Free Minds & Free Markets

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E.U. Hits Google With $5 Billion Ginned-Up Protectionist Fines: New at Reason

5 of the 6 largest European antitrust decisions have been slapped on U.S. tech companies

Julie Bly/Dreamstime.comJulie Bly/Dreamstime.comThe European Union's antitrust bureaucracy today levied a $5 billion fine on Google, a new European record.

In a statement, the European Commission alleged that Google violated the law in three ways: unlawfully tying its search and browser apps to the Android operating system, paying manufacturers to pre-install Google Search on devices, and making it difficult for device manufacturers to sell "forked" versions of Android, such as versions running Amazon's Fire OS.

It's a restatement of the Commission's preliminary conclusions from 2016, meaning Google's arguments over the last two years have proven entirely unsuccessful, writes Declan McCullagh.

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The Latest Target of the Trump Administration's Anti-Immigration Jihad: Naturalized Americans

It has revived a dead program and created a task force to review citizenship applications

The Trump administration's unquenchable thirst to slam immigrants—unauthorized but also, as I wrote recently, authorizedAmerican Flagdanita delimont photographynewscomhas now taken an even more ominous turn. It is training its sights on a group largely considered sacrosanct: naturalized citizens.

It is reviving a post-9/11 counter-terrorism program called Operation Janus that was disbanded in 2016. The program's purpose was to stop terrorists from slipping through the cracks in the naturalization process. But the Trump administration is using it to denaturalize citizens who've been living in the United States for decades, are married to American citizens, and have no criminal history.

Last September, the administration filed three complaints in federal courts to denaturalize three men who it alleged had obtained naturalization through "fraud." All three were South Asians—two from Pakistan and one from India. They had come to the United States without proper papers, were ordered deported but obtained citizenship under different names after marrying American citizens. The rap against all of them is that they did not reveal their other names on their citizenship application or that they had been ordered deported.

The administration apparently doesn't care that none of this would have necessarily nullified their citizenship petition. A deported person can still obtain citizenship if an American citizen marries him or her, as was the case in all these three instances. And the Supreme Court last year unanimously ruled in Maslenjak vs. United States that merely withholding information (such as past names) or even lying is not sufficient grounds to denaturalize someone. The falsehood has to be material to the citizenship application. (Maslenjak involved a Bosnian-Serbian woman who obtained citizenship after lying to immigration authorities about her husband's role in assisting the Serbian army's 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.) Anything less, it noted, would open "the door to a world of disquieting consequences," in which a lie "would always provide a basis for rescinding citizenship," even if the lie merely resulted from "embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy."

For example, notes The New Yorker's Masha Green, when he applied for his citizenship in 1989, immigration law banned "aliens afflicted with sexual deviation," or those suffering from "psychopathic personality," from entry to the United States. And when he came to this country as a gay fourteen-year-old in 1981, he was aware of his "sexual deviation." Technically that meant that he should not have entered. But he did and he decided to append a letter to his citizenship application, informing the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had done so. He still got his citizenship. But many others in his situation might have chosen not to fess up because their families didn't know or they were ashamed or because that might indeed jeopardize their application even though it shouldn't.

Still, one court has acquiesced to the Trump administration's request to strip the citizenship of the man from India, Baljinder Singh. Singh is a Sikh who came to the United States in 1991 under the name of Davinder Singh a few years after India's ruling regime presided over a Sikh pogrom. He was ordered deported after he failed to show up for an immigration hearing. However, he subsequently filed for asylum but abandoned his application when he married an American woman who sponsored him and put him on the path to citizenship.

The court, at the administration's behest, has downgraded his status to that of a permanent resident, which means that if he does not appeal or loses his appeal he would be subject to deportation. The other two cases are still pending.

What's particularly troubling about Singh's case is that although the administration claims that it is targeting naturalized citizens with past criminal records, it didn't outline any such record on his part.

More chillingly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna claims that under the revived Operation Janus, he has cued up 1,600 cases like Singh's for prosecution.

Operation Janus was conceived after a Customs and Border Protection employee in 2008 identified 206 people who had received final deportation orders but went on to obtain citizenship under different names. A subsequent 2014 Inspector General report flagged about a thousand more such cases. But because the odds that terrorists were lurking among them were so low, the Department of Homeland Security basically decided to deploy other counter-terrorism strategies. The program was disbanded in 2016.

But the Trump administration revived it within months of assuming office. It has created a task force in the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and is furiously hiring lawyers, the Washington Examiner recently reported. The administration claims that apart from the 1,600 cases like Singh's it is pursuing legally, there are 315,000 more cases of suspect citizenship approval that it wants to investigate. These cases stem not from any evidence of malfeasance on the part of the applicants. Rather, they've been flagged because the DHS is missing their fingerprints. Why? Because the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service failed to digitize all its records.

Stripping people of citizenship is an awesome—and potentially—dangerous exercise of government power. Therefore, it is only right that the Supreme Court has set a rather high bar. Hence it is unclear how many people the administration will eventually succeed in denaturalizing. But what is clear is that it will use a lot of taxpayer resources to sow terror in yet another non-native group without any security upside for anyone. Indeed, since 1990 only seven denaturalization suits on average have been filed per year because it takes too much time and effort put together a credible case.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is the brains behind the effort, is an anti-immigration zealot who doesn't care about any of this because he doesn't consider naturalized Americans to be real Americans, notes Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. The wait times for obtaining citizenship have doubled in the last few years. But far from tackling that problem, the administration wants to double down on harassing those already here.

Notes Kesselbrenner to Rewire.News:

The Trump administration is so concerned with enforcement in immigrant communities, they've chosen to prioritize this operation in ways another administration wouldn't. It's one thing to target these people and convict them for hiding serious criminal backgrounds. It's an entirely different thing to go after people who've been citizens a long time because they were dishonest for reasons we don't even know...It's vindictive...and it's totally unreasonable.

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The Framers Did Not Know From 3D-Printed Guns. So How Can They Be Covered by the Second Amendment?

A former congressman suggests that homemade plastic guns can be banned because they did not exist in 1791.

WikipediaWikipediaSteve Israel, who tried to restrict 3D-printed guns when he was a congressman, is not happy that the Justice Department has abandoned efforts to censor the software required to produce such weapons. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Israel urges his former colleagues to pass legislation aimed at putting this genie back in the bottle. Specifically, the New York Democrat wants Congress to require that "printable weapons have components necessary for their operation that make them detectable." He addresses possible constitutional objections with this closing non sequitur: "After all, the people who used quills to write the Second Amendment couldn't comprehend that one day guns would be produced by 3-D printers."

The Framers probably did not anticipate stun guns or semi-automatic pistols either, but that does not mean the Second Amendment has no bearing on the constitutionality of attempts to ban or restrict them. "Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search," the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding." The Court reiterated that point in 2016, rejecting the premise that a state ban on stun guns raised no Second Amendment issues because Tasers did not exist in 1791.

Israel also mentions the "constitutional free-speech right to share computer codes" asserted by Defense Distributed, the company whose software the DOJ recently agreed to allow online without the threat of criminal charges. But he offers no response to that claim. Presumably he would point out that the people who used quills to write the First Amendment couldn't comprehend that one day a network of computers would make it possible to communicate electronically with people around the world, let alone that the exchanges might include instructions for making stuff at home with widely available equipment.

By Israel's logic, Americans have a right to own flintlock rifles, to circulate literature printed on hand presses, and to prevent the government from rummaging through their diaries and personal papers for no good reason. But the Second Amendment does not cover plastic guns made on 3D printers, the First Amendment does not protect speech on the internet, and the Fourth Amendment has nothing to say about the security of information stored on computers, because the Framers knew nothing of such things.

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San Francisco Ballot Initiative Would Tax Ridesharing Companies, Internet Sales, and Robot Cars

City Supervisor Aaron Peskin is on a quest to tax everything good about the 21st century.

Julie Bly/Dreamstime.comJulie Bly/Dreamstime.comDoes San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin want to tax everything good about the 21st century? He's pushing a plan to levy new fees on ridesharing companies, internet sales, and driverless cars.

Peskin's ignoble effort began with a desire to squeeze the San Francisco–headquartered companies Uber and Lyft for more tax revenue. The companies currently pay San Francisco's gross recipients tax—as does most every business in the city—but California law forbids cities from imposing per-trip fees on ridesharing businesses, forcing Peskin to get creative.

In April he introduced legislation that created a whole new, higher-taxed category of San Francisco's existing gross receipts tax for "transportation network company services." It would apply almost exclusively to Uber and Lyft. In late May, city staff projected that the law would raise roughly $32 million a year.

Fearful that this might not pass legal muster, Peskin amended his legislation in June to also include "autonomous vehicle passenger services"—hitting driverless car companies such a Google's Waymo—and other private transit vehicle services.

The Supreme Court then ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that states and localities could in fact tax the internet sales of businesses that had no physical presence in their jurisdiction. So Peskin expanded his legislation again to incorporate any e-commerce businesses that make over $500,000 in sales in the city.

Peskin currently plans to put his proposal on the local November ballot, where it would need to earn only a bare majority to pass. Four supervisors need to approve Peskin's proposal before August 3 for it to qualify for the November ballot.

Despite the huge amounts of revenue this tax will generate—particularly after the inclusion of internet sales—its specific purpose isn't entirely clear. The revenue it collects will go straight to the city's general fund, from which it can be spent without restriction.

Peskin himself suggests that the taxes could pay, basically, for all good things. "It could go toward police enforcement. It could go to street resurfacing. It could go to traffic calming and pedestrian safety that we call Vision Zero. It could go to a whole host of things," he told local CBS affiliate KPIX earlier this year.

The actual text of his legislation argues that the city must raise taxes to "maintain a high quality of life and continued economic growth."

With the addition of e-commerce companies to the levy, protectionism has become a justification as well. Peskin legislative aide Sunny Angulo said at a Budget Committee hearing that "these e-commerce, internet businesses have had such a profound impact on our local small businesses, our brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop businesses in San Francisco." Taxing them would help level the playing field, she suggested.

Observers could be forgiven for calling the proposal a cash grab. And if that is indeed what Peskin's taxes are, then he has chosen a great means for getting the job done, says Nicole Kaeding of the Tax Foundation.

"For all their flaws, gross receipts taxes...produce a great deal of revenue because their base is much bigger than it would be under a sales tax and it also produces a very stable form of government revenue," says Kaeding.

The downside is that gross receipts taxes are blunt instruments that raise costs on all aspects of a company's business.

"That tax is going to get captured somewhere. It's either going to be through increased prices to consumers or to their labor force," says Kaeding. Uber or Lyft might choose to "not hire as many people, or not expand as fast in the city, or reduce hours or wages or benefits."

Ride share companies themselves have argued much the same thing.

"This is a lose-lose proposition for the people of San Francisco, directly costing residents millions of dollars while stifling economic opportunity for thousands of drivers. Living and working in San Francisco is expensive enough already, and this new ridesharing tax will only make it worse," said a Lyft spokesperson in a statement.

A principle of good government is that you should only ask voters for more money when you have a specific and pressing public need for it. Peskin's proposal instead operates on the principle that the money flowing to cutting-edge e-commerce businesses, ride-sharing services, and goddamn robot cars would be better spent by bureaucrats.

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In Defense of Mark Zuckerberg Letting Holocaust Deniers Use Facebook

Silencing hate isn't the same thing as squelching it.

ZuckerbergLEWIS JOLY/VIVA TECHNOLOG/SIPA/NewscomFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is drawing criticism on social media for defending his company's policy of letting cranks operate on the platform. This policy strikes me as perfectly reasonable, even if Zuckerberg tripped over his words a bit when he articulated it.

The remarks came during an interview with Recode:

Zuckerberg: I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, "Hey, no, you're a liar"—that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let's take this whole closer to home...

I'm Jewish, and there's a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong, but I think—

[Interviewer interjects:] In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It's hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I'm sure you do. I'm sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don't think that it is the right thing to say, "We're going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times."

What we will do is we'll say, "Okay, you have your page, and if you're not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive." But that doesn't mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.

Of course many leading Holocaust deniers are intentionally getting it wrong. They do this because they are anti-Semites, and denying the Holocaust is part of a strategy of making Jewish people less sympathetic and delegitimizing Jewish identity. Others do it because its profitable for them. Infowars, cited as an example of fake news during the Recode interview, might be an example of willful disinformation meant to sell weird stuff. But there are indeed people who naively share Holocaust denial–related content on Facebook without being in on the scam, just as there are gullible people who fall for every other kind of hoax—vaccines causing autism, 9/11 being an inside job, NASA faking the moon landing, etc. Zuckerberg is correct that it's not always easy to differentiate hucksters from kooks.

In any case, the CEO of Facebook gets to set whatever policies regarding content-sharing on his platform that he likes. As Zuckerberg made clear in the interview, his policy takes its cues from the First Amendment. Facebook users may not advocate violence or plan criminal activities, but merely expressing incorrect opinions is permissible. If Facebook were a public square on public property, it would be obliged to maintain precisely this same approach. (This is actually a good argument for not turning Facebook into some kind of truly public utility, even if you don't like its fake news policy. A government-run Facebook would be bound by the First Amendment to maintain speech policies that are at least as permissive as its current ones.)

In our modern political discourse, Facebook plays a role very much akin to the public square: a massive one, involving the entire world. The arguments for letting nearly all voices—even deeply evil ones, provided they do not organize direct violence or harassment—be heard on this platform are the same arguments for not taking the European route on hate speech: Policing hate on a very large scale is quite difficult given the frequently subjective nature of offense; we risk de-platforming legitimate viewpoints that are unpopular but deserve to be heard; and ultimately, silencing hate is not the same thing as squelching it.

(Related: "A Bunch of Senators Just Showed They Have No Idea How Facebook Works. They Want to Regulate It Anyway.")

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'Good Guy With a Gun,' or Too Good to Be True?

This Arizona state Senate candidate says he killed his mother in self-defense more than 50 years ago. But does his story really add up?

A Republican running for state Senate in Arizona says he killed his mother in self-defense more than 50 years ago. Now he's using his experience to campaign against gun control, but the story is muddier than it might initially seem.

Bobby Wilson was 18 in 1963, when he claims his "deranged" mother, Lavonne, shot at him, prompting him to shoot back and kill her. The candidate, who's written a book about his experience titled Bobby's Trials, suggested at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America forum in Tucson last week that if he hadn't acted immediately, his mother would have killed him. "[She] was hell-bent on killing me in my sleep one night. At three o'clock in the morning, I woke up to find a rifle in my face—a semiautomatic rifle at that—and the bullets started to fly, and I started diving for cover," he said.

Speaking to The Arizona Republic, Wilson provided more details about what happened that night. He says after his mother started shooting, she saw a shadow move and swung her gun around, hitting his younger sister with the rifle butt in the process. His sister, Judy, died, and Wilson says an autopsy proved the impact of the rifle butt was what killed her.

Wilson's mother kept on shooting, and though she didn't hit her son, she did smash open several glass jars full of gas, he says. At that point, Wilson claims he fired back with his own rifle and killed his mother with a shot to the face. But when he tried to turn on the light, a spark caused the gasoline to ignite and the house exploded.

Wilson was charged with murdering both his mother and sister, and he faced three trials over the course of the next 10 years. He says his case was finally dismissed in 1973 and he received an apology from the district attorney.

As he told the crowd at the Moms Demand Action forum, Wilson thinks his experience shows why a "good guy with a gun" can stop the bad guys. "You can pass all the laws you want to in this world, and when you've got somebody out there that wants to harm somebody, they're going to do it if you don't stop them," he said.

But Wilson's story is more complicated than he's letting on. He's trying to focus on the self-defense angle to show off his pro-gun credentials, but he isn't exactly the best example for the argument.

Newspaper and court accounts reviewed by the Republic cast doubt on parts of Wilson's account. In the days following the incident, for instance, the Choctaw County Weekly published several articles that contradict the candidate's current claims. As the Republic summarizes it:

According to the newspaper, the charred bodies of Lavonne and Judy Wilson were found lying together in bed "in a 'perfectly relaxed' position, indicating they died in their sleep from suffocation."

Later, according to the Weekly, Wilson confessed to both murders. Court records show that Wilson later claimed to be suffering from amnesia and thus couldn't remember what had happened. As a result, the jury agreed to suspend the case, and there were no additional developments until 1973, when Wilson's attorney successfully argued that the case should be dismissed because his client had been "deprived of his right to speedy trial," according to the Republic.

Wilson would go on to become a lawyer himself, and he says he eventually remembered how events transpired the night his mother and sister died. But it's more than a little suspicious that after reportedly confessing to the murders and then forgetting the details for years, he finally recalled a version of the story in which he's the hero.

Wilson is correct that good guys with guns can stop bad guys, but in this case it's not clear that he really was the good guy.

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How Georgia’s Constitution Makes Jury Nullification Possible: New at Reason

“The jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.”

Photo Courtesy of Catherine BernardPhoto Courtesy of Catherine BernardWhen it comes to jury nullification—refusal by juries to convict defendants under laws they consider unjust or wrongly applied—Catherine Bernard may be the winningest attorney in the United States. Perhaps oddly, though, she may be chalking up those wins by not making a big deal about her chosen legal strategy.

On July 12, a jury in Laurens County, Georgia, found Bernard's client, Javonnie Mondrea McCoy, "not guilty" of the manufacture of marijuana and of possession of drug-related objects, despite his open admission that he had, fact, grown the much-demonized plant. That follows on a similar victory last year in the case of Antonio Willis, who was lured into selling the equivalent of a few joints by an undercover cop. In both cases, Bernard emphasized the humanity of the defendants, of their roles as fallible, but decent people who didn't deserve to be ground up by the wheels of the penal system. J.D. Tuccille speaks with Bernard.

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Trump Contradicts His Intelligence Director, Says Russia Is Not Currently Targeting U.S.

Trump also said he doesn't think any of his predecessors have been as tough on Russia as him.

CNN/Twitter/ScreenshotCNN/Twitter/ScreenshotPresident Donald Trump doesn't think the U.S. is being targeted by Russia, though his director of national intelligence said otherwise just last week.

When a reporter asked Trump today if Russia is still targeting the U.S., he responded, "No." On Friday, by contrast, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a speech that Russia is the "most aggressive foreign actor" when it comes to cyberattacks. "And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy."

Trump's comments on Russia came after several days of controversy over remarks he made Monday during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump told the world he accepted Putin's claim that the Russian government did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, even though U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia was responsible for the hack of Democratic National Committee emails. Yesterday, Trump said that he misspoke and that he believed Russia did interfere in the election.

Though Trump has faced criticism for not being tough enough in his dealings with Putin, he insisted today that he's been tougher on Russia than all of his predecessors. "We are doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia," the president said. "And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it and he's not happy about it and he shouldn't be happy about it."

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Judge Andrew Napolitano on Trump, SCOTUS, and the Return of Freedom Watch: New at Reason

The most libertarian legal analyst on cable news dishes on Brett Kavanaugh, the end of his GOP, and his forthcoming new show.

No legal commentator on cable news is more energetic, constitutionally minded, or libertarian than Andrew Napolitano, who has served as Fox News' senior judicial analyst for nearly two decades. A former New Jersey Superior Court judge, Napolitano is a nationally syndicated columnist—you can read him at Reason—and the author of a shelf full of books about law, history, and race in America.

Reason caught up with the judge at FreedomFest, the annual event held every July in Las Vegas. We talked about Donald Trump's ongoing makeover of the federal judiciary, whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will be good for libertarians, what it's like to be an ex-Republican, and the imminent return of Freedom Watch, the popular and controversial show that Napolitano hosted on Fox Business from 2006 to 2010.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Garcia, Paul Detrick, & Jim Epstein. Graphics by Austin Bragg.

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Four Blue States Scream ‘Federalism’ and Sue to Stop Changes in Federal Tax Deductions

New York gets salty over new limits because now the rich will know they’re being soaked.

Gov. Andrew CuomoG.N.Miller/NYPost / MEGA / NewscomFour blue states are actually invoking federalism in a lawsuit attempting to stop the Trump Administration's new tax rules limiting how much state and local taxes people can deduct from their federal filings.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland are all suing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to try to get the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to invalidate the new $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, arguing that this new cap is "interfering with the States' sovereign authority to make their own choices about whether and how much to invest in their own residents, businesses, infrastructure, and more—authority that is guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment and foundational principles of federalism."

It may be perplexing to try to figure out how on earth a state can argue its sovereignty is violated when the federal government changes its own deduction rules. After all, New York and the other states are not actually being required to change their tax rates or respond to the deduction change in any way.

But here's what they're essentially arguing: The reduced SALT deductions don't affect all states equally and that this all has been done to punish "blue" states. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday, "this is their political attempt to hurt Democratic states. It is totally repugnant and hypocritical of the fundamental conservative ideology which they preach."

The changes don't actually punish states for being heavily Democratic. They do significantly impact states that have high tax rates, which, well, tend to be under Democratic control. They're no longer being shielded from some of the consequences of all these taxes.

So, in a subtle way, there is a kernel of truth here—the change in deduction laws may, as a consequence, force these states to change their tax laws and possibly their state spending. That's part of the nature of the complaint—that this policy "violates" federalism because it results in the federal government trampling all over and distorting state-level tax policy decisions.

There's a fundamental flaw in this argument. It only works if you acknowledge that the deductions themselves as they existed (as far back as the income tax) have always had a distorting effect on state tax decisions. These SALT deductions are not claimed equally across the population. They disproportionately benefit the wealthiest citizens who itemize their taxes. New York calculates that New Yorkers will see a $14.3 billion tax hike without the SALT deductions. But that doesn't mean the hike will be spread across all the citizens of the state. It's those who earn more than $100,000 a year who claim 81 percent of SALT deductions.

As a result, states that have higher concentrations of wealthy people (like New York and Maryland) could raise taxes on their high end and be sheltered from the consequences because of the federal deductions. The "tax the rich" mentality of the politicians of these states didn't scare all the wealthy folks away because they knew they'd be able to take it out of their federal claims.

This, Veronique de Rugy explained last year, means that the existence of the deductions was itself essentially a subsidy to states like New York and New Jersey:

Indeed, the deduction provides an indirect federal subsidy to state and local governments in high-income areas by decreasing the net cost of nonfederal taxes to those who pay them. As the Tax Policy Center notes, in some instances these state and local governments effectively "export a portion of their tax burden to the rest of the nation."

Estimates show that by sheltering state and local taxpayers from the spending decisions of their lawmakers, the deduction encourages anywhere between 2 and 20.5 percent more spending. Not surprisingly, the deduction distorts the financing decisions made by state and local lawmakers. In 2016, for instance, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker cited SALT as instrumental in proposing a hike in income taxes over a hike in the sales tax. He said, "We selected an income tax over a sales tax for a couple of reasons. ... State income taxes are deductible from your federal taxes."

Translation: "Thanks to SALT, we can increase your taxes without upsetting you as much as we should." You don't have to be a genius to understand that when taxpayers are less vigilant about policy changes and lawmakers' spending behaviors, we don't get the best policies implemented.

Just ask New Jersey, whose black hole of public employee pension debt keeps getting worse while thousands of retired public employees earn six-figure pensions at taxpayers' expense. That's what they're trying to protect with this lawsuit.

Cuomo complains that it will make New York "less competitive" than other states. You know how to fix that? Lower your tax rates!

Read the lawsuit here.

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A Texas Man Is Executed Even After His Victim's Family Pleads for His Life

"His execution doesn't change what he did 14 years ago. It doesn't bring my dad back."

|||Screenshot via YouTube/Law at the MarginsScreenshot via YouTube/Law at the MarginsA 34-year-old Texas man became the 13th prisoner to be executed in the United States in 2018, but not before the family of his victim fought for him to receive clemency for his 2004 crime. Fourteen years ago, 21-year-old Christopher Anthony Young of San Antonio sexually assaulted a woman at gunpoint in front of her three children and stole her vehicle. Young then made his way to a convenience store owned by 55-year-old Hasmukh "Hash" Patel. He pulled out his gun and demanded money. The attempted robbery turned fatal when Young shot Patel, who tried to run away. Police found Young the next morning, and he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by a Bexar County judge in 2006.

Since that time, a diverse group of people have worked to obtain clemency for Young so that he could instead serve life in prison. Among those trying to get Young off death row was his victim's own son, 36-year-old Mitesh Patel. Patel, who once planned to watch Young's execution, became a prominent voice in the fight for Young's life after seeing his remorse.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Young and Patel each explained their respective change of hearts. According to Young, he stopped placing the blame on others and took responsibility for the actions that led him to death row. "And that's a hard realization," he added. As Young's thinking began to change, he was contacted by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Laurence Thrush for a project about David Dow, the capital defense lawyer representing Young. The project eventually fell through. Despite this, the men grew to have a relationship that inspired Thrush to make a video with the intent of saving Young's life.

It was the videos captured by Thrush that led Patel to have his own realization.

"I assumed he was a typical death row inmate with no remorse," he said. For the younger Patel, watching Young and learning about the influence he had in the lives of his daughters "struck a chord." Patel did not wish to see Young's children go through the same pain he did after losing his father, a sentiment that he repeated in an interview with NowThis.

"We'd rather see some good from all of this," he told the Chronicle. "His execution doesn't change what he did 14 years ago. It doesn't bring my dad back."

A week before Young's execution, Patel joined faith leaders and other advocates in a rally at San Antonio's main plaza. The rally was paired with a clemency petition that asked Texas Governor Greg Abbott to either halt Young' execution or grant him life in prison. While speaking to the crowd, Patel said that he forgave Young. He also spoke of Young's mentorship to younger people. "He actually has a desire to break the chain of other people possibly in his shoes from continuing down that path," he said. "My family and I would rather see that come to fruition because that speaks better to what my dad stood for."

Other calls for Young's life were paired with concerns about religious and racial discrimination. A black juror was barred from sitting on the jury because of her service in her Baptist church's ministry. Religious leaders said the action was discrimination on the grounds of religion and lawyers argued that the move violated the Constitution's Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses. After Young was denied last-minute clemency, lawyers also argued that there was a racial component to his case. Drawing comparisons to another case of white Texas killer Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, whose father asked for clemency after surviving an attempted murder at the hands of his son, many, like Houston-based attorney Randy Schaffer, wondered if the commutation that spared Whitaker's life "is a policy that only applies to the white and privileged who make a religious plea."

Young was injected with a fatal dose of compounded pentobarbital on Tuesday at 6:13 p.m. He passed away 25 minutes later. Patel remained at home with his family.

Among his final words, Young said, "l want to make sure the Patel family knows I love them like they love me."

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After Slapping Allies With Tariffs, U.S. Drags Allies to WTO to Complain About Tariffs

The United States has accused the victims of its tariffs of engaging in unfair and punitive measures with their retaliatory tariffs.

Xinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomXinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomIn another skirmish in the steadily escalating trade war, the United States has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against countries that retaliated against American steel and aluminum tariffs with protectionist measures of their own.

On Monday, the U.S. filed separate cases against China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Turkey, accusing them of responding to U.S. national security concerns with "retaliatory tariffs designed to punish American workers, farmers and companies," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

While one can understand why those nations felt the need to respond to Trump's tariffs, especially since the national security rationale offered by Lighthizer and the president is almost certainly bogus (a conclusion shared by the military itself), retaliatory tariffs aren't the best strategy. They lead to higher prices for citizens on both sides of the dispute.

The economic case for tariffs might be weak, but the legal rationale is clear. Pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president of the United States is authorized to tax imports so long as some national security justification can be produced, rendering these actions perfectly legal by domestic standards.

"Unfortunately, America's claims are legitimate," says Dan Ikenson, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), a precursor to the WTO conceived in 1947, included a national security exception for tariffs. That exception remained after the GATT evolved into the WTO.

"This exception allows nations broad discretion in their definition of a 'national security concern,'" says Ikenson. That puts the defendants in this case on the backfoot.

Don't expect a final decision from the WTO anytime soon. It could take up to a year and a half to convene the WTO panel and have them pass judgment, and then another year and a half from there if the respondents choose to appeal. That's three years, a long time in which a lot can change in the unpredictable sphere of modern politics.

Independent of the outcome of these trade disputes, America's trade policy risks setting a dangerous precedent for other countries. For instance, other member nations could just as easily begin to claim national security considerations and impose their own protective tariffs, effectively undoing a century of progress in trade policy.

Prior to President Donald Trump's renouncement of international trade, tariffs were at historic lows. The relatively free trade embraced by recent administrations has played an undeniable role in recent U.S. economic growth and development. If the U.S. and other nations wish to ignore this lesson, they are rejecting progress in favor of short-term political gains and intellectually antiquated mercantilism.

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Marriott Ditching Plastic Straws, Still Not Sure What It Will Use Instead

The hotel chain says it will eliminate roughly 1 billion plastic straws by July 2019.

Lucian Milasan/Dreamstime.comLucian Milasan/Dreamstime.comThe world's largest hotel chain said today it will stop using plastic straws and drink stirrers by next July, though it's still trying to come up with a viable alternative.

Marriott International, which owns and operates about 6,500 hotels and resorts around the world, says the move "could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws per year and about a quarter billion stirrers," according to a press release. Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson touted the plan as "a powerful step forward to reducing our reliance on plastics," while the company's release said the initiative represents part of Marriott's "commitment to reducing its environmental impact."

But it's not clear what Marriott customers will use instead of plastic straws, as the company said individual hotels will figure that out over the next year.

Marriott is far from the first company to announce plans to stop using plastic straws. Starbucks, the nation's largest food and drink retailer, said last week it would be going strawless by 2020. Other companies caught up in the strawless craze include American Airlines and the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains. Meanwhile, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban plastic straws in July, and there are active attempts to implement similar bans in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.

Various Marriott hotels in the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Australia have already gotten rid of plastic straws. And in March, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Florida opted to replace plastic straws with biodegradable paper ones. Amanda Cox, the Florida resort's director of sales and marketing, told the Associated Press that prior to ditching them, the hotel used about 65,000 plastic straws every month.

Over the next year, it's certainly possible that other Marriotts will decide to use eco-friendly straws as well. But that might not be such a great idea, as Reason's Christian Britschgi notes:

Why not use more eco-friendly disposable straws? Because they are terrible. Paper straws are known to collapse halfway through a drink. Compostable straws cost six to seven times more than their plastic alternatives, don't keep for long, and fall apart when exposed to high heat.

And as Starbucks recently proved, some nifty alternatives to plastic straws, like strawless nitro lids, don't actually use less plastic. According to Britschgi:

Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.

As a private company, Marriott is of course well within its rights to ditch plastic straws, but it is hardly helping the environment by doing so. Straws are a tiny fraction of the plastic waste that makes its way into the ocean. Most of the straws that do wind up in the water are the result of littering or poor waste management. If Marriott really wants to make an environmental splash, it should focus its efforts on ensuring that the straws its guests do use end up in the trash, as opposed to getting rid of the little suckers completely.

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Florida Couple Gets to Keep Home's 'Starry' Paint Job; Mayor Must Publicly Apologize for $10,000 Fine

In a settlement reached Tuesday night, two residents of Mount Dora, Florida, will receive $15,000 and permission to keep their Van Gogh-inspired paint job.

Photo courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationPhoto courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationThe mayor of Mount Dora, Florida, will have to publicly apologize Wednesday afternoon for his city's overzealous code enforcement that targeted a home painted in the likeness of Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece, "Starry Night."

More importantly, the city will remove a lien against the property and drop more than $10,000 in fines it had issued to the husband and wife who own the home, according to a settlement approved unanimously by the city council Tuesday night. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the settlement also includes the payment of $15,000 to homeowners Lubomir Jastrzebski and his wife, Nancy Nemhauser.

The couple's colorful home became the subject of national media attention and legal scrutiny last year when city officials deemed the elaborately painted mural covering a wall in front of the house to be "graffiti" and ordered the couple to remove it. At first, they were told the house and wall had to match—but after Jastrzebski and Nemhauser expanded the mural to include the entire house, city officials shifted their argument and claimed the display constituted an unapproved "sign" because it attracted people to look at the house. The couple were fined $100 per day.

It was something of a sign. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser intended the wall to serve as a sort of beacon for their 25 year-old son, who suffers from autism. If he were to ever get lost, they reasoned, he could simply tell anyone in town to take him to the van Gogh house.

Since then, the Starry Night House became national news. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser refused to pay the fines and filed a lawsuit against Mount Dora claiming that the city violated their First Amendment rights to free expression. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest law firm, represented them.

Attorneys from PLF seemed pleased with the outcome when it was announced Tuesday night.

A federal judge ordered the city to halt those $100 per day fines earlier this year. Losing that preliminary ruling seems to have caused officials in Mount Dora, somewhat famous as a colony for artists in central Florida, to reconsider their fight against the beautifully painted house.

As part of the settlement, Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules. The city council will form a seven-member advisory committee, including Nemhauser, to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.

As the settlement was nearing a final vote from the city council this week, Jastrzebski told the Sentinel that he was happy with the outcome but still shocked by the whole process.

"I almost felt like being in communistic Poland where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America."

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Fighting Back Against FOSTA: Reason Roundup

Plus: the FDA takes on nut milk and the IRS eases up on nonprofit donor rules.

@surajpatelnyc/Twitter@surajpatelnyc/Twitter"FOSTA has had an entirely predictable chilling effect." The groups challenging the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA) just filed a new motion in reply to the government's efforts to get a quick ruling in its favor. Tomorrow, they will appear before a federal court and seek to temporarily block FOSTA from being enforced.

Their motion urges the court not to trust Department of Justice (DOJ) assertions that folks "need not fear application of FOSTA's open-ended terms and draconian penalties." This "utterly ignores a history of Internet regulation that includes overly broad and unconstitutional efforts to regulate speech," argue lawyers for plaintiffs Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Human Rights Watch, massage therapist Eric Koszyk, sex worker rights activist Alex Andrews, and The Internet Archive (aka the WaybackMachine, a national treasure).

"FOSTA is even more extreme" than most attempts at online speech regulation, they say.

The new law—sold as a way to stop underage sex trafficking but in reality a federal ban on any online content that "facilitates" or "promotes" prostitution—took effect in April and "impos[es] more severe criminal penalties than ever, and pil[es] on redundant layers of potential civil liability while simultaneously stripping away immunities," states the new motion. "Although the Government suggests (repeatedly) that FOSTA reaches only speech that advertises illegal activity, the Act by its plain terms extends far more broadly."

Already, "FOSTA has had an entirely predictable chilling effect," says the new motion, "and as such it causes both injury-in-fact that gives Plaintiffs standing to challenge it, and First Amendment violations that constitute irreparable harm."

Read the whole thing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) site. EFF is one of several groups representing the plaintiffs in this case, Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States, along with Daphne Keller, Walters Law Group, and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine.

The suit was first filed in June.

On Thursday, EFF will attempt to persuade a federal judge to temporarily block enforcement of FOSTA as the case plays out. "The hold is needed, in part, to allow plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation, a sex worker advocacy group, to organize and publicize its annual conference, held August 2-5," said EFF in a press release.


New rules for nonprofit donor info. The IRS is easing up on reporting requirements for nonprofits "that spend money to influence elections but are not required to disclose donors to the public—called 'dark money' groups by critics," note Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Jeff Stein at The Washington Post.

"The decision was immediately heralded by free-speech advocates who have long sought to protect donors' private information," write Lee and Stein. "But it was rebuked by those who want to reduce the role of money in politics, who claim it would make U.S. elections more susceptible to anonymous foreign donations."

Under the new Treasury Department rule, these groups are no longer required to disclose donor names and addresses in their federal tax filings.


"An almond doesn't lactate, I will confess." That's U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb speaking at Politico's Pro Summit in D.C. yesterday. Gottlieb is lending support to a silly plan by dairy companies hoping to quash the popularity of almond milk and its ilk by banning these nut-based drinks from calling themselves milk. Gottlieb isn't going that far, but he did announce that he will introduce a new FDA guidance document that could put new limitations on nut-milk labeling.

Gizmodo is attempting to portray it as some sort of uniquely Trumpian "gift [bestowed] upon Big Dairy," but the crony politics behind dairy labeling knows no partisan bounds. Last year, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin sponsored a similar proposal called the DAIRY PRIDE Act.


Trump goes all Jabberwacky on Russia response. President Trump has walked back his earlier statements on Russia, in which he said during a press conference that he couldn't see why people thought Russia had interfered in the election. "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia" were Trump's words then. But on Tuesday evening, the president told NBC News: "I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't.'"

"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,'" Trump continued. "Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things."

But in predictable Trump fashion, this circular concession didn't sit well and Trump soon returned to being all in with the Russia positivity, tweeting early Wednesday morning that "the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success" than his recent NATO meeting and "many positive things will come out of that meeting."


  • MGM Resorts International is counter-suing victims of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
  • "Federal prosecutors say this is the first time a bitcoin-for-cash exchanger will be going to jail for such an act in the central district of California," Brian Doherty reports.
  • Agree or disagree?


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