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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2017 May 15-31

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Trump To Muslim World: Peace Only Possible "if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists"

The president's speech articulates non-interventionist principles despite fiery rhetoric.

Nick GillespieNick GillespiePresident Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia was in many ways window-dressing to a new, $110-billion arms deal with one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. But his 30-minute talk, televised widely through the Arab and Muslim worlds, is an interesting statement that's worth spending serious time with. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he's singing a different tune now, saying he's not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don't export terrorists.

America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.

Beyond in the rejection of what he would call a globalist worldview, Trump seems to be signaling a return to a non-humanitarian dimension to U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds (that the Assad government had used prohibited chemical weapons on innocent civilians). More important, while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to "bomb the shit" out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a promise he has shown signs of keeping, even beyond Syria. It's worth pointing out, too, that even when the U.S. government has embraced or eschewed humanitarian motivations for foreign policy, it has never been constrained by such declarations. To pretend, for instance, that Bill Clinton's various interventions and actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than vulgar domestic politics requires a suspension of disbelief beyond that of the most-devoted fan of Starlight Express or Cop Rock.

Yet from a libertarian perspective at least, it's good to hear a president rhetorically lay out a foreign policy that is basically limited to defending American interests rather than saving the world (how many countries and innocent people must die to prove America is virtuous?). Same, too, with getting overly involved with the internal workings of foreign countries. America should always be a place of refuge for people fleeing tyranny and oppression, and our government can and should exert influence to liberalize and open-up repressive hellholes. But the past 15 years of U.S. interventions (and if we're being honest, most of our overseas adventuring before that) have clearly failed. Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson's campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries. We simply don't have the knowledge or resources to bully or beat the world into our shape. Military intervention, regime change, and all the rest should be last resorts and exceptionally rare.

The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.

It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.

A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.

DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and

DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.

For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests.

Our friends will never question our support, and our enemies will never doubt our determination. Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption. We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes—not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms—not sudden intervention.

To my mind, this is pretty good stuff. Of course, it is only rhetoric and there's no reason to suspect or expect any convergence between Trump's language and actions. There is a larger question, too, of whether this sort of talk will be read by autocrats as a greenlight to crack down on all sorts of legitimate dissent in the name of quashing terrorism. Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, to name two U.S. allies, can't be celebrating this sort of language even as Trump rightly places responsibility for the Middle East in the hands of the people and rulers who live there. And even as Trump invokes realism and local responsibility, it remains far from clear he will do anything to remove U.S. forces from around the world. Not only might that reduce the targeting of the United States by various terrorist groups who see America as a puppet master, it would be the proper follow-through to a worldview that holds we are not the solution to all the problems in the world.

Despite the non-interventionist flourishes in his speech, there's a larger contradiction in all this, too: Trump's foreign-policy realism is predicated ultimately upon a version of Fortress America, one in which our borders are closed (or at least more-closed) to people and goods from abroad. That's hugely at odds with the spirit of libertarianism and classical liberalism, which simultaneously holds that the United States should be slow to intervene militarily abroad but that we should be wide open to people and goods from all over the world. That is how progress, peace, and prosperity flourish. Yet such an inclusive vision of trade, commerce, and pluralism is about the last thing one would associate with Trump or his supporters.

Read his whole speech here. Watch it on video here.

Related: "How Trump Will Reshape Foreign Policy." About two months ago, the Cato Institute's Trevor Thrall told Reason that "I think [Trump] kind of has a zero-sum view of the world. We're going to win, and we're going to beat people up hard to do it." About 10 minutes.

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Seasteading in Paradise: New at Reason

New promise for floating free communities in a Polynesian lagoon—but is the movement leaving libertarianism behind?

SeasteadingGuiMesquita/IStockPhotoFor nearly a decade, the Seasteading Institute has been working to create autonomous floating communities on the ocean, where settlers can make their own rules de novo, unbound by the principalities and powers based on land. Founded by Google software engineer Patri Friedman—grandson of the libertarian economist Milton Friedman and son of the anarchist legal theorist and economist David Friedman—it has weathered its share of thin years, previously dwindling to a two-staffer, no-office operation. But on January 13 in San Francisco's Infinity Club Lounge, institute chief Randolph Hencken signed a memorandum of understanding with a new partner, one Jean-Christophe Bissou, and put the construction of an actual seastead onto the cusp of reality, writes Brian Doherty.

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P.J. O'Rourke: Things Are Going to Be Fine: New at Reason

But there's going to be some trouble getting to the fine part.

PJReason TV"The politician creates a powerful, huge, heavy, and unstoppable Monster Truck of a government," P.J. O'Rourke writes in his new book, How the Hell Did This Happen? (Atlantic Monthly Press). "Then supporters of that politician become shocked and weepy when another politician, whom they detest, gets behind the wheel, turns the truck around, and runs them over."

In the book, O'Rourke's 19th, the former editor in chief of National Lampoon uses his celebrated blend of acerbity and warmth to explore the 2016 election, which he refers to as a "rebellion" against people in control. O'Rourke, a regular panelist on NPR's Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, worries our changing economy is fueling a populist wave of fear and anger. "There's a segment of America that feels threatened by change, change of all kinds," he says. Still, he's optimistic for the future. His kids might have three or four careers over the course of their lives, but "I think they're pretty hip to that, actually. I don't think that they're particularly frightened by it."

In March, Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with O'Rourke by phone about what he saw on the 2016 campaign trail, what it means for the country, and how libertarians should respond to this new populist moment.

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Liberland Turns Two: New at Reason

The founders of micronation Liberland essentially came at Croatia "with both middle fingers up right away."

Crest of LiberlandCrest of LiberlandThanks to a long-standing border dispute between two parts of the former Yugoslavia, there was a little slice of unclaimed land on the west bank of the Danube River. Croatia would prefer recognizing a border more closely corresponding to an older flow of the Danube, while Serbia is happy with the current Danube-defined border. That leaves a teardrop-shaped piece of land about 7 square kilometers on the Croatian side that neither country wants to claim. In April 2015, Vit Jedlicka, a Czech activist and market analyst, declared the disputed turf terra nullius and established his own country there: Liberland.

In contrast with the gradualist approach taken by seasteaders and charter city founders, Liberlanders essentially came at Croatia "with both middle fingers up right away and just talked to the press," says Joe McKinney of the Startup Societies Foundation.

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A Canadian Writer Defended Cultural Appropriation and All Hell Broke Loose

"...a space that is not safe for indigenous and racialized writers."

AppropriationMark Spowart / DreamstimeCultural appropriation is apparently just as much of a hot button issue in Canada as it is the United States and Great Britain: a Canadian editor recently quit his job after his essay calling for a "cultural appropriation prize" outraged some readers and indigenous activists.

No, this isn't really a story about censorship. It's a story about critics of cultural appropriation just being plain-old wrong.

The essay, written by Hal Niedzviecki, appeared in Write, a publication of the Writer's Union of Canada (TWUC). It was called "Winning the Cultural Appropriation Prize" and argued that authors should be rewarded for vigorously borrowing the voices, experiences, and customs of other cultures. Niedzviecki took the view that appropriation is actually a good thing, since cultural intermixing is beneficial, and leads to increased representation of minority experiences. (His view is shared by many libertarians, including Reason's Cathy Young and author Lionel Shriver.)

"I don't believe in cultural appropriation," wrote. Niedzviecki. "In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities."

Given the reaction, you might have assumed that Niedzviecki had called for the systematic extermination of indigenous writers.

"We have to understand that cultural appropriation is institutionalized, it is the very foundation of what Canada is built on," said Jesse Wente, an indigenous critic for CBC News. "And not just cultural appropriation, but appropriation of all things Indigenous: our lives, our lands. This is what this nation was founded on. It was the policy of the government to do this. To ignore, to pretend now, that we somehow have moved on beyond this and that somehow we're all on equal footing and thus we can all share equitably is to fail in your responsibility as a storyteller."

Nikki Reimer, an editorial board member of Write, accused Niedzviecki of making indigenous writers feel unsafe:

I am struggling somewhat to find the words to respectfully articulate my reaction upon seeing the column: at the most generous interpretation it is clueless and thoughtless; at worst, it is offensive and insulting to the many writers featured within the page; it undermines any attempts at space-making or celebration of the writers featured within the pages, and it marks Write magazine as a space that is not safe for indigenous and racialized writers.

But Niedzviecki did not threaten indigenous writers. He did not call for them to write less. He did not express the opinion that he wanted to see fewer of their stories in print. He did not say anything that was remotely anti-indigenous authors, or anti-indigenous stories. All he said was that everyone should feel encouraged to write stories about anyone, and indeed, the project of storytelling requires writers to use their imaginations­—to explain phenomena they've never witnessed, craft characters they've never met, and borrow details from walks of life they've never experienced. Writers who do this well should be celebrated.

Ken Whyte, founding editor National Post, did not agree with the criticism. He jokingly offered to donate $500 to the fictitious cultural appropriation prize. Also at the Post, Jonathan Kay—editor-in-chief of The Walrus—criticized the left's "shaming" of people with whom they disagree. Kay resigned his own position soon thereafter; it's not entirely clear whether this was connected to his defense of Niezviecki.

None of this constitutes hard censorship. No publisher is required to employ someone who expresses an unpopular opinion. Writers aren't entitled to platforms, and if audiences don't like what they're reading, they have every right to complain. If Write doesn't want to publish content that defends cultural appropriation, fine.

So, this isn't censorship. It's just idiocy. It's idiocy, because everyone, actually, is in favor of cultural appropriation. No one thinks Italian cooking should be restricted to the Italians. That's all appropriation is: license to participate in other cultures.

When critics decry cultural appropriation, they invariably end up conflating it with something else. They will say that dressing up as a stereotypical member of a certain race is offensive; they're right, it is offensive, but not because it's cultural appropriation. It's cultural mockery. If you mock other people's cultures, you're an asshole. But not all appropriation is mockery.

These are obvious differences. A white person making himself look like a caricature of a black person? Mockery. A white person writing a well-researched book with black characters—a book that treats them as complicated individuals, and does not reduce them to stereotypes? Appropriation. The former is bad, the latter is the foundation of cosmopolitanism. And it's the latter thing that Niedzviecki thought we ought to award a prize for.

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Idaho’s Attempt to Gag Dairy Critics Should Be Struck Down: New at Reason

Federal court considers an ‘ag-gag’ law.

cowcc/Public DomainLast week food policy expert Baylen Linnekin attended oral arguments in Seattle in a case that could determine whether the government may grant special protections to agricultural producers that supersede the First Amendment rights of others.

The case, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden, pits nonprofits such as the ALDF, ACLU, and several other concerned groups and individuals against the state of Idaho.

The case centers on an Idaho law, passed in 2014, that prohibits "interference with agricultural production." The law was "draft[ed] and sponsor[ed]" by the Idaho Dairymen's Association after an undercover investigation by the group Mercy for Animals showed dairy cows being mistreated in the state. Linnekin explains how these laws are unconstitutional attempts to censor whistleblowers.

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Trump Administration Announces Its NAFTA Renegotiation Concerns

Many of them echo old labor union and Democratic Party complaints about freer trade.

Donald Trump's rhetorical hostility to free trade and his apparent desire to manage U.S. companies' investment decisions over an obsession with "balance of trade" has been one of his most alarming characteristics to some libertarians.

Michael Reynolds/EPA/NewscomMichael Reynolds/EPA/Newscom

Letters from Trump's U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to various congressional leaders sent this week set forth the current contours of the Trump administration's concerns over renegotiating NAFTA, which can be summed up as, to quote the letter:

new provisions to address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labor, environment, and small and medium enterprises.

It also notes they want "aggressive enforcement of...commitments made by our trading partners." And they start with the nerve-wracking declaration that a prime goal in trade deal renegotiating will be to "support higher-paying jobs in the United States" and "improving U.S. opportunities" (by which they almost certainly don't mean opportunities for citizens and companies to buy abroad as cheaply and efficiently as they'd like).

A lot of that language quoted above sounds like the Republican Trump administration just echoing lots of traditionally labor union and Democratic Party concerns over the alleged damage that allowing freer overseas trade causes.

Some trade reporters are pleased that the Lighthizer letters don't seem dedicated to completely upending NAFTA, an act which, whatever NAFTA's flaws, would be worse (with Trump's trade opposition ideology ruling executive policy) than the alternative.

John Brinkley at Forbes, for example, is pleased that Lighthizer's letters "included none of the bluster and hostility that President Trump has directed at America's NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico" and notes that despite bluster about improving rule enforcement under NAFTA in a more U.S.-friendly direction, that "since 1994, the United States has prevailed in every NAFTA ISDS [Investor State Dispute Settlement] complaint that it has filed or has been filed against it and that has proceeded to a final ruling. It's going to be hard to improve on that."

Brinkley is hopeful that the reference to "small" enterprises in Lighthizer's letter, quoted above, might mean that the administration wants to "focus on ways to make it easier for small companies to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA....It's easy for big corporations to comply with the myriad rules and regulations that cover imports, exports and free trade agreements; they can hire armies of lawyers and trade specialists to manage compliance with them. Most small firms can't do that and many find that compliance isn't worth the time and money. So, they don't export. Or they export without applying for duty-free treatment under NAFTA."

An article in Business Day is similarly optimistic, noting for those scared about earlier Trumpian rhetoric that the Lighthizer letters:

omitted many of the thorny points cited in an earlier draft, such as leveling the playing field on tax treatment and bulking up "Buy America" procurement provisions — goals that might meet stiff resistance from Canada and Mexico....

Still, Lighthizer made it clear the US wants to see Mexican manufacturing capacity return to America, an approach sure to create friction with Mexico ahead of a general election next year. Mexico would also likely oppose efforts to compensate US producers for Mexico's VAT, which refunds taxes charged on inputs used to produce exported goods. While US politicians have called the tax an unfair subsidy, Mexico argues the system is in line with international trade rules.

Talks with Canada could trip up over irritants including access to the country's supply-managed dairy sector or the ongoing dispute over softwood lumber exports to the US

The US president will be under pressure to reach a deal that shows his election promises weren't empty rhetoric, said Dan DiMicco, a former steel executive who advised Trump during the campaign. The administration will measure success in terms of its ability to stop US companies from building plants in Mexico, and reducing the $62bn deficit with that nation, he said.

That would be a terrible, though terribly Trumpian, way to measure the goods and bads of freer international trade. Still, learning the administration's specific goals as they'll effect American companies in practice will unfold as the negotiations unfold, with these Lighthizer letters starting a 90-day clock after which the official renegotiations can begin.

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Why John Oliver Is Wrong About Net Neutrality: New at Reason

Do you really want the Nipplegate people regulating your internet access?

Progressives are freaking out now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is beginning the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which give the government the right to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The main arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they'll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn't sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier's low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers.

Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have—one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility.

We don't know how the internet is going to evolve over time, but neither do the government administrators trying to rein it in. But given the record of free-market innovation vs. government-regulated services, the odds are with market forces and entrepreneurs.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton, with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

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Trump's Bad Week Continues, Canadians Really Hate Cultural Appropriation: P.M. Links

  • TrumpMICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA/NewscomSome are pushing back against The Washington Post's report about the Russian investigation identifying a White House official as a "person of interest."
  • Canadian writer gets burned at the stake (figuratively) for writing in praise of cultural appropriation.
  • Feminism isn't cancer. Feminism is a virus—according to feminists.
  • Fox News fired Bob Beckel again.
  • The channel's ratings are slipping.
  • Huma Abedin is leaving Anthony Weiner.
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Jennifer Lawrence, Libertarian Feminist?

The star was spotted wearing a "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirt and carrying a book with Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises on it.

Being Classically Liberal/FacebookBeing Classically Liberal/FacebookActress Jennifer Lawrence is in the news this week for a number of reasons, including her impromptu performance at a Vienna strip club and her stepping out in a $700 Dior T-shirt that proclaims "We Should All Be Feminists." The Daily Mail even devoted a whole article to the shirt, noting that "the 26-year-old actress beamed as she left the set of her film Red Sparrow with her dog—and a balloon—in tow." But the Mail fails to note the other thing that J-Law was spotted carrying: a book with famed Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises on the back cover.

The Facebook group Being Classically Liberal first noted Lawrence's reading material yesterday, suggesting that perhaps she had picked up the von Mises book Socialism thinking it took a positive view of the subject. Lawrence—star of a slew of recent hit movies, including Joy, The Hunger Games, and American Hustle—has been outspoken in her criticism of conservative politicians (The Daily Beast even deemed her "Hollywood's Next Big Power Liberal").

But some crowdsourced sleuthing revealed that Lawrence's book isn't by von Mises but about him and other Austrian School economists. The book—Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan—was written by New York University professor Kim Phillips-Fein and looks at the rise of free-market economics in post-New Deal America and the role that businesses played in shaping mid-20th Century conservatism.

"Starting in the mid-1930s, a handful of prominent American businessmen forged alliances with the aim of rescuing America—and their profit margins—from socialism and the 'nanny state,'" says the publisher's blurb for the book. "Long before the 'culture wars' usually associated with the rise of conservative politics, these driven individuals funded think tanks, fought labor unions, and formed organizations to market their views."

So does this mean Lawrence is rethinking the reflexive Hollywood hate for free-market capitalism? It's probably a bit too soon to roll out the libertarian welcome mat just yet; for all we know, Lawrence is reading Invisible Hands as some sort of resistance manual, or doing research for a role in an exciting new film about economic theory. (OK, probably not that last one.) But, hey, you know what they say: Once you go Austrian School...

No? Nobody says that?

Whatever, look, Jennifer Lawrence is holding a book with Ludwig von Mises on it! Happy weekend, y'all.

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Russia Investigation Identifies Current White House Official, Trump Bragged About Firing 'Nut Job' James Comey

"That's taken off," Trump told the Russians. "I'm not under investigation."

TrumpCheriss May/ZUMA Press/NewscomAuthorities investigating potential ties between the Donald Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government have identified a current White House official as a "person of interest" in the case, according to The Washington Post.

This person is a senior advisor who is "close to the president," sources said.

Investigators are still interested in former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, but they are now focused on someone who is actually still involved with Trump.

The Post reports:

While the case began quietly last July as an effort to determine whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian operatives to meddle in the presidential election campaign, the investigative work now being done by the FBI also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president. The people familiar with the matter said the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take, the people said.

That's not the only bad news for Trump. The New York Times reported that Trump actually boasted to Russian officials about firing former FBI Director James Comey:

"I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job," Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

Mr. Trump added, "I'm not under investigation."

Neither of these developments confirm any sort of official cooperation between Trump and Russia. But they come at the end of perhaps the worst week of the Trump presidency thus far. The president is certainly putting a lot of effort into appearing like an incompetent stooge—as well as giving ammuntion to those who think he committed obstruction of justice, at the very least.

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These Republican Lawmakers Will Happily Abandon Federalism to Deport More Immigrants

Bill would keep states and cities from restraining police cooperation.

ProtestMax Herman/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomTexas passed legislation forcing local police to help federal immigration officials detain people for deportation. California is considering legislation that's essentially the opposite. Now some Republicans are introducing federal legislation that overrules the states and dictates how local police officers participate in immigration law enforcement.

So, uh, federalism and state's rights? Never mind all that. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has introduced H.R. 2431, the Davis-Oliver Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), John Carter (R-Texas), and Ted Poe (R-Texas).

The bill has a lot of components to it, including an expansion of what counts as a deportable crime and the inclusion of illegal immigrants in the National Crime Center Database.

The bill also essentially attempts to overrule leadership of sanctuary cities or states by granting law enforcement personnel (local police) the same authority to investigate, identify, and detain illegal immigrants as federal immigration officials. The law makes it clear that local police would still lack the authority to deport immigrants on their own. But the law does say:

[L]aw enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer to Federal custody aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States to the same extent as Federal law enforcement personnel. Law enforcement personnel of a State, or of a political subdivision of a State, may also investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, or detain aliens for the purposes of enforcing the immigration laws of a State or of a political subdivision of State, as long as those immigration laws are permissible under this section.

Further in the bill, it mandates that states and cities inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a "timely fashion" when they've apprehended somebody who is in the country illegally or is deportable. And it provides grants to help law enforcement agencies with implementing these procedures, so long as they put into place a written policy of assisting DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deporting immigrants.

In the fight over sanctuary cities (cities that generally don't check on the immigration status of those in custody), there has been quite a lot of confusion over what it means to resist or cooperate with the federal government and ICE on immigration laws. The federal government does not have the authority to force local police officers to assist them or detain deportable immigrants. There is a portion of the U.S. code that forbids states and cities from passing regulations or having policies that prohibit communication between local police and the feds about anybody's immigration status. That's it. It does not require police to assist ICE or even ask about citizenship status.

This bill would change and expand the wording of that federal regulation to forbid states and cities from having rules against assisting ICE and DHS in enforcing immigration laws. Under this change the law would be about much more than communication. Cities would be forbidden from telling police they couldn't hold immigrants to hand over to ICE for deportation. It also specifies which federal grants communities could lose if they do not cooperate with the bill. A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump's executive order threatening grants to sanctuary cities partly because the grants have to have some sort of connection to regulatory processes and the government cannot simply take grant money away in order to coerce certain behaviors.

Don't take this to mean the grants referenced are narrowly defined, though. Despite the fact that the bill is all about immigration enforcement, it would potentially threaten any Justice Department or DHS grant that was related to "law enforcement, terrorism, national security, or immigration or naturalization." So … that's probably a lot of them.

The law is named after two law enforcement officers killed by an illegal immigrant in 2014. As is typical in these cases, naming the law after dead people is intended to emphasize the worst scenarios in order to deflect away the broader increases in government authority. In reality, even most sanctuary cities will turn over illegal immigrants when the feds provide a warrant or in cases when they've committed violent crimes or felonies.

Arrests by ICE have dramatically increased in the first quarter of 2017, up 37 percent. While the majority of those arrests were for those convicted of crimes, there was also a massive spike of detentions of people who are in the country illegally but have committed no other offenses (and I know this will probably fall on the deaf ears of certain groups of people, but being in the country illegally is itself a civil offense, not a criminal one).

The House Judiciary Committee took up the bill this week, so it has a long way to go before becoming a law. Read the text here of the current version here, and the judiciary committee's summary here.

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The Wizard of Lies Focuses on Madoff’s Family, Not His Victims: New at Reason

As a result, interesting parts of the story get missed.

'The Wizard of Lies''The Wizard of Lies,' HBOTelevision critic Glenn Garvin watches HBO's The Wizard of Lies and feels as though some of the more interesting parts of the Bernie Madoff scandal have been ignored:

The $65 billion collapse of Madoff's smoke-and-mirrors trading empire in 2008 would seem to offer great dramatic potential. Unlike the largely faceless, institutional banking collapse around the same time that triggered the Great Recession, the Madoff scandal had an easily identifiable villain driven by evil intention rather than carelessness. And his betrayal was breathtakingly personal; the thousands of victims included most of his friends and even his in-laws. There was even a potential hero: Harry Markopolis, an investment officer at a rival firm who for a decade fruitlessly warned that Madoff's returns were too good to be true.

All these elements are present in Wizard, not to mention a marquee cast headed by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, with frequent Oscar nominee Barry Levinson producing and directing. Yet it all comes together with much more fizzle than sizzle.

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Austin Police Responded to the Burglary of an Empty Home With a Full-On SWAT Raid

(And they still didn't catch the culprit.)

When an out-of-town homeowner received a video alert from his home security system showing a burglar in his house, he contacted the Austin Police Department. In response, the Austin Police Department sent a SWAT team and nearly leveled the place. Right on Crime's Randy Petersen, a 21-year veteran of the Bloomington (Illinois) Police Department, learned of the case from a complaint filed by the burglarized homeowner's next-door neighbor, and writes about it in The Hill:

It began with an Austin Police helicopter circling the skies over his normally quiet neighborhood and ended with tear gas rounds shattering the windows and a small army of SWAT officers breaching the door and detonating flashbang grenades in his neighbor's home. Between these two events, SWAT officers and police dogs occupied his back yard, commandeered his backyard as a sniper post, and cut a large hole in his fence.

While I hate to play spoiler, the story actually ends with the out-of-town homeowner watching remotely as the burglar--who goes undetected while police "break almost every window, blow up the door, fill the home with teargas, and scorch the flooring with flashbangs"--escapes into the night.

Petersen, who taught at a police academy after serving as an officer, cites this incident as yet another example of excessive SWAT use. "The level of violence a SWAT team brings with it should be reserved for situations that call for it, and those situations are quite rare," he writes. And yet SWAT teams are used all the time.

When I hear stories like this one, I wonder what any one group--even a constellation of groups--can actually do to curtail it. As Petersen notes (and former Reasoner Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop illustrates in frightening detail), the threshold for SWAT use has plummeted since the LAPD introduced the strategy in the 1950s. If a police department wants to use a raid, they will. Increasingly, they want to use raids for lots and lots of things, so they do.

We can and do debate what the bar should be for deploying a military unit in a civilian setting, or for forcing entry on a residence; at what time of day (or more likely, pre-dawn); with how much notice. I'll concede that reasonable people can disagree on where to set those thresholds. But even if civil liberties advocates and law enforcement leaders could reach a consensus on when it's OK to break down a door, ransack the interior, and terrify/maim/murder every living creature therein, I'd love to know how you force police departments to comply.

Consider Utah, a mostly ethnically homogenous state of 2.9 million people. Balko has reported extensively on the state's efforts to reform its 124 police agencies (side note: that's a lot of outfits for a population the size of Chicago). One of the reforms passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor is a requirement that agencies track and make public incidents in which officers forced their way into a private residence. The first set of numbers came out in August 2015. Those numbers show the usual: Of 559 such incidents in 2014, Balko reports that only 3 percent involved active shooters, barricaded suspects, hostages, or the serving of a violent felony warrant, while 83 percent of the reported incidents involved a drug crime.

This is not surprising. Civil liberties advocates (and the people who get their windows blown out) know, and have known for decades, that police agencies bust down doors mostly for drug offenses, despite law enforcers claiming SWAT-style tactics are used mostly for situations that occur almost never.

Nor is it surprising that police discovered a firearm in only three of the 559 incidents, and were fired on but once. The idea that all drugs offenders, or even most of them, are armed and trigger-happy has never been supported by evidence. Even at the federal level, where offenders are sometimes charged with drug quantities equivalent in value to a home mortgage, only 17 percent of offenders received a gun enhancement last year. (And as we know from the cases of Weldon Angelos and Chris Williams, catching a gun charge doesn't mean an offender used or even brandished a firearm.)

What's genuinely shocking about the data from Utah is that 25 percent--a full quarter!--of police agencies failed to report incidents in which officers forced their way into a private residence.

This is what I'm getting at when I ask, What the hell do we do about events like the one in Austin? Utah's government essentially said, "Go ahead and bust down peoples' doors. Just make sure to tell us, and the public, how and why you did it." In response, a quarter of the state's law enforcement agencies said, "Nah." Now imagine the introduction of legislation--city, county, state, whatever--that constrained police use of raids and SWAT teams. Imagine it gets passed in the face of fear-mongering and big spending by police unions. Imagine it gets signed despite press conferences at which law enforcement leaders warn of dead cops and emboldened gang leaders.

What happens when the police, after all that, keep doing what they've always done?

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996 Sex Workers Busted in FBI's Last 'Operation Cross Country,' Says Comey

That's 332 times as many sex workers arrested in the stings as people indicted on federal charges involving a minor.

screenshot FBI OCC bust/YouTubescreenshot FBI OCC bust/YouTubeBefore his sudden dismissal last week, one of the last things FBI Director James Comey did in office was testfiy before the Senate Judiciary Hearing about the agency's "programs and priorities for the coming year"—including Operation Cross Country, the annual FBI-led prostitution roundup that I covered in Reason's March issue. Publicized as an attack on child sex-trafficking, Operation Cross Country (OCC) mainly targets adult sex workers and their would-be clients. And according to Comey, last year's bust yielded nearly double the number of prostitution arrests as Reason previously estimated.

In Operation Cross Country 10, which went down over several days in October 2016, the FBI coordinated stings in 135 cities, with participation from 55 FBI field offices and agents of 400 city, county, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations. Their efforts yielded just 10 federal indictments as of May 2017, and only three cases involving any actual juveniles. In those cases, none of the victims—two 17-year-old girls and one 15-year-old girl—allege abduction, abuse, threats, forcible detainment, or other mistreatment of any kind at the hands of the defendants.

Meanwhile, police and FBI agents arrested 996 "adult prostitution subjects" in OCC 10, according to Comey's May 3 testimony. That's 332 times as many sex workers arrested in the stings as people indicted on federal charges involving a minor.

Granted, there were some "pimps" arrested on state and local charges. But these were reserved for cases that didn't involve minors and, in almost all cases, excluded adult victims as well. Pimping and related charges—like promoting prostitution, deriving proceeds from prostitution, aiding and abetting prostitution, keeping a bawdy place, etc.—don't require injury to any particular party, and can be levied against anyone who drives an adult to a prostitution appointment, posts ads for a sex worker (even if they're also in the ads), or is otherwise involved in one iota of a commercial sexual transaction between consenting adults.

Comey also noted in his recent testimony that 1,254 "johns"—prostitution customers—have been arrested as a part of OCC since it was launched in 2008. He did not say how many customers were arrested last year specifically, but my tally yielded at least 175 solicitation arrests in OCC 10.

Comey also failed to say how many prostitution arrests have been made throughout Operation Cross Country overall. But we do have this year's official tally, along with FBI arrest numbers from the first few operations: 290 prostitution arrests in OCC 1, 518 prostitution arrests in OCC 2, around 600 prostitution arrests in the fourth iteration, and 661 prostitution arrests in the fifth. If we assume arrests in years where we are missing data mirror the previous operation's tally (an assumption that almost certainly lowballs things, as the eighth and ninth operations were much bigger than the fifth), we wind up with something like 6,227 prostitution arrests.

Remember, Operation Cross Country has taken place just 10 times, for less than one week each iteration. But the FBI and Homeland Security also help with similar local stings all year long. In emailing with FBI field-office representatives about last year's sting, several mentioned that it was just one small part of ongoing collaboration to the same effect. Since we have no reason to assume these operations yield radically different results than OCC, it suggests the 6,227 sex-worker arrests spearheaded by the FBI between June 2008 and October 2016 are just the tip of it.

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San Francisco Attacks Privacy of Uber Drivers: New at Reason

Demands company provide home addresses to post online

UberRitchie B. Tongo/EPA/NewscomThe City of San Francisco filed suit last week against the ridesharing service Uber after the company filed a motion in court to block the release of a drivers' personal information. This sets up the latest battle between the city and one of the leading transportation network companies over an issue that has privacy implications beyond the ridesharing industry.

San Francisco's tax collector wants the home addresses and other information of drivers to post on a web site that includes a map that pinpoints the exact location of registered business owners in the city. Because these drivers are independent contractors, most of them use their home addresses as their official business address.

The web site is publicly searchable, which means that anyone can easily find where these drivers live. "We've asked the city to allow us to get the consent of drivers and to remove their personal information from the public web site, but they have refused," said Uber Northern California's general manager, in a statement last week. Steven Greenhut explains more.

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Chicago Alderman Tells Property Owners to 'Come Back to Me on Your Knees' or Face Zoning Changes

Meet Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, the petty tyrant of Chicago's First Ward who uses "aldermanic privilege" to do whatever he wants.

By User:Victorgrigas (Own work) via Wikimedia CommonsBy User:Victorgrigas (Own work) via Wikimedia CommonsWhen the Double Door, a bar and music venue in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, violated the terms of its lease in 2016, the club's owners ended up in court with the owner of the property where it was located. The property owners wanted to evict the club, and a judge agreed that they were allowed to do that.

It was a private dispute between two businesses, the sort of thing that is routinely settled by the legal system. Or at least it was routine until the local city alderman got involved in the fight. In the months after a court ordered the Double Door to vacate the property at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) tried to pressure the building's owners into letting the club stay, then attempted to change the zoning rules for the property to limit what businesses could occupy the space, potentially costing the building's owners thousands of dollars in future rent payments.

When Brian Strauss, one of the property owners, confronted Moreno about his actions, the alderman threatened to prevent Strauss from being able to get any new tenants in the building for three years, and told Strauss to "come back to me on your knees" when he was ready to negotiate.

Project Six, a Chicago-based political watchdog group, this week published the explosive story of Moreno's interference with the eviction of the Double Door club, including video of the confrontation between Strauss and Moreno where the city alderman appears to threaten the property owner. (Read the whole thing here.)

In his efforts to prevent the club from being removed, Moreno appears to be invoking what is known locally as "aldermanic privilege," a long-standing but unofficial policy in Chicago city politics that allows individual alderman to make unilateral decisions within their own wards. Even though the practice has no basis in law—and, frankly, seems not only ripe for corruption but actually meant to encourage it—Project Six details how it allows individual alderman to make determinations about zoning changes and permitting for all businesses within their wards.

"The practice creates an environment in which alderman act as gatekeepers to the residents and businesses of their wards, with essentially no checks and balances," Project Six reporters Faisal Khan and Kelly Tarrant explain. "The power and influence that Chicago's elected officials hold over city residents and businesses is immense. Some aldermen themselves have even compared their power to the powers of Medieval lords in charge 'of their individual fiefdom.'"

In the dispute between Strauss and the owners of the Double Door, Moreno may have had another reason to get involved. Campaign finance records uncovered by Project Six show that the club's owners donated more than $7,500 to Moreno since 2013, including an "in-kind" donation of $5,000 for hosting a campaign event for the alderman. The owners of the property, meanwhile, have not donated to Moreno.

That shouldn't matter, of course, because things like zoning decisions should exist outside the realm of politics. But when a single elected official can decide how any property within his jurisdiction is used, the two are inevitably going to become muddled.

Moreno's proposed zoning change has not yet been approved by the city council, but it would restrict future commercial establishments on street level and make it harder for the building's owners to renew residential leases on other floors. The change would affect only a single property and would leave the rest of the surrounding neighborhood untouched. It's not clear whether the city council will approve the change, but the real purpose of the proposal seems to be threatening the building's owners. So-called "spot zoning" like that has been successfully overturned in court, but only after long and costly legal battles.

Apparently not satisfied with making those implicit threats, Moreno also explicitly threatened Strauss, according to video obtained by Project City and CBS Chicago.

This isn't the first time Moreno has used his "aldermanic privilege" to intervene in the affairs of a private business. Back in 2012, he tried to exert his influence to prevent a Chick-fil-A restaurant from being built in his ward because, as the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, he disagreed with the fast food chain's top executive's opposition to gay marriage. The year before that, as the Tribune also reported, Moreno wielded his aldermanic privilege to block plans for a Wal-Mart in his ward, saying he had issues with the property owner and that Wal-Mart was not "a perfect fit for the area."

All of that says something about Moreno—namely, that he's acting like a petty tyrant on Chicago's North Side—but it says more about the insanity of the concept of aldermanic privilege. The rule of law requires that government officials have their authority held in check, specifically to prevent abuses like the ones that Chicago's civic system seems to encourage. Moreno is free to believe that Chick-fil-A's executives are wrong about gay marriage, and he's free to dislike shopping at Wal-Mart. He should not be able to use his position of authority to block those businesses from operating in his ward, and he certainly shouldn't be able to threaten property owners with targeted zoning changes if they don't kneel before him, as if he were some sort of feudal lord.

"Aldermen having such extreme power over bureaucratic issues provides little to no benefit or streamlining for residents and creates a culture ripe for abuse and corruption," conclude Khan and Tarrant, from Project Six. "Chicagoans deserve a city government that implements laws and policies based on what is best for all residents, not just those with the ear and pocket of an alderman."

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Should We Even Care About Trump Scandals and Russia? Michael Moynihan and Thad Russell Duke it Out on The Fifth Column

Seditionists quarrel over rumormongering, leaks, abuse of power, deportations, and NATO.

It is an established thing that beloved Reason-family commentators Michael C. Moynihan and Thaddeus Russell do not exactly agree on issues of foreign policy, and are generally not go-along-to-get-along types. And so, after some understandable crowing over Kmele Foster's crushing victory at this week's SoHo Forum debate on campus racism, The Fifth Column podcast pivoted into some meta-snarling over whether we're all just adding to the stupid and diverting attention from more important issues by yakking nonstop on all things Trump, Comey, and Russia. Along the way we get into some fruitful discussion on post-Trump Trumpism, the potency of anti-media sentiment, and (of course!) NATO expansion. You can listen to the teetotaling irritability here:

Need moar Fifth Column? Consult iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, wethefifth.com, @wethefifth, and Facebook.

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Are College Campuses Racist Environments? [Reason Podcast]

Lawrence Ross vs. Kmele Foster in a public debate at the Soho Forum

"We want to say that campus racism is wherever 'the other' is," says Lawrence Ross, author of Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses. "But no, [racism] happens at Missouri, Yale, Berkeley, Columbia, my alma mater, UCLA...whether it's a small college, or a private college, or a state college, it happens in every place."

In today's podcast, we've got the audio from a public debate between Ross and The Fifth Column's Kmele Foster over the Kmele Foster vs. Lawrence Ross at the Soho Forum |||following proposition: "America's colleges have fostered a racist environment that makes them a hostile space for African American students."

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.

Foster, arguing for the negative, won the debate by convincing 27 percent of the audience to come over to his side.

Next up at the Soho Forum: On Tuesday, June 13, it's Gene Epstein of Barron's vs. economist Mark Skousen over whether "Adam Smith should be honored as the father of modern economics and free-enterprise capitalism." Get your tickets here.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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

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Trump’s Election Fraud Fantasies and Public Policy

New presidential election integrity advisory commission might actually help despite the delusions on which it is based.

Vote2016YuliaGapeenkoDreamstimeYulia Gapeenko/DreamstimeBy now, we have all learned that President Trump never backs down or takes anything back. He lives in his own version of reality and alternative facts. Rather than try to disabuse their boss of his delusions, his minions scramble to bolster them. One result of the president's repeated insistence that there was massive voter fraud during the 2016 election is that he issued a Presidential Executive Order on the Establishment of Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity a week ago.

The new bipartisan commission will be chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence. The vice chair of the commission is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. A long time advocate of stricter voting regulations, Kobach finally obtained in April his first conviction of a non-citizen who illegally voted in a Kansas election. This franchise felon was a caught when his earlier voter registration was uncovered when he signed up to vote at his naturalization ceremony. The Kansas City Star noted that 1,788,673 people are registered to vote in Kansas. The franchise is safe in the Sunflower State!

So on what delusions is the new commission based?

"Fourteen percent of non-citizens are registered to vote," claimed Donald Trump during a presidential campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio in October, 2016. White House press secretary Sean Spicer backed his boss' claim up on January 24, 2017 asserting, "There's one (study) that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed 14 percent of people who voted were noncitizens." On January 23, 2017, President Trump told Congressional leaders that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes causing him to lose the popular vote. Is there any evidence for such widespread election fraud? No.

First, Spicer was both garbling and mischaracterizing the results of two different studies in his remarks. There was a 2008 Pew study that focused on the sloppiness of voter registration records, but did not say anything about voter fraud. "We found millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted," declared David Becker the author of the Pew study.

So what about the claim that 14 percent of non-citizens are registered to vote? That figure was derived from a 2014 study, "Do non-citizens vote in U.S. Elections?," published in the journal Election Studies. The figure was derived from trying to parse the replies of a survey sample of 828 non-citizens out of 88,200 respondents who checked a box saying they were registered to vote.

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, one of the study's authors reported that perhaps 51 of those non-citizens who checked the box saying they were registered also checked a box saying they had voted. That's 51 people out of 88,200 who were surveyed. No one ever makes a mistake checking survey boxes, do they?

The researchers who actually ran the survey from which the data were taken in the 2014 Election Studies analysis challenged those results in 2015, arguing that it's very hard to reliably discern real trends based on such a small sample size. "The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0," they concluded. Check out FiveThirtyEight for a nice and thorough analysis of how the initial non-citizen voting article went wrong.

In any case, the new electoral integrity advisory commission is charged with identifying "those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance [or undermine] the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections."

What sort of laws and rules does the President think would enhance voter confidence? "If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised," Donald Trump told The Washington Post on August 2 last year. "The voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times." In an August campaign speech, Trump strongly backed North Carolina's strict voter ID law.

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Life Among the Ants

Friday A/V Club: a vintage anti-communist cartoon

In the late 1940s and early '50s, GM chief Alfred P. Sloan funded a series of anti-communist cartoons. (The story behind the films is convoluted, but the compressed version is that Sloan's foundation gave grants to Harding College, an Arkansas-based Christian school, which then paid former Disney animator John Sutherland's studio to make them.) One of the shorts is Albert in Blunderland, a 1950 attack on the planned economy. It presents communism as an anthill society—literally, with actual ants.

While just about everyone involved in funding this film hailed from the political right, the cartoon was clearly aimed at a union-friendly working-class audience; it defends independent trade unions and warns that state factories will be able to impose harsh speed-ups with impunity. In a precursor of sorts to the Hard Hat Riot, it ends with a blue-collar worker beating up a socialist:

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. I haven't featured any of the Sloan/Harding/Sutherland films in the A/V Club before, but their 1948 effort "Make Mine Freedom" has turned up elsewhere on this website.)

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School Choice Advocates Take Control in Los Angeles

School board election winner wants to see lessons of successful charters replicated within district.

Nick MelvoinNickMelvoin.comTwo school choice proponents won election to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board this week, and the outcome is going to be a big deal moving forward. Their additions to the board mean that supporters of charter schools and school choice now have majority control over the seven-person panel overseeing one of the largest school districts in the country.

The response to the election helps illustrate some of the oversimplifications in analysis of school choice issues. Mother Jones, for example, wants to present it as a simply blue vs. red, Richie Rich-types versus the helpless poor. The headline emphasizes that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must be thrilled at the election of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez.

While it's true that DeVos is a massive fan of school choice and her leadership of the Department of Education will reflect as much, Melvoin and Gonez are hardly cheerleaders of President Donald Trump's administration. In December, Melvoin wrote a commentary at Medium criticizing Trump and DeVos, arguing that the president is using school choice as an excuse to make massive cuts to federal education funding.

Gonez's campaign site home page features her in the embrace of a president, but it's Barack Obama (whose re-election campaign she served), not Trump. She champions an endorsement not by religious conservatives, but the Sierra Club.

The fact is, Melvoin and Gonez are both Democrats. That school choice and charter schools are extremely popular in Los Angeles is not a reflection of some invasion from the right. Los Angeles remains solidly blue (Hillary Clinton claimed 72 percent of the vote for president across Los Angeles County). But that school choice supporters took the seats in an election held in May (where turnouts are significantly lower) shows precisely how much parents value the ability to control the educational destinies of their kids. Reporting may play up how expensive the race was and how much money wealthy charter supporters spent, but that also downplays how such high spending is necessary to compete with the massive amounts of money education unions in the state pay to influence election outcomes.

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Taxi Companies Asked Georgia for a Bailout and Got Laughed Out of Court

New competition from ride-sharing services is not grounds for a takings claim, Georgia Supreme Court rules, because no taking took place. Obviously.

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomTaxi companies that sued the state of Georgia over a 2015 law allowing ride-sharing services to operate in the state got laughed out of the Georgia Supreme Court this week.

Their case, such as it was, went like this. Back in 2015, the Georgia state legislature enacted changes to the state's laws governing taxi companies, allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate for the first time. Prior to that, taxis had enjoyed a pretty sweet monopoly in Atlanta, where the number of taxi medallions had been capped at 1,600 for more than two decades. That artificial limit on the number of taxis, naturally, had caused the value of those medallions to skyrocket, making them valuable investments. One medallion was sold for $80,000 (and that's actually cheap compared to the value of taxi medallions in bigger cities like New York, where they can be worth more than $1 million).

Then, Uber and Lyft came along. Since the new ride-sharing services effectively removed the artificial cap on taxis in Atlanta, the value of those taxi medallions—technically known as "Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience" or CPNCs—fell.

In court, the taxi companies claimed that by legalizing the new competitors, the state legislature had deprived them of their "exclusive right to provide rides origination in the city limits," and that the 2015 law had damaged the value of their medallions. As such, they argued that the state government must compensate them for the lost value—this is known as a "takings claim," along the lines of what happens when governments seize property through eminent domain.

Lower courts disagreed with the taxi companies, but they pushed the case all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, where Justice Carol Hunstein issued a scathing, and unanimous, nine-page decision that tears through every part of the taxi companies' claim.

"Though it may be true that an occupational or business license – once secured – can become a protected property right," Hunstein writes, "there is no argument here that the [new law] deprives appellants of their CPNCs or of their right to engage in the taxicab business; indeed, a CPNC is still necessary to operate a taxicab in the City of Atlanta."

So the government didn't take anything away from the taxi companies. That seems pretty clear, but what about the claim that the taxis had lost their "exclusive right" to operate in Atlanta, and that it was that exclusivity which created value? Nonsense, says Hunstein. "Appellants have pointed to no law that would have prevented the city of Atlanta or the legislature from increasing the CPNC limit (and thus, the number of drivers)."

In short, the new law "does not take business property for a public use, it merely requires an already regulated business to adjust its property to the new law," Hunstein concludes.

This is all exactly right. It's unfortunate that taxi companies have seen the value of their medallions fall because of new competition, but some investments succeed and others fail. Atlanta's taxi medallions had an inflated value because of government-imposed caps on the taxi market, but those caps, as Hunstein points out, could have been increased or removed at any time. The medallions' value was based on little more than the expectation that the government would continue to protect a privileged monopoly.

Atlanta is hardly the only place where this is happening. As Nick Sibilla points out in Forbes, federal courts have rejected similar arguments from taxi companies looking for bailouts in Boston, Chicago, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and New York City. Courts elsewhere should do the same.

If taxi medallion owners made a bad investments because they wrongly believed they could use the government to restrict competition and inflate the value of those investments, well, they were wrong. And there's no good reason why the taxpayers of Georgia should have to bail them out for making a bad investment.

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Putting Country Above Party Works Both Ways: New at Reason

Impeachment? Treason? The president may be reckless, but so is the left's anti-Trump hysteria.

TrumpMolly Riley/Sipa USA/NewscomThroughout Donald Trump's short but eventful presidency, Democrats have been imploring Republicans to show loyalty for country over party.

If you believe our bumbling president's hiring of the likes of Paul Manafort or Mike Flynn—who was apparently under investigation when he joined the administration—reflects abysmal judgment, I'm with you. If you believe those decisions could turn out to be scandals, it's difficult for me to disagree. If you believe Trump's admiration for authoritarians in Russia undermines our standing in the world, I'm there as well.

Then again, recklessly throwing around words like "impeachable" and "treason" before the evidence exists to level those consequential charges also puts country above party. Hysteria also erodes trust in our institutions for nothing more than political gain, writes David Harsanyi.

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Sweden Drops Assange Rape Charge, Basquiat Painting Sells for $110M, Ex-Secret Service Agent Gets 20 Years for Sexting: A.M. Links

  • Sweden is dropping rape charges against Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange, the country's director of public prosecutions announced today.
  • A 1982 Basquiat painting sold for $110.5 million at Sothebys on Thursday, making it the sixth most expensive work of art sold at auction.

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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Movie Review: Alien: Covenant: New at Reason

Ridley Scott wants to hear you scream again.

AlienTwentieth Century FoxWhen founding director Ridley Scott returned to the Alien franchise five years ago with a prequel called Prometheus, he delivered a movie of sleek, dark beauty. What he didn't deliver was much in the way of actual Aliens, those drooly horrors who first made the world's acquaintance 38 years ago. Prometheus focused more on the Engineers, our shadowy interstellar forebears, and on deep thoughts about gods and creations. Longtime franchise fans were not entirely happy with this picture.

Now, in Alien: Covenant, the sixth entry in the series, Scott gets back down to business. Note the reinstatement of that key word in the title. (Prometheus was originally called Alien: Engineers, but this was decided to be insufficiently subtle.) Not only are there more of the chompy black Xenomorphs in this film (along with their icky precursors), there's also a whole new breed of Alien: the fast-moving, flesh-ripping, corpse-colored Neomorphs. In addition, there are tiny black spores that hover in swarms, awaiting a chance to buzz into a human ear or up a nostril, with predictably ghastly results. Finally, there's a scary double dose of Michael Fassbender, too. We'll get to that, writes Kurt Loder.

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Brickbat: Delete That Post!

FacebookSarah.Marshall via Foter.com / CC BYAn Austrian court has ruled that Facebook must delete posts about Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig that party officials complained were insulting. The court ruled that merely blocking Austrian readers from seeing them was not sufficient. The court ruled that Facebook must also delete any re-postings of the original posts.

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Cuban Libertarian Party Launched After Arrest of Libertarian Activists

The Party, named after famed 19th century Cuban independence fighter Jose Marti, is putting up posters of the incarcerated activists around Havana.

The Cuban government probably did not expect to inspire the creation of a dissident political party when it arrested libertarian activists Ubaldo Herrera Hernández and Manuel Velázquez Visea in February. But a Partido Libertario Cubano - Jose Marti, named after the famed 19th century hero of Cuban independence, did launch itself this month in response to the (Raul) Castro regime's actions.

Partido Libertario Cubano Jose Marti FacebookPartido Libertario Cubano Jose Marti Facebook

According to a report from Zachary Foster, with the Nevada Libertarian Party in America who is in contact with the Cubans, the activists were arrested initially on charges of assault on a state agent, which they insist are falsified and refer merely to refusing to show I.D. when asked by that agent outside the Benjamin Franklin Library, a site opened by libertarian activists in December to distribute libertarian literature.

According to a press release from Foster, the actions that brought on their arrest were actually "exchanging books about free markets and limited governments, which is antithetical to the regime's revolutionary socialist doctrine."

This week, activists of that Party began peppering Havana with poster images of the arrested men and the slogan "Freedom for Ubaldo Herrera Hernández and Manuel Velázquez Visea, libertarians unjustly imprisoned for defending the ideas of freedom."

In a column in the PanAm Post (English via Google Translate), Nelson Rodriguez Chartrand insists that both men have been abused in custody and reports:

"The Cuban Libertarian Party - José Martí , takes full responsibility and pride in the authorship of this peaceful demonstration of freedom, fully aware of the right that we are as human beings to express and express ourselves freely, at the same time as absolutely responsible to the Government of Cuba , For any retaliation that may be brought against any member of our organization, "said its president, Mrs. Caridad Ramírez Utria, moments before carrying out such a peaceful initiative.

Caridad Ramirez Utria, according to the Pan-Am Post report, was "part of the peaceful grouping Ladies in White who fights for the freedom of political prisoners" and was beaten by state police and sent to the hospital last year. from the street.

The Libertarian Party's National Committee in America has condemned the activists' arrest.

Marian Tupy wrote for Reason last year on the lies the Castro regime tells about its accomplishments.

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Trump to Renegotiate NAFTA, Confusion over Flynn Subpoena, Car Hits Times Square Crowd: P.M. Links

  • Chelsea ManningChelsea Manning, posted on InstagramPresident Donald Trump's administration formally informed Congress it plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
  • There's some confusion as to whether former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will honor a subpoena to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Originally, committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Flynn was refusing but then walked that back later and said they haven't heard from Flynn's lawyers.
  • A motorist in Times Square hit a crowd of pedestrians, killing one. The driver has been arrested and may have been impaired. Authorities say there's no evidence of connection to terrorism.
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) will resign from his House seat at the end of June.
  • A police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was acquitted by a jury of killing a black motorist after claiming she feared for her life (he was unarmed). Now the city is facing peaceful protests and the mayor held a press conference to express concerns about racial disparities in the city.
  • In other news, a man was sentenced to 19 years in prison for shooting a police dog during a chase. This was in Cincinnati. The dog survived.
  • Chelsea Manning tweeted out a pic today finally revealing her appearance post-prison release.

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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14-Year-Old Boy Facing Assault Charge, Sex Offender Registry for Sex with 12-Year-Old Girl

"He loved her. They were boyfriend-girlfriend."

RJPublic DomainA Houston-area seventh-grade boy has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child because he engaged in consensual sex with his sixth-grade girlfriend.

Unless a judge decides to show leniency, he could be forced to register as a sex offender.

That's according to the Houston Chronicle, which redacted the names of both kids. The boy is 14, the girl, 12. Are they too young to be engaged in a sexual relationship? Sure. But what business is it of the state's? Who is well-served by criminalizing this kind of thing? Certainly not the boy, who will face significant difficulties finishing school, getting into college, finding a job, and even just finding a place to live, if he is placed on the sex offender registry.

"The idea that a 14-year-old who has sex with a person just a little bit younger then him or her would be treated as the worst of the worst in our society and placed on the sex offender registry is really sick," the teen's attorney, Joseph Gutheinz, told the Chronicle.

It's as sick as the law is arbitrary. In Texas, teens are immune from prosecution for underage sex if they are within 3 years of age of each other. But this does not apply if either party is over the age of 18, or under the age of 14. If the sexual encounter had taken place two months earlier, before the boy's 14th birthday, it would not have been a crime.

We don't know the whole story: it's certainly possible the boy did something worse, something that merits police intervention. But it doesn't sound like that's the case:

"He had consensual sex with his little girlfriend and he loved her. They were boyfriend-girlfriend," the teen's mother told the Chronicle. "And because he turned 14, they want to make him a sex offender, put him on the registry with pedophiles and child molesters—really sick and dangerous people."

Actually, the sex offender registry is not just for pedophiles and child molesters. Plenty of perfectly non-dangerous individuals—including kids—end up on the registry for the kind of crime this mother's son is accused of committing. It's wrong, and the laws sustaining this sort of moral panic need to change.

In the meantime, maybe Harris County could go easy on Romeo and Juliet.

Related: The State Has Stopped Trying to Wreck a Teenage Boy's Life Because He Sexted His Girlfriend (For Now)

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FCC Vote Isn’t the End of Net Neutrality, But It’s a Good First Step

This isn't about whether the internet will be free and open. It's about how much power the FCC should have.

RICHARD B. LEVINE/NewscomRICHARD B. LEVINE/NewscomWith a party-line vote Thursday, the commissioners of the FCC took the first step in what will be a months-long process to repeal Obama-era rules categorizing internet service providers as common carriers subject to federal regulations written in the 1920s.

It's not the end of the debate over net neutrality, and it's not the end of federal regulations for the internet. Instead, this is a first step towards eliminating a nonsensical legal justification for giving the FCC the authority to regulate internet service providers in the first place.

Technically, Thursday's vote did nothing more than open a period of public comment on reversing two legal claims, made in 2010 and 2015, that expanded the FCC's authority to regulate ISPs. After the public comment period closes, the FCC will be able to vote on revering those claims and effectively undoing the strained logic that the Obama administration used to asset those powers in the first place. The vote on actually reversing those policies probably won't happen for several months, at least.

"Today's vote isn't about net neutrality, but the FCC's legal authority over the internet," says Brian Szoka, president of Tech Freedom, a tech policy think tank that favors less regulation. "The real debate is over the FCC's power."

As Szoka points out, even after the FCC finishes the process of repealing the Obama-era rules, it won't be the end of government regulation of the Internet. The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and private attorneys will still be able to exert legal and political pressure on ISPs that breach contracts or otherwise violate the rule of law.

To understand what's happening at the FCC under new chairman Ajit Pai, it's useful to understand how we got to this point. During the Obama administration, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler tried to impose net neutrality—twice—only to have federal courts block both efforts because the FCC lacked the authority to exert such broad control over ISPs. In response, the FCC in 2015 gave itself the authority (after privately working with the White House) to impose net neutrality by reclassifying ISPs as a Title II telecommunications service. With ISPs now subject to the same federal regulations as so-called "common carriers" like telephone services, a third attempt at imposing net neutrality survived a court challenge.

"Title II involves the panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly of the 1930s," Pai told Reason TV last month. "My previous colleagues imposed those rules on the internet, one of the most dynamic systems we've ever known."

In short, the Obama administration found a clever way to get around limitations on the FCC's regulatory power. Thursday's vote is the first step towards putting the FCC's regulations back within those previous limits. As Pai points out, we weren't living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015.

Giving the FCC the sole regulatory authority over the Internet never made much sense. Since each new president can appoint new members to the commission, "the question of the FCC's legal authority will keep ping-ponging back and forth depending on which party controls the FCC," says Szoka. Just look at what's happened in the last few years. The FCC imposed net neutrality with party-line votes when a Democrat was in the White House and is now starting to repeal those rules with similar party-line votes from the new Republican majority.

That's no way to run anything, but it could have a particularly chilling effect on the development of the internet, which has grown in incredible and creative ways, in part, because of the lack of regulatory control exerted upon it. Worse, perhaps, than excessive regulatory control would be a lack of regulatory certainty, which would be the result of letting the FCC write and re-write rules for ISPs every four or eight years.

If there's a need and a public desire for net neutrality, those rules should be debated and passed by Congress. Congress could, for example, pass a law to prohibit ISPs from engaging in throttling or peering, and give enforcement authority to the FCC (or the FTC, which might actually make more sense).

Until and unless that happens, the Internet will be better off without a single government agency—and one with a track record that's hardly kind to freedom and free expression—handing itself a blank check to set rules for the web.

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For Trump, the Beginning of the End Has Begun

National Library of Australia Commons/ Foter.comNational Library of Australia Commons/ Foter.comThis is, from everything I have been able to gather this week, the beginning of the end of Donald Trump.

The New Yorker and Slate, longtime impartial observers of our 45th president, declared the man who "could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters" has been done in by nothing more than the Comey memo.

The memo that no one, including The New York Times, which reported its existence, has seen but is sure to bring about impeachment proceedings.

"A Presidency of ideological meanness and unsurpassing incompetence has moved into another, more recognizable realm," New Yorker editor David Remnick opined gravely. "The usual comparison is with the Watergate era."

And we all know how that turned out.

Why, it was only last week the firing of the author of the phantom memo, former FBI director James Comey, was the beginning of the end of Trump and his administration.

"The White House," a sanguine Frank Rich speculated, "will be outwitted and outmaneuvered at nearly every turn by the events to come. Let's not forget the good news that came out of the Comey firing: It turns out that Trump, who has no idea of what is required to be a competent president sitting on top of the vast federal government, also turns out to have no idea of how to be a competent gangster sitting on top of what increasingly seems to be a somewhat-less-vast Trump-Kushner family criminal enterprise."

Last month, it was the Russians and their possible meddling in the presidential election that marked the beginning of the end and so much more for politicususa.com. Robert Mueller, the new special counsel digging into that Russian relationship, has some pretty important questions to answer.

"The questions will be answered in due time, but the situation could be worse than an illegitimate president," Jason Easley wrote. "It is now possible that Donald Trump is a ticking time bomb that was put in place by Putin to destroy democracy from within.

"The United States of America can't have a literal Manchurian president."

But if this beginning of the end of Donald Trump was followed in order by two discrete beginnings of the end, when, exactly, might the beginning of the end have begun?

To find out, you must go back to June 16, 2015, the day Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president. While current technology makes it nearly impossible to trace to the minute the first declaration of the beginning of Trump's end, it was clear by early July eminent journalists and politicians were warming to the task.

I'd like to thank Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of Think Progress, for doing my legwork for me. Between July and October of 2015 no fewer than 33 people predicted Trump's end had just begun.

"Since the day that Trump's presidential campaign started, pundits from across the country have declared the "beginning of the end" of his run," Legum said. "So far, they've been wrong every time."

Being wrong has deterred very few.

Entering primary season in 2016, Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University was certain Trump had enough of the right stuff to become the Republican nominee, but never president.

"The man remains a spectacularly unpopular presidential candidate," Drezner wrote. "Within a crowded GOP field, Trump's jerk persona and heterodox ramblings clearly draw enough support for him to do well. In a general election, he's such an undisciplined, unmitigated disaster that there's talk of Democrats retaking the U.S. House of Representatives."

In June it was Trump's insensitive comments about the mass shooting in Orlando that were sure to do him in. A month later it was the speech he gave accepting the Republican Party's nomination for president. Not only was Trump soon to be finished but it was the start of the demise of all of conservatism, according to the dispassionate Salon.

Something as simple as an insensitive comment to a mother about her baby in Ashburn, Va. could bring Dana Milbank to the conclusion that "Maybe this is how it ends for Donald Trump: not with a bang but with a child's whimper."

Six weeks before the election, the estimable Arianna Huffington said historians would mark the moment of the beginning of the end with Trump's non-committal answer to a question at a town hall meeting

"There are few things as absolute in damning a candidate as a refusal to acknowledge simple reality — especially a candidate who says he'll be tough with our enemies but refuses to even stand up to his own supporters," Huffington huffed. "Refusing to acknowledge that Obama was born in this country is the equivalent of refusing to say that the earth is round."

And just two weeks before the election, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, in a sort of pre-postmortem, wrote that as things turned out, she knew all along the preamble to Trump's history had been written with his performance in the first presidential debate.

Give it a couple more news cycles and you can be sure someone will author another beginning to Trump's end. Should there actually be an end, premature or otherwise, the line to take credit for the beginning will be endless.

But maybe the lesson with this president, to cadge from Ben Stanley just before the inauguration, is that none of this is the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

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New: How To Impeach the President

There are two ways, basically. And one of involves a transfer of power the vice president when the president is getting a colonscopy. Seriously.

Want to get rid of the president?

There are two ways, basically.

First, find an impeachable offense. According to the Constitution an impeachable offense: treason, bribery, or "Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." What counts for that last part? Nobody knows. Some people say it means bad things only people in high office can do—like misusing public assets, dereliction of duty, or having sex and then lying about it. Others say it's any crime or misdemeanor at all, even if it has nothing to do with a president's position or power. Did you steal a pen from work? Petty theft is a misdemeanor. You should no longer be president.

Once you get an impeachable offense, get a majority of House members to vote in favor of the motion and then go to trial in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. After the highest-rated programming in C-SPAN history, the senators vote. If 67 senators find the president guilty, he's gone.

There is another way, however, without all that messy legal stuff. But it involves the 25th Amendment, which is used to transfer power to the vice president whenever the president is getting a colonscopy. Seriously. It's not pretty.

About 2 minutes. Produced by Austin Bragg.


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The Case for Trump's Impeachment is Over-Determined

Where is divided government when you need it?

As Peter Suderman eloquently noted yesterday, Donald Trump has destroyed (what was left of) the credibility of the president's office. He is aTrumpGage Skidmore via Foter.com natural authoritarian whose first instinct is to stack the administration with mini-authoritarians who are so attracted to his draconian policies that they are willing to overlook his mental afflictions and pledge fealty. He's got his own little axis of evil going with:

  • Jeff Sessions, who wants to double down on America's worst policy disasters of the 20th Century, the War on Drugs and the War on Immigration, helming the Justice Department
  • Kris Kobach, the notorious immigration warrior who was the brains behind such liberty-busting policies as Arizona's "your paper's please" monstrosity, second in command of the Voting Rights Commission that Trump created through executive order to gin up Pravda-style propaganda against vote fraud, an issue that literally every study has shown exists only in the fevered imagination of Republicans
  • Steve Bannon, the head of the fakest of fake news websites Breitbart and the grand-daddy of the alt-right, as a senior advisor.

This is all serious shit that ought to alarm libertarians. But it is not impeachable. However, Trump has done plenty in his first four months in office that is. In fact, I note in my column at The Week, one does not have to be a Democratic partisan to see that the case for impeachment against Trump is over-determined at this stage. Bill Clinton was (wrongly) impeached for far less.

So what's the difference? Trump has his own party occupying Capitol Hill and Clinton had to contend with Republicans. And Republicans can't (and actually shouldn't) ignore the base that digs this president. Had Democrats won Congress in November and we had divided government, it might have been a different story. Trump would have had to shape up (which does not seem possible for this paranoid man-child consumed with a sense of victimhood) or ship out.

Trump is so out of control because Republicans are in control in Congress, and that's a tragedy for this country.

Go here to read the piece.

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Female Student Who Initiated Title IX Witch Hunt Against Laura Kipnis Is Now Suing Her

Author of Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus sued for defamation.

Kipnis lawsuitReason TVLaura Kipnis, the Northwestern University professor who faced down a Title IX investigation after writing an essay about sexual relationships between students and professors, is now being sued for defamation.

Her new book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, discusses at great length the Title IX proceedings against Kipnis's colleague Peter Ludlow, who was accused of sexual harassment and assault by a female graduate student. Kipnis defended Ludlow in an essay for The Chronicle Review, which led the student to file a Title IX complaint against Kipnis as well, on grounds that Kipnis was retaliating against the student. Kipnis was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the university.

But now the book has drawn a complaint of its own—from the same student, "Jane Doe," who accuses Kipnis of falsely representing details of Doe's relationship with Ludlow.

"[Kipnis and publisher HarperCollins] recklessly pursued fame and profit without regard for the harm their actions would cause to Plaintiff, a young and promising graduate student who—rather than being on a mission to end Ludlow's career (as Kipnis suggests)—in fact only very reluctantly came forward to disclose his conduct after she learned of other allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit provides Doe's version of the events: she claims Ludlow singled her out, even before she enrolled at Northwestern, and then aggressively pursued a romantic relationship with her. Doe was reluctant to turn Ludlow down completely since he was an important academic in her area of study, so she gradually grew closer to him. Eventually, after a night of heavy drinking, she woke up in bed with him—a sexual encounter she described as nonconsensual. Eventually, she filed a Title IX complaint against Ludlow after learning of his allegedly nonconsensual sexual relationship with another student.

Kipnis has defended Ludlow, and described the Title IX proceedings against him as "like watching a person be burned at the stake in slow motion." According to her version of events—which is supported by the massive volume of text messages sent between Doe and Ludlow—the relationship was consensual.

"What would it mean to not consent to sending a thousand text messages?" Kipnis writes in the book.

Doe's lawsuit accuses Kipnis of defaming her with actual malice, publicizing private facts about Doe, and inflicting negative emotional stress. Complicating this charge is the fact that Kipnis did not actually use Doe's name in the book—she used a pseudonym, albeit one that resembles Doe's real name, according to the lawsuit.

Before publishing the book, HarperCollins would have subjected it to a rigorous legal review, which makes me doubtful that the lawsuit has much chance of succeeding, unless it's revealed that the publisher was employing Rolling Stone's fact-checker.

But if this is a she-said, she-said—or, perhaps, a she-said, she-said-he-said—it's one in which a whole lot of evidence seems to be on Kipnis's side. The text of the lawsuit, which presents Doe's side in the best light possible, doesn't actually do a very good job of proving her case. For instance, the lawsuit contends that Kipnis's book misrepresents Doe as "litigious." But how is that a misrepresentation? Doe has used both the Title IX process, and a lawsuit, to adjudicate her dispute with Kipnis.

Part of the lawsuit rests on the idea that Title IX proceedings should be closed, and that Kipnis did not have the right to call attention to the Ludlow case (paradoxically, many claim that Title IX actually prohibits discussion of Title IX cases). But it will be difficult to establish that Kipnis was wrong to publish facts, unless Doe can do a better job than this of showing that the facts were actually wrong.

And while Doe claims that Kipnis published her text messages out of context, as KC Johnson notes, the lawsuit fails to specify a single example of this.

"Lawsuit makes Kipnis look even more sympathetic," writes Johnson.

Indeed, there's a sense in which this lawsuit actually proves the central ideas of Kipnis's book—that sexual paranoia pervades the modern university campus, where messy relationships are treated like assault, women are presumed to lack agency when it comes to consent, and tribunals are seen as the solution to every dispute.

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Grand Forks Demands Residents Pay For Sidewalk No One Wants

One resident will have to pay $8,500 to install a municipally mandated walkway.

The Grand Forks, North Dakota, city council has found a novel way to connect its homeowners: demand they install public sidewalks across their lawns entirely at their own expense.

After more than 20 years of pitched resistance the council gave residents on several designated streets in Grand Forks an ultimatum: Put in the sidewalk in yourself, hire a contractor to put it in, or have the city hire a contractor to put it in and pay the city a special assessment.

One way or another people of Grand Forks, you're getting connected.

"There are no other options," Dana Sande, president of the City Council President told WDAZ-TV.

A sidewalkTheMuuj/ FlickrCity code requires sidewalks, but the council has total discretion to waive the requirement if it wants to. As Sande said, there are no other options. "Sidewalks aren't protestable," he said bluntly in the WDAZ interview.

This, as you might imagine, hasn't connected with residents in the way Sande might have hoped. Jared Johnson, who purchased his home on Chestnut St. six years ago, said the city is forcing him to spend $8,500 to pave over a good portion of his lawn.

"It'll be a foot off of our property marker up on the corner then it'll cut across here in the driveway," Johnson said.

Johnson has so far gathered the signatures of more than half of his neighbors on a petition Sande said he and his fellow council members are free to ignore. Sande and the city intend to make liberal use of a special assessment, a charge levied on a property owner for an infrastructure intended to benefit the property.

The broader the supposed benefit of the infrastructure improvement, the less appropriate special assessment becomes.

Fears of the special assessment on Johnson's street in 1995, led to the first protest and a council decision to waive the city code requirement.

In 2008, the city council revisited the sidewalk issue, but after 33 of 35 property owners said no to them at a public hearing—again because of special assessment fears—the council agreed to delay any sidewalk construction until January 2016.

But with that exemption period over—and the City Council controlled by Sande—Chestnut St. homeowners have run out of options to keep their lawns from being dug up, concrete laid and a $100 a month special assessment fee levied.

Johnson told the local TV station he intends to put off plans he had for his property to set aside money for an improvement he wants nothing to do with.

"We were actually considering doing some possible addition on our home and some remodeling," Johnson told WDAZ, "but it [the special assessment] is kind of going to put us in a hard place again."

Sometimes all a city government needs is a little capriciousness to connect a community.

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A.M. Links: Trump Campaign Reportedly 'Had at Least 18 Contacts' With Russia, Fox News Founder Roger Ailes Dead at 77, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell Dead at 52

  • Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comThe Trump presidential campaign reportedly had at least 18 contacts "with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties."
  • Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn reportedly "told President Trump's transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign."
  • Donald Trump tweets: "With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!" (Note: "councel" is not a word.)
  • "In Trump's first 100 days in office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year, the agency said Wednesday."
  • Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, has died at age 77.
  • Chris Cornell, the lead singer for the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, has died at age 52.
  • The International Court of Justice has ordered Pakistan to halt the execution of an alleged Indian spy.

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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Brickbat: Time to Take Up Chewing Tobacco

cigarettefoter.comThe Laguna Beach, California, City Council has voted to ban smoking, vaping and the use of e-cigarettes in all public places, including sidewalks and alleys. Councilman Rob Zur Schmiede described the law as "balanced" because it allows people to continue to smoke in their homes and vehicles.

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Uber On its Way Back to Austin

Texas Legislature decides state law is better than local overreach.

Driven out by the heavy hand of local government, Uber and Lyft will almost certainly be returning to Austin and a handful of other Texas cities because of the lighter hand of the state.

After bouncing back and forth between bills and chambers, the Texas Senate Wednesday passed House Bill 100 superseding local regulations with an annual fee and a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

The key to the bill was the absence of a requirement that drivers for ride-sharing companies be fingerprinted as part of their background checks. The stipulation caused Uber and Lyft to leave several Texas cities, including Austin after a bruising citywide referendum that cost both sides as much as $10 million.

Texas joined 40 other states regulating ride hailing services at some level. Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed in a Twitter message Wednesday night his intention to sign the bill, which would become law June 1.

Trevor Theunissen, spokesman for Uber Texas, said the company intends to return to Austin with Abbott's signature.

"We are especially grateful for the leadership of Rep. Chris Paddie and Sen. Charles Schwertner for their commitment to creating new economic opportunities all Texans can benefit from, Theunissen said. "An environment that allows rideshare companies to operate across the state will help create more earning opportunities and improve mobility options in both big cities and rural areas in Texas."

Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Harrison, endorsed the legislation, offered no timeline for the company's return to Austin.

The bill's passage was by no means a complete victory for free market ride-sharing. The Texas House originally had its choice of bills, each crafted to wrest control of regulation from overreaching cities like Austin.

Only the bill by state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), was written to insure that neither the state nor local governments interfered with the market for ride-sharing service. Huffines' bill never made it out of the Senate.

"While House Bill 100 is an improvement on the status quo, it remains a missed opportunity to foster innovation." Huffines said Wednesday. "Government regulations are a poor substitute for market forces and personal responsibility. I trust millions of Texans to make better decisions than 181 state legislators in Austin."

HB 100, however, is a vast improvement over regulations in cities like Austin, whose City Council stubbornly insisted its fingerprinting requirement was a matter of public safety while providing no proof of it anywhere in the country.

After some early ride-sharing chaos, several smaller companies, including a city-promoted non-profit attempted to fill the breach. The result, among other things, was a complete shutdown of the handpicked ride-sharing company of Austin's internationally known SXSW on its opening weekend.

Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said his bill will bring an end to the chaos.

"Over 40 states in this country have already acknowledged these realities and chose to enact a consistent, predictable system of regulation that licenses TNC operators at the state level," he said. "This bill is about protecting the safety of our constituents, as well as economic liberty."

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Senate Committee Wants Comey's Testimony and Memos on Trump (UPDATE: Special Counsel Appointed)

The research over whether the president attempted to block an FBI investigation kicks in.

TrumpJohn Angelillo/UPI/NewscomEVENING UPDATE: The Justice Department announced this afternoon they have appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into any sort of relationship between the Russian government, President Donald Trump's associates during the election, and any sort of possible effort to manipulate the election.

Mueller will answer to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been asked to investigate in three semi-specific areas:

  • Any links or coordination between the Russian government and anybody associated with Trump's presidential campaign
  • Any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation
  • Any matters within the scope of the authorized jurisdiction of special counsel. This includes any federal crimes that may arise from attempts to interfere with the investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, witness tampering, et cetera.

The second item would seem to cover an investigation of whether Trump attempted to interfere with the investigation or attempted to convince Jim Comey to shut it down. The third item would seem to cover any new attempts to try to meddle with Mueller's investigation.

Trump responded with a statement that there was no collusion between his campaign and any foreign entity and hoped the whole investigation would conclude quickly.

And for those who missed the news from earlier in the day:

In the wake of yesterday afternoon's New York Times report alleging fired former FBI Director James Comey had memos documenting President Donald Trump asking for an end to an investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to get their mitts on them.

Today the senators sent a letter to acting FBI head Andrew McCabe requesting copies of any and all memos that Comey "created memorializing interactions he had with Presidents Trump and Obama," as well as current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and other top Justice Dept. Officials. The letter is signed by committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and crime and terrorism subcommittee chair Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and ranking member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). They've asked for the memos by May 24.

Furthermore, the Senate Intelligence Committee is asking for Comey to appear before the committee in both closed and open sessions to give testimony. (Update: The House Oversight Committee has scheduled a hearing on the matter for May 24 and is asking Comey to testify.)

This should not be taken to assume that impeachment is in the air, but it's simply the first step in what's probably going to be a very long process. Feinstein said the idea of impeachment should remain "off the table," until they know more of whether any of the claims within the Times story are true.

It does very much seem, though, that the various scandals and outrages over Trump's behavior and his administration are crystallizing over the question of whether he attempted to push Comey and the FBI away from investigating former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn on whether he had misled over his ties with Russia and communications with Russian officials. Without attempting to speculate as to whether this is a legitimate issue, it's pretty easy to predict that this is going to be taking up a few news cycles. This morning Jacob Sullum analyzed whether or how the concept of "obstructing justice" would or could come into play here.

Read the letter yourself below. In the meantime, Trump has been quiet on Twitter for once, but in a commencement speech for United States Coast Guard Academy graduates today complained that "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly."

MORE »
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Rand Paul's REINS Act Finally Makes It to Senate Floor

A new high water mark for regulatory reform, but another bill might eclipse Paul's proposal.

Jerry Mennenga/ZUMA Press/NewscomJerry Mennenga/ZUMA Press/NewscomA Senate committee vote on Wednesday is a new high water mark for a long-sought-after regulatory reform proposal. Further progress, though, might be unlikely.

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the REINS Act (the acronym stands for "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny"), sending the bill to the Senate floor for the first time. While the REINS Act has cleared the House several times in recent years—most recently in January—this is the first time the proposal has been approved by a vote of any kind in the Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Ran Paul (R-Kentucky), the REINS Act would require every new regulation that costs more than $100 million to be approved by Congress. As it is now, executive branch agencies can pass those rules unilaterally, and even though those major rules account for only 3 percent of annual regulations, they are the ones that cause the most headaches for individuals and businesses.

Passage of the REINS Act would also require Congress to review all existing regulations that surpass the $100 million threshold. Since there's no clear accounting of how many such rules exist, assessing the landscape would be a necessary step before reforms could be enacted.

"For too long, an ever-growing federal bureaucracy has piled regulations and red tape on the backs of the American people without any approval by Americans' elected representatives," Paul said in a statement Wednesday. "The REINS Act reasserts Congress' legislative authority and would continue the historic progress we have made this year to curb the damaging effects of overreaching regulations."

While the committee vote is a win for the legislation, another bill also approved by the same committee on Wednesday is a more likely vehicle for regulatory reforms this year. Clyde Wayne Crews, the vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank that favors regulatory reform, tells Reason that he doesn't expect a floor vote on Paul's bill this year—though he admits it's difficult to predict anything in Washington.

Still, regulatory reformers have hope in the form of the Regulatory Accountability Act, which would codify several executive branch mandates requiring cost/benefit analyses on new rules. It would also require executive agencies to do more after-the-fact reviews of the consequences of their regulations and would apply the same cost/benefit measures to things that aren't technically regulations but do much of the same thing, like when the FAA issues "guidance" on drone rules, for example.

The Regulatory Accountability Act does not go as far as the REINS Act, but "it helps pave the way for more substantial reforms in the future," says Crews.

What of President Donald Trump's promise to reshape the federal regulatory state—to bring about the "deconstruction of the regulatory state," as White House adviser Steve Bannon promised in March?

"It's not that," says Crews. "The administrative state will be just fine. It won't solve every problem, but it might allow our descendants to do so."

With Congress likely to spend the next several months on hearings concerned with the firing of James Comey and other hearings seeking to find his replacement as director of the FBI, the entire legislative agenda for 2017 has been disrupted. Health care and tax reform will likely be pushed off until the fall, and the federal budget still has to be passed too.

In that environment, getting the REINS Act to the floor of the Senate might be a bigger accomplishment than it initially seems, even if it moves no farther.

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All This Impeachment Talk Is Pure Trump Derangement Syndrome

That man in the White House is vulgar, disrespectful, self-involved, maybe even dangerous. So?

ReasonReasonWell this didn't take long, did it?

Donald Trump, the most-unlikely and least-liked president in the history of the United States, had barely celebrated his first 100 days when calls for his impeachment started flying faster than Anthony Weiner dick pics at a Girl Scout cookout. For the good of democracy, don't you see, the Republicans must not only be kicked to the curb in the 2018 midterms, but the president himself must be thrown into the street, just like he once tried to evict that old lady from her house in Atlantic City!

In the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, whose recent testimony on Hillary Clinton's emails was so flawed and incompetent that his underlings immediately issued a clarification to the Senate Judiciary Committee, virtually every non-Republican #NeverTrumper (plus Sen. John McCain, who has some good reasons to hate Trump) has called for The Donald's head on a platter. And this was all before the tantalizing possibility of a "Comey memo" detailing various attempts by Trump to shut down an investigation of possible ties between former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Russian operatives.

But let's get real: At this point in the game, all the explainers about how impeachment works (the 1990s called, they want their sex scandals back!) and adapting the 25th Amendment's ability to remove the president from decision-making during colonoscopies to the current crisis are evidence-free exercises in ideological masturbation. If we are going to survive not just the Trump years but eventually get around to kick-starting the 21st century, we're going to have become smarter media consumers and demand more from both our politicians and the press. "The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo," explains the Paper of Record, "but one of Mr. Comey's associates read parts of it to a Times reporter." As Reason's Scott Shackford has noted, that's what Joe Biden would call a "big fucking deal" if it turns out to exist and to be accurate. It's also a pretty big if at this point.

But even before Comey's possible "paper trail" documenting President Trump's demands (which may or may not actually rise to the level of impeachable offense) came to light, his enemies were out in force. For god's sake, they wanted him impeached even before he was the Republican nominee.

"An attempt to obstruct justice is an impeachable offense," huffed Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine last week. "And Trump has just openly admitted to such a thing" because "sources close to Comey" said the president-elect asked the FBI director for his "personal loyalty." What unemotional analysis. Remember that a year ago, Sullivan called the possibility of a Trump presidency an "extinction-level threat" to mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Elsewhere in New York, Jonathan Chait, who is as doggedly a Democratic partisan that exists in print, put out an article under the headline, "The Law Can't Stop Trump. Only Impeachment Can." Trump's high crime for Chait was the completely opaque charge that Trump shared classified intel with Russian officials visiting the White House, a charge flatly rebutted by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who said the shared info was "wholly appropriate" and that "the president in no way compromised any sources or methods." For Chait though, and so many more either openly in "the Resistance" or just fellow-traveling, the real problem is that America never anticipated peckerwoods being in the Oval Office. "The system is set up with the unstated presumption that the president is a responsible person who will act in a broadly legitimate, competent fashion," writes Chait. "The system is designed so that the only remedy for a president who cannot faithfully act in the public interest is impeachment."

Forget all that Madisonian mumbo-jumbo about "if men were angels, no government would be necessary." A real-estate developer from Queens with history's worst comb-over is about to bring the Statue of Liberty to her knees like an ISIS captive. Indeed, whether or not James Comey's memos detailing his version of Trump's perfidies against a free-and-independent FBI—you know, that august institution which has one of the very worst records among any law-enforcement agency of abusing powerThe Atlantic's James Fallows has already said that the mere firing of Comey is "worse than Watergate." Think about that for a second. No one disputes the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president and he can fire him whenever he wants. What "Watergate" revealed was not simply Richard Nixon's willingness to lie and cover up criminal activity committed on his behalf, but an entire apparatus to spy on, pervert, and undermine elected government.

Assuming the worst about Trump at this point, his behavior doesn't come close to rising to that level or the actions undertaken by, say, Ronald Reagan during Iran-Contra. If anything, Trump is such an idiot that he is sealing his own fate by forcing congressional Republicans, most of whom don't particularly care for him anyway, to call for bigger and better investigations about Russian influence in the 2016 election. Short-termers such as Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz are already subpoenaing whatever memories James Comey jotted down during his generally mediocre-to-awful tenure as head of the FBI. Comey is the guy, we should recall, who tried to strong-arm Apple into undermining its phone encryption even though it was able to crack the San Bernadino's phone just fine, who gave Hillary Clinton aides immunity and allowed them to destroy their laptops, and recently attacked the First Amendment because it gave Wikileaks space to publish authentic-if-purloined documents. The best thing you can say about Comey is that he's no Louis Freeh or J. Edgar Hoover, which is the textbook case of damning with faint approbation.

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MDMA Moves One Step Closer to Phase 3 Clinical Trial

Successful clinical trials would lead to MDMA's removal from schedule I.

The Food and Drug Administration is likely to approve a phase three clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which met with the agency on May 11. A successful phase three trial--i.e., a randomly controlled, double-blinded study that demonstrates both efficacy and safety in a large patient population--would all but guarantee the drug's eventual removal from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

"At the meeting, all of the FDA's concerns were addressed and no outstanding questions remain," MAPS reported after its sit-down with the FDA earlier this month. "There are no roadblocks to moving forward with Phase 3 as the FDA gave favorable feedback to MAPS and [MAPS Public Benefit Corporation's] responses to FDA questions."

The FDA will share official minutes with MAPS in mid-June, after which the group will re-submit its protocol and Statistical Analysis Plan. It expects both will be approved without objection.

The phase three trial for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD is expected to cost approximately $25 million, of which MAPS has already raised $10 million (none of it from government agencies or pharmaceutical companies.)

There's a lot at stake here. In addition to the outrageous criminal penalties associated with schedule I substances, MDMA has incredible potential as a treatment for a range of central nervous system disorders:

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Trump Say No Politician in History Treated as Poorly As Him, McCain Says White House Crisis 'Watergate Size and Scale,' Venezuelan President Compares Opponents to Nazis: P.M. Links

  • La Morte di Giulio Cesare, Vicenzo CamucciniLa Morte di Giulio Cesare, Vicenzo CamucciniAt the Coast Guard Academy commencement ceremony, President Trump told graduates no politician in history had been treated more unfairly or worse than him. House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz has invited James Comey, the FBI director fired by Trump, to testify next week. Sen. John McCain says the crises in the White House are reaching "Watergate size and scale."
  • Trump is reportedly set to propose an "Arab NATO" when he visits Saudi Arabia later this week.
  • The family of Seth Rich wants a retraction from Fox News, which reported that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer had been in contact with Wikileaks.
  • Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, in whose jails at least 4 people, including a newborn, have died since April, says he was offered and will accept a position at the Department of Homeland Security working with local law enforcement.
  • Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro is the latest to liken his opponents to Nazis, comparing harrassment of government officials to the treatment of Jews by Adolf Hitler and promising to "defeat these 21st-century Nazis."
  • Three soldiers were killed in a car bombing in Mogadishu.
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Sheriff David Clarke, Who Can't Even Keep People Alive in One Jail, Joining Trump’s Department of Homeland Security

What do you get when four people die in your jail? A job in the Trump administration.

ClarkeMOLLY RILEY/UPI/NewscomMilwaukee Sheriff David Clarke—an avowed enemy of the Black Lives Matter movement, the "fake news" media, and basic civil rights for jail inmates—will be joining the Trump administration as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.

While that's no doubt good news for the citizens of Milwaukee—where Clarke stands accused of allowing an inmate to die of thirst after being denied water for 7 days—it's a worrisome development for the country. Clarke, a Trump surrogate who campaigned fiercely for the president, opposes criminal justice reform efforts supported by libertarian-leaning Republican congressmen like Sen. Rand Paul, and is generally a civil libertarian's worst nightmare.

"Reform flies in the face of getting tough on crime," Clarke said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2016.

Consider Clarke's recent tweets, in which he: criticizes the Obama administration for encouraging cops to be more careful about the use of force; claims that Trump's recently difficulties represent "the establishment" trying to "nullify the will of We the People"; promises that Trump will "beat back the swamp people" who are mounting an "all out assault"; retweets someone calling The Washington Post a "serious threat and Enemy of America"; and applauds Attorney General Jeff Sessions for instructing prosecutors to apply mandatory minimum sentencing.

Simply put, Clarke is a crazy person who really doesn't care very much about civil liberties, or perhaps, actively despises them. And he's joining the Department of Homeland Security.

Updated at 5:30 p.m.: Homeland Security denies that the hiring of Clarke has been made official, though The Washington Free Beacon has obtained audio footage of Clarke announcing it.

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How Trump's Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Plan Could Succeed (New at Reason)

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith on the privatization revolution.

"We're at a really interesting moment where public-private partnerships could blossom in a pretty dramatic way," says Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "If we have technologies that are highly refined…we can anticipate a problem and fix it before it occurs."

Goldsmith, author of 2014's The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, was the recipient of the Reason Foundation's 2017 Savas Award for promoting public-private partnerships. (The nonprofit Reason Foundation is also the publisher of Reason.com.) As mayor of Indianapolis from 1992 to 1999, Goldsmith trimmed $100 million from the city budget mainly by requiring departments of the municipal government to compete with private companies.

"The ideas...frankly, were from Reason," states Goldsmith. "[Director of Transportation Policy] Bob Poole spent I don't know how many lunches in Indianapolis when I was running for mayor and after I got elected kind of going through A to Z on how to privatize."

Goldsmith states that one impediment keeping struggling cities from embracing public-private partnerships is a basic understanding of the goal. "[It] isn't to monetize assets," explains Goldsmith. "The goal is efficiency."

At the national level, Goldsmith says public-private partnerships could be key to making President Donald Trump's one trillion dollar infrastructure investment program successful.

"Regardless of how much money it is that Washington ends up [spending]… it can't be done effectively without public-private partnerships," Goldsmith states. "Both for purposes of paying back the money and for purposes of maintaining the asset."

Click below to read more.

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Rand Paul 'Surprised' By Sessions' Support for Harsher Sentencing, Won't Stop Fighting for Reform

Paul, Leahy, and Merkley have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act and think "we could get the president to sign it."

PaulJeff Malet Photography/NewscomKentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a supporter of bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts, said that even though Attorney General Jeff Sessions' sudden lurch rightward on mandatory minimums caught him off guard, nothing is going to stop the most libertarian Republican member of the Senate from trying to pass a lenient sentencing bill.

To that end, he and two of his Democratic colleagues have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow judges to sidestep mandatory minimum requirements if certain extenuating circumstances apply.

Still, Sessions' apparent change of opinion on sentencing is dismaying, said Paul.

"Really, it surprised me how much [Sessions] is going in the opposite direction," Paul told Reason in an interview.

Late last week, Sessions announced new instructions for prosecutors: he wants them to pursue the harshest possible sentence for a given crime. He said that federal attempts to change sentencing recommendations amount to "micromanagement from Washington."

As Reason's Matt Welch reported earlier, this came as a profound disappointment to Paul, who believes mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges and juries from exercising leniency in cases that merit it. On Friday, Paul released a statement criticizing Sessions' new approach, which will "accentuate that injustice," according to Paul.

Paul voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general, in part because he thought he had extracted certain guarantees from the former Alabama senator: that Sessions did not believe the president had the legal authority to authorize drone strikes against American non-combatants on U.S. soil, and also, that Sessions would not attempt to bring back harsh sentencing.

When asked if Paul would attempt to talk to the administration about harsh sentencing and dissuade Sessions from his new course, the senator explained that he believes the best option is the legislative one: Paul and Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT) and Jeff Merkley (OR) have reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would give federal judges more flexibility when it comes to sentencing.

"I don't think the attorney general is that sympathetic," said Paul. "I think the greater likelihood is getting enough momentum… if something made it out of the Senate in a bipartisan way."

Paul maintained that he has participated in conversations that give him confidence the president could support a reform bill like the Justice Safety Valve Act if it passed Congress.

"We could get the president to sign it," he said.

In an op-ed for CNN, Paul wrote:

I urge the attorney general to reconsider his recent action. But even more importantly, I urge my colleagues to consider bipartisan legislation to fix this problem in the law where it should be handled. Congress can end this injustice, and I look forward to leading this fight for justice.

For more about the damage wrought by mandatory minimums, go here.

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Some ADAs Worried About Krasner Philly DA Victory, but Krasner’s Not Worried About Them

The criminal justice establishment doesn't realize how much credibility it's lost over the years.

ReasonReasonBefore his victory in the Democratic primary last night, reform-minded district attorney candidate Larry Krasner had already earned the scorn of several former prosecutors (ADAs). Eleven of them wrote an open letter urging Philadelphians to vote against Krasner, filling their missive with political rhetoric like "alternative facts" and blaming a "European billionaire" (Soros) for Krasner's success.

Krasner, who won with nearly 40 percent of the vote in a 7-way race, said throughout the race that the reforms and focus on civil rights he was campaigning on are the same issues that informed his 30 year career in law.

Now, current prosecutors are coming out to criticize Krasner's candidacy, albeit anonymously. A number of them spoke with Philly.com—most were oblivious to the sentiments about the district attorney's office and the criminal justice system that helped propel Krasner to victory.

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry," one prosecutor said, according to Philly.com. "It's kind of hard to separate the person from what he said during the campaign. I don't think he has much goodwill in the office, given the tenor and tone of what he's been saying."

What has Krasner been saying? That too often the district attorney's office works to appear extremely tough on crime by seeking maximum penalties, that, as his campaign website said and the former ADA's who wrote the letter disputed, the DA's office was "driven by a win-at-any-cost culture that prioritizes high conviction rates and harsh sentencing over more effective approaches that are proven to reduce crime."

"His idea of justice is different than the vast majority of people's in the city," another ADA, described by Philly.com as "higher up in the chain of command," said. "We're in a city ravaged by gun violence and violent crime. When your platform is civil rights and resisting Trump, well, that's not the job of the prosecutor. Our job is to protect the city and keep people safe."

While Krasner has promised not to cooperate with the federal government under Donald Trump (a promise that makes sense given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' priorities so far), reforming the criminal justice sytem, not "resisting Trump," was the central tenet of his campaign.

And as for violent crime in Philadelphia, it is at the lowest level it has been in the city in decades, and that's according to police themselves.

"Everything we've seen from him during the campaign has been about how the DA's Office is unethical and prosecutes terrible cases, and only he can fix it," another anonymous prosecutor told Philly.com. "That's a pretty broad [criticism], and it isn't particularly morale-boosting."

The current district attorney, Seth Williams, was indicted on federal corruption charges in March but intends to serve out his term, which ends in January. And recently, the state's former attorney general, Kathleen Kane, elected in 2012, was also sentenced to up to two years in jail after being convicted of perjury and abuse of office charges.

Philadelphia residents are understandably skeptical about the integrity of their criminal justice system. Complaints from the criminal justice establishment about Krasner may be as effective as establishment complaints were against Trump.

Krasner responded to concerns from prosecutors after his victory last night, telling reporters that he respected everyone's right to an opinion.

"The bottom line is people are entitled to their opinion," Krasner said, "including people who left the district attorney's office a long time ago, people who actually never had any dealings with me at all, people who have pursued careers after leaving the district attorney's office that involve being paid to defend officers accused of corruption, they're entitled to their opinions.

Krasner added: "And so are the many many assistant district attorneys in the office who've personally come up to me to encourage me, to congratulate me, to give me information over the years, and so are the many judges who've come up to me to congratulate me and tell me that I will have their vote."

Krasner will face Republican Beth Grossman, a booster for asset forfeiture and former Democrat who served in the DA's office under Lynne Abraham, the "tough on crime" Democratic DA who served from 1991 to 2010.

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Skin Cells Into Babies: Bioethicists Freakout Again

Will most babies be created using in vitro gametogenesis in 40 years?

EggSpermBabyIVFElla1977DreamstimeElla1977/DreamstimeIn the not too distant future most human babies will be born using eggs and sperm produced from the skin cells of their parents, claims Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely in his book, The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction. Basically, Greely is making informed speculation how in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) will progress over the next few years. And considerable progress has been made.

For example, Japanese researchers have turned skin cells from mice into eggs which they fertilized to produce embryos that were implanted into surrogates that then gave birth to healthy mouse pups. In April, Spanish researchers announced that they had made significant progress toward transforming human skin cells into viable sperm.

Harvard bioethicist Glenn Cohen and his colleagues described how "disruptive reproductive technologies" derived from IVG might evolve in a January article in the journal Science Translational Medicine. They go on to assert that "IVG raises vexing ethical and social policy challenges in need of redress."

First let's consider the biomedical benefits of IVG. One result would be the creation of an unlimited supply of early-stage embryos for research. In the reproductive realm, IVG could produce sperm or eggs for people suffering from various forms of infertilty, e.g., congenital and chemotherapy-induced. In addition, IVG could be used to prevent mitochondrial diseases by creating eggs without those mutations and boost regenerative medicine by creating patient-specific stem cell lines that could be used as transplants to replace diseased tissues and organs.

More speculatively, IVG could be used by same sex couples to produce genetically related children. In addition, since skin cells could be used to produce both sperm and eggs, they might be used to create single-parent children (Women wanting a boy would have to find a donated Y-chromosome.) In addition, there is the possibility that someone lift some cells left behind on a glass or comb by a celebrity and turn them into gametes without their permission. Furthermore, the ability to produce unlimited quantities of gametes and embryos will make it feasible to use genome-editing techniques to correct genetic defects and, perhaps, eventually introduce gene variants that could enhance physical and mental functioning.

Glenn and his colleagues observe that some religious believers object to the creation of embryos outside of human bodies and that doctrinaire anti-market folks oppose the "commodification" of human reproduction. Certainly, opponents are entitled to their opinions, but there is no ethical reason why their beliefs should be permitted to interfere with the biomedical and reproductive choices of those who don't agree with them.

Safety concerns will be paramount before rolling out this technology. With regard to reproduction, one benchmark might be that the likelihood of producing birth defects in babies using IVG is no greater than IVF. As I explained in my Designer Babies and Human Enhancement lecture in Moscow:

Greely believes that in about 40 years half of all American babies will born using what he calls Easy PGD. At that time most people will use gametes produced from their skin cells to create scores of IVF embryos that will each have his or her entire genomes sequenced. Prospective parents will then choose among the embryos based on which combination of genetic traits they would prefer. Presumably they would tend avoid those embryos afflicted with debilitating genetic diseases.

Greely believes that Easy PGD will be extremely cheap, e.g., whole genome testing should fall to around $10 by the beginning of the next decade. Easy PGD would also make it possible for same sex couples to have offspring genetically related to both parents and it might even be possible for a person to have both sperm and eggs created from their skin cells, enabling them to be both mother and father of their child.

Interestingly, biologist Craig Venter, the leader of the group that raced the government to a tie in sequencing the human genome, and now founder of the life extension company Human Longevity, Inc. can sequence a fetal genome and give the mother "a picture of what her future child will look like at 18."

"There is a yuck factor here," said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University in The New York Times today. "It strikes many people as intuitively yucky to have three parents, or to make a baby without starting from an egg and sperm. But then again, it used to be that people thought blood transfusions were yucky, or putting pig valves in human hearts." Just so.

Naturally, Glenn and his colleagues call for a vigorous ethical debate and government regulation of the technologies. I would gently suggest that a front page article in the Times means that a vigorous public debate is already taking place.

With regard to government regulation - there may be a role for it to the extent that safety issues cannot be handled by developers of the technology. However, the government should certainly stay far, far away from any eugenic efforts to tell people when and what sort of children they may have. The last time the U.S. government started meddling with the reproductive decisions of Americans, it didn't turn out well.

For more background, see my article, "Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?"

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Look Who Wants a Safe Space Now: New at Reason

Paul Dineen/flickrPaul Dineen/flickrFree speech makes all kinds of people uncomfortable.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Pity the poor snowflakes—so sensitive they must be shielded from speech that might hurt their tender feelings.

Campus liberals? Nope. We're talking about supposedly serious grown-ups, including some veterans and Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman (R).

Monday evening Wittman met with a group of tea party activists at American Legion Post 90 in conservative Hanover. Eugene Truitt—the post commander and an Air Force veteran—asked Wittman when Congress would act on a flag-desecration bill. Wittman said it could happen soon: "I continue to push the leadership to have it come to the House floor," he said. "I do think it's worthy of debate about what are the limits of freedom of expression under the First Amendment."

Of course he does. Why should he be any different?

Last year Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that anyone who burns the flag should face "consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" More than 213,000 people liked the tweet. Some veterans spoke favorably of the idea. (At other times, other veterans also have vigorously opposed it.)

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Chelsea Manning Showed Us the Consequences of War, and We Threw Her in Prison

Whistleblower who helped make WikiLeaks famous freed after seven years.

Chelsea ManningChelsea ManningPvt. Chelsea Manning was freed from military prison this morning, having served seven years of a 35-year sentence for leaking hundreds of thousands of military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 to WikiLeaks.

She'd probably still be there if President Barack Obama had not extended mercy right before leaving office and commuted her sentence. Obama's 11th hour kindness comes at the end of an administration that viciously went after leakers.

It's been so long since Manning's leaks and so much has happened since then that it's easy to forget what exactly it is she released. Probably the significant leak that most people still might remember was what was known as the "collateral murder" video, which showed American military helicopters firing on a group of civilians in Baghdad. Two of them were reporters for Reuters, and apparently the helicopter pilots mistook their cameras for guns. The reporters (and others) died, and Reuters struggled to get information about what actually happened.

Manning exposed a lot more of the serious consequences of post 9/11 military interventions and even other important issues of government corruption—not just from the United States either. Multiple media outlets (including The New York Times and The Guardian) reported the contents of many of these documents. A lengthy list of information governments were keeping secret (and really shouldn't have been) exposed by Manning can be read through here, compiled by Greg Mitchell, who wrote a book on Manning's case and trial with Kevin Gosztola.

Over at The New York Times, Charlie Savage notes that Manning essentially pioneered what would become a small trend of mass document dump leaks. She's the reason why we know what WikiLeaks is, honestly. And it's worth wondering if we even would have had an Edward Snowden without the precedent Manning's willingness to release this information at great risk to herself. Also an important reminder: Yes she was convicted of several espionage-related crimes, but she was acquitted of charges of "aiding the enemy."

Manning will apparently be keeping a low profile for a little while. She was notably treated terribly in custody, both before she was even convicted and afterward. After her conviction she announced her gender transition and name change from Bradley to Chelsea. She complained that the military wasn't very accommodating of her transition and even attempted suicide. There's obviously going to be a bit of an adjustment period. But she did tweet/Instagram out a picture of her first steps after release.

Here's an interesting reminder from 2013—Ron Paul said Manning was more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Obama was:

"While President Obama was starting and expanding unconstitutional wars overseas, Bradley Manning, whose actions have caused exactly zero deaths, was shining light on the truth behind these wars," the former Republican presidential contender told U.S. News. "It's clear which individual has done more to promote peace."

It's worth paying attention to the importance of whistleblowers as the Justice Department announces new efforts to find and prosecute the leakers within President Donald Trump's administration. Given the extremely frequent occurrences of leaks within the White House and the administration as a whole, one wonders if there will be anybody left there if the DOJ succeeds.

Jeff Sessions' Drug War Escalation Cruel and Stupid: New at Reason

DOJDOJThe attorney general's order to prosecutors to seek maximum sentences in drug cases is wrongheaded.

John Stossel writes:

President Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, ordered federal prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for drug-related crimes.
This is both cruel and stupid.

It's cruel because Session's 5,000 prosecutors must now push for long jail sentences even for people who pose no violent threat and for some who are utterly innocent.

It's stupid because it will cost America a fortune but won't make us safer.

The U.S. already locks up more people than any other country. We have 4 percent of the world's population but more than 20 percent of the world's prisoners.

This happened partly because of bad reporting by people like me. Decades ago, my colleagues and I made people more terrified of crime than they need to be, by covering all the grizzly details of local crimes.

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New York’s Single-Payer Health Care Plan Would Be More Expensive Than New York’s Entire State Government

New York collects about $80 billion in revenue annually, but the health care plan passed Tuesday would cost at least $91 billion every year (and probably more).

Joseph Sohm Visions of America/NewscomJoseph Sohm Visions of America/NewscomThe single-payer health care plan that cleared the lower chamber of New York's state legislature on Tuesday would require massive tax increases to double—or possibly even quadruple—the state's current annual revenue levels.

The state Assembly voted 87-38 on Tuesday night to pass the New York Health Plan, which would abolish private insurance plans in the state and provide all New Yorkers (except those enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare) with health insurance through the state government. The same proposal cleared the state Assembly in 2015 and 2016, but never received a vote from the state Senate.

The bill might get a vote in the state Senate this year—for reasons that I'll get into a little later—but the real hurdle for New York's single-payer health care plan, like similar efforts in other states, is a fiscal one.

New York collected about $71 billion in tax revenue last year. In 2019, when the single-payer plan would be enacted, the state expects to vacuum up about $82 billion. To pay for health care for all New Yorkers, though, the state would need to find another $91 billion annually.

And that's the optimistic view. In reality, the program is likely to cost more—a lot more.

Gerald Friedman, an economist at UMass Amherst and longtime advocate for single-payer health care, estimated in 2015 (when the New York Health Act was first passed by the state Assembly) that implementing single-payer in New York would cost more than every other function of the state government. Even if New Yorkers benefit from an expected reduction of $44 billion in health spending, which Friedman says would be the result of less fraud and less administrative overhead, the tax increases would cancel out those gains.

To pay for the single-payer system, Friedman suggested that New York create a new tax on dividends, interest, and capital gains that would range from 9 percent to 16 percent, depending on how much investment income an individual reports, and a new payroll tax that would similarly range from 9 percent to 16 percent depending on an individual's income.

It was a similar prescription for massive tax hikes that sank Vermont's experiment with single-payer health care in 2014. Funding it would have required an extra $2.5 billion annually, almost double the state's current budget, and would have required an 11.5 percent payroll tax increase and a 9 percent income tax increase. Voters in Colorado rejected a proposed single-payer health care system when they found out how much it would raise their taxes, and efforts to pass a single-payer plan in California (being championed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive) are facing similar financial troubles.

Back in New York, a second analysis of the single-payer health care plan, suggests that Friedman's projections significantly underestimate the cost of single-payer in New York (while overstating the savings).

According to the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, a Texas-based free market think tank, the annual price tag for the New York Health Act could be as high as $226 billion. In other words, it would require quadrupling the current tax burden in New York.

Source: Foundation for Research on Equal OpportunitySource: Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity

"While the New York Health Act would expand coverage to the uninsured in the Empire State, it would do so at a staggering cost that would drive hundreds of thousands of jobs out of the state," wrote Avik Roy, who authored the FREOPP study. "The resulting economic crash would cause far more harm for lower-income New York residents than they would gain from acquiring state government-run health insurance."

The gains would be quite limited, as Roy points out. In 2014, only 8.7 percent of New York's population lacked health insurance. Transitioning to a single-payer system would disrupt coverage for millions of people—potentially forcing them to find new doctors and accept coverage that differs from what they would otherwise choose—in the name of extending coverage to that group of uninsured. Providing health insurance to those who cannot afford it is a noble goal, but there are less disruptive, less expensive ways to pursue that goal, Roy argues.

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Jeff Sessions Is a Glutton for Punishment: New at Reason

The attorney general wants prosecutors to maximize penalties for drug offenders, regardless of the threat they pose.

Erik McGregor/Sipa USA/NewscomErik McGregor/Sipa USA/NewscomAs a senator, Jeff Sessions helped kill bipartisan legislation that would have made federal drug penalties less mindlessly draconian. As attorney general, he seems determined to make those penalties as disproportionate as possible, writes Jacob Sullum. Last week Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious provable charges without regard to culpability or dangerousness.

That policy, announced in a memo last week, reverses a Justice Department initiative that sought to spare low-level, nonviolent drug offenders the five-, 10-, and 20-year minimum sentences that are supposedly aimed at ringleaders and kingpins. The shift, writes Sullum, signals a return to unfair, ineffective drug policies that have been rightly repudiated by politicians across the political spectrum.

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Who's Laughing Now? Larry Krasner, Whose DA Candidacy Philly Police Union President Called 'Hilarious,' Wins Democratic Nomination

He's been standing up to the police union for 30 years, his campaign chair told Reason.

ReasonReasonJohn McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, called civil rights attorney Larry Krasner's candidacy for district attorney "hilarious" in February. But last night Krasner won the Democratic nomination, earning 38 percent of the vote, almost twice as much as his next nearest opponent in a 7-way race that saw a turnout 50 percent higher than 2009, the last time the contest was without an incumbent.

"I hope he has a good night," Krasner told reporters when asked if he had anything to say to McNesby after his primary victory.

Krasner's victory (in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1) and the enthusiasm illustrated in the increased turnout represent a dramatic shift from the kind of "tough on crime" and "law and order" politics that have historically played well in Philadelphia, from Frank Rizzo to Lynne Abraham, the four-term Philly district attorney dubbed the "deadliest DA." for the frequency with which she sought the death penalty, and who left office in 2010.

Abraham's zeal for the death penalty came despite Pennsylvania executing just three people since the re-instatement of capital punishment in 1976, none of whom were prosecuted while she was DA.

The waste of resources ($2 million a year to keep 200 inmates on death row, Krasner told C.J Ciamarella in an April interview) on this kind of symbolic tough on crime hard line was one of the points made during Krasner's campaign.

Asked about whether the campaign was worried about the FOP working to defeat them in November, Mike Lee, the campaign chair, told Reason that "as citizens, we're always concerned how the FOP spends its resources to influence politics, but you can rest assured that Larry's record of standing up against the FOP for the last 30 years will continue through November and the future, were he to be elected."

Krasner's campaign hit on a range of criminal justice reform issues, including ending mass incarceration, discontinuing cash bail, reducing the use of asset forfeiture and preventing seized loot from funding the DA's office.

Krasner worked as a public defender in Philadelphia for six years, including two at the federal public defender's office, before opening a private practice focused on criminal defense and police brutality in 1993. His campaign was supported by a coalition of activists, grassroots groups, the ACLU, and other organizations, some of which he's defended.

It was also backed by Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety, a super PAC funded by Georg Soros, which spent $1.45 million on the campaign, including a massive ad buy in late April that had some of the other candidates respond with negative ads portraying Krasner as unsympathetic to crime victims.

A number of Soros-backed reform-minded district attorney's candidates have won elections in the last year or so (but not, as an earlier version of this post indicated, the prosecutor who defeated Angela Corey in Florida). Krasner dismissed questions about Soros' influence on the election.

"The reality is George Soros wasn't there 30 years ago when I came to the opinion that the death penalty was wrong, when I was representing protesters for exactly the same ideas that are part of my platform," the Democratic nominee told reporters. "No disrespect to Mr. Soros, who I have never met, or to his organization, but the bottom line is I've held these views for a long time and I've shown throughout my career that I mean them," Krasner said, calling himself "humbled, honored, and lucky" to be the Democratic nominee for DA.

"We're going to move things directly towards justice, we're going to move on more of a prevention model, " Krasner told reporters when asked how his district attorney's office might look if he wins the general electionn. "We're going to remember that the district attorney's office does not exist in isolation and that where there is unnecessary incarceration, it necessarily destroys schools, and it destroys the rehabilitation of people of the medical condition of addiction, and it destroys individual families and neighborhoods in ways that are also destructive of the economy and it goes on and it goes on."

Krasner told reporters he believed many police officers agreed with his views.

"I think everybody realizes that the vast majority of police officers in Philadelphia are really good people who got into this job because they want to do justice," Krasner said. "Like me, they hate bad police officers, and they need the backing of law enforcement to make sure that the good police officers are promoted, that the good officers have room to do their jobs, that the good police officers are safe, and that the bad police officers who endanger them and who cause there to be disrespect and a rift between police and the community are out of the way."

Among his supporters, the smart justice campaign director for ACLU said the group reached out door-to-door to 11,000 members in the city, while Lev Hirschhorn of Reclaim Philly told Reason his grassroots group, formed by Bernie Sanders volunteers after the 2016 presidential primary, knocked on 60,000 doors and talked to 12,000 voters, including 25,000 in the last four days.

At the end of his campaign, Krasner responded to the description of him as a kind of "Bernie Sanders" of Philadelphia, telling The Intercept that he did feel like "the Bernie in the race."

"Ain't nobody perfect but neither am I, so I think it's great. They stood for change from the outside," Krasner told The Intercept. "When we look back, we have to admit that the old Vermont Jewish socialist septuagenarian would have won. Because he did represent an outside perspective that got channeled in the worst way towards Donald Trump."

Hirschhorn said his group encouraged Krasner to run after he represented them when they were arrested while protesting. "We knew that this was the guy who should be the next district attorney, and we told him that, and then he ran."

The Reclaim Philly organizer also told Reason he believed Donald Trump had an influence on the election.

"People saw that Jeff Sessions was attorney general and knew that we needed something different in Philadelphia," he said. "So we voted for Larry Krasner."

The current district attorney, Seth Williams, was indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges in March.

I voted for Krasner.

Mormons Blaze Own Scouting Trail: New at Reason

The Mormon Church is making the Boy Scouts of America look mentally woke, Sarah Rose Siskind writes:

The Boy Scouts is an institution more wholesome and more American than a Norman Rockwell painting of a puppy saluting an American flag. And when the Boy Scouts don't give a damn about that puppy's sexual orientation, we know we're making progress as a society.

The Mormon Church, on the other hand, has taken a partisan stance, forgetting the prime objective of Boy Scouts. No, not being prepared, loyal, trustworthy or helpful. The duty of every scout is to wantonly light shit on fire. Gay or straight, transgender or cis, all boy scouts are united in their pyromania.

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How Many Drug Offenders Benefited From the Holder Memo That Sessions Rescinded?

The impact of the new charging policy was not as big as the DOJ implied.

ABAABAFor critics of the war on drugs and supporters of sentencing reform, the policy shift that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last Friday is definitely a change for the worse. But it's not clear exactly how bad the consequences will be, partly because the impact of the policy he reversed, which was aimed at shielding low-level, nonviolent drug offenders from mandatory minimum sentences, is hard to pin down.

Sessions rescinded a 2013 memo in which Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to refrain from specifying the amount of drugs in cases involving nonviolent defendants without leadership roles, significant criminal histories, or significant ties to large-scale drug trafficking organizations. Since mandatory minimums are tied to drug weight, omitting that detail avoids triggering them.

Numbers that the Justice Department cited last year suggest Holder's directive, which was the heart of his Smart on Crime Initiative, had a substantial effect on the percentage of federal drug offenders facing mandatory minimums. According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), the share of federal drug offenders subject to mandatory minimums has fallen steadily since Holder's memo, from 62 percent in fiscal year 2013 to less than 45 percent in fiscal year 2016. If the percentage had remained the same, more than 10,000 additional drug offenders would have fallen into that category during this period.

"The promise of Smart on Crime is showing impressive results," Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said last year, citing the USSC numbers through fiscal year 2015. "Federal prosecutors are consistently using their discretion to focus our federal resources on the most serious cases and to ensure that we reserve harsh mandatory minimum sentence for the most dangerous offenders."

Counterintuitively, however, the defendants whom the USSC describes as "drug offenders receiving mandatory minimums" include drug offenders who did not actually receive mandatory minimums. Many of them were convicted under provisions that call for mandatory minimums yet escaped those penalties because they offered "substantial assistance" or qualified for the statutory "safety valve."

Paul Hofer, a policy analyst at Federal Public and Community Defenders, took those other forms of relief into account in a 2013 estimate of the Holder memo's possible impact. In fiscal year 2012, Hofer found, "6,780 defendants convicted under drug statutes carrying a mandatory minimum penalty appeared to meet the memo's measurable criteria," but "most of these already receive[d] some form of relief from the mandatory minimum penalties." All but 868 of those defendants were already eligible for relief, and judges gave 467 of them sentences longer than the mandatory minimums, which suggests the new rule would not have helped them.

In addition to 401 qualifying defendants otherwise ineligible for relief who "had drug statutory minimums that were higher than the otherwise applicable guideline minimums," Hofer counted 129 who "had statutory minimums lower than the guideline range and received the maximum downward departure or variance possible prior to the memo." He said "these defendants seem likely to have received greater reductions if the limitation on judicial discretion were removed." That's a total of 530 defendants who "would likely have received a lower sentence if the Holder memo had been in effect in FY 2012." Hofer's analysis suggests that the vast majority of drug offenders who seem to have benefited from the 2013 memo—thousands each year—did not actually receive shorter sentences as a result of the policy change.

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Chelsea Manning Freed, Israel Alleged Source of Classified ISIS Info, 3D-Printed Ovaries Are Here: A.M. Links

  • CNNCNNThe New York Times reported Tuesday evening that a memo from newly unemployed FBI Director James Comey claims President Trump asked him, in private, to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. A statement from the White House disputed this:

    While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey.

  • The classified info that Trump may have revealed to visiting Russian officials last week was allegedly provided by Israel. Russian President Vladimir Putin has volunteered to provide U.S. lawmakers with a record of the meeting.
  • Northwestern University scientists say their 3D-printed ovaries are a success in mice.
  • Chelsea Manning was released from military prison this morning, after serving seven years of the 35-year sentence she received for leaking government documents to WikiLeaks. Barack Obama commuted her sentence before leaving office in January.

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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Is Ignorance Trump's Excuse for Obstructing Justice?

Maybe the president doesn't know enough to break the law.

C-SPANC-SPANThe claim that Donald Trump is guilty of obstructing justice suddenly looks more plausible in light of the report that the president asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. But it still would be hard to make that charge stick in federal court (although it would be easier in impeachment proceedings, where Congress decides how much evidence is enough). The chief obstacle might be that Trump is too ignorant to be guilty.

The U.S. Code includes more than 20 provisions dealing with obstruction of justice. The most appropriate one in this context seems to be 18 USC 1505, which makes it a felony to "influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law," either "corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication." The provision covers "any pending proceeding...before any department or agency of the United States," which according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit includes investigations. The appeals court rejected the argument that "§1505 applies only to adjudicatory or rule-making activities, and does not apply to wholly investigatory activity."

On the face of it, Trump's actions might fit the description of this offense. He and his spokesmen have offered shifting, often contradictory, and sometimes plainly phony explanations for his decision to fire Comey last week. But in his May 11 interview with NBC News, Trump admitted that the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in the presidential election, which includes the possible involvement of the Trump campaign, was on his mind. "When I decided to just do it," he said, "I said to myself...this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won." At the same time, Trump insisted that he wants the investigation, which he slammed as a "taxpayer-funded charade" the day before he sacked Comey, to proceed.

Although Trump clearly has the constitutional authority to fire the FBI director, even legal actions can qualify as obstruction if done "corruptly," i.e. "with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another." But proving that Trump specifically intended to impede the FBI investigation when he dismissed Comey would be tricky.

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Brickbat: A Day at the Beach

Truckdave_7 via Foter.com / CC BYIn Florida, a Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation employee ran over three people lying on the beach at Crandon Park with his county truck. A county spokesman described the incident as "unfortunate" but said the driver was only trying to let people know the park was going to close soon.

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Times Claim: Trump Asked Comey to Drop Flynn Investigation

The impeachment cries will grow louder. The White House denies allegations.

James ComeyFired FBI head James Comey may have notes showing that President Donald Trump asked him to drop an investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The New York Times is the source of this latest potential bombshell, but to be very clear, the newspaper doesn't have a copy of this memo. One of Comey's former associates apparently read the contents of the memo to a New York Times reporter. The White House denies the allegation. From the Times:

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: "I agree he is a good guy."

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

"While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn," the statement said. "The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."

This has the potential to be a smoking gun, but we don't know who is actually holding it yet. If the memo is real and is an accurate representation of the conversation between Comey and Trump then we will see calls to impeach grow even louder. There are already mutterings of "obstruction of justice" as a justification. Other media outlets are now verifying the contents of the memo, but an actual copy of it has not been released.

Those are a couple of big "ifs." And in the other direction, if the memo is faked and the Times fell for it, or if there's evidence that Comey misrepresented the conversation, then the metaphorical gun here is being held by one of the biggest media outlets that has been the target of much of the president's anger. If the Times gets this wrong (and the media outlets rushing to catch up with the story as well), a screw-up this huge is going to damage the media's reputation even further, likely for at least the remainder of Trump's administration.

Given that there are sources at the FBI who are very furious about Comey's abrupt firing, Times and other media outlets better have it together on this. If this remotely has the chance of actually taking Trump down, there's no getting around the role that the media is taking on by disclosing this information so early. Indeed, according to this memo, Trump told Comey to consider arresting and imprisoning reporters for publishing classified information.

So stay tuned. It is May sweeps, after all. Are we setting up for a crazy and unexpected series finale, or a hard-core battle fought out through the next year?

Read the Times reporting here.

Update: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweets his concerns:


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Wanted: A High School That Starts Classes at a Reasonable Hour

The educational establishment is so brain-dead the most basic ideas rarely get a hearing.

Screen cap from To Sir, With LoveScreen cap from To Sir, With LoveVia the Facebook page of Kendra Okonski comes a link to the 10-millionth study showing that adolescents need more sleep than regular humans, and that they are given to slow starts in the morning. One of the obvious implications of this is that kids would benefit if high school started later in the morning than it does for 99 percent of students. My own sophomore son gets up around 6:10 in order to show up at a school that gets things rolling at around 7:15 A.M.

In a new set of guidelines, the American Society of Sleep Medicine recommends that kids between the ages of 13 and 18 get eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. Which nobody does, thus compounding the hormone-challenged years with sleep deprivation. Hilarity—and crying jags, fights, depression, bad performance, etc.—ensues.

"Early school start times make it difficult for adolescents to get sufficient sleep on school nights, and chronic sleep loss among teens is associated with a host of problems, including poor school performance, increased depressive symptoms, and motor vehicle accidents," guideline author and former AASM president Dr. Nathaniel Watson said in a news release from the group.

"Starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later gives teens a better opportunity to get the sufficient sleep they need to learn and function at their highest level," he said.

More here.

For me, one of the surest signs of a state-enforced monopoly is that most schools, whether public or private, look the same and act the same. About 90 percent of K-12 students go to public schools and while charters, home schooling, and other forms of more personalized and individualized education are gaining steam and changing the status quo, the simple fact is that most kids go to schools that are not all that different than the ones I went to as a kid in the 1970s, or that my parents went to when they were growing up in the goddamned 1930s! School starts in late August or early September and lets out in late May or early June, with requisite vacations that don't take into account parental schedules or the well-observed loss of learning that takes place every summer. And schools start ridiculously early in the mornings and then let out in the mid-afternoon, for reasons that make no sense at all. Don't buy into the myth that we're prisoners of a agricultural-economy schedule, by the way. Even if that were true (and it ain't), those days have long since passed and even farmers these days don't work by an ag calendar.

I know there are schools out there that have adjusted their schedules to better edumicate teenagers. It really shouldn't be so rare, though, and I can't imagine it would be if school choice were more robust than it is. The Libertarian Moment—increasing comfort with choice and personalization that is abetted through technological and cultural innovation—has remade and improved every aspect of our commercial, professional, and personal lives. We can produce and consume all sorts of cultural expression on schedules of our choosing, we can work from home or an office, we can live with whomever we want and eat an ever-increasing array of food. And yet when it comes to legally mandated school, our kids are still getting up in the dark at a time when they are not just battling darkness but biology. That should change, and yesterday.

Related video: Libertarian Bob Luddy isn't waiting for the public system to change. He's building a chain of low-cost, private schools right now.

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DOJ Investigation of Police Killing of Jordan Edwards Something to Watch

How it plays out could reveal just how far the attorney general can roll back progress made on police accountability.

MISDMISDSo far, Jeff Sessions' tenure as attorney general has been more or less a worst-case scenario. He's escalating the war on drugs, ordering prosecutors to seek maximum penalties again. He's scrapped a forensic science commission aimed at weeding pseudoscience out of the criminal justice system. He's ordered a review of all consent degrees with police departments found to be committing civil rights violations by the Department of Justice (DOJ), one of the few things the Obama administration got right. After a federal judge approved a DOJ-negotiated consent decree over the Sessions-led department's newfound objections, the attorney general warned it could lead to higher crime, echoing the kind of "Ferguson effect" concern pushed by the former FBI director James Comey even during the Obama administration.

Sessions, as one Twitter user rightly noted, seems like one member of the Trump administration with a coherent worldview and the competence to see it through. Unfortunately, that worldview is terrifying. Combined with the Trump administration's fast and loose approach to traditional political-career boundaries in government, Sessions' tenure could have far-reaching effects on the kinds of civil rights cases the DOJ pursues.

So it should be interesting to follow the DOJ's investigation, opened last week, into the police shooting of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old Texas boy who was shot and killed by a police officer who had open fired on a car full of teenagers leaving a party. Police initially claimed the car was being driven "aggressively" but the police chief withdrew that statement after body camera footage showed the car driving away. The police officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and later charged with murder.

Dallas district attorney's office, which is pursing the murder charges against Oliver, confirmed the DOJ investigation to Reuters, but the agency was not able to get a comment from the DOJ. The department hasn't announced the investigation yet either.

Trump made his pro-police law and order sentiments a central part of his campaign, insisting police were treated unfairly in the U.S., and chose as his attorney general, Sessions, a politician who has expressed the same kind of deference and the desire to institutionalize it in a department which, however flawed, is charged in part with the responsibility to protect civil rights from government abuse. Whether or not Sessions and the Trump administration acknowledge it, it remains a duty.

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New ‘Social Justice’ Math Class Teaches Kids That Math Is Evil, Dehumanizing

"Mathematics... have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property."

MathLucélia RibeiroMillions of K-12 students across the country believe that mathematics is a sadistic discipline—(I should know, I was one of them)—but a new "social justice" training module aims to persuade teachers that maybe the kids are on to something.

The course was designed by Teach for America and is offered through EdX, according to Campus Reform. It presupposes that math could be made more interesting for students if it was infused with socially relevant themes. That's not a terrible assumption—maybe young people would like math better if it was being taught in a language they understood. (If Olivia eats 10 pieces of avocado toast every day, how long will it be until she can afford to move out of her parent's house? That sort of thing.)

But Teach for America thinks that language is "social justice," and has designed a course that makes some startling claims about math.

"In western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-western mathematical skills and thinking processes," the training course claims.

It continues:

"Mathematical ethics recognizes that, fo