Free Minds & Free Markets

Article Thumbnail

Is the White House Considering Easing Chinese Tariffs? The Stock Market Hopes So

Dow Jones skyrockets on news that Steve Mnuchin is leading behind-the-scenes effort to reduce tariffs on China.

State Department/Sipa USA/NewscomState Department/Sipa USA/NewscomTreasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is pushing behind-the-scenes for the White House to reduce its tariffs on China, and news of the effort appears to have sent the stock market soaring on Thursday afternoon.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mnuchin has raised "the idea of lifting some or all tariffs" in a series of meetings as senior administration officials chart a course towards a crucial March 1 deadline in the ongoing trade spat between the United States and China. Mnuchin believes that reducing or eliminating some of the tariffs imposed last year may advance trade talks with China and could convince the Chinese government to make concessions—though other top trade officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, remain unconvinced and worry that rolling back tariffs could be a sign of weakness, according to the Journal.

Atop a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, which apply to all nations, the Trump administration has slapped a 10 percent tariff on an estimated $200 billion of goods imported annually from China. Those Chinese tariffs were set to increase to 25 percent on January 1, but Trump decided in November to postpone the hike until March 1 in the hopes of reaching a trade deal with China in the early part of this year.

Those tariffs—which are really just taxes paid by American consumers and businesses—have already had an effect on the American economy. At the end of the third quarter, dozens of major American companies said trade issues and tariffs were red flags for future earnings. Worse may be coming. Over a full year, the tariffs will reduce gross domestic product, a short-hand measure for the overall size of the economy, by about $30 billion, while also depressing wages and costing more than 94,000 jobs, according to an analysis by The Tax Foundation.

If you need more immediate evidence of the impact of Trump's tariffs, just take a look at what happened to the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the two hours since The Wall Street Journal reported the slightest rumblings of tariff skepticism in the White House. The story went live online at 2:40 in the afternoon:

Google FinanceGoogle Finance

Sure, the exuberence didn't last, but that's not an insignificant rally for the Dow Jones—which, at 24,300, is still more than 600 points lower than where it was on March 1, 2018, when Trump launched the first volley of his trade war.

Lowering the tariffs will require convincing the "Tariff Man" himself that they are a bad idea, of course, but if Mnuchin is serious about making that argument, he just got more ammunition.

Article Thumbnail

Harris County, Texas, Flashpoint of Bail Reform Battles, Will Mostly Eliminate Cash Demands in Minor Cases

Lawsuits playing out for three years spotlight how poor people end up trapped in jail even before being convicted.

Get out of jailAnthony Furgison / Dreamstime.comHarris County, Texas, has essentially been ground zero in the fight to reform how cash bail works in America. Civil rights lawyers have successfully sued the county in federal court for locking up indigent arrestees and requiring them to pay cash bail, even for minor crimes and in cases when they are neither dangers to the community nor flight risks.

The county has been ordered by federal judges to reform its practices so that money is not the determining factor of whether somebody is free or detained prior to trial. But judges and county leaders—many of them Republican—have been resisting these demands, and Harris County has spent an estimated $9 million since 2016 fighting the lawsuits.

Then the blue wave came in November and pretty much all of those resistant judges were tossed from office and replaced with Democrats. Credit or blame straight-party voting for the outcome. Democrats and Republicans turned out to vote in equal percentages in Harris County, but a higher percentage of voters, 42 percent to 33 percent, took the straight party option to vote for each Democrat on the ballot rather than for a few Republicans a la carte.

The new crop of Democratic judges are supporting bail reform. Earlier in January, not long after being sworn into office, these judges dropped the county's efforts to appeal federal rulings ordering changes to the system.

This week, that same crop of new judges, working in tandem with prosecutors and the Harris County Sheriff's Department, are announcing new bail guidelines intended to eliminate the dependency on cash bail as a determinant for pre-trial release in misdemeanor cases. From The Houston Chronicle:

County Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan, the presiding judge, estimates that 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors will now qualify to be released after arrest on no-cash bonds, with a few exceptions for people who must await a hearing—for up to 48 hours—for bond violations, repeat drunken driving offenses and domestic violence charges. At that point, they may also qualify for personal recognizance bonds.

"What it means is that no one will be in jail because they cannot afford to get out," Jordan said. "The only people who will be detained and have to speak to a judge are a very small subset who will be processed through the Harris County Jail and those carve outs are aligned with best practices from around the country."

To be clear here, these changes are only for misdemeanor crimes. Nobody is likely walking free without bail after being charged with armed robbery or attempted murder.

The changes, unfortunately, will come too late for Tracy Whited, who was arrested on Saturday in Harris County for misdemeanor charges from a fight with an ex-boyfriend and a subsequent attempt to leave the jail while she was being booked. Her bail was set for $3,000. She was found hanging by a sheet in her cell on Monday and died in the hospital on Wednesday. She's the fifth suicide in that jail in two years, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Article Thumbnail

Watch a Florida Cop Botch a Drug Field Test on Video, Then Arrest an Innocent Man

The same officer was fired last year after video of him allegedly planting drugs in a car during a traffic stop emerged.

Body camera footage obtained by Reason appears to show a now-fired Florida sheriff's deputy blatantly lying about the results of a roadside drug test during a traffic stop last year.

The video shows the April 17, 2018, traffic stop of Florida resident Steve Vann by former Jackson County Sheriff's deputy Zachary Wester. Vann was subsequently charged with possession of methamphetamines and paraphernalia as a result of the traffic stop, but state prosecutors later dropped those charges as part of a review of more than 250 cases that Wester was involved in since his hiring in 2016.

State prosecutors have dropped criminal charges in more than 100 cases involving Wester after body cam footage released last September showed the officer allegedly planting drugs in a car during another traffic stop. A Florida judge also vacated the sentences of eight people whose convictions were based on evidence and testimony by Wester. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation into Wester, and several people have filed federal lawsuits against him.

In the body cam footage obtained by Reason of Vann's arrest last year, Wester searches Vann's truck after pulling him over for a traffic violation and appears to find a small plastic baggie in the vehicle's center console.

"Honesty is going to go a long way with me," Wester tells Vann, holding up the baggie. "Have you ever seen this before?"

"No, no what is that?" Vann says. "Where'd you get that?"

"The center console," Wester says as he walks back to his cruiser to perform a roadside test of the baggie for methamphetamines.

"There ain't no way, man," a distraught Vann says. "Oh my god, you gotta be fucking kidding me."

Wester then uses a Nark II field test for methamphetamines and MDMA. According to the manufacturer, the field test "will develop an IMMEDIATE (within 2 seconds) Dark Blue color as a positive reaction after breakage and agitation of the 3rd ampoule. If the color development is an immediate Pink slowly transforming to Lavender, you DO NOT have either Methamphetamine or MDMA."

Wester shakes the field test for about 10 seconds, checking it several times, but it remains red. Looking right at the small bag of pinkish red liquid, Wester then says "blue" and returns to Vann to tell him the substance tested presumptively positive for methamphetamines. The field test occurs at roughly the 3:45 mark in the video above.


The Jackson County Sheriff's Office confirmed to Reason that it uses the Nark II field test and that a positive result for methamphetamines should turn the solution blue.

Wester presses Vann to admit that he knew the meth was in his car, but Vann, breaking into tears at several points, continues to deny knowing where it came from. He appears confused and devastated throughout the exchange.

"I'm going to have to take your vehicle, too," Wester tells Vann. "Listen buddy, I don't think you're a bad guy."

At one point, at around 11 minutes 50 seconds into the footage, Wester drops some of Vann's personal effects into the trunk of his police cruiser, at which point he picks up the field test and looks at it again. It's still clearly red.

The Tallahassee Democrat first reported last September that local prosecutors were dropping dozens of cases involving Wester after body cam footage appeared to show him planting a small baggie of meth in a woman's car during a traffic stop.

The Democrat later published accounts by several other people who claimed they were framed by Wester during traffic stops. Before joining the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Wester was fired from his previous job at the Liberty County Sheriff's Office for for inappropriate relations with women, the newspaper reported.

In 2016, The New York Times reported that the $2 roadside field tests that Wester and countless other police officers around the country use to establish probable cause to arrest someone for drug possession are unreliable and easy to misinterpret:

There are no established error rates for the field tests, in part because their accuracy varies so widely depending on who is using them and how. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab system show that 21 percent of evidence that the police listed as methamphetamine after identifying it was not methamphetamine, and half of those false positives were not any kind of illegal drug at all. In one notable Florida episode, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies produced 15 false positives for methamphetamine in the first seven months of 2014. When we examined the department's records, they showed that officers, faced with somewhat ambiguous directions on the pouches, had simply misunderstood which colors indicated a positive result.

Such tests are not admissible evidence in court in most jurisdictions in the U.S. Instead, samples are sent to state forensic labs for verification.

Many of Wester's victims had prior criminal records for things like drug possession. They were, in other words, easy targets. No one would believe their word against a police officer's. If Wester hadn't been wearing a body cam, and if he hadn't been sloppy enough to film his amateur sleight-of-hand attempts and lies, all of their charges would likely stand, and he would still be patrolling the streets.

Article Thumbnail

Rep. Ilhan Omar Recklessly Accuses Lindsey Graham of Being 'Compromised'

People are losing their damn fool minds in the midst of Putin paranoia.

On Tuesday evening, one of the newest and most controversial Democrats in Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), asserted breathlessly on Twitter that the explanation for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) careening so violently in his approach toward Donald Trump between 2015 and now is that some nameless but powerful "they" have "compromised" the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Challenged on CNN this morning to back up her startling claim with evidence, Omar instead employed a sloppy circumstantial standard we've seen all too often in American political discourse these past four years: Well, what else explains behavior and policy positions I don't like?

Huh? ||| CNNCNN"Over the last three years we have seen many times where Senator Lindsey Graham has told us how dangerous this president could be if he was given the opportunity to be in the White House," Omar said. "And all of a sudden he's made not only a 180 turnaround, but a 360 turnaround. And so I am pretty sure that there is something happening with him, whether it is, ah, you know, something that has to do with his funding when it comes to running for office, whether it has something to do with the polling that they might have in his district, or whether it has to do with some sort of leadership within the Senate. He is somehow compromised, he'll no longer stand up for the truth, and to make sure that he is fighting to protect that oath that he took in serving the American people."

Emphases mine, to illustrate how easy it is for the rhetorically reckless to journey via the transitive property from political hypocrisy to possible treason.

Repeatedly prodded to provide a more factual case, Omar closed with this smiley little hand-wave. "The evidence really is present to us, it's being presented to us, in the way that he's behaving," she said. "My tweet was just an opinion based on what I believe to be visible to me, and I'm pretty sure there are lots of Americans who will agree on this."

There are plenty of reasons to criticize Lindsey Graham—today, tomorrow, 20 years ago, last week (when I did twice). But it requires neither a lurid imagination nor a loose smear to locate a theory for what might be happening with the senator. Like many Republican elected officials, including his longtime antagonist Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), Graham is trying to navigate his political career and relationship with a mecurial president he once competed against, in such a way to further his policy goals and preserve his job. The process is definitionally degrading—look what has happened to the House Freedom Caucus, for example—and involves not-infrequent compromise, philosophical switcheroos, and embarrassment. And it's how Washington politics have worked for pretty much my whole adult life.

But that explanation's no fun, amirite? Apparently, rather than entertain the possibility that Lindsey Graham is a not-very-principled opportunist like most politicians on Capitol Hill, various anti-Trump members of the political class would rather take a page out of 1950s politics and hint heavily about Graham's possibly deviant sexuality. Here's Jon Cooper, chairmain of The Democratic Coalition ("the nation's largest grassroots Resistance organization"), going right there earlier this week:

These are some dark roads we're hurtling down, America.

Article Thumbnail

Oregon Considers Toughest Gun Restrictions in the Country

Five-round magazines and background checks for ammo purchases


The Oregon Legislature isn't even in session yet, but already lawmakers are toying with some pretty draconian gun control proposals. That would include SB 501, which reads like a grab bag of all the latest gun control ideas, turned up to 11.

The bill would require a person to obtain a license in order to own a gun, keep said gun locked and secured in the home once acquired, and submit to a background check anytime they buy ammunition for it.

Speaking of ammunition, firearm owners would be limited to buying only 20 rounds every 30 days unless they're purchasing them at a gun range. That would allow you to go load four five-round magazines—the largest magazine allowed by SB 501.

There would also be a two-week waiting period for gun sales. Folks who don't report a stolen or missing gun in 24 hours would be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, and could face up to 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Rob Wagner (D–Lake Oswego), but the specifics were crafted by Students for Change, a high school student group formed in the wake of the Parkland shooting to agitate for new gun control measures.

Wagner says the legislation may be a stretch, but, well, he just can't say no to kids.

"[It's] probably a long shot that something like this passes in whole cloth," he told the Statesman-Journal. "We told [Students for Change] that this is your movement, and we want to support you as representatives."

A companion bill has been introduced in the Oregon House by Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego).

Any number of its provisions would be vulnerable to constitutional challenges, says Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America. He argues that some of the restrictions are so onerous as to effectively ban the use of common firearms.

"By going to a five-round magazine, you're dealing with a magazine that probably isn't amenable to most of the firearms that take magazines. So therefore, you are basically outlawing firearms that take magazines. I can't conceive that's constitutional," he tells Reason.

A provision of New York's SAFE Act that banned gun owners from having a magazine with more than seven rounds in it—passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting—was ruled unconstitutional in 2013.

Hammond says it's a similar problem with the 20-round monthly purchase limit, which he says is so low as to effectively prevent a person from using their firearms.

Other provisions are on sounder constitutional footing, including requiring a license to own a firearm—a policy states like Illinois already have in place.

The extreme nature of SB 501 will likely make it a tough sell. Other gun control bills in the Oregon legislature might stand a chance, however. That would include HB 2251, which would ban those under 21 from owning semi-automatic rifles. (A similar policy passed by ballot initiative in neighboring Washington state with 59 percent of the vote in 2018.)

Another bill, HB 2505, would require firearms to have a trigger lock or be stored in a locked container.

The passage of any of these would be another step back for Oregon, which once had some of the country's saner gun laws, but has in recent years embraced everything from background check requirements for private gun transfers to extreme risk protection orders—which empower law enforcement to confiscate guns from otherwise law-abiding citizens who are feared to be a harm to themselves or others.

That is part of a wider polarization of gun laws in the country, where blue, rural states like Oregon and Vermont embrace stricter firearms regulations, while deep red states like Arizona or Kansas have allowed permitless concealed carry.

Article Thumbnail

California Voters to Decide the Future of Their State's Bail System

Industry representatives succeed in forcing a referendum on reforms passed by lawmakers.

ArrestedThomasafure / Dreamstime.comThis year, California was supposed to be making a historic shift away from the use of cash bail to determine whether people who get arrested are freed or detained in jail prior to their trials.

Instead, the changes probably won't happen until 2021, and only if the voters agree. Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced this week that the reforms, passed via legislation last fall, have been pushed to a referendum to be held the fall of 2020.

SB10, signed into law in August, was intended to eliminate the use of cash bail in the state entirely. Cash bail has come under fire as a pretrial system because courts often apply it thoughtlessly, resulting in poor people being stuck in jail awaiting their day in court not because they're dangers to the community or flight risks, but because they cannot afford to pay. Such people are statistically more likely to plead guilty and receive harsher punishments than they would have had they been free to fight.

Instead of cash bail, California courts would be required to implement an extensive (and possibly expensive) pretrial assessment and monitoring system. Arrested defendants would be evaluated to determine the risks of release, and conditions would be established to keep track of them. If a defendant is deemed to be too dangerous to release, he or she would be detained in jail prior to the trial. Money would no longer be a condition.

None of this sat well with bail bondsmen and the insurance industry that underwrites them. New Jersey has shifted to a system where cash bail is almost completely absent, and that has decimated the bail bond industry. Their representatives fought bail reform in California extensively, and after SB10 was signed into law, they immediately went to work gathering signatures to try to force it to a public vote.

In November those reform opponents declared they had gathered enough signatures, more than 400,000 of them, to push SB10 onto a referendum. This week Padilla validated that they qualified. This means SB10 cannot legally be implemented until after the public vote.

Given current criminal justice reform trends, I'd put the chances of the bail bond industry succeeding here as low. California voters have slowly been scaling back the state's harsh sentencing laws, not to mention legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana use. Furthermore, New Jersey's bail reform experiment has been fairly successful so far. They've got fewer people being detained in jail yet the state has not seen an increase in crime.

But the bill passed in California has some significant differences from what was passed in New Jersey. In California, the judicial branch and the court system has significant amount of control over how these new systems will be implemented, and the law has been written in such a way that it will give judges wide latitude to order defendants to be detained. In New Jersey, the system operates on the presumption that defendants will be released unless prosecutors can make a clear case to a judge that they are too dangerous or a flight risk.

Because of these changes, several criminal justice reform groups that initially helped craft California's bill turned against it, worried that it will actually lead to increases in pretrial detentions. Representatives from the bail bond industry argue that citizens have a right to cash bail, though federal courts don't actually agree with that as long as there is some sort of pretrial evaluation system. But if the end result is for more people to be detained and not be able to get out at all, the case to allow for cash bail as an option grows stronger.

Not that we should expect such nuances from the extensive advertising campaign that will be coming down the line in 2020. Instead we'll see lots of emphasis from both sides on when pretrial decisions lead to bad outcomes—either when a harmless person is subjected to overly harsh pretrial detention because he or she had no money, or alternatively, when a person who is released without having to pay cash bail turns out to be dangerous.

It's worth noting that the temporary suspension of SB10 doesn't stop California communities and court systems from reforming bail on their own or in their own way right now. Currently, Compton is experimenting with a system where judges agree to reduce cash bail demands in exchange for concessions from the defendant, such as an agreement to go a drug or alcohol treatment center while awaiting trial.

Article Thumbnail

The Trump Administration Separated Thousands More Families Than We Thought

We don't even know exactly how many.

G. Ronald Lopez/ZUMA Press/NewscomG. Ronald Lopez/ZUMA Press/NewscomThe Trump administration took a lot of heat last summer for its "zero tolerance" immigration policy, in which parents who tried to cross the border with their children were separated from their sons and daughters. According to a report released today by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Inspector General, the criticisms were actually understated: Thousands more children were separated from their parents than was previously known.

Last April, then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy, under which every adult suspected of illegally crossing the U.S.–Mexico border would be criminally prosecuted. Their children, meanwhile, were held separately in HHS detention centers. On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the family separations. Days later, on June 26, a federal judge ordered the administration to reunify the migrant families.

According to the inspector general report, "HHS has thus far identified 2,737 children in its care at that time who were separated from their parents." But that doesn't take into account separations that occurred before Sessions officially implemented the policy.

"Officials estimated that [the Office Refugee Resettlement] received and released thousands of separated children prior to" the June 26 court order, the report says. These children were "separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the Court, and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children."

"We don't have any information on those children who were released prior to the court order," an official with the HHS Office of Inspector General told reporters today, according to NBC News. That includes their "total number and current status," according to the report.

The separations started in 2017 as a sort of "trial balloon" for the zero tolerance policy, Politico reports, citing an HHS official. While the HHS report says that the children have been released, it's unclear how many are actually back with their parents. "There is even less visibility for separated children who fall outside the court case," the report says.

Article Thumbnail

Roku Bans Alex Jones, InfoWars from Streaming Platform

Yes, the paranoid lunatic is a mega-troll, but the beauty of new media means never having to engage stuff you find awful or offensive.

Roku's digital media players let users stream all sorts of channels and sites on their TVs. Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu, and thousands of other channels flow through it in households all over the country.

Now Roku is getting into the deplatforming game:

YouTubeYouTubeIt should go without saying that Roku, as a private business, has the right to bounce whomever they want. But as with similar actions at places such as Twitter, Facebook, and Patreon, I think this sort of decision is a troubling sign of a crackdown taking place throughout online media. Nobody would assume that Roku's owners, employees, or shareholders were supporting InfoWars' most infamous host, Alex Jones, as he spins wild conspiracy theories and screams at a pile of dog shit. And the way Roku works, you never have to see anything you don't want—it's a strong "pull" platform, meaning the user has to seek channels out. Assuming you do somehow run into content you find offensive, you can make sure you never see it again.

That's part of the magic of most new media, and it's a benefit that should be talked about more. You really can ignore that which you find awful, for whatever reason. Across various platforms, I don't think I've ever encountered anything by Alex Jones or his pals unless I purposefully searched for it. When it comes to producing and consuming content online, the rule is from each according to his psychosis, to each according to his taste.

A better policy for the big social media platforms, I think, is to ban only stuff that is clearly illegal, such as true threats. This sort of censorious behavior starts with the Alex Joneses of the world, but mission creep inevitably sets in and more scalps get taken. New media platforms give us access to virtually whatever we want, but they also give us near-complete control of our user experience. It's a shame to start winnowing down options just because some content makers are sad sacks of shit.

Article Thumbnail

2 Big Reasons We Don't Need a Border Wall

The supposed border "crisis" is already solving itself.

ARIANA DREHSLER/UPI/NewscomARIANA DREHSLER/UPI/NewscomParts of the federal government are currently shut down because of President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border. Trump keeps claiming that there's a "security crisis" at the southern border, thanks to the immigrants and drugs allegedly pouring into the country. Only a wall, he argues, will solve this crisis.

The facts tell a different story. And a report published yesterday from the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) pinpoints two reasons why building a border wall is not necessary.

For one thing, most undocumented immigrants don't sneak in over the border. They enter the country legally, then overstay their visas. And it's been that way for a while. In 2016 and 2017, the CMS notes in a press release, "visa overstayers accounted for 62 percent of the newly undocumented, while 38 percent had crossed a border illegally." The report notes that "visa overstays have significantly exceeded illegal border crossings" for seven consecutive years.

As David Bier, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, pointed out in a May 2017 cover story for Reason: "A wall not only will do nothing to stop [visa overstayers] from entering, but it may actually incentivize more people to stick around without authorization." Donald Kerwin of the CMS came to a similar conclusion. "As these numbers indicate, construction of hundreds of more miles of border wall would not address the challenge of irregular migration into our country," he says in a statement.

If we really want to curb illegal immigration, our resources are better spent elsewhere, the report suggests. "Since more than one half of all US undocumented residents arrive by air, visa-issuing posts have become the real frontline deterrent to undocumented migration," the study says. "This report suggests that more attention and resources should be given to that crucial mission of the US Department of State."

But should we be looking to curb illegal immigration? The undocumented population, especially from Mexico, is actually falling. There were 10,665,000 illegal immigrants living in the U.S. in 2017, down more than a million from 11,725,000 in 2010, the study says. The drop was largely a result of the undocumented population from Mexico falling by more than 1.3 million, from 6.6 million in 2010 to 5.29 million in 2017.

This was particularly apparent in 2016 and 2017. More than 500,000 Mexicans left the undocumented population by leaving, dying, or becoming legal residents, compared to less than 150,000 Mexicans who became undocumented residents.

This is part of a larger trend that Reason's Shikha Dalmia warned about in a 2013 piece for the Washington Examiner. "The 3.5 foreigners per 1,000 Americans we have been admitting yearly is significantly less than the 10.4 foreigners we admitted without ill effect at the turn of the last century," Dalmia wrote. Immigrants "start working...the moment they set foot on American soil, without requiring expensive schooling and health care." But fewer immigrants means fewer workers, which means the U.S. collects less overall tax revenue and less contributions to Medicare and Social Security from

That's still an issue. As Dalmia explained in The New York Times on Tuesday, the total share of foreign-born residents living in the U.S. isn't rising fast enough to make up for a projected drop in "the number of working-age Americans with domestic-born parents" by 2035. Again, this means less workers, which in turn could mean stagnant economic growth.

Now let's say we do build Trump's border wall. While it wouldn't stop visa overstayers, it would presumably deter many border-crossers from trying to enter the country illegally. At a time when the U.S. arguably needs more immigrants, we'd actually get less.

Even if you don't think the U.S. needs more immigrants, the numbers show that net illegal immigration levels are already declining. If this is a "crisis," it's one that's already solving itself. Why should the government seize private land and spend tens of billions of dollars to fix it?

Article Thumbnail

D.C. Mayor Says New Airbnb Regs Are Unconstitutional, But She Won't Veto Them

The most remarkable thing about the new rules: Hotel lobbyists managed to convince the city council to give up $100 million in tax revenue.

Tom Williams/Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/Roll Call/NewscomThe mayor of Washington, D.C., says new regulations that severely limit short-term rentals in the nation's capital are likely unconstitutional—but she's going to let them become law anyway.

In a letter to the city council sent this week, Mayor Muriel Bowser raises a number of objections to the city's new rules for Airbnb and other short-term rentals. The bill passed in November will harm D.C. residents who use rental income to help pay mortgages, will harm the city's bottom line by eliminating more than $100 million in expected tax revenue over the next four years, and will likely face lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, Bowser notes.

"I believe that Council could have struck a better balance between these legitimate interests," Bowser writes. "I am concerned about the impact on our homeowners and visitors."

The new regulations allow D.C. residents to rent out spare bedrooms or basements via platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, but the rules limit those rentals to a maximum of 90 days per year. They also ban all rentals of secondary homes—that is, homes that are not occupied by the landlord listing them.

The biggest legal question about the bill relates to a record-keeping requirement imposed on all short-term rental platforms operating in the city. To help D.C. enforce the rules, they will be required to turn over data about hosts and guests to the government. A similar provision in New York City was overturned earlier this month by a federal judge who ruled that it violates the Fourth Amendment.

The most remarkable thing about the new regulations is that hotel lobbyists managed to convince the city council to vote for having less tax money to spend. As Bowser points out in her letter, the loss of some short-term rentals will cost the city an estimated $21 million in tax revenue this year and more than $100 million over the next four years, according to the city's Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Any one of those concerns might be enough to justify vetoing the bill. But Bowser merely returned the legislation to the city council unsigned—a move that allows the bill to become law without the mayor's approval.

The battle over short-term rentals in the city pits powerful hotel chains that see Airbnb as unwanted competition against residents who make a little extra cash by offering their extra bedrooms and second homes to tourists. Writing in The Washington Post in October, just before the city council voted on the new rules, D.C. resident and Aribnb host Rashida Mims claimed the hotel industry was trying to "thwart any attempt to offer an alternative to staying at a hotel to protect its profits and will work to cut off D.C. residents from earning extra income through our homes to do that."

It's not as if hotels in D.C. need protection. Both the supply of and demand for hotel rooms in D.C. are growing, according to an August report from BisNow, which tracks commercial real estate. More than 3,000 hotel rooms are under construction in the D.C. area and another 6,000 are in planning. Clearly, investors are not worried about the long-term viability of the market.

Because this is Washington, Congress will have the final say. Now that Bowser has returned the bill to the city council, it will be presented to Congress for a 30-day review period. If not blocked by federal lawmakers, the new rules will take effect on October 1.

What good is executive power if it's not used to stop bad laws? Bowser is right to raise objections to the city's new Airnb regs, but action would speak far louder than words.

Article Thumbnail

Oklahoma Cops Jail Four Men for Transporting Legal Hemp

The first wrinkle in the era of legal hemp comes into focus: Police officers do not appear capable of distinguishing hemp from marijuana.

Polaris/NewscomPolaris/NewscomPolice in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, jailed four men and seized $500,000 worth of industrial hemp this week because they believed the hemp to be marijuana and the men to be marijuana traffickers.

Denver's Fox31 reports that the men—a driver and several security escorts—remain in custody and that the Pawhuska police have contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration for assistance in testing the hemp.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is no longer a controlled substance. These four men will likely be freed, and the hemp will hopefully be returned. But the fact that they were arrested at all speaks to the increasingly patchwork nature of cannabis laws across the U.S., and the confusion and damage that system visits on market participants.

Jamie Baumgartner of Colorado, whose Panacea Life Sciences was the intended recipient of the hemp, tells Fox31 that his company ordered the plant from Kentucky, that a manifest on the truck identified the cargo as hemp, and that Panacea Life Sciences' contractors received "pre-clearance from the State of Oklahoma" to transport hemp through the state on its way from Kentucky to Colorado. This should have been enough to ward off police harassment.

But hemp and marijuana are both forms of cannabis, so they look and smell alike. In the months and years ahead, we can expect law enforcement in Prohibition states to hassle hemp companies, sometimes out of an abundance of caution, sometimes out of stupidity, sometimes out of malice.

"I can't tell you how many calls we get [at NORML] about CBD from retailers," Paul Armentano told me for a recent feature on cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic compound contained in both hemp and marijuana plants. "At least once every couple of weeks, we hear from someone raided by local cops for selling CBD products out of a retail space."

A local TV news station in Nashville reported in October that police in Tennessee have already mistakenly cracked down on hemp products, which were legal under state law even before the 2018 Farm Bill passed, because neither officers nor their drug dogs can differentiate between the two plants.

"So, an officer who sees you smoking a rolled cigarette that smells and looks like marijuana—that's enough to take you into custody," attorney Jim Todd told Nashville's NewsChannel5. "This is gonna be a huge problem. A lot of people with hemp are going to possibly get arrested."

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. Aside from the obvious confusion, we may soon see local and state hemp seizure cases involving products that sit just above the THC threshold that federal law now says separates hemp and marijuana. Any product that 0.3 percent (or less) THC is classified legally as hemp; any product that contains more than 0.3 percent is marijuana. A plant product that contains 0.4 percent THC is not going to get you high—the average THC content of marijuana plants in Denver's recreational dispensaries was 19.6 percent in 2017—but a plant with 0.4 percent THC would possibly be illegal under federal law, and allow for asset forfeiture and drug trafficking charges.

We might also see malicious or incompetent batch testing by local cops, or the intentional contamination of evidence. In light of the drug lab scandals in Massachusetts and routine reports of police officers misidentifying legal substances during traffic stops, these are not baseless fears. I mean, if cops in Florida can mistake donut frosting for meth, cops anywhere can—and almost certainly will—mistake a plant that looks and smells a lot like marijuana for marijuana.

Article Thumbnail

Once Again, ICE Detained an American Citizen

The ACLU blames local law enforcement after ICE detains an American-born veteran with the intent to deport him.

|||Bruce Chambers/ZUMApress/NewscomBruce Chambers/ZUMApress/NewscomJilmar Ramos-Gomez was born in America. In Michigan, to be exact. By the time he was 27, the Marine veteran had earned awards and other accolades for his service in Afghanistan.

He had also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Associated Press reports that in late November, Ramos-Gomez was taken to a Kent County jail for trespassing and damaging a fire alarm at a hospital. He was arrested and pleaded guilty. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took the American citizen from jail and transported him 70 miles with intent to deport him.

Rather than letting him leave the jail to await sentencing, ICE contacted the jail and asked that he be held. Kent officials claim in a letter that they neither had jurisdiction once ICE took Ramos-Gomez nor the authority to verify ICE's intentions.

After three days in federal custody and contact from a lawyer on behalf of Ramos-Gomez's family, the veteran was released.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is demanding an investigation into the Kent officials who turned Ramos-Gomez over to ICE. In a letter addressed to Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young and the county commissioners, the ACLU lambasts the county for turning "a vulnerable, mentally ill United States citizen over to ICE so that he could be deported from his country."

So how does this happen to an American citizen?

According to the ACLU, part of the blame lies in law enforcement officials willing to subvert the criminal justice process to accommodate federal agents. In a statement, the group says that "the Kent County Sheriff's Department should have immediately released Mr. Ramos-Gomez" in compliance with his sentencing schedule. Instead, Kent law enforcement worked "with ICE agents to enable his transfer."

Another piece of the puzzle might be found in ICE's history of mismanagement. For many years, audits have found chronic mismanagement, misconduct, and a poor reporting and disciplinary system at the agency. ICE's internal and administrative issues have had an impact on external operations. ICE reports that it released Ramos-Gomez three days after receiving proof of citizenship, but it claims that the veteran identified himself as a foreign national. One can only question whether the agency thought to verify this alleged statements before detaining him. (The Washington Post reports that email requests for further information received an automatic reply indicating that communications officials were away due to the government shutdown.)

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Michigan office, tells Reason:

We owe combat veterans like Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, who bravely fought for our country in Afghanistan, a tremendous debt of gratitude. Instead of honoring his service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to deport a U.S. citizen and decorated Marine combat veteran, and local authorities made that possible. This terrible incident is the predictable consequence of two things: ICE's reckless, no-holds-barred approach to immigration enforcement, and local law enforcement's willingness to blindly facilitate ICE's deportation efforts in their communities.

Bonus link: This is not the first time ICE detained an U.S. citizen. A father was kept in ICE detention for nearly two years until a court confirmed that he was an American.

Article Thumbnail

Is Climate Change Making Hurricanes More Destructive?

Not yet in the United States, new studies suggest

HurricaneFlorenceNOAANOAA"This year has shown us that climate change is a present-day threat to the safety and livelihoods of communities across America," Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist Kim Cobb told The New York Times last September, shortly after Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina.

"Damages are increasing because the severity of the storms are increasing," Nathaniel Keohane, a climate expert at the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Hill in October. "We can say these impacts are worse, these storms are more severe, the risk of more extreme outcomes are more probable. That's the way that climate change has reshaped our worlds."

Last year, Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused about $50 billion and $15 billion in damages, respectively. Florence's destruction came chiefly from the flooding that ensued after the storm dumped nearly three feet of rain on eastern North Carolina. Michael's 155 mile per hour winds obliterated such Florida panhandle coastal towns as Mexico Beach. As bad as that was, the costs of 2018's hurricanes were considerably lower than the $265 billion in damages wreaked by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017.

So is U.S. hurricane damage increasing because climate change is boosting the severity of the tropical storms? It's complicated.

A November article in Nature Sustainability developed normalized cost trends for hurricane damage in the United States from 1900 to 2017. The normalization process attempts to estimate direct economic losses from a historical storm as if that same event were to occur under contemporary social conditions.

For example, the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 is estimated to have caused $105 million (in 1926 dollars) in damage when it hit. But the researchers calculate that today a storm of that magnitude would cause about $236 billion in losses. Overall, the researchers report that between 1900 and 2017, "197 hurricanes resulted in 206 landfalls with about US$2 trillion in normalized (2018) damage, or just under US$17 billion annually. Consistent with observed trends in the frequency and intensity of hurricane landfalls along the continental United States since 1900, the updated normalized loss estimates also show no trend."

NormalizedLossesNature Sustainability

But are fiercer hurricanes becoming more frequent? A July 18 article by the Colorado State University climatologist Philip Klotzbach and his colleagues in the Bulletin of the American Meterological Association finds that "since 1900 neither observed CONUS [continental United States] landfalling hurricane frequency nor intensity shows significant trends." The upshot is that so far, hurricanes amplified by climate change have not been the cause of increasing storm losses in the U.S. Rather, the chief reason for higher losses is that there is much more property to be destroyed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts than there used to be. Overall, the trend in normalized losses is basically flat.

BAMSNormalizedLossesBulletin of the American Meterological Association

The frequency and intensity (and consequently damage) of U.S. landfalling hurricanes tracks changes in the cold and warm phases of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). In general, the years 1900–25 and 1970–94 are classified as negative (cold) AMO periods, and 1926–69 and 1995–2017 are classified as positive (warm) AMO periods.

"Median U.S. normalized hurricane damage shows statistically significant modulations by the AMO, with ∼9 times as much median damage in a positive AMO season compared with a negative AMO season," note Klotzbach and his colleagues. The AMO is apparently switching back to a cold phase, which suggests, if past trends are sustained, that Altantic hurricane activity will abate somewhat in the coming years.

While there are no trends in the frequency and intensity of U.S. hurricanes, the global story is a bit different. The MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel reports a significant global increase since 1980 in all storms with maximum wind speeds above 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour). Storms of 200 km/h (125 mph) and more have doubled in number, and those of 250 km/h (155 mph) and more have tripled.


Climatologist Ryan Maue tracks global tropical cyclone activity (hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones). He also finds that since 1980 the trend (the bottom trend line) toward bigger storms has been slightly increasing:

GlobalHurricaneActivityRyan Maue

So what's the takeway for the public and policy makers? "If you live on a street named River Road," the retired Army lieutenant general in charge of Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts quips to The New York Times, your home "is going to flood." But however climate change affects hurricanes, we should all keep firmly in mind geographer Gilbert F. White's 1945 observation that "floods are acts of God, but flood losses are largely acts of man."

One particularly stupid "act of man" is the fiscal insanity of subsidized federal flood insurance that encourages people to build on floodplains and in flood-prone coastal areas. Phasing out this program would reduce property losses and put fewer lives at risk regardless of how big a threat climate change turns out to be.

Article Thumbnail

No, Gov. Cuomo, Journalists Shouldn't Be an Extra-Protected Class: Reason Roundup

Plus: Rand Paul has "never been prouder" of Trump, the Women's March clashes with the Park Service, and Vegas' first Stripper Parade & Expo is coming soon.

WARNER BROTHERS / Album/NewscomWARNER BROTHERS / Album/NewscomNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo must not be getting enough attention this week. Apropos of nothing, Cuomo tweeted Wednesday that they should "make assaulting the press a felony" in the State of New York. "Last year saw heinous and deadly attacks against members of the press," he continued, adding that "journalists must be protected from the threat of physical harm" while doing their jobs.

Hmmm. Here's a thing that Cuomo, as governor, should know: It's already against the law in New York to assault anybody—including journalists, even! Depending on the severity of the assault, it can even be a felony.

This system—determining severity of punishments based on severity of offense—makes sense. Meting out more severe punishments based on who is victimized doesn't. In fact, it kind of goes against everything the U.S. criminal justice is supposed to stand for. (I said supposed to.) And not only is it highly immoral to suggest some people are more deserving of protection than others, but it also seems likely to breed even more resentment about media and, if anything, make members of the press more likely to face "the threat of physical harm."

Lastly, a law like this would open it up for government officials to determine who is and isn't a journalist, in an era when anyone with smartphone can cover breaking events. Do you trust state officials to get those determinations right? Really, it's kind of a lose-lose situation either way, as recognizing that formal affiliations aren't needed to be counted as a journalist (good!) would lead to more enhanced criminal sentences for simple assault (not good!).

Cuomo's nonsense suggestion, as attorney David Menschel tweets, "is a good example of the kind of thing I mean when I say mass incarceration is a *style of politics*. We have to learn to stop using the criminal law to pander and to ostentatiously demonstrate our belief that something is wrong."

If Cuomo really "wants to be a Press Hero," suggests Reason's C.J. Ciaramella, "he can support the improvement of NY public record laws, which are very bad and an embarrassment to the state."


Rand Paul has "never been prouder of President Donald Trump," as the White House confirms that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria is still on.

People have been using the recent killing of four Americans in Syria to try to goad the administration into committing to boots on the ground forever. But yesterday Trump told a meeting of Republican lawmakers that he had no plans to reverse his decision on Syria or Afghanistan.

"I have never been prouder of President Donald Trump," Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) tweeted after the meeting. "In today's meeting, he stood up for a strong America and steadfastly opposed foreign wars. Putting America first means declaring victory in Afghanistan and Syria. President Trump is delivering on his promises!"


Women's March organizers say the government shutdown has forced them from the National Mall to Freedom Plaza, in front of the White House. But the National Park Service said it was march organizers who requested the location change. "Any assertion that the National Park Service has encouraged any organizer to cancel their First Amendment demonstration is patently false," the agency said in a statement. More:

The National Park Service has been clear that our process would protect those fundamental rights by processing applications for First Amendment events that had been submitted prior to lapse of appropriations. Permits for First Amendment demonstrations that are currently being processed include the Indigenous Peoples March, March for Life, and Women's March.


Expo to celebrate exotic dancing. The first ever "Las Vegas Stripper Parade & Expo" will take place in Las Vegas this upcoming August. AVN describes it as a "large-scale public celebration and a professional B2B conference produced by women and catering specifically to exotic dancing professionals."

Organizers Polly Superstar and Cory Mervis are launching a crowdfunding campaign to prepare. ""Crowdfunding this project enables us to stay true to the vision and prioritize the real needs of the stripper community," said Superstar.


  • State cannabusinesses can breathe a sigh of relief: Attorney general nominee William Barr said during confirmation hearings yesterday that he wouldn't go after state-licensed marijuna suppliers.
  • The movement for a second Brexit vote is growing in the U.K. "Political leaders from the Scottish National Party (SNP), Wales' Plaid Cymru, the Green party and Liberal Democrats are calling on their fellow opposition party, Labour, to join them in calling for a second referendum on Brexit, known now as a 'People's Vote,'" says CNBC.
  • Anastasia Vashukevich—the Belarusan woman who claimed her tryst with oligarch Oleg Deripaska earned her dirt on Russian meddling in the U.S. election—will be released from Thai prison after spending nearly a year there on prostitution charges. An author, social media star, and seduction coach who goes by "Nastya Rybka," Vashuckevich was arrested along with a group of "sex educators" who have for years given classes in and around Russia.
  • Creepy or cool? "When the patch is applied for several seconds, microscopic needles break off on the surface of the skin and administer the contraceptive drug levonorgestrel over a period of time."
  • We won't recreate Gawker exactly as it was, but we will build upon Gawker's legacy and triumphs—and learn from its missteps," says Bryan Goldberg, founder of Bustle and owner of a resurrecting Gawker.
  • A primer on the Channel 4/Netflix series Derry Girls, which you should all watch.
  • Watch former Reason editor Michael Moynihan, now with VICE News, interview Ann Coulter.

Article Thumbnail

Are You More Likely to Be Killed by Opioids Than a Car Crash?

Only if you are using heroin, fentanyl, or dangerous drug mixtures

NSCNSCA report from the National Safety Council (NSC) has prompted a bunch of news stories highlighting the finding that an American's lifetime risk of dying from an accidental opioid overdose is now greater than his lifetime risk of dying in a car crash. "Odds of Dying From Accidental Opioid Overdose in the U.S. Surpass Those of Dying in Car Accident," says the CNN headline, while The New York Times reports that "the opioid crisis in the United States has become so grim that Americans are now likelier to die of an overdose than in a vehicle crash." The NSC itself claims "your odds of dying from an accidental opioid overdose are greater than [your odds of] dying in a motor vehicle crash."

All of this is highly misleading for a couple of reasons. First, the danger of dying from opioids, unlike the danger of dying in a car crash, can be readily avoided by most people. Second, the NSC's calculation lumps together different kinds of drug use that pose very different levels of risk, ranging from substantial to negligible.

As Josh Bloom notes at the American Council on Science and Health's blog, journalists "feel the need to compare opioid overdose deaths to those from automobile accidents, as if the two have anything to do with each other." Bloom wonders what sort of conclusion we are supposed to draw from this ranking: that arranging more fatal car crashes would alleviate the "opioid crisis"? He also notes that treating "opioid overdoses" as a single cause of death conflates heroin and illicit fentanyl, which are involved in the vast majority of such cases, with prescription pain medication, which accounts for a small share that looks even smaller once you take drug mixtures into account.

The records compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that heroin or illicit fentanyl was involved in 75 percent of the 47,600 opioid-related deaths that the CDC counted in 2017. Just 30 percent of opioid-related deaths involved prescription analgesics such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, and about two-fifths of those cases also involved heroin or fentanyl.

Adding more substances to the analysis shows that most records listing a prescription pain reliever also list other drugs: For example, 68 percent of deaths involving prescription opioids in 2017 also involved heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or alcohol. In other words, less than 10 percent of opioid-related deaths involved pain medication by itself, and the actual percentage may be considerably lower, since coroners and medical examiners do not always note additional drugs. In New York City, which has one of the country's most thorough systems for reporting drug-related deaths, 97 percent of them involve mixtures.

Keep these facts in mind when you read that your lifetime risk of dying from an opioid overdose is one in 96, according to the latest NSC calculation, compared to a one-in-103 risk of dying in a car crash. That does not really mean you are more likely to die from an opiod overdose, of course, since you can make sure that will not happen by never taking an opioid. But even if you are brave enough to use pain medication that a doctor prescribes for you, the chance that it will kill you is very small: on the order 0.022 percent a year, according to a 2015 study of opioid-related deaths in North Carolina.

To approximate the risk calculated by the NSC, you'd have to continue taking the same drug every year for half a century or so. But even that is misleading, because these deaths are not random. They are especially likely to occur in people who take larger doses than instructed and who mix opioids with other drugs. If you don't do either of those things, your risk will be even lower.

The illicit opioids are much more dangerous because their potency is highly variable and unpredictable. Furthermore, they are becoming even more dangerous, largely thanks to the proliferation of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs as heroin adulterants and substitutes, which is encouraged by the economics of prohibition. In 2017 that category of opioids was involved in 60 percent of opioid-related deaths, up from 14 percent in 2010.

A rough calculation (one that does not take into account the underrepresentation of heroin users in the government's surveys) indicates there were 17.5 drug-related deaths per 1,000 heroin users in 2017, compared to 1.3 drug-related deaths per 1,000 "misusers" of prescription opioids. That's a big difference, even if the official count of heroin users is off by a factor of two or three, and it's not hard to see how cracking down on pain pills could increase opioid-related deaths by pushing users toward black-market alternatives. Judging from the North Carolina study, the corresponding rate for people who take opioids prescribed for them is something like 0.0022 per 1,000. The NSC's one-in-96 lifetime risk is an average that conflates different situations involving dramatically different odds.

By contrast, while your chance of dying in a car crash depends on factors such as miles traveled, traffic conditions, and seat belt use, anyone who drives or rides is exposed to some risk, and the average gives you an idea of how big the danger is. It is perfectly rational to worry more about dying in a car crash than about dying from opioids, especially if you use them only as directed to treat pain. When the NSC warns us about "the danger inside of a bottle of pills" in the context of a calculation based mainly on illicit opioids, it is engaged in fearmongering rather than public education.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online