Published: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 16:31:03 -0500
Thu, 23 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500Any president can change the future. Donald Trump stands out for his ability to change the past, without even trying. He's already altered perceptions of what happened in America decades and centuries ago. We know that because of a new survey of presidential historians conducted by C-SPAN, asking them to rank presidents on various attributes and overall performance. The latest scorecard, which included responses from 91 historians, is similar in most respects to those compiled in C-SPAN's first two, in 2000 and 2009. But it holds some surprises that suggest that things look different with Trump in the picture. Some things are fixed. The greatest president is Abraham Lincoln, who has finished first in each poll. Coming in second, for the second straight time, is George Washington. Franklin Roosevelt is third, just ahead of cousin Theodore. The worst, three times running, is James Buchanan, who preceded Lincoln and whose indulgence of pro-slavery forces is blamed for helping to bring on the Civil War. Second-to-last each time has been Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln and was the first president to be impeached (though he was not convicted). This is the first poll to include Barack Obama, who came out ahead of his most recent predecessors. Obama is ranked No. 12, three spots below Ronald Reagan but ahead of George W. Bush (33), Bill Clinton (15) and George H.W. Bush (20). Obama is one of the lowest-rated presidents in terms of relations with Congress—worse, somehow, than William Henry Harrison, who died a month after taking office—and got mediocre marks on foreign relations, but he scored high on pursuing equal justice for all. The biggest improvement was registered by Dwight Eisenhower, ranked ninth in 2000 and eighth in 2009. He landed at fifth, jumping over John Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman, who were ahead of him the last time around. The biggest decline was that of Andrew Jackson, who slid from 13th in 2000 and 2009 to 18th. Richard Norton Smith, a presidential biographer and member of C-SPAN's advisory team, suggests that the changing fortunes of Eisenhower and Jackson are both partly the product of a "Trump effect." Eisenhower, Smith told me, benefits from being "the anti-Trump—massively competent, self-effacing, moderate." He had been supreme Allied commander in Europe during World War II, and despite his Army background—or because of it—he warned, "A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations." Eight years of comparative peace and prosperity made his administration a stark contrast to those of Obama and George W. Bush, which featured endless war and a deep recession. The disappearance of centrism in the Republican Party doubtless elicits a nostalgia for Ike, who triumphed over Joseph McCarthy and others on the far right. Jackson, Smith suspects, has declined in public estimation as his slave ownership and brutal policies toward Native Americans have acquired new significance. It probably doesn't help that Trump's approach to foreign relations has been described as "Jacksonian" for its pugnacity, unilateralism and contempt for human rights considerations. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson inspired a Broadway musical (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) that never found an audience. Nothing about Trump, however, affects the standing of the highest-ranked presidents. Why not? Because he only highlights their well-known virtues. Lincoln is revered for his humanity, his unflagging resolve and his capacity for profound thought and eloquent word. Washington was a master of dignity and statesmanship. Franklin Roosevelt had a capacity to inspire and unite Americans during the worst of times. They have as much in common with Trump as they do with Daffy Duck. Trump might find a role model in Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow wealthy New Yorker with a taste for bold actions and expansive use of presidential power. It might be said of Trump, as it was of TR, that he wants to be the bride in ever[...]
Mon, 20 Feb 2017 09:40:00 -0500Usually we mark Presidents' Day here with some sort of quiz or game, but this year I thought I'd play DJ instead. Below you'll find some songs about our nation's chief execs, from Washington to Trump. Needless to say, this just scratches the surface of all the presidentially themed music out there; you are encouraged to recommend more tracks in the comments. George Washington Cox and Combes, "Washington" Not safe for work. Possibly not historically accurate in every respect either. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sbRom1Rz8OA" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Abraham Lincoln Camper Van Beethoven, "(I Don't Wanna Go to the) Lincoln Shrine" An ode to a boring field trip. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/308614650&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Franklin Pierce The Two Man Gentlemen Band, "Franklin Pierce" The saddest song on the list, but only if you listen to the words. The same duo did a ditty about Taft too. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BV_ByY7O9yE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> James Garfield Johnny Cash, "Mr. Garfield" An assassination ballad. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rJbTkiYpszs" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> William McKinley Bill Monroe, "White House Blues" Another assassination ballad. Vassar Clements later revamped it for the presidents of the 1970s; to hear that version, go here and jump to the 5:00 mark. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QqrN9TBmfZQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> John F. Kennedy Steinski & the Mass Media, "The Motorcade Sped On" Yet another assassination. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JjyFwbSNh4o" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Richard Nixon Margo Guryan, "The Hum" From Dallas to Watergate. This was the first of Guryan's trilogy of songs inspired by the Nixon scandals; you can hear her whole trio here. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/V0HrmaeiP8c" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Gerald Ford James Brown, "Funky President" The lyrics defy interpretation, but Brown insists that the song's about Ford. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MivxFXsJyx4" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Jimmy Carter Blue Mountain, "Jimmy Carter" Carter gets the heroic-ballad treatment. Strangely catchy. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OVFuyehlLlQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Ronald Reagan MDC, "Bye Bye Ronnie" Reagan has gotten the heroic-ballad treatment too—check this out—but the guy inspired something like 60 percent of the punk records of the '80s; it seems wrong to go with any other genre here. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lmCgd5k6SzU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Barack Obama Mariachi Aguilas de Mexico, "Viva Obama!" A bid for the Latino vote. This musical ad from the 2008 Texas primary fascinated me so much that I interviewed an anthropologist about it. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0fd-MVU4vtU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Donald Trump Ice-T featuring Rhyme Syndicate, "My Word Is Bond" I'm wrapping up with this one because of the lyric at the 3:39 mark: "Yo Ice, I did a concert in the White House/And after that me and Donald Trump hung out." This record is from 1989, people. The signs were all there; we just weren't prepared to understand them. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cOmBTX076M4" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">[...]
Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500
(image) As more and more Americans grow comfortable with exempting marijuana from the drug war, we've seen massive shifts in state regulations toward decriminalization and legal use (medicinal and recreational).
Federal laws and regulations still lag terribly behind, leaving Americans in an area of uncertainty in enforcement, particularly as we change administrations. President Donald Trump has stated that he thinks marijuana regulation is a state issue, but he has also been acting like a pretty major drug warrior as part of his border control push. His Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a lengthy history as a supporter of tough drug laws as well.
Now four members of the House of Representatives, two from each party, have come together to form a Congressional Cannabis Caucus. From the left, we've got Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). From the right, we've got Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Don Young (Alaska). Note that all four come from states where voters have legalized recreational marijuana use.
The four had a short press conference on Thursday to preview their agenda. Fundamentally, they want federal regulation to catch up with what the states are doing. They explained they want to do everything from making sure medical marijuana research is permitted and that veterans get access to allowing marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws to use the banking system and not have to operate cash-only. And of course, there's the ultimate goal of getting marijuana removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, an absurd federal classification that the drug has no medical use.
The four representatives all have a history of attempting to legislatively loosen cannabis laws. As more and more Americans agree, maybe some more of those 431 other members of Congress will join the caucus as well.
Watch their press conference below:
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SlDcyB5VCe0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">
Tue, 07 Feb 2017 14:05:00 -0500Once again, legislation that would give American citizens better privacy protections for their emails has passed the House of Representatives, but we're going to have to see what happens in the Senate. The Email Privacy Act aims to correct a flaw in federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Passed in the relatively early days of home computer use, it established a policy that private electronic communications held by third parties that were more than 180 days old could be accessed by law enforcement and government investigators without the need for a warrant. A subpoena delivered to the communication provider was enough. A law this old obviously preceded the arrival and dominance of private email communications, and tech privacy activists and tech companies have been pushing for reform. The way the system stands now can result in people having their old private communications searched and read by authorities without the citizen's knowledge. The Email Privacy Act fixes some of these problems, though it doesn't fully resolve the controversy Under the act, officials will need to get actual warrants to access emails and online communications, which provides at least a little more judicial oversight. But the warrants are to the providers, not to the actual people who wrote and sent the communications. It will be up to companies to decide whether to pass along the news of the warrant to customers. Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says that this is a flaw with the legislation. The original version of the bill required that government provide notice. Without that rule, the third-party provider can resist the warrant if they choose to, but the actual customer probably might not even know. "If you don't have notice, you really can't effectively [challenge the warrant]," Singh Guliani said. The bill does permit third-party providers to let customers know about the administration of warrants, but also allows for the government to delay this information for 180 days under a handful of exceptions—if the target is a flight risk or may destroy evidence or otherwise compromise the investigation. And while some major tech and communication companies have fought back against orders to pass along data or to keep searches secret, Singh Guliani says we shouldn't have to be "reliant on the business practices of providers that can change over time to make sure people get the full protection of the Fourth Amendment." Still, the compromise bill is better than the current rules. No representative voted against it last session of Congress, and it passed again yesterday by a voice vote. But while the bill enjoys popular bipartisan support in the House, the last attempt to get it passed hit disaster in the Senate. Senators attempted to meddle with the wording of the bill to weaken it or add other unrelated regulations. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) attempted to add an amendment to expand the surveillance reach of secretive National Security Letters. Sponsoring senators ended up yanking the legislation from consideration. The Senate sponsors last session were Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). A representative from Sen. Lee's office said that he intends to co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill again this year, but it has not yet been introduced. This could be the first legislative test of whether increased privacy protections can make its way to and through a presidential administration openly hostile to limits on any sort of investigative or law enforcement authority (as we saw earlier today). President Donald Trump is hardly alone and he's not responsible for its previous problems, but it's nevertheless legislation that should not be struggling at all. And a little bit of self-promotion: I'll be leading a panel discussion on the Fourth Amendment, tech privacy, and Congressional lawmaking in this March's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. Singh Guliani will be one of our panelists. Check ou[...]
Mon, 06 Feb 2017 17:30:00 -0500
(image) Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots was a stunner of a game, the first Super Bowl to be decided in overtime.
But the playing on the field was hardly the only topic of conversation. Conspiracy nut Alex Jones prophesied that performer Lady Gaga would perform a satanic ritual during her half-time show while others complained that pro-immigration TV commercials from Anheuser-Busch and 84 Lumber were spoiling the pleasure of seeing millionaires beat each other for the Vince Lombardi trophy. In the end, Lady Gaga didn't spill any blood or summon any demons, though she did jump off the roof of Houston's NRG stadium in a remarkable entrance. After the Patriots staged an unparalleled comeback, it was the alt-right that politicized the effort, with the vile Richard Spencer tweeting an image of QB Tom Brady kissing his supermodel wife and announcing, "For the White race, it's never over." That the official pre-game show honored Black History Month by saluting football Hall of Famers who had graduated from historically black colleges and universities doubtless enraged Pepe the frog fans all over the planet.
Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor at Large Matt Welch, and I talk about all this plus Donald Trump's second week on the job as president of the United States. Trump spent part of last week attacking the "so-called judge" who issued a temporary stay against his refugee and immigration ban and just minutes before the Super Bowl he caused a stir by responding to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly charge that Russia's Vladimir Putin is a killer by saying, "You think our country is so innocent?"
We discuss all that, plus the increasingly tight confirmation votes slated for Trump's picks for Secretary of Education and Attorney General in the newest Reason Podcast.
Produced by Mark McDaniel.
Click below to listen to the conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode.
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Thu, 02 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500Third parties have a reason to rejoice, at least in Georgia. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a ruling that a portion of the Georgia ballot access law violated the U.S. Constitution. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a three-judge panel unanimously sided with U.S. District Judge Richard Story, who had previously lowered the number of signatures required for third-party candidates to get on the ballot from tens of thousands to 7,500. Back in 2012, the Georgia Constitution Party and the Georgia Green Party sued the state, claiming that the requirement to obtain 1 percent of registered voters' signatures was artificially high. The year they sued, the third parties would have needed at least 50,334 signatures to gain ballot access. Thanks to Story, that number was greatly reduced last year. State officials decided to appeal his decision, arguing that parties must show a "modicum of support" or risk resulting in voter confusion and a crowded presidential ballot. But the panel of judges sided with the parties. Laughlin McDonald, the Director-emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, praised the court's ruling. "I think it's a great decision," McDonald told the AJC. "The state put up no evidence whatsoever as to voter confusion or ballot overcrowding." A spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees elections, stated that he and his team are reviewing their options. According to the AJC, if the state does appeal, it will likely ask all 11 members of the 11th Circuit Court to review the decision. Third parties have been gaining more mainstream pull lately, in part due to last year's presidential election that saw two of the most disliked candidates of all time pitted against each other. Ballotpedia found that as of April 2016, the Libertarian Party is recognized by 33 states, while the Green Party is recognized by 21 and the Constitution Party by 15. Yet third parties still face arbitrary restrictions in many states. Ohio is just one place where third parties have continuously fought for ballot access with limited to no success. As Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty explained back in January, Ohio forced Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 2016, to appear on the ballot as an independent rather than with his proper party title. "Johnson got 3.17 percent of the Ohio vote, which would normally, in Ohio law, qualify the party who got it for ballot access, and the ability to have a ballot primary, next time around," he wrote. "However, according to an opinion from the Ohio Supreme Court last week, Johnson's vote total doesn't count for the L.P.'s future ballot access since the state wouldn't let him on the ballot with his Party identification." In happier news, this week a federal judge ruled against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the case Level the Playing Field et al v. FEC. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., held that the rules that currently govern participation in the presidential election are unfair. See a deeper look at that case, also from Doherty, here.[...]
Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:46:00 -0500President Donald Trump will announce plans to build a wall on Wednesday, but the things his administration are trying to tear down might end up being more important. It's no secret that Trump wants to hack away at the federal regulatory state—during the campaign, he promised to repeal two regulations for every new one approved; on Monday, during a meeting with several business executives, Trump promised to cut 75 percent of all federal regulations, "and maybe more." Those claims seem more like campaign trail promises and typical Trump bluster than achievable goals, but give Trump credit for getting straight to work on the issue. Axios, citing an unnamed "senior transition source," reported Wednesday that Trump plans a deconstructing of the regulatory state that will target the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Energy, and Interior during his first 100 days in office. "President Trump plans to attack the regulatory state from every angle," the source told Axios. "The government has been captured by elites, which gets to the very core of what animates the president." Citing a different source, the same report says Trump plans to undermine the regulatory powers of various federal agencies by executive order, rather than going through Congress in an effort to dismantle the agencies' authority. If true, that would mean Trump could move more quickly to curtail the EPA and other agencies that he sees as holding back businesses and the economy as a whole. On the other hand, using executive orders to implement his agenda of deregulation would mean the next president could undo many of those changes—in the same way that Trump is now unwinding some of President Barack Obama's "pen and phone" policies. Trump's inclination to act quickly certainly is understandable, but the way to reform America's regulatory state permanently, as I've written before, will require working with Congress. On that front, there might be more good news. In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) outlined a series of regulatory reforms that take aim at the federal bureaucracy. The first step, McCarthy says, is passage of the REINS Act, which would require any new regulations that cost $100 million or more to be approved by Congress before taking effect. As I wrote last week, the REINS Act would only apply to about 3 percent of all federal regulations, but it would be a meaningful reform because it gives Congress a way to check executive rules with the potential to be particularly harmful. House Republicans also plan to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would undermine the so-called "Chevron deference" within the legal system. The Chevron doctrine grants federal agencies wide leeway when challenged in court, essentially instructing judges to defer to an agency's own interpretation when determining whether a rule is necessary or proper. McCarthy's plans for the House seem to follow Trump's outline. The majority leader says the House will vote to repeal the Department of the Interior's Stream Protection Rule, which has limited access to the nation's coal supply, and will trim the Obama administration's methane regulations that limit oil and gas production. Other federal rules that limit energy production, like the Securities and Exchange Commission's disclosure rules for American drilling firms, will also be axed, McCarthy writes. There are still many, many reasons to worry about Trump's presidency, but regulatory reform could be a silver lining.[...]
Tue, 24 Jan 2017 06:10:00 -0500President Trump is a piece of crap. Former President Obama was a bastard. And Hillary Clinton, who everybody thought was going to be president, is utterly worthless too. Oh, that is so refreshing! For years, we were told that criticizing the occupant of the White House was "rank disrespect," as Jonathan Capehart wrote in the Washington Post. Opposition to the sitting president was very likely motivated by racism, Charles M. Blow mused in The New York Times. "Openly defying and brazenly disrespecting your president, while hoping that he fails, is not called patriotism… It is called treason," insisted one particularly moronic meme by Occupy Democrats. But a few years of experience can have a wonderfully transformative effect on political culture. One election later, and Americans who once insisted that saying mean things about an elected official was unseemly and unforgivable have rediscovered the liberating potential of dissent. Maybe. Even before Donald Trump took office as the 45th president of the United States, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) vowed to pursue his own foreign policy on environmental issues, bypassing the White House. His fellow state officials want to extend that independent spirit to all sorts of policies. "We must be defiant whenever justice, fairness, and righteousness require," State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) told his fellow legislators. Likewise digging in its heels, Boulder, Colorado, declared itself a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants in defiance of federal law and the new president's border-warrior stance. Political leaders in roughly two dozen other cities, including Chicago, New York, and Seattle, have taken the same position in opposition to the new administration. And, where once Hollywood celebrities issued a thoroughly creepy "pledge to serve Barack Obama" when he took office as president, eight additional years of seeing the duties of that office exercised led us to singer Madonna saying she's thought a lot about "blowing up the White House." Madonna made her comments at a massive Women's March the day after Trump's inauguration during which hundreds of thousands of regular Americans promised to resist the new chief executive before he's even had a chance to start rivaling the damage inflicted by his predecessor. It's all such a welcome change. "The vision of the president as national guardian and spiritual redeemer is so ubiquitous it goes virtually unnoticed. Americans, left, right, and other, think of the 'commander in chief' as a superhero, responsible for swooping to the rescue when danger strikes," Gene Healy wrote in the pages of Reason in 2008. Healy, a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of the Cult of the Presidency, published during the excesses of the George W. Bush years, warned that Americans place unrealistic expectations on the office of the presidency, and invest messianic faith in their preferred candidates, making it inevitable that White House residents will seize ever-greater power in response. "Relimiting the presidency depends on freeing ourselves from a mind-set one century in the making," he added. Embracing the value of dissent and the right to tell presidents and the government they administer to go to Hell is a necessary part of breaking that mind-set. It clearly states that the dissenters expect not great things of the latest winner of the national popularity contest, but terrible things instead. Dissenters clearly don't want the targets of their defiance to exercise power, let alone to accumulate more. To criticize government officials—and to embrace the right of others to do the same—is to step back from the cult. Well, it is if you do it right. That many of the new resisters who have rediscovered the joy in calling the president a bastard don't quite get it is obvious from their all-too-ubiquitous "still with her" signs [...]
Fri, 20 Jan 2017 11:20:00 -0500
(image) Lots of activists are gnashing teeth and rending garments over the passage in the House of Representatives of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act which would require both houses of Congress to vote on any new regulations issued by federal agencies that have an economic impact exceeding $100 million. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserts the REINS Act exists "to 'rein in' public health, safety, and environmental protections, and nothing more. They have been written and drafted by corporate lobbyists not to improve the federal regulatory process, but to stymy it, and add yet another roadblock for implementing sensible safeguards."
Over at The New Scientist, physical sciences editor Lisa Grossman dismisses the REINS Act supporters' claim that its purpose is "increase accountability for and transparency in the Federal regulatory process." Instead she sees a darker motive: "In practice, [passage of the REINS Act] could mean that years of painstaking research that go into writing regulations can simply be ditched, replaced with simple political whims....the fact that Congress seems eager to strip science out of the rule-making process is part of a larger trend: replacing scientific expertise with the vagaries of politics."
As necessary and valuable as scientific expertise is, scientists and federal bureaucrats are not experts at evaluating and making benefit-risk tradeoffs. If members of Congress get those tradeoffs wrong, voters can fire those whom they believe are not acting in ways that adequately protect their health, safety, and livelihoods.
As my colleague Eric Boehm has reported the federal regulatory state is out of control with new rules proliferating under President Obama at near light speed. As Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler points out the Constitution vests the power to make laws in Congress, not in federal executive agencies. Adler concludes:
Federal regulation reaches nearly all aspects of modern life and is pervasive in the modern economy. Much of this regulation may be necessary or advisable, and nothing in the REINS Act would hinder a sympathetic Congress from approving new federal regulations. In all likelihood, however, the REINS Act's congressional approval process would prevent the implementation of particularly unpopular or controversial regulatory initiatives. The primary effect of the legislation would be to make Congress more responsible for federal regulatory activity by forcing legislators to voice their opinion on the desirability of significant regulatory changes.
It is past time for Congress to take responsibility to reassert its authority to make the rules that affect the health and livelihoods of millions of Americans.
Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:30:00 -0500Once Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, Republicans will control all the levers of power in Washington, D.C., for the first time since 2006. That does not mean there will be smooth sailing ahead for federal policymakers. Already, Trump and congressional Republicans determined to "repeal and replace" Obamacare have been stymied by the complexities of the health care law and the difficulty of fitting 330 million people into a single policy proposal. On infrastructure, Trump has promised a massive stimulus—as much as $1 trillion in new spending—but he's likely to face opposition from inside his own party, which spent most of the last eight years debunking the idea that federal deficit spending is good for the economy. The appointment of Betsy DeVos, a champion for school choice and charter schools, as the next secretary of education is meant to indicate a clean break from the Obama administration on policy for schools, but there will be challenges on that front too. Unwinding federal education mandates like Common Core and No Child Left Behind are unlikely to be much easier than hacking away at the Affordable Care Act. In place of major federal action to implement new policy, then, the new Republican-controlled government might want to take a page out of their pocket constitutions—the page with the Tenth Amendment printed on it. When the federal government struggles to find solutions, states can lead the way on these, and other, important issues. The biggest policy debates facing America in 2017 will not be solved—or at least not solved best—by monolithic decision-making in the White House and the halls of Congress. Letting states sort out thorny issues provides other advantages too, like the fact that it is relatively easy for individuals and businesses to voluntarily exit from states that make poor policy choices. To get a sense of how state governments can improve the prospects for liberty, both with and without help from the feds, Reason surveyed a group of wonks toiling to change policies in state capitals from coast to coast. This is what federalism in the age of Trump could look like. Expanding Choice in Education No Child Left Behind, the federal law that increased spending for schools in exchange for more testing to track student learning, turned 15 this month. It's old enough to be high school sophomore, but it's hasn't earned good grades. By the end of the 2014 school year, 100 percent of all American students were supposed to meet the standards outlined by the Bush era law. Schools that failed to meet those goals were supposed to face consequences like restructuring. Most of that hasn't happened. States lowered standards to make sure that more students could meet them and the Obama administration issued blanket waivers for the schools in states that adopted a new set of federal teaching guidelines called Common Core. The problems with No Child Left Behind illustrate two of the biggest problems with the current status of public education. First, it was a one-size-fits-all solution that, second, funded education infrastructure—school buildings, administrators, and teachers—instead of funding students. Yet the past decade-and-a-half has seen an upwelling of innovative education policy ideas from the state level, including expansions of charter schools, voucher programs, and education savings accounts. Many of those reforms have been focused on giving families a choice when it comes to public education, particularly for students trapped in failing schools for no reason other than their ZIP code. DeVos, in her home state of Michigan, has a long history of fighting for those kinds of reforms. In 2000, she was heavily involved in an unsuccessful effort to remove the state constitution's ban on voucher programs via ballot initiative, and since then sh[...]
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 12:16:00 -0500There were more than 90,000 pages added the Federal Register, that behemoth of a book that annually tracks the growth of the federal leviathan, during 2016, making last year's list of federal rules and regulations a full 10,000 pages longer than the previous record. Including last year's record-breaker, 13 of the 15 longest registers in American history have been authored by the past two presidential administrations (Barack Obama owns seven of the top eight, with George W. Bush filling in most of the rest), according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market D.C. think tank that diligently tracks the pages of the registry each year. If Donald Trump's incoming administration aims to reverse that worrying trend—something the president-elect has claimed to want to do—then it could use a helping hand from Congress. The growth of the regulatory state is inextricably linked to the expansion of the executive branch's powers in recent decades, but those powers have expanded in part because congress has willingly winnowed its own authority. "Congress has been all too happy to delegate away those powers to executive branch agencies," says Ryan Young, a fellow at CEI. "Suppose a regulation passes that is unpopular or backfires or is burdensome, then congressmen, who do have to face re-election every couple of years, can say 'don't blame me, blame the EPA or the FCC' or whichever agency is responsible." Last year, for example, Congress passed 211 bills while federal regulatory agencies approved 3,852 regulations, Young says. To stop Congress from passing the buck like that, Young says federal lawmakers should pass something called the REINS Act—the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act. The REINS Act would require every new regulation that costs more than $100 million to be approved by Congress. As it is now, agencies can pass those rules unilaterally. Such major rules only account for about 3 percent of annual regulations, but they are the ones that cause the most headaches for individuals and businesses. "What the REINS Act would do is add a little bit of democratic accountability to the regulation process," Young told me during this week's episode of American Radio Journal. Congress would also be required to review all existing regulations that surpass that $100 million threshold. Right now, there's no clear accounting of how many such rules exist, so assessing the landscape would be a necessary step before reforms could be enacted. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that for congress to reassert its authority it first has to want to reassert its authority. It's not clear that a majority of its members do, probably for the political reason that Young outlined. Still, the REINS Act did pass the House on four occasions during the Obama administration. Lack of support in the Senate and the threat of a presidential veto kept it from ever reaching Obama's desk. That might change under President Trump, who has made no secret of his desire to slash federal regulations. He's promised to rescind two federal rules for every one new regulation added to the books. "REINS is an important first step toward increasing accountability, oversight, and transparency in Washington, and it's one of the best ways President-elect Trump and the new Republican Congress can show we're responding to the American people's demand for change," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) in a statement earlier this month when he co-sponsored the Senate version of the REINS Act along with 25 of his colleagues. Listen to my whole interview with Young here.[...]
Fri, 13 Jan 2017 07:15:00 -0500"After consultation with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the 5th and 1st Amendments." Again and again, these words rang out through the crowded Congressional inquiry into "Backpage.com's Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking" Tuesday. A function of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—literal heir to the Joseph McCarthy-era espionage and subversion investigations—the hearing was ostensibly organized to shed light on the business practices of online classified-ad forum Backpage. Led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), the bipartisan effort represented the culmination of a 20-month long investigation and accompanied a lengthy report on the findings. The point of the hearing, said McCaskill, was "understanding how criminals systematically use online platforms to transform normal American teenagers into sex slaves." But if so, it was as much a look at the laws governing online publishing, user-generated content, and sex work in America. And those in the hot seat—Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla, General Counsel Elizabeth McDougall, and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin—refused to answer any of the subcommittee's questions with more than a nod to the 5th Amendment. Launched around 10 a.m., the portion of the hearing featuring Backpage leadership was concluded, with nothing conceded, in under an hour. As the Backpage witnesses filed out, a swarm of reporters followed, trailing a silent Ferrer and his handlers until the third-floor door of Dirksen Building elevator closed in front of them. Lacey hung back, but mostly to say that he had said all he would say for now. "I guess you don't know what will happen next?" I asked him. "Right now," he said, "a drink." Backpage Background Portman and McCaskill's inquiry into Backpage began in 2015. After the site's execs refused to appear for questioning or turn over private business documents, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations filed a civil contempt action against them—the first authorized by the Senate in more than 20 years—and was rewarded with a federal court order compelling Backpage to turn over subpoenaed documents. The resulting report on these documents "conclusively shows that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone imagined," Portman said Tuesday. In both the report and live testimony, the subcommittee moved seamlessly between allegations that Backpage intentionally profited from the prostitution of children and statements from Backpage representatives with regard to prostitution more broadly, leaving the unmistakable impression that Backpage leadership admitted—at least internally—to the horrible things alleged by the government. But the inquiry actually ascertained no such thing. The most significant policies the inquiry uncovered were a) moderators employed by Backpage would sometimes edit user-generated ads to remove direct references to sex for money before allowing them to post and b) between 2010 and 2012, the site employed an automatic filter to remove some blacklisted words from ads before they were posted. Subcommittee summaries of these editing and filtering processes suggest that Backpage moderators deliberately stripped words like "teen," "young," "daddy's girl," and "barely legal," from ads before allowing them to post, and this indicates that they knew about and encouraged underage ad-posting. But, of course, none of these words necessarily signals anything nefarious. Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are both "barely legal" and "teens," yet still legally adults. "Young" is a term someone well beyond 18 might use. Terms like sugar baby and sugar daddy are widely used[...]
Wed, 11 Jan 2017 19:50:00 -0500"You probably have a sense—vague as it may be—that the weirdness of American life, and the intractability of its predicaments, large and small, are intimately, inexorably bound up with the craziness of everyday life. It's entirely possible that the motto on our coinage, IN GOD WE TRUST, still captures the most popular response to that. But, increasingly, a more useful motto for us might be 'DEAL WITH IT.'" A lot of people are unhappy these days, writes James Poulos in his brilliant new book, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us from Ourselves. The hardest cases among us are invested deeply in politics, especially partisan politics. You probably know some longtime Hillary Clinton fans or Democrats who are still struggling to get out of bed since November (maybe you're reading this from bed). But hell, even Republican Trump boosters can't go five minutes without complaining how the world is going to hell for this or that reason. Trump's whole appeal was that he was going to sand the rust off America and make it (and us!) great again. When you throw in folks who are terrified that global warming is about to swamp the Midwest along with good old-fashioned religious end-timers, just about everybody is convinced these are the last days of modern Rome. Against such a background, Poulos' The Art of Being Free isn't just a pleasant diversion from the dog-eat-dog world of 24/7 news and partisan bickering. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mind, groaning with allusions to history, political science, economics, literature, and pop culture: Socrates, Nietzche, Netflix, The Smashing Pumpkins, Seinfeld, Stendahl, and Scooby-Doo all make appearances in this essay about getting beyond superficial politics to the parts of life that really matter. And along the way, he charts a path that just might lead back to politics that will help us all be free to become whomever we think we want to be. A late-thirtysomething writer for The Week, National Interest, The Daily Beast, and elsewhere, Poulos talks with Nick Gillespie about how Americans have historically tied ourselves in knots because "we love equality, we want unity, we fear uniformity." Using Tocqueville's Democracy in America as his lantern, he wanders far and wide through today's noisy landscape and brilliantly dispels "the sense of haunted despair" that so many of us wear like our favorite hoodie. Listen now by clicking below. Subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes and never miss an episode (rate and review us while you're there)! src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/302245988&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Follow us at Soundcloud. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to Reason magazine for just $15 a year![...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 13:00:00 -0500Election Day 2016 is finally behind us. The shock has worn off, the disappointment has mostly dissipated. Now it's time to pore over the results, drill down to state, county, and even precinct level, and try to glean what we can from the data. From that data, analysts are plotting how to fashion future electoral strategy, and looking for electoral opportunities uncovered by this year's vote totals that might not have been apparent or even have existed before this uncommon election year. Democrats and Republicans have been doing this since November 9, and have been doing so post-election for decades. It's time for Libertarians to start doing this, too. From President-elect Donald Trump's announced cabinet picks, a Libertarian electoral opportunity may already be in the cards: a special election is expected to fill the seat of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary. Price's constituency—Georgia's 6th Congressional District—consists of some of Atlanta's growing, affluent northern suburbs in parts of Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb counties. The potential for Libertarian electoral inroads in Georgia's 6th District—and the potential for Trump's association to cause damage to the Republican brand—starts to crystalize when we look at the district's demographics and how those played out in the 2016 election results. First, a stark fall-off in the Republican vote for president: In 2012 Georgia's 6th District went for GOP nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by a 61 percent to 37.5 percent margin. This year, Trump squeezed past Hillary Clinton by a single percentage point (48 percent to 47 percent) even as Rep. Price was winning re-election with 61 percent of the vote (down from 65 percent in 2012). The Gary Johnson-William Weld Libertarian ticket's solid 5 percent tally in Georgia's 6th District over-performed its statewide and national percentage, stretching past 7 percent in some precincts. Georgia is a state whose upward demographic trends encouraged confident Clinton strategists to talk up as a possible upset. According to The Almanac of American Politics, Georgia's 6th District leads the Peach State in income level, ranking 39th out of 435 congressional districts nationwide. Over half the district's workers are white collar, more than one out of five have put in some post-graduate study. Trump's anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric that riled up white working class voters up in the Rust Belt and Georgia's stagnant rural redoubts turned off thousands upon thousands of business-minded voters in Georgia's 6th District. In the district's Cobb County, Clinton became the first Democrat to carry the county since favorite son Jimmy Carter did so in 1976, attracting 27,000 more votes than Obama earned in 2012. Meanwhile, Trump slumped in the 6th District, tallying 20,000 fewer votes than Romney. Previously considered a "safe Republican" seat, this new data led Roll Call to suggest that the special election in Georgia's 6th District "could offer" an "opportunity for Georgia Democrats." But if wariness of Trump does offer an opportunity, from their post-election rhetorical positioning, Democrats don't seem ready to exploit it. In the wake of Trump's surprise bursting of the "blue firewall" (be it "blue state" or "blue collar"), Democrats are doubling down on their trade-bashing and anti-rich guy rhetoric, seeking to win back the scare points they scored against Republicans for so many decades, when the white working class was the dominant demographic. But bashing big business and billionaires doesn't look like the way to wring out more Democratic votes in a congressional district with a disappearing blue collar work force and a[...]
Tue, 10 Jan 2017 12:15:00 -0500The Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings into Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) nomination for attorney general began this morning with the nominee being peppered with questions about topics including crime, abortion, porn, mandatory minimums, racism, and potential future investigations into Hillary Clinton. The hearings, which expect to be contentious, began with the typical formal pleasantries and some broad strokes about policy. There were also a few interruptions from members of Code Pink and others dressed as Ku Klux Klan members before both were escorted from the room. In his introduction, Committee Chairman Sen. Check Grassley (R-Iowa) lauded Sessions for his record of public service, but expressed concern over what he characterized as the Justice Department not enforcing existing immigration laws. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) testified on behalf of Sessions, praising his "integrity" and decrying accusations of racism leveled against him. In Sessions' opening statement he cited recent FBI statistics showing an increase in violent crime from 2015 to 2016, but failed to note that the U.S. murder rate is at about where it was in 2008, just before Barack Obama took office, and still less than half of where it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Grassley asked Sessions about critical comments he made during the presidential campaign about Hillary Clinton and the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server. Sessions conceded that the statements he made while serving as a Donald Trump campaign surrogate put "my objectivity in question," and he promised to recuse himself from any prospective investigation into the Clinton or the Clinton Foundation if confirmed as attorney general. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) focused on Sessions' lack of support for hate crime legislation in her opening statement, and later asked Sessions about the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015, and whether he would deny federal funds provided by the act to pay for abortions for victims of rape in sex trafficking. The staunchly pro-life Sessions assured Feinstein that his DOJ would defer to Congress, which passed this law. Feinstein reiterated that the funds in this law are not subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds being used for abortion except to save the life of the mother. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Sessions' introduction of a resolution demanding federal obscenity laws be "vigorously enforced throughout the United States." Hatch also cited the Utah legislature's resolution declaring pornography as a "public health problem," and asked if Sessions' still believes anti-obscenity laws should be "vigorously enhanced." Sessions said he would consider reconstituting a special Justice Department unit to prosecute obscenity laws. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grilled Sessions about his vote against a resolution which opposed the U.S. barring anyone from entering the country based on their religion, something Trump had proposed with regards to Muslims during the campaign. Leahy asked the nominee if he agreed with President-elect Trump's stated position, but Sessions pivoted, saying that Trump has since indicated his focus would be on "strong vetting" of people wishing to enter the U.S. from "countries that have a history of terrorism." Sessions also clarified that while he opposes blanket bans on certain religions, he says he voted against the bill because, in his view, certain religious views should be fair game in the vetting process. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Sessions point blank how he feels about being painted as a racist by some prior to the hearings, to which Sessions replied it was "very painful," and that [...]