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Brickbat: Hugs and Kisses

HugKoldunova / Dreamstime.comA woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia after rushing onto the stage and hugging singer Majid al-Mohandis during a concert. Mohandis is a man and women in Saudi Arabia are not supposed to mix with men who are not related to them.

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Yeah, Bill Weld Is Totally Running for the Libertarian Presidential Nod in 2020: Podcast

The former governor cut government's size, scope, and spending in Massachusetts. Now he says he wants to shrink the federal government too.

"The huge standoff between the Republican and Democratic Parties, both of them being extreme right or extreme left,...make it more likely than it's ever been that a third party...will win the presidential election in 2020," says former Massachussetts governor (and former Republican) Bill Weld.

In a special podcast hosted by Matt Welch and me and taped last week at FreedomFest, the Libertarian Party's 2016 vice-presidential candidate waved off speculation that he's running for the party's presidential nomination. The election is too far away and too many unpredictable things could happen, he told us with a smile, even as he talked about all the party's candidates he's been helping out. Weld has already won over another lapsed Republican, Washington Post columnist George Will, who recently wrote that Weld incarnates "what a broad swath of Americans say they favor: limited government, fiscal responsibility, free trade, the rule of law, entitlement realism and other artifacts from the Republican wreckage." At the recent Libertarian convention in New Orleans, Weld impressed a good share of the party faithful too. His Twitter feed is filled with shout-outs and endorsements of Libertarian candidates such as Larry Sharpe and calls to "Stop the Duopoly."

In a wide-ranging conversation, Welch and I grill Weld about the ideological fissures within his party, whether he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the waning moments of the 2016 campaign, and how he would sell a message of principle in a nation that is getting more tribalistic by the minute.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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Why Shouldn't a Free American Carry Hundreds of Thousands of Bucks in a Trader Joe's Paper Sack?

Entrapment prosecution of bitcoin exchangers highlights government's war on privacy.

localbitcoinslocalbitcoinsTheresa Lynn Tetley has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison, plus a $20,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Her crime: exchanging U.S. currency for bitcoins with federal agents who went out of their way to suggest that maybe they'd gotten their bitcoins by committing crimes. Federal prosecutors say this is the first time a bitcoin-for-cash exchanger will be going to jail for such an act in the central district of California.

The U.S. Attorney's office had asked for a far longer sentence of 30 months in prison. They also, in the course of the arrest and prosecution, stole nearly $300,000 in cash and 25 gold bars from Tetley.

The most telling thing about the entrapment prosecution is the sentencing memo, which blatantly lays out the feds' fear and contempt for any attempt to keep a financial transaction private, whether or not anything inherently illegal is happening.

Whether or not someone doing the honest public service of exchanging U.S. cash for bitcoin is aware that the bitcoin may be the result of some b.s. crime, the sentencing memo insists that they act as if they do. Tetley's failure to "register with the federal government," the memo says,

signaled to her clients that she was unconcerned with the government's regulations concerning money laundering, and thereby would not conduct customer due diligence or report to the government suspicious transactions or certain transactions over $10,000. Customers, regardless of the source of their funds, could then utilize her services, exchange Bitcoin for cash or vice versa, without fear of being the subject of reports filed with the federal government for certain transactions that otherwise would be reported.

Defendant charged a premium to these customers seeking to avoid the regulated financial system, and collected higher fees for her services than those charged by regulated exchangers. For this conduct, defendant has pleaded guilty to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1960 [prohibition of unlicensed money transmitting] and 1956(a)(3) [laundering of monetary instruments].

Convicting Tetley, who provided her services under the name "bitcoin maven" at localbitcoins.com, did not require her to know or think that the cryptocurrency came from selling drugs or anything illegal at all, according to the memo. That was just an "aggravating factor for sentencing."

The document drips with the government's desire to know everything we do involving money. At one point it makes a point of noting that she brought the cash for one of her federal agent customers in two Trader Joe's paper bags, as if that is inherently outrageous to public order.

"Unlicensed exchangers such as defendant generally do not conduct customer due diligence, file transaction reports for cash transactions in excess of $10,000, or file suspicious reports," they claim. (In most cases, such reports merely gives government snoops a chance to know what we are doing, whether or not it is inherently criminal.) Thus, the U.S. attorney insists, "failure to register as a money transmitting business is a serious offense, and not a simple administrative oversight of failing to file a form with the federal government."

In the government's eyes, apparently,

Providing cash in envelopes (and in the significant amounts she did), in coffee shops and restaurants, is no way to conduct legitimate business, certainly when that volume exceeds the millions, and someone such as defendant—a former stockbroker and real estate investor—was certainly aware of that.

That Tetley "proceed[ed] in this manner highlights the seriousness of the offense that warrants a custodial sentence of 30 months."

At least the judge didn't agree with that superpunitive sentence. That the government goes out of its way to criminalize innocent activity because it has the potential to make it harder for cops to do their jobs is heinous. As J.D. Tuccille and I have both pointed out previously in Reason, applying such money transmitter laws to bitcoin exchangers arises not from a desire to make the world safer for honest people who haven't harmed anyone but from a desire to ensure we can't have any financial transactions outside the eyes and arms of the state. It's an ugly sentiment, and the authorities apply it to old-fashioned cash as much as they do to the exotic new financial instruments of the blockchain age.

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Sessions' Escalating Drug War Causing Cold Feet Over Safe Injection Centers

San Francisco was supposed to have sites up and running this month. It does not.

London BreedYichuan Cao/Sipa USA/NewscomPrivately operated, privately funded safe injection sites were supposed to open in San Francisco this month, allowing addicts to use drugs safely in a place where they can be monitored to prevent overdoses. These were going to be the first safe injection centers to open in the United States.

But no facilities have opened yet. The newly elected mayor, London Breed, supports the injection facilities as a way to help clean up the city. (Residents have been sending the local media picture of drug needles found at local train stations.) But for now, she and the city are taking a step back and instead opening a "demonstration" injection center at a church, so that members of the community can see what they're actually like before one opens.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the mock site will be open to visitors at the end of August. Clearly the city will miss its July deadline.

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross say there's more to this delay than just easing community fears about injection centers. City Hall sources told them that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is deeply concerned that the city could be found legally liable for allowing injection facilities to operate:

One City Hall source privy to the conversations told us Herrera was particularly worried about the threats from the Trump administration to go after drug dealers and new guidelines issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March applying the death penalty to numerous drug-related crimes under existing law.

"The threats from his government are no joke, and the city attorney advised (Farrell and other city officials) that heroin is a Schedule 1 drug...with a lot of legal liability," said the source, who was not authorized to speak for the record. "San Francisco's public health director could wind up being put in jail" for allowing people to shoot up, no matter the surroundings.

Recall that under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice continued to shut down and charge people involved in medical marijuana operations with federal crimes in California for years before they backed off. And the Sessions Justice Department has been openly hostile to non-punitive responses to drug issues.

San Francisco isn't the only place that seems to be getting cold feet about moving forward with the injection centers. NPR notes that 13 different communities are considering sites but are worrited about what the Justice Department might do. Nobody wants to be the first:

Scott Burris, director of Temple University's Center for Public Health Law Research, says municipalities are worried about a showdown with Jeff Sessions' Department of Justice.

"You can talk about cities racing to be first," Burris says. "But my guess is that you have a lot of cities who are actually racing to be second."

Last December the U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont put out a statement warning against safe injection sites, stating that they "would violate several federal criminal laws, including those prohibiting use of narcotics and maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use. It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and [safe injection site] workers and overseers. The properties that host [safe injection sites] would also be subject to federal forfeiture."

Reason's Mike Riggs has blasted the U.S. attorney's completely incorrect claims that injection facilities encourage dangerous drug use and lead to more overdoses.

The government may be wrong on the facts and the science, but it's the one with the guns and the prison cells. Last week Sessions announced an opioid prosecution "surge": He is ordering prosecutors in 10 federal districts to go after every single synthetic opioid dealer they can get their hands on. He is making it clear that he has a hammer-nail approach to the opioid crisis, and the last thing any injection facility owner would want is to be perceived as a nail.

That injection sites would probably do a better job of reducing drug overdose deaths than this cruel enforcement scheme. Sessions does not appear able to process that possibility. So even if San Francisco believes injection sites would actually help clean the place up, officials have to be wary about a harsh response from the Justice Department if they actually try it.

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Trump Claims He Misspoke During Putin Presser, Meant to Say Russia Was Involved in Election Interference

"The sentence should've been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.'"

TrumpScreenshot via NBC NewsAfter enduring 24 hours of criticism from all corners of the political spectrum, President Trump is now running away from remarks he made during a joint presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday.

On Monday, Trump suggested Putin had persuaded him that the Russian government did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—despite U.S. intelligence officials' near certainty that Russia was responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. But on Tuesday, Trump claimed to have misspoke when he said, "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia."

"I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" said Trump, according to NBC News. "The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things."

As Trump himself notes, the corrected sentence is ungrammatical, since it contains two negatives. Whether this is truly what the president intended to say is anyone's guess. But the president was right to change course: Even if no one within the Trump campaign colluded with Russian hackers, and even if Russia's efforts didn't actually change the outcome of the election (both reasonable assertions, based on what he know right now), it's still overwhelmingly likely that Russia was involved.

Trump shouldn't go to war with Putin over this, and diplomacy is the best course of action. But diplomacy does not and should not require Trump to peddle falsehoods to the American people as an authoritarian Russian government watches approvingly.

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Starbucks Wants to Send More Plastic to a Recycling Industry in Crisis

Thanks to Chinese restrictions on imported recyclables, even less of America's waste is getting reused.

Fedecandoniphoto/Dreamstime.comFedecandoniphoto/Dreamstime.comWhen I reported last week that Starbucks' plan to ditch its straws will actually increase the coffee chain's plastic use, the company offered a novel defense of its new policy. While not disputing that it would be using more plastic after switching over to strawless lids, the Seattle-based business argued that because those new lids are recyclable, its new policy is still a net environmental win.

"The strawless lid is made from polypropylene, a commonly-accepted recyclable plastic that can be captured in recycling infrastructure, unlike straws which are too small and lightweight to be captured in modern recycling equipment," a company spokesperson told Reason.

A few of the company's more caffeinated supporters jumped on this logic, arguing that this more than earned Starbucks the praise that had initially greeted its strawless policy, and that any pushback was unwarranted:

So the company is allegedly keeping plastic trash from filling our overflowing landfills and trash-saturated oceans. There are three problems with this argument. The first is that the plastic piling up in landfills, as opposed to the sea, is not a serious environmental problem. The second is that even when plastic is recyclable, it is rarely actually recycled. The third is that none of this does anything to address the chief cause of oceanic plastic pollution.

Let's start with the landfills.

In a landmark 1996 New York Times article, John Tierney found that even if America keeps producing waste at the same rate, "all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing." So far, Tierney's analysis has held up. The nation is not running out of landfill space, nor are at-capacity landfills an environmental or even aesthetic burden. As Tierney noted in a 2015 Times story revisiting the issue, land used for garbage dumps wouldn't even "be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island. The United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill."

Sending plastic straws to be buried under future parks doesn't sound that bad.

Landfill space aside, some might argue that it's still a better environmental move to reclaim materials we've used already. Thus Starbucks' switch from unrecyclable straws to recyclable lids will save resources in the long run, even if it uses more plastic upfront.

Yet our recycling industry has long done a poor job of recycling plastic. According to a 2016 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 9.5 percent of the plastic generated in 2014 was recycled that year, with another 15 percent being incinerated and a full 75.5 percent of it winding up in landfills. (These percentages are based on the aggregate weight of all plastic generated.) Afterward the plastic recycling rate has hovered around 9 percent.

Since the publication of that report, things have only gotten worse, thanks to China. Once one of the largest buyers of recycled materials, the country has essentially closed itself off from the world's waste.

According to Brandon Wright, communications director for the Waste and Recycling Association, China used to buy about 30 to 40 percent of all recyclable materials from the United States. But since 2013 the Chinese government has been conducting rigorous inspections on the materials entering the country, looking to weed out substandard plastics and papers. And this year China imposed far more stringent restrictions on the types of solid waste allow into the country. In January it banned the import of 24 formerly accepted materials. In March it reduced the amount of contaminated material (all those cheese-coated pizza boxes) that it would accept from 7 percent of a bale to .5 percent.

Wright says that about 25 percent of U.S. recyclable material is contaminated, making China's new standards nearly impossible to meet. When asked how much recyclable materials are shipped to China today, he says "very little."

China's exit has upended much of the recycling business here in the States. In environmentally conscious Oregon, some recycling companies—unable to find a buyer for what they collect curbside—have been granted waivers to just take the contents of recycling bins straight to the landfill. California, which once shipped two-thirds of its recyclable materials to China, is being hard hit by the new restrictions as well, prompting what the Los Angeles Times has called a "recycling crisis."

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the dire straits of Minnesota's recycling industry under these new Chinese restrictions. Some processors have reportedly started storing the materials they collect in trailers, unable to find a buyer for them. Others have laid off staff. Minnesota's waste haulers, who used to get paid to drop materials off at processing centers, are now being charged for their troubles. Recyclers are now desperately urging their customers to put more of their waste in the garbage bin, with the helpful mantra "when it doubt, throw it out."

So Starbucks wants to dump yet more plastic lids on an industry that can't keep up with the current volumes of recycling. Many of these new lids will no doubt meet the same fate as much of our current curbside recyclables and end up in a landfill anyway. Indeed, given that Starbucks' new lids use more plastic then the old lid-straw combination, we could wind up not just with more plastic being used in the stores but more winding up in landfills as well.

In fairness to Starbucks, whether a company's waste winds up in a landfill or is reused has little bearing on the biggest plastic pollution issue facing the world today: all that plastic winding up in the world's oceans. Some 8 million metric tons of plastic are estimated to end up in ocean each year.

But the vast majority of this comes not from Americans sipping lattes but from poorer coastal countries that lack decent waste management systems. This is undoubtably a problem, but it's a problem that needs to be addressed directly by improving waste management in the countries generating the most waste. Starbucks' plan to ditch straws for recyclable strawless lids—as well-intentioned as it is—does nothing to solve this problem.

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Former President Obama Criticizes Leftist Shutdown Culture

You can't make the world a better place, he says, if you silence "those who aren't like you because they are white or they are male."

ObamaScreenshot via ABC NewsIn a speech commemorating Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday, former President Obama condemned "strongman" politics and the rising tides of nationalism. Coming just a day after President Trump's humiliating presser with Vladimir Putin, in which Trump appeared to have gullibly swallowed Putin's obvious lies about Russia's interference in the 2016 election, many will see Obama's remarks as a thinly veiled criticism of his successor.

But Obama also made remarks that can only be seen as a condemnation of intolerant leftists who shut down speakers on college campuses because they find their views offensive. Here's what the former president had to say (emphasis mine):

Democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, maybe they'll change ours. You can't do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponent has to say from the start. And you can't do it if you insist that those who aren't like you because they are white or they are male, somehow there is no way they can understand what I'm feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.

This a direct rebuke of the notion that only people who are oppressed for some reason—because of their race, gender, sexuality, disability status, size, etc.—should be allowed to speak on issues relating to said difficulties.

It's not surprising that Obama would say this. The 44th president has consistently touted norms of speech consistent with Enlightenment liberalism. In his 2016 commencement address at Rutgers University, he implored students to engage speakers with whom they disagree, not to shut them down.

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Las Vegas Hotel Sues Victims of 2017 Mass Shooting

Citing a post-9/11 terror law, MGM Resorts International argues that it isn't liable for the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

|||Francis Dean /Deanpictures/NewscomFrancis Dean /Deanpictures/NewscomMGM Resorts International is filing a federal lawsuit against more than 1,000 victims of the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The company aims to exploit a legal loophole protecting companies that use "anti-terrorism" tools.

Last year, gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival just before killing himself. Nearly 60 died and more than 500 were taken to the hospital. Paddock's vantage point in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel contributed to his ability to harm so many.

Hundreds of victims filed lawsuits against MGM Resorts, which owns both the Mandalay Bay and the Route 91 Harvest venue. The suits accused the company of not doing enough to prevent the deadly events. In one suit filed on behalf of 450 victims, the plaintiffs argue that MGM had a "duty of reasonable care" to monitor hotel guests.

Earlier this week, MGM Resorts filed its suit, hoping to absolve itself of liability. The lawsuit is not asking for money; it wants the court to consider the applicability of the 2002 SAFETY Act. As the Las Vegas Journal-Review explains, the law

extends liability protection to any company that uses "anti-terrorism" technology or services that can "help prevent and respond to mass violence."

In this case, the company argues, the security vendor MGM hired for Route 91, Contemporary Services Corp., was protected from liability because its services had been certified by the Department of Homeland Security for "protecting against and responding to acts of mass injury and destruction.

The lawsuits argue that this protection also extends to MGM, since MGM hired the security company.

If the suit is won, it would render inviable any future civil suits against MGM over the massacre.

Attorney Robert Eglet, who is representing a number of the victims, calls the lawsuit "outrageous," telling the Journal-Review that MGM is engaged in a "blatant display of judge shopping."

MGM Resorts spokesperson Debra DeShong released a statement, as reported:

The Federal Court is an appropriate venue for these cases and provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.

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Whirlpool Took Tariffs for a Spin, Ended Up With Tumbling Sales

Tariffs let the government pick winners and losers—but sometimes even the winners get hung out to dry.

AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS/NewscomAARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS/NewscomBefore the White House was slapping tariffs on Chinese imports, before its tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the opening salvo in what would become President Donald Trump's trade war was fired without hardly any notice. In January, the administration imposed tariffs on imported washing machines, with the duty ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent along a sliding scale.

That sounded like great news to the Whirlpool Corp., an American appliance manufacturer. "This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool," CEO Marc Bitzer said on an investor conference call, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Almost every government intrusion into the economy will create winners and losers, but tariffs do so in espescially direct ways. And it was no accident that Whirlpool was a "winner" of the Trump administration's first foray into trade protectionism. The company had lobbied hard for the trade barriers, telling the United States International Trade Commission that foreign companies like Samsung and LG were undercutting it on price. The tariffs would "create a level playing field for American workers and manufacturers," Whirlpool officials told the commission. They would allow the domestic manufacturer to hire 1,300 more workers at its Ohio plant, the company said.

Now, the Journal reports, things look quite a bit different. Whirlpool's share price is down 15 percent over the past six months. (Fellow washing-machine makers Samsung and LG have seen their stock prices fall as well.) Even with a boost from the new corporate tax rules, Whirlpool's net income was down $64 million in the first quarter of 2018 when compared with the same period of the previous year.

Why? Because tariffs on steel and aluminum have increased the cost of Whirlpool's raw materials, essentially wiping out the advantage it gained by having its foreign competitors penalized.

For consumers, it means the price of a new washing machine—whether made in Ohio, South Korea, or China—has jumped by about 20 percent in just a few months. That's pretty much exactly in line with what analysts predicted in January when the tariff was announced.

Bureau of Labor StatisticsBureau of Labor Statistics

"We have repeatedly stated that this tariff is a tax on every washing machine buyer in the U.S.," a Samsung spokesman told the Journal. "Since the tariff was implemented, U.S. consumers have paid more for their washing machines across all brands."

While the tariffs can be credited with pushing Sumsung to open a small manufacturing facility in South Carolina (LG is reportedly considering doing the same), the costs imposed on consumers seem to far outweigh the potential for new jobs. That's something that economists have generally agreed on ever since the Trump administration started racheting up barriers to trade: Tariffs may create some jobs, but they'll cause more to be lost.

Similar stories are playing out in other sectors of the economy where the Trump administraton has deployed protectionist policies. The 25 percent tariff on imported steel, for example, is raising prices and forcing layoffs, but it is not resurrecting steel towns in the Rust Belt.

When it comes to tariffs, the losers lose and often the winners lose too. And consumers lose most of all.

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Putin Invokes JFK and MLK Assassinations in Weird U.S./Russia Comparison

"Haven't presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about—well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King?"

Fox News/YouTube/ScreenshotFox News/YouTube/ScreenshotRussian leader Vladimir Putin responded yesterday to a question about the deaths of Russian dissidents with one of the strangest bursts of whataboutism yet: He invoked the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In a Fox News interview that aired hours after Putin's joint press conference with Donald Trump, host Chris Wallace asked the Russian president why "so many" of his critics "end up dead or close to it." Wallace specifically referenced the deaths of politician Boris Nemtsov, reporter Anna Politkovskaya, and former double agent Sergei Skripal.

Putin replied that "all of us," including Trump, have political rivals, prompting Wallace to indicate that other politicians' rivals "don't end up dead." An undeterred Putin offered this reply:

Haven't presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about—well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King? What—and what happens to the clashes between police and, well, civil society, and some—several ethnic groups? Well, that's something that happens on the U.S. soil. All of us have our own set of domestic problems.

Though Russia's constitution supposedly allows for freedom of speech, Russian officials have "great discretion to crack down" on views they don't like, according to the human rights group Freedom House. And while Putin said Monday he is not "the kind of strongman" people portray him to be, many of his outspoken critics might say otherwise—at least the ones who are still alive.

Needless to say, the U.S. is hardly perfect. We do have our own "domestic problems," including the police killings that Putin alluded to. Still, Americans are allowed to speak out against their own government without fear of death or prison.

And the invocation of the assassinations is bizarre. You can read it as a conspiracy theory that past U.S. leaders had King and Kennedy assassinated, but raising that idea in this context would imply that Putin has been assassinating his critics—not an unreasonable thing to suspect him of doing, but also not something he's likely to confess on Fox News. Alternately, you can take it as a suggestion that Nemetsov and the rest were victims not of the state but of the same sort of general political turbulence that produces people like James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald. But in addition to being a dubious argument in general, that would be an especially curious way to contrast contemporary America and Russia, given that King and Kennedy were killed more than half a century ago. In any case, while the U.S. has seen its share of political violence over the last few decades, I think it's safe to say that Russia's had a lot more of it.

The Russian News Agency, meanwhile, is using Putin's Fox interview to highlight Moscow's alleged efforts to bring the culprits behind those political crimes to justice. That isn't a surprising response: The state-run news outlet has little choice but to defend the nation's leader. After all, the consequences for dissidence can be dire.

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NAACP Sues Connecticut to Stop 'Prison Gerrymandering'

Incarcerated prisoners are counted where they're jailed for representation purposes, even though they usually cannot vote.

PrisonAngelo Gilardelli / Dreamstime.comThe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing Connecticut to stop the practice of counting prisoners as though they're residents of the districts where they're incarcerated, a practice that inflates the political power of some parts of the state at the expense of others.

Felons serving prison time generally cannot legally vote, but they still count in the census and for determining district boundaries. In Connecticut, they were counted in the state's 2011 redistricting plan as residents of the prison facility instead of where they came from.

The NAACP lawsuit calls this "prison gerrymandering." The end result is that prisoners, disproportionally black and Latino, end up being counted as residents in the rural areas where the jails are concentrated. This increases the population used to determine district boundaries of the prisoner-heavy areas without actually increasing the number of voters, and takes numbers away from the cities, like Hartford and New Haven, where these prisoners come from.

The suit notes that Connecticut's laws don't require that prisoners be counted this way; the state's Reapportionment Commission made the choice. The lawsuit also notes that on the rare occasions when people in Connecticut are incarcerated yet also eligible to vote, they are required to cast ballots for races in their home districts, not the districts where they're incarcerated.

The end result is a 10- to 15-percent variance in district populations. A state House district in Connecticut has an average of around 23,670 residents. In the districts with the prisons, about 1,000 to 2,000 people cannot vote due to incarceration.

The NAACP argues that this an unbalanced representation system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The group is asking the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to stop the state from using the 2001 plan.

It's worth noting that the federal census does the same thing. In February the Census Bureau announced it would use a person's "usual residence" for the 2020 count. That means where a person lives and sleeps much of the time, not his or her legal residence. So people who are incarcerated will be classified as being residents of the congressional districts where they are jailed.

Most states do the same thing too. Indeed, only four states—Maryland, Delaware, New York, and California—count prison inmates as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes.

Read the lawsuit here.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says Unemployment Is Low 'Because Everyone Has Two Jobs,' Which Is Not How Unemployment Rates Work

"Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world."

AOSScreenshot via Firing LineAlexandria Ocasio-Cortex was roundly criticized on social media yesterday for supposedly botching a question about Israeli-Palestine relations during an interview with Firing Line's Margaret Hoover. But Ocasio-Cortez's admission that she was "no expert on geopolitics" was much more satisfactory than her answer to a question about the unemployment rate, which she claimed was low merely "because everyone has two jobs."

This is wrong for two reasons. First, people working multiple jobs has no distorting effect on the unemployment rate, which is calculated by taking the number of unemployed people and dividing it by the number of people in the labor force. The raw number of jobs being worked by Americans has no bearing on these numbers.

Second, everyone does not have two jobs. As Bloomberg View's Noah Smith points out, only about 5 percent of workers are moonlighting. This rate has actually dropped slightly over the last three decades.

Ocasio-Cortez continued: "Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, and can barely feed their kids." Again, the number of overtime hours Americans are working has no impact on the unemployment rate.

Ocasio-Cortez blames profit-seeking "no-holds-barred capitalism" for the conditions in which people struggle to feed their kids. Hunger and poverty are indeed problems faced by millions of Americans—14 percent of U.S. households experience food insecurity. Under capitalism, though, world poverty has declined precipitously. Over the past few decades, the economic growth that global trade has brought to developing economies has helped lift a billion people out of poverty. Between 2001 and 2011, some 700 million people exited from extreme poverty worldwide.

"Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world," said Ocasio-Cortez. But the scale of human suffering was inarguably greater in the era before capitalism, and would be again in any post-market era, if socialism's failure rate is any indication.

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Rand Paul Blames Criticisms of Diplomacy on 'Trump Derangement Syndrome'

Paul defends Trump's conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the name of diplomacy.

In the wake of Donald Trump's meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) has accused the summit's critics of "Trump Derangement Syndrome."

The comment came during a Monday appearance with PBS' NewsHour. Earlier in the interview, Paul argued that having a conversation, "even with our adversaries," is beneficial for addressing the countries' mutual interests. "It would be nice to have help from Russia on North Korea as far as denuclearization," he told Judy Woodruff. "We have the Ukraine situation. So...I think that we won't have any progress if we don't have any conversations."

Later, Paul addressed the meeting's critics:

I think Trump is different, and he's willing to meet with foreign leaders and, actually, I think you may get a breakthrough because of the meetings. And I think, if this were anybody else, if there weren't such acute hatred for Trump, such Trump Derangement Syndrome on the left, I think, if this were President Obama—and it could have actually been President Obama early in the first term, when they were trying to reset our relations with Russia, that could have easily had a meeting like this—and the left and the media would have had a lovefest over President Obama.

Paul also published a defense of the president's meeting in Politico, writing: "Politicizing international affairs is a dangerous game, but that hasn't stopped far too many in Washington, who seem to have forgotten that a vital part of keeping America safe and secure is avoiding war through strong and consistent diplomacy, from playing politics."

Trump tweeted a word of thanks to Paul on Tuesday morning after the senator made similar comments on CBS' This Morning.

Earlier this week, Paul sparked a bit of outrage when Trump critics focused on a line from his Sunday interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. Paul observed that the U.S., like Russia, has meddled in foreign elections, saying, "We all do it." Though Paul made the statement in the midst of calling for stronger protections for the American electoral process, like Mother Jones' David Corn called Paul a traitor.

Bonus link: Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Nick Gillespie, and Matt Welch discuss Rand Paul's Sunday comments on the Reason Podcast.

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Stossel: Plastic Straw Myths—New at Reason

The claim that Americans use 500 million plastic straws daily is based on a nine-year-old's school project.

Have you used a plastic straw lately? Did you feel guilty? Celebrities and activists hope so! They want us all to #stopsucking.

Politicians took notice. Seattle recently banned plastic straws, and other places are considering similar bans.

Companies are also getting in on the trend; Starbucks recently decided to phase out plastic straws in all its stores by 2020. Other companies like American Airlines, Sea World, and Royal Caribbean are planning to ban plastic straws.

In our latest video, Stossel TV contributor Kristin Tate, author of How Do I Tax Thee, examines what a straw ban would accomplish.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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

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Compromised, Proud, or Diplomatic? Trump's Performance With Putin Gets Wildly Mixed Reviews: Reason Roundup

Kremlin Pool/ZUMA Press/NewscomKremlin Pool/ZUMA Press/Newscom"I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party's emails during the 2016 election, President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday following his private talk with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. That, of course, is not what U.S. law enforcement and intelligence leaders say. So, to many people, Trump's comments are yet more proof that he's a puppet of Putin. "Compromised," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) this morning on MSNBC. Treason!, howled many, including former CIA Director John Brennan.

There's a simpler explanation, one rooted in less sinister circumstances, if not necessarily less sinister an outcome. We can even say it without speculating about Trump's particular sort of damaged psyche in clinical terms. Put simply, Trump is too damn proud to react to Russia in anything like what we might think of as a normal way. To concede that Russia interfered in any way in the election, even all on its own, challenges the meritocratic or populist spin on Trump's win. Trump thinks, or wants to think, or wants us to think that he did this all on his own.

And then the even simpler explanation, the one being pushed by Trump's tried and true cheerleaders: Trump was just trying to keep things going smoothly with Russia, and lashing out at Putin while he's right there on stage next to him would be counterproductive.

My inclination is to the erratic pride explanation here, with some of the peacemaking instinct his fans are postulating. There is some wisdom to not insulting tempestuous enemies with large nuclear arsenals directly to their face.

But Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley called Trump's full answer "an astounding word salad of debunked conspiracy theories," and this is also a very fair assessment. Here's the full exchange between Trump and an Associated Press reporter:

AP: Just now president Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell president Putin—would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

TRUMP: So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are those servers? They're missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton's e-mails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer. OK? Thank you.

Fox News contributor Byron York called Trump's comments "appalling" but suggested that they were connected to Trump's feeling that "if he gives an inch on the what-Russia-did-part" of this story, "his adversaries will take a mile on the get-Trump part. That's consistent with how Trump approaches other problems."

The Republican senators from Arizona weren't quite so forgiving. "I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression," tweeted Jeff Flake. "This is shameful." John McCain called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory....No prior president has ever based himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Their responses are comparatively restrained.

For a few more Reason-able takes (beating you to the bad pun this time!), see Robby Soave ("disappointment with Trump's behavior is well-justified....He could have signaled a desire to work toward more peaceful relations without coming across like a dupe"...but treason?) and Peter Suderman writing here yesterday.

Protesters who gathered in front of the White House last night, calling it #OccupyLafayettePark, promised they would be back tonight.

Erin Scott/ZUMA Press/NewscomErin Scott/ZUMA Press/Newscom

FREE MINDS

Los Angeles Times order "not plausibly lawful." More from Ken "Popehat" White on the story mentioned here yesterday about a federal court judge, John F. Walter, ordering the Los Angeles Times to pull a factual story about a shady detective. The judge "also ordered the Times to appear in Court this Wednesday to argue whether the temporary order should be made into a permanent injunction," White notes.

In other words, based on an emergency request from the defendant, with no prior opportunity to be heard, a federal judge ordered a major newspaper (1) not to write about the details of a federal plea agreement it had obtained lawfully, (2) not to write anything that "relies on, or is derived in any way" from the plea agreement, an incredibly broad and vague term that is extraordinarily chilling to speech about the case, (3) to take down any story it's already published, and (4) told the paper they can see the order, but not the application stating the legal and factual grounds for the order.

White concludes that "Judge Walter's order is not plausibly lawful" and is "patently unconstitutional, and the sort of order that is only issued when a judge deliberately defies First Amendment law or is asleep at the switch." He explains why in detail here.

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