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Beto O’Rourke, 2012: ‘We Cannot Continue to Spend Ourselves into Ruin’

2020 presidential candidate ran on spending cuts, troop withdrawls, and means-testing Social Security while primarying an incumbent Democrat 7 years ago

||| XU JING Xinhua News Agency/NewscomXU JING Xinhua News Agency/NewscomWhen CNN outrage-archeologist Andrew Kaczynski took a deep dive last week into the early-career policy statements of future Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he found a fringe politician in his 30s advocating "the public ownership of the major means of production," as well as a spokesman of a serious presidential campaign nearly five decades later being unapologetic about such textbook socialism. So what did Kaczynski (and today's co-author, Paul LeBlanc) find after mining the early-career policy musings of a then-obscure thirtysomething El Paso City Councilman named Beto O'Rourke?

A deficit hawk advocating "tough choices" on spending, defense, and entitlement reform, including means-testing Social Security and raising the retirement age for future recipients.

"There are certainly places in the federal budget where we have to look at reorganizing, where we have to look at cutting," O'Rourke said at a March 2012 primary debate against eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes, who he would go on to topple two months later in the Democratic primary. "And we really don't have a choice," he said. "You have a $16 trillion debt. We're running $1 trillion annual deficits and we cannot continue to spend ourselves into ruin. We need to elect people who are gonna go up there and make some tough choices."

The national debt seven years later is now north of $22 trillion, with annual deficits projected to re-reach the $1 trillion threshold any month now, despite an economic expansion and stock market bull run that are both nearing record lengths. When the next recession and bear market hit, tax revenues will decrease just as demand for government services will spike, blowing an even larger hole in the severely imbalanced budget. Oh, and the Social Security Trust Fund, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is on pace to run out of money just 12 years from now, after which recipients face a mandatory 25 percent benefit cut.

While largely forgotten now by a political class chasing the shiny objects of democratic socialism and nationalist populism, such cruel numbers were on the lips of many a politician and journalist in 2011-2012, including then-President Barack Obama and his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, who warned in his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech that, "We've got to deal with this big long-term debt problem or it will deal with us."

Unlike his Democratic opponent, O'Rourke in his primary fight endorsed the framework for dealing with long-term spending and entitlements put forward by the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by former senators Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. The Simpson-Bowles collapse nevertheless produced the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created a new long-term Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, whose similar failure triggered the sequestration spending caps of 2013. All in the name of an acknowledgment, common for two decades but largely absent since then, that when Baby Boomers retire the rest of us are hosed.

"The people who paid into Social Security and who are earning their checks back from investment in Social Security, that needs to be protected," O'Rourke said in a November 2011 debate. "That's inviolable. But going forward for future generations, for my kids' generation, five, three, and one year old. Right now, we need to look at things like means testing….We need to look at perhaps a…later age at which my kids are going to retire. That's a tough decision. It's not easy to say, it's going to be politicized by my opponent. But those are the tough things that you're going to want me to weigh in on when I'm in Washington, D.C."

Unlike Sanders spokesman Josh Orton, who cast Bernie's Brezhnev-era fondness for means-of-production socialism as a noble and ongoing defense of "the interests of working people across the country," O'Rourke spokesman Chris Evans gave a more backpedaly response to CNN:

On Social Security, Beto was acknowledging that it's very possible Congress would look at that debate around raising the age in the future. He does not say he supports it or recommends it. Beto was interested in looking at possible ideas for ensuring the solvency of Social Security for future generations….He ultimately found a solution that he endorsed and co-sponsored called the Social Security 2100 Act, which extends the solvency of the program without raising the retirement age. While Beto has not taken any action to raise the retirement age, he has opposed efforts to raise the retirement age and voted against measures to privatize Social Security.

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Massachusetts Sends Men to Prison for Addiction Treatment, But Not Women. A Lawsuit Says That’s Discriminatory

BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/NewscomBRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/NewscomMassachusetts is the only state in the U.S. that sends people to prison for addiction treatment, and it only does so for men—an unconstitutional and discriminatory policy, a class-action lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court earlier this month claims.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 10 anonymous plaintiffs by Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts, says men who are civilly committed by courts to drug addiction treatment are instead shipped to state prison facilities, where they endure degrading treatment that often leaves them worse off than when they arrived.

"While incarcerated, men committed under Section 35 experience appalling conditions of confinement and only minimal treatment," the lawsuit says. "Correctional officers treat them like criminals, routinely humiliate them, refer to them as 'junkies,' and make other degrading comments. Many, if not most, emerge from prison traumatized by the experience and even more vulnerable to relapse and overdose."

Massachusetts, like a majority of states, allows family members and police, with a court's approval, to involuntarily commit someone for addiction treatment under Section 35 of the state's laws. Most of the thousands who are civilly committed spend 30 to 90 days in treatment at a facility run by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

However, as opioid addiction surged in the state over the last decade, Massachusetts began putting civil commitments in the hands of the state department of corrections, a practice that civil libertarians and criminal justice groups argue has terrible effects on someone's chances of recovery from addiction.

A 2017 Massachusetts Department of Public Health report on opioid abuse found that, "compared to the rest of the adult population, the opioid-related overdose death rate was 120 times higher for persons released from prisons and jails."

In response to a lawsuit brought by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other groups, Massachusetts changed its policies in 2016 to require that women be sent to actual addiction treatment programs. However, each year more than 2,000 men are still being incarcerated in Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities—a policy the lawsuit says "constitutes unlawful gender discrimination."

"Women committed under Section 35 must be sent to inpatient treatment facilities in the community even if the committing court finds that they need a secure facility," the lawsuit argues. "By contrast, men go to prison when there are no other available Section 35 treatment beds, regardless of their actual security needs. In short, men are punished for their alcohol and substance abuse disorders while women 'receive treatment, support, and recovery services in a dignified medical setting.'"

Massachusetts opened a new facility in 2017 for men who are civilly committed for addiction. It's run by the state Department of Correction, surrounded by razor wire, and deep in the woods. The patients, none of whom have been convicted of a crime, are watched over by correctional officers. They wear orange jumpsuits with "D.O.C." on the back.

A Boston Globe investigation that same year reported many of the same problems as the recent lawsuit:

The Globe interviewed seven former Plymouth patients and three parents of patients who all gave nearly identical accounts of unsanitary conditions, verbally abusive correction officers, and short, perfunctory meetings with counselors who provided little to no therapy. Some patients said that when they complained about the conditions they were moved into isolation cells without toilets or running water.

There are also safety concerns. At least one rape and one serious assault have occurred at the Plymouth facility in its first half-year in operation, court documents show.

A Mother Jones investigation in 2018 found much of the same. Patients reported being mocked by correctional officers and denied medical care. Addiction treatment or therapy was sparse to nonexistent, they said.

A mother recently told the Boston Globe that her son was placed in solitary confinement for five days while committed and denied his medication.

Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, says the civil liberties group's lawsuit challenged the conditions of women who were civilly committed, "but it was obvious from the way we drafted the complaint that we didn't think it was lawful to imprison men, either."

"What's so striking about the legislative fix is that as is that they changed the law with respect to women to improve their situation, but not men," Segal says. "Even if we were wrong about imprisoning people for civil commitment, it's obviously illegal to treat men and women differently in this way. Right from the moment they passed this legislative fix, it was unconstitutional."

A bill is pending in the Massachusetts state legislature that would move all men committed under Section 35 outside of the department of corrections.

The Massachusetts Department of Correction did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Cory Booker Knocks Presidential Rivals for Joking About Marijuana

The New Jersey senator says there's nothing funny about pot busts that warp people's lives.

Brian Cahn / Zuma Press / NewscomBrian Cahn / Zuma Press / NewscomKamala Harris' joke about marijuana and Jamaica did not go over well with her Jamaican father, who criticized her for perpetuating a "fraudulent stereotype." Cory Booker, one of her rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, also was not amused. "We have presidential candidates—senators—bragging about their pot use while there are kids who can't get a job because they have a nonviolent offense," the New Jersey senator said on MSNBC last night.

When asked whether she supports marijuana legalization during an interview on the syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club last month, Harris, a California senator, replied, "Half my family is from Jamaica; are you kidding me?" Asked whether she had ever smoked marijuana, she said, "I have. And I inhaled. I did inhale. It was a long time ago."

The other senator Booker had in mind presumably was Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a presidential contender who appeared on the same show this month and described his experience with cannabis this way: "Didn't do a whole lot for me. My recollection is I nearly coughed my brains out, so it's not my cup of tea."

I'm not sure either of those answers qualifies as "bragging," but Booker's point was that such lighthearted comments tend to obscure the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are still arrested every year on marijuana charges, the vast majority of them for simple possession, and have to bear the burden of those criminal records. He made similar remarks during an appearance in Davenport, Iowa, on Sunday. "We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it's funny," he said. "But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined."

Booker, a former mayor of Newark, noted that black people are much more likely to be busted for pot than white people, even though they are only slightly more likely to be cannabis consumers. "In Newark, I'm sorry, the margins for error for my kids to experiment with drugs, like people often do, that margin is not there," he said. "And then one kid gets one charge for possession of marijuana for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing, and what happens to their lives?" Booker, who recently reintroduced a bill that would remove marijuana from the federal government's list of prohibited drugs and expunge federal records of "marijuana use or possession offense[s]," said, "Do not talk to me about legalizing marijuana unless in the same breath you talk to me about expunging the records of the millions of people that are suffering with not being able to find a job."

Booker's emphasis on expungement is commendable, and his knock against Harris is fair enough, given that she not only treated marijuana as a subject of levity during her radio interview but did not embrace legalization until last year and prior to that literally laughed at the idea. But Sanders introduced a legalization bill back in 2015, two years before Booker's Marijuana Justice Act. He supports legalization even though marijuana is not his "cup of tea," and he has expressed concerns similar to Booker's.

"I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses," Sanders said during a 2015 presidential debate. "We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs, which has done an enormous amount of damage. We need to rethink our criminal justice system."

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Bernie Sanders’ New Campaign Advisor David Sirota Once Touted Hugo Chavez’s ‘Economic Miracle’ in Venezuela

"Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving."

SandersRonen Tivony/Sipa USA/NewscomSeveral new staffers have joined the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I­–Vt.), including David Sirota, a columnist and political activist who once praised the economic policies of former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

In a 2013 column for Salon, Sirota credited Chavez's "full-throated advocacy of socialism" with achieving an economic miracle. "As shown by some of the most significant indicators, Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving," he wrote.

Sirota's piece rants against neoliberalism in a manner characteristic of activist and academic discourse on the far-left.

"As evidenced by the treatment of everyone from Martin Luther King to Michael Moore to Oliver Stone to anyone else who dares question neoliberalism and economic imperialism, that punishment is all about marginalization—the kind that avoids engaging on substance for fear of allowing the notion of socialism to even enter the conversation in the first place," Sirota wrote.

Sanders himself is no stranger to effusive praise for socialism, and not just the allegedly friendlier version touted by the resurgent Democratic Socialists of America, but full-on authoritarian socialism as practiced by countries like the Soviet Union. In a 1988 interview, Sanders talked about how fantastic the Soviet Union's public transportation was—reserving special praise for its many "works of art, and chandeliers, which were beautiful." Sanders also defended bread lines—a common feature of communist countries—as a "good thing," because they meant that people were getting food.

More recently, Sanders refused to label Venezuela's embattled leader, Nicholas Maduro, a dictator. However, he did criticize the regime's human rights abuses, saying in a statement, "the Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society." He also urged the U.S. government not to intervene in the matter, which is admirable.

Indeed, Sanders' comparatively restrained foreign policy is the best thing about his candidacy. His affection for nationalizing industries, on the other hand, is less than desirable. It should go without saying, but there has been no economic miracle in Venezuela.

Sirota joins the Sanders campaign as a senior advisor and speechwriter. Sanders has also hired Briahna Joy Gray, a former writer and editor at The Intercept.

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Supreme Court Gives Feds a Long Leash To Detain Immigrants With Criminal Records

Conservative majority declines to consider constitutional concerns of holding noncitizens without hearings.

ICE raid protest signsBrphoto / Dreamstime.comFederal immigration officials have the authority to track down immigrants and noncitizens who have committed certain crimes, months and even possibly years after they've been released, and hold them without bond hearings for potential deportation, the Supreme Court ruled today.

The ruling in Nielsen v Preap was narrowly decided, 5-4, along ideological lines, with the more conservative justices agreeing with President Donald Trump's administration that immigration officials do not need to provide bond hearings and offer the possibility of release to people who have committed certain crimes and are facing possible deportation. And immigration officials have this authority even if they don't get around to detaining these people for months or even years after the offense was committed.

This is a complex and highly technical case, and while there's some coverage suggesting that this is a big victory over sanctuary cities, I'd be reluctant to classify it that way. The ruling does, however, mean that those sweeps where feds come swooping into communities looking for deportable immigrants are potentially even more of a worry for the targets. And sanctuary cities (where local authorities deliberately decline to check the immigration status of people they interact with or share that information with the federal government) are top targets for these sweeps.

So who is this case about? People who are 1.) living in the country completely legally and are not fugitives from justice, who've 2.) been previously arrested, convicted, and even served time for crimes that are deportable under federal law, but 3.) were not deported immediately (or even years) after serving their sentence.

One of the defendants at the heart of this case—Eduardo Vega Padilla, a legal permanent resident since he moved to the U.S. as a toddler in 1966—was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 1997 and 1999. He was arrested while on probation for that offense when officers found an unloaded pistol in a shed behind his house, and he served six months in jail in 2002. Eleven years later, officials for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came for him and held him in detention for possible deportation.

Can they do that? And is Padilla entitled to a hearing and possible release from detention so that he can fight his case? Today, the Supreme Court ruled that immigration officials do not have to detain someone immediately after they're released from jail in order to eventually deport them for the offense that landed them in jail; it also ruled that noncitizens who have committed certain crimes (detailed in legislation passed by Congress in the 1990s) are not entitled to a bond hearing that would allow them to fight their case from outside of a jail.

The ruling does not appear to address due process issues or concerns about indefinite detention that might be raised by the Fifth or Eighth Amendments of the Constitution. In the majority decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts (Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch teamed up to concur in a separate piece), the justices noted that this case was decided over the statutory interpretations of the law and not the constitutionality of it, because the respondents did not challenge whether it was constitutional to detain people like Padilla. They concluded:

We emphasize that respondents' arguments here have all been statutory. Even their constitutional concerns are offered as just another pillar in an argument for their preferred reading of the language of §1226(c)—an idle pillar here because the statute is clear. While respondents might have raised a head-on constitutional challenge to §1226(c), they did not. Our decision today on the meaning of that statutory provision does not foreclose as-applied challenges—that is, constitutional challenges to applications of the statute as we have now read it.

That's something of a hint: if similar plaintiffs want such a case heard again, they need to make a constitutional argument.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer (joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) warned about the significant consequences of such an extreme application of these statutes and argued that these statutes cannot be considered without exploring the constitutional implications:

These aliens may then be detained for months, sometimes years, without the possibility of release; they may have been convicted of only minor crimes—for example, minor drug offenses, or crimes of "moral turpitude" such as illegally downloading music or possessing stolen bus transfers; and they sometimes may be innocent spouses or children of a suspect person. Moreover, for a high percentage of them, it will turn out after months of custody that they will not be removed from the country because they are eligible by statute to receive a form of relief from removal such as cancellation of removal.

We should definitely be concerned of the constitutional implications when it appears Congress has granted the executive branch the authority (and even a mandate) to deny people bail without judicial review. Breyer concluded in his dissent, "I fear that the Court's contrary interpretation will work serious harm to the principles for which American law has long stood."

Read the court ruling here.

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College Bribery Scandal Shows How School Systems Set Up Poor, Minority Students To Fail

Those without a financial leg up have a much harder time succeeding.

Peter Muller Cultura/NewscomPeter Muller Cultura/NewscomShe wanted her daughters to go to a good school, and she broke the law to make it happen.

I'm not talking about Lori Loughlin or Felicity Huffman, the Hollywood stars who made headlines for writing fat checks to sneak their children into elite universities. I'm referring to Kelley Williams-Bolar, who, in 2011, used her father's address to ensure her kids attended a higher-quality school outside her Akron, Ohio, school district. Williams-Bolar served nine days of a five-year prison sentence, received three years probation, and had to complete 80 hours of community service.

"I did this for them, so there it is," she told ABC. "I did this for them." According to officials, her crimes equated to stealing an education: Prior to her indictment, they demanded she give the city $30,000 in taxes, which she refused to do.

The difference between these cases isn't just the presence of celebrity. Huffman and Loughlin had great options for their kids, and thought they could buy even better ones; Williams-Bolar was trying to protect her kids from only (terrible) option available to them.

According to NBC News investigative reporter Tom Winter, it's unlikely the famous actresses will serve any jail time. There's nothing necessarily objectionable about that—society stands to gain very little from locking them away, since they pose no danger.

The disparity between these two worlds tells us something about education in America. Poverty-stricken families are not only unable to bribe coaches or proctors, but many also can't afford legal leg-ups, like extracurriculars that require a fee or private test prep courses. Americans without access to wealth are forced to rely on the public education system, and often find themselves trapped in failing schools solely because of their zip code.

Because schools tend to be mirror images of their neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods generally beget poor schools, with fewer resources and less effective teachers. And as "rich vs. underprivileged" is often synonymous with "white vs. nonwhite," a minority-heavy school is a predictive marker that achievement outcomes will be lower, according to the Brookings Institution. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that, in schools with heavy Black and Hispanic populations, 75 to 100 percent were also eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. These students start life behind, and seldom acquire the financial means to close in on their wealthier peers.

There is no policy mechanism for "fixing" the wealth gap, but the educational gap is ripe for disruption. Greg Forster, a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, notes that research studying the link between racial segregation and school choice options is promising. Out of the 10 empirical studies conducted on the matter thus far, nine have shown a positive impact on decreasing school segregation. The remaining study showed a negligible impact.

Of Louisiana's public voucher program, for instance, Forster highlights that students who take advantage of school choice "reduce segregation in both the public schools and the private schools," and that such transfers "move both public and private schools closer to the racial composition of the surrounding metropolitan area."

Another study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University, found that New York City's voucher program increased the college enrollment rate among African American students by 24 percent. In tandem with Forster's research, that lends credence to the idea that more options can help desegregate the school system, and produce better outcomes for the ones who need them most.

For now, though, people like Williams-Bolar are locked in a cycle that they can't break out of, so long as educational opportunity turns solely on what house you can buy—or who you can bribe.

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Lies About Vietnam Inspired Brian Lamb To Start C-SPAN: Podcast

Forty years ago, one of the most momentous events in the history of politics and television took place: C-SPAN started broadcasting live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the United States House of Representatives.

Long before reality TV shows like Real World, Survivor, Real Housewives, Big Brother, and Sober House, C-SPAN gave Americans direct access to one of the most powerful groups of people on the planet. For the first time in history, we could see our elected representatives debating, wheeling and dealing, freaking out, and occasionally falling asleep while debating government spending, foreign policy, and more.

Over the years, C-SPAN has expanded to include coverage of the Senate; daily public affairs shows featuring policy experts, activists, journalists, and lawmakers; long-form interviews with authors and other influential people; and coverage of events all around the country. In a world in which elite decisionmakers want to shield themselves from all forms of scrutiny and observation, C-SPAN performs the radical intervention of putting a camera on them while also engaging them in thoughtful, frank, and fair conversation.

For today's Reason Podcast, I talked to C-SPAN's founder Brian Lamb, who has managed to shine a bright light on the political process while simultaneously creating a model of civil discourse that is unmatched in cable news. The 77-year-old Indiana native tells me how working in the Pentagon during Vietnam inspired him to push for "openness" in government, why he's still pushing for cameras to cover oral arguments in the Supreme Court, and how C-SPAN expects to weather its next 40 years.

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Photo credit: CHUCK KENNEDY KRT/Newscom

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NIMBY Local Government Sues Owner of Flintstones Replica House Over Dinosaurs and Giant 'Yabba Dabba Doo' Sign

The town of Hillsborough, CA has deemed a sign bearing the cartoon character's famous catchphrase an "eyesore" and "public nuisance."

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons

Last week, the small, wealthy Bay Area town of Hillsborough filed a lawsuit against the owner of local Flintstone-replica house, arguing that several metal dinosaurs and a giant "Yabba Dabba Doo" sign on the property were added without permission and constitute a public nuisance.

Originally built in the freewheeling 1970s, Hillsborough's "Flintstone House" has long been a source of controversy from neighbors who did not care for its unique aesthetic, and who reportedly created the town's architectural review board to stop future cartoon-themed homes from popping up.

In 2017, the house was purchased by Florence Fang, a prominent Bay Area entrepreneur and former publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, who shortly thereafter began a series of alterations to the property with wanton disregard for permitting requirements or Hillsborough's voluminous zoning code.

This included the addition of several dinosaur statues and a sign bearing Fred Flintstone's famous catchphrase, as well as more traditional improvements like a parking strip, deck, and gate.

Fang reportedly did all of this without seeking the required permits. In January, July, and August of 2018, she received three separate stop work orders, all of which she ignored. In October of that year, the town government fined Fang $200 and ordered her to remove the dinosaurs from her property.

Fang paid the fine, but did not remove any statues. Now the town is suing.

In a complaint filed last week, the town government declares Fang's metal dinosaurs and Flintstones sign to be "a highly visible eyesore and are out of keeping with community standards" and a public nuisance on top of that.

Hillsborough is asking for a court order requiring Fang to remove her various "landscaping improvements" from the property. It is also demanding Fang cover the city's legal fees.

Attempts to reach Fang for comment were unsuccessful. Assuming the claims in Hillsborough's lawsuit are accurate, she did indeed ignore the town's land use regulations. That's really more cause for praise than anything else however.

One of the beautiful things about private property is the freedom it allows for people to express themselves. Zoning codes and residential design guidelines quash that freedom by dicating what homes have to look like.

Fang's refusal to take down statues and signs on her property is a stirring example of civil disobiedence, one that might well see her name go down in history.

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Sen. Menendez Calls for Twitter to Stop Spreading Software That Can Help Make Weapons

Press release from Jersey senator asks Twitter to censor specific user @ivanthetroll12.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) made a direct call to Twitter chieftain Jack Dorsey asking him to eliminate tweets from a particular user, @ivanthetroll12, as revealed in a press release from the senator's office earlier this month.

Ivanthetroll12 twitterIvanthetroll12 twitter

The letter read in part:

Dear Mr. Dorsey,

I write to express concern regarding Twitter's decision to allow its users to publicize links to downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed firearms. I ask that you take immediate steps to remove such links, as well as the ability to directly message these links from your platform....I do not believe one of the country's most prominent tech companies should be facilitating access to these deadly weapons....

On February 22, 2019 the user @IvanTheTroll12 tweeted his plans to release blueprints for a 3D-printed AR-15 firearm. The following day, @IvanTheTroll12 tweeted a direct download link to a website whereby anyone is free to download the blueprints....if foreign users are able to access the website and the blueprints, the publication of these blueprints violates the law. I urge you to take immediate action to remove the publication of the links. In addition, I would like to know what Twitter is doing to ensure that other users do not use your platform for such nefarious and potentially unlawful actions in the future....

The account (and its tweets) that bothered Menendez still exist, with the feed containing many other posts regarding different versions of software-enabled home gun manufacture, as well as tweets pointing out that for the vast majority of people who can't legally obtain a gun, black market purchase would be a far more obvious choice than the complications of making guns at home via 3D printers or CNC (computer numerical control) mills, which move and control machine tools via software commands.

The man behind the account says in an email yesterday that he's heard nothing from Twitter after Menendez called him out. "I suspect it'll just blow over at this point, I don't think they'd take this long if they planned to act. But who knows, maybe they are scheming a big TOS update."

But, he wrote, "I'm certain that if a printed gun is ever used in a crime that Twitter will crack down."

"Ivan" says he's not sure how Menendez came across his tweets. "I've tweeted at him since his letter to antagonize him, but had no interaction with him prior to his letter."

Menendez's office did not respond as of press time as to whether Dorsey or anyone at Twitter has responded to them regarding his March 7 release.

Ivan also insists that Menendez revealed a politician's typically thin understanding of the complications involved in connecting the spread of speech and information with a likely physical threat.

That is, the information Ivan is spreading (which Menendez's state of New Jersey has tried to mostly ban) is still a very long way from any object in the world existing. "You'd need 500k in machines (either a 5 axis CNC + lathe or a DLMS [direct metal laser sintering] metal printer) to make an entire AR15 from those files," he wrote in an email.

"The point in the files is that a) you could actually do it, and b) as with all reference models, it can be used as a base for modification or customization. Want to design your own 3d printed stock - take this AR15 CAD and use it to get all the measurements you need, and you will be saved lots of trial and error."

But, Ivan insists, "the fact remains it is a reference model - it is not 3d printable as the Senator suggests (unless you have 500k-1m dollars in DLMS setup, but you can buy truck-fulls of AR15s for that)."

Ivan wonders if Menendez's office is intentionally trying to confuse Dorsey and the public about what Ivan really did on Twitter. "I fully believe the Senator knows the files aren't printable (we didn't include any files that are set up for printing in the package), the readme disclaims that you can't print it, and the announcement tweet made it clear that it is a reference model."

He clarifies: His tweets and the links in them "makes the AR15 CAD public domain, it makes the AR15 an idea and not a physical item, but it doesn't make the AR15 printable. He knows this, and it posturing and pretending the files are something that they aren't."

Menendez's state of New Jersey passed a law last year trying to ban the transmission of software that could help instruct a home device to make a weapon to anyone not a licensed gun manufacturer. Defense Distributed, whose controversial founder Cody Wilson was called out specifically by the state's attorney general as the law's target, sued along with other Second Amendment interest groups to block enforcement of the law, which they think violated the First Amendment, the Supremacy Clause, and the Commerce Clause.

That particular case was tossed out of court in February by a U.S. district judge in Texas largely on jurisdictional grounds; he didn't think Texas was the proper place for the suit. While that dismissal is under appeal in the 5th Circuit, a separate suit along the same grounds was filed in February in federal court in New Jersey. In that case an initial request for a preliminary injunction against the state also so far failed and is on appeal to the 3rd Circuit, according to Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, one of the parties to the suit.

Ivan, who did not want to reveal any other name, says he is not associated with Defense Distributed.

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First Gene-Edited Crop Coming to a Store Near You

Great news for consumers and farmers.

CalytxSoybeansCalyxtHealthier oil from gene-edited soybeans similar in composition to olive oil is now being used to fry foods and as an ingredient in salad dressings. To produce Calyno oil, the biotech company Calyxt gene-edited soybeans to turn off two genes involved with fatty-acid synthesis. In the past, hydrogenating soy oil to give it a longer shelf life produced unhealthy trans fats. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods. Calyno oil contains no trans fats while having up to three times the fry life and extended shelf life of regular soy oil.

Unlike traditional versions of genetically engineered crops, gene-editing does not involve adding genes from other organisms to endow crops with beneficial characteristics such as disease, pest, and herbicide resistance. Gene-editing creates changes that are essentially equivalent to natural mutations.

Sadly, the usual environmental activist groups want to stymie this advance in crop biotechnology. "The products of all techniques of genetic engineering, including gene editing, should be regulated using the Precautionary Principle* to protect human health and the environment," asserts a Friends of the Earth (FOE) report deprecative of gene-editing. "All genetic engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government regulatory oversight of genetic engineering and GMOs." Vexingly, the European Union has adopted the FOE's position and has decided to impose the same cumbersome regulations for genetically modified crops on gene-edited crops.

Calyxt has been able to get its soy oil so quickly to market because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has sensibly decided that it will not regulate gene-edited crops. This is great news for consumers and farmers since developing and marketing a traditional genetically modified crop typically costs $150 million. The costs of developing new crops via gene-editing will likely be 90 percent lower. And instead of taking 12 years to move from development to commercialization, a gene-edited crop can get to market in just five years.

Calyxt has several other gene-edited crop varieties in its research and development pipeline including wheat that resists powdery mildew and contains three times more fiber, potatoes that resist blight, drought-tolerant soybeans, and reduced-lignin alfalfa.

John Dombrosky, CEO of venture capital consortium AgTech Accelerator told Bloomberg that gene-editing "will be set free to do tremendous things across the ag continuum, and the promise is just gigantic. We'll be able to fine-tune food for amazing health and nutrition benefits."

Calyxt's soy oil is just the first of many new improved crops that will soon be in your local grocery store.

*Precautionary principle: Never do anything for the first time.

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The Majority of an Oklahoma Sheriff's Office Just Quit Over Unsafe Jail Conditions

It’s encouraging to see police stand up for inmates’ rights.

Screenshot/KOTVScreenshot/KOTVAn Oklahoma sheriff and the majority of her employees have quit their jobs over what they say are unsafe conditions at the county jail.

The Nowata County jail was closed and its inmates moved to a different jail after a carbon monoxide leak was discovered late last month. That issue still has not been fixed, now-former Sheriff Terry Barnett said at a press conference yesterday, according to Tulsa World. But Nowata County Associate District Judge Carl Gibson wants the inmates to be brought back to jail, former Undersheriff Mark Kirschner told The Frontier.

Barnett claimed Gibson told her last week he could raise her salary and protect her from all personal liability. "I looked straight at the judge and asked him, 'Are you compromising my integrity?' The judge never responded," she told reporters. "I continued to visit with the judge a little bit and informed him under no circumstances will I shove anything under the carpet concerning Nowata County. I also stated directly to him I feel that Nowata County is an extremely corrupt county."

In letter explaining her decision, Barnett said Gibson threatened to hold her in contempt of court if she did not reopen the jail. The judge believes it's too expensive to detain inmates in a different county, Kirschner said at the press conference. But Kirschner think it's cheaper than the alternative, which would be operating the jail.

"The condition of the jail is such that it does not comply with constitutional standards," Barnett wrote in her letter:


In addition to the carbon monoxide issue, Barnett cited exposed electrical wiring, mold, bad plumbing, and an instance where a snake fell on an inmate's head.

"There are too many issues with the jail and it's not suitable for inmates or employees," Barnett said, according to KJRH. Gibson didn't accept her resignation, though Barnett said that doesn't matter. "I do not work for the judge. The judge is an elected official. I am also an elected official," she said. "I do not believe we live in a country where we can be ordered to go to work when I have already tendered my resignation."

In addition to Barnett and Kirschner, five deputies, the head dispatcher, the canine officer, and several jailers quit, reported KOTV. Just five people are left: three dispatchers and two detention officers, dispatcher Dede Kerns told Tulsa World. Another court hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning to determine next steps.

Whatever ends up happening, it's encouraging to see law enforcement officials stand up for inmates' rights. It would no doubt be far easier to simply reopen the jail. But it's not necessarily the right thing to do. "I will not sweep these things under the carpet," said Barnett.

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America First Is Just Code for Unilateral Belligerence

Donald Trump is no peacenik.

Trump-Unjonathan ernstreuters via NewscomGiven America's growing empire, it would certainly be nice if a president would pull back—and try and change the world by example instead of picking fights or aiding wars. But is that what President Donald Trump is doing, as his cheerleaders claim?

Not by a mile, I note in my column at The Week.

There is much less than meets the eye to Trump's much-hyped pullouts from Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, his lovefest with the dictator of North Korea is proving to be a complete bust. He is also tearing up existing treaties with Iran and America's trading partners while boosting defense spending and cutting domestic spending—the exact opposite of what he'd promised to do during his campaign.

In light of this, it is a triumph of hope over reality to believe that Trump's America First foreign policy would bring peace and prosperity to the globe. Indeed, its purpose is to force other countries to do America's bidding without having to go through multilateral institutions or consulting America's allies.

Go here to read the column.

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The Supreme Court’s Online Sales Tax Ruling Is Already a Huge Headache for Small Businesses: New at Reason

An overlooked ruling could force small businesses to pay sales tax in dozens, even hundreds, of jurisdictions where they have no representation.

Chris and Carla HeitmanChris and Carla HeitmanWhen he started selling race car equipment 40 years ago, Chris Heitman never imagined that he'd have to learn which states charge sales tax for fireproof underwear.

"Is it clothing? Is it specialized equipment? That's the question," he says. And since the answer isn't always clear, he errs on the side of charging the tax—better to overcharge a customer than to face the wrath of the taxman, after all.

Heitman and his wife, Carla, have been running Pegasus Auto Racing Supplies since they founded the company back in 1980, out of a two-story building in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Until last year, that meant Heitman was responsible for collecting and paying sales taxes to exactly one place: the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. But thanks to an under-the-radar ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in June, he's now receiving letters, phone calls, and emails from revenue officials across the country, each wanting a piece of his business.

The source of Heitman's frustrations is Wayfair v. South Dakota, which allowed states to collect sales taxes from online businesses located beyond their borders. Many states view the Wayfair ruling as a potential tax revenue windfall in which the taxes are paid by non-residents who can't vote against them. That's why businesses like Heitman's are now facing the chilling prospect of owing taxes in dozens, and possibly hundreds, of different jurisdictions—while being hounded by out-of-state tax collectors.

Since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in June, Heitman has been scrambling to become compliant with tax commissions and revenue departments from coast to coast. He's spent thousands of dollars on new software to help navigate the complexities of state sales tax law, but that's only been so much help. "It almost seems like I have another full time job dumped on me with this sales tax thing," he says. "It's burning me out."

As the 2019 tax season begins, states are ramping up efforts to squeeze extra revenue out of remote retailers like Heitman, putting an expensive new burden on businesses that have found broad customer bases online. The burden is particularly large in the five U.S. states that charge no sales tax, where entrepreneurs could now be charged with paying a tax they have never had to pay before, to a government over which they have no voice. And while Congress could clean up the Supreme Court's mess, it's far from certain that it will, writes Eric Boehm.

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Devin Nunes Milks Fake Cow Account on Twitter For Nonsense Lawsuit: Reason Roundup

Plus: SCOTUS declines Hawaii lesbian case, UC stands by professor in free speech standoff, and ACLU warns of "privacy Trojan horse."

Ron Sachs/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomRon Sachs/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomA prominent member of the House Intelligence Committee is suing Twitter over conspiracy theories in an effort to overhaul fundamental federal tech policy and force the doxxing of his critics, including a fake cow. In a new lawsuit, Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Calif.) is accusing Twitter of engaging in systematic "shadowbanning" of conservatives, allowing defamation against him, and basically orchestrating a conspiracy against him by...well, existing.

Shadowbanning is the nefarious term aggrieved users have cooked up for algorithmic processes that lead to some posts showing up in more timelines than others, or some accounts getting put in a time out (based on things like multiple reports to Twitter support) in which users can still tweet and people can still read their tweets but their content may not be broadcast into feeds for a period of time. Some conservatives convinced their content isn't getting the attention it deserves have latched on to the idea that they're part of targeted Twitter action to suppress conservatives. Perversely claiming the mantle of free speech, they want the government to force a private company to somehow redistribute attention to them (or pay them for not doing so).

Nunes is seeking $250,350,000 on behalf of himself and a few other Twitter users, claiming (without evidence) that they have been systematically censored. He is claiming conspiracy, that Twitter was negligent with regard to "insulting words" aimed at him, and that it both permitted and "created" defamatory posts about him.

In the suit, "Nunes claimed Twitter wanted to derail his work on the House Intelligence Committee, which he chaired until 2019," reports Fox News. Nunes is ranking Republican member on the committee.

The lawsuit was filed in Maryland state court—which means that on the defamation claim, Nunes runs up against Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (the one that says web platforms aren't to be treated as the speaker of user-posted content for state and civil legal liability purposes). Under Section 230, Twitter does not need to determine itself what is or isn't defamatory content, it only needs comply if legal authorities say it must take something down.

Perhaps Nunes knows all this; some congressional Republicans have been itching to dismantle Section 230 further under the guise of promoting ideological fairness on social media. Based on a complete misreading of the law, folks like Nunes and Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) have begun arguing that in making any content decisions at all, Twitter and its ilk should be excluded from Section 230 protection. But this is directly opposite of how the law works and what all sorts of judges have written on it.

Nunes also offers an absurd reading of what it meant to "create" content. Under Section 230, platforms and web service providers lose protection if they create or substantially edit the criminal content. Nunes suggests that Twitter somehow "created" the content (that was authored and posted via myriad individual users) because it made "a publicly available commodity" that people could use to spread words, and "unscrupulous political operatives" had used some of those words against him.

Even if the lawsuit isn't searching for a Section 230 challenge, it's still a fishing expedition of sorts. Nunes' claims may ultimately be declared nonsense, but Twitter defending the lawsuit would mean it has to turn over all sorts of internal company documents and process information as part of discovery.

This is the same process officials pulled with Backpage and other internet companies. With access to enough internal communication, maybe they'll find that at some point Twitter staff or leadership made some misstep with regards to a specific content moderation decision. That can be all it takes to order congressional hearings and command misleading headlines.

Or perhaps Nunes is more simpleminded and petty than all that. As part of the suit he's seeking the identities of people behind specific accounts that were critical of him—including accounts using the name @DevinCow and claiming to be Devin Nunes' Cow and also @DevinNunesMom—and which he says are guilty of legitimate harassment and defamation. Maybe this is all a ploy to find out who his biggest Twitter enemies are.

Any or all of the above motivations don't bode well coming from an elected official who helps oversee national intelligence policy.

FREE MINDS

UC–Davis stands by professor. Folks on the right complain a lot—and rightfully so—when liberal college students demand censorship of each other or their teachers in the name of being kept safe from "dangerous" (or simply disagreeable to them) ideas. But give chattering-class conservatives a chance to pull the same speech-stifling silliness on someone they find taboo, and time and again they will take it. Our latest example of this comes from the University of California-Davis, where English professor Joshua Clover tweeted a few years ago about dead cops.

His words "are horrifying statements, but they are also protected by the First Amendment," writes Robby Soave. "Clover's general endorsement of violence against the police is not a true threat, or incitement to lawless action." Read more on the situation here.

FREE MARKETS

SCOTUS declines Hawaii lesbian case. The Supreme Court won't hear a case in which a Honolulu bed and breakfast was found in violation of Hawaii anti-discrimination law by refusing to allow a lesbian couple to stay there. Comparisons to Masterpiece Cakeshop aren't quite right, here, pointed out Reason's Scott Shackford yesterday.

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was clear that he wasn't refusing to sell cakes to gay people or to gay couples. He argued that his religious opposition to gay marriage recognition meant that he shouldn't have to make a cake that would be seen as celebrating same-sex marriage.

"Reasonable people can debate whether baking a cake counts as a form of expression," Shackford continues. But "renting a room or a home is not seen by most as requiring a personal or moral approval of the renting party's romantic relationships." (Libertarians may disagree, but we're talking about prevailing popular opinion and legal interpretations here.)

One more note: many people think the bakery case—which SCOTUS did take on, ruling in favor of Phillips—hinged on Phillips' right to free expression under the First Amendment. At oral arguments, "they publicly debated what counted as speech or expression in the producing of a consumer good and whether forcing Phillips to bake a cake was compelling him to engage in speech, but they didn't ultimately decide the case on that issue," notes Shackford. More here.

QUICK HITS

• Congressional Democrats are pushing for an investigation into a woman who owns massage parlors and took selfies with the president.

• A "privacy trojan horse"? The American Civil Liberties Union is sounding alarm about bills pushed by Hu-manity.co that are making in headway in some states. "Hu-manity.co's strategy is to use legislation to artificially generate a robust market for 'customer information sales agents' who will facilitate—and profit from—the sale of patients' medical information," the ACLU blog says.

• Pennsylvania lawmakers just introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana sales.

• Leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio, sure seem like they're trying to harass this downtown hotel out of business.

• Catherine Oxenberg, star of the '80s TV hit Dynasty and mother of a young woman who got caught up in NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's weird lady group, has a new book out about "a mother's crusade to save her daughter from a terrifying cult."

Hudson Yards will own your soul and you will gram it.

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Stossel: Debating A Hoaxed Journal Editor

Editor of journal that published hoax paper defends his field.

Seven academic journals recently published papers that were actually hoaxes designed to show the absurdity found in such academic fields as gender studies, race studies, and queer studies. The hoaxers intentionally submitted papers that were ridiculous. One included gibberish about rape culture in dog parks. Another was a section of Hitler's Mein Kampf re-written with feminist buzzwords.

Six journal editors would not talk to Stossel, but one—Roberto Refinetti, editor in chief of Sexuality and Culture—agreed to an interview.

He condemns what the hoaxers did: "You're deceiving people without much of a reason."

Stossel says he thinks the hoaxers had good reason not to go to the review board first. "Their hoax woke us up to the fact that some academic journals publish nonsense," he says.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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