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All articles with the "Congress" tag.

Published: Mon, 22 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 22 May 2017 11:05:09 -0400


These Republican Lawmakers Will Happily Abandon Federalism to Deport More Immigrants

Fri, 19 May 2017 15:05:00 -0400

Texas passed legislation forcing local police to help federal immigration officials detain people for deportation. California is considering legislation that's essentially the opposite. Now some Republicans are introducing federal legislation that overrules the states and dictates how local police officers participate in immigration law enforcement. So, uh, federalism and state's rights? Never mind all that. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced H.R. 2431, the Davis-Oliver Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), and Ted Poe (R-Texas). The bill has a lot of components to it, including an expansion of what counts as a deportable crime and the inclusion of illegal immigrants in the National Crime Center Database. The bill also essentially attempts to overrule leadership of sanctuary cities or states by granting law enforcement personnel (local police) the same authority to investigate, identify, and detain illegal immigrants as federal immigration officials. The law makes it clear that local police would still lack the authority to deport immigrants on their own. But the law does say: [L]aw enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal custody aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States to the same extent as Federal law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may also investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, or detain aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of a State or of a political subdivision of State, as long as those immigration laws are permissible under this section. Further in the bill, it mandates that states and cities inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a "timely fashion" when they've apprehended somebody who is in the country illegally or is deportable. And it provides grants to help law enforcement agencies with implementing these procedures, so long as they put into place a written policy of assisting DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deporting immigrants. In the fight over sanctuary cities (cities that generally don't check on the immigration status of those in custody), there has been quite a lot of confusion over what it means to resist or cooperate with the federal government and ICE on immigration laws. The federal government does not have the authority to force local police officers to assist them or detain deportable immigrants. There is a portion of the U.S. code that forbids states and cities from passing regulations or having policies that prohibit communication between local police and the feds about anybody's immigration status. That's it. It does not require police to assist ICE or even ask about citizenship status. This bill would change and expand the wording of that federal regulation to forbid states and cities from having rules against assisting ICE and DHS in enforcing immigration laws. Under this change the law would be about much more than communication. Cities would be forbidden from telling police they couldn't hold immigrants to hand over to ICE for deportation. It also specifies which federal grants communities could lose if they do not cooperate with the bill. A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order threatening grants to sanctuary cities partly because the grants have to have some sort of connection to regulatory processes and the government cannot simply take grant money away in order to coerce certain behaviors. Don't take this to mean the grants referenced are narrowly defined, though. Despite the fact that the bill is all about immigration enforcement, it would potentially threaten any Justice Department or DHS grant that was related to "law enforcement, terrorism, national security, or immigration or naturalization." So … that's probably a lot of them. The law is named after two law enforcement offic[...]

How To Impeach the President (Or Not)

Thu, 18 May 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Want to get rid of the president?

There are two ways, basically.

First, find an impeachable offense. According to the Constitution an impeachable offense: treason, bribery, or "Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." What counts for that last part? Nobody knows. Some people say it means bad things only people in high office can do—like misusing public assets, dereliction of duty, or having sex and then lying about it. Others say it's any crime or misdemeanor at all, even if it has nothing to do with a president's position or power. Did you steal a pen from work? Petty theft is a misdemeanor. You should no longer be president.

Once you get an impeachable offense, get a majority of House members to vote in favor of the motion and then go to trial in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. After the highest-rated programming in C-SPAN history, the senators vote. If 67 senators find the president guilty, he's gone.

There is another way, however, without all that messy legal stuff.

The vice president and a majority of the cabinet can invoke the 25th amendment and present a written declaration to Congress that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." So what does that mean? In the past it's been used for things like, "Hey, I'm getting a colonoscopy, can you cover for me for ,a few hours?" but now some people want it to mean "I just think this guy is an asshat." Regardless of the rationale, once those articles are invoked, the magic wand is waved and the president is immediately stripped of power. No trial, no witnesses, no evidence, no votes, just gone.

Of course, the president is going to say, "Hey, I'm totally fit for office, get out of my chair." But if the vice president won't budge, then it goes back to Congress, which will have three weeks to decide who gets to run things. This time though, you need two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House. Or maybe it's two-thirds of the total number of members of both the Senate and the House. Nobody really knows because it's never happened before and it'll probably end up going to the Supreme Court anyway.

Anyhoo, if enough of them agree that the president is an asshat or whatever, the vice president stays put and the president is never heard from again. Or, more likely, the former president goes on twitter and says this was an extra-judicial coup by Washington insiders and starts a new civil war. Only this time with bigger guns and planes and bombs and stuff.

So maybe we shouldn't decide to get rid of presidents just because we hate them and then afterwards figure out how to pretend it's the law.

About 2 minutes. Written and produced by Austin Bragg.

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No, the AHCA Doesn't Make Rape a Preexisting Condition

Fri, 05 May 2017 11:45:00 -0400

The latest less-than-truthful meme about Republicans' American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the U.S. House on Thursday, is that it makes rape a "preexisting condition" for health-insurance purposes. According to a host of women's publications and an army of outraged tweeters, sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors could soon be forced to disclose their attacks to insurance companies, which could subsequently deny them health-insurance coverage because of it. None of this is true. Like, not even a little bit. And the fact it's not just being shared by shady social-media activists and their unwitting dupes but by ostensibly-legitimate media outlets is another sad indictment of press standards these days. Nothing in the new Republican health care bill specifically addresses sexual assault or domestic violence whatsoever. What it does say is that states can apply for waivers that will allow insurance companies, under certain limited circumstances, to charge higher premiums to people based on their personal medical histories—that's it. (States that are granted the waivers must also set up special high-risk insurance pools to try and help defray costs for these people.) Under Obamacare, no such price variances based on preexisting conditions are permitted. Historically, conditions that could trigger higher premiums or coverage denials have been mostly chronic diseases and syndromes. Some insurance plans also included pregnancy as a preexisting condition, which—contra the current pop narrative—did not mean that any woman who was or had been pregnant would be denied insurance coverage altogether, simply that those applying for new health insurance while currently pregnant might not be eligible for immediate maternity/prenatal care. And for a while, in the 1980s, it was apparently not unheard of for health insurance companies to deny coverage to domestic abuse victims. By 2009, however, all but eight U.S. states had passed laws directly prohibiting the practice, and as of July 2014, all but six states had. Even if Obamacare is replaced by the AHCA tomorrow, insurers in 44 states will still be barred by law from considering domestic and sexual abuse a preexisting condition. (Update: Buzzfeed's Paul McLeod confirmed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners yesterday that there are now only two states, Idaho and Vermont, that don't explicitly "ban insurers from factoring domestic abuse into premium costs." For more detailed information, see this great analysis from Washington Post Fact Checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee and my longer update at the bottom of this post.) Doesn't that mean there's a possibility that those other six states could choose to apply for waivers, and then insurance companies within them could perhaps choose to charge higher premiums for abuse victims? Yes. They also could choose to charge higher premiums for prior victims of car accidents and ingrown toenails. It doesn't mean they will. A Politifact investigation in 2009 could turn up no evidence that such practices were happening in the then-eight states that would allow it. "Just because it's legal in some states for insurance companies to cite domestic violence as a pre-existing condition, it doesn't mean that insurance companies are actually taking advantage of the loophole," it noted. A spokesperson for American's Health Insurance Plans, the health insurer trade association, told CNN this week that "of course survivors of domestic abuse and rape should be covered," and it wasn't simply a federal law stopping insurers from saying otherwise. Kristine Grow, the organization's senior vice president of communications, said the industry willingly follows the guidance in this area set out by the National Association of Insurance Companies, which advises against coverage discrimination for abuse and assault victims. So far, the only examples offered as evidence that such discrimination is common have fallen far short. In CNN's story, a woman's insurance application was rejected for u[...]

Rand Paul: Budget Deal Should Be Renamed ‘The Status Quo Protection Act’

Wed, 03 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

(image) I was at one of those infamous D.C. cocktail parties the other night when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the two most libertarian-leaning members of the House of Representatives, sidled up to me at the bar and croaked, "How ya liking our new trillion-dollar budget deal?!"

The $1.16 trillion agreement hikes current spending levels, largely by vomiting forth $93.5 billion worth of "Overseas Contingency Operations" (OCO)—a disreputable gimmick that current Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has long and correctly railed against. Unlike the budgetary "dark ages" and government-dismembering prophesied by dullard hysterics in the media, this latest last-minute Continuing Resolution very predictably maintains just about every pre-existing spending level and pet project/agency. A House vote is scheduled for this afternoon.

So who's against it? Massie's pal Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for one. Paul has a piece over at explaining why:

It not only rejects President Trump's calls for cuts to multiple agencies, but it increases their funding by millions of dollars.

It paves the way for those agencies to engage in more "use it or lose it" September spending.

It leaves our deficit at well over $500 million. […]

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tried to warn us in 2010 when he called debt "[t]he most significant threat to our national security." History is littered with the ruins of nations who fast-tracked their own decline by becoming overextended. […]

[A]s long as we continue to spend with abandon, pile it on the backs of the taxpayers we claim to serve, and pretend it's all okay, we are ultimately our own worst enemies.

Read my interview with Massie last month basically predicting all this, and my April 2016 column asserting that the GOP's abdication on budgetary/sequestration issues helped sink Rand Paul's presidential bid. Below, Nick Gillespie helps explain why maintaining a "Pentagon slush fund" is no way to run a country.

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Trump’s Mixed Messages on North Korea Show Importance of Congress’ Role in War Making

Wed, 03 May 2017 09:35:00 -0400

The Trump Show's™ latest story line involves North Korea and the authoritarian country's recent missile tests. Just as he did during the campaign, Donald Trump is wont to take diametrically opposite positions on any issue with abandon. Now the world's his stage. Last week, President Trump told Reuters he believed there was a chance of a "major, major conflict with North Korea." The comments came on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the door to potential negotiations with the North Korean regime, as The New York Times noted. "Viewed in the most charitable light, Mr. Trump was, in his own nondiplomatic way, building pressure to force the North to halt its nuclear and missile tests," The New York Times suggested, "the first step toward resuming the kind of negotiations that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has begun to talk about." Then Monday, Trump offered that he'd be "honored" to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, and was open to such a meeting "under the right circumstances." Trump's phrasing re-enforced the notion that Trump has a thing for authoritarian world leaders—such praise highlights his own authoritarian tendencies. But the U.S. has also long had a thing for authoritarian world leaders, and a deep history of supporting authoritarian regimes. There is a case to be made for some strategic ambiguity—that a sort of wildcard foreign policy can create negotiating room and force reflection on long-held and long-uninterrogated assumptions about foreign policy. But Trump's statements don't appear to add up to anything strategic. It's a higher-energy, more frenetic version of the same kind of aimless, interventionist, and ultimately destructive and counterproductive, foreign policy pursued by Barack Obama. For example, while President Trump floated the idea that the South Korean government would have to pay for the U.S. missile defense system the two countries agreed last year the U.S. would deploy in the region, his national security advisor, and the interim South Korean government (elections are next week), insisted that would not be the case. The system went live in South Korea this week. The leading presidential candidate in South Korea, Moon Jae in, has said he would review the system's deployment. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor, says the Trump administration continues to insist American allies pay more for their defense. Trump's comments could make it more likely for Moon to keep his promise of review if elected. In the first month of the Trump administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis went to Europe to tell its leaders that American taxpayers could no longer "carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values," particularly on NATO, which Trump had long critiqued on the campaign trail European leaders more or less called Trump's bluff, and the president eventually decided NATO was "no longer obsolete." Such heel-turns turn Trump's pronouncement into little more than noise. That noise is dangerous largely thanks to Congress. On Face the Nation Sunday, asked if another North Korean nuclear test would yield a military response, President Trump said he didn't know, highlighting the importance of Congress asserting its war-making powers. After Obama committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya, Congress voted against an authorization of the actions, but also rejected a bill by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) which would have defunded the Libya effort. The legislative tool exists, but if there wasn't the political will to use it in a Republican-led Congress against an unconstitutional action by a Democratic president, it's unlikely to be used now. The U.S.-backed intervention in Libya led to the overthrow of Col. Qaddafi less than a decade after he volunteered to surrender his alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to avoid the fate of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Hussein's insistence on WMDs became part of the case made by the Bush admini[...]

Democrats Push for National Ban on LGBT Conversion Therapy

Tue, 02 May 2017 12:45:00 -0400

The Supreme Court has declined to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of a California law banning conversion therapy on minors. Conversion therapy involves the process of trying to change the sexual orientation of a person from gay or bisexual to heterosexual. Decades ago when people believed homosexuality was a form of mental illness, this therapy was considered normal. Now psychologists and psychiatrists know better, and have determined that homosexuality and bisexuality are normal variations of sexual orientation. Furthermore, professional mental health organizations like the American Psychological Association have determined that conversion therapy likely doesn't work and formally oppose its use. Starting earlier in the decade a handful of states like California began legislatively banning conversion therapy for minors. The laws have typically been crafted as though this were an occupational licensing and business fraud issue. They prohibit state-licensed mental health experts from offering services to change a teen or child's sexual orientation. Fundamentally, though, conversion therapy isn't a particular set of practices or processes. It is really an idea—that homosexuality can be cured. The idea may be discredited by professional therapy organizations, but there are people out there who believe otherwise, and their beliefs are frequently tied to their religions. So given that these laws essentially recast an idea as a type of consumer fraud, religious-minded supporters of conversion therapy have been challenging the laws as infringements on their freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They have been rebuffed, and Monday the Supreme Court rejected a challenge of California's law. The court previously turned away a challenge to New Jersey's ban in 2015. These laws are often written narrowly in scope and in whom they affect. The law prohibits offering conversion therapy to minors, not adults, which is intended to deal with concerns about consent and coercion. Historically, young gay teens have been pushed and even forced into treatment against their will. The laws focus on state-licensed treatment to try to emphasize this is an issue of occupational oversight for the benefit of consumers, not an attempt to censor speech or religion. Bans on conversion therapy, though, are fundamentally censorship of an idea, and there is a slippery slope and consequences that people with narrow interests in halting abusive treatment of gay and transgender teens simply do not grasp. This isn't a ban on a particular dangerous technique, like electroshock treatment, for example. It's a ban on anything—even just speech—coming from a licensed therapist that suggests homosexuality can be cured. It is dangerous to allow the government to control the classification of speech and to recast speech as something else just because commerce is involved. For example, some may defend the ban because it affects only minors who have limited abilities to consent or decide for themselves whether they want such treatment. Adults can seek out conversion therapy if they want. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work or may potentially harm them—they're adults and can decide for themselves. Except Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) and 70 Democratic members of Congress want to take this choice away from adults as well. Lieu is once again trying to get federal legislation passed to classify conversion therapy as a form of consumer fraud and give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to punish anybody who provides it in exchange for money. To be very clear, this federal law would not be confined to minors. It would affect even adults voluntarily seeking conversion therapy. Lieu's law would forbid advertising or offering any form of conversion therapy that claimed to change somebody's sexual orientation or even "eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions of feelings toward individuals of the sam[...]

New College Crime Bill Deputizes Professors as Campus Security, Further Federalizes Campus Rape Investigations, and Adds Huge Fines for Schools That Don't Comply

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:45:00 -0400

Under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate, a vast new array of higher-education employees—including all staff and faculty at some schools—would be designated as campus security authorities. The bill would also impose new penalties on colleges and universities for failure to comply with a range of staffing, surveying, training, and outreach demands, which could cost schools millions upon an initial violation. The bill—sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Mark Warner (D-Virginia)—aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically the section colloquially known as the Clery Act. In a press release announcing their "Campus Accountability and Safety Act" (CASA), the senators invoke the Title IX, the federal rule prohibiting sex-discrimination in education, and a need to place "higher incentives on all universities ... to empower student survivors and hold perpetrators accountable." If CASA passes, expect to see campus crime numbers—of all sorts—skyrocket. One of the more bizarre provisions of the bill stipulates that "each individual at an institution of higher education who is designated as a higher education responsible employee… shall be considered a campus security authority." Under federal code, higher education responsible employees are those required to report sexual misconduct to campus Title IX staff, even if the victim/confessor doesn't want to report the incident. But federal law is vague about who exactly falls into this category, leaving schools to develop their own more specific—and expansive—definitions. At some schools, all faculty and staff have been given responsible-employee status; many have expanded it to include all professors, or all people working with student athletics and extracurriculars. What does it mean if each of these folks is designated as a "campus security authority?" It's unclear how much effect it would have on day-to-day campus policy. But for purposes of an institution's annual security report, this change would be a big deal. Under federal law, colleges and universities receiving any federal funding must report annually on the numbers of sexual violence and misconduct incidents reported to campus security authorities or local police each year, along with numbers on a range of other incidents, from murder to burglary to hate crimes. CASA would expand sex-offense reporting requirements to include non-identifying details about each incident (such as whether the victim reported the incident to a Title IX coordinator, whether they sought disciplinary action against the accused, the number of accused found guilty, and whether force or weapons were involved). But more importantly, campus incidents are currently only included on annual security reports if they were reported to local police or campus security authorities—a category which has traditionally meant the campus police department. By drastically expanding the number of people defined as campus security authorities, we drastically expand the category of incidents included in annual security reports. Now we aren't just talking about incidents in which victims wanted to get authorities involved, or in which the offense was serious enough to warrant police attention regardless; any time a student confides in a professor, coach, drama director, resident adviser, etc., about something that could potentially be an offense—a verbally abusive romantic partner, a dorm-mate who shared an offensive web video, a classmate who made a disparaging remark about trans people, a sexual encounter fuzzily remembered—the listener would be obligated to report it to campus administrators for inclusion on the annual crime report. It's a surefire way to discourage students from[...]

Why Disgraced Congressman Trey Radel Went Crazy (And America Will Too)

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 17:00:00 -0400

The first rule of the Congressional Fight Club, says Trey Radel, is "don't buy cocaine from a federal agent." In January 2013, Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. He had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size, scope, and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel has always been a staunch critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, he documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that puts maintaining the unsustainable status quo and fattening party coffers first and philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really, really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform if the United States is going to avert an entitlements-driven financial crisis and a drift toward even greater polarization and economic stagnation. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Radel explains the compulsions that destroyed his political career; doubles down on libertarian positions regarding the drug war, civil liberties, and foreign policy; and articulates his worries that Americans won't demand systemic change until the country has gone "full Greek." "I fear," he says, "that Donald Trump is going to slip into George W. Bush-era policy that led itself to making Republicans disaffected, which was this: Let's lower taxes, increase spending, and pray to God the economy booms. I'm afraid that's just not going to happen." Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to Reason's award-winning print edition for just $15 a year! This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Trey, thanks for talking to us. Trey Radel: It's great to be with you. Thank you so much for having me. Nick Gillespie: You were a U.S. Congressman from the 19th District in Florida, is that right? Trey Radel: That is right. Nick Gillespie: Okay. Trey Radel: The Fort Myers-Naples area is where many of perhaps your retired grandparents live. Nick Gillespie: You entered office. You ran in 2012 as part of the last surge of the Tea Party, a professional broadcaster before that, and then you listed about a year in Congress. Tell our listeners, Reason's listeners, what happened, which I think will jog a lot of their memories. Trey Radel: Sure. The first rule of Fight Club, don't buy cocaine from a federal agent, is where I'd start. While I poke fun at myself, it sucked. I got caught up in some very bad, bad habits that ranged from drinking too much to making really stupid decisions. I paid a really serious, serious price. It's one thing to pay the price for a position that I worked very hard to get, which was a Representative in the United States Congress, and to get there and just toss it all away, but what was the hardest that I would quickly come to grips with was what it did to my family, to my wife, and really to my son, who's only five years old now but who will grow up knowing that his dad had this notorious label. It sucks, man. It[...]

Proposed Tweak to Internet Law Could Spur Seismic Shifts in Web as We Know It

Sun, 02 Apr 2017 10:32:00 -0400

A draft bill in the House of Representatives would add sex trafficking to the list of crimes excluded from the protection of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), a Geocities-era law with an important provision on internet publishing. That provision—Section 230—would prove crucial to the development of the "World Wide Web" as we know it, allowing for a world in which social networks and participatory media could thrive. The new House proposal is portrayed as a mere tweak to Section 230, one which would make it easier to catch bad guys while having little effect on online communication. Don't believe it. Simply put, Section 230 protects web publishers and platforms—from Facebook and Reddit to The New York Times to—from being legally culpable for things that third parties post or upload, at least when it comes to state crimes and civil lawsuits. (Federal criminal offenses are not afforded Section 230 protection.) If you're found to be criminally harassing someone via Twitter, the company can't be prosecuted for it. If a magazine commenter makes libelous statements, the publication can't be sued for libel. If a 16-year-old meets a 19-year-old on Facebook and they begin a sexual relationship, Facebook can't be charged for statuatory rape. And so on. "It's the reason I can't sue [Snapchat CEO] Evan Spiegel for harassment if a dude sends me unsolicited pictures of his dick on Snapchat," writes Kate Knibbs in this excellent and detailed piece about adult-advertising and Section 230. "This protection has been absolutely essential to the development of the internet in this country and really around the world," the Center for Democracy & Technology's Emma Llansó told Knibbs. Without it, web providers would "be in court all the time. And they'd run up inordinately high legal bills, even if they were ultimately successful in defending a case." The new House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and dubbed the "No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act," would carve out an exception to Section 230 for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors. Supporters portray it as a way to "hold sex traffickers accountable," but we already have sufficient penalties—at the state and federal level—for people who force, decieve, or coerce others into prostitution, as well as for anyone directly involved in the prostitution (forced or not) of a minor. And nothing in Section 230 of the CDA, nor in this new proposal, affects the way we treat folks found to be sexually exploiting others. What the change would do is make it possible for states to indict any app, website, or platform that introduces an underage person to a possible sex buyer as a conspirator in sex trafficking. And it would allow any underage person who was paid for sex to subsequently sue any website or web service remotely involved in the transaction. To be very clear, the change would not merely apply to classified-ad sites like Backpage, or to sites and services specializing in escort advertising. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and similar social platforms have all helped introduce underage sex-trafficking victims to perpetrators in recent U.S. cases. Victims often use use popular email providers, messaging apps, and text messaging to communicate with clients (police have been fond of late with charging sex workers with cell phones or laptops for felony possession of the instruments of a crime). Perhaps prosecutors won't go after these sites and services (I have my doubts), but regardless, victims can. With the proposed change, victims will have the right to sue any third-party web service that enabled their participation or exploitation in the sex trade. And in this case, victim means anyone under 18 whom someone paid for sex, regardless of whether any force, fraud, coercion, or middlemen and women were involved. You can see how [...]

Turns Out Congressional Republicans Don’t Really Want to Cut Spending

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:16:00 -0400

In a post yesterday about President Donald Trump's record number of Congressional Review Act-enabled repeals of regulations, I tacked on a bullet-pointed list of other Trumpian moves to roll back the regulatory state. Not included was his proposed budget, despite the fact that it features impressive year-over-year cuts to the executive branch—30.4 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency, 20.7 percent from the Departments of Labor and Agriculture, and so on. So why didn't I include Trump's proposed deconstruction of the administrative state? Because presidents don't pass budgets, and congressional Republicans don't want to cut spending. Last night, in an episode of The Fifth Column, I asked the great libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to assess the realistic possibilities that Congress this year will approve such budgetary measures as a 30-plus percent cut in the EPA. "You want me to give you odds?" Massie said. "I'd go with five percent odds." To be clear, Massie is in the lonely minority that would delight in taking a machete to the regulatory state—the man did, after all, propose a one-sentence bill last month to abolish the Department of Education. But as we lurch from the Ryancare debacle to yet another self-inflicted government shutdown deadline of April 28, congressional Republicans are already going on the record as saying Trump's cuts, as predicted in this space, ain't happening. "We just voted to plus up the N.I.H.," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), complained to The New York Times, referencing Trump's proposed $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health. "It would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it." Also balking at the N.I.H. cuts are Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ("It's penny-wise but pound-foolish") and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who told the Washington Examiner that "You don't pretend to balance the budget by cutting life-saving biomedical research when the real cause of the federal debt is runaway entitlement spending." More GOP objections, as reported by the NYT: Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was more blunt. "I think it is too late for this year," she said about the proposed cuts, echoing several Republican colleagues. As for a border wall, which is not well supported by American voters, "that debate belongs in the next fiscal year," she said. […] "I'm not going to spend a lot of money on a wall," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I'm not going to support a big cut to the N.I.H. I'm not going to support big cuts to the State Department." Recall, too, that Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine quoted a "top House Republican staff member" on Trump's agency cuts thusly: "even the cabinet secretaries at the E.P.A. and Interior are saying these cuts aren't going to happen." So these are your politics for the next calendar month: The media and various activist/constituency groups will sound a never-ending alarm about the terrible effects of Trump's heartless budget cuts, while a unified Republican Congress that cannot even pass a budget anymore blunders along toward another artificial government-funding deadline that will likely result in some kind of spending deal that does not, in fact, cut spending. Good work, America![...]

This Former Congressman Is Against the War on Drugs

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:00:00 -0400

Editor's Note: In January 2013, Trey Radel came to Washington as a Republican congressman representing Florida's 19th district, an area that includes Fort Meyers and Naples. Radel had been a TV anchor prior to his win and he ran on a libertarian-leaning Tea Party platform of shrinking the size and spending of the government. Just a year later, Radel resigned from Congress after getting busted buying drugs and pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession. Ironically, Radel was and is a critic of the drug war. In his riveting new memoir about his short time in office, Radel documents not just his self-destruction but a political system that always seems to put philosophical ideals and good policy last. Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food, is a no-holds-barred account of what it's like to come to Washington and really screw up. More than that, though, it reveals a system that needs radical reform. In this excerpt, Radel recounts the immediate aftermath of his drug bust, which was inevitably (and legitimately) tied to a vote to drug-test food-stamp recipients he had cast as part of a farm bill. During this awful time, it felt like every political pundit on the planet; every TV newscast, newspaper, and online publication; and every comedian in the world was coming after me. Although, after all those years of dreaming I'd be on SNL, I made it. Seth Meyers ripped me often on "Weekend Update." Every pundit and comedian seemed to take particular glee in my vote on the provision in the farm bill regarding food stamps and drug testing. Remember when I said that this vote would come back to bite me in the ass? It all started when the Huffington Post ran an article with the headline: "Trey Radel, Busted on Cocaine Charge, Voted for Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients." The irony is the HuffPo reporter, in at least one of the articles, actually expounded on my view on the failed War on Drugs and my past votes focused on criminal justice reform. But, c'mon, who reads articles? At the lowest moment of my life, I was being savaged on national television for getting busted for drugs after voting to drug test food stamp recipients. After the press broke the massive farm bill down to a headline, the public boiled my vote down to one meme—a picture of me with white powder Photoshopped all over my face saying: "Republican votes to drug test food stamp recipients, gets busted for cocaine." The truth was that it had not been a single vote to "drug test these dirty dogs getting handouts!" It was part of the thousand-plus-page farm bill loaded with other provisions, and it gave states more power over how they wanted to administer their food stamps. I believe in "to each state its own," especially when it comes to addressing local issues and concerns. I thought that Washington's constant "one size fits all" mandates were doomed to fail. So while I am a Republican who is so libertarian that I could have been labeled a liberal because of my determination to end the War on Drugs and work with Democrats, it didn't matter. I was just another tea party asswipe who got busted for drugs and voted to drug test food stamp recipients. This was especially tough for me to take because I was and am such a staunch opponent of the War on Drugs. Our drug policies in the United States should be focusing on rehabilitation, not incarceration. There's a fiscally conservative argument for this because we throw away billions of dollars a year locking people up and turning our backs on them. Many times nonviolent drug offenders return to society lacking skills to get a job, or they're turned away from jobs because of their record. Worse, they come out as hardened criminals, which places an even greater economic burden on society. Ironically, shortly before m[...]

Will the Prospect of Taking Trump Down Ruin Chances for Surveillance Reform?

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:15:00 -0400

It looks like whatever House Intel Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) might have been attempting to accomplish yesterday when he held a press conference to reveal some post-election surveillance of Trump's transition team may have backfired. Nunes, a Trump ally, was clearly attempting to draw attention to the argument that the intelligence community was violating the privacy of the incoming Trump administration in its data and information collection. He said the information he had received showed that the surveillance and data collection of Trump team communications was "incidental," meaning they likely were not surveillance targets themselves. But Nunes running to the press and not actually informing the rest of his peers in the House Committee first subsequently made the story about Nunes and what he was trying to accomplish instead. Trump's critics, both on the left and the right, worry that Nunes' behavior is an attempt to interfere with a congressional investigation of any possible ties between Trump and the Russian government and whether anything possibly illegal has happened. Was this all about trying to help Trump? Trump himself immediately jumped on Nunes' comments in a Time interview to defend his wiretap conspiracy tweets, which at least suggests some interesting timing. Nunes has since apologized to his Democratic counterparts in the House for not telling them first before going to the press. There is likely a very noncontroversial explanation for the data collection that implicates nobody in particular and helps inform Americans about how federal surveillance actually works if people are willing to—for however briefly—set aside their feelings about Trump. Folks may recall that prior to taking office, Trump and his transition team decided to start contacting and communicating with world leaders. In all likelihood the National Security Agency (NSA) had active permission to engage in surveillance of such people. It's not necessarily an indicator of a criminal investigation; it's the business of international intelligence. So members of Trump's team may have ended up dragged into "incidental" surveillance because of the people they were talking to. As such, what happened with Trump's folks is a perfect opportunity for Americans to understand how "incidental" surveillance of citizens' works, what happened to the data, and the inherit risks of this level of collection for all of our privacy so at least we're all informed about how all of this works. Privacy and civil liberties activists are calling for reforms to surveillance authorities in order to reduce the likelihood that private data or communications get retained and exposed the way it might have happened with Trump's team. Also of interest: Nunes has said that actually, some of the names in these reports were still "masked" (redacted), but he was able to tell who the reports were talking about based on the context. In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about mass collection of data from Americans' phone and online communications, government officials (all the way up to President Barack Obama himself) attempted to assure people that nobody was reading through all of our emails or listening in to all of our phone calls. But they were collecting loads of metadata (where and who we were communicating with, for how long, when and how frequently, et cetera), and experiments have shown that enough metadata is available out there to extrapolate a lot about our private behavior. But as long as this is a fight only over the behavior of Trump and his team, it's going to be tough to have a discussion or call for reform of these tools. As I noted yesterday, even vocal Democratic critics of the extent of federal surveillance are using all this to try to[...]

Congress’ Libertarianish Members Might Sink the GOP Obamacare Replacement

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 07:50:00 -0400

On January 13, a week before Donald Trump would take the oath of office and just days after the new session of Congress opened, Republicans in the House passed a budget resolution that was the first step, GOP leaders said, to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The bill passed, 227-198, with just nine Republicans defecting from the party-line effort. Among those nine "no" votes were the two founding members of the House Freedom Caucus: Reps. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). Another "no" came from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), who isn't a member of the Freedom Caucus but shares many of the small-government, libertarian leanings of the group. "We got a category five hurricane coming when you have to reduce to practice, the differences between Donald Trump's agenda and Paul Ryan's agenda," Massie told Roll Call after the vote. "I think there are going to be some very confusing votes in here." How right he was. That January 13 vote was the first sign—a telling one, in retrospect—that the Freedom Caucus and other libertarian-leaning members of Congress (like Massie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky) would become the biggest stumbling block to passing the House GOP healthcare plan. That bill is scheduled to receive a floor vote Thursday that, if the Republican leadership can cobble together the votes, would approve the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as part of that budget resolution that initially cleared the House on that Friday the 13th. With the House vote on the AHCA looming on Thursday, Republican leaders can afford to lose 22 votes from their ranks. As of Wednesday evening, vote tallies tracked by various media outlets suggest anywhere from 23 to 29 Republican lawmakers intend to vote against the bill—enough to delay the vote or force significant changes to the bill. A significant number of those "no" votes come from Freedom Caucus members, including Reps. Dave Brat (R-Virginia), Mo Brooks (R-Alabama), Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina), among others. Freedom Caucus members have been skeptical of the AHCA almost since the moment it was publicly unveiled. "It's Obamacare in a different format," Jordan told The Atlantic on March 6, just shortly after Republican lawmakers got their first look at the proposal. Amash was on the same page: Obamacare 2.0 — Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 6, 2017 Though the Freedom Caucus never took an outright position on the bill, the handful of individual members who promised to vote against the bill have succeeded in at least complicating the Republican effort to get a majority. "I don't think there is any tinkering that will get us to 218," Labrador predicted in an interview with CNN. There's still time for that to change, however, and House Republican leaders were reportedly considering substantial rewrites to the AHCA on Wednesday night. Depending on what changes, some of those expected "no" votes could swing to "yes" votes before the bill hits the floor. Massie is less likely to be swung. On Wednesday, he tweeted a picture indicating that his vote had changed from "no" to "hell, no." Sorry if I let you down. I'm changing my vote on #AHCA — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 22, 2017 Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Wednesday that he was still a "no" and other members of the group promised to sink the bill even after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. By late Wednesday night, though, Meadows' resolve seemed to be wavering as conservative Republicans and the Trump White House continued to negotiate. While obviously not a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Sen[...]

Trump Team Was ‘Incidentally’ Snooped on Post-Election, Says GOP Intel Chair Devin Nunes

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:11:00 -0400

Republican House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-California) held a rather unusual press conference this afternoon to declare that he had received information that the feds did indeed secretly collect and disseminate private info from and about Trump's transition team post-election. To be clear, Nunes (a Trump supporter) said that whatever private information was collected during surveillance was "incidental." This likely means that the team members were not direct targets of federal surveillance but were in contact with people who actually were targets, and whatever happened during conversations or communications got swept up in surveillance. The actual targets could be people under federal investigation, but they could also be any foreign power the government is keeping an eye on. The natural inclination here is to assume this is part of the whole dust-up over ties between the Trump administration and Russia. Funny there's news on that today, too. Nunes wouldn't say a whole lot about what was happening (which makes his run to the media a little weird) but insisted that this incidental surveillance was not connected to Russia at all. He also seems to think the incidental collection itself was "legal," but isn't entirely sure. It seems as though the press conference is intended to bolster the argument coming from some Republicans that the problem here is the leaking or spread of information within the intelligence community. Nunes said that some names had been "unmasked" in intelligence reports that had been distributed internally. This means that, much like what might have happened with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the names of Americans who had been swept up in this surveillance may have gotten into the hands of intelligence community workers who weren't supposed to have them. Nunes is a mass surveillance supporter, and so he's trying to thread a needle here. He wants to present Trump and Trump's staff as having their privacy violated by leaks while not wanting to suggest there's a problem with the amount of surveillance that takes place. But there is a definite "Switch places, everybody!" mentality on surveillance authority now that Trump and Trump's people have been targeted. This tweet by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) is quick to say that the surveillance must have been connected to an investigation or influence by a foreign power. Lieu, however, is also a big opponent of mass unwarranted surveillance, and you'd think he'd be a bigger skeptic than this. Getting your private data and information "incidentially" collected in surveillance is not and should not be treated as evidence of wrongdoing, and that was partly the point of efforts to restrict federal authorities collecting whatever they could. In all likelihood, mass unwarranted surveillance played absolutely no role in this snooping, and the intelligence officials had secret warrants though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts. But for somebody who sits on Congress' Fourth Amendment Caucus to jump in the direction that suggests an assumption of guilt on the basis of it being a political opponent is a problem. Clearly, there will be a lot more to come on this issue. Watch a bit of the presser with Nunes below. Trump has said he feels "somewhat vindicated" (according to the Associated Press) about his insistence that he had been wiretapped. (UPDATE: Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, responds here to the oddness of Nunes running to the press): .@devingnunes: "I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the President-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored…" — CSPAN (@cspan) March 22, 2017[...]

We Can’t Find Out How Much Retired Federal Workers Get Paid, and That’s a Problem

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 09:33:00 -0400

Most news coverage about pension issues revolves around the states. Partially, that's for good reason. States are dealing with a collective shortfall of more than $1.75 trillion (and probably more, because of how those liabilities are calculated), and some states truly are screwed by the over-generous, under-funded retirement promises they've made to public workers for the past few decades. Partially, though, the state focus is because we just don't know much about the federal government's pension situation. Sure, it's known that the various federal employee pensions systems covering civilian and military employee benefits have an unfunded liability—that's the gap between what a pension system owes to beneficiaries and what assets it has available to pay them—of about $3.5 trillion (equal to about 20 percent of America's annual GDP), according to Moody's. We also know that the feds pay roughly $75 billion to civilian retirees and their survivors, and roughly $50 billion to military retirees and their survivors, each year. For comparison, there's only two states (New York and California) with annual budgets larger than that. And we also know that all the complicated math beyond those pension payouts, the long-term costs, and unfunded liabilities, is calculated inside a hollowed-out mountain in western Pennsylvania, in a bunker designed to survive a nuclear apocalypse. No, really, that's true. Still, when it comes down to who-gets-what, we don't know much of anything at all. Federal courts have long held that pension payouts to retired federal workers are secret, reasoning that disclosing that information would be a violation of pensioners' privacy. By contrast, most states make that information public. Doing so gives taxpayers (who are funding a not insignificant portion of the pension bill) some transparency about how their dollars are being used, but it also lets watchdog groups look for potential pension abusers. Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of Open The Books, one of those watchdog groups that tracks pension spending at the state level, says that needs to change, because you can't reform what you can't see. "If active salaries (by name) are disclosed, why would posting federal retiree pension amounts, service credits and contributions be an invasion of privacy? The same privacy law underlies both records," Andrzejewski wrote Tuesday in an op-ed at Forbes. Open The Books is calling for Congress to change the rules that keep federal pension payouts secret. Andrzejewski told Reason that his organization is working with Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) to introduce legislation to give taxpayers more information about federal pension payouts. Elizabeth Dillon, DeSantis' communications director, declined to comment Tuesday on the details of the bill, which is not yet introduced, but she confirmed to Reason that it would increase transparency in federal pensions. Earlier this year, DeSantis reintroduced his End Pensions In Congress Act, which would end pensions for all future Members of Congress as well as those currently serving who are not yet vested into the congressional retirement plan. DeSantis does not accept a federal pension, Dillon said. Those transparency laws don't necessarily fix America's pension problems, but they help improve the debate—or at least catch individual fraudsters. Transparency at the state level helped Open The Books expose fraudulent pension payouts in Illinois, California, and at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Those same laws making pension information publicly available is why we know about retired municipal officials getting pensions seven times larger than the median household income in the t[...]