Free Minds & Free Markets

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As the Mueller Report Drops, a Transparency Fight Begins

How much will we see of the special counsel's report? And when?

Robert MuellerAlex Wong/Pool/Cnp/ZUMA Press/NewscomThere no need to ask if we'll see Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report about his investigation of Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. We almost certainly will. The real questions are when we'll get it, how much we'll see of it, and who's going to leak it.

Because these days, sieves are jealous of the federal government. If the report claims any sort of direct connection between President Donald Trump and Russian election interference, some folks are going to want to get that into the public's hands. And if the report does not show any connections, a different group of people is going want to leak that information out.

Unnamed Justice Department officials are telling reporters Mueller has recommended no further indictments. The letter from Attorney General Robert Barr to ranking members of Congress indicates that he found no actions by the Mueller's special investigation to be inappropriate. Barr further noted that he may be able to advise the heads of Congress' two judiciary committees of the conclusions reached by the report over the weekend.

That means something may leak out tomorrow or Sunday. A spokesperson from the Justice Department said the conclusions of the report (note that this isn't the same as the report itself) may be released to the public as the same time as it is to Congress, perhaps to avoid the issue of somebody on either side of the political aisle attempting to leak a heavily spun version of the conclusions.

In any event, Democratic leaders are now immediately calling for the entire report to be released:

And of course, presidential candidates among the Democrats are lining up behind that message. The desire to release the report might not actually be a Dems vs. GOP thing however: Recall that the House of Representatives voted 420–0 on a resolution to release the report, though it's not clear where the Senate stands. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) is a bit non-committal in his response:

He's calling for "as much openness and transparency as possible" without actually saying he's going to push for the full report's release.

As for the complicated details of what happens to the report, here's an explainer. Barr has a lot of control over how much information will be made public and even revealed to Congress and Trump himself.

But given how much of geopolitical space this entire Russian investigation has consumed ever since Trump became president, it's easy to predict we're going to see much—maybe even all—of the report regardless of what Barr, or Trump, Pelosi, or McConnell want. And probably sooner rather than later.

Preet Bharara's Boy Scout Manual of 'Doing Justice'

The former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York unconvincingly channels Atticus Finch in his legal memoir.

Public Domain, WikipediaPublic Domain, WikipediaFrom the very first pages of his new legal memoir, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Preet Bharara underscores his commitment to all that he believes is good, decent, and disappearing fast in contemporary America. Reason readers may remember him as the official who, in 2015, issued a grand jury subpoena demanding turn over "any and all identifying information" of six commenters who had criticized District Court Judge Katherine Forrest's sentencing of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. Shortly after we received the subpoena, his office issued a gag order on Reason, which prevented us from discussing the demand for records until it was lifted (more on that in a bit).

In Doing Justice, Bharara sounds like an Aaron Sorkin protagonist; a mix of Tom Cruise's character from A Few Good Men and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (a version of which Sorkin is currently directing on Broadway).

Phrases and concepts like "the rule of law" and "due process" and "presumed innocent" seem to do service these days more as political slogans than as bedrock principles....It seems preferred these days to demonize one's opponents rather than engage them, to bludgeon critics rather than win them over. There is a creeping contempt for truth and expertise....And the concept of justice seems turned on its head—holding different meaning depending on whether you are a political adversary or ally.

The law, he continues, "is not a political weapon; objective truths do exist; fair process is essential in a civilized society." Especially in a world that seems hell-bent on burning down existing norms and institutions—one in which the president attacks a dead rival and Democratic contenders for president lobby for the destruction of the Electoral College—that all sounds comforting, as does Bharara's insistence that it's "an undeniable fact" that "the system is imperfect."

Over more than 300 pages broken into four large sections ("Inquiry," "Accusation," "Judgment," and "Punishment"), he tells a wide variety of stories from his time at SDNY about how the feds decide who to charge with what sorts of crimes. There are some famous cases here, such as the prosecution of Faisal Shahzad, who in 2010 tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square; the "cannibal cop," an NYPD officer whose conviction on conspiracy to kidnap women he fantasized about torturing and eating was overturned; and the successful cases against Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Dean Skelos, the majority leader of the New York State Senate, on federal corruption charges.

Among the most appealing tales involves Brandon Mayfield, an American whom the FBI, on the basis of a fingerprint match, mistakenly insisted was involved in the March 2004 terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid, Spain. In a chapter called "The Problem of Confirmation Bias," Bharara notes that the paucity of physical evidence (a single fingerprint match from a plastic bag used by the bombers) was complemented by a series of seemingly incriminating coincidences. Mayfield, a lawyer, had represented a convicted terrorist in a trial. His wife was a Muslim immigrant from Egypt and he had converted to Islam. He attended a mosque in Beaverton, Oregon that had, in Bharara's artful phrasing, "received attention from local authorities." "The science had spoken," he writes. "The [fingerprint] match had been made and confirmed....Clearly the FBI had got its man." Except they hadn't. Even as the feds took Mayfield into custody, Spanish investigators "definitively concluded" that the fingerprint was a match with an Algerian suspect named Ouhnane Daoud. The FBI officially apologized (a rare thing) and the government eventually paid Mayfield $2 million. Bharara notes that the FBI's internal investigation concluded that agents running the investigation became so uncritically accepting of their theory that they created a "failure to sufficiently reconsider" their suppositions even after they found no real corroborating evidence. "That is worth repeating," says Bharara. "An innocent man was accused and forever injured because of a failure to sufficiently reconsider" (his emphasis). A cautionary tale, to be sure.

Yet Bharara's treatment of the Reason episode reveals a fair amount of distance between his ideals and his actions while in office and suggests the blindness with which prosecutors tend to act. He writes that law enforcement people have a "God forbid" voice in their head warning them that the consequences would be catastrophic if they ignored what turned out to be legitimate threats against public officials from the president on down. "When the possibility of harm is afoot," he writes, "prosecutors are aggressive."

During the Silk Road trial, Judge Katherine Forrest had become "the victim of abuse and harassment," says Bharara, including having her Social Security number and home address made public. In a bit of rhetorical slipperiness, he writes that "her critics called for SWAT teams or anthrax to be sent to her residence," though such things never happened (my emphasis). When it comes to Reason's commenters, he says that a "string of threats was made," including lines such as "it's judges like these that should be taken out back and shot" and "send her through the wood chipper" (this last is a reference to a scene in the movie Fargo, in which criminal characters violently dispatch one of their own ilk).

Prosecutors in my office took aggressive action. They subpoenaed the records of six Reason users who posted threatening statements. They sought a boilerplate gag that Reason could not prematurely and publicly discuss the subpoena before law enforcement could run down the leads, to determine whether there was any actual threat.

"Pretty routine and responsible," he concludes, surprised that "for this, I earned the endless antipathy of the libertarian periodical."

Well, principled opposition and criticism of government action isn't "endless antipathy" and there are in fact good reasons to be concerned by Bharara's version of events, which blurs some details and simply ignores the massive, nearly unconstrained power the government wields in such situations. His office filed the subpoena but forgot to attach a gag order, so we shared the subpoena with the six commenters to see if any were planning to quash it, which would affect our compliance with the demand. The gag order came a couple of days later, after our attorney had talked with an assistant U.S. attorney and explained that we had shared the subpoena with the targeted commenters (once the gag was in place, we complied fully with it).

As former assistant United States attorney and law blogger Ken White wrote as events were unfolding, there is simply no world in which what our commenters wrote came anywhere close to being "true threats" that should trigger a subpoena and gag order. Indeed, one of the commenters whose information was requested had simply written, "I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman" and another wrote, "I'd prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well." A true threat, White wrote, requires specificity about who is going to use violence, when they are going to act, and some sort of plan. "Even the one that is closest to a threat — 'It's judges like these that will be taken out back and shot' isn't a true threat," writes White. "It lacks any of the factors that have led other courts to find that ill-wishes can be threats." Which isn't to say that the SDNY didn't have the legal right to issue the subpoena and the subsequent gag order. Especially when it comes to grand jury subpoenas, the government holds all the power.

As Matt Welch and I wrote after the gag order had been lifted, "the chilling effect on Reason and our commenters is tangible. It takes time, money and resources to challenge, or even simply to comply with, such intrusive demands." It's simply impossible to know how many requests for user data the government has made of publications, platforms, or service providers, but in 2013 Mother Jones reported that Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and firms received "tens of thousands" of requests each year. It's also impossible to know how many requests have been made but can't be discussed due to gags.

"The line between hyperbole and plausibility is hard to discern," writes Bharara, again channeling a world-weary Sorkin protagonist. "In some lines of work you don't want to take any chances." That's simply not a good enough answer, especially when confidence and trust in government institutions are at or near historic lows and the expansion of federal power after the 9/11 attacks continues apace. In a 2016 article for Reason titled "Confessions of an Ex-Prosecution," Ken White, now a defense attorney, recalled his own time as a federal prosecutor and wrote that immense institutional and cultural pressures conspire to make federal prosecutors view consitutional "rights as a challenge, as something to be overcome to win a conviction." Bharara's actions toward Reason suggest a similar mindset at work despite his attestations to truth, justice, and the rule of law.

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Robert Mueller's Russia Report Is Finally Done, and We Still Know Nothing

At this point, making assumptions would be stupid.

Carlos Barria/REUTERS/NewscomCarlos Barria/REUTERS/NewscomAt long last, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has completed his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And surprise! We still know nothing.

Mueller has finished the investigation and submitted a report to Attorney General William Barr, according to Politico. "I write to notify you...that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters," Barr wrote to Congress, adding that he's "reviewing the report, and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend," USA Today reported.

It's important to emphasize that there's currently no confirmed information regarding the report's contents.

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Florida Cops Re-Arrest 26 Sex Offenders in 'Operation Karma.' Their Crime? Not Updating Their Car Info.

Most of the perpetrators committed offenses decades ago, and pose no danger to the community.

OffendersAlexander Melnikov | Dreamstime.comThe Polk County Sheriff's Department in Florida is touting its successful completion of "Operation Karma," a three-day sting in which cops arrested 26 registered sex offenders for violating various legal obligations imposed on them.

"They are apparently up to no good and we are going to hold them accountable," Sheriff Grady Judd promises The Miami Herald.

But there is no evidence that any of the arrested people were a danger to anyone. They were not re-arrested for approaching children, or committing sex acts. In most cases, they were arrested for failing to register their vehicles with the government. This is understandable: sex offenders in Florida are required to provide the government with up-to-date information regarding their name, age, sex, height, weight, tattoos, hair color, address, email address, telephone number, social media accounts, employment information, and vehicle information. It's probably fairly easy for a sex offender to forget to constantly re-supply necessary information.

But it's absurd to suggest that these un-registered cars posed some kind of danger to the community. And yet The Miami Herald happily entertained this fantasy, allowing Grady and his office to essentially take a victory lap in the pages of the newspaper. The Herald also printed the mugshots of all the offenders, listed their names, and provided not only the reason for their re-arrests but information on their initial arrests. In practice, this means that many of these offenders—who range in age from 57 all the way down to 19—are being shamed for crimes they committed years and decades ago.

A bunch of mugshots of middle-aged men convicted of sex offenses against minors makes for a frightening image. But I did the math, and most of these people were in their 20s, or teens themselves, when they were first convicted.

One of the sex offenders, whom I will call J.S., was convicted of molesting a victim who was less than 12-years-old. This was in 2005, and J.S. is currently 25—meaning that at the time of the alleged crime, J.S. would have been about 12 himself. Another perpetrator, C.C., who is currently 39, was convicted in 1998 of lewd conduct toward a person under the age of 16. This man would have been about 18 in 1998. Both were re-arrested for failing to register their cars.

I don't mean to excuse these people's bad behavior, and I don't know the specific details of their crimes. But the premise of the sex offender registry is that citizens deserve to know if people who live in their community are inclined to prey on their children. I am not convinced that the vast majority of these perpetrators represent any lingering threat, or that forcing them to register a new car or address with the government is defensible.

The name of this sting—"Operation Karma"—implies that the perpetrators' bad decisions are finally catching up with them. Instead, we see the reverse: The perpetrators have already been punished, and the authorities refuse to let them move on.

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Indiana Cops are Charged with Federal Civil Rights Violations for Beating a Handcuffed Man

The Elkhart Police Department has had several misconduct issues throughout the years.

|||Screenshot via YouTube/ProPublicaScreenshot via YouTube/ProPublicaIn January 2018, a then 29-year-old Mario Guerrero Ledesma was taken into police custody in Elkhart, Indiana. During booking, Ledesma was placed into a chair and handcuffed. He then spat in the direction of Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, two officers with the Elkhart Police Department. Newland and Titus, both in their 30s, proceeded to repeatedly punch Ledesma while he was still handcuffed.

On Friday, the Department of Justice announced via a press release that Newland and Titus were being charged for the excessive force they used against Ledesma while he was handcuffed and in their care. Both men face a single count of deprivation of rights under color of law.

"Maintaining integrity in the criminal justice system by investigating and prosecuting police officers who step out of bounds with the law, while working with, training and promoting good relationships with law enforcement who operate within the law are important functions of my Office," said U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch in the press release.

The South Bend Tribune and ProPublica obtained a video of the incident with a FOIA request.

Elkhart cops have a long history of abuse and misconduct. Newland himself had been involved in several questionable incidents prior to the beating. In one 2011 incident, Newland received a three-day suspension after attempting to contact a woman whom he arrested for having sex with her boyfriend in her car while at the park. He sent her a Facebook friend request and several text messages to see if she wanted to "hang out."

Police Chief Ed Windbigler was suspended and eventually resigned last winter following the beating. His suspension was based in part on his failure to report the incident in a timely manner and an understating of the events that transpired. Windbigler's tenure was also marred by poor tracking of officer misconduct and a poor record of disciplinary action. Several supervisors were promoted under Windbigler despite the Police Merit Commission not being made aware of their disciplinary records, as is protocol.

The State Police previously declined a request from the mayor to review both the beating and the Elkhart Police Department. Instead, they recommended that the mayor get the DOJ involved.

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Devin Nunes' Lawsuit Against Twitter is an Attack on Every American's Right to Free Speech: New at Reason

Q&A with political strategist Liz Mair

According to Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, the abuse he's endured on Twitter is of a "breadth and scope" that "no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life." He's been called a "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," a "Putin shill," an "unscrupulous, craven, back-stabbing, charlatan and traitor," and "voted 'Most Likely to Commit Treason' in high school."

Now this California lawmaker and Trump ally is suing Twitter for $250,000,000 for "emotional distress and mental suffering, and injury to his personal and professional reputations." He's also asking the court to force Twitter to reveal the true identities behind the "Devin Nunes' Mom," "Devin Nunes' cow," "Fire Devin Nunes," and "Devin Nunes Grapes" accounts.

On what grounds can an elected official sue a social media platform for speech that offends him? "Twitter is not merely a website," the lawsuit alleges: "it is the modern town square"—a "public forum" with a "private owner."

Named in the quarter-of-a-billion dollar lawsuit, right alongside "Devin Nunes' Mom" and "Devin Nunes's Cow," is Liz Mair, a Republican strategist and self-described libertarian. Mair angered Nunes for, among other things, delivering a pair of yellow New Balances to his congressional office after he ran out of a committee hearing on the Russia scandal.

Reason's Peter Suderman sat down with Mair to talk about the lawsuit and what it means for free speech on the internet.

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Philadelphia Finds Potential Home for a Safe Injection Facility

But Justice Department officials want to stop them.

Injection kitANDY CLARK/REUTERS/NewscomWe may be on the verge of a federal-local confrontation over safe injection sites.

Safehouse, a nonprofit that has been endorsed by several Philadelphia city leaders and has former Gov. Ed Rendell as a board member, is close to a lease agreement for a facility in Kensington, a neighborhood known for open drug use. There, addicts will be able to use drugs in a space where professionals are on hand to respond quickly if they overdose. The place will also direct people toward resources that may help them with their addictions.

Kensington is well-known for its encampments of people openly using heroin and opioids, and Philadelphia as a whole saw more than 1,200 overdose deaths in 2017.

On Thursday, Rendell, participating in a conference on drug war harm reduction at the Cato Institute, revealed that Safehouse had been offered the property by an owner who wanted to remain anonymous but had lost a son to an overdose. The Philadelphia Inquirer has learned that a family that owns the Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation is likely involved.

If this happens, Philadelphia will be the first U.S. city to have a locally sanctioned safe injection site. But that's a big "if." U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced in February that he hoped to get a judge to declare the injection site a violation of federal law. This was intended as a warning shot to scare the nonprofit and the city away from this plan. If the judge ruled in his favor and the site opened anyway, McSwain was hinting that the Justice Department may prosecute them.

With Safehouse still moving forward, McSwain tells the Inquirer that he's was not backing down and would consider getting a legal injunction to stop the facility from opening. And now there's a threat from NIMBYs too, despite the pervasive open drug use that already takes place in the area. Mark Squilla, the city councilman who represents that district, has started claiming that there isn't enough information about whether a safe injection site will actually work, and he's been asking why they would open just one site and not several around the city. That's a typical response to an unwanted development, such as low-income housing: You claim it's not "fair" for one neighborhood to bear the burden of a problem and that it should be spread around. That justification then gets used to shut the project down entirely.

We don't really know for sure whether an injection site will be helpful in American cities, because we haven't done it yet. But the evidence shows that in countries that do allow supervised injection sites, such places reduce public consumption of drugs (which you'd think would make Squilla happy), reduce harms, and save lives.

Rendell says he plans to move forward anyway, even if there's a risk of federal prosecution. Meanwhile, Safehouse is raising money from private donations to open this one site. They do ultimately want to have more than one.

Bonus link: There is, in fact, a secretly operated safe injection site that has been operating in an undisclosed location in the United States for several years. It's unsanctioned by the government (hence the secrecy). A study of those who injected there showed that if not for the site, most of them (more than 90 percent) would be attempting to consume drugs in public spaces. More than a quarter had seen (or had) an overdose using drugs outside the facility. Read more about that study here.

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Kirsten Gillibrand Says Her Limit on Opioid Prescriptions 'Is Not Intended to Interfere With These Decisions'

If the senator really believed "all health care should be between doctors and patients," she would not be proposing a one-size-fits-all rule for pain treatment.

Larry Burton / Zuma Press / NewscomLarry Burton / Zuma Press / NewscomIn response to a backlash against her bill imposing a nationwide seven-day limit on initial prescriptions of opioids for acute pain, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) suggests she is open to changes that would address the concerns raised by critics. Gillibrand's acknowledgment of the criticism is encouraging, but her response seems confused, wrongheaded, and disingenuous.

"I want to get this right," the presidential contender writes on Medium, "and I believe that we can have legislation to help combat the opioid epidemic and the over-prescription of these powerful drugs without affecting treatment for those who need this medication. I fundamentally believe that all health care should be between doctors and patients, and this bill is not intended to interfere with these decisions but to ensure doctors prescribe opioids with a higher level of scrutiny, given their highly addictive and dangerous effects."

If "legislation to help combat the opioid epidemic" includes an arbitrary limit on the length of these prescriptions, there is no way that it won't affect "treatment for those who need this medication." It is impossible to reconcile such a one-size-fits-all rule, which doctors would have to follow if they want to legally prescribe controlled substances, with Gillibrand's avowed commitment to not "interfere" in the doctor-patient relationship. Her bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), is designed to interfere in that relationship and to override physicians' medical judgment. If it did not do that, there would be no point to it.

To be fair to Gillibrand, she did not invent the seven-day rule, which at least a dozen states have imposed in the last few years, according to a tally by National Conference of State Legislatures. Several others have imposed shorter limits. Legislators in Arizona, New Jersey, and North Carolina have decreed that five days is plenty; Minnesota settled on four; and Florida and Kentucky say three, which is the national rule that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) proposed last year, prompting criticism from the American Medical Association. Medicare began enforcing a seven-day limit at the beginning of this year.

These legislators and bureaucrats all seem to be taking their cue from the opioid prescribing guidelines that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in March 2016. "When opioids are used for acute pain," the CDC says, "clinicians should prescribe the lowest effective dose of immediate-release opioids and should prescribe no greater quantity than needed for the expected duration of pain severe enough to require opioids. Three days or less will often be sufficient; more than seven days will rarely be needed." Legislation like Gillibrand's takes this advice and makes it mandatory, while ignoring the qualifications. Saying that three days is "often sufficient" obviously does not mean it is always sufficient, and even if more than seven days is "rarely" needed, it sometimes is.

A study reported last year in JAMA Surgery found that the prescription length associated with the lowest probability of a refill was nine days for general surgery, 13 days for women's health procedures, and 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures. "In practice," the researchers concluded, "the optimal length of opioid prescriptions lies between the observed median prescription length and the early nadir," i.e., the point where a refill was least likely.

That rule of thumb would put the optimal prescription length between four and nine days for general surgery, between four and 13 days for women's health procedures, and between six and 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures. "Although 7 days appears to be more than adequate for many patients undergoing common general surgery and gynecologic procedures," the researchers wrote, "prescription lengths likely should be extended to 10 days, particularly after common neurosurgical and musculoskeletal procedures, recognizing that as many as 40% of patients may still require 1 refill at a 7-day limit."

There is no dispute that doctors sometimes prescribe more pain medication than patients end up needing, and leftover pills from those prescriptions may be diverted to nonmedical use (or saved in case they are needed for another painful condition, which the government still considers "misuse," although someone who takes a pill originally prescribed after oral surgery when he throws out his back would probably disagree with that characterization). Bills like Gillibrand's force doctors to err in the opposite direction, which means some patients will suffer from pain that could have been relieved. And even if some of those patients manage to get additional prescriptions, the upshot could be that more pills are prescribed than otherwise would have been: two seven-day prescriptions, say, instead of the 10 days that would have sufficed.

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In What We Do in the Shadows, Sometimes Being a Vampire Sucks: New at Reason

Cult comedy film becomes an FX series.

'What We do in the Shadows''What We Do in the Shadows,' FXTelevision critic Glenn Garvin typically is not a big viewer of the "vampire comedy" genre, but he finds plenty to laugh about watching the FX adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows:

I cannot answer the obvious questions about FX's new sitcom version of What We Do in the Shadows. I do not know if it's as good as the movie, or if the special effects are better, or if the characters and plotting are similar. (I also don't know if vampires have legal rights under natural law, but perhaps that's a discussion for another time.)

What I do know is that Shadows, the series, is funny—often deadpan, sometimes quietly droll, sometimes howl-at-the-moon hilarious.

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Teen Girl Kicked Off Cheerleading Team for Saying 'Fuck Cheer' Wins First Amendment Lawsuit

Students have the right to complain about school.

CheerNullplus | Dreamstime.comCheerleaders have a First Amendment right to complain about cheerleading, even by posting "fuck cheer" on Snapchat, according to a recent, praiseworthy ruling in a federal district court.

The case concerned a teenage girl, referred to as "B.L." in the lawsuit, who was angry about being placed on the junior varsity cheer team as a sophomore even though a first-year girl had made varsity. She vented by taking a selfie with her middle finger raised. She captioned the photo "fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything," then posted it on Snapchat for 250 friends to see.

Unfortunately for B.L., one of these friends was the cheerleading coach's daughter, and the girl soon found herself removed from the squad. B.L.'s parents filed suit, and the case made its way to court.

In siding with B.L., District Judge Richard Caputo has affirmed an incredibly important First Amendment precedent: Kids do not lose their free speech rights when they become students, and schools may only punish objectionable speech if it truly disrupts an educational environment. B.L. wasn't even at school when she sent the snap, and it did not specifically reference her school or her cheerleading team, just "school" and "cheer" in general.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania represented B.L.

"The court recognized that public schools have no authority to discipline students for off-campus speech, except in very narrow circumstances," says Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU's Pennsylvania state chapter, in a statement. "Public schools need to stick to educating students and stay out of the business of disciplining them during their off hours."

Violations of college students' free speech rights attract a lot of attention from the national media these days, and even President Donald Trump says he's concerned about them. But defending the First Amendment rights of K–12 students is no less important. Perhaps if the free speech rights of kids were better protected, they would appreciate those rights more—and be more apt to defend them when they go on to college.

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Trump Was Asked Whether Imported Cars Are a National Security Risk. His Answer: 'No.'

That should be enough to end this silly debate. But what the president says and what the president does are not always the same.

Lloyd Fox/TNS/NewscomLloyd Fox/TNS/NewscomAsked today whether imported cars are a threat to American national security, President Donald Trump had a direct, succinct answer.

"Well, no," the president said during an interview that aired on the Fox Business Channel. He quickly pivoted to say that "what poses a national security risk is our balance sheet. We have to have—we need a strong balance sheet. Otherwise you don't have national security."

If the "balance sheet" Trump's talking about is the national debt, then he has a point. That probably is one of the biggest long-term threats to our security. But tariffs on imported cars will not generate enough revenue to meaningfully address America's $22 trillion debt.

If he's talking about trade balances—and Trump has seemed, often, to confuse the budget deficit with America's trade deficit—then tariffs won't help with that either. Indeed, America's trade deficit has grown to record heights in the months since Trump imposed new tariffs on steel, aluminum, and various Chinese-made goods.

For most presidents, admitting that automobiles are not a national security risk would not be newsworthy, because of course they're not. But Trump's acknowledgement of that reality is a telling statement. Imposing tariffs on imported cars without congressional approval would require Trump to invoke the Trade Protection Act of 1962, which allows presidents to unilaterally impose tariffs for national security reasons only.

Trump's Commerce Department spent several months investigating whether imported cars might be a threat to America. The final report was delivered to the White House last month but so far has been keep under wraps. Earlier this week, undisclosed sources told Politico that the report does indeed outline a rationale for imposing tariffs, which Trump could act upon at his own discretion.

But now Trump has clearly stated that imported cars are not a security threat. Elsewhere in the same interview, he discusses the use of those tariffs as a way to gain leverage against European countries in future trade negotiations—but the law does not allow presidents to impose tariffs in order to enhance their negotiating positions.

And that, as they say, should be that. Except that what Trump says often differs from what Trump does. Until the administration decides to act upon the Commerce Department report—or until Congress revokes Trump's authority to unilaterally impose tariffs, which it could do any time it wants—America's auto industry will have to wait and see what the president decides to do.

The stakes are huge. A 25 percent tariff on imported cars and car parts would increase the cost of cars sold in the United States by $2,000 to $7,000 each, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Even American-made cars would be affected, since there literally is no such thing as a fully American-made car anymore and automobile manufacturers have supply chains that wrap around the world. Those global supply chains have helped trigger a boom in American automaking, which now employs more than 8 million workers—a 50 percent increase since 2011, according to the American Automotive Policy Council.

The Center for Automotive Research projects that a 25 percent tax on imported cars and car parts would cost nearly 367,000 jobs and reduce America's gross domestic product by more than $30 billion. Downstream businesses stand to lose too. Car dealers could lose $43 billion in revenue and 77,000 jobs as prices for new cars jump by an estimated $2,700 and sales fall by about 1.3 million units, according to the center's projections.

Following through on the threat to impose those tariffs would be bad policy crafted under obviously false pretenses. Are imported cars and car parts a threat to national security? Even the Tariff Man occupying the White House now admits they aren't.

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How Capitalism Will Get Us to Mars and Beyond: Podcast

A conversation with Mike Solana, a vice president at Peter Thiel's venture capital firm

Today's Reason Podcast conversation is with Michael Solana, a vice president at the venture capital firm Founders Fund. The firm, which is worth upwards of $3 billion, founded by Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder Luke Nosek, former PayPal CFO Ken Howery, and Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame.

Some of the fund's investments include SpaceX, Airbnb, Lyft, and Oculus, as well as variety of lesser-known companies in the realms of aerospace, biotechnology, energy, and internet technology.

I spoke with Michael about the future, which he thinks about a lot both as an investor in emerging technologies and as host of the official Founders Fund podcast Anatomy of Next, the latest season of which explores the ways technological advancements in rocketry, materials science, augmented reality, fertility science, and artificial intelligence will get humanity to Mars and beyond.

But Solana and his colleagues also believe that Silicon Valley is mired in groupthink and susceptible to the false promises of socialism. In this conversation, we talk about what Founders Fund is doing differently, why Solana believes capitalism is necessarily the engine of growth and innovation, the promise and perils of privatizing government functions, and what he's learned from the famously contrarian Peter Thiel about what it means to be an independent thinker.

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Netflix's Love, Death and Robots Is a Sci-Fi Demo Reel For the Untapped Potential of Animation

An anthology series about sad salesmen, space marines, super-intelligent yogurt, and the national debt

Netflix/Blur StudioNetflix/Blur StudioSomewhere in the middle of Netflix's new animated sci-fi anthology series Love, Death & Robots, there's an episode about super-intelligent yogurt (yes, really) that proposes a plan to resolve the national debt—in a single year, and with no tax increases—if only America's politicians follow the plan exactly. America's politicians promise to do so, but, being politicians, don't. (Although the details are never specified, large spending cuts are presumably involved.) That's when the yogurt assumes total control—for our own good.

The six-minute short, closely adapted from a short story by the science fiction writer and internet wag John Scalzi, is representative of the series at its zany best: It's short, silly, bizarre, unexpected, frequently amusing, and even, from time to time, somewhat profound. Not every episode is as sharp as "When the Yogurt Took Over," and several are too dour and self-serious for their own good. Developed by David Fincher (Seven, The Social Network) and Tim Miller (Deadpool) as an outgrowth of their planned reboot of animated cult classic Heavy Metal, the series, like its predecessor, skirts the boundary between extremely juvenile and extremely adult, sometimes in the same episode. But there's plenty of variety, and more hits than misses. And even the least effective episodes work as beautifully rendered exercises in sci-fi and fantasy design.

Perhaps more than anything else, the series serves as a showcase for the largely untapped potential of smart, serious, animated storytelling aimed at adults. Animated filmmaking is, of course, already incredibly popular, with animated features regularly raking in some of the biggest box office hauls of the year. But in Hollywood, animation tends to fit one of two boxes: family-friendly features and series, ranging from big-budget Pixar and Dreamworks films to the wide array of cheaply animated series designed mainly to distract young kids; and adult comedy, often with an absurdist bent—shows like The Simpsons, Archer, or anything on Adult Swim.

These sorts of animated products often flirt with more serious dramatic elements. Pixar's features are designed to be appreciated by adults as much as children, and they are often surprisingly emotionally weighty. A show like Netflix's Bojack Horseman uses absurdist comedy as a vehicle for exploring depression and psychological vulnerability. And the best superhero cartoons, from Batman: The Animated Series to Young Justice, have long boasted a somewhat more adult sensibility.

But while these shows might stretch the conventions of American animation, they rarely break them.

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Mike Gravel: The Candidate of Anti-Imperialism, Direct Democracy, and Video Art

Friday A/V Club: The past and possibly future presidential candidate starred in some of the greatest, strangest campaign ads ever made.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel declared this week that he might enter the Democratic presidential race. And by "former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel," I mean "two teenagers who have taken over Mike Gravel's Twitter account." The teens are operating with Gravel's approval, but they're writing the tweets themselves; The Washington Post reports that "he doesn't review tweets before they're posted." So no, it isn't the 88-year-old author of Citizen Power who wrote this:

Gravel himself hasn't decided whether he wants to run. He definitely doesn't want to win, as even the sentient Twitter account will tell you:

So even if this happens, it'll be more of a way to draw attention to Gravel's radical critique of U.S. foreign policy than a genuine bid for the presidency. Gravel hasn't held elected office since he left the Senate in 1981, and that's not going to change four decades later.

Gravel's greatest claim to fame came in 1971, when the government was trying to suppress coverage of the Pentagon Papers, a leaked Defense Department document filled with uncomfortable truths about the Vietnam War; the senator offered an end-run around the threat of censorship by reading the report into the Congressional Record. Gravel's most recent claim to fame was his anti-war, anti-IRS, pro-direct-democracy presidential campaign of 2008. Gravel ran initially in the Democratic primaries and then, after being shut out of the later debates, made a bid for the Libertarian nomination instead.

Along the way, he appeared in some of the most remarkable campaign spots of the 21st century.

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Border Agents Detained a 9-Year-Old U.S. Citizen for 30+ Hours

It's wrong any way you slice it.

KNSD screenshotKNSD screenshotU.S. Customs and Border Protection detained a 9-year-old U.S. citizen for more than 30 hours this week, then refused to explain why it took so long to verify her identity.

Thelma Galaxia and her children, 9-year-old Julia Isabel Amparo Medina and 14-year-old Oscar Amparo Medina, live in Tijuana, Mexico. Julia and Oscar are U.S. citizens, though, and they attend school in San Diego. One of Galaxia's friends drove Julia, Oscar, and her own children to the border so they could get to school on Monday, but decided it would be quicker for them to cross the border on foot due to traffic.

That's where Julia ran into trouble. While she has a passport card, the picture on it was taken when she was younger. Customs agents believed she was impersonating her cousin, Galaxia tells KNSD. The agents also accused Oscar of smuggling, the children say.

"My daughter told her brother that the officer told her that if she admitted that she was her cousin, she would be released soon so she could see her mom," Galaxia tells KNSD. "He was told that he would be taken to jail and they were going to charge him for human trafficking and sex trafficking."

Galaxia eventually got in touch with the Mexican consulate, and she was reunited with her children Tuesday evening. The entire ordeal took about 36 hours, KNSD reports.

The government does not deny that this happened. An agency spokesperson tells KNSD that Julia was detained because she "provided inconsistent information during her inspection."

"Some specifics of our techniques for determining the true identity of a person crossing the border are law enforcement sensitive information," the spokesperson adds. "In addition, some details of this case are restricted from release due to privacy concerns."

Any way you slice it, it shouldn't take that long for a government agency to confirm that a passport-carrying little girl is who she says she is.

This incident is not terribly surprising. This is an agency that used a secret database to journalists covering the migrant caravan that made its way toward the U.S. border last year. It's an agency with a history of harassing U.S. citizens around the border. It's an agency that boarded a bus in New Mexico and asked passengers one by one, "Are you a citizen?"

Unfortunately, such actions are considered legal. The Supreme Court has upheld immigration agents' extra authority in areas near the border. As far as the law is concerned, your Fourth Amendment rights essentially evaporate when you come close to a national frontier.

But even if the courts think this is legal, it isn't right. "I was scared," Julia Medina tells KNSD. "I was sad because I didn't have my mom or my brother. I was completely by myself."


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