Free Minds & Free Markets

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Federal Appeals Court Castigates Kansas Cops for Pot Raid Triggered by Tea

One judge notes that police raided a family's home "based on nothing more than junk science, an incompetent investigation, and a publicity stunt."

TeavanaTeavanaToday a federal appeals court revived a lawsuit filed by Robert and Adlynn Harte, the Kansas couple whose Leawood home was raided in 2012 based on a visit to a garden store and discarded tea leaves that police claimed tested positive for marijuana. While all three members of the 10th Circuit panel agreed that a federal judge erred when he dismissed the Hartes' lawsuit in 2015, each wrote separately. Judge Carlos Lucero best sums up the fiasco that led to the lawsuit in a blistering rebuke of reckless police practices:

Law-abiding tea drinkers and gardeners beware: One visit to a garden store and some loose tea leaves in your trash may subject you to an early-morning, SWAT-style raid, complete with battering ram, bulletproof vests, and assault rifles. Perhaps the officers will intentionally conduct the terrifying raid while your children are home, and keep the entire family under armed guard for two and a half hours while concerned residents of your quiet, family-oriented neighborhood wonder what nefarious crime you have committed. This is neither hyperbole nor metaphor—it is precisely what happened to the Harte family in the case before us.

As Lucero explains, the case began with Sgt. James Wingo of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, whose "pet project" involved staking out the Green Circle Garden Store in Kansas City, "keeping meticulous notes on all of the customers," often for "three or four hours a day." Robert Harte ended up on Wingo's list because he visited the store on August 9, 2011, with his two children. Harte was buying supplies to grow tomatoes and other vegetables in the basement as an educational project for his 13-year-old son.

More than seven months later, on March 20, 2012, Wingo shared Harte's name and information with Sgt. Thomas Reddin of the Johnson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) in neighboring Kansas. Reddin was planning to raid local marijuana growers on April 20, the unofficial stoner's holiday, as part of a publicity stunt. "Despite not yet having probable cause for search warrants, and with only four weeks to investigate, the JCSO began planning a press conference to celebrate the success of their operation," Lucero notes. "The pressure was on for JCSO officers to find probable cause by April 20."

They tried to do that by rooting through the Hartes' garbage on three separate occasions from April 3 to April 17. During the first "trash pull," Deputies Edward Blake and Mark Burns found wet green vegetable matter that they deemed of no interest. Burns found the same stuff when he returned to the Hartes' house a week later with Deputy Nate Denton, and suddenly it seemed suspicious. Burns, who testified that he had never seen loose tea before, said it looked like marijuana that had been soaked to extract THC. (A lab technician consulted months later disagreed, saying the leaves didn't "appear to be marijuana" to the unaided eye and didn't "look anything like marijuana leaves or stems" under a microscope.) Trusting his instincts, Burns decided to perform a field drug test, which indicated the presence of THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient. Burns and Blake came back one more time a week later, just three days before a raid that had already been scheduled, and examined more of the wet leaves, which again tested positive for marijuana.

Or so Burns and Blake said.

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'Obamacare Repeal' Clears Procedural Hurdles, California Mulls Advertising Restrictions on Marijuana, and China and Russia Conduct Joint Military Operations: P.M. Links

  • Glen Simpson, who's company Fusion GPS produced the infamous Trump dossier during the 2016 campiagn, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • The Senate's "Obamacare repeal" bill cleared some procedural hurdles today, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote to being debate on the law. Read Reason's rundown of events here.
  • California takes aim at branded marijuana dispensary t-shirts and swag. A proposed bill would make them illegal.
  • After a two-day manhunt, the suspect in a mass chainsaw attack in Switzerland that left five injured is in police custody.
  • China and Russia hold joint military exercises in the Baltic Sea, provoking geopolitical tensions.
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With Rand Paul's Support (For Now), Republican Health Care Bill Survives First Senate Vote

They had to pass the motion to proceed to the bill to find out what's in the bill.

After weeks of will-they-or-won't-they tension, the Senate pulled together 50 votes (plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence) on Tuesday afternoon to proceed to debate on the Republican health care bill.

Whether the bill—technically known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act—will pass, or what it will look like when it does, remain unanswered questions.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to applause on the Senate floor after getting treatment for brain cancer, provided the best indicator of the bill's tenuous status. McCain cast a critical vote in moving the bill forward and, shortly afterward, disparaged the bill and the legislative process used to try to pass it, raising questions about whether he will support the BCRA as it goes forward.

"I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered. I will not vote for this bill as it is today," McCain said. "It is a shell of a bill. We all know that."

Other Republican senators who have been outspoken critics of the GOP health care effort, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, voted in favor of motion to proceed. Paul announced his decision to back the initial vote while maintaining that he could oppose the final version of the bill if it did not go far enough to repealing Obamacare.

"If this is indeed the plan, I will vote to proceed and I will vote for any all measures that are clean repeal," Paul tweeted Tuesday morning.

After the vote, Paul released a video statement explaining some of the technical details about the votes to come.

Maine's Susan Collins, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski were the two Republicans to vote against the motion to proceed. Both have been opposed to the bill during most of the Senate's negotiations over it.

With debate on the health care bill officially open, senators are now free to offer amendments to the bill. The first of what could be dozens of amendments is being debated at this moment. Each will be given a simple up-or-down vote, and votes are expected to run well into the evening.

The major amendments to watch, according to NBC News, will be offered by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Cruz' amendment is expected to allow for the sale of so-called "catastrophic plans" currently outlawed by Obamacare. Allowing insurance companies to sell those cheaper options has been a major sticking point for some opponents of the Republican effort, including Paul. Portman's amendment is expected to authorize $100 billion in new Medicaid spending, something moderate Republicans have pushed to include in the bill.

Want more on the substance—such as it is—of the health care bill? Check out these links:

Bottom line: The Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare is alive, if barely, for now. After the rest of this evening's votes, we will have a better sense of what's actually in the bill and whether it has a chance to survive a final vote in the Senate, which could come as early as tomorrow.

This is a backwards way to write legislation, to say the least.

"I don't think that's going to work in the end," McCain predicted on the Senate floor Tuesday. "And it probably shouldn't."

Photo credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

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San Francisco Demands That Landlord Dismantle Veterans' Housing

The move would likely put at-risk tenants out on the street.

San Francisco, USA: rows of Victorian house; background: downtownMai-Linh Doan/Wikimedia CommonsSan Francisco officials are in a bind: Either kick poor tenants out of their homes, or don't enforce laws that officials insist are there to ensure those tenants have adequate living standards.

The city's Planning Department is demanding that Judy Wu—a San Francisco landlord who rents mostly to veterans—destroy 15 of the 49 units that she and her husband currently rent out. Officials say that Wu illegally subdivided single-family homes into separate flats.

"I don't want to remove any units, it's the city that is forcing me to do so," Wu told the San Francisco Examiner. "I don't want to displace any of our tenants."

San Francisco's Housing Rights Commission is opposed to doing away with the units. And one of Wu's tenants has asked the city to stop removing sinks and doors from the unit—a change required to bring the building up to code.

So far, the Planning Department has been unmoved, saying that the lots that Wu has turned into multi-unit housing are zoned for single-family use, and that her numerous building modifications violate city codes.

"While additional housing is desirable, the City also needs to maintain standards for the quality of dwelling units," says a July 20 departmental review.

Wu's violations were first discovered in July 2015 following some complaints from the neighbors, and in September she was ordered to bring her units into compliance. Wu appealed the order, making no claim that she had not violated city code but saying that she "felt encouraged by the City to create as many units as possible for low-income tenants."

One can forgive her for having that impression. In 2013 San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee held a press conference announcing a campaign to house 50 homeless vets in 100 days. "I can't think of a more patriotic thing to do than to find a homeless veteran their home," said Lee at the time.

Singled out praise at that conference was none other than Judy Wu, who was lauded for her efforts to house the very veterans San Francisco might now put back out onto the street.

It's not just the mayor that has good things to say about Wu. The San Francisco Chronicle said this in 2016, when the city first sued Wu for code violations:

Visits to Wu's properties and interviews with her tenants create a picture of a landlord who, while allegedly violating the city's zoning codes, also cares about housing veterans with few other options. She regularly leases to tenants whose eviction records made other landlords see them as off limits, and apparently is not quick to throw out those who fall behind on their rent, some tenants say.

The veterans advocacy group Swords to Plowshares praised Wu too, saying she was "wonderful to work with and has housed hundreds of vets over the years."

On Thursday San Francisco's Planning Commission will decide whether to force Wu to go through with dismantling her rental units and displacing her tenants.

Libertarians often argue that housing regulations raise prices while reducing the supply of housing for the disadvantaged. It's difficult to think of a clearer illustration of the principle than this one.

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In Major Win for 2nd Amendment Advocates, Federal Court Blocks D.C. from Enforcing Conceal-Carry Restriction

"The Second Amendment erects some absolute barriers that no gun law may breach."

Second Amendment advocates scored a significant legal victory today when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked Washington, D.C., from enforcing a law that effectively bars most D.C. residents from lawfully carrying handguns in public. "The Second Amendment," the court declared, "erects some absolute barriers that no gun law may breach."

The case was Wrenn v. District of Columbia (consolidated with Grace v. District of Columbia). At issue was a District of Columbia regulation that limited conceal-carry licenses only to those individuals who can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the chief of police, that they have a "good reason" to carry a handgun in public. According to the District, applicants for a conceal-carry license must show a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life." Living or working "in a high crime area shall not by itself establish a good reason."

The D.C. Circuit weighed those regulations against the text and history of the Second Amendment and found the regulations to be constitutionally deficient. "At the Second Amendment's core lies the right of responsible citizens to carry firearms for personal self-defense beyond the home, subject to longstanding restrictions," the D.C. Circuit held. "These traditional limits include, for instance, licensing requirements, but not bans on carrying in urban areas like D.C. or bans on carrying absent a special need for self-defense." The court added: "The Amendment's core at a minimum shields the typically situated citizen's ability to carry common arms generally. The District's good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on exercises of that constitutional right for most D.C. residents. That's enough to sink this law under" District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case that struck down D.C.'s total ban on handguns.

Today's decision by the D.C. Circuit widens an already gaping split among the federal courts on this issue. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, "the Second Amendment does not protect in any degree the right to carry concealed firearms in public." By contrast, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit says that "one doesn't need to be a historian to realize that a right to keep and bear arms in the eighteenth century could not rationally have been limited to the home."

In Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule definitively on the scope of the Second Amendment outside the home. In the nine years since that landmark ruling was issued, the Court has declined several ripe opportunities to settle the matter once and for all.

In fact, just last month, the Court refused to review the 9th Circuit's dismissal of the right to carry, prompting Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, to lambast the Court for its "distressing trend" of refusing to hear any such cases and thereby treating "the Second Amendment as a disfavored right." As Thomas put it, "even if other Members of the Court do not agree that the Second Amendment likely protects a right to public carry, the time has come for the Court to answer this important question definitively."

That definitive answer apparently won't be coming anytime soon. For now, Second Amendment advocates will have to take heart in victories such as today's win at the D.C. Circuit.

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Helix Launches Online Personal Genomics Testing Marketplace

A work-around for the FDA's ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing?

WomanGeneTestWaveBreakMediaLtdDreamstimeWave Break Media Ltd/DreamstimeHelix wants you to become a lifelong repeat customer in its newly launched genomics testing marketplace. For $80 the company will use your saliva sample to sequence all 22,000 protein-coding genes in your exome, along with some additional genetic sequences that its scientists find relevant to human health. The exome (the protein-coding region of the human genome) represents less than 2 percent of the genome but contains about 85 percent of known disease-related genetic variants. The company says it will keep your genetic information securely on file.

Customers can now purchase various genetic testing "apps" from about a dozen vendors in Helix's genomics marketplace. Helix will share the relevant sections of your exome with the vendors, who then provide the results of their readouts directly to you.

The current options include an ancestry testing app from National Geographic ($69.95); a family planning test from Sema4 ($199) that tells you if you are a carrier of any of 67 different genetic variants that might affect the health of your prospective children; a fitness app from Exploragen ($80) that identifies genes that may affect your sleep pattern; a health app from Admera ($124.99) that tests for a genetic predisposition to having high levels of bad cholesterol; and a nutritional app from Everlywell ($249) that tests for food senstivities that may be related to your genetic makeup. There is even a wine explorer entertainment app by Vinome ($29.99), which claims to match your genes to your vintage tastes.

Now that Helix has created a genomics marketplace, the company plans to add new validated tests from additional app vendors over time. Once they become available, Helix customers can purchase them and then simply have their online genetic information sent along for analysis. Prior to getting the results from the health apps in the marketplace, customer's health histories are evaluated by physicians from an independent third party network.

That part—the evaluation of health app results by independent physicians—is clearly aimed at getting around the Food and Drug Administration's outrageous ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing. The ban essentially began in 2013, when the agency shut down the personal genomics start-up 23andMe. In April of this year, the agency finally relented somewhat and allowed 23andMe to offer tests to identify genetic variants that contribute to 10 different conditions, including Parkinson's disease, late-onset Alzheimer's disease, and a blood-clotting disorder. But tight restrictions are still in place. When I was an early customer, the company provided me with genetic insights not just about those 10 health risks, but also about 140 others.

We will never know how much further along companies, customers, and medical practitioners would be now had the government not hamfistedly stymied the development of direct-to-consumer genetic testing for four years. The good news is that the Helix marketplace model seems designed to work around such regulatory excesses and enable Americans to gain access to their genetic information.

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Trump Attacks on Washington Post Illustrate Importance of Citizens United

If corporations weren't treated like people, it would be far easier for the Trump administration to silence its critics.

President Donald Trump does not like The Washington Post, which has made critical coverage of the Trump administration a selling point and adopted a new motto, "Democracy dies in darkness," for the Trump era. Trump dislikes the Post so much, in fact, that he's suggesting its owner, Jeff Bezos, is using it as a lobbying tool:

Gage Skidmore/flickrGage Skidmore/flickrTrump, you may recall, is the man who boasted at a presidential debate that if he managed to reduce his tax burden to zero, that made him "smart."

Thankfully for the Washington Post, and despite the paper's aversion to it, the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United makes it harder for Trump to use the power of the federal government to silence them.

"Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for engaging in political speech," he wrote further down.

Absent this protection, the federal government could decide that the Washington Post, as Trump claims, was a sort of lobbying arm of Amazon, and thus muzzle their election-related speech.

It's not theoretical. Before Citizens United, as A. Baron Hinkle has pointed out, campaign finance laws "regulated not just donations to candidates and political parties, but also 'electioneering communications' made within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election."

Such laws are regularly used by those in power to silence their critics. In Ohio, Hinckle notes, a local Republican leader targeted a blogger who criticized him. That politician argued that because the activist spent $40 a month to maintain the blog where he posted his political criticisms, he had to register with the state and be regulated as a political action committee. Hinkle also mentions a Missouri man who was fined for calling himself a "citizens lobbyist" and heading a group, Missouri First, that sought to influence public policy. Missouri First was not a lobbying firm, and it had no clients. Nevertheless, the professional association of lobbyists brought a complaint against him. In Nevada, another group was targeted for handing out two flyers critical of a Democratic politician.

Without Citizens United, political editorials from newspapers like the Washington Post, and even critical coverage of politicians from such papers, could be considered "electioneering" by election officials, who are ultimately selected by the politicians in power.

Regulation of political speech will, by definition, always be conducted by those already in office, strengthening an already powerful incumbency advantage. Undoing Citizens United would open the door for the Trump administration to go after critical coverage as electioneering communications or even in-kind campaign contributions.

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Teachers Union President Thinks You’re a Racist if You Yank Your Kids from Their Crappy Schools

Tell it to all the minority children in charter schools across the country.

Randi WeingartenRon Sachs/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomEthnically diverse Los Angeles boasts a population that's nearly half Latino, 10 percent Asian, and 10 percent African American. The metropolitan area is also the home of the largest charter school program in the country. In May, Los Angeles voters put school choice supporters in charge of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, a show of support for parents' right to decide where to send their kids for an education.

Demographic data across the United States show that charter schools are remarkably ethnically diverse. As of 2014, 27 percent of the charter school population was African American and 31 percent was Latino. These are parents who let the public school system know how they feel about the state of education by choosing to send their kids elsewhere.

So it may seem absurd to try to paint school choice as a racist construct. Yet here we are: In what seems like an awfully desperate attempt to rally the public school establishment, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is attacking the school system's own customers. In a speech before the union, she dismissed school choice as a tool for racist parents to avoid desegregation:

After the Brown decision, many school districts, especially in the South, resisted integration. In Virginia, white officials in Prince Edward County closed every public school in the district rather than have white and black children go to school together. They opened private schools where only white parents could choose to send their children. And they did it using public money.

By 1963, African American students had been locked out of Prince Edward County public schools for five years. AFT members sent funds and school supplies. And some traveled from New York and Philadelphia to set up schools for African American students in church basements and public parks, so these students could have an education.

And what about the schools Betsy DeVos appallingly called "pioneers of school choice"—historically black colleges and universities? HBCUs actually arose from the discriminatory practices that denied black students access to higher education. HBCUs are vital institutions, but that doesn't change the truth of their origins: They were born of a shameful lack of educational choices for African American students.

So, let me see if I understand this properly: Racist government officials shut down access to schools, and as a result black children had fewer choices for eductation, she argues. Black colleges arose as a way of giving educational choices to black students they might not have had otherwise.

So the problem here is private school choice? This was clearly a result of government officials being able to control which schools students were able to attend! In Weingarten's upside-down world, public schools need to be protected from choice, even though historically alternatives to government-run education systems actually helped minorities get access.

Well, it's a good thing public schools have gotten rid of their segregation, right? Except they haven't. If anything, public schools are becoming more and more segregated, according to a Government Accountability Office study last year. And with school choice options, more poor and minority students are opting to leave, rendering them even less diverse.

Let's not mince words: School choice is a boon for poor and minority students, giving them more possibilities that wealthy whites take for granted. It also represents a threat to the interests of Weingarten and the AFT, who have a significant financial stake in protecting their monopoly. Despite the tremendous power, finances, and political influence of education unions, she presented the school choice fight as an actual "David vs. Goliath" scenario where she and the AFT are "David."

In 2016, AFT spent $20 million in contributions to political races, $7.3 million on outside political spending, and $1.3 million on lobbying. Open Secrets ranked them 21st out of more than 18,500 political donors.

But there's something even more telling in that Weingarten sees the AFT as the "David" vs. the "Goliath" of privatization interests: She inadvertently acknowledges that it's a battle for control over the system itself and leaves the parents completely out of it.

It's the parents who are the "Davids" in this half-baked metaphor. They're the ones who are fighting a massive system designed to thwart their desires in favor of those who control it (the very people Weingarten represents).

The AFT is fighting a losing battle, and they know it. Parents, the actual customers of the education system, are desperately looking to take their money and business elsewhere. They're even suing school districts to try to turn their public schools into charters. School choice advocates can very easily trot out any number of students who have benefited from leaving the public school system—and they're not all rich, white kids.

Black students in charter schools have been shown to outperform their public school counterparts. Voucher schools took a hit recently due to reports that students underperform, but a longer view suggests that, over time, these students recover and even score better than public school counterparts in some areas.

Establishment representatives like Weingarten simply cannot acknowledge that they're the villains of this story, and that they've chosen to cling to control of a system that benefits government employees over the needs of the parents and students. Don't try to convince the public that you care about the fate of poor and minority public school students when teachers' union contracts keep schools in those very communities from getting rid of bad educators.

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Don't Buy the Hype About an Increased Smoking Age

Politicians are using speculative public health studies to restrict individual liberty.

Michael Ocampo/FlickrMichael Ocampo/FlickrWhen New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill increasing the smoking age from 19 to 21 last week, he said that the higher age would give young people a "better understanding of how dangerous smoking can be" and that the fewer smokers there are, "the less strain there will be on our health care system."

These claims are ubiquitous among anti-smoking activists, who have gotten some 250 localities and now four states to increase their smoking ages to 21 on the promise that it will slash smoking rates among high schoolers and others under 18. But closer scrutiny suggests that these promises are speculative at best—and that the immediate fiscal consequences of the change will put more strain, not less, on budgets.

"Increasing tobacco age to 21 decreases high school use by about half," says Rob Crane, president of Tobacco 21. As evidence, he cites the example of Needham, Massachusetts, the first city in America to raise its smoking age to 21. The percentage of high schoolers there who reported using tobacco subsequently fell from 35 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2014.

Crane's conclusion is undercut by a 2015 Institute of Medicine study (found on Tobacco 21's own website). "Although Needham...has been cited as having seen significant declines in tobacco use and tobacco-related disease, there are no published data on these outcomes," the paper notes. The paper explains that no baseline data exists for Needham prior to its raising the smoking age, and that other factors could have been responsible for the decline.

Indeed, teen smoking has fallen across the United States independently of whether jurisdictions raise their smoking age. In 2005—just as Needham was getting its ban up and running—some 50 percent of American high school seniors had reportedly tried tobacco. By 2015 that figure had fallen to 31 percent according to the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study.

The number who have smoked in the last 30 days is down even more, from 23 percent to 11.4 percent, the lowest the rate has ever been in the University of Michigan's data.

Proponents of a higher smoking age—from the American Cancer Society to Vox—fall back on that Institute of Medicine study's conclusion that raising the legal age to 21 will reduce smoking for those aged 15 to 17 by 25 percent.

Yet that number is not based on empirical data of smoking age increases. Little of that exists, given how recent most of these laws are. Instead it relies on complex logic models that try to predict the ability of teenagers to get cigarettes from retailers and older friends and family in a world with a nationwide smoking age of 21, and then tries to extrapolate the rates of smoking and smoking related diseases from those models out to the year 2100.

You don't have to be a hardcore Austrian economist to doubt the efficacy of this approach. Nor do you have to be a doctrinaire libertarian to question the idea of criminalizing the habits of 20-year-old smokers in the hopes of stopping 16-year-olds from doing something that is already illegal.

We do have some pretty good forecasts on one effect the bill is likely to have. Legislative analysis of New Jersey's "raise the age" bill estimates that it will cost the state between $4.5 to $12.5 million this fiscal year in foregone tax revenue. That matches the experience of Oregon and Maine, both of which also passed smoking age increases this year. Maine will lose $4 million a year. Oregon will lose nearly $2 million a year by 2019, with most of that money coming out of public health budgets.

Smoking is risky, but it is victimless and consensual. Individuals are in the best position to determine if that risky behavior is worth it to them. Governments, activists, and speculative public health studies are not.

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The Case for Gender Anarchy: New at Reason

Want to end trans discrimination? Stop forcing people to label themselves.

New York University PressNew York University PressPhiladelphia used to require every public transit pass to say whether a rider was female or male. For Charlene Arcila, a transgender woman, it didn't matter which option she chose; either way, some bus drivers deemed her pass illegitimate. Left to decide on the spot whether Arcila qualified as a man or woman, individual city workers would come to different conclusions—but every one of them had the power to refuse to let her ride the bus.

Instituted in the 1980s as a protection against fraud, Philadelphia's sex-identifying transit cards didn't cause trouble just for transgender passengers. Plenty of cisgender folks—those whose gender identity conforms to the norm for their biological sex—fail to present as obviously male or female, and passengers of androgynous or ambiguous gender expression also found themselves at the mercy of the public transit sex police.

Following a lawsuit from Arcila and an outcry from local activists, Philadelphia removed sex identification from its transit passes in 2013. Harper Jean Tobin, policy chief for the National Center for Transgender Equality, followed this victory by pushing for mechanisms to make it easier for transgender Americans to change their sex identification on government documents. It's a popular idea in the modern feminist and LGBT movements. But for Heath Fogg Davis, a transgender man who teaches political science at Temple University, the strategy reflects a deficit in the way many activists think about gender liberation.

Instead of making it easier for individuals to move between two binary positions, Davis writes in his new book Beyond Trans, they should be "questioning our need for sex-classification policies" in the first place, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

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Lawmakers Demand Sessions Investigate Backpage's 'Criminal Role in Sex Trafficking' in Wake of Misleading Washington Post Article

Post says Backpage hired a contractor that catfished on foreign competitors' sites.

Philippe Lissac / GODONG/picture-alliance / Godong/NewscomPhilippe Lissac / GODONG/picture-alliance / Godong/NewscomThe Washington Post has been playing right into politicians' hands when it comes to the narrative about Backpage. A series of recent Post articles suggest a sinister plot by Backpage executives to promote human trafficking, when all the paper's "trove of newly discovered documents" seems to show is that the company hired a firm to promote on foreign competitors' sites.

"A contractor for the controversial classifieds website has been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage's repeated insistence that it had no role in the content of ads posted on its site," the Post opens one article—thereby kicking things off in a misleading manner.

While it will take the Post writers 21 more paragraphs to mention it, the contractors solicited all sorts of user-generated advertising for, not just sex-related or adult-oriented advertising.

The ads the contractors created, meanwhile, were either 1) posted to competitors' sites—not Backpage—in a ploy to lure perusers of those sites to Backpage, or 2) draft ads made from existing copy on competitors' sites. The contracting company, Philippines-based Avion BPO, would offer users of these other sites a free first listing on, along with a link to the draft ad that they could easily activate.

Based on this evidence, Post writers suggest that Backpage's years of denials that the site "facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking" could be a lie. But for all their breathless insinuations, the writers don't actually tie a single Avion-brokered ad to illegal conduct, let alone harm against children.

From what the Post reveals, it's also unclear whether Backpage even knew about the tactics Avion workers were using to generate new listings. It's possible the contracting company came up with the bait-and-switch strategy on its own.

Regardless, Backpage's claims to Congress and U.S. courts about its ad policies have always referenced U.S. content. Avion's activity was relegated to overseas endeavors (and, since laws vary greatly from country to country when it comes to both internet content and prostitution, was not necessarily illegal at all). To use Avion as a bouncing-off point to open yet another U.S. federal inquiry into Backpage—as Reps. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) are now doing—is purely opportunistic, as Avion's creation or not of foreign ads is irrelevant for U.S. legal purposes.

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Instapundit: Fire Sessions Over Civil Forfeiture Stance, Not Russia Recusal

The attorney general is bad on most things that matter, and many that do not.

White House, WikimediaWhite House, WikimediaUniversity of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, better known as the Internet's Instapundit, has harsh words for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While President Trump has tweeted anger at Sessions for recusing himself from the ongoing investigation of ties between Russia and the 2016 election, Reynolds is ready to move on to something more important:

Under "civil forfeiture," law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. ("Legal fiction" sounds better than "lie," but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It's also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

Sessions supports robust civil forfeiture and for having federal laws supersede state laws against seizing assets without charges. Reynolds again:

Some states have required that people be convicted of a crime before the government can seize their assets, but the feds have no such requirement. Congress should enact one. As the editors of National Review write:

"This is almost certainly unconstitutional, something that conservatives ought to understand instinctively. Like the Democrats' crackpot plan to revoke the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who have been neither charged with nor convicted of a crime simply for having been fingered as suspicious persons by some anonymous operative in Washington, seizing an American's property because a police officer merely suspects that he might be a drug dealer or another species of miscreant does gross violence to the basic principle of due process."

When even the conservatives at National Review, known for their love of "law and order," are calling bullshit, it's time to pull the plug. "The message it sends," writes Reynolds, "is that the feds see the rest of us as prey, not as citizens. The attorney general should be ashamed to take that position. And, really, he should just be gone."

Read the whole thing here.

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Stossel: Departments Grow and Cherries Rot [New at Reason]

Destructive economic policy lurks behind flag-waving nationalism.

The Agriculture Department actually forces farmers to dump cherries on the ground so you pay higher prices at the supermarket. John Stossel investigates and finds a ton of waste. The departments blow your money on welfare for the rich, global warming hype, and destructive regulations. Ed Stringham, President of the American Institute for Economic Research, tells Stossel about how the Agriculture Department even forced one farmer to dump cherries on the ground and let them rot. The government wanted to keep the price of cherries higher, which helps some cherry farmers.

Stossel on Reason

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A.M. Links: Obamacare Vote in Senate, Trump Trashes Jeff Sessions, Russia Reportedly Arming Taliban

  • Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comThe Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote today on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
  • Former House Speaker John Boehner: Republicans are "not going to repeal and replace Obamacare....It's been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it."
  • President Donald Trump is attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions again on Twitter. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" Trump tweeted today.
  • "The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country."
  • China is strengthening its 880-mile border with North Korea.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly considering resigning from the Trump administration.

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Food Safety Fearmongering: New at Reason

yisris/flickryisris/flickrFearmongering over food safety is one way free trade opponents advance their cause.

Marian Tupy writes:

About a decade ago, I flew to Oslo at the invitation of Norway's center-right party called Høyre. Back then, Høyre was in opposition, although today it forms a part of Norway's governing coalition. Its head, Erna Solberg, whom I met on the trip, is the country's prime minister. During my stay in the country I gave a couple of talks on trade protectionism, advising the Norwegians to keep the millions of krone they send to Africa as foreign aid (where it gets promptly stolen by local cleptocrats) and open their borders to African agricultural exports instead.

"Norway," some people objected, "has stringent food safety standards and Norwegians are used to high quality products." This, I pointed out, does not necessarily amount to much. At the time of my trip, the country was suffering from a domestic E. coli outbreak, and infections "have left several children with kidney failure." Moreover, like people elsewhere, many Norwegians shop with an eye on the price, not the national origin of the food they eat (i.e., irrespective of food safety standards). Thus, Norwegians shop in cheaper Sweden; Swedes shop in Denmark and Danes shop in Germany. In pursuit of a bargain, Germans do some of their shopping in Poland.


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