Free Minds & Free Markets

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Federal Judge Rules Trump White House Must Return Jim Acosta's Press Pass

The case, which pits Trump against the network he loves to criticize, has raised First Amendment concerns.


A federal judge ruled today that the White House must return CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass, at least for the time being.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia says the White House does not have to allow reporters onto the White House grounds. However, he notes First Amendment issues can arise if the administration allows some reporters on the grounds but not others, according to Buzzfeed News reporter Pat McLeod. Kelly also says Acosta was not provided due process when the White House decided to revoke his pass.

Ultimately, Kelly says CNN successfully proved it will suffer irreparable harm as a result of the administration taking away Acosta's pass. "I will order defendants immediately restore Mr. Acosta's hard pass," Kelly says.

Kelly's ruling came a little more than a week after a contentious exchange between Trump and Acosta. At Trump's post-midterms press conference, Acosta pressed the president on his characterization of the migrant caravan as an "invasion." Trump responded: "I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN," adding: "And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better."

Acosta attempted to ask another question, but Trump wouldn't answer. When a White House intern tried to take the mic away from Acosta, he continued to hold onto it. Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Acosta of "placing his hands" on the intern, which he clearly didn't do. The White House then revoked Acosta's press pass, prompting an uproar from the media.

On Tuesday, CNN filed a lawsuit against Trump and some of his top aides, in an effort to make the White House give Acosta his pass back. The network received the support of multiple other news organizations, including Fox News, in the form of amicus briefs filed with the court.

CNN argues that taking away Acosta's pass violated his and the network's First and Fifth Amendment rights (freedom of the press and due process, respectively). Of particular issue is whether his pass was taken away because of his rude behavior or due to the content of his reporting.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sanders seemed to change the White House's justification. Though she originally cited Acosta's alleged physical behavior toward the intern, she now said he tried to "monopolize the floor" rather than "yield to other reporters."

That argument may have been on Judge Kelly's mind when he asked CNN's attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., why the White House would decide to take action against Acosta now. After all, the president has fueded with Acosta and CNN for a long time. "What triggered a content-based response here as opposed to all those other months?" Kelly asked, according to ABC News.

"This was a bad day for the president," Boutrous responded. "It was the day after the midterms." Boutrous also said that Acosta's alleged rudeness isn't the issue here. "Rudeness really is a code word for 'I don't like you being an aggressive reporter,'" he said, adding that it's actually Trump who "is the most aggressive, dare I say rude, person in the room, and I'm not being critical—this is the rough and tumble of the presidency, and that's what the First Amendment protects."

Justice Department lawyer James Burnham argued the White House has ultimate control over who attends its press conferences. CNN reports:

Burnham said that it would be perfectly legal for the White House to revoke a journalist's press pass if it didn't agree with their reporting. "As a matter of law...yes," he said.

That argument is somewhat troubling. The White House may be where Trump lives, but it's not his property. As Reason's Robby Soave argued last week, the administration should not be in the business of banishing reporters for being critical, even if those reporters are also rude or tend to hog the mic.

Kelly's ruling is only temporary. CNN had asked for "permanent relief" as well as "emergency relief," but today's decision only applies to the latter request. "I want to emphasize the very limited nature of today's ruling," Kelly says. Acosta has his pass back for now, but this saga is far from over.

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Betsy DeVos Formally Unveils New Title IX Rules: 3 Ways They Will Strengthen Due Process on Campus

Cross-examination, stricter definition of misconduct, and greater flexibility

DeVosLEAH MILLIS/REUTERS/NewscomThe Education Department has officially released new rules on how to enforce Title IX, the federal statute that forbids sex and gender-based discrimination in public schools.

This guidance will replace an approach, established under the Obama administration, that threatened free expression on college campuses and due process rights for students accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike the Obama-era guidance, the DeVos policies operate in accordance with basic principles of fairness. They are a massive step forward. If colleges are going to be involved in the business of adjudicating sexual assault, this new approach is vastly preferable.

A draft of the new proposals was released in September; the final version differs slightly, according to an Education Department spokesperson familiar with the process.

The biggest change since the draft proposal is that the increasingly popular single-investigator model of sexual misconduct adjudication—in which a sole administrator was charged with investigating the allegation, preparing a report on the matter, and passing judgment—is no longer permitted. Universities will be required to provide a separate decision maker, either an individual or a group, to determine an accused student's guilt.

A less welcome development is the appeals provision: Under the new rules, both the accuser and the accused will still be able to appeal the outcome of a Title IX decision. Civil libertarians opposed this idea. In the criminal justice system, only the defendant can appeal a guilty verdict; holding an additional trial after a finding of innocence constitutes double jeopardy.

But in other important respects, the new rules are a vast improvement over what existed previously. Here are three ways the new DeVos rules will make campuses freer and fairer places:

1) They define sexual misconduct more narrowly. Under the previous system, administrators were obliged to investigate any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which is a fairly wide swath of behavior. Some officials even interpreted this to include mundane speech that happened to involve gender or sex. But the new guidance specifies that Title IX is only infringed when conduct is severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive. (Violence and quid pro quo arrangements are also prohibited.) An administrator with knowledge of a potential Title IX violation does not need to follow through with an investigation if the allegation does not satisfy these criteria.

2) The new rules mandate cross-examination. Previous guidance did not explicitly forbid cross-examination, but it heavily discouraged the practice due to concern that questioning an alleged sexual assault survivor would be re-traumatizing. The new rules state that neither the accuser nor the accused need to be physically present in the same room, but their attorneys—or support persons provided by the university—must be allowed to submit questions on their behalf for the other party to answer.

There are some exceptions. Neither party may ask questions pertaining to their previous sexual history with other partners. This is consistent with state and federal "rape shield" laws which also limit such questioning.

3) The new rules let colleges set their own evidentiary standards but require similar standards for non–Title IX adjudication. Currently, universities must adjudicate sexual misconduct under a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard: The accused is found guilty if there is 51 percent certainty that he or she is guilty. Henceforth, universities may use either this standard or the clear-and-convincing standard, which requires greater certainty. I am skeptical that many administrations will return to the higher standard of proof, which opens them up to criticism from feminist activists who think they aren't doing enough to punish rapists. However, the new rules stipulate that a university must use the same standard for Title IX as it does for other matters—even ones involving the faculty. If academic misconduct is adjudicated under a clear-and-convincing standard, sexual misconduct must be handled in such a manner as well. This could create pressure to adopt higher standards uniformly.

There are other boons for advocates of due process. The jurisdiction of Title IX will be limited to events that transpire on campus, or are properly described as school functions. The new rules also recognize differences between K-12 education and college: K-12 teachers, for instance, must initiate investigations if they become aware of sexual misconduct, whereas college professors are not necessarily on the hook—at the university level, misconduct must generally be reported to the Title IX office for an investigation to unfold.

These rules will undoubtedly infuriate the Title IX activist movement, which has worked tirelessly to strip accused students of fundamental due process protections in the name of combating the campus rape problem. NARAL, a pro-choice feminist organization, tweeted Thursday that "a new rule from Betsy DeVos would require universities to allow accused sexual abusers to cross-examine and re-traumatize their victims. This is absolutely sickening." This is misleading—the new rule only requires universities to allow the accused to question their accusers vis a vis an intermediary. Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D–Mass.) retweeted the comment, adding, "No survivor should be cross-examined by his or her accused rapist. Ever. Full stop." This is a curious statement; in the criminal justice system, an accused rapist who is representing himself already enjoys the right to question his accuser.

Reforming Title IX is largely a thankless task, given that those helped by these reforms—men accused of sexual misconduct—are an unsympathetic lot. Most of the people who are very invested in Title IX as an issue are victims' rights advocates who see any attempt to re-balance the scales of justice as a sexist attack. There's a tempting narrative here—"Trump administration changes law to hurt women"—that will undoubtedly fool many who are unfamiliar with the specifics of Obama-era Title IX abuse. Missing from this narrative is any acknowledgement of the fact that the previous Title IX guidance had created more problems than it solved: Hundreds of young men have filed lawsuits alleging breach of contract and due process violations. Universities found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They could ignore the federal government, and risk their public funding, or they could ignore students' rights, and risk going to court. This reality wasn't sustainable, and DeVos's administration deserves tremendous credit for taking some steps to address the problem.

It's a tough job, but someone had to do it.

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Charges Against Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Accidentally Revealed by U.S. Prosecutors: Reason Roundup

Plus: the NRA versus New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and CNN versus the White House

Whoops. "US Department of Justice 'accidentally reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks' publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia," tweeted the WikiLeaks account Thursday night, with a link to a federal court filing.

That case—against a person prosecutors were seeking to charge with coercion and enticement of a minor—saw the state attempting to seal the criminal complaint against defendant Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, its supporting documents, and the arrest warrant. "The United States has considered alternatives less drastic than sealing, including, for example, the possibility of redactions, and has determined that none would suffice to protect this investigation," states the motion, which was filed back in August but is only gaining attention now, thanks to the next sentence:

Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.

The odd juxtaposition was noticed yesterday by Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism.

Earlier in the day Thursday, a Wall Street Journal piece said that federal authorities were "increasingly optimistic" that the Justice Department "will be able to get [Assange] into a U.S. courtroom." Ecuador is allegedly itching to get Assange out of its London embassy. "The exact charges Justice Department might pursue remain unclear," reported the Journal, "but they may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information."

Assange is mentioned a twice in the Kokayi motion. "The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint," it says on the second page.

Elsewhere, the document correctly lists Kokayi as the subject of the motion. His case has nothing to do with Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. The reveal appears to have been a mistake, with prosecutors taking language used (or at least prepared) in Assange's case and forgetting to swap out his name for Kokayi's.

"The court filing was made in error," said Joshua Stueve of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The New York Times speculates that the Assange arrest language may have been lifted from a draft motion and no actual charges against Assange brought to a grand jury yet. But Assange's laywer and Wikileaks suggest otherwise.

"The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed," Assange lawyer Barry Pollack told the Times. "The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take."

On Twitter, the Wikileaks account pointed to a memo it had put out in 2012. "Confidential emails obtained from the US private intelligence firm Stratfor show that the United States Government has had a secret indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for more than 12 months," that memo claimed.


First Amendment lawsuit updates. A federal judge just ruled to let a lawsuit go forward against the publisher of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.

The NRA's 1st Amendment lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also allowed to move forward.

And today, a judge is expected to rule on whether the Trump administration acted illegally in revoking the White House press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.


Occupational licensing costs 2 million jobs annually, says study. Research from the Institute for Justice attempts to quantify the economic costs of occupational licensing. "Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs," the institute reports.

In researching licensing laws in 36 states, it found that "states vary widely in the share of workers licensed, from 14 percent in Georgia to 27 percent in Nevada. At the national level, nearly 20 percent of workers are now licensed, up from just 5 percent in the early 1950s." These barriers come at the price of about 2 million jobs annually, according to the study (with state job losses ranging from near 7,000 in Rhode Island to nearly 196,000 in California).

In addition, a "conservative measure of lost economic value" shows that "licensing may cost the national economy $6 billion." A broader and "likely more accurate measure suggests the true cost may reach $184 billion or more."


• Kamala Harris bought 1,100 ads asking people to "protect Mueller" via "emergency legislation".

• Construction workers have the highest suicide rates.

• Ohio Republicans are once again trying to make a ban on abortion after six weeks happen.

• International politics professor Daniel Drezner on why he's "starting to worry about the dollar."

• Facebook and Instagram are getting the Backpage treatment. ""For years now, Facebook and Instagram platforms has permitted sex traffickers unfiltered access to the most vulnerable members of society," say lawyers for a Jane Doe suing the company.

• Election officials in Florida have ordered a manual recount of ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott.

• Students and parents at a Colorado charter school are suing after some students were diciplined for liking Facebook posts critical of the school's CEO.

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Portland Joins the Drinking Straw Crackdown

Yet another pointless municipal straw ban takes hold

Jesse Kraft/Dreamstime.comJesse Kraft/Dreamstime.comPortland, Oregon, is the latest city to crack down on plastic straws, voting unanimously Wednesday to introduce a straw-on-request law.

It's not the worst straw restriction I've seen, but it is nonetheless a depressing reminder of how normalized this form of petty authoritarianism has become.

The new Portland ordinance forbids food retailers and institutional cafeterias (like those at schools and hospitals) from offering straws, plastic cutlery, and single-use condiment packages. They can still provide those items, but customers must first request them.

Violators of Portland's ordinance will be hit with a $100 fine for a first offence, $200 for a second, and $500 for every violation thereafter. A business cannot be penalized more than once in a week for handing out unsolicited straws.

"We are clearly on a path to eliminating single-use plastics. This is our first line in the sand," the Portland Tribune quotes Mayor Ted Wheeler saying after passage of the bill.

On the one hand, Portland's ordinance is narrower in scope and less severe in its sanctions than other straw bans that've popped up across the country. Seattle and San Francisco have both banned outright straws at restaurants. Santa Barbara's straw prohibition initially opened up restaurateurs to criminal charges. (Those were eventually pulled from the bill.)

Portland's ordinance was mild enough that it even nabbed the endorsement of the lobbyist for the state's restaurant and lodging association, reports the Tribune. Ensuring straws are available on request has also quieted complaints from the disabled community. As with all straw bans, however, the carve-outs are a reminder that these policies are invasive and unpopular at the conceptual level.

Portlanders will need to get in the habit of asking for soy sauce when they get takeout, because thanks to the fearless efforts of the Portland City Council, anticipating the customers wants and simply chucking a few bags of soy sauce in with the order is now actually illegal. This would seem ridiculous even if there were a compelling environmental justification for restrictions on single-use plastics. There is not.

The vast majority of plastics in the world's oceans do not come from the takeout joints of Portland or the coffee shops of Seattle, but rather from the world's developing nations, which lack the sophisticated waste collection systems we have in the U.S.

These bans can't fix systemic waste collection systems abroad, but they sure do inconvenience consumers here in the U.S.

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Netflix Uses Cheaper Subscriptions to Bring Its Service to More Communities

Capitalism not only helps reduce poverty, but can bring services to more diverse groups of people.

|||Mohamed Ahmed Soliman/Dreamstime.comMohamed Ahmed Soliman/Dreamstime.comNetflix is seeking to expand access to its services with a new kind of subscription. TechCrunch reports that the streaming service has been quietly testing out a mobile-only service for just $4 a month in Malaysia. That's nearly half the price of its "Basic" package in the country. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that similar trials were "running in a few countries," though they declined to provide further details.

As TechCrunch explains, Netflix has 79 million users outside of the United States but its current pricing model makes it too expensive for vast numbers of potential customers. Rival services in Asian countries begin at $3 a month. A mobile-only service charging $4 a month would allow Netflix to compete in a place like India, for example.

While bashing capitalism is increasingly popular, Netflix is just the latest example of how the profit motive can drive a company to do something wonderful for consumers. The competition for marketshare between Netflix and its rivals is good for consumers, who will soon be able to pay less for the popular streaming service because of capitalism. We can also thank global capitalism for cutting by nearly half the number of people living on less than $2 a day. Similarly, the number of people living on less than $1 a day is a third of what it was in the 1980s.

Businesses have found a way to offer much desired services to lower income consumers in the U.S. as well. In 2016, Whole Foods announced plans to open up a store in Englewood, one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Chicago. Seeking to promote access to healthy food in the area and expand its customer base, the company priced its products to be competitive with more conventional grocery stores. Capitalism actually does what socialism says it could do if it had control of the entire market.

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Despite Janus Ruling, Some Unions Still Forcing Public Workers to Pay Annual Dues: New at Reason

In California, new lawsuits aim to make unions respect the Supreme Court's authority.

Jeff Malet Photography/NewscomJeff Malet Photography/NewscomThe U.S. Supreme Court's decision from June in Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was clear: Public employees no longer are required to pay union dues, even for collective-bargaining purposes. This was no technical or ambiguous point. The court declared it an infringement of the First Amendment when the government forces workers to financially support organizations that they don't want to support.

Case settled, right? Not entirely. Public-sector unions, especially in California, aren't used to finding themselves on the losing end of a public-policy battle. As Janus made its way to the high court, some of the state's unions successfully lobbied the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass laws designed to undermine the expected decision in that case, which involved an Illinois social-worker who didn't want to pay dues to his local AFSCME union.

For instance, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gives unions on-the-job access to California public employees, where union organizers can provide "orientations" touting the benefits of union membership. Unions also have been sending public employees contracts that include "trap language." In essence, the public employees were given contracts that essentially signed away any post-Janus rights. In signing the contracts, they are trapped into paying dues even though the high court said they no longer were required to do so.

We're already seeing the fruits of these anti-Janus activities. In order to circumvent the decision, some California union leaders now are telling their members that they can resign their membership but that those contracts they signed require them to continue paying the union at the same rate. Some of the unions are calling this a service fee, but they can call it whatever they choose: It undermines the clear words, intent and spirit of Janus, writes Steven Greenhut.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: New at Reason

Odd wizarding couple of the year: Eddie Redmayne and Johnny Depp.

Warner Bros.Warner Bros.It was already apparent with the first Fantastic Beasts movie, two years ago, that while "J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World"—as we're invited to call it—is still open for business, the specific magical realm of Harry Potter remains closed. The Beasts movies so far have little of the charm of the best Potter films. Newt Scamander—the "magizoologist" played by Eddie Redmayne—is an appealingly quirky protagonist, and the duck-billed Niffler nestled inside his otherworldly creature suitcase can only be called adorable. But long gone are the days of cute kid wizards in their Hogwarts robes scurrying up and down the school's shifting staircases to attend classes taught by some of Britain's finest character actors, writes Kurt Loder.

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Brickbat: TMI

luxury carNeonshot / Dreamstime.comFrench tax authories say they are going to start searching social media to ID possible tax cheats. They "will be able to see that if you have numerous pictures of yourself with a luxury car while you don't have the means to own one, then maybe your cousin or your girlfriend has lent it to you... or maybe not," said Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin.

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The Florida Gubernatorial Race Is Over, and Trump Ally Ron DeSantis Has Won

Though not as hotly contested as the U.S. Senate race, Florida's gubernatorial race has a clear winner.

|||Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomPaul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomThe election is finally over for at least one disputed Florida race. The victory previously declared for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis was confirmed by a recount on Thursday.

Following the Tuesday midterms, DeSantis claimed victory over Andrew Gillum, his progressive Democratic challenger and the mayor of Tallahassee, with Gillum initially conceding.

But the contentious margin between incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott triggered an automatic recount. As Nelson and Scott shifted their campaign strategies to winning the recount, Gillum on November 10 tweeted out, "I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote."

On Thursday, a final tally placed DeSantis ahead of Gillum and beyond the margin needed for a second recount.

Florida has been governed by a Republican for the past 20 years. Despite this, the race between DeSantis and Gillum was settled by a mere 0.7 percent in the first tally.

Many Republicans of DeSantis' stripe, who portray themselves to be as Trumpian as possible, either lost their elections, or barely won.

DeSantis has largely ignored the recount and has already appointed a transition team to prepare for his new role as governor.

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NYC Councilman Wants to Spy on Bar Patrons in Order To Stop Sexual Harassment

What happens when social justice and city bureaucracy meet? Everyone loses a little more privacy, and workers and business-owners alike suffer.

Deborah Lowery/Polaris/NewscomDeborah Lowery/Polaris/NewscomIntent on leaving no space unmoderated by peeping bureaucrats, New York City Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr. is advocating for sophisticated surveillance cameras in all nightlife establishments, mandatory sexual-harassment intervention training for their staff, and fines for establishments that don't display signs telling patrons that they're in a "harassment free zone" and "consent is mandatory."

Espinal's proposal would establish all sorts of mandatory digital surveillance of patrons at New York bars, clubs, and restaurants. Per the new rules, businesses would have to install digital video cameras "sufficient [in] number, type, placement, and location to view and record all activity in front of and within 15 feet of either side of each entrance or exit" and these cameras "shall be sufficiently light sensitive and provide sufficient image resolution (supported by additional lighting if necessary) to produce easily discernible images recorded at all times."

Footage obtained must be "indexed by dates and times and preserved for a minimum of 30 days so that they may be made available to the police department and other government agencies acting in furtherance of a criminal investigation or a civil or administrative law enforcement purpose," says the bill, which was discussed by the Council last week.

"We can promote consent and fight sexual harassment through our nightlife venues," tweeted Espinal, who represents Bushwick, Brownsville, Cypress Heights, and nearby areas in Brooklyn, and is also the author of a recent effort to ban plastic straws. "Legislation I introduced working with @houseofyesnyc will do that."

House of Yes is a Bushwick performance venue and event space known for aerial shows, burlesque dancing, fetish parties, and an old-timey-jazz-club meets warehouse-party vibe. Previously, House of Yes teamed up with Espinal to promote a voluntary "consent is mandatory" poster campaign to local businesses on Halloween.

Elected in 2011, Espinal was also instrumental in helping "repeal New York's nearly-century-old cabaret law, which forbid dancing in bars without a cabaret license—a vestige from the anti-speakeasy era, often used by mayor Rudy Giuliani to harass bars that received noise complaints," notes Danielle Wayda at Vice. He helped create the city's first Office of Nightlife last year.

While Espinal may have opposed using city laws to harass establishments for conventionally conservative or prudish reasons, however, he's not opposed to harassing them for the "right" reasons.

Legislation Espinal introduced on October 31 would make the display of "Consent Is Mandatory" posters mandatory, and require bartenders, security guards, waiters, and other staff to go through so-called "bystander intervention training," centered on dealing with harassment among patrons. Per the draft legislation: "every nightlife establishment with five or more employees shall annually conduct a harassment training for all employees employed within the city of New York." Security guards would also be subject to more stringent licensing requirements and checks.

Failure to hang the posters in the right spots or keep adequate records of staff training could mean a $500 fine. Violating surveillance-camera requirements could cost businesses $1,000 per violation.

And of course, making sure folks are complying with the new rules gives cops and regulators pretense to pop by private establishments and check everybody's paperwork.

The legislation itself invokes #MeToo, and Wayda describes Espinal's proposal as a step toward "making nightlife venues and bars zero-tolerance spaces for sexual harassment." But there are already rules against workplace sexual harassment, and against all manner of sexual activity without consent, from the mild to the most severe. These new measures likely won't stop harassment. The poster campaign amounts to a useless, feel-good symbol, the new training will be a time-suck for employees, the new rules open the way for more government harassment of entrepreneurs, and the surveillance requirements will further erode the amount of private space in an already heavily surveilled city.

To get serious about stopping sexual violence and workplace harassment, New York should start by doing something serious about the sexual predators in its own police ranks, keep working on improving the city's response to sexual assault and harassment complaints, and help ensure that hourly workers in bars and restaurants get the same protection and consideration as victims in higher income brackets. Mandatory agitprop from bureaucrats is a waste of money, while more surveillance of bar patrons and monitoring of nightlife workers has the potential for far worse damage.

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Dallas Taxpayers Are Shelling Out $725,000 to Defend an Ex-Cop Who Shot an Unarmed Teen

Bad policing is costly in more ways than one.

NBCDFW/ScreenshotNBCDFW/ScreenshotThe Dallas City Council yesterday approved $150,000 in legal fees to defend an ex-cop who shot an unarmed man almost five years ago. The city has now spent more than $700,000 in taxpayer money to fight a civil lawsuit against former Senior Corporal Amy Wilburn.

Then-19-year-old Kelvion Walker was a passenger in what police believed to be a stolen car back in 2013. Dash camera footage shows the incident unfolding:

Police chase the vehicle until the driver, later identified as Reginald Robertson, slows down, jumps out, and runs away. While other officers follow the fleeing driver on foot, Wilburn approaches the car. She pulls out her gun and fires a shot, hitting Walker in the stomach.

Walker was unarmed at the time. He also says his hands were up, a claim that was backed up by a witness. "She gets surprised by Kelvion and pulls her gun and in a split second fires the shot," Wilburn's defense attorney, Robert Rogers, told The Dallas Morning News.

The car, meanwhile, had indeed been stolen. Walker claims he was unaware of that fact, and he has not been charged with a crime. Robertson, though, was sentenced to 14 years behind bars "for aggravated robbery and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle," according to the Morning News.

In the weeks following the shooting, Wilburn was fired from the police force. After being charged with felony aggravated assault, Wilburn pleaded down in May to recklessly firing her gun, a misdeamnor.

Walker, however, has also filed an $8 million federal lawsuit against Wilburn, claiming "grisly disfigurement, and permanent debilitating and humiliating injuries." According to his attorney, he's had to undergo three major surgeries as a result of the shooting.

"It's tough," Walker told CBS DFW. "It's real tough, financially, physically, and mentally."

The suit won't go to trial until February. But the city, which is responsible for defending Wilburn, has already racked up $725,000 in legal bills. That's more than Dallas has ever spent on outside legal fees for a case of officer misconduct, CBS DFW reports.

A spokesperson for the city's Office of Public Affairs and Outreach declined Reason's request for comment. Reason has previously written about how police misconduct costs taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements for civil suits.

This post has been updated to reflect the response Reason received from an Office of Public Affairs and Outreach spokesperson.

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Private Train Cars, Murder Task Forces, Captain Kirk: Cities Offered Amazon Some Weird Shit

But none of it is a substitute for developing a robust and vibrant economy. And neither is landing a single big employer like Amazon.

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomErik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomAmazon will build its new corporate headquarters in Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, after conducting a months-long bidding process that at one point had literally hundreds of American and Canadian cities trying to to woo the retail and web services giant with taxpayer-funded givaways large and small.

In the end, it looks like Amazon picked New York and Virginia for strategic and symbolic reasons that go beyond the specific goodies promised by policymakers in either place.

Of course, there are still plenty of goodies. New York will give Amazon more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks, let the company do whatever it wants with the land it will occupy in Long Island City (good luck dodging city codes if you're a small business in Brooklyn), and it will build a private helicopter pad for Amazon executives to use. Sadly, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo won't be following through on his promise to change his name to "Amazon Cuomo."

But in picking New York and Virginia, Amazon left some of the more bizarre offers on the table—many of which Buzzfeed highlighted in a story published Thursday.

Atlanta, for example, would have given Amazon executives a private lounge in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and offered to rename a major street "Alexa Way" after the Amazon in home spying device digital personal assitant. The city also promised Amazon a private car on each train running through the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system, as a way to "distribute products around the city."

Personally, I'm surprised Atlanta didn't promise to let Amazon executives have exclusive access to the city's streetcar-to-nowhere, since no one rides that thing anyway.

Not to be outdone, Chicago offered Amazon more than $2 billion in tax breaks and grants. But every city and state has plenty of other peoples' money to burn on crony capitalism, it seems, so Chicago tried to sweeten its pitch with the original Captain Kirk. Yes, William Shatner provided the voice-over to the city's over-produced-but-underwhelming video message that failed to mention anything uniquely interesting about Chicago except that it once had a big fire. Seriously, if you ignore the one line about the fire, Shatner's voiceover could be describing any metropolitian area in the whole country.

We don't know how much Chicago spent on marketing itself to Amazon, but hopefully this video cost less than the cool half-million dollars Philadelphia spent on advertising itself, also unsuccessfully.

Columbus, Ohio, probably wins the prize for the weirdest promise made to Amazon. On top of a half-billion dollar subsidy and 100 percent property tax abatement, Ohio's capital city pledged to create a special task force to reduce its "unacceptable murder rate."

This was probably an attempt to smooth over any concerns Amazon's bosses might have had about locating in a place where the mayor had recently declared that too many people were getting killed. But residents and business owers in Columbus might be left wondering why reducing the murder rate would be tied to Amazon deciding to move there—and not the wellbeing of people who live there now (and are being murdered). With Amazon heading elsewhere, is Columbus going to invest fewer resources in reducing murders than it otherwise would have?

There's an important lesson here. City officials ought to put more effort into creating a strong local economy that makes people and businesses want to locate there. That means doing things like trying to limit how many people get murdered in your city, yes, but also in not doing dumb things, like wasting tax dollars on silly streetcars. Cities taxing and regulating the living daylights out of incumbent businesses and local entrepeneurs while offering special deals to corporate behemoths is an affront to the people who invested themselves without first demanding an exception. Cities should be looking to create a tax and regulatory climate that allows all residents and businesses to prosper, rather than cutting special deals that free major corporations from high taxes, oppressive land use policies, or restrictive zoning rules.

The real "winners" in the Amazon sweepstakes are places that decided not to play, like San Antonio, Texas. "We have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn't our style," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote in an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last year. Or Toronto, which submitted a bid for the HQ2 but declined to offer any special economic development schemes. "Frankly, we feel we don't need to play that game," Toby Lennox, the CEO of Toronto Global, an organization that promotes the city's business community, told the CBC.

The politicians in those places won't win any special accolades for "creating jobs"—or "buying jobs," as The Wall Street Journal editorial board says of deals like the ones Amazon struck in New York and Virginia. Doing the right thing won't get their names in splashy newspaper stories or lead to a press conferences with the world's richest man.

Fostering a vibrant economy that allows businesses of every shape and size to prosper should be its own reward. Especially since that's the kind of place businesses should want to go.

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Ranked-Choice Voting Flips House Seat in Maine

GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin fails to get a majority vote. Jared Golden joins the House’s new Democratic majority.

Jared GoldenSource: Jared Golden for CongressA change in the way voters in Maine select their members of Congress has resulted in the ouster of one of its incumbent representatives in the House.

Though Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin had led the initial round of votes in a four-candidate field, he did not get a majority of the vote. Under Maine's voter-enacted ranked-choice rules, getting a plurality of the vote is no longer enough to get elected to Congress.

So after the first round of votes failed to give anybody more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice mechanisms kicked in. Maine voters were not asked to pick just one candidate (though they could if they wanted to); they were asked to rank each of the four candidates in order of preference. Because no candidate got 50 percent of the votes, the candidate with the least number of votes was dropped from the race (independent William Hoar) and the votes were retallied; those who listed Hoar as their first choice had their second choice counted instead.

In the end, more of those independent voters selected Democratic challenger Jared Golden over Poliquin, or at least ranked him higher. Golden passed the 50 percent threshold on Thursday to overtake Poliquin and win. This is the first time ranked-choice has come into play in determining the outcome of a U.S. Congressional race.

But it's not entirely over. Poliquin went to federal court to try to get a judge to block the recount after the first tally put him ahead. The judge declined, but Poliquin is still pushing forward with a legal challenge claiming that ranked-choice voting for members of Congress is unconstitutional.

Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, an organization pushing for adoption of ranked-choice voting, saw the election as a success. In a statement, FairVote notes that not only did most voters actually go through the trouble of ranking candidates, few had difficulties figuring out how to use the ballots:

The results show that voters in the 2nd District handled the ballot well, a testament to the fact that ranked choice voting is easy. Only 0.18 percent of voters who voted in the race made an error that invalided their ballot, which means that more than 99.8 percent of 2nd District voters cast valid ballots. For many voters, this was their first-ever ranked choice voting election.

In addition, 65 percent of backers of the independent candidates used their freedom to rank at least one of the major party candidates as a backup choice, with Golden earning 69 percent of those votes to Poliquin's 31 percent. The "dropoff" in active votes between the first round and the second round was less than 3 percent, far lower than the average decline in turnout of nearly half of first-round votes (47 percent) in congressional primary runoffs this year.

Read more about ranked-choice voting here.

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The 'Epidemic' of Underage Vaping Does Not Justify the FDA's E-Cigarette Restrictions

The health burden on adults who continue smoking far outweighs the risks for teenagers who vape.

Richard B. Levine / NewscomRichard B. Levine / NewscomToday Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has been talking for months about an "epidemic" of underage vaping, finally released the survey data to which he was referring, along with his agency's plan to reverse the trends that trouble him. As expected, the plan includes a ban on e-cigarette flavors other than menthol, mint, and tobacco in stores that admit minors, along with a complete ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

In the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), which is conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the share of high school students who reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month rose from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018, a 78 percent increase. The share of those e-cigarette users who reported vaping on 20 or more days in the previous month rose from 20 percent to 27.7 percent, a 39 percent increase. In other words, 5.8 percent of high school students, about 845,000 teenagers, could be considered frequent vapers, up from 2.3 percent (346,000) last year.

The share of middle school students who reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month rose from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent, an increase of 48 percent. The share of those e-cigarette users who reported vaping on 20 or more days in the previous month rose from 12.9 percent to 16.2 percent, an increase that was not statistically significant. In other words, 0.8 percent of middle school students, about 92,000 kids, are frequent vapers.

A large majority of adolescent vapers presumably are using Juul e-cigarettes, which account for more than 70 percent of the market. The 2017 NYTS questionnaire did not mention Juul as an example of an e-cigarette, an omission that some critics said may have led to an underestimate of vaping that year. The CDC has not posted the 2018 NYTS questionnaire yet. But assuming that the CDC added Juul to its list of e-cigarette brands, that change may account for some of the increase in reported use.

Leaving that point aside, do those 937,000 or so frequent vapers constitute an "epidemic"? Yes, in the sense that their numbers have risen sharply. But to the extent that the term implies disease, disability, and death, no. E-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco and do not burn anything, are far less hazardous than the combustible kind—on the order of 95 percent less hazardous. Smoking rates among teenagers have continued to decline as e-cigarette use has surged, and that may be more than a coincidence. To the extent that teenagers who would otherwise be smoking are vaping instead, that should count as a public health victory.

Gottlieb worries that "some proportion" of adolescent vapers who "otherwise might never have initiated on tobacco" will "become long-term users of combustible tobacco." But while teenagers who try e-cigarettes are more likely than teenagers who don't to later try the conventional kind, that does not mean vaping causes smoking. In a world without e-cigarettes, those teenagers might eventually have started smoking anyway. Maybe some of them would not have tried tobacco had they not been introduced to nicotine via e-cigarettes. But there is no reason to believe that group is large enough to justify Gottlieb's fear that "all the great gains that we've made in this country [in] reducing smoking rates...will be reversed or lost if we can't address the youth use of e-cigarettes."

Cigarette smoking was more common than vaping among high school students until 2014. The previous year, 12.7 percent of high school students reported past-month cigarette smoking in the NYTS, nearly three times the share who reported vaping. This year 20.8 percent reported past-month vaping, more than two and a half times the percentage who reported past-month cigarette smoking in last year's survey. (The CDC has not reported the smoking numbers for 2018 yet.) If you are concerned about the health hazards associated with nicotine consumption, as opposed to nicotine consumption itself, the current situation is clearly preferable to the situation five years ago.

In short, I think Gottlieb is overreacting to a problem that is not nearly as dire as he makes it out to be. Even allowing that underage vaping is a legitimate concern that should be addressed, the restrictions that the Food and Drug Administration is imposing, which will make e-cigarettes less accessible and less appealing to adult smokers who might be interested in switching to vaping (or have already switched), impose a cost in terms of smoking-related disease and death that Gottlieb seems reluctant to acknowledge. He talks about putting "speed bumps" in the way of smokers who might want to switch (or narrowing the "off-ramp" for them) as a necessary cost of reducing underage vaping. But leaving aside the ethics of that tradeoff, I can't see how it makes sense from a public health perspective.

On one hand, we can be pretty confident that some adults will continue to smoke or return to smoking as a result of the FDA's restrictions and will therefore face more disease and shorter lives. On the other hand, Gottlieb worries that some teenagers who move from vaping to smoking otherwise never would have tried tobacco and that they will eventually become regular, long-term smokers, facing more disease and shorter lives than they would have if e-cigarettes had never been invented. He hopes some of that smoking-related health cost can be averted by restricting e-cigarette flavors. If he is trying to minimize morbidity and mortality, Gottlieb must think that remote and speculative public health benefit outweighs the imminent and all but certain public health cost. That conclusion seems highly implausible to me.

Gottlieb says the FDA is striking "a careful public health balance between our imperative to enable the opportunities to transition to non-combustible products to be available for adults" and "our solemn mandate to make nicotine products less accessible and less appealing to children." Yet he also says he will take "whatever steps I must" to prevent nicotine addiction among teenagers. That is not striking a balance, since it could justify removing e-cigarettes from the market entirely, which would prevent teenagers from using them but also prevent smokers from switching to them, resulting in more smoking-related morbidity and mortality.

Total prohibition is the approach the FDA is taking with menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which it says are so appealing to teenagers that they cannot be tolerated at all, even in age-restricted outlets. Those bans, which will take longer to implement than the restrictions on e-cigarettes, are more extreme, but they make more sense from a public health perspective, which attaches no value to pleasure or individual choice. The e-cigarette rules, by contrast, manage to limit consumer choice while also undermining public health.

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81 Percent of Homes in the San Francisco Metro Area Are Worth More Than $1 Million. That's Not Normal.

Restrictions on the supply of new housing are making California's cities increasingly unaffordable.

Michael Flippo/Dreamstime.comMichael Flippo/Dreamstime.comThere are a number of ways to measure California's housing crisis, from looking at the percentage of renters paying over 50 percent of their income in rent (28 percent) to where the state falls in housing per capita (49th). Yet another data point to include on the roster is the number of homes in the state that are worth over $1 million dollars.

Last week, real estate listing company Trulia released a new report which looks at the number of $1 million residential properties in each city, finding that California cities have by far the largest percentage of seven-figure homes in the nation.

"Of the more than 15,100 larger neighborhoods nationwide included in this analysis, 838 had a median home value of $1,000,000 or more, roughly two-thirds of which are in California," writes Felipe Chacón, the report's author.

San Francisco, perhaps unsurprisingly, leads the pack with a whopping 67 percent of homes valued at over $1 million. When you zoom out to look at the San Francisco metro-area—which includes a number of wealthier suburbs not in city limits—that number jumps to a full 81 percent. The estimated median home value in the Bay City is $1.3 million.

The runners up? The Bay Area cities of Oakland and San Jose, with 30 and 70 percent of homes in their metro areas priced in the seven-figure range.

Of the top ten metro areas with the largest percentage of $1 million homes, seven are in California.

The non-California cities in the top ten are Honolulu (where 20 percent of homes are worth upward of a $1 million), Seattle (13 percent), and Long Island in New York (10 percent).

Across the U.S. writ large, only 3 percent of homes are worth more than $1 million.

To be sure, the rise in home prices is a national trend, with very few metro areas seeing prices stay flat or decline according to the Trulia. Yet, that California is so far out ahead of the pack suggests something is off with land use in the Golden State.

One explanation is that California cities have placed severe constraints on building new housing, says Michael Manville, an associate professor of urban planning at University of California Los Angeles.

"The hallmark of a housing crisis is not that your new housing is expensive. New housing has always been more expensive than existing housing. The hallmark of a housing crisis is when a junky looking bungalow in Venice costs $1 million dollars that was built in 1985," Manville tells Reason.

That is hardly an exaggeration. Back in April, a burned down shack in San Jose went on the market at $800,000, and sold for over $900,000 a few days later.

"That can only happen when there is an absence of supply to match an increase in demand," Manville says. "The reason we have this, of course, is that for a variety of reasons we don't allow enough new housing to sort of contain this price appreciation."

Indeed, in Los Angeles, over 75 percent of the city is zoned for only single-family homes or duplexes, according to Curbed. Something like 75 percent of San Jose is also single-family housing. In San Francisco, single-family homes make up 30 percent of the city's housing stock, but take up some 60 percent of the city's land.

Making matters worse are lengthy permitting approval processes for new construction that can stretch out the delivery of projects by years. The more units of housing a project adds, the longer it will typically take to get through this process.

On top of all of this is a system of taxation—ushered in by California's famous/infamous Proposition 13—which puts strict limits on local governments' abilities to increase property taxes. As much as libertarians might like that, an unintended side effect is that local governments go hunting for new revenue elsewhere, often settling on imposing fees on new construction.

According to work done by the University of California Berkeley's Terner Center, per-unit fees on new construction in California hover around $20,000, or three times the national average.

This further disincentivizes home construction, and raises the property values of existing homes even more.

It also creates a toxic political economy whereby local governments and home owners are incentivized to support existing laws limiting new development.

For homeowners, the logic is pretty clear: new housing supply would reduce the value of their property, thus they are more likely to oppose new development.

For cities, it's a little more complicated.

Constrained in their ability to raise property taxes, city governments try to shift the burden of providing public services onto developers.

Sometimes, as mentioned, that's through direct fees. Other times, local governments get their pound of flesh by conditioning project approval on the developer agreeing to build a park, repave streets, or reserve space in their planned building for community purposes.

If cities let go of their ability to shoot down new developments, says Manville, they also let go of their ability to extract concessions from developers.


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