over all other city snow removal in case of a major storm. No matter who wins the Super Bowl, the 2017-2018 football season will be remembered for headlines about off-field issues, from how it treats concussed players to whether those players stand or kneel for the national anthem. Yet public subsidies for the sport and its annual championship game are often glossed over. That should change. People who care about the NFL's role in society—and taxpayers who care where their money is spent—should question the generous government support lavished on the NFL and its teams. Money that is spent on football stadiums could instead provide safer neighborhoods, better schools, improved infrastructure, or enhanced access to health care in their local communities. The NFL and team owners often shakedown taxpayers by threatening to relocate a beloved team. By design, these threats create bidding wars between municipalities fighting over limited franchises. Faced with the threat of being remembered as the hapless losers who cost a city its beloved hometown team, mayors, city councils, governors and state legislatures all too often respond by offering lucrative "inducement payments." That's exactly what happened in Minnesota, where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell personally warned state lawmakers in 2012 that the Vikings could skip town if the team didn't get a new stadium. More recently, an enormous taxpayer-funded bribe convinced the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas. The city promised $750 million, paid for by a hotel room tax increase of 0.88 percent, towards an ultra-luxury $1.9 billion stadium. The Raiders' former owner, the late Al Davis virtually wrote the NFL's playbook on extorting money from local communities. In 1980, Davis was refused public funding to renovate the Oakland Coliseum, so he moved the Raiders to Los Angeles two years later. In 1995, Oakland coaxed the Raiders back north with $200 million in taxpayer money for stadium renovations. But in 2015, Davis' son threatened to move the team again unless the city paid for a new stadium. In an attempt to prevent a repeat of history, Oakland and the state of California offered the Davis family 55 acres of land adjacent to the Raiders' current stadium to be developed as a stadium and mixed-use retail and residential property. They also offered to invest heavily in transit links to make that property development more valuable, including improvements to mass transit highways, and parking. In the end, the offer could not match the $750 million in cash offered by Las Vegas. For two decades after the Raiders departed, the NFL held the threat of a move to Los Angeles over many cities, extracting massive subsidies. Voters in San Diego eventually rejected a 2016 ballot measure to pay $1.15 billion for a new $1.8 billion stadium with a staggering 4 percent hotel occupancy tax. In response, the Chargers announced that they were moving to LA. The City of San Diego had already paid $68 million to renovate the Chargers' football stadium in 1997, and was spending an additional $5-7 million each year for repairs and to subsidize operating costs. NFL Commissio[...]

Pittsburgh Tried to Hide Its Amazon Proposal by Claiming It Was a 'Trade Secret'

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:55:00 -0500

Officials in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, want Amazon to set up its second headquarters in their city, so they've crafted a proposal to lure the company to town. What's in the proposal? We don't know: When a reporter requested the information, the city refused to release it on the grounds that it's a "trade secret." When the same reporter put his request to Allegheny County, which surrounds and encompasses Pittsburgh, he was told the same thing. Trade secrets are indeed exempted from Pennsylvania's open records law. But that's meant to protect proprietary information owned by companies who do business with the state. It's not meant to allow public officials to keep secrets from the public. Fortunately, Pittsburgh's claim was laughed out of the state's Office of Open Records yesterday. The city now has 30 days to turn over a copy of the proposal to Paul Van Osdol, a journalist at the Pittsburgh-based WTAE-TV. There's a certain humor to the Office of Open Records' final decision in the case—humor of the laugh-so-you-don't-cry variety. "The proposal is not related to any business or commerce being conducted by the city or the county; instead, through the proposal, the county is hoping to attract Amazon to the region so that it may engage in commerce," writes Kyle Applegate, the state's open records appeals officer. "Therefore, the proposal cannot constitute or contain trade secrets." If the city has a shot at landing the headquarters, there's a good chance it's offering a lot. Atlanta has promised Amazon $1 billion in the form of grants, tax breaks, and transportation improvements. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is trying to lure Amazon to Montgomery County with a $5 billion incentive package. Newark, New Jersey, has offered $7 billion—considerably more than the $5 billion Amazon has promised to invest in its new headquarters—in state and local tax breaks. Many other cities on Amazon's shortlist have refused, at least so far, to disclose their proposals. In Pittsburgh's case, the city and county may very well have known that trying to keep the proposal secret was going to fail. The important thing is how long it took to fail. Osdol submitted the initial requests for the proposal way back on October 19, shortly after Amazon published a list of locales that submitted bids for the headquarters. Under state law, public entities have five business days to respond to a request, but they can give themselves a 30-day extension for a variety of reasons. In this case, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County waited until November 27 to respond. By the time an appeal to the denial was filed, it was already December 1. The city and county dragged out that appeal for another month. By the time the 30-day deadline to turn over the proposal to Osdol is over, it's possible Amazon will have made its decision. In the meantime, the public will have been kept in the dark about what Pittsburgh was willing to offer Amazon during a crucial four-month period when public opposition might have sunk the deal. It may not be a trade secret under Pennsylvania state law, but crony capitalism is certainly a trade full of secrets. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Takes Cronyism to the Next Level With $5 Billion Bid for Amazon Headquarters

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 14:35:00 -0500

Amazon has narrowed the list of places where it might put its second headquarters down to 20. Maryland's Republican governor, Larry Hogan, is so excited that Montgomery County made the shortlist that he's offering Amazon a new $5 billion package of incentives. "Amazon sent a clear signal that Maryland truly is open for business by selecting Montgomery County as one of an elite group of contenders for this transformative project," Hogan said today as he unveiled the sycophantically named Promoting ext-Raordinary Innovation in Maryland's Economy (PRIME) Act. The PRIME Act offers a lot of sweeteners. It includes 10 years of tax credits against any state and local property taxes, plus a 10-year exemption on any sales taxes owed by Amazon on purchases of construction equipment and warehouse equipment. Maryland would also give Amazon a 10-year tax credit to cover state income taxes paid by any employee Amazon hires within 17 years of setting up shop in the state, as long as that employee earns between $60,000 and $500,000. And it's not just tax abatements. The proposal offers the online retailer $150 million in direct grants. Add the legislation's road, transit, and infrastructure upgrades, and the whole package comes to $5 billion—the same amount Amazon plans to spend on the new headquarters. Luring businesses with corporate handouts is a long-lived American tradition. For instance, Washington state—home of Amazon's current headquarters—has given the aviation giant Boeing $11.9 billion to stay in town. Likewise, Amazon's competitor in the retail market, Walmart, is notorious for scooping up development grants, tax abatements, and any other form of pork it can from the jurisdictions where it sets up shop. The group Good Jobs First calculated in 2011 that Walmart was pulling down $70 million of these incentives annually. The inevitable justification for these giveaways is that they will more than make up for the costs by bringing new jobs, new spending, and new investment to an area. Hogan, for example, says Amazon is offering "the single greatest economic development opportunity in a generation, and we're committing all of the resources we have to bring it home to Maryland." Hogan is indeed bringing all the resources he can to bear with the PRIME Act, which at this point is the second most generous incentive package to be offered in the Amazon bidding war. (New Jersey had offered the company $7 billion.*) Yet every dollar the governor is offering will have to be paid by someone. If the PRIME Act passes and Amazon comes to Maryland, residents and businesses without the political clout of a multi-billion-dollar multinational will suffer a higher tax burden. Maryland Senate President Mike Miller (D-Calvert) has already criticized Hogan along those lines, telling the Washington Post that he'd like to see the state give more aid to Baltimore and higher hospital funding in Prince George County before it offers billions to one of the world's wealthiest corporations. Hogan won the governorship in deep-blue Maryland in part on his promise of creating a more business-friendly, fiscally responsible state government. His PRIME Act betrays those promises. And it encourages the other places on Amazon's shortlist to stoop even lower to cinch the deal. Reason TV highlighted highlighted the dangers of that in a recent, all too realistic, video: src="//" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="314" frameborder="0"> CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that no New Jersey cities made the final list of prospective Amazon HQ2 sites. Newark, New Jersey is still in the running.[...]

A False Accusation and Unfair Investigation Derailed This Student Athlete's Life

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 14:30:00 -0500

In 2014, a white female student at the University of Findlay accused two black athletes of sexually assaulting her. The university expelled the two men—a basketball player and a football player—24 hours later, without bothering to interview witnesses who would have contradicted the accusation. According to the two men's lawsuit against Findlay, investigators didn't even interview the young woman. In my original write-up of the lawsuit, I called it perhaps the most blatantly unfair Title IX case I had ever covered. (Title IX is the federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.) That dispute is still working its way through the courts. In the meantime, one of the young men—Alphonso Baity, now 23—was finally able to find a basketball program that would let him on the team: Duquesne University. That was quite an accomplishment; students expelled for sexual misconduct can have a tough time earning admission to another school, no matter how farcical the charges against them. But Baity recently got some bad news. The National College Athletic Association won't let him play. "This young man is being punished again," says Don Maurice Jackson, Baity's attorney. "Not by Duquesne, because Duquesne actually wants the young man on the floor. They want him on the floor. He's been victimized by the NCAA." The issue is the "five-year clock" rule. Student-athletes have a maximum of five years in which they can play a sport for four seasons. Once a student is enrolled in any academic institution, the clock starts ticking, even if the student ends up transferring or missing years of school. Baity's case seems exceptional. But when Duqesne requested a waiver so that Baity could play, the NCAA denied it. A refresher on the initial dispute might be useful. In September of 2014, Baity and Jordan Brown—both juniors at Findlay—shared a bedroom in a five-room house in Findlay, Ohio. They had become friends with another student, a white woman known as "M.K." in the lawsuit. M.K. was well-known to the people who lived in the house, and had a sexual relationship with "Q.J.," another basketball player who resided there. On the Saturday night in question, a group of people—including Brown, M.K., other men, and other women—returned to the house after a party. M.K. and Brown retired to the bedroom, where they had sex. A number of people saw them go in together and heard them having sex. They also heard M.K. loudly consenting to sex, even using the word "yes," according to the lawsuit. Baity returned to the house, waited until he heard a lull, and entered the bedroom to retrieve his phone charger. M.K. invited him to stay and began performing oral sex on him while Brown remained in the room. Once again, M.K. was a willing participant—the initiator, in fact. And once again, people outside the room—including two other women—could hear that consent was given, according to the lawsuit. M.K. also gave no signs that she regretted the encounters the morning after. She remained on good terms with the men of the house. She spoke of the encounters positively—even "boastfully." But 10 days later, she had a change of heart, possibly because she felt slut-shamed. And so she filed a complaint. Again, these details come from a lawsuit designed to portray Baity and Brown in a maximally positive light. But it's clearly true that there were several individuals in that house at that time who might have supported their version of the story. Findlay investigators specifically avoided talking to many of them, reasoning that other black men would stick up for Baity and Brown. Investigators presumed two of the white women who were present that night would agree with M.K.'s account, but these witnesses instead gav[...]

Amazon Announces Shortlist for New HQ; Abandon Hope All Ye Who Live in These Cities

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 10:30:00 -0500

Amazon, the mega-site that controls more and more of our daily life by giving us stuff we want at low prices, has announced a shortlist of cities that it's considering as the location for its "HQ2," or second headquarters. The list includes the following cities, culled down to 20 from over 200:

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • New York, New York
  • Northern Virginia
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C.

A decision on the $5 billion project is expected by the end of the year. Be happy if your hometown is not on the list, which promises to be the century's biggest crony-capitalism deal. Without any inside information, I'd say Toronto and D.C. are the top two, simply because they are in the eastern time zone and seats of growth and power. Toronto is the coolest city in North America, simultaneously foreign but familiar. Both the provincial government and Canada's federal government will do whatever it takes to land it and, unlike a lot of the Rust Belt cities vying for the prize, they've got deep pockets. The Washington area is a region that's among the very wealthiest in the United States because, as all readers of The Hunger Games understand, the Capital District always brings home the bacon. Being on the opposite side of the continent from Seattle and within walking distance of legislators who control all sorts of tax codes and labor laws has got to very attractive, and that's even before local goverments bend frontwards and backwards to accommodate Amazon. Texas is a strong bet too, given that state's economic and population growth and relatively low cost of living.

All the finalist cities have been going bananas in offering the online giant all sorts of subsidies, tax breaks, and bribes. Dallas is saying the HQ2 would have bullet-train station, for instance, while the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey are promising a combined $7 billion in tax breaks. Southern California is talking a billion dollars in subsidies and Philly, home to long-suffering sports fans, really nasty people (love them all), and great food, is talking about 28 million square feet spread over several linked sites.

Which brings me to quite possibly the best Reason TV video of all time (IMAO). From the feverish minds of Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton, here's "Desperate Mayors Compete for Amazon HQ2." This is life-changing.

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Brickbat: Have You Ever Been in a Turkish Prison?

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Turkish prosecutors have indicted NBA player Enes Kanter of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erodgan. They plan to try Kanter in absentia. Kanter could be sentenced to up to four years in prison if found guilty.