Free Minds & Free Markets

Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2017 April 15-31

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The Commission on Presidential Debate's 15 Percent Polling Criterion Must Go, Argues Lawsuit from Gary Johnson

A hearing in Johnson's case was held today in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, insisting that the Debate Commission in collusion with the major parties are violating antitrust law when it comes to "political markets."

Electoral politics is like a market, argues Bruce Fein, the lawyer for Gary Johnson (the 2012 and 2016 Libertarian Party candidate for president) and other plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the Republican and Democratic Parties, and 2012 major party candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Letgarydebate FacebookLetgarydebate Facebook

The collusive behavior of those defendants against the L.P. and other third parties to keep them out of the electoral politics market amounts to a violation of antitrust law.

Fein argued that point, and others, in an hearing this morning at the D.C. Court of Appeals. He appeared before a three-judge panel of Judges Janice Brown, Laurence Silberman, and Cornelia Pillard. (Johnson's loss in district court was reported on last August, and more details about the plaintiffs arguments were explained when the case was filed in 2015.)

The CPD itself has officials who brag that its debates are the Super Bowl of politics, so Fein speculates on the value of appearing in it in terms of the value of commercial time bought during a Super Bowl broadcast, estimating that the injurious actions of the CPD and its two-party pals cost his clients up to a possible billion dollars.

"When you run for president you have commercial objectives," Fein said in a phone interview this morning after the hearing, giving examples of manipulating the minimum wage, permitting or not permitting pipelines, raising or cutting taxes. And they are trying to actuate those commercial objectives through government action. "If the objective has a commercial goal, then the process by which you get into government or get government to enact economic changes should be subject to antitrust law," Fein says.

As argued in Fein's appeals brief, "the concerted actions of Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and the CPD were intended to cripple or destroy competition in the multi-billion dollar business of campaigning for the presidency....This was to be accomplished by limiting public information about credible presidential candidates through an exclusionary 15% national polling criterion for participation in presidential debates, i.e., an output limitation agreement."

The full list of plaintiffs Fein represents in this case also includes Gary Johnson 2012, Inc.; Libertarian National Committee; James P. Gray; Green Party of the United States; Jill Stein; Jill Stein for President; and Cheri Honkala.

Fein noted that the CPD's 15 percent criteria (adopted in 2000, and no non-major-party candidate has met it since then, which Fein thinks is exactly the point) remains ill-defined, amounting to a "we know it when we see it standard" impossible to objectively interpret. For example, why shouldn't it apply to face-to-face polls in which a third party candidate was compared only to the incumbent? The appeals brief insists that the polls by which Romney qualified generally pitted him only against Obama.

His clients, Fein says, would prefer a truly cut and dried objective criteria: being on enough state ballots to literally win an electoral college majority. That would have resulted in 2016 in four such candidates on the CPD debate stage, "not an unwieldy number."

"The other side claims we are arguing for an absolute right for any candidate to participate, which is a misrepresentation."

Fein found many aspects of the District Court opinion from Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissing their case troublesome, including what he calls a "catch-22." What's that catch? That Collyer thinks that Johnson and the other parties had no standing to sue the CPD and its co-defendants, since the injury wasn't caused by the criteria imposed by the defendants, but rather by their failure to poll high enough to meet the criteria. And anyone who did meet the polling criteria obviously would have no standing to sue. So to Collyer, as Fein sees it, no one would ever have any standing to sue over the polling criteria.

The appeals brief also tried to counter Collyer's insistence that no antitrust issue was implicated in the CPD's behavior toward third party candidates:

The District Court...erred in denying Appellants Sherman Act standing on the theory that the multibillion dollar business of campaigning for the presidency is indistinguishable from holding public office or conducting government. To the contrary, that business of running a presidential campaign is indistinguishable from the newspaper industry which is covered by the Sherman Act. The harm to competition caused by Appellants' unreasonable exclusions from the presidential debates was the loss of public information about the qualifications of credible presidential candidates essential to the fairness or legitimacy of the presidential electoral process and the national political agenda. Contrary to the District Court, the multibillion dollar business of campaigning for the presidency involves both politics and commerce. They are not mutually exclusive.

The three-judge panel today seemed "exceptionally well-prepared," Fein says, and left him with "guarded optimism" that Collyer's decision to throw out their suit will be overturned and it can proceed in lower court again. Questions from Judge Silberman today, Fein thinks, indicate he has some grasp of the notion that seeking political office has its commercial side, and that Collyer's standing conclusion contains the unreasonable catch-22 mentioned above.

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France Election Preview: Terrorism, Socialism, Nationalist Socialism, and the Prospects for Economic Liberalization

Voters go to the polls Sunday, where two candidates will advance to the final round.

Pool/Sipa USA/NewscomPool/Sipa USA/NewscomThe attack on a police bus on the Champs-Elysee in Paris yesterday, which killed two police officers and for which ISIS claimed responsibility, came while France's presidential candidates were participating in their last televised forum, and President Trump said today that he thought the attack would help the National Front's Marine Le Pen. "She's the strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump told the AP. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election."

After the police attack, Le Pen called for the expulsion of all foreigners on terror watch lists. The suspected gunman in yesterday's attack, Karim Cheufri, is a French national who was questioned in February for allegedly making threats to kill police officers. Meanwhile, the center-right François Fillon, once the frontrunner before a scandal over a no-show job for his wife yielded calls for him to drop out, said "Islamic totalitarianism" ought to be the next president's top priority.

François Hollande declared a war on terror after multiple coordinated ISIS-linked terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 killed 130 people. The French government followed up with warrantless raids, house arrests, limits on freedom of speech and assembly, and other security measures.

The 2015 attacks helped the National Front outperform its polling in the first round of regional elections, but by the second round, a month after the attacks, the bounce appeared to have faded. Voters go to the polls Sunday for the first round and in early May for the second round—four candidates are polling at about 20 percent; Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

And in fact, both Le Pen and Mélenchon, a former Socialist who created his own party and has been called the "French Bernie Sanders," support French withdrawal from the European Union and euro as well as more protectionism, and even closing the border to refugees and banning the veil.

"This is a very good example like Hayek used to say, where extremes actually join together," Emmanuel Martin, a French economist involved with libertarian MOOC Ecole de la Liberté, told Reason earlier this week. "Mélenchon-LePen, their program is 90 percent the same." Martin, who also describes himself as a libertarian rocker, even has a song about the tendency for such confluence in what we call the far right and the far left.

"Mélenchon is the new Robespierre," Martin explained, referring to the French revolutionary leader associated with the Reign of Terror, "and to some extent he's very much like Bernie Sanders, but I think he's more evil… They both share this total illusion of democratic socialism, which to me is a complete oxymoron, and to any libertarian obviously."

While terror attacks in France grab more headlines, the country has long-standing economic problems caused by too many labor regulations, too much centralization, and a lack of accountability in government. President Hollande's tough talk and concomitant actions on the war on terror failed to shore up support in the face of his failure to execute on economic reform.

The former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who was one of the architects of Hollande's belated turn away from socialism and attempt at some labor deregulation and other economic reforms, now has the highest polling average, at 23.6 percent.

"He's trying to gather so many different people, that it's very difficult to find something solid, something really, he's just a basic politician, he's trying to please everyone," Martin explained. "And his speeches are completely hollow, just hot air, really, and sometimes you even laugh when you listen to him, because it's so empty."

Nevertheless, there could be a bright side there. "Maybe that's the solution," Martin suggested, "to gather a lot of voters and then do some reforms, but I don't know if he'll do the reforms."

Fillon, the former frontrunner, came into the race, Martin said, "with a very Thatcher-like type of program, saying, yeah, we're going to suppress 500,000 jobs in the government, and the local governments, and people just hate that, because it's perceived as creating a cleavage, a division, but people on the right they like that, the conservatives on the right they like that."

In addition to the no-show job scandal, Martin noted, "the other problem with Fillon is that if he tries this very direct, straightforward program, people will go to the streets and this will be another revolution."

France, Martin pointed out, has 5.6 million government workers, out of a population of 66 million. "It's a crazy number," Martin noted. "And obviously these people don't have any interest in reducing public spending, and the more you hire them the more they'll lobby for public spending."

Additionally, according to Martin, more than half of the parliament is made up of public servants, "which means that you have public servants that control public service and they don't have any incentive to control public spending," which is currently 57 percent of GDP. "And Mr. Mélenchon wants to increase this."

Mélenchon also wants to raise the minimum wage, which is more 60 percent of the median wage in France (by comparison, it is about 36 percent of the median in the U.S.) and is also tied to other wage tiers, and prohibiting companies from having more than 10 percent of their workforces on short-term contracts.

Similarly, LePen rails "against big companies, capitalism, and free trade," Martin noted. "She really is a socialist, but on the right."

It's a departure from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the only National Front candidate to make it to a second round of presidential voting, back in 2002. Martin described the elder Le Penas a kind of "protectionist liberal, a small government protectionist, if you will… so he was a nationalist but he was also for small government, a small welfare state, more businesses, and all this."

The younger Le Pen is different. "She's a socialist," Martin explained, "I wouldn't call her a Nazi, but her type of socialism is a nationalist socialism, not in a Nazi sense but, if you look at Mélenchon's policies, it's exactly the same, he wants to close the borders, he's a protectionist, he wants to exit the E.U., the euro."

Le Pen was adept at "stealing a lot of voters from the former Communist Party," Martin said. "Just like in national socialism in Germany a century ago, she's very critical of capitalism, of free trade, of economic liberalism, of big businesses."

Martin himself said his original intentions were to not vote in this year's presidential risk. "But the risk of LePen-Mélenchon in the second round would be a nightmare."

Martin said he doesn't know whether he'll vote for Fillon or Macron, and was not particularly impressed by either candidate. He described Fillon as a Heritage Foundation type, calling him economically very libertarian but socially very conservative, linked to the Catholic right. Macron, while "less libertarian on the economy," Martin suggested, might be "at the same time more clever, smarter" politically.

"He could achieve the same results [as Fillon] without saying it, without having the whole population on the streets and all this," Martin said.

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Trump Looks to France, Gender Changes Daily at Harvard: P.M. Links

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Should You Be Compensated for Your Medical Waste?

Especially if it turns out to be valuable?

BioethicsSJUSJUThe right answer is: No. Why bring this issue up? HBO will be showing a movie based on the 2010 bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tomorrow starring Oprah Winfrey. In 1951, black Baltimorean Henrietta Lacks had surgery to remove a cervical cancer tumor. Her physician took some cells from the tumor which he turned into the first immortal line human cell line. The HeLa cell line has been subsequently used in thousands of biomedical research projects. Lacks died later that year of her cancer, and her family was not told about the HeLa cell line.

One of the central themes of the book was whether or not Lacks' physician should have asked for consent and provided compensation for the use of her cells. Spurred by the controversy engendered by the book, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed revisions to the Common Rule that protects people who volunteer for federally funded research studies. The proposed revisions would have substantially increased the burden on researchers with regard to obtaining consent from patients for the subsequent use of their medical wastes, uh, biospecimens.

I am happy to report that in their op/ed, "Science Needs Your Cells," in today's New York Times two bioethicists agree with me that such requirements are largely useless and would substantially slow down medical progress. From the op/ed:

First, no one is taking biospecimens from patients' bodies without their permission. Patients have consented to the clinical procedure as important to their medical care. What harm could come from using leftover materials, which would otherwise be thrown away, for research?

Perhaps we should be concerned about risks to a patient's privacy, but that is why we remove the identifying information. Although researchers have shown that it is possible to "de-anonymize" specimens — using clues to link them back to individuals — there have been no reports of anyone doing this for nefarious reasons. And even if there were, the answer would be to sanction the culprit through fines or criminal charges, not to make it harder for researchers to get these samples in the first place.

What is left, then, is our claim to autonomy: Many of us intuitively feel we should be able to control how biospecimens derived from our bodies are used. But leftover biospecimens are just medical waste to most of us, as we lack the expertise to imbue them with scientific value. Nor have we done anything to make them valuable, other than being born with a particular genetic variant or afflicted with a particular malignancy.

This is why calls to pay patients are misplaced. In addition, unlike HeLa, in which one patient's biospecimens led to dramatic advancements, most developments come from studying materials from many patients — each biospecimen contributes only marginally to the result.

These relatively weak claims to control and compensation do not justify the demands more restrictions would place on biospecimen research. Hindering this research is worrisome because its benefits are so great. Among many examples, they include the identification of mutations in tumors (lung, skin and others) that can be targeted with drugs that markedly improve quality of life and survival.

Requiring consent might not seem like a big deal. But it is. Consent might require tracking patients down later, whenever a study is proposed, which can be difficult or impossible. Alternately, it might involve asking patients to agree generally to any future research at the time blood is drawn or a biopsy is taken. Either way, it can be a costly, bureaucratic headache. Which patients said yes, which said no, and to what, exactly?

They are correct. And the good news is that most the proposed consent revisions to the Common Rule have been dropped.

With regard to compensation, in her Times' interview about the movie Oprah Winfrey notes that some Lacks family members had sought a payment of $10 million from her and HBO.

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Trump Is Recycling Old Real Estate Marketing Gimmicks in Hopes of Reviving the Obamacare Repeal Bill

As a developer, Trump tried to generate interest in projects through false momentum.

Gage Skidmore / FoterGage Skidmore / FoterEarly yesterday, The Washington Post's Robert Costa reported that a senior White House official said that a vote on the House bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare was just days away. New legislative language based on a tentative deal struck between conservative moderate factions would circulate over the weekend, and a vote would be held on Wednesday of next week.

But Republican leaders in Congress immediately cast doubt on the notion. "There is no legislative text and therefore no agreement to do a whip count on," a GOP aide told Politico. The White House's claim that a vote was in the works was bunk—misinformation spread to the media in hopes of generating momentum on a bill that remains stalled.

This is how the Trump administration tends to work. It substitutes empty hype for real achievement, hoping that no one will be able to tell the difference. It's a marketing gimmick, not governance—and it's an old tactic from Trump, who employed it as a real estate developer.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened with the health care bill. In January, Trump said that an Obamacare replacement was "very much formulated down to the final strokes" and that the plan would provide "insurance for everybody," and would have "lower numbers, lower deductibles." House Republicans didn't release a bill for almost a month and a half. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the GOP plan, 14 million fewer people would have coverage the following year alone, a figure that would rise to 24 million after a decade. (A leaked document indicated the White House's own internal estimates put the total loss even higher.) Trump's January description of the plan was all empty bluster.

Something similar, meanwhile, appears to have happened again today. A senior White House official—again unnamed—told CNBC that the Senate Budget Committee was working on health care legislation in hopes that it could be sent out today or tomorrow. That's an odd claim, because the Senate Budget Committee wouldn't be the ones to draw up legislation. In fact, according to Jonathan Swan of Axios, it appears that the Senate committee was just reviewing language for technical reasons.

The Trump administration is trying to build momentum where little or none exists by manufacturing the appearance of energy and activity.

Trump used this same sort of deception before he became involved in politics.

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Justice Dept.’s Threatening Letter to Sanctuary Cities Is Less Than It Seems, and That’s Good

The feds can’t make cities help them deport immigrants. This is about communication lines.

Jeff SessionsLuis Pablo Hernández/EFE/NewscomThe Department of Justice has sent threatening letters to eight American cities and one county warning them that they face having their federal grants withheld because of their behavior as "sanctuary cities"—but it's not exactly how it might appear.

President Donald Trump famously campaigned on a promise to eject illegal immigrants and to go after the cities that were protecting them. This has in turn prompted a massive effort by pro-immigration forces in major cities to resist the federal government's deportation efforts.

So let's be very clear what's going on, because both sides have good political reason to overemphasize what's happening in order to appeal to their voting bases: These letters are not demanding that police and municipal governments assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in rounding up illegal immigrants subject to deportation orders.

The federal government cannot force cities to help them enforce immigration laws. It's important to understand that, just as they can't force cities to enforce the federal ban on marijuana possession or consumption. In both cases, federal officials can (and frequently do) go into these cities and enforce these laws themselves. Through the use of detainer requests, ICE can ask police, prisons, and jails to hold immigrants they believe are subject to deportation orders, but these are requests.

There is, however, a federal immigration regulation that this small group of cities may be violating. Federal regulations forbid any state or local government from prohibiting its employees from communicating with the feds about any person's immigration status. So, for example, if a local police officer arrests somebody he knows is an immigrant in the United States illegally, he cannot be prohibited from passing that information along to ICE.

The targets of these letters are cities—New Orleans, Miami, Chicago (and Cook County), Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, New York City, Sacramento (California)—that have policies or ordinances that prohibit this communication. An inspector general's report written back when Barack Obama was president determined these cities may be out of compliance with the law. The Justice Department is ordering them to make sure they are following this one code if they want to keep getting grants.

The regulation also doesn't require the local governments even keep track of the residency status of people living within their boundaries. "Sanctuary cities" get their identities partly because officials simply refuse to determine whether the people who live there are legal residents of the United States during interactions or arrests. So even those rules won't change. But in the event local law enforcement officers actually do know the immigration status of a citizen, the city or county can't stop him from communicating that information to the feds.

The Justice Department put out a short press release announcing the demand that the affected cities and county prove their compliance with the law. There's a bit of "editorializing" in the press release:

Additionally, many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels. New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's "soft on crime" stance. And just several weeks ago in California's Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next.

The punchline here is that none of the cities in the California Bay Area are recipients of these letters or are accused of being out of compliance with the law. It's just a swipe at the officials there.

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Stellar Adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale Comes to Hulu: New at Reason

Also reviewed: Great News on NBC

'The Handmaid's Tale''The Handmaid's Tale,' HuluWhen The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's account of a totalitarian takeover of America by a religious cult that reduces women to breeding stock, first appeared in 1985, it was instantly acclaimed as a feminist 1984 that exposed the misogyny not only of evangelical Christianity but of men in general. In short order, Atwood's novel was adapted to stage productions, radio plays, a ballet, an opera, and a messy Volker Schlöndorff film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway.

But the precise nature of Atwood's message was always a little more slippery than feminist critics let on. The Handmaid's Tale was written while Atwood was living in what was then still known as West Berlin, closely studying what was happening on the other side of the wall, and many of the novel's totalitarian devices (particularly self-criticism sessions in which women rip their own psyches to shreds at a brainwashing factory suggestively called the Red Center) are drawn from the playbook not of the Westboro Baptist Church but the Marxist regimes of the day. And the rigid class system of The Handmaid's Tale, in which some groups of women (particularly wives, daughters and concubines of male leaders) were treated much better than male laborers seemed to mock male chauvinism less that the Soviet system of nomenklatura privilege.

Then there are the anti-porn rants of the government apparatchiks in The Handmaid's Tale and their conflation of sex with rape, which sound suspiciously like the rhetoric of 1980s feminist groups like Take Back the Night. Was Atwood really stroking feminists, or needling them?

That ambiguity remains in the latest and, by far, best incarnation of The Handmaid's Tale, the 10-hour miniseries that Hulu unveils this week. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look at the allegorical fable along with NBC's new sitcom, Great News.

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James Altucher Found Himself by Losing Everything

Q&A with this riches-to-rags evangelist for personal reinvention.

James Altucher has rebounded from personal catastrophe so many times in his 49 years, it's hard to imagine a more qualified evangelist for personal reinvention. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, Altucher made millions designing corporate websites, only to squander it all on gambling and a string of disastrous investments. "I was probably losing about a million [dollars] a week for an entire summer," he tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "I just made every stupid decision in the book."

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Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

In the spirit of an interracial, equal-opportunity orgy of bougie-ness, check out these tunes and videos.

Migos/Jacques BrelMigos/Jacques BrelIn order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture."

"Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town.

This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism.

Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example).

The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages.

Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection."

But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie."

I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or "basic." Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on a first date, or ordering first-date food that's too fancy. So, yes, the term might mean certain things in American black culture that it doesn't among lower-class white Ohioans, leftist academics, or French techno bands, and vice versa. But whether you spell it bougie or bourgie or boujee, the underlying concept is the same; it's simply that the precise contours of bougie shift based on your perspective.

With that in mind—and in the spirit of an interracial, equal-opportunity orgy of the bourgeois—I present you with a few of my favorite songs about white bourgie-ness (a culture I can be confident I'm not appropriating). Enjoy!

Father John Misty - The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment

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Scientists' March on Washington: New at Reason

At risk of becoming just another special interest?

ScienceLiberalConspiracyACSHACSHIn the flush of excitement after the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington, someone in a Reddit conversation suggested, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington." Sensing that a march on Washington might sound too aggressively partisan, the organizers have now renamed the event the March for Science. That march will take place tomorrow, on Earth Day, which the coordinators somehow figured would be the perfect nonpartisan date on which to muster tens of thousands of scientists and their comrades on the National Mall.

The event's mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship?

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Heath Care Automation Could Save Premature Babies, But the FDA Is in the Way: New at Reason

In an age of self-driving cars and 400-ton airplanes that can land themselves in blinding fog, it makes no sense that hospitalized patients are surrounded by lifesaving machinery that can be activated only by a person pressing a button or turning a knob, writes Columbia University neonatologist Tom Hooven.

My patients with pulmonary hypertension are often attached to a respirator with adjustable oxygen settings. The respirator sits inches below the monitor that indicates how much oxygen is in the blood. But the two machines can't communicate with each other. If they could, it would be possible to increase the flow of oxygen automatically the moment a crisis is detected.

In 2009, engineers developed just this kind of closed-loop respirator and introduced it in several hospitals as part of a feasibility study. It increased the time premature babies spent at a safe oxygen level by more than two hours per day. But no biotechnology company has marketed the idea.

There are other examples of automated systems with unrealized potential to save lives, and not just in the neonatal ICU. Software that scans an ECG for subtle heartbeat variability can identify patterns – undetectable to the human eye – that indicate an elevated risk of heart attack. Hospital beds that play audible feedback during an emergency promote more effective CPR. Yet patients are not benefiting because neither of these tools has been commercialized.

Why haven't these innovations attracted the industry backing necessary to make them widely available?

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Bill O'Reilly: The Kennedy Conspiracy Years

Friday A/V Club: Young Bill O'Reilly on the trail of the Umbrella Man

As we await the next stage of Bill O'Reilly's career—RT host? FCC commissioner? down-on-his-luck high-school basketball coach?—let's set the Wayback Machine for 1979 and check out one of the fallen Fox star's earlier incarnations. Before he was the Joe Pyne of cable news, before he was the tantrum-prone anchor of a syndicated tabloid show, O'Reilly was a twentysomething baby-boomer with a moptop of '70s hair and a yen to do investigative journalism. In 1979, when JFK assassinology was arguably at its peak, he tackled the death of John F. Kennedy in a report for a TV station in Connecticut. In the clip below, O'Reilly focuses on one of the odder byways of the JFK theories: the so-called "umbrella man" who raised a parasol shortly before the president was shot.

After the station re-aired that in 2013, an anchor there posted an item promoting it online. "Look for our Carter-era disco inspired logo, the size of the tape cassette recorder Bill carried with him, his powder blue bell bottom pants, and the copious chest hair he showed off to the viewers," he advised, adding: "Hey, it was the '70s." As for the actual theory explored in the report, he described it as "fascinating yet somewhat bizarre."

There is, for the record, a non-conspiratorial explanation for the umbrella man; Errol Morris covers that here. O'Reilly returned to the JFK assassination during his tenure on Inside Edition; you can watch that happen here. More recently, O'Reilly wrote—or at least put his name on—a book called Killing Kennedy; I haven't read it, but a text search at Amazon reveals that the word "umbrella" doesn't appear in it.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. And I suppose I should take this opportunity to promote my book on the history of American conspiracy theories, right? Check that out here.)

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If President Trump’s War on the Press Starts with WikiLeaks, Who Will Rise to Assange’s Defense?

Look down and take note of the very obvious slippery slope.

AssangeJavier Lizon/EPA/NewscomIf a vague, politically malleable concept of "hate speech" is all it takes for some Americans to surrender their First Amendment rights to speak out, will the possibility of the prosecution of WikiLeaks be all it takes for some Americans to turn their backs on the free press?

CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned last week that neither WikiLeaks nor its founder Julian Assange were safe from what Pompeo believes to be "justice" for the media outlet's role in leaking classified or private information and communications to the public.

If the sources who have talked to CNN are telling the truth, Pompeo's threats aren't just bluster: The Department of Justice is mulling over whether to charge Assange with some sort of criminal behavior. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that the Justice Department will "seek to put some people in jail" over leaks.

President Barack Obama's administration famously went after leakers. But they knew to target the people who actually leaked to the press, not the press itself. CNN notes that the Justice Department under Obama did mull over how to possibly get at Assange and WikiLeaks but couldn't figure out a way to do so without implicating other media outlets that also ran leaked classified information.

Under Donald Trump's administration, they seem to be less interested in that sort of distinction and are leaning heavily on the idea that Assange is a foreigner and doesn't get the "protection" of the First Amendment. That's not how the First Amendment works or is written and the American Civil Liberties Union is raising alarms at what the administration is considering:

Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that US prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent.

"Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public," Wizner told CNN. "Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations."

A lot of people who supported Hillary Clinton are furious with WikiLeaks these days and blame it and Assange for contributing to her defeat by publishing hacked emails from her campaign. Some even believe Assange is a willing stooge for the Russian government. As such, because some people don't like the consequences of what WikiLeaks has done, they seem more than fine with the idea that they should not have the same protections as media outlets they see as more "mainstream." Note some of the tweets at the bottom of this San Diego Union-Tribune piece. I think I'm most fascinated with the dueling concepts that Assange isn't protected by the First Amendment because he's a foreigner, but he's also a "traitor," even though he's not a U.S. citizen.

Allow the government to decide what is a real media outlet and what counts as journalism will only lead to bad places. It is the ultimate example of a slippery slope that decimates the concept of what a "free press" is. Sessions subsequently on CNN refused to rule out the possibility that other media outlets could also face prosecutions for publishing leaked information.

People who think WikiLeaks and Assange are bad guys because of what happened to Clinton need to stop for a minute and think about the consequences of an administration led by a man who is openly hostile to the concept of a free press claiming the authority to decide the circumstances by which the protections of the First Amendment applies. That so many people hate WikiLeaks makes it an easy political target. This is a test run. It will not stop here.

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This Video of Cops Arresting an Autistic 10-Year-Old Is the Case Against Police in Schools

"I don't understand."

A 10-year-old boy who suffers from autism told the school resource officer, "I don't want to be touched." He was handcuffed anyway, taken to jail, and forced to spend a night in a juvenile detention facility.

It happened at Okeechobee Achievement Academy in Florida, where young John Benjamin "Benji" Haygood was accused of disrupting class and striking a special education teacher as she tried to restrain him. That incident took place last November, and led to the teacher filing charges against Benji.

Police issues a warrant for Benji's arrest, but according to The Washington Post, no action was taken at the time. Then, last week, Benji and his mother returned to the school for standardize testing. A school resource officer arrested him as he screamed, "I don't understand!" Benji's mother asked to accompany him to the jail, but was refused. She did manage to film the arrest, however.

The school district denied that it had asked Benji to come to the school in order to arrest him, but offered no additional comment on the case.

Benji, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, clearly suffers from disciplinary issues. Hitting teachers and other classmates isn't okay. But the public school system has an obligation to socialize young people and teach them proper behavior. (If it does not have this obligation, then what's the point of compulsory public schooling in the first place?) When school officials ship a kid off to jail, they are failing to do their jobs, and making life miserable for the kid.

Are our nation's 10-year-olds so dangerous, such criminal masterminds, that they need to be handcuffed and detained over night? Watching the video, you might think Benji was a murderer, or prodigious bank robber. No, he's an autistic kid who had a bad day. But it's illegal to have a bad day at school, when the school outsources disciplinary enforcement to the local police.

For more on this subject, read "Why Are Cops Putting Kids in Cuffs?" from the March issue of Reason.

California State Agency Effort to Nullify Pension Vote Is Eerily Totalitarian: New at Reason

Lisa Parker/flickrLisa Parker/flickrA union-controlled agency in California trying to overturn a citizen initiative passed in San Diego has finally been rebuffed in court.

Steven Greenhut writes:

If you're wondering how far unions and the California officials will go to kill any reform of the state's overburdened public pension system, wonder no more: consider instead the latest chapter, last week, in a state agency's long-running effort to invalidate San Diego's 2012 citywide vote to reform pensions.

The good news: a California appeals court rejected the Public Employment Relation Board's (PERB) efforts last week. But it's still shocking the agency's officials would have even argued that a union's right to negotiate pay and benefits trumps is the public's right to hold an election.

The story began in 2012, when San Diego reformers collected 116,000 signatures to place Proposition B before the voters. The measure moved newly hired city workers (excluding police) from a guaranteed pension to a 401(k) retirement program. It also put a five-year freeze on payroll spending as a way to cap "pensionable pay" and reduce unfunded liabilities.

A large majority of the city's voters, 66 percent, approved the measure. Unlike a measure that passed in San Jose on the same day and was subsequently gutted by the courts, San Diego's did not reduce benefits for current employees and has therefore not run afoul of something known as the "California Rule." That rule forbids officials from reducing vested benefits for government employees, even for future work.

Even though San Diego's Proposition B has passed court muster, state officials and unions continued to fight it. The PERB, a little-known California state agency, is responsible for implementing various union-related statutes and remedying "unfair labor practices." A majority of its members have worked for public-sector unions, which gives you a sense of its political tilt.

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Democrats Sound Desperate Note on Commuter Rail Spending

Trump's infrastructure plans would leave little money for their beloved boondoggles.

Maria CantwellNational Park Service / FlickrAs the Trump administration looks to make America great again with $1 trillion in infrastructure investments, elected officials, lobbyists and industries are positioning for the largesse.

Congressional Democrats have been fretting that with President Trump's preference for revenue generating projects, many of their favorite projects will lose out on the pork to which they have become accustomed.

This could be a particular problem for high-speed and light-rail projects across the country. Far more cost effective transportation options already exist, Randal O'Toole, a longtime critic of of publicly subsidized rail boondoggles, said. Trump, he said, understands this reality and will forego throwing money at such projects.

"It's a huge waste of money," O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said. "We have this new invention called the jet plane that can go twice as fast as any high speed rail car, and carries more people"

Realizing their fix, Democrats have been taking every opportunity to stump for direct federal spending on infrastructure.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D–N.J.), and Menendez (D–N.J.) on Wednesday sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao asking her to "to consider the urgent need for major investments in our nation's rail and transit infrastructure."

These lawmakers have been particularly concerned about the fate of the Gateway Program—introduced in 2011 by Menendez—that would add new rail track and tunnels under the Hudson River for about $24 billion.

Given the project's exclusive focus on investing in the future of perennial loss leader, Amtrak, and commuter rail service, it is questionable whether funds would materialize under a Trump plan.

The senators sound a little desperate, pleading for Chao to visit the site of the project "prior to unveiling the Trump Administration's $1 trillion infrastructure proposal," perhaps hoping she might come to some divine revelation on "the urgent need for federal investments in advancing the Gateway Project."

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D–Wash.) is another desperate sounding pork hunter. Trump's "skinny budget" hacks out a $1.2 billion grant for a long-planned light rail line in her state, to say nothing of the $54 billion light rail expansion Seattle-area voters approved in 2016,

Cantwell hopes the project can claim as much as $4 billion in federal grants for a project that will get just 3 percent of its $54 billion cost from rider fares. Hardly a fit for an infrastructure proposal focused on projects supported by user fees.

Cantwell pressed Chao during her confirmation hearing in January on how willing the Trump administration would be willing to spend direct federal dollars on rail in the Seattle area, which she says "desperately, desperately, desperately needs this infrastructure investment."

Chao was noncommittal.

Also looking for federal dollars for their high-speed dreams is Texas Central Partners.

Despite repeatedly promising state leaders their project would be entirely financed privately, the people behind the Texas Central project mobbed up with high powered D.C. lobbying firm K&L partners.

With deep links in the transit policy world, K&L lobbyists have been taking taking meetings with Chao, pitching the proposed high speed rail line between Dallas and Houston as "an ideal candidate" for the Trump infrastructure plan, the Hill reported.

Managers of this project have, up until Trump's announcement, insisted to the people of a state that flaunts its free market success that ridership will eliminate the need for subsidy.

But according to a recent Reason Foundation study (the Foundation publishes this website) ridership for the Texas line will likely be about 5 times lower than Texas Central projections. Such a rail line could not survive without taxpayer money.

Most of this rail advocacy is political theater, O'Toole said. Democrats are just "playing to their audience, who like to spend big money without having to worry about paying it back." he said. He doubts the current administration will give them any of what they want.

Trump's infrastructure, O'Toole said, is more correctly set on projects that support cars and trucks. In other words, the way real people want to travel.

"Cars take them to where they want to go," he said, "not to a station that might be miles away from where they want to go."

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SCOTUS Says States Have No Right to Money Taken Based on Overturned Convictions

If making people prove their innocence to get their property back violates due process, what about civil forfeiture?

SCOTUSSCOTUSThis week the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado has no right to keep fines, fees, court costs, and restitution it extracts from criminal defendants whose convictions are later reversed. By forcing people to prove their innocence before they can get back property that is rightly theirs, the Court said, Colorado has been violating the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process. The Institute for Justice, which filed a brief in the case emphasizing that the presumption of innocence is an essential aspect of due process, makes a compelling argument that civil asset forfeiture routinely violates that principle.

The Court's decision in Nelson v. Colorado, which was joined by seven justices (Clarence Thomas dissented, and Neil Gorsuch joined the Court too recently to participate), came in response to challenges by Shannon Nelson and Louis Madden, who tried to get back money the state took from them based on convictions that were overturned. Nelson, who in 2006 was convicted of two felonies and three misdemeanors based on allegations that she had abused her four children, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $8,193 in court costs, fees, and restitution, $702 of which was taken from her inmate account before she won a new trial and was acquitted. Madden, who in 2005 was convicted of two felonies based on allegations that he had patronized an underaged prostitute, received an indeterminate prison sentence and was ordered to pay $4,413 in costs, fees, and restitution, $1,978 of which was collected before his convictions were reversed on appeal and the state decided not to prosecute him again.

Nelson and Madden got a sympathetic hearing at the Colorado Court of Appeals, which concluded that they had a right to refunds. But the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, saying they could get their money back only if they followed the process prescribed by Colorado's Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons statute, a.k.a. the Exoneration Act. That law requires exonerated defendants seeking compensation to file a lawsuit and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence. That procedure is prohibitively expensive for people seeking the return of modest sums, and it is no help at all for people convicted of misdemeanors, which are not covered by the law.

More fundamentally, the U.S. Supreme Court says in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Exoneration Act is inappropriate for people who are seeking not compensation for wrongful convictions but the return of money the state took based on legal determinations that are no longer valid. "Colorado may not retain funds taken from Nelson and Madden solely because of their now-invalidated convictions, for Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions," Ginsburg writes. "To get their money back, defendants should not be saddled with any proof burden. Instead...they are entitled to be presumed innocent." That was true before Nelson and Madden were tried, Ginsburg observes, and it is true again now that their convictions have been nullified.

The parallels with civil asset forfeiture are pretty clear. In both cases, the government takes someone's property based on allegations of criminal activity, and in both cases the owners are forced to prove their innocence if they want to get their property back.

Nelson v. Colorado "upholds the fundamental principle that Americans are entitled to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise," says Institute for Justice attorney Robert Everett Johnson. "The Court expressly rejected Colorado's argument that the 'presumption of innocence applies only at criminal trials,' explaining that the government 'may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions.' Unfortunately, civil forfeiture laws turn the presumption of innocence on its head. Using civil forfeiture, law enforcement seizes billions of dollars in cash and other property every year based only on suspicion of a crime. Property owners are then required to prove their own innocence to get that property back."

Civil forfeiture is actually worse than the financial losses suffered by Nelson and Madden, because at least in their cases the government initially had to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Since civil forfeiture is notionally an action against the property rather than the person to whom it belongs, the government need not charge the owner with a crime, let alone convict him.

Trump's 'Buy American. Hire American' Policy Is Dangerous Nonsense: New at Reason

nikzane/flickrnikzane/flickrIn a political sense, the issue of "Buy American. Hire American" is much like fighting climate change.

David Harsanyi writes:

"We don't have a level playing field for our workers," President Donald Trump told a group of workers in Kenosha, Wisc., on Tuesday. Truth is, if we were to ever level the playing field with countries like Mexico and China, the average American worker would be making $3 an hour and spending their pittance on third-world health care and decrepit housing. Please, don't level the playing field.

When few things are going your way in politics, though, it's customary to return to rhetoric that made you successful. So, as Republicans have been unable to push forward on health care reform or tax reform—or anything not named Neil Gorsuch, for that matter—it is unsurprising that Trump would turn to protectionism as a way to bolster his political fortunes.

On Tuesday, the president traveled to a tool manufacturing company in Wisconsin and threw some nationalistic bromides at a blue-collar crowd (none of which included the words "I'm afraid some of your jobs will be taken by robots in the future"), and then signed an executive order ordering the White House to look into ways to curb guest worker visa programs and require government agencies to buy more goods and services from American companies.

For the past two years, over 200,000 foreigners applied for open positions each year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services holds a lottery and gives out 85,000 H-1B visas to high-skilled foreign workers. It's a program that's most popular with the tech industry, due to a shortage of Americans trained in science and engineering. I suppose it's a lot easier to stop talented immigrants from entering the country than to find ways to incentivize Americans to become math majors.

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DOJ Prepares to Prosecute Julian Assange, Venezuelans in Revolt, Hate-Crime Charges Dropped Against Women Who Burned Trump Sign: A.M. Links

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Movie Review: Unforgettable: New at Reason

Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl in a slick but predictable girl fight.

UnforgettableWarner BrosUnforgettable is a generic but effective thriller of the scorned-woman-goes-postal variety. (Think Fatal Attraction, for starters.) It's the directorial debut of veteran producer Denise Di Novi, who has worked on a number Tim Burton pictures and a couple of cuddly Nicholas Sparks adaptations as well. Her interests would seem to range widely. Still, the sort of story we have here, with its gaudy view of female hysteria, is an unexpected place for such an accomplished woman to launch a directing career—especially since she doesn't seem interested in adding any new twists to this genre, which in the past has been the cause of considerable feminist aggravation.

Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) is an online-magazine editor who leaves her home in San Francisco to move in with her fiancé, David Connover (Geoff Stults, of TV's The Odd Couple), who lives in a super-swell house down in the SoCal suburbs. (Sensitive-hunk David is of minimal interest in this fem-centric story; he's saved from being a complete cliché by having left his Wall Street job to open a craft-beer brewery rather than yet another frickin' vineyard.) David shares custody of his 10-year-old daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) with his ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl), who, as Julia very soon learns, is a complete nutcase, writes Kurt Loder.

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Brickbat: This Might Hurt

boyErin Janssen / Dreamstime.comA number of South Dakota law enforcement agencies told the Argus Leader that they would request a warrant to forcibly catheterize someone for a urine sample only in extreme cases, such as a vehicular homicide. Not the Pierre police department. The newspaper found that it has repeatedly had people forcibly catheterized, including a 3-year-old boy.

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Howard Dean Thinks ‘Hate Speech Is Not Protected By the First Amendment.’ It Is, Though.

Ann Coulter's remarks might be hateful, but they shouldn't prevent her from speaking at UC-Berkeley.

DeanPAT BENIC/UPI/NewscomHere we go again: Former Democratic National Committee chairman tweeted that "hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment." As Dean—who once ran for president of the United States—should know, this is completely wrong.

Dean's tweet was a response to another tweet from a former New York Times reporter who pointed out that Ann Coulter once joked about how Timothy McVeigh should have blown up The NYT instead of a federal building. Coulter is in the news because the University of California-Berkeley cancelled her planned visit to campus on grounds that administrators could not guarantee her safety—irate protesters have vowed mob violence if she speaks. The university has now reversed that decision, thankfully.

Coulter's history of engaging in hate speech might be a reason for students not to invite her to speak. But her speech, hateful though it may be, is not illegal. The Constitution does not exempt "hate speech" from First Amendment protection.

Similarly, the Supreme Court does not recognize "hate" as a category of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment. In the 2011 decision Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church's right to picket a military serviceman's funeral and wave signs displaying such messages as "God hates you," "fag troops," and "You're going to hell." If this kind of speech is constitutional, it seems obvious that Coulter's joke is as well.

Specific, true threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. But even if Coulter's remark was intended to be serious, it would have amounted to an endorsement of previous violence, not a call to future violence.

So Dean should brush up on the First Amendment.

For what it's worth, not all former Democratic politicians have cast aside the principle of free speech in their zeal to denounce Coulter's visit to Berkeley. Robert Reich—a leftist intellectual, former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, and professor of public policy at Berkeley—recently expressed relief that the university was allowing Coulter's event to proceed.

"I'm glad the university has reversed course," he wrote. "How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter's arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?"

He continued:

It's one thing to cancel an address at the last moment because university and local police are not prepared to contain violence – as occurred, sadly, with Yiannopoulos. It's another thing entirely to cancel an address before it is given, when police have adequate time to prepare for such eventualities.

Free speech is what universities are all about. If universities don't do everything possible to foster and protect it, they aren't universities. They're playpens.

Kudos to Reich. This is exactly the kind of full-throated defense of free speech I wish all university professors were making on a daily basis.

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Join Reason for a 4/20 Livestream on Marijuana Policy in the Trump Era

Live at 7:20 p.m. ET/4:20 p.m. PT.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called marijuana "only slightly less awful" than heroin. But with cannabis legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., it's clear that federal and state drug policy is at odds. Can the Trump administration really stop marijuana legalization? How is California dealing with the uncertainty that surrounds this legal industry? What can we expect in the next four years and beyond?

Reason will livestream a discussion of present and future drug policy with four experts in the field:

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller, who recently interviewed cannabis entrepreneurs about the future of drug policy under President Trump, will moderate the discussion.

The stream will be available on Reason's Facebook page, and we'll be taking questions from the online audience.

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Zuckerberg and Musk Aim to Make Telepathy a Reality

Fourth Amendment privacy is more important once our thoughts are stored outside our wetware.

TelepathyWavebreakmediaDreamstimeWavebreakmedia/DreamstimeTelepathy can be defined as the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses. Now Tesla's Elon Musk and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg both seem to be aiming to provide humans with the ability to communicate directly brain-to-brain and brain-to-internet. Musk announced last month his new company Neuralink is working on a "neural lace" that would enable people to interface directly with infotech machines and other people. The idea of a neural lace seems based on the wireless brain-computer interfaces installed by characters in the Culture novels by scifi writer Iain M. Banks.

Musk believes that such neural laces would improve human cognitive function by enabling people to achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence machines. Essentially humans become the singularity rather than being replaced by god-like artificial intelligences. As it happens, researchers at Harvard are developing injectable nanowires that can unfold into a mesh of bendable electronics that interface with brain cells directly.

Mark Zuckerberg is not to be outdone. Earlier this week, Facebook's vice president of engineering Regina Dugan revealed, "Over the next 2 years, we will be building systems that demonstrate the capability to type at 100 wpm by decoding neural activity devoted to speech." As PC World reported, "The company's aim is to develop a system that will let people type straight from their brain about five times faster than they can type on their phone today, which will be eventually turned into wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale." The technology would be non-invasive—no electrodes stabbed into brains—and would decode only those words that the person decides to share.

Fourth Amendment privacy protections really need strengthening once our thoughts are stored somewhere outside our wetware. For what it's worth, I personally would go with the Facebook wearable first.

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Maryland Decriminalizes Unlicensed Barbering; Jacks Up Fines for Unlicensed Barbering

The state won't throw people in jail for cutting hair without a state-issued permission slip, but it's only a marginal step forward.

Retales Botijero Westend61/NewscomRetales Botijero Westend61/NewscomIf you're one of those glass-half-full people, the good news is Maryland can no longer throw people in prison for the supposed crime of cutting hair without a license.

Reforms to the state's barber licensing laws unanimously passed the state legislature earlier this month and were signed Tuesday by Gov. Larry Hogan. The new law eliminates a provision that allowed unlicensed barbers to be tossed in jail for up to 30 days. That's a welcome change to a completely overblown punishment—under Maryland law, first-time DUI offenses come with just 48 hours of prison time—and another step towards fixing onerous licensing laws, similar to changes other states have made this year.

If you're one of those glass-half-empty people, though, you might notice that cutting hair in Maryland without a government-issued permission slip will now carry fines of up to $1,000. Previously, fines had been capped at just $100.

I suppose this counts as a marginal victory for the freedom to cut hair without the government being involved, but it's definitely of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety.

"Instead of tinkering with punishment, Maryland legislators should recognize that occupational licensing is an anti-competitive scam that benefits licenses and not consumers," says Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that advocates for changes to state-level licensing laws, told me via email.

Maryland has the 10th most burdensome licensing laws in the country, according to a 2012 IJ report that looked at licensing laws in all 50 states. While the requirements for the state's 42 different occupational licenses (including things like animal trainer and tree trimmer) vary widely, on average workers can expect to pay about $200 and spend more than 400 days on mandatory education to qualify for a license. Becoming a barber requires 280 days of training and passing two exams.

Licensing serves as a significant barrier to entry for potential workers, and there's better ways to make sure that barbers are qualified to do the job. Market-based regulations, which are more effective than ever thanks to apps like Yelp, are probably all that's really needed to sort out good barbers from bad ones. Licensing should only be used when there is a compelling health and safety interest at stake—and, no, bad haircuts don't count.

"There have been no reports of bad barbicide or bad haircuts in Maryland," McGrath says. "Why is the government intervening?"

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Another Obamacare Repeal Attempt, or Perhaps a Government Shutdown, Russia Bans Jehovah's Witnesses: P.M. Links

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Will the New York Times' Labor Reporting Ever Get the Facts Straight?

After an embarrassing correction, the paper mangles the details again.

According to an article in last week's New York Times by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, when low-wage workers win court judgements against their employers they often have a hard time collecting. The problem is it isn't true.

Nir's key example actually contradicts her main argument. The whole episode is indicative of the Times' approach to covering labor issues, which is essentially advocacy not journalism.

The article opens with the story of a lawsuit against a small chain of car washes in New York and New Jersey owned by José Vázquez. After 18 employees were awarded $1.65 million in a settlement, Nir reported, they were unable to get their money:

The workers who toiled at the Vázquez carwashes have seen little of their settlements after the owners filed for bankruptcy, appearing to take advantage of a well-worn tactic used to avoid paying exploited workers, according to labor advocates.

The plaintiffs in the Vázquez case actually collected the last installment of the settlement on June 21, 2016. Reuters even published a news item with a photo of one of the workers receiving a check at a celebratory news conference.

The Times eventually caught the mistake, reworded a sentence in the article, and noted the correction. But the new version of the story further mangles the facts in the case.

The reworded article asserts that the workers "battled for nearly six years before receiving the money they were due, their efforts hampered by the owners having filed for bankruptcy…"

None of this is true.

The Vázquez case, which was filed in December of 2011, is the story of a wealthy yet emotionally troubled business owner who failed to act in his own best interests. His erratic behavior during litigation enabled the plaintiffs and their attorney to walk away with much more money than is common in lawsuits of this sort.

While the plaintiffs benefited handsomely, the outcome also led to the elimination of over a hundred low-wage jobs—the sort of unintended consequence that the Times rarely considers in its labor market coverage.

Were the workers at the Vázquez car washes actually paid less than the minimum wage? They were compensated in cash and the bookkeeping was shoddy, so it's hard to say. But the plaintiffs almost certainly would have won a court judgement, which is why the rational course of action would have been to settle.

So why did José Vázquez, the defendant and principal owner, decide to litigate? According to court transcripts, he suffers from bipolar disorder and suffered a manic episode during the proceedings. He also fired one attorney, didn't pay another, and at points refused to acknowledge that he had ever employed the suing workers.

The Times claims that when trying to collect their money the workers "were hampered by the owners having filed for bankruptcy," but the opposite is true. Vázquez' bizarre decision to enter Chapter 11 (which was later converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy)* was a calamity for his side because it led to the liquidation of his assets, which were worth more than enough to pay the workers. Once in control of his estate, the bankruptcy trustees settled with the workers for $1.65 million. Vázquez also had to pay the plaintiffs attorneys' bill of $1.2 million. (The judge permitted them to charge $500 an hour, which is on the high side for litigation of this sort.)

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Free Trade Under Fire in the Age of Trump

The Trump administration's incomprehension of the benefits, and hostility to the practice, of free trade represents one of the most important current threats to the ideas of liberty, I argue in a new essay up at the Cato Institute's website, "Free Trade is Under Attack, and It Must be Defended."

Gage Skidmore/Foter,comGage Skidmore/Foter,com

The core of the argument:

The economic and moral case for free trade of goods, capital, and labor across borders is so strong, and so core to the libertarian vision, that any politician, party, or group that professes to further the cause of liberty and does not understand and advocate it cannot be relied on as an intelligent ally.

In year one of the Trump administration, then, the greatest challenge facing political liberty is rewinning support, either popular, or elite, or preferably both, for this core free market principle. Free trade very recently was central to the free-market image of Trump's party, the Republicans, but they mostly seem to have shed it in service of propping up their president's agenda, or in search of tax solutions, like a border adjustment tax, that they can sell as harming only "them" and not us.

From the moment he declared his candidacy, Trump's highest priority seemed to be forceful interference with the free movement of goods, services, and people across the American border. His reasons were based in either unreasonable fearmongering over a very small risk (when it comes to immigrants), or a misunderstanding, or a pure rejection, of the principle that people should be able to trade their property and labor as they wish with minimal interference from the state.

Trump didn't even wait until he was sworn in to begin threatening businesses who dare use their capital outside the American border. Chiefly he sought punitive taxes and sought to use the government's power of special favors to cajole companies into not doing so. In his inaugural address he cut to the point with a clarity that was brutal and frightening to those who understand free trade as the cornerstone of liberty and worldwide wealth: "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs," Trump said. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

The Cato Institute (a libertarian public policy analysis think tank) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and that essay is part of a series they commissioned and are publishing on the "Future of the Free Society."

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Minimum Wage Increases Make Restaurants More Likely to Fail

Every $1 increase in minimum wage makes mid-level restaurants 14 percent more likely to fail, Harvard economists say. Workers, business owners, consumers lose.

Megan Daniels / VWPics/NewscomMegan Daniels / VWPics/NewscomRules that make it more expensive to employ workers will cause fewer workers to be employed. It's a statement that's as true in an economics textbook as it is in the real world—as more than a few places are currently discovering—and a new study from Harvard University economists takes a stab at explaining how that relationship can affect not only workers, but businesses and consumers as well.

As the cost of labor increases, driven by higher minimum wages, there is a greater likelihood that restaurants will go out of business, study authors Michael Luca and Dara Lee Luca conclude. As one might expect, Luca and Luca found that lower quality restaurants—those more likely to rely on low-wage workers—are harder hit by higher wage mandates.

"A one dollar increase in the minimum wage leads to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant (which is a median rating), but has no discernible impact for a 5-star restaurant," they write.

The consequences here are far-ranging. It's unlikely that a worker with no experience is going to get hired at a 5-star restaurant, even for a low-level job, but destroying lower level restaurant jobs makes it harder for those same workers to climb the ladder from working at Outback to working at Fogo de Chão. This is an extension of the more-well-studied effects of minimum wage increases on fast food joints, where higher wages can do even more damage.

Obviously there are consequences for business owners as well. Restaurants have high rate of turnover to begin with, so increasing the likelihood of a mid-level restaurant's failure by 14 percent is no small matter. It may be enough to convince financiers to reallocate their capital towards high-end establishments or into other sectors of the economy, making it harder for anyone who does still want to open a restaurant to find willing partners.

That means fewer choices for consumers. Not everyone can afford to eat at a 5-star restaurant all the time (and, honestly, who would want to?), but higher minimum wages might force some mid-level options out of the market and make it harder for new ones to come online.

Things might be even worse than Luca and Luca suggest. For their study, they used data on restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2008 through 2016, a period of time that included several municipalities in the region raising their minimum wages. But even before that, the Bay Area was one of the most expensive parts of the country (and already had a higher-than-average minimum wage). If restaurants there were affected to the extent that Luca and Luca suggest, it makes me wonder what the consequences would be in a place like Colusa County, California, where the minimum wage will increase to $15 per hour in a few years. There aren't any 5-star restaurants in Colusa County, as you might guess, and the unemployment rate there, 22.8 percent in February of this year, is already one of the highest in the country.

Indeed, other studies on the consequences of raising minimum wages have found greater consequences. A forthcoming study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania shows that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage increases firm exit by approximately 24 percent, according to Luca and Luca.

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Judge OK’s DHS Tracking Plane Because It Left L.A., a ‘Source City’ for Drugs, Going to Philly, a ‘Destination City’

Another judge rules that behaving legally is no protection from being targeted by law enforcement.

swong95765/flickrswong95765/flickrPolice may have reasonable suspicion to track individuals if they are behaving strangely while traveling or using unusual means of travel, even if the behavior or means of travel are legal, Chief Judge David Brooks Smith ruled (pdf) in a case in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals involving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tracking a plane from Los Angeles to Philadelphia because the former was a "source city" for drugs and the latter a "destination city,"—demonstrating the vagueness of the concept of reasonable suspicion and the problem with criminalizing actions and products that are inherently non-violent.

In 2015 the pilot and passenger Raul Rosales, who brought the challenge to the court, were apprehended in Pennsylvania, where authorities found them in possession of several duffle bags' worth of cocaine. Rosales was sentenced to five years in prison and was appealing a lower court's ruling that evidence obtained based on DHS's tracking of the plane because of perfectly legal behavior ought to be suppressed

"Unusual means of travel or strange behavior while traveling, even if legal, may give rise to reasonable suspicion," Smith wrote in his disposition. "While Rosales is correct that the flight could have been that of a hobbyist and that some of the details observed… could be attributed to inexperience rather than criminal activity, an alternative innocent explanation does not undermine our conclusion."

DHS also pointed to the plane making too many stops and to a police informant who claimed to see a duffel bag on board and noticed and noticed the pilot locking the aircraft despite only exiting briefly for refueling in Albuquerque. In Oklahoma, another informant told DHS the plane had taxied backward down the runway, indicating an inexperienced pilot. DHS also said the plane's transponder had been shut off for three minutes over Kentucky. Judge Smith ruled that in combination, these legal activites were all enough to warrant reasonable suspicion.

The ruling, which was nonprecedential, meaning it doesn't add "significantly to the body of law," as Federal Circuit Rule 32.1 explains (pdf), nevertheless adds to a long list of what law enforcement can consider reasonable suspicion—from driving too slow to driving too fast, from being too relaxed to being too nervous.

"Articulating precisely what 'reasonable suspicion' and 'probable cause' mean is not possible," the Supreme Court ruled in the 1996 case Ornelas v. U.S. "They are commonsense, non-technical conceptions that deal with the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. As such, the standards are not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules."

Neat! The vague nature of reasonable suspicion highlights the importance of limiting criminal laws to actions that are violent, and not to all behaviors and products that make the right amount of the right people uncomfortable, to safeguard our freedoms, such as they are.

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Rejuvenation Using Human Umbilical Cord Blood Plasma

Perhaps this provides a way for avoiding the necessity of draining Millennials of their blood plasma to benefit Baby Boomers.

VampireFaceliftVampire FaceliftHuman blood plasma obtained from umbilical cords revitalizes the hippocampus and improves cognitive function in aged mice, according to a new study published in Nature. The research was done by a team led by Stanford University neurologist Tony Wyss-Coray. The researchers injected human cord plasma into old mice, and found that they could better remember how to run through a maze than those receiving no injections. This research builds on earlier parabiosis studies in which young mice were stitched together with old mice. Those studies found that being exposed to young blood rejuvenated the organs and muscles of old mice.

In this new study the researchers isolated a blood protein TIMP2 from umbilical cord plasma and injected it into old mice where it boosted their memories almost as well as the young plasma did. The Stanford team suggests that TIMP2 could be used therapeutically to improve aging human brains.

However, other researchers cite experiments that found that old blood has a build up of factors that contribute to aging by inhibiting cellular repair and that young blood does not rejuvenate.

Wyss-Coray is the founder of biotech startup Alkahest which is running a small clinical trial aiming to see what effects that injecting blood plasma from young people into 18 people suffering from Alzheimer's might have. The results are slated to be reported later this year. Last fall, Alkahest reported that injecting old mice with blood plasma from young humans had rejuvenating effects on their bodies and brains.

In the meantime, another company Ambrosia is offering a clinical trial now in which participants are injected with young plasma derived from donors ranging in age from 15 to 25 years old. One month after participants received two-liters of plasma, the company begins checking for charges in 100 biomarkers for any rejuvenating effects. The company controversially charges participants $8,000 for the privilege of participating. Last year, Inc. magazine reported that venture capitalist and self-described libertarian Peter Thiel had expressed interest in Ambrosia's trial.

Ultimately the goal of this research is not to drain Millenials of their plasma to benefit Baby Boomers, but instead to isolate and synthesize the anti-aging compounds in young blood.

For more background see my article, The Vampire Cure for Aging.

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Zara Pulls Not-Pepe Dress After People Complain That All Frogs Are Now Hate Symbols

Good job, internet liberals, you got huge clothing conglomerate to stop selling one of its few works benefiting indie creators!

the offending dress, via Zarathe offending dress, via ZaraI've found it—the stupidest "social justice" controversy of the week. That's a high bar, of course, but I believe this saga of retail #resistance clears it. Ready?

Keyboard warriors have convinced international clothing company Zara to pull a limited-edition denim dress designed by Spanish pop artist Mario de Santiago, who goes by the name Yime. His sin? The dress featured two frogs.

According to the London-based artist—whose work is full of whimsical, cartoonish animals and figures—the idea for the frog dress "came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago." It was part of a collection of "Oil on Denim" design collaborations between Zara and independent artists, featuring images including four-eyed Japanese women, dying birds, smiley faces, panthers, skulls...and the ill-fated amphibians.

It seems that to folks on social media, the pair looked a little too much like Pepe, the innocent cartoon turned all-purpose meme turned alt-right mascot. During the 2016 election, Pepe earned the ire of no less than Hillary Clinton herself, as well as denunciation as a hate-group symbol by the quacks at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It would be weird for a moderately high-end fashion brand to carry Pepe-themed womenswear, sure, but not necessarily an endorsement of anything (perhaps the designer's intention is to skewer the alt-right, reclaim Pepe, or simply use relevant pop-cultural images in their work). There are all sorts of ways once can read the appearance of Pepe in a decidedly non-Trump or non-alt-right-related context, and to those other than professional grievancemongers this should be apparent.

In any event, those who find the shirt distasteful are free to ignore it, thereby not heaping more attention on the offensive artist/company nor clogging up people's limited outrage capacity with things that make no goddamn material difference in the world.

The frogs on the Yime/Zara dress aren't even intended to portray Pepe, however. They don't look much like the alt-right icon in the first place, aside from general frogginess, and the artist has explicitly stated that "there is absolutely no link to the suggested theme."

Nevertheless, the social-media outrage persisted—prompting Zara to pull the skirt. While the rest of the Oil on Denim collection remains intact on the Zara website, the denim dress featuring frogs is nowhere to be found. Good job, internet liberals, you got huge clothing conglomerate to stop selling one of its few works benefiting indie creators! But at least you all got some Twitter faves, right?

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Ed Krayewski Talking Iran Nuclear Deal on the Tom Brown Show

Today at 12:05pm ET

IranIranI'll be on the Tom Brown Show today, broadcast on AM 1350 WEZS in Laconia, N.H., and over the internet, to talk about the latest developments on the Iran nuclear deal, which I wrote about yesterday.

A number of Republican presidential candidates promised to rip up the nuclear deal on day 1, but despite criticizing it on the campaign trail, Donald Trump was not one of them. Ninety days into his term, his administration, and specifically Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was required by the legislation that enforces the nuclear deal to certify to Congress whether Iran was in compliance with the deal.

Tillerson was free to inform Congress that he could not certify that Iran was in compliance, or to even ignore the deadline all together and kick off the process of withdrawing from the multilateral executive agreement. Instead, he certified Iran was in compliance while ordering a "comprehensive review" of whether the deal-related suspension of sanctions was in America's national interests.

Tillerson called the nuclear deal a "failed approach," but the Trump administration's confrontational rhetoric on Iran has not yet translated into policy. So far, the rhetoric is a kind of "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" exercise—meant for public consumption, not policymaking. Nevertheless, such rhetoric could still empower hardliners in Iran, who are looking to take the presidency in next month's election in the Islamic Republic. and given the unpredictable nature of Trump's foreign policy so far, the disconnect between rhetoric and policy could change any time.

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The GOP’s New Obamacare Repeal Deal Would Give States More Choice—But Only With Federal Permission

A tentative deal would provide some regulatory wiggle room, but would preserve key elements of Obamacare.

Jeff Malet Photography/NewscomJeff Malet Photography/NewscomAfter a months-long standoff, conservative and moderate GOP factions may be nearing an agreement on measure to partially repeal and replace Obamacare.

The apparent deal, which still may not have enough support to push through the House, is likely to be portrayed by supporters as a compromise that allows states to decide on their own approach to health policy. But the terms make it look less a negotiated compromise than an agreement to let individual states work out the differences between the two groups via a waiver process that is managed by the federal government.

The core idea of the agreement, as reported by The Huffington Post, is to allow states to opt out of two key provisions in Obamacare: the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) rules, which require insurers to offer certain categories of coverage with all plans, and some of the community rating rules, which restrict how insurers can charge based on individual health history. Insurers would still be prohibited from pricing based on gender, and would only be allowed to charge based on health history in states that established high-risk pools.

But states would not be simply allowed to choose for themselves whether or not to opt out. Instead, they would have to apply for approval from the government, which would have to grant a "Limited Waiver." States would be required to show, or at least claim, that their waivers would allow them to reduce insurance premiums, increase coverage, or "advance another benefit to the public interest in the state," according to a summary of the agreement posted by Politico.

States, in other words, would have to rely on the waiver process set up by federal government in order to opt-out. Which means that the permissiveness and flexibility of that process is an important factor.

State waivers for health care policy are not a new idea—and in many cases, the process has been rather onerous for states.

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Federal Judge Says Judicial Deference to Executive Branch Agencies Is 'Judicial Abdication'

Judge Janice Rogers Brown takes aim at Chevron deference.

Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is an outspoken foe of Chevron deference, the legal doctrine that tells federal judges to tip the scales in favor of executive branch agencies when those agencies have offered a "reasonable" interpretation of an "ambiguous" federal statute. "Under any conception of our separation of powers," Gorsuch has written, "I would have thought powerful and centralized authorities like today's administrative agencies would have warranted less deference from other branches, not more."

An important case decided last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reveals that Gorsuch has a key anti-Chevron ally on that court. At issue in Waterkeeper Alliance v. Environmental Protection Agency was whether the EPA exceeded its authority under federal law while attempting to regulate animal waste produced by farms. According to the unanimous D.C. Circuit opinion written by Senior Judge Stephen Williams, "the EPA's action here can't be justified."

U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. CircuitU.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. CircuitAmong the judges who joined that unanimous opinion was Janice Rogers Brown, a Republican-appointee who has previously exhibited certain libertarian tendencies in cases dealing with such issues as economic liberty, police misconduct, and Amtrak. Those tendencies were on display once again last week.

"I join in the Panel Opinion because '[the EPA's approach] ran afoul of the underlying statutes (and was therefore outside the EPA's delegated authority),'" Judge Brown declared. But she also wrote a separate concurrence, in which she went further, rejecting efforts by the EPA and others to shoehorn lawless executive branch behavior in via the already too lenient standard set forth by the Chevron doctrine. "If a court could purport fealty to Chevron while subjugating statutory clarity to agency 'reasonableness,'" she wrote, "textualism will be trivialized."

Brown concluded her concurrence by observing that "an Article III renaissance is emerging against the judicial abdication performed in Chevron's name." Article III is that part of the U.S. Constitution that grants "the judicial power" to the courts. In other words, what Brown is saying is that certain federal judges are starting to get fed up with judicial deference to the executive branch and starting to wonder whether the time has come to perform their judicial duty to "say what the law is," as Chief Justice John Marshall once put it.

As evidence of this Article III renaissance, Brown pointed to none other than Neil Gorsuch, quoting from then-Judge Gorsuch's 10th Circuit opinion in Guiterrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, in which Gorsuch wrote, "whatever the agency may be doing under Chevron, the problem remains that courts are not fulfilling their duty to interpret the law."

To be sure, Chevron is at no immediate risk of being overturned. But if Judge Brown and Justice Gorsuch ultimately have their way, the doctrine's days will be numbered.

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If Even One Berkeley Student Wants to Hear Ann Coulter, She Should Speak There

Violent protesters and their defenders are ignoring the rights of tuition-paying students.

CoulterPG / Splash News/NewscomThe University of California-Berkeley cancelled conservative author Ann Coulter's upcoming speech on grounds that the police could not guarantee her safety—a damaging blow to free speech on campus.

Administrators want to reschedule the event; the Young Americans for Freedom, who invited Coulter in the first place, have vowed to proceed as planned.

Conservative students have good reason to continue with the event anyway, although one can hardly blame administrators, at this point, for being concerned. Berkeley has played host to increasing levels of mob violence as a result of invitations to controversial speakers like Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. Blame here rests solely on the shoulders of the people promising violence in response to speech they oppose.

Student activists and local Berkeley leftists don't want Coulter, who has a history of making vile statements, to bring her right-wing shtick to campus. And of course, they have the right to object to her presence, to protest her, and to criticize those who invited her. That's free speech. But free speech does not include the right to engage in censorship, or to engage in violence, or to threaten violence in order to prevent the university from playing host to a controversial speaker.

Is Coulter's perspective worth hearing? While she believes a great many things that I find reprehensible, note that she is one of a handful of high-profile figures on the right who opposes increased military intervention in Syria. (Yes, this is a departure from her full-throated Iraq War cheerleading, though at least she's flip-flopping in the correct direction.) And despite her quasi-religious devotion to President Trump during the campaign, recently she has shown a willingness to criticize him for catering to the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party.

But the case for giving Coulter a platform is actually much simpler, and does not require any defense whatsoever of her views. The case is this: the students who invited her would like to meet her and hear her speak. Presumably, a number of less politically active students—who probably dislike Coulter, but would appreciate the opportunity to hear from her anyway—do as well. Students are paying thousands of dollars to attend Berkeley—a public university—for precisely this opportunity: the opportunity to enjoy thought-provoking learning experiences. Groups whose violent tactics force administrators to rescind speaking invitations are essentially forcing student to waste their investment.

Those who say that students and local activists have a right to shut down the Coulter event are prioritizing one group's wishes over another's. They are trampling some students' rights in order to please others. They are saying the rights of the offended matter more than the rights of the open-minded.

Some have criticized Coulter's own approach to the issue: she demanded that the university expel any student who engages "in violence, mayhem or heckling to prevent an invited speaker from speaking." It's harsh, but I don't fully understand why it's particularly controversial. Yes, people who engage in violence should be arrested, and yes, students who prevents an invited speaker from speaking should be subjected to some kind of disciplinary action, because they are violating the rights of members of campus who are interested hearing a contrary perspective.

Students pay good money for such an opportunity. The people taking it away from them are not the good guys.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy Is All Bluster and Bombs: New at Reason

What happens when it doesn’t work?

MOABDODWhen terrorism raises its head, governments often take steps that are supposed to make us safer—banning tiny knives from airplanes, putting metal detectors at stadium entrances, issuing "orange" alerts. Skeptics dismiss these measures as "security theater." They're a show, not a genuine obstacle to terrorists.

The Trump administration, obsessed with imagery, has adapted this approach to national security. The president tweets bellicose warnings to North Korea. The vice president goes to South Korea to don a bomber jacket and stare implacably across the Demilitarized Zone. An aircraft carrier steams toward the Sea of Japan—or rather, Trump claims it's doing so even as it heads the opposite direction, thousands of miles away.

Anyone who heard Donald Trump brag about his choice for defense secretary knows that half the appeal of James Mattis was his nickname, "Mad Dog," which the president used every chance he got. Had Mattis been known as "Peewee" or "Mouse," he would have been passed over.

With all the noise and spectacle, this presidency often seems less like an attempt at governance and more like a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It's just not clear whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. Steve Chapman explains more.

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West Virginia Becomes the 29th State to Allow Medical Marijuana Use

Six states have approved cannabis for patients in the last year.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsYesterday West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that makes his state the 29th to allow medical use of marijuana. West Virginia is the sixth state to legalize medical marijuana in the last year and the third (along with Ohio and Pennsylvania) to do so through the legislature. In the other three states—Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota—voters approved ballot initiatives authorizing medical marijuana last November.

West Virginia's new law recognizes marijuana as a treatment for patients with terminal illnesses or any of 14 specified conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and intractable pain. Patients whose doctors recommend marijuana will be able to obtain it in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquids, and vaporizable extracts from state-regulated dispensaries. The dispensaries will not sell buds for smoking or marijuana edibles, although patients can prepare their own at home. The law does not allow home cultivation, and patients can legally possess no more than a month's supply at a time.

"This legislation is going to benefit countless West Virginia patients and families for years to come," says Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a West Virginia native. "Medical marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. It is a proven pain reliever, and it is far less toxic and less addictive than a lot of prescription drugs. Providing patients with a safer alternative to opioids could turn out to be a godsend for this state."

One downside to West Virginia's law is a new standard for driving under the influence of marijuana that erroneously equates impairment with a blood THC level of three nanograms per milliliter. That's even lower than the unfair and unscientific five-nanogram cutoff that Colorado and Washington adopted when they legalized marijuana for recreational use. As MPP notes, West Virginia's DUID standard "could make it illegal for some patients to ever drive, since many patients have THC levels at this amount or greater many hours or days after last administering cannabis."

West Virginia's rules put it on the less liberal end of a medical marijuana spectrum that ranges from highly permissive (e.g., California) to highly restrictive (e.g., New York). Eight of the 29 medical marijuana states also allow recreational use. Medical use was approved by ballot initiative in 14 of those states, beginning with California in 1996. In the rest, as in West Virginia, medical marijuana laws originated in the state legislature.

JZSJZSAnother 18 states have approved medical marijuana laws that MPP deems "ineffective because they are either unworkable or exceptionally restrictive." These laws allow use of specific cannabis products—typically low-THC, high-CBD extracts—and often do not provide a way to legally obtain them. But if you count those 18 states, MPP says, "only three states—Idaho, Indiana, and Kansas—have not approved any form of medical marijuana law."

Although the federal government still does not recognize any legitimate use for marijuana, surveys find strong popular support for letting patients have access to it. A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted in February and a Marist Poll conducted last month put support for medical marijuana at 93 percent and 83 percent, respectively. In both surveys, large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favored medical access, as does President Trump. Even his attorney general, arch-prohibitionist Jeff Sessions, concedes that "dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial."

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A.M. Links: North Korea Threatens 'Super-Mighty Preemptive Strike' Against U.S., Massive Protests in Venezuela, Tillerson Warns Iran

  • Todd KraninTodd KraninPresident Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval ratings.
  • North Korea is threatening a "super-mighty preemptive strike" against the United States.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: "An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and to take the world along with it."
  • Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets yesterday in Venezuela, marching against the dictatorial regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
  • General Motors has ceased operations in Venezuela after one of its plants was seized by the Maduro regime.
  • The first-round vote in the French presidential election occurs this Sunday.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily updates for more content.

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The Bogus Claims Behind Trump's H-1B Crackdown: New at Reason

The tales of laid off American workers don't reflect the actual evidence of economic gains

There was a time when Republicans were only against illegal immigration of the Hispanic variety. President Donald Trump's executive order cracking down on H-1Bs today shows that those days are gone. Now it is open season on all immigrants — legal, illegal; low-skilled, high-skilled.Computer

Immigration foes have used stories about Disney and Southern California Edison to argue that companies use the H-1B visa program to replace American workers with cheap labor, not obtain specialized talent that they can't find at home. But National Foundation for American Policy's Stuart Anderson shows that there is more to the Disney and Edison cases than meets the eye. Moreover, these fallacious examples fly in the face of credible studies that debunk restrictionist claims that foreign professionals hurt American wages and jobs. He writes:

The central flaw in arguments alleging a negative impact on native employment due to the presence of foreign scientists and engineers is that they are based on the "lump of labor fallacy" – or the notion that there is a fixed number of jobs in the economy. Hence, the argument goes, if you increase the number of workers, you get lower wages and rising unemployment. But high-skilled tech workers grow the economic pie by boosting productivity, encouraging more investment and increasing entrepreneurship. Overall, they create jobs.

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Does Legalization Boost Teen Marijuana Use? New at Reason

While it may be plausible that legalization would increase adolescent use, so far there is little evidence that is happening.

Reason magazineReason magazine

When the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicated that marijuana use by teenagers in Colorado rose after the state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012, prohibitionists trumpeted the results, even though the change was not statistically significant. Drug warriors were notably quieter when subsequent NSDUH data indicated that adolescent consumption in Colorado fell after state-licensed marijuana stores began serving the recreational market.

That change was not statistically significant either, underlining the uncertainty about the impact of legalization on underage consumption. Jacob Sullum notes that while it is plausible that legalization would increase adolescent use by making marijuana more socially acceptable (although probably not cooler) or by making it available from legal buyers 21 or older, so far there is little evidence that is happening.

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Brickbat: Sheriff, Businesswoman

salesmanLunamarina / Dreamstime.comA federal judge has ruled that Morgan County, Alabama, Sheriff Ana Franklin violated a consent degree when she took $160,000 from the fund to feed inmates and loaned $150,000 of it to a used car lot that later went bankrupt. Franklin said she had received legal advice saying she did not have to obey the consent decree but didn't say who gave her the advice. The county attorney says he didn't tell her that.

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Where Radar Cameras Fear To Tread: New at Reason

Dave VontesmarDave Vontesmar

Arizonans aren't big fans of being nagged about the weight of their feet on their accelerators, writes J.D. Tuccille.

A few years ago, county officials set up a mobile radar speed sign along the road to my old house. It looked lonely out there amid the tumbleweeds with only coyotes and rattlesnakes for company. Sure enough, within a day, I was treated to the sight of sheriff's deputies and county workers clustered sadly around the device, which had—apparently in despair over its isolated condition—leapt head-first into an arroyo.

Arizona residents were also unhappy when speed cameras sprouted along the roads with ticket books attached, notes Tuccille. In 2008, Arizona officials signed a deal with Redflex, an Australian photo-enforcement company, to pioneer the first statewide system for robotically extracting money from people's wallets—oh, and "to modify driver behavior and make our roads safer," as Redflex creepily puts it. It wasn't particularly plausible that officials were chasing people down for their own good, but the appearance in the state budget of a line item for revenue from "Highway Photo Radar" was a bit of a giveaway about the real motivations for the contract.

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Is Certification of Iran's Compliance With the Nuclear Deal a 'Coming of Age' for the Trump Admin?

State Department also announced review of deal-related sanctions suspensions.

White HouseWhite HouseSecretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran was complying with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, before a statutory midnight deadline, while also insisting Iran remained "a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods" and indicating that the Trump administration would evaluate the JCPOA-related suspension of sanctions and whether it was "vital to the national security interests of the United States."

"President Trump… has realized that tearing up a highly complex and multinational agreement is not a wise thing to do at this time," Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty member at University of Hawaii-Manoa, told Reason.

"Note that under the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president has to provide certification every 90 days. Had the Trump administration not done so, it would have triggered legislative procedures and potential reimpositions of sanctions, which would then declare the U.S. intent to renege on its JCPOA obligations," she added.

Tillerson's certification also "indicates that the Trump administration has had a sort of… coming of age, to realize that this nuclear deal is not such a terrible deal that President Trump was declaring during the campaign," Emad Kiyaei, a policy advisor with the American-Iranian Council, a non-profit whose mission is to provide a "sustainable dialogue and a more comprehensive understanding of US-Iran relations," told Reason.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called the Iran deal a "disaster" and the "worst deal ever negotiated," although he did not challenge the premise of making the deal in the first place, and unlike many of the other Republican candidates, did not promise to rip it up on his first day in office. James Mattis, Trump's secretary of defense, expressed support for abiding by the Iran nuclear deal in his confirmation hearings.

The Trump administration imposed new missiles-related sanctions on Iran in February, and the review announced this week opens the door for the Trump administration to reject the nuclear deal down the road.

"By ordering a review process, the administration is hinting that it has not yet formulated an overall policy regarding how to deal with Iran," Farhi explained. "Given the fact that the Congress is contemplating sanctions on other grounds (reportedly now delayed until the results of Iran's May 19 presidential elections are known), clearly the desire to apply more pressure on Iran remains in Washington and may become the force that will push for a more aggressive posture towards Iran, eventually threatening the JCPOA."

"For now, however, Obama's Iran policy remains in force by fiat and the inability of Iran hawks in Washington and the administration to decide exactly what to do," she added.

Kiyaei warns that a shift away from the JCPOA would not be in the best interests of the United States, "nor will it help empower those within the Iranian administration that seek to bring the level of tensions between the two countries down." Instead, "it will empower those conservatives in Iran that seek to destabilize even a semblance of a better relationship with the U.S."

"Sanctions equal more friction, and friction brings in power those who are going to be much more able to destabilize the Middle East in the image that they wish," Kiyaei explained, "which goes counter to the interests of the United States and its allies in the region, especially at a time when the Iranian elections are just a few weeks away."

Kiyaei noted that harsher rhetoric from the Trump administration, actions like the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries including Iran, and a disengagement from limited direct communications has already deteriorated U.S.-Iranian relations that had begun to improve under the Obama administration.

"The lack of communication, the return to this sort of decades of policies of coercion and further sanctions and so forth, unfortunately, will not bode well in reducing the friction and animosity between the two countries," Kiyaei said, pointing out that all of this made cooperation more difficult at a time when there are many opportunities for it.

"The United States and Iran have multiple areas where they could actually work together to mitigate violence and to bring about stability in the various military theaters in the Middle East, may that be in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq, and more recently… in Afghanistan," Kiyaei explained.

"So there are many major areas where the two countries should be working together, unfortunately because of the animosity and because of the language of the Trump administration, we have fallen back to an era of major friction between the two countries," he added.

Currently, however, as Fahri explains, the Obama-era Iran policy continues.

"Obama's Iran policy remains in force by fiat and the inability of Iran hawks in Washington and the administration to decide exactly what to do," she said.

The Obama Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

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Trump, the Media, and the First 100 Days: Matt Welch on Kennedy

Watch Fox Business Network at 8 pm ET & midnight for a show that also includes John Stossel and Tom Shillue

One of these people still has a television show. ||| Fox Business NetworkFox Business NetworkSome big news in cable TV's 8 o'clock time slot…. The terrific and successful Fox Business News program Kennedy tonight will weigh Vice President Mike Pence's claim today that President Donald Trump is "off to a great start" against a new Media Research Center study showing that 89 percent of Trump's coverage in the press has been negative. WHAT IS TRUTH?

I will be Party Paneling on this and other important questions—including but not limited to, why don't more non-Reason journalistic outlets disclose who their staffers are voting for?—along with host of the recently Fox-euthanized Red Eye Tom Shillue, and The Daily Caller's Katie Frates. ALSO ON THE PROGRAM: The beloved John Stossel, to talk about Earth Day.

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Trump's Latest "America First" Executive Order Puts Taxpayers Last

"You better believe it."

TrumpGage Skidmore / Flickr

President Trump has claimed that the "Buy American" portion of his recent executive order would at long last put American workers and producers first by encouraging the federal government to purchase more domestically produced material and manufactured goods.

But to the degree that this executive order does cut back on government purchases from "cheating" foreigners, the result will not be the spike in jobs and wages that Trump envisions, but instead a spike in US government spending with few discernable benefits for American workers or taxpayers.

This is because any tightening of "Buy American" regulations will likely just result in the federal government substituting their current purchases of relatively cheap foreign goods for their more expensive domestic equivalents.

So says Daniel Ikenson, Director of the Herbet A. Steifel Center for Trade Studies at the Cato Institute

"Any effort to restrict supply," he tells Reason "will result in a waste of tax payer dollars" by cutting out lower cost foreign alternatives.

And depending on what the Trump Administration's spending priorities are, this could wind up being incredibly wasteful, particularly considering Trump's ambitious plans for infrastructure spending.

Ikenson again: "If we're talking about a $1 trillion infrastructure project, we might only get $500 billion of infrastructure."

As it stands now, the laws governing the federal procurement process often require agencies to buy more expensive domestically produced materials.

Thankfully, these agencies are frequently able to get "public interest" exemptions to these laws when sourcing purchases abroad would save taxpayers money.

These waivers thus provide a useful workaround to the protectionism baked into current procurement laws, helping to ensure that federal funds are stretched as far as possible when being spent on projects like highways and bridges.

But to President Trump, this prudent dispensing of taxpayer dollars is both "excessive" and "reckless," resulting in "countless jobs and countless contracts" being lost to "cheap, subsidized, and low-quality foreign goods."

His executive order thus calls for federal agencies to report on the waivers to Buy American laws they currently grant, and to draw up plans to maximize their purchase of domestically manufactured goods and materials—particularly that pinnacle of US patriotism and pride, steel.

His executive order mentions steel a total of five times.

It also asks the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross—himself a former steel executive—to investigate the federal government's purchase of cheaper foreign steel to see if its cost advantage is the result of being dumped or "injuriously subsidized."

These provisions Trump says will lead to "new ships, bridges, tunnels and airplanes…constructed with American hands, American steel, and, yes, American tools." And far from having a deleterious effect on the budget, the administration is claiming that requiring agencies to spend more money through tightened "Buy America" provisions will actually have a positive fiscal impact.

"Buy American and Hire American polices lead to increased jobs and economic growth, higher wages, and a more robust tax base, and thereby offset any price or cost effects," one senior administration official told reporters with a straight face.

But this argument does not carry much weight with Ikenson given the size of the industries "Buy American" would benefit relative to those hurt by it.

"Steel," he points out "counts for .3 percent of GDP and employs 80,000 workers." By raising the price of steel to benefit those workers he says, "we are hurting downstream workers which employ 70 workers for every steel worker."

Whether or not that hurt will materialize however remains an open question.

Federal agencies aren't required to report on their plans to buy more American goods for another 150 days. And even when they do, it's still an open question of how much the administration will be willing to change, particularly once they start receiving pushback from business groups and contractors not eager to see their costs go up.

For that reason, many see this latest Executive order as a mostly cosmetic political exercise, aimed at ginning up the patriotic feelings in Trump's base.

That impression is not helped in the slightest by Trump's unveiling of his executive order, presented as it was in the shadow of a giant flag comprised of American made wrenches.

Nor is it helped by the nakedly political justifications used by administration officials in promoting the policy change.

Said one official: "Republican, Democrat, independent—it's just, boom, this is what America wants, and the President intends to give Buy American, Hire American to the American people."

Patriotism it seems, sells pretty easily. If only the same thing could be said for US steel.

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Major League Baseball's War on PEDs Is Still Petty and Pointless

With players rolling in NSAIDs and amphetamines, why do androgens still freak people out?

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte was suspended Tuesday after testing positive for the testosterone derivative Nandrolone, an androgenic compound that increases lean body mass and strength, decreases fat mass, and expedites soft tissue repair. Prolonged use also causes left ventricular hypertrophy and high blood pressure, but it's the first set of effects that'll cause Marte to miss 80 games and render him ineligible for postseason play in the event the Pirates make it that far without him.

Over at Yahoo!, MLB columnist Jeff Passan argues that Marte's suspension means we should revisit, for the millionth time, the MLB's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

"The line between so-called PEDs and other drugs isn't thin. It just doesn't exist," Passan writes, citing the MLB's broad use of anti-inflammatories and other painkillers, which players can gobble without fear of getting their pay docked and being dragged through the mud. "The only reason PEDs are considered cheating is because federal drug policies stigmatized certain substances, and those now come with a scarlet S. Never mind that most players who take drugs today do so in order to deal with the rigors of a full season – of the grind, the travel, the responsibility to maintain playing shape in an environment that grows less conducive to it as the demands to do more increase."

Baseball is America's most vengeful sport, governed by an esoteric code that allows victims of bat-flips and joyful baserunning to retaliate with violence, so it makes (some) sense that the reactions to Marte's rule-breaking have been Jeff Sessions-like, with one fellow MLBer suggesting that Marte's wages should be permanently depressed for the rest of his career:

Historically, fans have been no more forgiving, at least when it comes to juice. Shortly after Pete Rose admitted to betting on games while managing the Reds, Gallup asked sports fans which offense was more serious. They chose PEDs by a mile:

But I thought baseball was about rules!

The MLB's drug policy is not uniquely stupid. Former players are suing the NFL for pumping them full of painkillers and NSAIDs to keep them on the field, a vicious cycle that former NFL wide receiver Nate Jackson gruesomely documents in his memoir Slow Getting Up. Are fans outraged about guys playing hurt? Maybe, but I suspect they care far more about players being better than they should be, like that time people could not shut the hell up about allegations Peyton Manning used HGH after neck surgery. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills suspended a player last year for using medical marijuana, under a doctor's supervision, to treat Crohn's disease.

Not even the NBA--arguably America's most socially liberal league (David Stern's racist dress code notwithstanding)--is above this nonsense. Last month, it suspended Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games after he used a research chemical to heal faster from an injury. There is no drug in existence that could make Noah worth the concrete boots of a contract he signed with the Knicks last summer, because there is nothing you can inject into a surgically repaired 32-year-old seven-footer that will make him less old, less tall, or less busted. (And besides, is suspending him really worse than making him play in front of the mouth breathers at Madison Square Garden, recently seen booing the best Knicks pick since Patrick Ewing?)

Like Passan, I think it's time to revisit the PED standards for most sporting bodies, if only to bask in the dysfunction that's sweeping the globe. I speak of the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), in which the MLB has been a two-faced pioneer.

Back in 2005, when the MLB announced it was going to crack down on amphetamine use--as deeply ingrained a baseball tradition as beaning guys for enjoying the game--it did so by allowing players to medicalize said use. Now, when the the MLB Players Association releases its annual report on drug testing in the league, you see two or three folks test positive for prohibited amphetamines, while more than 100 players have been granted TUEs for Adderall and other ADD/ADHD drugs (because counting to three requires the utmost focus).

Whether fans like it or not, MLB's therapeutic use exemption for amphetamines has been a smashing success. One anonymous player told SB Nation in 2014 that he believed 10 percent of players were using what most of us think of us as performance enhancing drugs. "If you included guys who are using Adderall," he added, "wow, that number would be through the roof." But the MLB doesn't really need to worry about that particular scandal, because it's not cheating to use amphetamines if a doctor says a player needs them.

The MLB, NFL, and NBA could conceivably introduce TUEs for testosterone drugs (though probably not Nandrolone), but most sporting bodies are going the other way. The UFC ditched its TUE program for testosterone replacement therapy back in 2014, with UFC President Dana White calling it "garbage" in a text message while asserting in a press release, "We believe our athletes should compete based on their natural abilities and on an even playing field." That's also the approach taken by USA Powerlifting, which explicitly forbids prescription testosterone therapy for age-related testosterone decline.

The international sporting community has also grown wary of TUEs after hackers leaked documents revealing that the World Anti-Doping Agency allowed some athletes to use banned substances, while rejecting similar applications from others, even though all of them essentially had a doctor's note deeming the substances to be medically appropriate.

"I would consider banning all TUEs in competition," sports scientist Ross Tucker told The Guardian after the Russia-backed Fancy Bear hack. "What would be the downside if people with asthma cannot compete? Conceptually to me, that is fine. Because unfortunately the efforts to be inclusive with people who have valid medical issues have created a loophole that is being exploited by sophisticated dopers."

Even if Tucker's right that savvy athletes (along with their doctors, trainers, and national athletic federations) have gotten too good at manipulating the therapeutic use exemption, there is something to be said for revisiting the gravity of using a banned substance, and for being a little more honest about the ramifications of anaesthetizing hurt players.

Ray Rice's initial suspension, which he received for KOing his fiance during an argument, was two games; Seantrel Henderson was suspended for 10 games for using marijuana to treat his Crohn's. (While Rice was eventually suspended for an indefinite period of time, an arbitrator overturned it.) Is smoking marijuana worse than assaulting someone? Not in my book. Using PEDs, whether entering one's prime or clinging to it, is also several tiers less serious than assault, though the MLB's recent record of suspensions suggests otherwise. Marte will miss 80 games for using Nandrolone, but the Cubs' Aroldis Chapman was suspended for only 30 games after allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a gun in 2015, and Jose Reyes was suspended for all of 52 games after allegedly wailing on his wife.

As for the prescription painkillers and heavy duty NSAIDs (and yes, the latter can be incredibly bad for you, which is why players have chosen retirement over taking them), that's on the fans. We applaud athletes for playing hurt, scold them when they don't, look the other way when they wreck their organs with opioids and analgesics, and call for their expulsion when they use androgens instead.

Good on Passan for pointing out the bullshit, and RIP his mentions.

Want more baseball? Check out's five most pointless Congressional hearings on the MLB:

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The Fall of Bill O'Reilly: New at Reason

Advertiser boycott worked, but it shouldn't have to come to this.

Bill O'ReillyDonkeyHoter via Fox.comBill O'Reilly is finally getting his comeuppance. The cable titan is on his way out from Fox News, thanks to multiple accusations of sexual harassment by women he had on The O'Reilly Factor as guests and his co-workers. His audience did not care about the allegations, and therefore neither did Fox News, which renewed his contract ahead of schedule. But advertisers—under pressure from feminists—did, and once they started pulling out, it was game over for O'Reilly. This shows that markets with their multiple pressure points are better at enforcing basic norms of civilized behavior than the political world. But these kinds of pressure tactics are not entirely unproblematic, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia.

View this article
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NYC Mayor Encourages Cigarette Smuggling with Plan to Massively Jack Up Prices

City with highest cost per pack also has highest bootlegging rate. Imagine that.

Cigarette adsRichard B. Levine/NewscomWho knew New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was such an open supporter of black markets?

Today de Blasio announced that he wants to make smuggling an even more financially lucrative option by jacking up the taxes on packs of cigarettes. Right now the lowest price for a pack of cigarettes in the city is $10.50 a pack. Under his proposal announced today the floor would jump to $13 a pack, the highest in the country.

By sheer coincidence (if you are completely ignorant to even the most basic concepts of economics), New York has the highest rate of cigarette smuggling in the country. Though figures are hard to nail down—black markets, being what they are—stats suggest that more than half of all cigarettes are being sold illegally and untaxed in New York.

Bootlegging of cigarettes (and alcohol, also highly taxed in New York) costs the state nearly $2 billion in tax revenue each year. Why, de Blasio's plan is almost insidiously libertarian—to deprive the state of tax revenue by pushing more and more people to participate in the black market instead of paying exorbitantly high, market-distorting costs for goods. (Small correction/clarification here: De Blasio isn't raising the taxes on cigarettes because that's actually under the control of the state. These are price controls. I've updated some subsequent sentences to reflect that.)

Setting the sarcasm aside now: De Blasio is not, in fact, in favor of black markets and evading taxes. This is not some clever Ron Swanson destroy-the-state-from-within plan. His announcement today is part of a Nanny State plan to try to reduce the number of smokers in the city of New York. That this is a regressive move that makes it harder for poorer New York City residents to buy smokes is, just like soda taxes, partly the point.

It's true that you get less of what you tax or punish. It's also true that it gets you black markets, be it drugs, cigarettes, or cheap labor that works for cash. So the logical outcome here is that more poor people who want to continue smoking will continue looking for the cheaper cigarettes that get smuggled into the state.

In order to make this plan "work" the way the city wants it to (either people smoke less or pay more) it's going to be necessary to figure out how to increase enforcement of these price minimums. And that is going to ultimately lead to more encounters between New York City's enforcement folks (as in, police) and the possibility that more of de Blasio's citizens are treated the way Eric Garner was treated. If my Twitter feed is an indication, people have not forgotten that just a few years ago, New York police killed Eric Garner because he was uncooperative when they attempted to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes.

De Blasio is fully on board with the concept of "broken windows" policing, where authorities aggressively attack low-level crime under the (disputed) claim it helps prevent more serious incidents. The combination of policies that encourage the black market and policies that encourage police enforcement of low-level laws creates the framework for yet another Garner to happen down the line. Though we might not know when it happens if nobody's around to catch it on video again.

Also not helping matters: The officer responsible for Garner's death had a record of complaints and is still employed by the NYPD, and the city is becoming less and less transparent about police misconduct. It's fun to joke about black markets and the economic illiteracy of public officials like de Blasio, but the potential for this pricing plan to lead to even more official violence directed toward citizens is no laughing matter.

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Navy, Marine Corps Prohibit Sending Nudes without Consent; IMF Chief Says Members Support Free, Fair Trade; Tucker Carlson Replacing Bill O’Reilly: P.M. Links

  • H.A. BraggH.A. BraggThe White House denies President Trump misled anyone when he said the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was headed for the Sea of Japan while it was on its way to Australia because it will be going there eventually.
  • The Navy and the Marine Corps have officially prohibited service members from sharing nudes without the consent of the subject.
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says he won't run for re-election in 2018.
  • The head of the International Monetary Fund says none of its members oppose free and fair trade.
  • Convicted murder and former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was found hanging in his jail cell.
  • Bill O'Reilly is out at Fox News. He will be replaced by Tucker Carlson.
  • Researchers found a new "super-Earth," LHS 1140b, just 39 light years away from Earth.
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Read More Profiles of People Crushed by Florida’s Draconian Opioid Laws

A Reason investigation found Florida’s opioid trafficking laws put low-level offenders in prison for decades. Here are more of their stories.

Charles Bertram/ZUMA Press/NewscomCharles Bertram/ZUMA Press/NewscomOn Tuesday, my colleague Lauren Krisai and I published an investigative report finding the mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed by Florida in the late '90s to crack down on oxycodone and hydrocodone traffickers actually ended up addicts and low-level sellers in prison for decades.

For our story, the challenge wasn't finding cases. It was wading through the huge number of them and figuring out which to highlight. As of December 2016, there were more than 2,300 Florida inmates serving time for trafficking opioids.

We decided to focus on inmates over the age of 50 with little or no prior criminal history. Even under those parameters, though, we were buried in cases. There are about 435 elderly inmates in the Florida prison system serving time for opioid trafficking, and of those, 53 percent had never been to prison before.

In the end, we simply had too many cases to fit into one story, all of them unique but disturbingly similar in general outline. Here are some more of their stories.

There was Leslie Hill, who took the stand in a wheelchair at his trial. He was 59 years old when he sold 25 hydrocodone pills to a confidential informant in front of a convenience store. Hill was convicted and sentenced in 2013 to a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison.

Or there was the case of Tony Cox, who sold 50 of his prescription hydrocodone pills to an undercover officer in a Gold's Gym parking lot for $200. Cox wrote to the judge that he was trying to help his cancer-ridden mother pay rent. He was sentenced in 2012 to 12 years in prison. He will be 64 years old when he's released in 2021.

Donna Griffin took a seven-year plea deal after she was arrested for trafficking hydrocodone in 2013. Griffin and a friend had stopped at a house to buy Vicodin, and afterward their car was pulled over and searched by police. According to police reports, officers found an unlabeled pill bottle in Griffin's purse. Griffin says in a letter—and one of her nieces, Diane Ianuale, also says—that most of the pills belonged to the other person in the car, but because they were on her person, Griffin was charged with trafficking.

"She was a user, not a seller," Ianuale says in a phone interview. "She hurt her back years ago, and the doctor started her on a pain prescription. It just went downhill from there, for 20 years."

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University Keeps Painting of Sexy Captain America Beheading President Trump, As Well It Should

Hillary Clinton makes a cameo.

PaintingKTUU screenshotThe University of Alaska Anchorage has taken no action against a professor's painting, which depicts a shirtless Chris Evans—the actor who plays Captain America in the Marvel films—holding the severed head of President Trump as Hillary Clinton clings to Evans' leg.


Though the painting makes some people uncomfortable—for a variety of reasons—good art is supposed to challenge accepted notions and unsettle social norms. It has an important role to play in mocking powerful people, particularly government figures. That's doubly true for art housed at a public university, where free expression is an ironclad value.

And yet, according to Campus Reform, the painting—which currently can be found in the university's fine art gallery—has generated numerous complaints. Paul Berger, a former UAA professor who identifies as a conservative, told a local news station that he questioned whether it was appropriate.

"Had the roles been reversed, and it was Obama's head hanging there, I think the outrage would be fantastic," said Berger. "As a free speech advocate, everyone has a right to express their opinion the way they want to express them. But as a parent and a citizen, there's a discussion. In a university setting, what's appropriate?"

Well, who's the snowflake now?

Conservatives like to chide liberal students for getting offended about everything. But many conservative members of campus are easily offended as well. If someone claimed that a painting of Trump being beheaded was triggering, or made the person feel unsafe, it would be just as ridiculous as someone else claiming that chalk messages like "build the wall" and "stop islam" were triggering or emblematic of an unsafe campus.

Kudos to UAA for not bowing to pressure, and keeping the painting—which, by the way, is kind of awesome.

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Are Trump Fans a Protected Class? Maryland Cops Charge Teens Who Burned Trump Sign With a Hate Crime

Cops say the 19-year-old women violated a state law against harassment based on "race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or national origin."

Deborah Gates/Delmarva Daily TimesDeborah Gates/Delmarva Daily TimesIn the ever-expanding category of things considered "hate crimes" we can now place political disagreement.

Last week, two young women in Maryland were arrested after allegedly setting fire to a pro-Trump sign hanging near a shopping center. The women—D'Asia Perry, 19, and Joy Shuford, also 19—acted on "political differences with the billboard postings" and were charged with second-degree arson and several counts of malicious destruction of property, according to the state Fire Marshal's Office. They were also charged for violating Maryland's statute against crimes committed "because of another's race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or national origin."

By committing arson "with discrimination or malice toward a particular group, or someone's belief," Perry and Shuford earned the hate-crime designation, according to Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Caryn L. McMahon. In charging documents from Princess Anne police, officers wrote that "the intentional burning of these political signs, along with the beliefs, religious views and race of this political affiliation, directly coincides with the victim."

The arson charge makes sense—the Trump sign was private property (it belonged to Robert Wink, who owns a sporting goods store in the shopping strip) and the blaze did get a bit out of control, according to firefighters. Vegetarion nearby caught on fire, causing an estimated $800 in damage, they say.

But a hate crime? That's where this story gets sticky. The government is effectively saying that having any political motive for doing something is as deplorable as doing it out of racism, misogyny, or hatred of LGBT people.

For a number of reasons, libertarians (myself included) tend to oppose categorically harsher treatment of offenses motivated on "hate," which has always been a slippery topic to get a legal hold on. But at least the typical criteria for labeling something a hate crime are easy enough to understand—these are offenses motivated by animosity toward a particular identity category (like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) that we consider either innate/immutable or (in the case of religion) at least sacrosanct.

What would it mean to add "political persuasion" to these categories? For one thing, any political disagreement that turned nasty could be classified as a hate crime, leaving the offender(s) open to much more severe penalties than they would face for a solo charge of something like assault or harassment. Are there people out there who really think this is desirable, making crimes of political passion especially heinous?

And of course the possibilities for authoritarian abuse are tremendous. Political protesters arrested for minor offenses could have hate-crime enhancements thrown at them. Any act of civil disobedience would immediately become a hate crime.

Several states have already moved to make cops a class protected by hate-crime statutes. In Louisiana, for instance, resisting arrest could now be considered a hate crime, as C.J. Ciaramella noted here in January.

It's unlikely the people who first pushed for hate-crime laws would be happy with where they've headed. But as always, when you give police and prosecutors more power—even under the guise of good intentions—it's always the people who lose.

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Did Federal Deposit Insurance Corrupt the Banking System? [Reason Podcast]

George Selgin vs. Josh Barro at the Soho Forum.

"Before the 1930s, you could open up The Wall Street Journal and see advertisements for different banks saying how much capital they had," said George Selgin, who's the director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute. "It's easy to have a market for safety when you don't protect people from losses..."

In today's podcast, we've got the audio from an April 12 live debate in which Selgin went up against Business Insider Senior Editor Josh Barro over whether the U.S. should do away with federal deposit insurance—a system in which the government guarantees bank balances of up to $250,000. A leading proponent of free banking, Selgin argued that deposit insurance has destroyed the incentive for banks to be fiscally prudent and contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.Selgin vs. Barro at the Soho Forum ||| Jim EpsteinJim Epstein

Barro, who has called Selgin's views on banking "kooky," made the case that even libertarians should support deposit insurance because in a financial crisis the government would step up and protect depositors regardless, so it's better to have a formal system in place.

The event was hosted by the Soho Forum, a monthly libertarian-themed Oxford-style debate series in New York City. At the beginning of the event, attendees get to vote on the evening's resolution. After the debaters have had their say, the audience votes again, and the side that's gained the most ground wins the contest.

Selgin came out on top: At the outset of the debate, 48 percent of the audience supported abolishing federal deposit insurance and 23 percent were opposed. At the end, 60 percent wanted it abolished, while the percentage of the audience opposed to the resolution didn't change.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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Next up at the Soho Forum: On Tuesday, May 16, Lawrence Ross debates Kmele Foster over whether "America's colleges have fostered a racist environment that makes them a hostile space for African American students." Get your tickets here.

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Killing Bill O'Reilly

As the longtime Fox host is shown the door, let's pause to remember that ever-so-brief moment when he represented something new.

Fox NewsFox NewsYou young folks might not believe this, but there were a few months in 2000 and 2001 when Bill O'Reilly felt refreshing. It's not that the Fox News host was all that better then than now: He was already a blustering blowhard with a transparently phony man-of-the-people schtick. It's just that he's the guy who knocked Larry King Live off its ratings pedestal, and at that point Larry King was so damn tired that you can't imagine what a relief it was to have a new 800-pound gorilla in town. Besides, that changing of the guard didn't just mean that one show was drawing more viewers than another. With King dethroned, a new era of more explicitly opinionated cable news was fully underway; and as terrible as the new order could be, I still preferred it to what came before.

If anyone at CNN came close to the impossible goal of not having a point of view, it was King, if only because he had reached some ethereal state where he didn't seem to know who he was interviewing half the time. O'Reilly may have had some dumb opinions, but at least he had opinions in the first place, and at least he wasn't shy about owning them. He even had some opinions that were unusual for Fox: At various points he has opposed the death penalty, endorsed campaign finance reform, and otherwise broken with the current conservative consensus. In the cable-news environment at the turn of the century, this felt almost like authenticity.

The O'Reilly age soon felt nearly as predictable and contrived as the order it had overthrown, and O'Reilly himself quickly showed us how often he could be a bully or a fool. Fortunately, still more alternatives were on the way: The internet became a mass phenomenon, and for all its flaws the net is still a great leap forward over the cable crew. And now O'Reilly's reign is coming to a formal end: He faces multiple credible accusations of sexual harassment, and with antsy advertisers pulling out of his show Fox has decided to cancel it.

I can't say I'll miss him. But I'll remember those months, or that month—or maybe it was just a week?—when the buffoon on Fox at 8:00 represented a step forward. As Jeremy Lott once put it, "He at least used to be an interesting crank."

Bonus video: That time O'Reilly told Reason's Jacob Sullum, "don't come near my family":

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Dad and Daughter Hauled Off Plane Because Passenger Assumed He Was Sex Trafficking Her

The kicker: it was a United flight.

AirplaneTr3giLong story short: A dad returning from Mexico with his 3-year-old daughter was briefly detained on suspicion that he was engaged in sex trafficking. (And not to pile on, but it was a United flight.) Despite papa having her passport, his passport, and a notarized letter from the mom saying that she gave them her permission to travel, the authorities felt compelled to act upon a "tip"—a tip that was nothing more than a passenger's hysteria-fueled hunch that 3-year-olds are being trafficked right and left in the USA.

As the mom, high school teacher Maura Furfey, wrote for The Huffington Post:

After our 3-year-old snoozed on her father's lap for most of the flight, the plane landed. He texted me to tell me they had arrived. When the plane taxied to the gate, however, a number of officers from the Port Authority and Customs and Border Patrol boarded the plane, approached my husband and instructed him to grab his carry-ons and follow them. He and our daughter were escorted out of the plane before anyone else could get off.

Once out of the plane, four officers from Port Authority and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) surrounded them. They fired so many questions at him that he didn't know who was asking what. He had no idea what was going on. Our daughter started to cry in all of the commotion.

After asking about where our daughter was born, who was there, and where her birth certificate had been issued, they asked for my phone number; that was when they called me, asking me the same questions in order to verify the story. At that point they seemed satisfied that my husband was not, in fact, trafficking our daughter. They then told me that this accusation was not coming from the CBP, who were trained to identify these kind of situations, but from a passenger on the plane. They were following protocol to act on reported suspicions such as this.

So, some questions to mull.

When and how can we stop granting credibility to any and all calls to the authorities? Just because someone "sees something" and "says something" doesn't mean they are seeing anything truly of note. Let's not act as if every easily terrified citizen is Sherlock Holmes.

How can we dial back the obsession with sex trafficking? I was at a discussion of trafficking the other night and the number bandied about was "150,000 children a year in the US are trafficked." But that's a wild over-estimation. Here is Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown on the subject. She notes that while lawmakers used to cite 300,000 sex trafficking victims, that number was:

based on 1990s data published in a non-peer-reviewed paper that the primary researcher, Richard Estes, no longer endorses. The authors of that study came up with their number by speculating that certain situations—i.e., living in public housing, being a runaway, having foreign parents—place minors at risk of potential exploitation by sex traffickers. They then simply counted up the number of kids in those situations. To make a bad measure worse, anyone who fell into more than one category was counted multiple times.

Now they just fudge the numbers. Wrote Brown, "These days, federal agencies tend to stick to the vague 'thousands' when discussing numbers of incoming victims."

Obviously, any trafficked young person is a scandal, but as Sandi Rozek, communications director for NARSOL, the National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws, points out: "The saddest thing is that we finally reached the point where fathers are as connected to their children as mothers are. There are even diaper changing tables in some men's restrooms!" Just watch out for all the onlookers who assume they are living in an action movie, constantly witnessing nefarious crimes being played out in public right in front of them.

Isn't flying United enough of an adrenaline rush all by itself?

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Calif. Lawmaker Thinks Police Aren’t Protected Enough from Misconduct Claims

Bill would increase the evidence threshold to find that an officer has lied.

LyingFlynt / Dreamstime.comCalifornia is always a useful reminder that both parties are adept at kowtowing to law enforcement representatives in order to protect their own interests over those of the public.

It's not a law-and-order Jeff Sessions-style Republican trying to make it harder for discipline officers for lying under a new proposed state law in California. It's Democratic, Los Angeles-based Assemblyman Miguel Santiago.

Santiago's bill, AB 1298, would alter the procedures for police disciplinary hearings under state law. During administrative proceedings for police misconduct it would increase the evidentiary threshold to find that a police officer made a false statement. It would increase the threshold from a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) to "clear and convincing" evidence (pretty damned sure) to determine that the officer made a false statement.

Yes, this is a still a lower threshold for criminal conviction, but these are not criminal cases. These are disciplinary proceedings and civil matters. The Los Angeles Times notes that this higher threshold is similar to what is required by the courts in order to get a restraining order or to lose custody of one's children.

So, clearly, this law would have the net impact of decreasing the likelihood that an officer is found to have been lying. It is being pushed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Their spokesman says it's to protect all those good cops from being punished for mistakes. From the Los Angeles Times:

"The result of being found guilty of a false statement is so horrible, you're going to get fired no matter how many medals you have," said Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which is the bill's principal backer.

Ingemunson said the bill would shield officers who were disciplined because they didn't remember making statements or were being unfairly targeted by management.

"Does this make it harder to fire bad cops? My answer to that is this makes it harder to fire good cops," he said.

That's an interesting assertion to say the least, given that California law significantly shields police officers from public disclosures of their disciplinary records, so it's kind of hard to prove his claim. The actual state law that oversees police discipline specifically says that police officers may not be punished solely because that officer's name shows up on any sort of list or record of police who have engaged in misconduct.

In fact, at the same time this law is being pitched, the union that represents Los Angeles County deputies is suing in order to keep the sheriff's office from informing prosecutors of the names of deputies who have been found to have engaged in professional misconduct.

In addition, and not mentioned in the Times story, Santiago's bill would also forbid witness testimony for police disciplinary hearings to be provided by telephone or "any other electronic means." That sounds like a recipe either for passive-aggressive witness intimidation or an environment where a witness cannot make time or is otherwise physically unable to attend a hearing and therefore will not have claims considered.

The Times notes that civil liberties groups aren't the only ones concerned about the implications of Santiago's bill. Representatives for sheriffs across the state complained in a hearing for the bill that their communities are attacking them for not dealing with problem officers. This legislation will make it harder.

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Trump's Executive Order Targeting the H-1B Visa Program Is Pure Theater

He is baiting opponents to sue him.

Donald Trump was back in campaign mode yesterday doing what he does best: Beat up on immigrants. But this time he didn't go after low-skilled undocumented workers. He trainedTrump MouthTodd Krainin his fire on high-skilled foreigners on H-1B visas.

He travelled to the headquarters of Snap-On Inc, a tool manufacturer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and announced that he was signing a "Buy American, Hire American" executive order to stop companies from using this program to replace high-skilled Americans with cheaper foreign workers. "Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries," Trump harrumphed.

This is complete and utter nonsense. There is no evidence that "widespread abuse" of the program exists much less that it is hurting American workers. Indeed, as I recently wrote, unemployment among Americans with advanced STEM degrees is about 3 percent and in certain specialized professions such as computer network architecture near 1 percent. In other words, fullest of full employment! Typically, STEM jobs go unfilled for several weeks longer than non-STEM jobs, suggesting a tight market for talent in those fields. Furthermore, H-1Bs are not "cheap" – they are paid almost $5,000 more than natives with bachelor's degrees in the same occupation.

Snap-On CEO Nick Pinchuk even complained to Trump about how hard it is for his company, which manufactures high-end diagnostic tools for the transportation industry, to find "workers with the necessary training for the high-tech work," according to a White House travel pool report.

But instead of reassuring him, Trump joked that he would take a "sledgehammer" to the H-1B visa program, one of the few avenues that folks like Pinchuk have to meet their labor needs. Trump declared that he would end the "random lottery" that is used to allocate the 85,000 H-1B visas handed out every year and replace it with a "merit-based" system that ensures that the visas go to the most skilled, best-paid immigrant workers. (This lottery, which draws twice more applications than the slots available, gets filled within few weeks of opening every year, leaving the unlucky employers cooling their heels for another year.) By this he presumably means that he wants to prioritize these visas for foreign techies with advanced degrees commanding higher wages.

Trump has ordered a review of the program. Regardless of what the review shows, the fact of the matter is that he can't implement radical reforms via executive order. Indeed, Theresa Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center points out that the 85,000 H-1B cap and its method of allocation is set by statute. The 1965 Immigration and Nationalization Act expressly says: "the numerical limitations [pertaining to H-1B] shall be issued visas (or otherwise provided nonimmigrants status) in the order in which petitions are filed for such visas or status."

This means that Trump will need Congressional action to reform the program. And, indeed, there are a couple of bipartisan bills already in the works that want to make such reforms.

So why is Trump going it alone instead of working with Congress? After all, any executive action that messes with the existing system will be sued before it makes it through the door. One would have thought that the travel ban debacle would give him some pause.The only plausible explanation is that he is baiting opponents and wants litigation so that he can look like the hero valiantly trying to champion the cause of American workers.

It's a cynical strategy that isn't likely to accomplish much. And he wouldn't be the first president to play politics with this issue. His predecessor's games doomed immigration reform.

The tragedy, however, is that Trump has totally changed the conversation on immigration from where it needs to be. So far there was a consensus that whatever the case with low-skilled immigrants, America needed more—not fewer—foreign techies. After all, almost every other IT startup in Silicon Valley has an immigrant founder. Immigrant smarts have spun IT gold out of sand and made America the global high-tech leader. Now, scaring them away with tough talk is apparently the recipe for making America Great Again.


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Taking Private Property in the Trump Era

New film dramatizes landmark Supreme Court decision on eminent domain.

President Donald Trump called eminent domain "absolute necessity," during the 2016 Presidential campaign and he has a record of pushing for the government practice to make way for his real estate projects in the past. Eminent domain is the taking of private land for public use and back in 2005 the Supreme Court handed down an unpopular opinion on its use, saying that government had the power to seize land from a private owner and give it to another private owner. Trump at the time said he, "happen to agree with it 100 percent."

A new feature film about that Supreme Court case called Little Pink House is being released just as many people are beginning to question how eminent domain may play into the Trump era. The film stars Academy Award nominated actress Catherine Keener and Jean Tripplehorn and it recently picked up the audience award at the Vail Film Festival.

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In Trump Era, Many Political Activists Follow Their Leader, Not Their Principles: New at Reason

Darren Birgenheir/flickrDarren Birgenheir/flickrThe reward centers of the brain light up when partisans reject information that contradicts their political preferences, the same way drug addicts' brains do.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Politics is a team sport, so it has always required a certain flexibility on matters of principle. But two recent studies suggest that, for many Americans, only one principle really matters: following the leader.

And the Trump administration is proving it in spades.

An idealized account of how we reach our political loyalties might look something like this: First, we study the issues, weighing the facts and the applicable ethical standards—liberty, justice, equality, fairness, etc. Having thought long and hard, we then reach a set of conclusions about the correct public policy. Then we look around to see who shares our conclusions. Finally, we align ourselves with them.

In fact, a great deal of research on the psychology of political affiliation says we do pretty much the exact opposite: First, we decide what team we're on. Then we learn what our team's collective view on a given issue is. Then we look at the principles and the facts, cherry-picking those that support our team's view and rejecting the rest as somehow flawed.

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Gorsuch Is More Liberal Than Garland: New at Reason

For civil libertarians, the newest Supreme Court justice is better than the nominee who never got a hearing.

screenshot/CSPANscreenshot/CSPANDemocrats are understandably bitter about the Republican intransigence that ultimately allowed Neil Gorsuch to take a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court this week, writes Jacob Sullum. But for Democrats who care about civil liberties, Gorsuch is a better choice than Merrick Garland, the nominee Republican senators refused to consider after he was nominated by President Obama last year.

Garland, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 1997, was frequently described as a "moderate" after Obama picked him to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Garland earned that label mainly by siding with the government, sometimes in cases where conservatives liked the result and sometimes in cases where liberals did. Despite his reputation on the left as an authoritarian, Scalia defended the rights of the accused more consistently than some of his purportedly more liberal colleagues. And as SCOTUSBlog publisher Tom Goldstein noted, Garland is "to the right of Scalia on criminal justice issues." Gorsuch, meanwhile, seems closer to Scalia in this area, writes Sullum. Like Scalia, he is a critic of vague criminal statutes and a stickler when it comes to requiring that prosecutors prove all the elements of an offense.

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Alternative to Opioid Addiction Policies: New at Reason

Let doctors exercise their best professional judgment and prescribe opioids—free from the chilling effects created by monitoring government agencies.

There is the alarming rise in the number of chronic pain patients who have become addicted to opioids. And the explosion, in recent years, of opioid prescriptions by health care providers now under government pressure to curtail their prescribing.

This pressure has driven many opioid addicts to the illicit drug market to avoid the pains of withdrawal. There, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they often find opioid heroin cheaper and sometimes more readily available despite a 50-year "War on Drugs." Thus they become heroin addicts.

Media hysteria begets calls to action. Politicians and the administrative state devise new laws to control this "evil plague." As a surgeon who regularly prescribes painkillers for patients suffering from postoperative pain or painful conditions, I see a painful cognitive dissonance.

Harm reduction, reducing the physical harm an addict does to himself, is preferable to the criminalizing policies of government, surgeon and Cato Institute scholar Jeffrey Singer writes.

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National Hotel Lobbyists Backed the Local Wars on Airbnb, Documents Reveal

Documents show how the national trade group helped push anti-homesharing rules in several states and cities last year.

Screenshot of Airbnb.comScreenshot of Airbnb.comLast summer, Chicago became the first major American city to declare war on short-term rental services like Airbnb.

The complicated ordinance passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel imposed new taxes on short-term rentals, required Airbnb users to open their homes to inspection even without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and gave landlords and condo associations the authority to ban Airbnb rentals by registering with the city.

Lobbyists from the hotel industry were behind it all.

Later in the year, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law new rules that curtailed short-term rentals in multi-home dwellings and made it illegal to even advertise those rentals, the same lobbyists from the hotel industry were the driving force once again.

And when some states tried to go in the opposite direction—like Tennessee, which earlier this year attempted to pass a law prohibiting local governments from banning Airbnb within their jurisdictions—the hotel industry and their teams of lobbyists were there once again, putting a stop to pro-roomsharing rules that would undercut hotel profits and open up more competition in the lodging marketplace.

Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), famous among progressives for her skeptical view of capitalism and her critiques of the influence of big business in government, was co-opted into the anti-Airbnb campaign by those same hotel lobbyists.

At least that's what top trade association for the hotel industry, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, is telling its members behind closed doors, according to documents leaked from a November conference of the AHLA and first reported by The New York Times on Monday. Some of the same documents obtained by Reason show the trade group patting itself on the back for scoring "notable accomplishments" in local fights to limit or ban Airbnb in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere during 2016.

In New York, where the Airbnb advertising ban was signed into law last year, the documents show that AHLA "provided resources and support to the Hotel Association of New York City and other parties advocating for this legislation." In Chicago, where the anti-Airbnb ordinance was championed by a city official with long ties to the hotel industry, the AHLA "played a pivotal role in the passage" of an ordinance that "heavily regulates" short-term rentals."

At the federal level, the hotel industry claims to have acquired a powerful ally by recruiting Warren to their side. The Democratic senator from Massachusetts wrote a letter (along with fellow Democratic Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Dianne Feinstein of California) to the Federal Trade Commission last year asking for an investigation into the business practices of short-term rental platforms.

"Senator Warren's status as one of the more prominent lawmakers among progressive activists has helped mobilize additional grassroots and political support," the AHLA documents note.

Reason has previously reported on the alliance between the hotel industry and groups on the left, which seem to be a key element of the AHLA's anti-Airbnb strategy. Last year, the New York Motel and Hotel Trades Council, which represents some 35,000 hotel workers in the city, wrote a $100,000 check to the Hotel Association of New York City to support the organization's effort to pass the new short term rental restrictions.

Airbnb has grown quickly since its founding in 2008. By the end of last year, Airbnb had more than 3 million listing in more than 65,000 different cities around the globe, according to the company's website. It raised more than $1 billion in a recent round of funding, according to multiple media reports in March, and SEC filing from earlier this year say Airbnb is worth approximately $31 billion, which would make it the second most valuable start-up in the United States, trailing only fellow sharing economy wonderkind Uber.

As it has grown (along with other, smaller roomsharing services like HomeAway and VRBO), Airbnb has become a greater threat to the hotel industry that for decades has dominated the market for lodging.

Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, told The New York Times this week that Airbnb has brought hotel pricing down in many places during holidays, conventions and other big events when room rates should be at their highest and the industry generates a significant portion of its profits.

Since Airbnb has added to the supply of lodging, it's made it harder for hotels to jack-up prices when demand is high.

"The hotels that used to be able to gouge you by taking the price way up, because of limited supply, don't have that same ability anymore because of the additional inventory that Airbnb has brought online," Steve Hafner, CEO of travel booking website, told Bloomberg last year.

Data provided by Airbnb suggests hotels are right to be worried, according to data provided by Airbnb. The homesharing service claims to have helped lower lodging prices during major events like New Year's Eve and this year's Super Bowl.

That's good for travelers who get more options and potentially lower prices because of Airbnb's competition with hotels. The hotels, though, don't like it, and the AHLA documents show that the industry is fighting back by leveraging the power of government to drive Airbnb and other forms of roomsharing out of the market.

"This is rent-seeking at its worst. Rather than compete fairly, hotel lobbyists are scrambling for the chance to use government force to benefit themselves and outlaw their competition," says Christina Sandefur, vice president of the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona-based free market think tank that has teamed up with the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center to challenge Chicago's Airbnb rules.