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Philadelphia Reduced Use of Cash Bail and the Sky Didn't Fall

Defendants aren't being ordered to pay for their freedom, and they're still coming back for court appearances.

Reason bail cover storyReasonAs the push continues to reform bail systems across America, some skeptics of allowing defendands to go free without paying bail have argued that it might be harder to get these people to show up for their court dates. If they or their family members don't owe money to a bail bondsman, the argument goes, why would they show up?

That's a fair question, but the news coming out of Philadelphia, where new District Attorney Larry Krasner announced last year that he was going to significantly scale back the demand for cash bail for a huge list of offenses, is that defendants will show up.

In 2018, the city let an additional 1,750 arrestees go free pre-trial without demanding that they pay bail. This resulted in a 22 percent reduction in the number of defendants who spent at least a night in jail. This week, two professors released a report analyzing the impact of this move: "In spite of the reduced financial accountability that the No-Cash-Bail reform entailed, we find no detectable change in any of these measures of pretrial misconduct. … This is striking, given the prevalence of monetary bail as a purported method of increasing compliance with the courts."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, meanwhile, notes that court appearance rates in the city are at their highest in a decade.

Aurelie Ouss of the University of Pennsylvania and Megan T. Stevenson of the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School examined three outcomes of letting more people go without any bail demands: The rates that these defendants subsequently failed to show up for court dates; the rates that these defendants were accused of committing new crimes after release; and the rates that these defendants were accused of committing serious crimes within four months of their first court date. They found no significant change for Philadelphia defendants in any category.

Their study addresses a legitimate concern: Part of the argument for bail reform is that it's cruel to keep defendants locked up before trial if they're not threats to the community or flight risks. The other part of the argument is that it's expensive. But if these defendants were to skip their court dates, or commit new crimes before trial, the cost savings of not detaining them before trial would be erased by the costs of tracking them down, or investigating and prosecuting additional crimes.

As Ouss and Stevenson note, there's been little research on what happens when these pretrial systems suddenly change to free more people, partly because it's still a relatively new phenomenon. We do know, however, that when people remain behind bars because they're unable to make bail, their families often suffer significant financial hardship and the defendants are far more likely to accept less favorable plea deals with harsher sentences than those defendants who are able to build a case and negotiate with prosecutors from outside a jail cell.

This study, if it proves to be replicable, is going to be extremely valuable in countering fears that letting more defendants out of jail without bail demands will lead to crime increases and missed court appearances. You can check out the study here, and read more from Reason on the push to reform, reduce, and potentially eliminate the use of cash bail here.

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It's 'Time to Panic' Over Climate Change, Asserts New York Times Op-Ed

That's wrong. Promoting fear hinders more than helps environmental progress.

PanicVolodymyrMelnykDreamstimeVolodyrmyrMelnyk/DreamstimeUnabated man-made climate change would likely pose problems, many significant, for humanity during the course of this century. But is it "time to panic" about it, as David Wallace-Wells writes in a recent New York Times op-ed?

"The age of climate panic is here," declares the author of the forthcoming The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Although he thinks it's not nearly enough, Wallace-Wells suggests that the newly proposed Green New Deal is "what the beginning of a solution looks like."

To support his call for panic, Wallace-Wells cites the so-called Doomsday report, which the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued last fall. That special report aimed to analyze the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It projected that if no policies aimed specifically at reducing carbon dioxide emissions are adopted, average global temperature will rise by 3.66°C by 2100, resulting in a global GDP loss of 2.6 percent from what it would otherwise have been. (In the 2°C and 1.5°C scenarios, global GDP would be reduced by 0.5 percent or 0.3 percent, respectively.)

The global GDP currently stands at about $80 trillion. Growing at 3 percent annually, it would rise to $903 trillion by 2100. A 2.6 percent reduction means that it would only be $880 trillion by 2100. A 0.3 percent decrease implies a global GDP of $900 trillion. The IPCC report recommends that the world spend more than $45 trillion between now and 2035 in order to endow $2.7 trillion more in annual income on people living three generations hence.

Assuming the worst-case loss of 2.6 percent, that would mean that a world with a population of 10 billion would have to scrape by on an average income of just $88,000 per year. (The average global GDP per capita now is $10,500.)

Meanwhile, the worst-case scenario laid out in the appropriate chapter of the federal government's Fourth National Climate Assessment indicates that Americans living in 2090 would be about $500 billion poorer than they would have been without climate change. Citing the even more dire projections of outside researchers, the assessment suggested that at 10°F of warming, the U.S. economy would be about 10 percent smaller than it would otherwise have been. For context, consider that today's $20 trillion GDP, growing at a 3 percent rate, would rise to $226 trillion by 2100. Pondering both worst-case climate scenarios, GDP would instead rise to either $225.5 billion or $203 trillion. Americans living at the end of this century would be about 10 times richer on average than we are now, albeit in a much warmer world.

These numbers, derived from integrated assessment models that combine econometric and climate projections for the next eight decades, need to be eyed with enormous skepticism. Nevertheless, neither suggests that climate change will make the earth uninhabitable by the end of this century.

An intriguing sidebar to Wallace-Wells' op-ed helpfully provides three examples that aim to illustrate what happes when environmentalist rhetoric succeded in ratcheting up fear. These cases of panic promotion "marked turning points on major environmental issues and inspired change." The moments? Silent Spring, Love Canal, and Three Mile Island. The "inspired change" stemming from these cases has not, shall we say, been wholly beneficial.

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Phony Houston Drug Warrant Prompts FBI Investigation and Review of 1,400 Cases

Lying to justify a search that killed two people could be a capital crime.

Harris County District Attorney's OfficeHarris County District Attorney's OfficeThe fraudulent search warrant that authorized last month's deadly Houston drug raid has prompted an FBI investigation and a review of more than 1,400 cases involving the narcotics officer who obtained the warrant.

"The FBI Houston Field Office has opened an independent civil rights investigation into allegations that a search warrant obtained by Houston police officers was based on false, fabricated information," the FBI announced in a press release yesterday. "The execution of that search warrant at 7815 Harding Street, Houston, TX, on January 28, 2019, resulted in the deaths of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle as well as serious injuries to several Houston police officers."

Officer Gerald Goines, who was shot in the neck during the no-knock raid, obtained the warrant by claiming that he had sent a confidential informant into the house on January 27 to buy heroin from a man matching Tuttle's description. The C.I. supposedly returned with "a quantity of brown powder substance," subsequently identified as black-tar heroin, and reported that there many more bags of it in the house, along with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Police found neither of those things, or any other evidence of drug dealing, when they searched the house the next day after they killed Nicholas and Tuttle during a shootout they started by breaking into the house and killing the couple's dog with a shotgun.

After two informants named by Goines and every other C.I. known to work with him denied participating in the "controlled buy" he described, investigators concluded that Goines had invented the episode. Goines "lied in an affidavit," Police Chief Art Acevedo said last Friday, and "more than likely...will be charged with a serious crime." Under Texas law, lying in a search warrant affidavit is aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. Under federal law, willfully depriving someone of his constitutional rights "under color of any law" is punishable by a prison term up to life or by execution "if death results."

The Harris County District Attorney's Office, meanwhile, is examining "more than 1,400 criminal cases" in which Goines has been involved since joining the Houston Police Department in 1984. "Our duty is to see that justice is done in every case," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a press release yesterday. "Although the criminal investigation of Officer Goines is ongoing, we have an immediate ethical obligation to notify defendants and their lawyers in Goines' other cases to give them an opportunity to independently review any potential defenses." The defendants in 27 pending cases were notified yesterday, while "notification in older cases will be ongoing."

Judges routinely rubber-stamp search warrant applications like the one that Goines submitted in this case, where a single officer acting on an anonymous tip claims to have arranged a drug purchase by an unnamed C.I. Since there is no way for the judge to verify the applicant's claims, he simply has to trust that the cop is not making shit up. Once it is clear that a cop is willing to make shit up, that trust evaporates, calling into question the validity of every search warrant he has ever obtained. As the Houston Chronicle reported last week, Goines had already been accused of perjury and mishandling evidence in an ongoing drug case where he was also suspected of inventing a C.I. It seems likely that many defendants will have grounds to challenge convictions based on Goines' testimony or on evidence discovered in searches authorized by warrants that he obtained.

"We welcome closer scrutiny into his work," Nicole DeBorde, a lawyer for Goines, told The New York Times. "He's been a police officer for 35 years, and what I'm hearing is that he's a man of integrity and his colleagues think highly of him." If so, one has to wonder what integrity means within the Houston Police Department's Narcotics Division.

Addendum: By noting that judges cannot independently verify controlled buys described by narcotics officers, I did not mean to imply that there were no grounds for Houston Municipal Court Judge Gordon Marcum, who approved the warrant in this case, to be skeptical of Goines' affidavit. Tuttle and Nicholas had lived at 7815 Harding Street for more than three decades; they were well-known in the neighborhood and publicly listed as residents. Yet in his affidavit, Goines refers to Tuttle as "a white male, whose name is unknown." That should have been a red flag indicating that Goines' investigation, which supposedly "had been going on for approximately two (2) weeks," was less than thorough. Goines also said he "advised" the C.I. that "narcotics were being sold and stored" at the house, but he cited no evidence of that, notwithstanding his two-week investigation. Goines claimed another narcotics officer, Steven Bryant, recognized the brown powder as heroin, a detail that Bryant has since contradicted. One wonders what Bryant would have said if Marcum had asked him to verify Goines' account.

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The Media's Covington Coverage Was Appalling, but Nick Sandmann's Libel Lawsuit Is Not the Answer

A teenager wrongly accused of harassing a Native American activist sues The Washington Post for $250 million.

SandmannScreenshot via YoutubeAttorneys representing Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student wrongly accused of harassing a Native American activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, have filed a libel lawsuit against The Washington Post for misrepresenting what happened.

"The Post wrongfully targeted and bullied Nicholas because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red 'Make America Great Again' souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C. when he was unexpectedly and suddenly confronted by Nathan Phillips, a known Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face," wrote Sandmann's attorneys, L. Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, in their complaint, which was filed in Kentucky.

The suit asks for $250,000,000, which is the amount of money Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid to acquire the newspaper. There's a political dimension to all of this: Bezos is seen as a critic of President Trump, and Trump supporters view The Post as part of the anti-Trump establishment. The suit even accuses the paper of advancing an "easily documented, biased agenda" against the president.

Politics aside, the complaint makes a compelling case that The Post got the Covington story really, really wrong. Bezos's paper is not alone in this regard: Virtually the entire media—mainstream, left, and right—initially smeared the Covington kids as racists based on a short, misleading video clip of the incident. When additional video footage became available, we learned that far from being perpetrators of racial harassment, the high schoolers were on the receiving end of a torrent of verbal abuse from the Black Hebrew Israelites, a black nationalist cult group. In deciding to approach the boys, Phillips had intervened on the wrong side of this conflict. And while a few kids made insensitive tomahawk gestures, most simply continued the energetic pep rally cheer they had been doing even before Phillips arrived. Importantly, the kids did not consciously surround the man; he approached them. Sandmann has claimed his so-called "smirk" was actually a smile intended to defuse the situation—a claim supported by the extended video, which shows Sandmann quietly signaling to a classmate that engaging the Native American activists in argument was a bad idea.

Many media outlets revised their coverage in the wake of these new revelations, and many pundits apologized for the rush to judgment. Frustratingly, others have doubled down, and some have remained doggedly insistent that "we're never going to know exactly what happened that day," even though it's abundantly clear already.

So Sandmann's attorneys are clearly correct that the initial coverage of the incident was biased and inaccurate. But was it libel? I'm not persuaded.

Let's take a look at one The Post's early Sandmann articles, titled "'It was getting ugly': Native American drummer speaks on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens." The article is a completely one-sided look at what happened. It relies almost entirely on Nathan Phillips' account, quoting him and another Native American activist at length. These biased and misleading sources give readers the false impression that the Covington boys were aggressive, threatening, and intimidating. But note that it is not The Post itself asserting these claims; the paper is quoting sources.

Can a media outlet be held liable for quoting false information that it believed was true? In fact, yes. Recall that Rolling Stone lost a series of libel lawsuits relating to the University of Virginia rape hoax article even though author Sabrina Rubin Erdely's false assertions were supplied by her erroneous source, "Jackie." The court held that plaintiff Nicole Eramo, a dean at the university, should be considered a public figure, which meant that she had to prove not just negligence but actual malice on Rolling Stone's part, and she cleared even this higher bar. Assuming that Sandmann is considered a private figure, he will have an easier time.

But here's the problem: Phillips' statements, as quoted in The Post, are mostly of the opinion variety, and statements of opinion cannot be deemed libelous. They are not statements of fact. Again, compare to Rolling Stone. Erdely's article quoted Jackie as stating that Eramo and others said specific things that made light of Jackie's situation. These were false claims; Eramo et al never said any such things. Phillips, on the other hand, does not claim that Sandmann said something he did not say. He does claim to have heard "build the wall," but he attributes this comment to the crowd, not to Sandmann specifically. Any characterization of Sandmann as having smirked will fall into the opinion category—whether a facial expression is a smile or a smirk is obviously subjective.

There is one statement that does look like a potential assertion of fact rather than opinion. From The Post:

"It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: 'I've got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,' " Phillips recalled. "I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn't allow me to retreat."

This strikes me as potential grounds for a libel claim. It may indeed be considered a statement of fact rather than opinion, and one that was incorrect. The false assertion certainly portrays Sandmann in a negative light, and The Post made little effort to corroborate it before the author went ahead and subjected a previously unknown teenage boy to all the negative publicity that comes with being the subject of hit piece in a major media outlet. But this is far from open and shut, as the media's failures in the Covington case, while substantial, are more open to interpretation than Rolling Stone's failures in the Virginia story.

Of course, there's a broader philosophical problem with trying to resolve the Covington debacle via lawsuit, even if Sandmann may have a case (albeit an extremely narrow one): It raises serious free speech concerns, and it could have significant repercussions for the media.

Some conservatives are probably pleased about such a possibility. They'd prefer it if the media were more reticent to publish unconfirmed, negative articles about the president and his supporters for fear of drawing lawsuits. (That's very clearly what Trump himself wants.) But a media environment where people could easily sue writers for getting things wrong would be a nightmare for anyone—including conservative writers and media personalities—who would like to hold a powerful person or entity accountable.

"The idea of routinely suing media companies is horrifying and could end up doing much more harm than good," wrote the conservative journalist Mark Hemingway in a terrific Federalist article about the history of libel law and the media. "I want free speech to be as robust and unfettered as possible, and I would rather live in a country where the media is too aggressive toward the powerful, rather than not enough. Even if the Covington case goes to trial and ends up deservedly holding the media to account for turning an innocent teenager into a national object of hatred, I worry such an outcome could set an alarming precedent."

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Bill Weld: The Next Gene McCarthy or the Next Pete McCloskey?

Richard Nixon faced a primary challenger in 1972...and he squashed him like a bug.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsSince announcing a possible GOP presidential primary run last Friday, Bill Weld has been making the national media rounds: ABC's This Week ("I think the Republicans in Washington want to have no election, basically"), CNN's New Day ("I'm trying to get us back in the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln rather than the Know-Nothing, anti-Catholic zealots of the 1850s"), MSNBC's Morning Joe ("Look back to to 2016: The unthinkable became the inevitable twice"), Bloomberg TV, and so on.

In most public appearances, the former Massachusetts governor and 2016 Libertarian vice-presidential nominee has referenced his "favorite stat," which is that "the last nine times a first-term president has sought reelection, the four who had a primary challenge lost, while the five who didn't have a primary fight won another four-year term."

Given Weld's bedrock antipathy to President Donald Trump—"I'm not going to be backing him in 2020, no matter what," he told WMUR—it would seem the best model for his improbable run would be the 1968 anti-war candidacy of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, whose shocking 42 percent second-place finish against President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire prompted Bobby Kennedy to get in the race four days later, and LBJ to drop out of the race two weeks after that. Weld has expressed a come-on-in, the-water's-warm attitude toward possible primary competitors John Kasich and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and has stressed, as he put it to ABC, that "it is part of my thinking to make sure [Trump] doesn't repeat, because "we don't have six more years of the antics, frankly."

But there is another historical comp that haunts Weld's possible bid. As Brian Jencunas put it in Commonwealth magazine, "The question isn't whether he wins in New Hampshire, but whether he loses like Eugene McCarthy or Pete McCloskey."

Pete who? Yes, that's kind of the point.

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Louisiana Mom Arrested Under 'Notoriety' Law for Posting Video of a School Fight

But what she did wasn't actually illegal.

Scott Police Department/FacebookScott Police Department/FacebookA Louisiana mom was arrested this week for posting a video of a fight at her son's high school online. But she doesn't appear to have actually broken the law.

Police in Scott, Louisiana, arrested 32-year-old Maegan Adkins-Barras following a fight between two students at Acadiana High School. Adkins-Barras "admitted that once she received the video from her son, she then posted the video to social media where it was shared repeatedly," the Scott Police Department wrote on Facebook. (The two students involved in the fight have been charged as well, one with second-degree battery and the other disturbing the peace.)

Was the mom's decision to post the video in poor taste? Possibly. Was it a crime? Police seem to think so. "Parents who receive information concerning criminal activity on school campuses are urged to contact their local police department or school administration," the department's Facebook post read. "Posting videos and photos of illegal activity on social media is against the law in the State of Louisiana."

But that's not what the law says. The statute that police say Adkins-Barras violated makes it "unlawful for a person who is either a principal or accessory to a crime to obtain an image of the commission of the crime using any camera, videotape, photo-optical, photo-electric, or any other image recording device and to transfer that image obtained during the commission of the crime by the use" of any sort of electronic device. The cops seem to have missed the phrase "a person who is either a principal or accessory to a crime."

To make the charge stick, the authorities will have to "establish that she was a principal or accessory to the fight, and that means they're going to have to establish that she was there and somehow started or encouraged the fight," criminal defense attorney Franz Borghardt tells The Acadania Advocate. Not only that, but they'll have to prove that Adkins-Barras posted the video in an effort to gain notoriety or publicity.

Scott Police Chief Chad Leger tells the Lafayette Daily Advertiser that parents should use their common sense. That may be true, but lacking common sense is not a crime.

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Tulsi Gabbard Pushes Back Against Meghan McCain's 'Assad Apologist' Accusation: Reason Roundup

Plus: Will Wilkinson on "abolishing billionaires," and what's really going on with YouTube?

BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters/NewscomBRIAN SNYDER/Reuters/Newscom"Covert regime-change war" hasn't made Syrian lives better, says Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii Democrat and 2020 presidential contender has taken a lot of flack for sometimes deviating from Washington's warmongering establishment consensus. On Wednesday, Gabbard came under attack on ABC's The View, with host Meghan McCain calling her an "Assad apologist."

"When I hear the name Tulsi Gabbard, I think of Assad apologist, I think of someone who comes back to the United States and is spouting propaganda from Syria," said McCain. "You have said that the Syrian president Assad is not the enemy of the United States....It's hard for me to understand where you come from a humanitarian standpoint if you were to become president."

It's not surprising that McCain, daughter of a senator who seldom saw a country he didn't think could be improved by U.S. bombs, can't understand the impulse not to police the world. But Gabbard pushed back admirably at the contention that trying to disentangle the U.S. from Syria was somehow tantamount to supporting Bashar al-Assad.

"An enemy of the United States is someone who threatens our safety and our security," said Gabbard:

There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a brutal dictator. There's no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people. There are other terrorist groups in Syria who have used similar chemical weapons and other weapons of terror against the people of Syria. This is an unfortunate thing that wrenches at every one of our hearts. This is not something that I'm disputing, nor am I apologizing or defending these actions.

My point is that the reality we are facing here is that since the United States started waging a covert regime-change war in Syria starting in 2011, the lives of the Syrian people have not been improved.

FREE MINDS

"We took immediate action," says YouTube. A lot of headlines and angry tweets have been mentioning a YouTube "child exploitation controversy." The Verge describes it as YouTube failing to curb "predatory behavior on content featuring young children." Holy shit.

But the situation isn't quite as horrific (or negligent on YouTube's part) as that makes it seem. The video content in question isn't itself obscene—it's just regular vidoes of children doing regular things. The problem is people in the comments talking about these children in a sexualized way.

That's still disgusting behavior, and YouTube may be falling behind in moderating it. But it's also—thank goodness!—a far cry from some of the worst readings of the situation.

YouTube tells The Verge: "Any content—including comments—that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling violative comments. There's more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly."

New York TimesNew York TimesFREE MARKETS

Billionaires per se aren't the problem, argues Will Wilkinson in The New York Times today, responding to a leftist meme that's been gaining ground. "Egalitarian Sweden, an object of ardent progressive adoration, has more billionaires per capita than the United States," he points out. The same applies in other more social democratic countries, too.

"So what's the problem?" asks Wilkinson.

Preventing billion-dollar hoards guards against the bad consequences of...having the best sort of polity that has ever existed? The progressive idea here is usually that people with vastly more wealth than the common run of citizens wield vastly disproportionate political power and therefore imperil democracy and the equal worth of our basic rights. It's a worry we've got to take seriously, but it's based more in abstract theorizing than empirical analysis. Inspect any credible international ranking of countries by democratic quality, equal treatment under the law or level of personal freedom. You'll find the same passel of billionaire-tolerant states again and again. If there are billionaires in all the places where people flourish best, why think getting rid of them will make things go better?

Read the whole thing here.

QUICK HITS

  • "A quarter of Latinos in the U.S. say there are too many immigrants living in the country, while about half (48%) say there are the right amount and 14% say there are too few," the Pew Research Center found in a recent survey.
  • Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been arrested for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.
  • "Federal agents searched the Maryland home of the U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant accused of plotting to kill politicians and journalists in a quest for a 'white homeland,'" reports The Washington Post. The lieutenant has been arrested.
  • "Why would anyone buy legal marijuana when the state is planning to place a $42-an-ounce tax on the stuff?" asks John Crudele at the New York Post, in response to a proposal from New Jersey lawmakers.
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Trump’s Tariffs May Classify Imported Cars as National Security Risks: New at Reason

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comIf you drive an imported car, writes Veronique de Rugy, your vehicle may soon be declared a national security risk by the Department of Commerce. If you drive an American-assembled car, your car may also pose a threat to U.S. national security because it inevitably contains some foreign parts—which Commerce could include in its list of threats to national security. If President Donald Trump acts on this finding, it'll be bad news for automakers and even worse news for consumers. Indeed, it will make producing and purchasing every single new automobile in America more expensive.

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New at Reason: Bernie Already Took Over the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders's home state of Vermont passed single-payer healthcare, only to scrap it when the price tag became clearer. Maryland enacted a "millionaires tax" more than a decade ago only to discover that rich people can afford to move. And Californians can testify about the gaps between progressive dreams and on-the-ground costs when it comes to the Green New Deal vision of high-speed rail. It's possible that these are just growing pains for the revolutionary wing of the Democrat Party. Maybe there are solid national majorities that will back the kind of economic policies popular in Los Angeles, Seattle and New York.

But, argues Matt Welch, there's an alternative theory worth considering.

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Brickbat: That's Some Mighty Fine Police Work, Boys

Police and kidKelly Boreson Charland / Dreamstime.comA Chicago Police Department inspector general recommended possible dismissal for a commander found to have ordered on-duty officers to pick up his special-needs son from school and babysit him. But Superintendent Eddie Johnson gave him a seven-day suspension instead. Anthony Escamilla told investigators his son was actually working as a volunteer in the police department as part of a "secret study."

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Chicago Police Now Consider Jussie Smollett a Suspect

CPD: "Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation."

SmollettPictureGroup/Sipa USA/NewscomIt's official: Jussie Smollett is no longer considered a victim, but rather, a suspect.

Authorities now believe the Empire actor filed a false police report when he claimed that two men attacked him and shouted "MAGA country" while he was out for a late-night walk.

"Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony)," said police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi in a tweet.

This statement confirms earlier news reports that two men questioned about the attack—brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were extras on Smollett's show and knew him personally—were purportedly hired by Smollett to carry out the hoax attack.

Police detectives are currently presenting their evidence against Smollett to a grand jury, according to ABC News.

Update: Jussie Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct.

Earlier this week, I appeared on Fox News to discuss the case, and explain why the common perception that hate crimes are increasing is wrong. Watch below.

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HBO's "The O.G. Experience" Turns Prison Art into a Political Statement

Pop-up art exhibition in New York focuses attention on the need for criminal justice reform.

HBOHBOOn Saturday, February 23 HBO will premiere O.G., a movie directed by Madeleine Sackler, whose credits include the school-choice documentary The Lottery, and starring Jeffrey Wright, whose memorable roles have included Bernard Lowe on Westworld and Dr. Valentin Narcisse on Boardwalk Empire. O.G. is a prison drama that tells the story of a gang leader about to be released after serving 24 years whose life gets complicated when a new convict shows up. You can read more about it and watch a preview here.

Last night, HBO debuted a pop-up exhibition at a New York gallery featuring original art, video, and performance pieces created by former inmates. "The O.G. Experience" is powerful stuff and a reminder that movements for social change and policy reform are most effective when they combine all sorts of activity, from legislative work to cultural artifacts. The makers of the film and the curators of the exhibit are explicitly interested in calling for criminal justice reform and ending the drug war. Their exhibit helps to humanize inmates, convey the experience of prison, and show possibilities for redemption. Here's an excerpt from the statement of the show's curators, Jesse Krimes and Daveen Trentman:

The imprisoned population increased 500 percent over the past four decades, reflected by the 2.3 million people behind bars, 4.6 million more under supervision, and one in three Americans living with a criminal record. Despite our collective proximity to people directly impacted by the criminal justice system, however, there is a notable absence in the contemporary art world of artists who have a firsthand experience of incarceration.

OG Experience seeks to correct for that omission by featuring a national cohort of seventeen formerly incarcerated artists from various disciplines. The featured works—more than thirty, in total—lend themselves to a broad, multifaceted response to mass incarceration, using video, sculpture, painting, photography, commissioned installations, poetry readings, and performances. At its core, the exhibition expands the possibilities of how art might respond to a lived experience of confinement and helps reaffirm a larger truth: vast and rich human potential, artistic or otherwise, is wasted when 2.3 million people are behind bars.

Some of the artists on display were exonerated and others were guilty of their crimes, but the overall impact of the gallery show, which runs through February 25, is to focus the viewer's attention and create empathy, if not necessarily forgiveness, for criminal activity. It was also moving to talk with some of the artists, most of whom started doing art to kill time while on the inside. The boredom as much as anything else, a number of them told me, was excruciating, and they would do anything to alleviate it. Back in the 1990s, I lived in Huntsville, Texas, for a couple of years. That's where the death chamber in Texas is located and where the state's Department of Corrections is headquartered. There was an absolutely chilling prison museum there and the thing that got to me most were the jerry-rigged syringes inmates created to shoot themselves up with drugs. How desperate must you be to do that, but also how creative? The paintings, carvings, video installations, and more I saw last night reminded me of those improvised drug works, but also transcended the desperation to something much more inspirational.

Here are a few images I took at last night's opening and posted to Instagram (follow me) and Facebook (follow me).

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@r.craig.t1 in front of his work, Eval, at #OGHBO. Made with animal blood, depicts people killed by police. Incredibly powerful.

A post shared by Nick Gillespie (@gillespienick) on Feb 19, 2019 at 3:38pm PST

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@madeleinefilm, director of #OGHBO, standing in front of a massive art work called Apokaluptein:16389067, by Jesse Krimes, made on prison-issued bedsheets with color pencils, newspaper transfers, and more.

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Part of#OGHBO #STUDIO525 exhibition of art created by current/former prisoners. The Leavenworth Project: Memorial Trays, by Daniel McCarthy Clifford, commemorates 24 prisoners, including James Peterson, a Republican candidate for governor who was arrested in 1918 for making anti-war speeches while campaigning in Minnesota.

A post shared by Nick Gillespie (@gillespienick) on Feb 19, 2019 at 2:57pm PST

In 2010, I interviewed O.G.'s director about her documentary about New York's public-school lottery. Watch below.

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Feds Cut Off Funding for California Bullet Train, Threaten Potential Clawback of $2.5 Billion

Without a realistic avenue to complete the project, why would they keep helping pay?

Train constructionGary Reyes/TNS/NewscomNow that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has acknowledged the truth—that the state's proposed high-speed train plan doesn't have a realistic future beyond the first stage—the feds (and a gloating President Donald Trump) are swooping in to try to get their money back.

Yesterday the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent a letter to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) informing the state agency that the FRA plans to cancel more than $900 million in federal funds set aside to assist in the construction of the Central Valley portion of the route.

This is only part of the $2.5 billion the state has already received from the feds in order to launch the $77 billion-plus boondoggle. The three-page letter sent by the FRA documents that California has not met the terms of the agreement for the grants. California has not contributed adequate state funds, and is now demonstrating that it's not going to complete the project on time. The letter notes that more than 40 status reports submitted to the FRA thus far were either late or lacked necessary details, making it difficult for the FRA to fulfill its oversight role.

Furthermore, the letter notes Newsom's recent state of the state address, during which he announced that he was scaling back the scope of the bullet train. The initial plan called for building a bullet train that traveled between San Francisco and Los Angeles (through the Central Valley) in less than three hours. But funding became a problem, and Newsom acknowledged that it was unlikely to ever be finished, as it's already years behind schedule and billions over budget. Instead, he declared that they'd build the first Central Valley link and then research and work out other ways to connect that portion of the train heading north and south.

The FRA is extending an opportunity for CHSRA to make a case that it's appropriately advancing the project and meeting its goals, and that Newsom's announcement isn't a fundamental change in what the FRA agreed to support. But it also warns that the FRA may terminate the cooperation agreement entirely and attempt to claw back the money it has already sent.

If the FRA goes that route, it could jeopardize finishing even the first leg, unless California makes up the difference. Newsom has responded that this move is political payback for Trump's regular tangles with California; in particular, the Golden State joining others in challenging Trump's "national emergency" to get the border wall funded. From the Los Angeles Times:

"It's no coincidence that the Administration's threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the President's farcical 'national emergency,'" Newsom said in a statement, referring to Trump's emergency declaration to secure funding for his wall on the Mexican border. "The President even tied the two issues together in a tweet this morning. This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by. This is California's money, and we are going to fight for it."

Despite the fact that Trump had previously declared support for high-speed rail (because countries like China have it), he mocked the California bullet train on Twitter and pointed out he's asking for far less for his border wall. This morning he declared he wants the money back:

He's not wrong at all. Not only is the project not what was presented to the FRA, it's not what was presented to the voters when they first approved the project back in 2008.

California will now have a half-built train in a non-urban part of the state that is already served by passenger rail. Over at the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this blog), Baruch Feigenbaum and Marc Joffe note the absurdity of what we're left with:

The operating segment that Gov. Newsom says is going to continue would connect Bakersfield, Hanford, Fresno, Madera and Merced — covering a total distance of about 165 miles in the Central Valley. Realistically, no fiscally prudent government entity or private developer would plan a high-speed rail line to serve such a short, low-density, low-population corridor.

The region is already served by Amtrak's San Joaquins train, which has seven daily departures. The existing Amtrak service is relatively slow, at just over three hours, so a new train could provide faster connections between these cities. But the benefits will be limited. Although high-speed rail has a theoretical maximum speed of 220 miles per hour, average speeds are much slower given time spent in stations, accelerating and decelerating. End to end travel time for Central Valley High-Speed Rail could be in the range of 90 minutes.

Cities at the northern end of the operating segment have relatively low populations, so the most common trip along the route will be between Fresno and Bakersfield, covering a distance of about 110 miles. The current two-hour trip between these cities would likely be reduced to about one hour.

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Elizabeth Warren's Fake Wonkery

All too often, the Massachusetts senator and 2020 hopeful gets key details wrong.

Ronen Tivony/Sipa USA/NewscomRonen Tivony/Sipa USA/NewscomAlthough the 2020 Democratic primary race is barely more than a month old, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has already worked to define her role: She is running as a policy wonk.

Warren laid the groundwork for her campaign with detailed proposals to tax wealthy individuals and impose significant new regulations on large corporations. Yesterday, CNN published a profile of Warren describing her as a "wonky professor." Warren herself has embraced this perception, saying last month that her strategy to win over Democratic primary voters would be to "nerd out." As The New York Times reported last month, "Ms. Warren's passion for policy minutiae has become her way of standing out in an increasingly crowded Democratic field." At the moment, this is the central message of her campaign: She cares about the details, and she will get them right.

Warren's penchant for wonkery, however, has been vastly overstated. Although she is probably more familiar with the mechanics of economic policy that many of her 2020 rivals, she is also prone to relying on dubious, and arguably dishonest, methodology in order to support the progressive policies she favors.

Just yesterday, for example, Warren released a proposal calling for a vast new program to federally fund child care. The program would make childcare free for families earning up to about $50,000 a year and would subsidize care for families earning more. The program would be expensive; Warren puts the cost at about $700 billion over the course of a decade. She says would pay for the program using revenues from her wealth tax, pointing to estimates from UC Berkeley economists that the tax would raise $2.75 trillion over the same time—more than enough to offset the cost of the program.

There are reasons to suspect that a wealth tax wouldn't raise nearly as much revenue as Warren estimates, which is why a majority of the OECD countries that have tried such taxes have done away with them.

But there is a much bigger problem with Warren's figures: As The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein wrote yesterday, she's using estimates that rely on two different sets of opposing assumptions. Warren's cost estimate relies on dynamic scoring, which builds growth effects into the model. Basically, it assumes that widely subsidizing child care would boost the economy by allowing more people to work, either in an enlarged child care sector or in other types of jobs. That assumption is built into the cost estimate, giving it credit for any economic benefits it might provide.

The revenue estimate for Warren's wealth tax, however, relies on what's known as a static analysis—it counts no growth effects into its assumptions, presumably because a wealth tax, by taxing the sort of people who are likely to make large, economy-building investments, would have a negative impact on growth. In other words, it ignores any negative impacts. As Klein writes, "Warren is relying on two different methods of analysis, one of which makes her spending seem less costly, and one of which makes her tax plan seem like it would raise more money." Either this is a deliberate attempt to mislead, or it is an oversight that just so happens to be extremely convenient.

These are admittedly wonky details. But that's what Warren says she's focused on, and she is not getting them right. Nor is this the first time that she has launched major policy initiatives based on dubious evidence.

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More Americans Have High-Speed Internet Access Than Ever

Preliminary FCC report claims the number of Americans with high-speed connections grew by 20 percent in 2017.

FCCFCCFor all the drama over the repeal of Net Neutrality and continuing fears about a "digital divide" between online haves and have-nots, the number of Americans with high-speed access to the Internet continues to grow, says a preliminary report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The report covers development in 2017, the latest year for which data are available. From an FCC press release:

The number of Americans lacking access to a fixed broadband connection meeting the FCC's
benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped by over 25%, from 26.1 million Americans
at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017. Moreover, the majority of those gaining
access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America, where
broadband deployment has traditionally lagged.

The private sector has responded to FCC reforms by deploying fiber to 5.9 million new homes
in 2018, the largest number ever recorded. And overall, capital expenditures by broadband
providers increased in 2017, reversing declines that occurred in both 2015 and 2016.

Other key findings of the report include the following, based on data through the end of 2017:

  • The number of Americans with access to 100 Mbps/10Mpbs fixed broadband
    increased by nearly 20%, from 244.3 million to 290.9 million.
  • The number of Americans with access to 250 Mbps/50 Mbps fixed broadband grew by
    over 45%, to 205.2 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such
    service more than doubled.

"For the past two years, closing the digital divide has been the FCC's top priority...We've been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in the press release, which is available as a download here.

This is a preliminary report, which is being circulated among FCC commissioners, who will vote to approve or reject its finding. There are five FCC commissioners, with three seats going to Republicans and two to Democrats (whichever party runs the White House gets the majority). The vote is expected to go along party lines and one commissioner has already publicly dissented, saying that the rural buildout is too slow and justifies more-intrusive regulation. According to a source at the FCC, the full report could be released in a "few days or week."

It's not clear what level of progress Rosenworcel would count as "reasonable and timely." But it's equally clear that, contrary to critics, more and more people get faster connections every year.

In April 2017, I interviewed Pai about his rejection of Net Neutrality rules (which he called "a solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist" and which were officially repealed in 2018) and his vision for telecommunications.

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