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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2017 November 15-31

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FCC Head Ajit Pai: Killing Net Neutrality Will Set the Internet Free

Promises that "we're going to see an explosion in the kinds of connectivity and the depth of that connectivity" like never before.

Todd Krainin, ReasonTodd Krainin, ReasonIn an exclusive interview today just hours after announcing his plan to repeal "Net Neutrality" rules governing the actions of Internet-service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has an in-your-face prediction for his critics: "Over the coming years, we're going to see an explosion in the kinds of connectivity and the depth of that connectivity," he said this afternoon. "Ultimately that means that the human capital in the United States that's currently on the shelf—the people who don't have digital opportunity—will become participants in the digital economy."

Pai stressed that regulating the Internet under a Title II framework originally created in the 1930s had led to less investment in infrastructure and a slower rate of innovation. "Since the dawn of the commercial internet, ISPs have been investing as much as they can in networks in order to upgrade their facilities and to compete with each other," he says. "Outside of a recession we've never seen that sort of investment go down year over year. But we did in 2015, after these regulations were adopted." In a Wall Street Journal column published today, Pai says Title II was responsible for a nearly 6 percent decline in broadband network investment as ISPs saw compliance costs rise and the regulatory atmosphere become uncertain. In his interview with Reason, Pai stressed that the real losers under Net Neutrality were people living in rural areas and low-income Americans who were stuck on the bad end of "the digital divide."

Proponents of Net Neutrality maintain that rules that went into effect in 2015 are the only thing standing between rapacious businesses such as Comcast, Verizon (where Pai once worked), and Spectrum and an Internet choking on throttled traffic, expensive "fast lanes," and completely blocked sites that displease whatever corporate entity controls the last mile of fiber into your home or business. Pai says that is bunk and noted that today's proposed changes, which are expected to pass full FCC review in mid-December, return the Internet to the light-touch regulatory regime that governed it from the mid-1990s until 2015.

"It's telling that the first investigations that the prior FCC initiated under these so-called Net Neutrality rules were involving free data offerings," says Pai, pointing toward actions initiated by his predecessor against "zero-rating" services such as T-Mobile's Binge program, which didn't count data used to stream Netflix, Spotify, and a host of other services against a customer's monthly data allowance. "To me it's just absurd to say that the government should stand in the way of consumers who want to get, and companies that want to provide, free data."

The FCC is not completely evacuating its oversight role. ISPs, he says, will need to be completely transparent with customers about all practices related to prioritizing traffic, data caps, and more. Pai believes that market competition for customers will prove far more effective in developing better and cheaper services than regulators deciding what is best for the sector. "In wireless," he says, "there's very intense competition—you have four national carriers and any number of regional carriers competing to provide 4G LTE, and a number of different services. In those marketplaces where there's not as much competition as we'd like to see, to me at least, the solution isn't to preemptively regulate as if it were a monopoly, as if we're dealing with 'Ma Bell,' but to promote more competition."

Pai says that one of the major mistakes of Net Neutrality is its pre-emptive nature. Rather than allowing different practices to develop and then having regulators intervene when problems or harms to customer arise, Net Neutrality is prescriptive and thus likely to serve the interests of existing companies in maintaining a status quo that's good for them. In terms of enforcement of anti-competitive practices, Pai says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is better equipped to deal with problems. "The FTC can take action even in the absence of finding harm, consumer harm," he notes, "so even if consumers aren't harmed, if [FTC regulators] deem a particular business practice, any business practice to be unfair or deceptive, they have authority under Section 5 to take action against it. So that's a pretty powerful tool that they've used even in the last couple of years against telecom providers and others in the internet economy whom they believe are not protecting consumers."

In a wide-ranging conversation (listen below as a Reason Podcast), I asked Pai to lay down specific benchmarks by which consumers might judge whether repealing Net Neutrality rules isn't a mistake. He pointed to factors such as the number of fixed and mobile connections, the average costs and speeds of internet plans, and the volume of capital investment as indicators by which his policy could be held accountable.

He also stressed that the increasing shift from traditional ISPs to mobile wireless will benefit from a looser regulatory framework, including the opening up of spectrum that is either under-utilized, off-limits, or otherwise gathering dust. "We're entering a new era of technology known of 5G and that's going to involve massive amounts of investment in networks and spectrum. And that's the kind of thing that will be a big breakthrough for consumers on the wireless side." Referencing Benedict Evans, a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Pai believes that "mobile is eating the world": "All of these services are migrating to wireless, and particularly in the future, whether we're talking about low-bandwidth applications, like monitoring yogurt trucks that drive across the countryside, or high bandwidth applications like Virtual Reality, a lot of this is going to be taking place over wireless."

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: Okay. Let's get right to it. The big fear that many net neutrality proponents have is that once you let internet service providers and wireless carriers do whatever they want, the internet is going to turn into something worse than cable TV with some content being pushed over others because the parent company owns it, Comcast and Universal, that type of thing. Other content is going to be choked off because they're not paying enough to get best service right to the end, or it's just going to be completely blocked. Why is that wrong?

Ajit Pai: It's wrong for two different reasons. First, it's not the experience we had before these regulations were imposed in 2015. We were not living in some digital dystopia before then when ISPs were blocking lawful content. Secondly, we require under this proposal to require ISPs to be transparent about their business practices. If they're blocking or throttling or doing any of that, they have to disclose it. Secondly, we empower the Federal Trade Commission to take aggressive action based on its consumer protection and competition authorities to take action against cases like that. If it's network operator preferencing its own content, that's something the FTC can look at. If it's other companies blocking other content.

Nick Gillespie: Would that be legal though, under these rules? And should it be legal?

Ajit Pai: No, exactly. We're requiring it to be transparent and additionally to the extent that a company is unlawfully throttling traffic, the FTC can look into that. In fact, the last couple of years the FTC has done that with respect to a few wireless carriers that were allegedly throttling traffic. They said, "This is not a lawful practice. We're going to sanction you for it."

Nick Gillespie: But, would it be an unlawful practice if you get rid of net neutrality? Because there might be, or if a carrier says, "You know what? Yeah, we are going to throttle traffic because we want to privilege certain other services," would that be lawful as long as it's transparent?

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Why Trump Deserves to Lose in Federal Court on Sanctuary Cities

The president’s executive order is unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment and the separation of powers.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comA federal judge has declared President Donald Trump's executive order denying federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities to be unconstitutional. The judge got it right.

In his opinion this week in County of Santa Clara v. Trump, and the related case of City and County of San Francisco v. Trump, Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found the president's order to be in violation of the 10th Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the constitutional separation of powers.

"The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds," Judge Orrick wrote. "Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sanctuary cities are protected by both the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. For starters, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia explained in Printz v. United States (2007), "the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program." Put simply, Trump's executive order flunks the 10th Amendment test that Scalia spelled out in Printz.

Trump's executive order also flunks the test set forth by the Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), which held that the federal government may not threaten to withhold existing funding from a state in an attempt to coerce that state into doing the feds' bidding. Such an effort would be an unconstitutional act of "economic dragooning."

Finally, Trump's executive order flunks the text of the Constitution itself, which, as Judge Orrick points out, "vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President." The limited and enumerated powers of the executive branch are spelled out in Article II; the federal spending power is located in Article I.

Related: Will Liberals Learn to Love the 10th Amendment?

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Trump Defends Roy Moore, Erik Prince Will Testify Before Congress, and Harvard Faces DOJ Probe: P.M. Links

  • Erik PrinceChuck Kennedy/MCT/NewscomTrump commented on allegations against Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, saying "he denies it. He totally denies it," and "we don't need a liberal Democrat in that seat."
  • Former Blackwater head, Erik Prince, will testify before House panel looking into any collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
  • Harvard faces DOJ probe over whether it's admissions policy discriminates against Asians.
  • "Should Al Franken resign?" is the wrong question according to Masha Gessen in the New Yorker.
  • Mark Levin is headed to Fox News.
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Pennsylvania Town Used Confidential Informant and Undercover Cops to Arrest a Man For Selling Bongs

The assistant district attorney is now seeking jail time for the head shop owner.

Water pipes similar to those sold at Piper's Smoke Shop. Credit: Hector Garcia/wikimedia commonsWater pipes similar to those sold at Piper's Smoke Shop. Credit: Hector Garcia/wikimedia commonsLimerick, Pennsylvania must be the safest town in America. That's the only reason I can think of why police there used a confidential informant and undercover police officers to build a case against a head shop owner for selling the kinds of things one normally finds at a head shop.

According to The Mercury News, Piper's Smoke Shop owner Craig Hennesy was convicted this week of "possession with intent to deliver drug paraphernalia and advertisement of drug paraphernalia" after undercover police officers visited his store and observed glass pipes for sale, and a confidential informant purchased a grinder and rolling papers.

Assistant District Attorney Evan Correia, who prosecuted the case, argued that Hennesy had it coming because a police officer warned him before he opened his store that glass pipes were considered drug paraphernalia.

"I'm going to be asking for some sort of jail time," Correia is quoted as saying. "This defendant was warned by the police prior to his opening his store that if he started selling these items that they considered to be drug paraphernalia he would be charged with a crime."

Hennesy's attorney, meanwhile, says that the goods for sale at Piper's Smoke Shop were intended to be used with tobacco, that Hennesy told police as much before opening the store, and that when undercover officers visited the shop, Hennesy referred their attention to a sign featuring the same claim.

At his trial, the state presented pictures of Hennesy's stock and a police officer testified that "[t]hrough my training and experience I know that these glass and metal smoking pipes are commonly used to smoke marijuana. I know that the grinders are commonly used to shred marijuana prior to smoking."

Yet it wasn't Hennesy's customers who were on trial. Regardless of what they might do with his wares, he went out of his way to inform his customers—including several he didn't know to be police officers—under what conditions he could legally sell (and they could legally use) his products.

This is a grotesque argument to make against a retailer, regardless of how much you dislike the culture associated with his products. You can also smoke marijuana out of an apple; would Correia pursue charges against a local orchard owner? How about going after every gas station and corner store that sells flavored cigars, which are popular among weed smokers? And who, exactly, is Correia protecting? He said after the trial that Hennesy's customers were "mainly college kids." College kids are adults. What they do with the glassware they buy is both up to them and on them.

The fact that police used a confidential informant and undercover officers suggests either a misuse of police resources or a lack of more pressing criminal concerns. If it's the former, the people who chose to go after a head shop owner rather than provide more crucial public safety services should be disciplined. If it's the latter, then maybe the Limerick police department should downsize.

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U.S. Ramps Up Drug War in Afghanistan

Using F-22 fighters for the first time

DoDDoDWashington has spent more than $8 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2002, and it has a record-breaking poppy season in 2017 to show for it. Naturally, it plans to double down

The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, announced yesterday that U.S. airstrikes are now targeting drug labs in that country. This is the first time the U.S. has used F-22s, which cost $340 million apiece, in Afghanistan, and it's the first time U.S. forces have used their new power—granted by President Donald Trump in August—to order airstrikes against Taliban revenue streams. (Previously such strikes could be used only to defend U.S. or allied forces or positions.)

Seven drug labs were bombed in this week's campaign. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that there are as many as 500 opium labs across Afghanistan.

Nicholson stressed that the drug war in Afghanistan won't make much of a dent on heroin use here, since only about 4 percent of America's supply of the drug comes from there.

The U.S. has eradicated thousands of hectares of poppy fields over the years, only to see poppy production continue to grow. In this way, the U.S. war on drugs is like the war on drugs writ large: It wastes a lot of money while failing to stem the tide of drugs. A U.N. report this year on poppy production in Afghanistan warned that the rise in production and productivity would lead to lower prices and higher quality opium available on the world markets. A 2013 study saw the same results for anti-drug measures in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.

Targeting opium labs is unlikely to be any more effective than targeting opium fields has been. After all, given the profit margins in the opium trade, rebuilding labs should not be a problem. The U.N. says this year's record crop could lead to increased funding to the terrorist groups that are intimately involved in opium farming. Duh.

In more than 40 years, the U.S. has essentially no success stories in the war on drugs—not domestically and not overseas. It has failed to put a dent in drug use; it has failed to curb supply; it has frequently failed even to drive prices up. Instead, it has precipitated an explosion of new, dangerous drugs for which there would not be a need had other drugs not been prohibited. (The drug war is a major reason crystal meth exists in the first place.)

Meanwhile, policy makers are struggling to find a reason to remain in Afghanistan. On Monday, Nicholson bragged that the U.S. was no longer on a time-based mission (though it's hard to imagine that was ever really true, given the length of the war so far). "The new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan is conditions based not time bound, which means we will eliminate terrorists until the end," he said.

Like the war on drugs, that could go on forever.

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Tax Reform Would Make Getting Trashed Cheaper

The Senate's tax proposal would cut federal excise taxes on beer, wine, and spirits.

Beer!Nejron/Dreamstime

In the Britschgi household, Thanksgiving means a big family meal with copious libations. If Senate Republicans have their way, the libations will be much cheaper.

Amidst its more controversial changes, the Senate's tax reform bill includes a provision slashing taxes and streamlining regulations for the nation's brewers, vintners, and distillers.

"That would have a huge impact on our business," says Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewing Company, a craft brewer in Silver Springs, Maryland. "Any type of alleviation is huge for us."

Currently, the feds put a $7 tax on the first 60,000 barrels a brewery produces. This would be rolled back to $3.50. The bill would also cut the tax rate for a brewer's first six million barrels of beer from $18 to $16.

Lowering the federal excise tax on those first 60,000 barrels would save brewers an estimated $37.5 million per year, according to the Brewers Association.

For small breweries like Denizens—which produces roughly 1,700 barrels a year—that would be substantial and welcome tax relief.

Verratti estimates that halving the federal excise tax would save her business about $6,000 a year, no insignificant sum for a small business. "That's buying kegs, that's buying tanks, that's paying our employees higher wages," she tells Reason.

Distilleries also have stiff tax cuts coming their way.

Right now, makers of the strong stuff pay a federal excise tax of $13.50 on every gallon of distilled spirits. The Senate bill would cut this to $2.70 per gallon for the first 100,000 gallons, and then $13.34 for every subsequent gallon up to 22.1 million gallons.

Winemakers would see some of the rates they pay pruned back as well. Low-alcohol sparkling wines and meads would see their taxes cut by nearly 70 percent, from $3.30 down to $1.07.

The bill also includes some welcome regulatory changes, such as simplified bookkeeping requirement and easier tax-free transportation of booze between breweries and distilleries, a change that would make collaboration on new brews and batches easier.

These changes were initially submitted by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as a stand-alone alcohol reform bill back in January. Proving that nothing brings people together like a stiff drink, their Craft Modernization and Tax Reform Act had attracted 46 co-sponsors by the summer recess. A companion bill in the House chalked up 252 co-sponsors by the same time.

The bill was rolled into the Senate's tax reform legislation earlier this month.

An ideal federal tax code would be one of broad bases and low rates. That would preclude a bizarre web of differing beverage tax rates depending on type, alcohol content, and, in the case of wine, level of carbonization. These do not go away under the Senate tax bill. But as long as libertarian dreams of a flat tax, fair tax, or even no taxes are a far-off fantasy, cheaper booze sounds like a pretty good stopgap measure.

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Ajit Pai: ‘We Are Returning to the Original Classification of the Internet’

In a Fifth Column interview, FCC chair announces the beginning of the end of Title II regulatory classification of Internet companies, frets about the culture of free speech, and calls social-media regulation "a dangerous road to cross."

Good cover. ||| ReasonReasonFederal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai announced this morning that he is submitting a proposal to repeal what he characterized as the "heavy-handed, utility-style regulation" of Internet companies adopted by the Obama administration in 2015.

Colloquially (if misleadingly) known as "net neutrality" (see Reason's special issue on the topic from 2015) the rules, which included classifying Internet companies as "telecommunications services" under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act instead of as "information services" under Title I, were intended by advocates to be a bulwark against private companies discriminating against disfavored service or content providers. In practice, Pai asserted today in a statement, net neutrality "depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation," and amounted to "the federal government...micromanaging the Internet." The measure will be voted on next month.

Pai, appointed to the chairmanship by President Donald Trump after serving as a commissioner since 2012, is a longtime opponent of Net Neutrality, memorably describing it in a February 2015 interview with Nick Gillespie as a "solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist." The commissioner foreshadowed today's move in an April 2017 interview with Gillespie, arguing that the Title II reclassification amounted to "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell." Today's move is already being hailed by free-market advocates and slammed by many in the online activist community.

Pai came on the latest installment of the Fifth Column podcast to explain and debate the announcement with Kmele Foster and myself. You can listen to the whole conversation here:

Partial edited transcript, which includes Pai's views on today's free-speech climate and this month's social-media hearings on Capitol Hill, after the jump:

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Destroy Capitalism to Save the Climate, Argues New York Times Op-Ed

Centrally planning the climate will work about as well as centrally planning economies did.

SystemChangeNewscomAndre Larsson/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomThe New York Times is running an op-ed by Benjamin Y. Fong, essentially reprising progressive simpleton Naomi Klein's 2014 screed, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

In "The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid," the solution to anything Fong dislikes, just like Klein, is the abolition of private property and the imposition of socialism.

Fong argues:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It's capitalism that is at fault.

In my review of Klein's book I explained:

Canonical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its class "contradictions," in which the bourgeoisie profit from the proletariat's labor until we reach a social breaking point. In Klein's progressive update, capitalism will collapse because the pollution produced by its heedless overconsumption will build to an ecological breaking point. "Only mass social movements can save us now," she declares.

Fong, faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University and the author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, similarly observes, "As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it's systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue."

Klein dismisses the possibility that advances in modern science and technology incentivized through free markets can solve whatever problems that man-made climate change may pose as the 21st Century unfolds. Klein sneers that such thinking embodies the attitude that "We will triumph in the end because triumphing is what we do."

Fong likewise asserts that as long as capitalism exists it is vain to expect intelligent people to come up with technical solutions to climate change. "The simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical," he argues. "For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification." As a guide to the glorious post-capitalist climate-stable future, Fong actually recommends, Communism for Kids by social theorist Bini Adamczak.

"Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true?," reads the MIT Press promotional copy. "This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism." The book is accompanied "by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening." You really can't make this stuff up.

It's hard to believe in the 21st century that folks like Fong seem totally unaware of the massive humanitarian, ecological, and economic disasters caused by communism. In contrast, the spread of free markets over the past two centuries causes people to live flourishing lives. In my 2012 article. "Free Markets = Sustainable Development," I point out:

There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected.... By vastly increasing knowledge and pursuing technological progress, past generations met their needs and vastly increased the ability of our generation to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations.

At Scientific American I added:

To truly address climate change, responsible policy makers should select courses of action that move humanity from slow- to high-growth trajectories, especially for the poorest developing countries. This includes honest bureaucracies, the rule of law, free markets, strong property rights and democratic governance. Whatever slows down economic growth will also slow down environmental cleanup and renewal.

To whatever extent future climate change poses a problem for humanity, Fong and Klein get it exactly backward. The solution is more capitalism, not less. They want to centrally plan the world's ecology. History suggests that would work out about as well for humanity and the natural world as centrally-planned economies did.

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Why Does Hawaii Hate American Workers?: New at Reason

Starr EnvironmentalStarr EnvironmentalWith occupational licensing rules that benefit their favored friends, state governments raise barriers to prosperity for millions of Americans, and raise costs for the rest of us.

J.D. Tuccille writes:

In Hawaii, it takes an average of 988 days and $438 in fees to become licensed to perform one of many occupations under the thumbs of state regulators. Given that the average requirement across the United States to enter such fields as painting contractor, landscaper, or manicurist is an already burdensome year of people's lives and $267 in fees, you have to wonder what officials in the Aloha State have against people trying to make a buck.

But Hawaii isn't the only offender—and in some ways it's not the worst, given that it licenses "only" 63 of 102 mostly lower-income occupations examined in a recent report from the Institute for Justice. Louisiana and Washington are both the worst offenders in this sense, imposing licensing requirements on people seeking work in 77 of the jobs examined in the report. Or you could combine the worst of both worlds, like California which licenses 76 occupations at an average of $486 in fees and 827 days in time, or Nevada which requires an average $704 in fees and 861 days for 75 jobs.

Ouch.

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How Congress Keeps Its Sexual Harassment Hush Money Secret

Documents from a $27,000 harassment settlement from Rep. John Conyers' office show how Congress keeps its tax-funded settlements secret.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) // Astrid Riecken/TNS/NewscomRep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) // Astrid Riecken/TNS/NewscomBuzzFeed reported Tuesday night that the office of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) paid $27,000 to settle a previously undisclosed sexual harassment complaint against the lawmaker. The story is notable not just for the allegations against a powerful member of Congress, but for shedding light on the highly opaque process through which the House of Representatives handles such settlements—and keeps them concealed.

Amid the cascade of sexual harassment allegations ignited by The New York Times' exposé of Harvey Weinstein, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told MSNBC earlier this month that the House had paid out millions of dollars over the last decade to settle sexual harassment claims.

Under public pressure, the Office of Compliance, which acts as the House's rough simulacrum of a human resources department, released documents showing it had paid out $17 million since 1997 to settle a variety of workplace claims, including sexual harassment.

The details of those settlements, including their nature, are confidential. Claimants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement to begin the lengthy mediation process.

Last week Speier introduced legislation that would prohibit Congress from requiring nondisclosure agreements in such situations and would require regular reporting of settlements.

"In 1995, Congress created the Office of Congressional Compliance to protect itself from being exposed, and it has been remarkably successful," Speier said in a statement. "Twenty years later, 260 settlements and more than $15 million have permanently silenced victims of all types of workplace discrimination. Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability."

"It's clear that our country is at an inflection point with respect to the behavior of powerful men across our society," says Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that works for government transparency. "Congress itself is neither excluded nor sacrosanct from that reckoning, but continued secrecy will hinder public understanding of how our representatives conduct themselves in office. Ethical standards that include training, oversight, and public disclosure of all past settlements online as open data are in the public interest, and we hope that Congress does so."

It's important to understand just how secretive the current House process for settling harassment claims is.

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You Don’t Have to Listen to the Government to Eat the Foods You Like.

Bad Food Bible author Aaron Carroll on flawed government nutrition guidelines, diet-science nihilism, and why you shouldn’t give in to restrictive food moralism.

Aaron Carroll / Houghton Mifflin HarcourtAaron Carroll / Houghton Mifflin HarcourtMost nutrition advice starts by telling you what not to do. Don't consume salt, eggs, butter, or fish. Don't drink. Avoid red meat.

It's not a fun way to eat. And according to Aaron Carroll, a doctor, columnist, and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine, it's an overly restrictive approach that is also not supported by the evidence.

In his new book, The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully, Carroll explores the history of nutritional advice, from media-driven fad diets to faulty government nutrition guidelines, and explains how to judge solid nutrition science from junk studies. He rounds up the evidence on butter, salt, dairy, gluten, alcohol, red meat, and more, and finds that much of what we think we know about healthy eating is based on shaky research or plain old myth. Ultimately, he argues that we should enjoy food, not fear it.

Over email, Carroll and I discussed the enduring appeal of dietary moralism, government's poor track record with nutrition advice and food policy, what nutrition science says about Thanksgiving, and his professional medical opinion about my ideal diet of potato chips, fried chicken, and whiskey.

Reason: Something I really appreciate about your book is that it's not moralistic or restrictive. Although you do issue some warnings about certain behaviors to avoid, a big part of your message is that it's actually fine to consume most food and beverages. It's a book that repeatedly says, sure, it's okay to eat or drink that, at least in moderation.

That's quite a bit different from a lot of the diet advice we see, which tends to be heavily restrictive and focused on what you should avoid consuming. And it's also different than the moralism found in a lot of hand-me-down health wisdom, which is all about which foods are inherently good and which are inherently bad.

What's the appeal of restrictive diet moralism? Why does it persist—and in many cases spread? It can't be because it's pleasurable to eat that way!

Aaron Carroll: For as long as I can remember, nutritional advice has always been about telling me I'm doing something wrong. It was always telling me I was eating the wrong things. Don't eat cholesterol. Don't eat fat. Don't eat carbs. You have to eat something.

I think there are likely a few reasons for this. One is that some people think that making people feel shame is a motivating factor. Another is that we tend to think that being overweight or obese is somehow your "fault" and that you, therefore, are to "blame". Too often we equate being overweight with a moral failing.

We also shouldn't discount the financial drivers. There's lots of money to be made by making people feel afraid, and it certainly works in food.

Reason: On a related note, I want to thank you for giving your official medical professional's blessing to my all fried chicken, potato chips, and whiskey diet. Oh wait, that's probably not right either. How do you balance the twin extremes of diet restrictionism and permissiveness? It seems like a hard thing for people to think about.

AC: There's always the danger that people will take what I'm saying and translate it into a license to eat anything they want all of the time. That's not what the book says. I would, however, say that the occasional dinner of fried chicken, potato chips, and whiskey isn't going to kill you either.

Too many medical professionals think that people can't hear nuanced messages. I get emails from them all the time saying we have to tell everyone to eat very low salt diets—even if they benefit few people and might be bad for some—because if we don't, then the people who need to restrict salt won't. I think most people are smarter than that. I think they can handle the nuance.

There are some guidelines in the last chapter of the book that would allow for a wide range of eating habits, including many "bad" foods, that would still be considered healthy.

Reason: Another thing I like is the way you handle the "study says" part of the healthy eating tips business. Every chapter debunks myths about food and drink related health risks, many of which have been spread using dubious, or dubiously interpreted, science. It really seems like you are taking aim at the entire diet advice industrial complex. What accounts for the huge amount of bad advice about eating that we see everywhere—from government sources and mainstream publications and even in scientific journals?

AC: Some of it is an overreach of science. Humans are complicated animals. The reasons we eat certain foods, or do anything for that matter, are much more complex than other species. Yet so much nutrition research is predicated on small studies of mice for short periods of time.

It's not just mouse research either. A lot of the human research done is observational, which is fine for looking for potential links between behaviors and outcomes, but isn't so good at figuring out causality. The number of good, long-term randomized controlled trials in nutrition is very, very small.

There are professional conflicts of interest all over the place, too. Many academics have made careers out of promoting things like a "low-fat" diet. When you get used to the grant money and prestige of being part of the consensus, it's very hard to change paths.

There's plenty of blame to go around with respect to the media as well. They trumpet results from flawed studies far too often. They also take each new study, no matter how small, as overturning all previous research without considering it in context. Well researched articles that consider all of the evidence, old and new, are harder to write and not nearly as click-baity.

Reason: Let's talk specifically about the government for a moment.

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Happy Thanksgiving! New at Reason

This Thanksgiving, say thank you to private property.

Happy Thanksgiving! But before you eat that turkey, thank private property! Without it, Thanksgiving would be "Starvation Day."

Here's why...

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Open Season on Lena Dunham: New at Reason

The right and the left is piling on Lena Dunham's apology for questioning the sexual assault allegations of actress Aurora Perrineau. But while Dunham may have brought some of it on herself, Brendan O'Neill says the vitriol is undeserved.

But she also doesn't deserve it because surely no one deserves to be metaphorically strung up like this simply for expressing skepticism about an accusation of criminal activity. This is the problem: in calling out Dunham's double standard on believing accusers, we risk further entrenching the rush to believe accusers, the primacy of accusation over justice. The ritual denunciations of Dunham, and her craven apology in response to them, exacerbates the very notion that any kind of defense of a person accused of sexual assault is a huge no-go zone, something only cretins or rape apologists would do.



In going after Dunham like this, her critics, including many on the right, have worsened the often shrill, unforgiving culture that Dunham and other modern illiberal liberals have helped to bring about. Well done, guys.



That a woman has been put under enormous pressure to retract a statement of conscience, an expression of doubt, a defense of a friend, confirms how terrifying the fallout from the Hollywood sexual-harassment scandal has become. Now, not only are all sorts of sexual behavior, from the fairly innocent to the absolutely terrible, being called out on a daily basis, but so are those who say "Hang on a second…"

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A Holiday Guide … to Surveillance Reform Legislation: New at Reason

Congress must decide by the end of the year how (or if) to protect Americans from unwarranted federal snooping.

SurveillanceMopic / DreamstimeBefore the year's end Congress needs to decide what it's going to do about an important regulation overseeing the authority of federal intelligence agencies to engage in surveillance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments permits the federal government to engage in surveillance of foreign targets that are not on U.S. soil, secretly and without warrants.

Section 702 sunsets at the end of the year if Congress does not act to renew it.

These surveillance authorities have since become a source of controversy because, despite the fact that it this snooping is only supposed to target foreigners outside the United States, it has become increasingly clear to the public that Section 702 surveillance was also drawing in domestic communications from Americans when they were communicating with (or sometimes even about) a foreign target.

Scott Shackford explains the three bills under consideration to reform Section 702. One is excellent (and no wonder, with privacy-protecting Sens. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden involved); one is worse but represents the compromise option; and one is absolutely terrible and would codify a significant violation of Americans' Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches.

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A.M. Links: Trump and Putin to Discuss Syria, Charlie Rose Suspended Over Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Justice Department Seeks to Block AT&T Acquisition of Time Warner

  • Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.com"Russian President Vladimir Putin said he'll hold phone talks with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump on Tuesday as the Kremlin mounts a diplomatic push to resolve the war in Syria following a surprise visit by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad."
  • Charlie Rose has been suspended by CBS News after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct.
  • Another woman has accused Al Franken of sexual misconduct.
  • The Justice Department has filed suit to block AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner.
  • Robert Mugabe is facing impeachment in Zimbabwe.
  • Air China, the state-owned airline, has suspended flights between Beijing and North Korea.

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Pennsylvania Couple Sues Drug Warriors Who Thought Hibiscus Was Marijuana

Oblivious to the big, bright flowers, the cops who raided Edward and Audrey Cramer’s home insisted they were growing pot.

Wikipedia, JZSWikipedia, JZSThe first person who mistook Edward and Audrey Cramer's hibiscus plants for marijuana was Jonathan Yeamans, a Nationwide Insurance agent who had come to their property in Buffalo Township, Pennsylvania, to have a look at the damage caused by a neighbor's fallen tree. According to a lawsuit that the Cramers filed last week, Yeamans also had a look at their garden and snapped some pictures that he shared with the Buffalo Township Police Department, which is why a bunch of rifle-wielding drug warriors invaded the couple's home two days later.

An insurance agent does not necessarily know anything about cannabis (one of several reasons why he probably should refrain from ratting on customers he thinks might be growing it). But police officers charged with enforcing the drug laws really should be able to tell the difference between hibiscus and marijuana. Officer Jeffrey Sneddon, who applied for the warrant that authorized police to search the Cramers' property, claimed to know cannabis when he saw it.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review consulted a botanist, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Bonnie Isaac, who generously allowed that the leaves of some hibiscus varieties "are really similar" to cannabis leaves, such that "with a quick glance it would be hard to tell them apart." But the cops had more than a quick glance, and in any case the flowers should have immediately told them Yeamans' suspicion was wrong. As Isaac noted, "The hibiscus flowers are large and brightly colored, compared to the small nothings that grow on marijuana plants."

The Cramers' complaint, which was filed in Butler County Court and names Nationwide, Yeamans, Buffalo Township, and three of its officers as defendants, says Yeamans "intentionally photographed the flowering hibiscus plants in such a manner as not to reveal that they had flowers on them so that they would appear to resemble marijuana plants." But the cops on the scene had no such excuse. Rather than admit the embarrassing mistake, they proceeded with the charade, treating the Cramers as dangerous drug traffickers.

The lawsuit says the cops arrived around noon on October 7 while Audrey was dressing and refused to let her put on pants or sandals, forcing her to stand outside in handcuffs, underwear, and bare feet. Eventually they put her in the police car, where she was joined by Edward after he returned home and was greeted by guns. Audrey, who is 66, sat in the hot squad car for four and a half hours with her hands cuffed behind her. Edward, who is 69, joining her for the last two hours or so.

The Cramers say they both repeatedly offered to show Sgt. Scott Hess the plants and explain why they were not, in fact, marijuana. Hess, who like Sneddon claimed to be an expert at identifying cannabis, insisted that he knew better. In his report, he described the purported contraband as "tall, green, leafy, suspected marijuana plants."

The Cramers eventually were released without charge. A few weeks later, they received a letter from Nationwide, threatening to revoke their coverage if they kept growing marijuana.

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Brickbat: Helping the Children

School busDie4kids/Wikimedia CommonsA Polk County, Florida, school bus attendant has been charged with child abuse after striking and violently shaking a special needs student. The sheriff's office says video shows Brenda Nelson hitting the girl, who was strapped down by a harness, and grabbing her by the hair and shaking her head back and forth and from side to side. She then pulled something behind the girl, who reached for it, and Nelson slapped her hand twice.

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Trump to Designate North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism, DOJ to Sue Over Proposed AT&T/Time Warner Merger, Della Reese Dead: P.M. Links

  • newthoughtdocumentary/flickrnewthoughtdocumentary/flickrPresident Trump announced he would once again designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • The Department of Justice will reportedly sue to keep AT&T from buying Time Warner.
  • A woman has accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of grabbing her buttocks while posing for a photo at the state fair in 2010.
  • The New York Times suspended White House correspondent Glenn Thrush while investigating claims made against him of sexual misconduct.
  • Apple's diversity chief, Denise Smith, has left her job after an outcry over comments suggesting being a minority or a woman were not the only qualifications for diversity.
  • Argentina is looking for a missing submarine.
  • R&B singer Della Reese has died, aged 86.

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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Tax Reform Fight Shows Why Subsidies Never Die

The House wanted to scale back an expensive wind energy subsidy, but the Senate prefers to preserve the status quo.

Wind turbineCarsten Medom Madsen/DreamstimeChances are fading fast that tax reform will roll back a wasteful energy subsidy.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by the House last week, promised to save about $12.3 billion over the next decade by scaling back a "production tax credit" mostly used by wind energy producers. It was a tepid but welcome change to a program that has far outlived whatever usefulness it might have had. Sadly, even this marginal reform seems to be too much for Senate Republicans, who have left the credit untouched in their version of the bill.

"This is how government grows," says Veronique de Rugy, a researcher at George Mason University's Mercatus Center and a regular Reason columnist. "It concentrates benefits on a few winners, and it spreads the cost on a large number of losers."

In 1992, the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit gave renewable energy producers a 1.5 cent per kilowatt tax break for the first 10 years a facility is online. That tax break was indexed to inflation, and by 2016 it had grown from 1.5 to 2.3 cents.

That might not sound like much, but it costs the federal treasury about $3.4 billion per year in forgone revenue. The vast majority of its benefits go to wind farm producers, who receive up to 80 percent of these tax credits per year and who have eaten up $12.8 billion in production tax credits since 2008.

When it was first created, the program was supposed to expire in 1999, having fulfilled its role in jumpstarting new wind farms. Instead it has been extended 10 times, most recently in 2015. It has even risen from the dead: The credit has expired five times, and each time it was resurrected by wind lobbyists, who insist their industry can't survive without it. They are now howling about the modest rollback the credit would see under the House bill.

"The House tax bill, far from being pro-business, would kill over half of new wind farms planned in the U.S. and undermine one of the country's fastest growing jobs," said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, on Friday.

The House's bill, mind you, wouldn't even end the tax credit, which is currently set to expire in 2019. It would merely bring it back to the original 1.5 cent subsidy and restrict the types of new construction that the credit could be applied to.

The Senate bill drops these provisions. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who initially created the credit—and who wields considerable influence from his position as a senior member of the Senate's Finance and Budget committees—has made it clear that he is set against any change to the program.

De Rugy calls programs like the tax credit "a redistribution of wealth from the non-subsidized to the subsidized." But it is that very redistribution, she adds, that keeps such programs around. The small group of beneficiaries, after all, is highly motivated to keep whatever special exemption it receives. And the much larger set of people who pay? "These unseen victims don't even know or understand the cost of these programs," she says. "Even if they understand, they are not incentivized enough to band and organized enough to fight against the subsidies."

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What Charles Manson Teaches Us About Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and Tax Reform: Podcast

Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman and Matt Welch discuss what's wrong with the GOP tax bill, Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Aquaman.

On this week's Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, and Matt Welch discuss everything that's wrong with the Republican tax reform bill, what it would mean for Obamacare, whether the neverending stream of sexual-assault revelations will turn America into a desert wasteland of fierce Beyoncé woman warriors, gubernatorial candidate and Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O'Neill's announcement that "in the last 50 years" he has been "sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females," and whether Harvey Weinstein is the "Charles Manson" of the 21st century.

Some of the stories referenced in this week's show:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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Is Donald Trump, of All Presidents, Devolving Power Back to the Legislative Branch?

Contrary to his reputation (and Twitter feed), the president has been selectively trimming executive power.

What does Mark Meadows know that Paul Ryan doesn't? ||| C-SPANC-SPANDonald Trump did not campaign for president as the guy who would reverse the mostly unbroken, century-old trend of the executive power assuming more and more power in the face of an increasingly self-marginalizing Congress. If anything, the imperial presidency looked set to increase given Trump's braggadocious personality and cavalier approach to constitutional restraints. "Nobody knows the system better than me," he famously said during his worryingly authoritarian Republican National Convention speech, "which is why I alone can fix it."

You wouldn't know it from viewing policy through the prism of the president's Twitter feed, which is filled with cajoling and insult toward the legislative branch, but Trump has on multiple occasions taken an executive-branch power-grab and kicked the issue back to Congress, where it belongs. As detailed here last month, the president has taken this approach on Iran sanctions, Obamacare subsidies, and the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at minimum. And notably, his one Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was most famous pre-appointment for rejecting the deference that courts have in recent decades given to executive-branch regulatory agencies interpreting the statutory language of legislators.

||| ReasonReasonAre there any other examples? Sure—the 15 regulatory nullifications this year via the Congressional Review Act (14 more than all previous presidents combined) are definitionally power-transfers from the executive to legislative. And certainly, the sharp decreases in the enactment, proposal, and even page-count of regulations amount to the administration declining to exercise as much power as its predecessors.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Chris DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, and Reagan-era administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), points out some of these underappreciated devolutions, and, with qualified enthusiasm, adds another: Regulatory budget-cutting.

In an executive order issued shortly after taking office, he directed that unless a statute requires otherwise, agencies may issue new regulations only by rescinding two or more existing regulations, with net costs held to an annual budget. His budget for fiscal 2017 was zero, which was easily met after agencies issued few new rules and lawmakers rescinded many under the Congressional Review Act. Now, an OMB directive from [OIRA administrator Neomi] Rao in September has set a goal of "net reduction in total incremental regulatory costs" in fiscal 2018. […]

[A] regulatory budget goes much deeper [than mere cost-benefit analysis of regulations]. It aims not only at restraint but at reforming agency culture. Faced with a two-for-one rule and a requirement to reduce annual costs, regulators will be obliged to monitor the effectiveness of all their rules and to make choices. There will be efforts to game the system, as there always are. But the best game in town may be to shift from maximizing rules to maximizing, within the budget constraint, environmental quality, public health, workplace safety and other regulatory goals. And, in all events, there will be fewer rules!

DeMuth adds, archly, "Many readers may be puzzled that our tempestuous president should preside over the principled, calibrated regulatory reform described here." Bottom line?

With some exceptions (such as business as usual on ethanol), and putting aside a few heavy-handed tweets (such as raising the idea of revoking broadcast licenses from purveyors of "fake news"), President Trump has proved to be a full-spectrum deregulator. His administration has been punctilious about the institutional prerogatives of Congress and the courts. Today there is a serious prospect of restoring the constitutional status quo ante and reversing what seemed to be an inexorable regulatory expansion.

You read it here first.

UPDATE: Josh Blackman has a piece on this topic today over at National Review.

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L.A. Is Creating Traffic Jams to Push Commuters to Ride Bikes and Rail: New at Reason

Coming soon to a city near you: the misguided movement to force you out of your car and onto a bike or trolley.

In July of 2017, Los Angeles imposed a "road diet" in the quiet beach community of Playa del Rey, replacing car lanes with bike lanes and parking spaces. The roads were suddenly jammed with traffic. The community was livid.

"Most of Playa Del Rey didn't know this was happening," says John Russo, a local resident and co-founder of Keep L.A. Moving, a community group formed to fight back against the city's unilateral decision to reconfigure the streets. "It really created havoc for us because we have no other roads to take."

Road diets are part of a strategy known as Vision Zero, in which Los Angeles aims to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities by 2025. It's an idea borrowed from Sweden, which in the '90s started experimenting with reconfiguring the roads to encourage more commuters to bike or take mass transit to work.

"In order to achieve zero deaths, public officials have been doing some odd things," says Baruch Feigenbaum, the assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) that publishes this website. Road diets aren't "based on science" or any "empirical findings."

"After the road diets were put in, we actually saw traffic accidents go through the roof," says Russo. "We had an average of 11.6 accidents per year on these roads in Playa Del Rey. We've had 52 accidents in the last four months."

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2013 American Community Survey, about one percent of Los Angeles' commuters bike to work. Sixty-seven percent drive.

"You're taking something from a whole bunch of people just to benefit a few people," says Feigenbaum. "That's not a good cost-benefit analysis."

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Garcia, Alex Manning, Todd Krainin, and Paul Detrick.

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Nebraska Regulators Approve Keystone XL Pipeline

A big defeat for anti-pipeline activists.

KeystoneEricBroderVanDykeDreamstimeEric Broder Van Dyke/DreamstimeThe Nebraska Public Service Commission has voted 3–2 to allow TransCanada to route the Keystone XL pipeline through the Cornhusker State. The 1,200-mile pipeline will transport more than 800,000 barrels of crude daily from Canada's oilsands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The pipeline was approved by the NPSC despite the fact that 5,000 barrels of oil leaked just last week from the older Keystone pipeline in South Dakota. The commissioners did revise the pipeline's path, moving it further east from the Ogallala aquifer that underlies the Sand Hills region of the state.

The pipeline has long been opposed by environmentalists worried about climate change, landowners who don't want the pipeline to cross their property, and Native American tribes concerned that spills could contaminate their water supplies.

After the U.S. State Department kept sending draft environmental assessments of the project back to reviewers until they came up with the right answer, President Barack Obama denied TransCanada a border-crossing permit in 2015 by ruling that the construction the pipeline was not in the national interest. In March, President Donald Trump reversed Obama's decision.

In 2012, climatologist Chip Knappenberger, who works with the libertarian Cato Institute, calculated that keeping crude from Canada's oilsands would reduce the annual increase in global temperatures due to carbon emissions by "one ten thousandths of a degree Celsius of temperature rise from the Canadian tar sands oil delivered by the Keystone XL pipeline each year."

Considering that TransCanada first proposed the pipeline in 2008, when the price of oil was about double what it is today, is the project still an economically viable proposition? In statement released earlier this month, the company claimed that "commercial support for the project" will "be substantially similar to that which existed when we first applied for a Keystone XL pipeline permit."

Despite the commission's approval, construction is not a done deal. Some 90 Nebraska landowners are expected to fight construction of the pipeline through their property in the courts, according to The New York Times. But the legal precedents for preventing the use of eminent domain to obtain rights-of-way for "public use" projects like pipelines is not promising.

Disclosure: Back in 2011, I took a junket to the Canadian oilsands that was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. The institute neither asked for nor had any editorial control over my reporting of that trip. For more background, see my articles "The Man-Made Miracle of Oil from Sand" and "Conflict Oil or Canadian Oil?"

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Is Donald Trump Responsible for the Attack on Rand Paul?

Of course not. But don't tell The New Yorker that.

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) has taken hold at The New Yorker. Hence, this idiotic story, which is advertised in a tweet from the magazine's official feed:

The actual story, written by Jeffrey Frank, is a minor classic of snide political-violence tourism, noting that Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican senator, lives in a gated community in Kentucky and that his attacker, a liberal Democrat, is supposedly a "near-perfect" neighbor, according to a (Republican!) resident. Near-perfect, of course, except for his violent attack on an unsuspecting Paul while he was mowing his lawn. The attack busted the senator's ribs and is, to put it mildly, fucked up. But, says Frank,

Although [Jim] Skaggs was once the chairman of the Warren County Republican Party, he seemed to side with Boucher, whom he called a "near-perfect" neighbor, as opposed to Paul, who, he said, was less willing to go along with the regulations of the homeowners association "because he has a strong belief in property rights."...

The Times reported that Paul grows pumpkins, and composts.

Pumpkins and compost may well be at the root of things. This fall has been unusually warm in Kentucky, and the heat may affect decomposing organic matter in unpleasant, olfactory ways. Paul, who leans toward libertarianism, could well have considered the compost of a private gardener, on private property, to be an inalienable right, and one can sympathize with that view.

Haw haw haw! Frank then dredges up a 1980 novel by Thomas Berger, Neighbors, that was "the basis of an unfunny movie starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd," because, well, you know, it's important to remind New Yorker readers that novels exist and are usually better than the movie version, right?

But the real point, of course, is that somehow Donald Trump is responsible for all that is baffling in this world, including an indefensible attack by a "near-perfect" neighbor who is a Democrat against a libertarianish Republican. Frank again:

Berger told the critic Richard Schickel what he'd learned from Kafka: "That at any moment banality might turn sinister, for existence was not meant to be unfailingly genial." The sinister banality of American life periodically moves into view, with a lot of it these days emanating from Donald J. Trump, the person who was elected President, a year ago.

Yeah, sure. Forget that maybe, just maybe, Boucher is responsible for his own sinister banality, whether his reported "feud" with Rand Paul had more to do with lawn-care issues than political ones. Then again, Boucher did post at Facebook his wish, "May Robert Mueller fry Trump's gonads." But isn't that how all doctors—Boucher is an anesthesiologist—talk?

I think there's a real problem with throwing violence perpetrated by individuals onto broad zeitgeist-y forces, partly because doing so minimizes the responsibility we all have for the choices we make and partly because it's so often wrong (remember how all that "right-wing" hate and paranoia in Dallas drove communist-sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald to plug JFK?). It's a small step from such atrributions to start blaming all sorts of things—books! movies! video games! Trump!—on whatever you happen to find objectionable. Donald Trump does this all the time, blaming immigrants, antifa, you name it for a phantom crime wave, job losses, and more. Do liberals at publications need to join him in such efforts? Of course not, but they're already blaming Trump not only for his misdeeds, but their own as well.

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Twitter Cracking Down on Promoting Violence—With a Major Exception

The government is regularly excluded when we use the word "violence."

TwitterTwitterTwitter has announced new policies on hate speech and violence that will judge users by their behavior off as well as on the social media site. The rules go into effect December 18.

"You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism," the re-written section reads. "You also may not affiliate with organizations that—whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform—use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes."

The rule is apparently aimed at neo-Nazis and other racists. Government-affiliated accounts will presumably remain safe, even though those rewritten rules describe a lot of them as well.

Governments, at their root, promote violence against civilians. Not just autocratic regimes that rely on brute force to maintain their power: all governments. They may try make violence a last resort, but it's always lurking behind the law. So far this year, for example, 874 people have been shot and killed by police. Twitter is highly unlikely to deverify or suspend any accounts operated by the various police departments and police associations that defend these killings.

Limiting its policy to "unlawful" or "unofficial" violence would explicitly exclude government accounts, but too often respectable society insists on excluding government and government actions from the accepted meaning of violence altogether. Our collective blind spot to the fact that governments are organizations that "use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes" has real-life consequences beyond social media policies.

Earlier this month, the first case to be taken up by New York's attorney general of a police officer charged with unlawfully killing someone came to an end—with an acquittal. This should've been an easy case: It involved an off-duty police officer who killed another man during a road rage incident, and who provided a statement on what happened that was contradicted by video evidence. But the jury still let him off. Apparently, uch of the general population defers to the police even in a case like this.

That deference is sustained by this inability to accept that government is violent. So long as state-sponsored violence is sanitized and excluded from the popular conception of violence, it will continue largely unabated.

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Fearing 'Terrorism,' Middle School Cancels D.C. Trip

Just because the world is not perfectly safe does not mean it is terribly dangerous.

A middle school in Ohio has cancelled its 3-day student trip to Washington, D.C. Why? Because of terrorism, say school officials.

What the officials don't mention is their own inability to process the idea that just because the world is not perfectly safe does not mean that it is terribly dangerous. Not to mention their misguided sense that adults can control the entire world in all of its complexity simply by clutching kids closer.

As The Washington Post reports:

School officials told parents of the 320 eighth-graders at the beginning of the year that the trip would be canceled "if at any point we felt that the safety of our students and staff may be compromised," according to the letter sent Nov. 8 by North Ridgeville Academic Center Principal Amy Peck, trip adviser Brittany Cioffoletti and Jim Powell, the school district's superintendent.

"Sadly, we have reached that point," the letter continued. "Since our parent meeting, we have mourned with many across the country at the loss of lives in Las Vegas, Manhattan and Texas. [Recently,] a man was arrested near the White House after he made threats to the lives of our capital's police force. All of these incidents at 'soft targets' and public places have led to our difficult decision to cancel this year's trip . . . As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our main priority, and we feel that the risk of travel to Washington, D.C., is not worth the potential for tragedy."

Is allowing parents to drive their kids to and from school worth the potential for tragedy? Because the number one way that kids die is as car passengers, not as terrorism victims. As one Washington Post commenter asked, "Are there no math teachers at this school?" The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are astronomically low. So are the odds of being able to predict where the next "soft target" will be. What if the administrators cancelled the D.C. trip and said, "Instead, we're going someplace really safe: a small church in Texas"? We cannot predict everything that is going to happen.

It is not prudence at work here; it is the feeling that if anything terrible did happen, it would be the school's fault. Many parents can relate to that feeling. As the Post story continues:

"As a superintendent, every time we send kids on these kind of trips, I worry about it the whole time they're gone," [Powell] said. "It's a lot of responsibility."

But worry and responsibility are two different things. Responsibility is what you take to make the variables under your control safer. As superintendent, you put a stop sign in front of the school. You run some fire drills.

But it is not any human's responsibility—or ability—to predict and avoid the rarest and most random of fates.

Nonetheless, when something bad happens to a child outside the home, it is often framed as negligence—Why did the parents allow it?—though if a child falls down the stairs at home, it is usually framed as an accident.

That's why so many people are so scared to let their kids do anything, from playing outside to visiting D.C. They know that if something should go wrong, however unpredictable it may be, they are likely to be blamed.

Manson's Death One More Milepost in Waning Significance of Baby Boom Generation

Interest in the cult killer will ebb, just like the generation he claimed to represent.

So Charles Manson, the murderous, violent, demented cult killer, is dead at the age of 83. Buried with him is, likely, a cottage industry devoted to "the Family" that included best-selling books such as Helter Skelter, campy admirers of some of Charlie's girls such as filmmaker John Waters, and low-rated, quick-canceled TV police procedurals.

For all but true-crime enthusiasts and the few remaining Beach Boys fans, Manson had long ago effectively ceased to exist. Such it is and always will be: Notorious criminals whose foul acts might help explain their times get tapped out of meaning like a mine being played out of ore. Whatever wider significance one might have possibly gleaned from paying close attention to Manson's racist, paranoid delusions and the reaction of the square and countercultural America stopped mattering long ago. His death, like the pending sale of Rolling Stone and a hagiographic HBO documentary about that same magazine, is just one more sign that the baby boom generation's long turn in the spotlight is drawing to a close.

The 1969 killings that Manson masterminded were brutal, insane, unmotivated, and thus somehow perfectly of their time. Even more so was the trial of Manson, during which the defendant acted as his own attorney and repeatedly threatened the presiding judge before being condemned to death (a sentence ultimately overturned when the California Supreme Court banned executions). For me, the essential take on Manson remains Ed Sanders' The Family (1972), "the first complete, authoritative account of the career of Charles Manson," in the words of rock critic Robert Christgau. A poet and accidental (if short-lived) rock star by trade, Sanders casts Manson's bloody cult as "one of the culminations of America's public romance with the hippies." That Sanders was himself a card-carrying member of the cultural avant-garde makes his dogged shoe-leather reporting and moralizing far more powerful than that of the grandstanding prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi in Helter Skelter. If you pick up an old copy of The Family, make sure to get the first edition, before he was forced to redact information about The Process Church, a once-notorious New Age group originally suspected of the crimes (and which got a slight second wind when another insane killer, David Berkowitz, who committed the Son of Sam murders in the late 1970s, claimed that The Process Church was actually behind his own homicides).

But if you were "into" Manson or are a baby boomer, you probably know all this, right? Being versed in Mansonania is as much a boomer birthright as a deeper-than-average immersion in JFK assassination plots and residual belief in Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods series. These are things that mattered greatly once to many, maybe most, people. They no longer do and will continue to matter less and less as time goes by.

Such it is with Rolling Stone, another cultural artifact of the late '60s, which is being sold by its founder, Jann Wenner, amid slumping interest not just in that particular magazine but in everything that baby boomers once cared about. (The indefensibly wrong 2014 story about a brutal gang rape at University of Virginia certainly helped push along the current sale by demolishing the publication's credibility.) The subject of Sticky Fingers, an immensely entertaining and negative new biography, Wenner is far more representative of leading edge baby boomers than Manson ever could be.

"At one time," [author Joe] Hagan writes, picking up a copy of Rolling Stone was "like holding a piece of hot shrapnel from the cultural explosion of the 1960s while it still glowed with feeling and meaning."

Rolling Stone hasn't been "hot" in years, of course, and picking the exact moment when it lost the pulse of America is a fun parlor game among longtime readers. When it forsook its original newsprint? When it moved to New York? When the neutron bomb of a movie Perfect, based on a Rolling Stone article and featuring Wenner himself, played in empty theaters? When P.J. O'Rourke left after a series of brilliant dispatches collected in Holidays in Hell? (For left-wingers, it might have been when the libertarian O'Rourke first fouled RS's nest.) When it stopped taking music seriously? When it failed to take punk as seriously as, say, Fleetwood Mac? It's a fun, endless game if you're into it—and more boring than fights over whether Jack Paar or Steve Allen was the better Tonight Show host or Signe Anderson was a better Jefferson Airplane vocalist than Grace Slick if you're not.

If most of the above makes little or no sense to you, consider yourself blessedly free of the ephemera of the recent past. "Forget the old ways, brother, all the old hatreds," counseled Matthias, the newscaster-turned-zombie-leader in The Omega Man (1971), a movie every bit as much of its time as Charlie Manson and Jann Wenner ever were. Learn from the past, mostly not to repeat (or in the case of Hollywood, remake) it thoughtlessly and stupidly. The diminishment of the baby boom clears space for younger people to—finally!—start filling roles long blocked, in business, the arts, and politics (2016 was, if nothing else, a battle among geriatric boomers fighting for one last stay in the Oval Office). Make the best of it, please.

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Film Subsides Are Real Losers: New at Reason

Jonathan Kos-Read/flickrJonathan Kos-Read/flickrVirginia has doubled its film subsides in the last 5 years, but a new watchdog report finds they are nearly useless.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

Put a question to any two economists and you will get three answers back. That old joke is not very funny, and it is even less accurate. On some topics economic analysts are, if not unanimous, at least largely in accord.

Example: sports stadiums. As the St. Louis Fed pointed out earlier this year, 86 percent of economists agree that state and local governments "should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises." Study after study has found that giving public money to pro sports teams brings little to no return on the investment—and sometimes actually induces negative effects on the local economy.

Another example: film subsidies, which get close scrutiny in a new report by Virginia's legislative watchdog agency. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission: Virginia's "film tax exemption has little effect on film location decisions, a negligible benefit to the Virginia economy, and provides a negligible return on the state's investment." The film tax credit provides a return of 20 cents on the dollar; direct grants return 30 cents on the dollar.

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Texas Rangers Want Apple to Unlock Mass Shooter's Phone, Charles Manson Dead, More Earthquakes Expected in 2018: A.M. Links

  • HumanArtistVendingMachine/flickrHumanArtistVendingMachine/flickrPresident Trump renewed his calls for a border wall with Mexico after a border patrol agent was shot and killed in Texas.
  • Authorities in Texas have served a search warrant on Apple, looking to have the phone of the Sutherland Springs mass shooter unlocked.
  • The ruling party in Zimbabwe has moved to impeach Robert Mugabe after their Monday deadline for his resignation came and went.
  • Talks to form a three-party coalition government run by Angela Merkel in Germany have collapsed.
  • Accused of sexual harrassment by two transgender colleagues, actor Jeffrey Tambor signaled he would not be returning to Transparent, claiming the on-set atmosphere had been "politicized" in recent weeks.
  • Charles Manson died in prison, aged 83.
  • The slowing of the rotation of the Earth is expected to lead to an uptick in earthquakes, according to scientists.

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Sex, Jobs, and Smoking: What's Legal for Teens in Your State?: New at Reason

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonThe age of majority in the United States is 18—that's when you can join the military, register to vote, and be convicted of crimes as an adult. But in individual states can't resist drawing their own bright lines of law regarding many adult activities, thereby creating awkward juxtapositions of permission and prohibition, writes Eric Boehm. Check out Reason's handy infographic on what's legal for teens to do in your state.

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Brickbat: For Services Rendered

invoiceRyan Mackay / DreamstimeWhen drivers get into an accident in Newburgh Heights, Ohio, the city bills them or their insurance company hundreds of dollars for police services, even if the cops never respond. And the city continues to send them bills until they pay. It's all quite official looking, and there's no indication that there's no legal obligation for them to pay. But there isn't. The city calls it "soft billing." The town has population of just over 2,000, so most of the people billed are not residents.

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Making History Modern: New at Reason

When women bought retro futurism at $4.50 a yard

 Advertisement 1929 Mallinson's & Co.She is an icon of 1920s modernity: an independent woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt, walking with her streamlined Borzoi, the quintessential Art Deco dog. Behind her is a New York City street. But instead of skyscrapers and neon lights, it's lined with old-fashioned chimneyed houses.

This image, with its up-to-the-minute foreground character and historic background tableau, is from a series of 1929 ads promoting the new season's print fabrics from H.R. Mallinson & Co., a major silk-textile manufacturer. In a second ad, the modern woman, hand on hip, twirls her long pearl necklace in a stereotypical flapper gesture. In the background is a monument featuring the Mayflower and a hopeful-looking Pilgrim couple. A third ad shows the woman standing with her hand on a ledge, gazing thoughtfully in a pose that mirrors the bust of Abraham Lincoln looking down at her, writes Virginia Postrel.

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The Cops Were Chasing a Shoplifter. They Ended Up Destroying an Innocent Man's Home: New at Reason

The outcome of this case may bring clarity to the property rights of Americans living in the shadow of police militarization.

Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post, via Getty ImagesKathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post, via Getty ImagesLeo Lech owns a property parcel at 4219 South Alton Street in Greenwood Village, a sleepy suburban enclave tucked between Denver's bustling Tech Center and the scenic reservoir of Cherry Creek State Park. His quarter-acre plot rests near the end of a quaint cul-de-sac that fits every idyllic American stereotype: two-car garages, well-manicured lawns, the stars and stripes waving in front of each home.

While most houses on this block were built in the 1970s, Lech's is brand new: It received a certificate of occupancy in August after two years of construction.

It isn't the first building to have occupied the lot.

Over the course of June 3 and 4, 2015, a devastating police raid systematically destroyed Lech's old home. The cops were responding to a crime that Lech had nothing to do with: A suspected shoplifter had barricaded himself inside the house after a chase, sparking a 19-hour standoff with a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. Unleashing a display of force commonly reserved for the battlefield, the tactical team bombarded the building with high-caliber rifles, chemical agents, flash-bang grenades, remote-controlled robots, armored vehicles, and breaching rams—all to extract a petty thief with a handgun.

When it was over, Lech's house was completely unlivable. The City of Greenwood Village condemned it, forcing Lech to topple the wrecked structure. Making matters worse, the municipality refused to pay fair market value for the destruction.

Now Lech is suing for compensation. The outcome of his case may bring clarity to the property rights of Americans living in the shadow of police militarization, writes Jay Stooksberry.

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Politically Incorrect Punk: New at Reason

When the punk rock thought police ruled the scene

Punk showKenneth SalernoIn September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by a New York City band called Agnostic Front.

"I'm approaching this band with caution," it warned. "Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT."

The author of that review was the publication's founder and editor, Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who once worked at the independent record label SST (run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn), told Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History,"there was an ideological development at Maximum RockNRoll, making everything move towards a Socialist bent."

In effect, Yohannan appointed himself as the grand inquisitor of the punk rock thought police, scouring the scene for any signs of deviation from the lefty script. "If it's just 'good sounding' music you want," he admonished readers in the March 1985 issue, "then punk is no alternative at all. For me, what makes punk different is the intelligence and commitment behind it."

Agnostic Front quickly became one of Yohannan's primary targets. In one 1984 column, he claimed "the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front's racist and nationalist attitudes." He rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band's members and their friends as goose-stepping goons.

This August, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret published a new memoir that tells his side of the story, writes Damon Root.

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A Push Back Against Wasteful Farm Subsidies: New at Reason

Two efforts try to cut back on taxpayer-funded payouts.

dairy farmCC0 Creative CommonsAs Congress ramps up plans to renew the quinquennial Farm Bill next year, two separate efforts in Washington this month called for cuts to wasteful spending enabled by the stinky current Farm Bill. Both efforts—one a bill introduced last week, the other a report released this week—are making waves.

The Farm Bill, in part, is intended to set federal farm policy for the next five years. While taxpayer-funded payments to farmers—farm subsidies—have under past farm bills always been wasteful, subsidies under the most recent Farm Bill grew by billions of dollars.

Last week, Congress sought to rein in a portion of the out-of-control spending it enabled in 2014 when it passed the latest Farm Bill. A new, bi-partisan bill, dubbed the Harvest Price Subsidy Prohibition Act, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.). The bill—a companion was also introduced in the House—would eliminate the Harvest Price Option (HPO), a subsidy (tied to already subsidized crop insurance) that guarantees a higher price for farmers at harvest if their crop's price rose after planting. Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin explains more.

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DEA Raids California Pain Doctor Featured in a Reason TV Video

Search warrant lists probable cause for distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and health care fraud.

The Drug Enforcement Administration raided the office and home of California pain specialist Forest Tennant on Wednesday. The incident may foretell a new chapter in the federal approach to opioid prescriptions in California, which has a more permissive framework than other states.

Tennant, whose West Covina clinic attracts pain patients from across the country who claim they can't get treatment anywhere else, was featured in a Reason TV video in July.

The DEA search warrant lists probable cause for distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and health care fraud. Agents seized Tennant's medical records, computers, medications, and financial records. The warrant also names United Pharmacy, which has supplied many of Tennant's patients with their medications. The DEA quotes consultants who speculate that he may be running a "pill mill," over prescribing pain medications for profit.

The DEA also alleges that Tennant may be taking kickbacks from the pharmaceutical company Insys, which manufactures a fentanyl-based medicine called Subsys. Tennant admits to earning speaking fees from Insys, which recently settled a lawsuit in Massachusetts for similar pay-for-play allegations. But, according to Tennant, his last paid speech for the company was in 2015 and he's prescribed Subys before and since this "short speaking endeavor."

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid considered by some to be deadlier than heroin as a street drug, but in a medical context the FDA approved the use of Subsys as a palliative for cancer patients. The warrant singles out two patients prescribed Subsys by Tennant, one of whom doesn't have cancer. Tennant says he was prescribing the drug off-label, or in a way not explicitly approved by the FDA, which is legal. The FDA, however, recently added additional restrictions on fentanyl medications.

"Is prescribing off-label or accepting speaking fees a crime?" Tennant said in a statement emailed to Reason.

Many opioid overdoses occur from a combination of three drugs: narcotics, benzodiazepines, and the muscle relaxant Soma. A consultant quoted in the warrant says a number of Tennant's patients were prescribed this "holy trinity" and called it a "red flag."

Tennant says his clinic is known for accepting difficult patients turned away by other doctors, and that the DEA failed to throughly examine his treatment methods. Tennant says "in recent years" his clinic "has not had an overdose death," something the warrant does not allege.

The warrant also makes note of Tennant's outspoken public defense of opioids, noting that he helped draft California's Pain Patient Bill of Rights, which states that "opiates can be an accepted treatment for patients in severe chronic intractable pain who have not obtained relief from any other means of treatment" and that "a patient suffering from severe chronic intractable pain has the option to request or reject the use of any or all modalities to relieve his or her pain."

Tennant, who's published scathing critiques of the government's approach to the opioid problem, believes the DEA is failing to recognize the harmful effects persecuting doctors who prescribe opioids is having on legitimate pain patients.

"I take the Hippocratic oath seriously, that my job is to relieve pain and suffering," says Tennant.

Watch Reason's video profile of Tennant:

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Ohio Supreme Court Justice Brags on Facebook About Having Sex With 'Very Attractive Females'; The Nazis Loved Decaf; California Unveils New Pot Regulations: P.M. Links

  • pipelineRaymona Pooler/DreamstimeThe Keystone pipeline leaked, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil near the small South Dakota town of Amherst.
  • White House Legislative Director Marc Short assures the nation that there is no hypocrisy involved in President Donald Trump's condemnation of Al Franken for groping a woman.
  • Add to the long list of Nazi atrocities their advocacy of decaf coffee.
  • Ohio Supreme Court Justice and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neil has decided to get out in front of any sexual assault allegations by saying on Facebook that he has had sex with roughly 50 "very attractive females."
  • California has announced emergency regulations for its recreational marijuana market.
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Gamers Get Mocked in Time Travel Comedy Future Man: New at Reason

Also: penis jokes

'Future Man''Future Man,' HuluSeth Rogen has put together a new comedy for Hulu called Future Man. Would it surprise you at all that it is gleefully and unashamedly sophomoric? Probably not. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look:

Once you know that Future Man is written and produced by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, the team behind the epically uncouth cartoon Sausage Party, further explanation becomes almost totally unnecessary. It's a comic onslaught against video-gamers and their culture of the past 30 years or so, with the occasional random shot at baby boomers so they won't be left out of the fun.

The plot—which sounds like it could have been lifted from a video game if it weren't already stolen, as the script gleefully acknowledges, from the 1984 teensploitaton film The Last Starfighter—centers around that janitor, Josh Futturman (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games).

Nerd to the very bone, Josh lives in his parents' basement and plays video games 18 hours a day. Well, make that a game, singular; he plays the same one, over and over.

But when an apparently dumb strategy unlocks the game's final level, two of its characters pop out with disconcerting news: The cartridge was really a training and recruitment device to locate the man who could save the future from its enemies. Even if his job is sweeping the floor at a herpes pharmaceutical research facility where the activity seems mainly to consist of jamming cotton swab up the urethras of infected lab animals.

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Colorado County Spent $88 a Day Jailing Defendants Who Couldn't Pay $55 Fee

Judge orders an end to the practice after the ACLU sued.

via ACLUvia ACLUJasmine Still, a 26-year-old woman with a newborn, spent 27 days in a Colorado jail after a judge approved her release on her own recognizance.

Why? Still couldn't pay the $55 "pre-trial services fee," charged by El Paso County, so the county spent nearly $2,400 to keep her in jail, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado.

Still, arrested in January after her mother reported her to police over a small bag of meth, pleaded guilty so she wouldn't have to stay in jail any longer, her lawsuit says.

In the last year, nearly 300 people in El Paso County had their jail stays extended because of a failure to pay the pre-trial services fee, according to the ACLU. This week, in response to the ACLU lawsuit, El Paso County's top judge, 4th Judicial District Chief Judge William Bain, ordered the county to release defendants who are granted personal recognizance bonds the day the bond is issued.

El Paso County public information officer Dave Rose defended the program in an interview with local KKTV. "Pretrial Services is a way to get people out of jail who are waiting for trial," Rose said, "and it's a way to lessen the impact on the accused and also reduce the cost of overcrowding and reduce the cost of operating the El Paso County Jail."

The county should not have faced a lawsuit to end the practice of keeping people released on their own recognizance in jail at a rate of $88 a day because they can't pay a one-time $55 fee. Common sense, often absent in the criminal justice system, should dictate that.

Too often, the system's driving force is perpetuating itself. Keeping people in jail for failing to pay a fee that's supposed to facilitate their release makes sense only in that context. It keeps the wheels of justice spinning, which keeps a lot of people employed.

It's hard, too, not to think some prosecutors abuse scenarios like this to extract just the kind of resolution that happened in Still's case—a defendant taking a plea deal to get out of the situation of languishing in jail over an unpaid fee.

Guilty or not, defendants pay when prosecutors choose to target them. It's a system with little incentive, outside of lawsuits like the ACLU's, to become less burdensome for defendants. Were prosecutors forced to pay for their lack of common sense, that would quickly change.

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Here’s What Happens When You Accuse Michael Moynihan of Being in Denial About NAMBLA Because Maybe He’s Gay

A Fifth Column shoutfest with former Daily Caller opinion editor Rob Mariani, who was recently bounced for publishing Milo Yiannopoulos

By every account I've seen, including his own, Robert Mariani got a bum deal from the Daily Caller, the conservative website that relieved Mariani of his opinion-editor duties after he solicited a column from controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos about Kevin Spacey. So we invited the freshly unemployed young man onto The Fifth Column, the weekly podcast (and Sirius XM POTUS program) featuring Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan and myself, to talk about this specific experience, ruminate on the potential pitfalls of skirting up to the acceptability edges of opinion journalism, and reflect on the values (or lack thereof) of publishing Milo and similar outrage-inducers in the first place.

It was on the latter point that things went pear-shaped. Moynihan asked Mariani what useful perspective Yiannopoulos brings, Mariani asserted that it was worthwhile to note that in "the '70s and '80s, there were NAMBLA floats at every single gay-pride parade," Moynihan disputed that assertion with some vigor, and we were off to the races. Here's the whole clip; fireworks are teased near the top, but the exchange really gets started around the 12-minute mark:

Some related reading:

* Me, on trolls vs. velvet-ropers

* Robby Soave, on Milo's "Sad, Aborted Free Speech Week Disaster at Berkeley"

* Elliot Kaufman, in National Review, on how "Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform."

And here's Moynihan doing a Vice News piece on the fading provocateur himself:

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How Trump's (and Obama's) Immigration Crackdowns Screw Over "Real" Americans: Podcast

Law-abiding residents and business owners are among the biggest casualties in the war on illegal immigrants.

As a candidate, President Donald Trump ran on a platform that called for the deportation of 11 million immigrants. In this, he was merely supercharging policies that had been put in place by his predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, all of whom targeted illegals among us in various ways and to varying degrees.

In a powerful, richly reported piece in the latest issue of Reason, Shikha Dalmia traveled to Arizona to investigate how Trump's war on illegal immigration is causing all sorts of collateral damage in the lives of American citizens and businessmen. There is, she argues, no way to surgically remove millions of people—most of whom are law-abiding and productive members of society—without causing incredible pain to those of us who have every legal right to go about our lives without interference from immigration and border agents.

The war on immigration has taken a great toll on unauthorized aliens, its targets. But it is also badly affecting Americans themselves, its intended beneficiaries. Those who think they can escape the crossfire because they are authorized, naturalized, or native-born, with American ancestors going back generations, are simply fooling themselves.

In the newest Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie talks with Dalmia about the unexamined toll of immigration crackdowns on legal residents. From illegal imprisonment to politically motivated audits to invasive internal checkpoints, we all suffer when immigration policies and realities are way out of whack.

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

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First Whole Body Transplant Is 'Imminent'

In the case of "head transplants" - it's better to be the "donor" than the recipient.

CanaveroNewscomAlberto Ramella/Ropi/ZUMA Press/NewscomThe first operation in which the head of a person will be transplanted onto another body is "imminent," according to Italian neuro-surgeon Sergio Canavero. At a press conference in China, Canavero detailed a recent operation in which a team of surgeons practiced by attaching the head of cadaver to the body of another cadaver. The goal was to develop a suite of techniques that enable surgeons to connect blood vessels, nerves, the esophagus and so forth between the head and the body.

In fact, some researchers in China have just published a study in which they detail how they successfully grafted the head of one rat onto the body and head of another rat.

Naturally, some folks are opposed to the procedure. For example, Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons told The Independent, "I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."

Some bioethicists are also worried about Canavero conducting this surgery in China. In USA Today, Assya Pascalev, a bioethicist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. observed, "There are also regulatory concerns. China does not have the same medical standards and requirements that the United States and Europe have." In fact, it is precisely because the medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure that Canavero has chosen China as the country in which he will attempt the first human head transplant. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna. He added, "Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world."

If successful, surgery would raise fascinating questions about how a different body would affect a person's consciousness along with the possible future reproductive issues.

Although most medical experts believe that the head transplant surgery will fail, there is nothing wrong with trying to do it so long as all parties fully consent to the procedure.

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Sacramento Sex Scandal Offers Lessons About Hypocritical California Politics: New at Reason

California State AssemblyCalifornia State AssemblyThere's an ongoing sex scandal in state politics in California.

Steven Greenhut writes:

There are few areas of private life that California's legislators won't at least attempt to meddle in, which makes it that much more infuriating when the Capitol crowd can't get its own house in order. I'm thinking, of course, about the unfolding sexual-harassment scandal, and lawmakers' amazing efforts to basically look the other way.

Nothing to see here, just keep moving on. Maybe, by the time lawmakers get back to work in January, the whole mess will be off the news pages. Then they can go back to doing what they do best—regulating and hectoring the rest of us. But, for now, the rest of us can at least learn some stellar lessons about political hypocrisy.

One key lesson is that a lawmakers' publicly stated positions and posturing have little to do with how they might handle any particular scandal.

The latest evidence of this comes from KPIX-TV in the Bay Area, which reported that Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), "is a vocal supporter of women's rights, so her silence on the matter of Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra's sexual harassment case is surprising." But "this isn't the first time she's been silent when it comes to sexual harassment" and that particular San Fernando Valley Assembly member, according to the news report.

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University of California President Janet Napolitano Offers Weak Apology for Major Misconduct

The former Homeland Security secretary interfered with a state audit of the university's finances.

Janet Napolitano Martin H. Simon - Pool via CNP / MEGA / NewscomAnother day, another scandal for University of California president Janet Napolitano.

A damning investigation of Napolitano's interference with a state audit of the university's finances, released Thursday, found that members of her staff told individual campuses to "not air dirty laundry" to state auditors, and even edited negative survey responses from those campuses to auditors.

"I regret deeply that I did not show better judgment. I made this decision. I made a serious error in judgment. I apologize," Napolitano said in a public apology the University's Board of Regents directed her to give.

The forced mea culpa is a welcome, if insufficient, first step for Napolitano, who presides over a $28 billion public university system, and whose past ethical lapses have been rewarded with a mix of wrist slapping and budget increases for her office.

A state audit in April found that Napolitano kept $175 million in a secret fund used to pay out bonuses and retirement benefits to a small number of university administrators, far in excess to what other similarly ranked state employees received.

Napolitano's office gave out lavish and inappropriate employment perks, including publicly funded limousine rides, theater tickets, and $350 per-night hotel room stays.

These audit revelations surfaced a few months after the University of California voted to raise tuition by 2.5 percent.

This same audit found that Napolitano's office was "screening" the responses from individual campuses to the state auditor. At the time, Napolitano claimed that this was to assist campuses that were confused about how to fill out the surveys.

Thursday's investigation shows that this is not true.

In October of last year, the state auditor, in the course of its investigation of UC's finances, emailed surveys to staff at the university system's ten campuses asking questions about the performance of Napolitano's office. Campus staff were instructed to compete the surveys, and then send them directly back to the state auditor.

Before any of these campuses had the chance to be confused, Napolitano had her chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and the deputy chief, Bernie Jones, instruct them to submit these surveys to her office for review before sending them to the state auditor. The surveys were not a time to "air dirty laundry."

The clear intention was to prevent negative reviews of the Office of the President's performance from getting back to the state auditor, with one campus employee telling investigators that "the pressure couldn't be any more obvious."

Three of UC's ten campuses proactively edited out negative comments in their surveys before sending them to Napolitano's office for review. Another five had their surveys returned with suggestions that they removed negative comments and avoid ranking any service provided by Napolitano's office as "poor."

In one instance, a campus was told to change one of its survey ratings from "dissatisfied" to "satisfied."

When UC Santa Cruz submitted their survey responses directly to the state auditor, Napolitano made a reportedly "furious" call to the Santa Cruz chancellor, demanding that he retract the survey and have it reviewed by Napolitano's office. The chancellor complied, and submitted a second survey to the state auditor with several ratings changed from "poor" and "fair" to "good".

Grossman and Jones resigned several weeks ago over their role in the scandal.

Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and Homeland Security secretary under President Barak Obama, is, for the moment, staying put.

Spokeswoman Dianne Klein said Napolitano has made it clear she takes "full responsibility" for the survey debacle, responsibility that so far consists of saying she's taking full responsibility.

Despite having engaged in some incredibly sleazy uses of public funds and actively interfering with a state audit looking to uncover those sleazy practices, Napolitano has given no indication she will resign. The university's Board of Regents notably declined to remove her from office.

To punctuate it, Napolitano's office got a $127.5 million budget bump this year.

That is a disservice to the students and taxpayers who have been asked to paying increasingly more for a University of California system run without either transparency or competence.

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Dehumanizing Speech on Campus: New at Reason

Robert Spencer—the controversial author and founder of the blog Jihad Watch—spoke this week on the Stanford University campus, despite the open letter issued by acadmics and students contending Spencer's views on Islam are "not debatable" because they are "fundamentally dehumanizing," Samantha Harris writes.

This has quickly become one of the most common, insidious, and dangerously slippery-slope arguments against free speech on college campuses and beyond. Let's set aside for a moment that even most truly "dehumanizing" speech is protected by the First Amendment. (Although Stanford is not a public university, California's Leonard Law applies the protections of the First Amendment to non-sectarian private schools.) The reality on campus is that any debate over any controversial issue will, for proponents of this viewpoint, unjustly demean the value of someone's identity.

Consider students at the University of Florida who earlier this week vandalized promotional materials for an upcoming pro-life event on campus put on by the university's Young Americans for Freedom. In a Facebook message bragging about the vandalism, one student wrote: "just poured water on your lovely creations that are an insult to my entire major and life experiences!"

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Ban on Abortion Because of Down Syndrome Clears Ohio Legislature

A amendment from Democrats says no state money can go to defending the law in court.

Sen. Frank LaRose/FacebookSen. Frank LaRose/FacebookBoth houses of the Ohio General Assembly have approved making it illegal for women to get abortions because a fetus is found to have Down Syndrome. If the law, as expected, is approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ohio will become the third state to do so.

"Do we want in the state of Ohio to have people making a decision that someone is less valuable because of a chromosomal disorder that they have," state Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Hudson), who recently lost his bid to become Ohio secretary of state, asked during an explanation of his sponsorship of the senate measure for WOSU radio.

Laws like the one LaRose championed are largely symbolic measures (like state bans on sex-selective abortion). Women aren't required to provide a reason to terminate a pregnancy and doctors aren't required to test for Down Syndrome, or anything else, before performing an abortion.

Choosing to abort fetuses found to have genetic abnormalities does not, despite LaRose's grim takeaway, mean that people place less value on the lives of people with these conditions. Many potential parents know they don't have the financial, emotional, or other resources required to raise a special-needs child. And without people lining up to adopt or otherwise take care of these children, that's what we're asking prospective parents of fetuses with Down Syndrome to do.

It's admirable that many families do choose to do it (and of course for many people, religious or moral beliefs mean there's no other option for them). But it's not the state's place to impose this choice on pregnant women and their families. Forcing it on people does not seem likely to produce healthy outcomes or situations in the best interest of the children involved.

Three Ohio Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues in voting against the Down Syndrome abortion ban. Republican Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) told WOSU that he thinks the bill is constitutionally questionable and will also have unintended consequences.

"If we're going to introduce law that says the patient and doctor's conversation with each other could lead to some liability, I think what we're going to see is reduced conversation," Dolan said.

Democrats added two amendments included in the Senate bill: one saying that no public money would go to defending the ban it court should it be challenged and one saying women should not have to say why they are getting an abortion. "It's ironic," said Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus), "that those who claim they believe in limited government are once again choosing to insert themselves in a relationship that is sacred between that practitioner and their patient."

Disability advocates have had mixed reactions to the bill. Some are opposed because singling out Down Syndrome, but allowing abortions motivated by other genetic conditions or fetal abnormalities, suggests the lives of people with those conditions are less valuable.

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Chicago's Chronic Police Corruption Leads to Its First 'Mass Exoneration'

Fifteen men allegedly framed by a corrupt sergeant have convictions overturned.

Sgt. Ronald WattsRonald Watts, via Phil Velasquez/TNS/NewscomGuess which city's police department is so corrupt that prosecutors this week performed what they're calling the county's first "mass exoneration" of men framed for drug crimes?

It's Chicago, of course. Cook County prosecutors have just tossed out the convictions of 15 men framed by a pack of police led by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts was accused of running a drug and protection racket with his fellow officers and was eventually convicted and sent to prison for taking money from a drug courier who was actually an undercover FBI officer.

There may be more to come. According to defense attorneys with the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, Watts was involved in nearly 500 convictions, all of which are now considered suspect.

As for the rest of Watts' crew, Chicago Police announced Thursday night that seven other police officers have been put on desk duty while their behavior is investigated. Asked why they're still on the force, a city official said they hadn't been convicted of a crime. Via the Chicago Tribune:

Asked earlier Thursday why several officers tied to Watts' corrupt crew were still on the force, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson noted none had been convicted of a crime — unlike Watts.

"They have due process and rights just like any citizen in this country," he told reporters after his speech to the City Club of Chicago. "… But we just can't arbitrarily take the job away from people."

Apparently, it was even a struggle to get the police to take them off the street during the investigation. Earlier Thursday, the city was adopting a "wait and see" attitude, but they had changed their mind by the evening.

In the private sector, employers don't have to wait for somebody to be convicted of a crime to cut ties with them. It's not "arbitrarily" taking a job away to fire a police officer who is deemed to be dangerous or incompetent or corrupt, even if he or she has not been convicted of an actual crime.

The Tribune notes that the exonerations will now allow the 15 men to file wrongful conviction lawsuits against the city. Chicago has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for police misconduct. Two police officers who were blackballed while attempting to expose Watts' misconduct themselves earned a $2 million settlement in a lawsuit.

Chicago has a serious police misconduct problem. Chicago also has a serious budget crisis that they're trying to tax and fine their way out of (and failing). It's not "arbitrary" to dump out bad cops that are costing the city millions due to their bad behavior. It, in fact, may be necessary to keep the city solvent.

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Finally Fake Meat that Tastes Deliciously Like the Real Thing

Tasty Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, uses 74 percent less water, and emits 87 percent less greenhouse gas.

ImpossibleBurgerBaileyRonald BaileyI am an omnivore with strong carnivore tendencies. I grew up on a farm where my family slaughtered and butchered our own cows, pigs, chickens, goats, turkeys, lambs, and geese. We also ate an occasional squirrel, groundhog, opposum, and mud turtle. My father's rule with regard to butchering beef was cut everything that you can into steaks and make the rest into hamburger.

As a result of my upbringing, I am picky about the beef I eat. So I was a bit skeptical when two out-of-town science reporter acquaintances suggested we get together and eat some Impossible Burgers. I am now won over—Impossible Burgers will delight most carnivores.

Emma Marris (author of the superb Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World) and Charles C. Mann (author of the excellent 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus) and I trooped over yesterday to the Founders and Distillers restaurant, one of four dining establishments offering Impossible Burgers in Washington, D.C.

All three of us opted for the F&D All American—a double patty burger garnished with cheddar cheese, pickled relish, "comeback" sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion. The Impossible Burger costs a dollar more than the beef version does.

The burgers arrived and upon close inspection there were no evident differences in the appearance of the patties from a regular beef burger. Of course, the real test was in the taste. We bit in and looked at each other with some surprise. The burgers tasted really good. They have the texture and mouth feel of a regular burger. There were even some delightful, off-the-grill crunchy charred bits scattered through the patties. Emma quipped that they tasted like the kind of burgers you'd get at a high school fundraising barbecue.

MannMarriBaileyRonald Bailey

Unless you concentrated really hard, you'd never know that the burgers are made entirely of ingredients derived from plants.

Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up, manufactures the burgers chiefly from textured wheat protein, potato protein, coconut oil, and leghemoglobin, the key ingredient. Leghemoglobin is an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every single plant and animal. It is the abundance of this heme in animal muscles that gives meat much of its distinctive deliciousness. The heme in Impossible Burgers is derived from soybeans and produced by fermenting yeast genetically enhanced to make it.

Other than trying to placate vegetarians and vegans, why bother creating Impossible Burgers? Founder Patrick O. Brown says that the company is on a mission to make the global food system more sustainable. The company claims that compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and creates 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.

Assuming that Impossible Burgers and other future plant-based meat competitors catch on with consumers, they will be another happy example of how human ingenuity is continuing our withdrawal from nature. These may be good reasons for people to eat Impossible Burgers, but I will happily do it because I enjoy the taste.

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Legalize Medically-Assisted Sex: New at Reason

Keep government out of bedrooms and wheelchairs.

Nine out of 10 doctors agree sex is good for you, or at least better for you than smoking. But what happens if you have a disability that makes it difficult to engage in sex, or find a sexual partner in the first place? Enter sex surrogates, professionals who help the disabled work through their sexual problems (in large part by having sex with them). Although there's a case to be made for the medical, if not psychological, benefits sex surrogates provide, they're operating in a legal gray area.

In the latest Mostly Weekly, host Andrew Heaton makes the case that we should all be adults about sex and not deprive the disabled of services from which they'd benefit.

Watch above or click here for downloadable versions.

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Liberals' Sudden Concern About Bill Clinton's Behavior Is Cynical: New at Reason

World Economic ForumWorld Economic ForumThe dynamics that led to Democrats protecting Bill Clinton from accusations of sexual assault and rape haven't changed.

David Harsanyi writes:

A number of notable liberals have recently decided to start taking allegations of sexual assault against former President Bill Clinton seriously. Let's just say that discarding the Clintons when they're no longer politically useful in order to retroactively grab the higher moral ground isn't exactly an act of heroism. But if we're going to relitigate history, let's get it right.

In The New York Times, for example, Michelle Goldberg spends around 75 percent of her column titled "I Believe Juanita" rationalizing why it was OK not to believe Juanita Broaddrick, who credibly accused Bill Clinton of rape decades ago. You won't be surprised to learn that Goldberg claims the politics and conspiracymongering of conservatives provoked skepticism among liberals—excuses that will be awfully familiar to anyone following the justification of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's supporters.

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U.S. to Stay in Syria, Big Gender Pay Gap in Government, Chicago Mulls Plans to Up Arbitrary Arrests: A.M. Links

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EPA Blew $690,000 on Parking Spaces No One Was Using

And another $840,000 subsidizing parking spaces, despite federal rules meant to limit commuting by car as a way to protect the environment.

Klaus Ohlenschl�ger/picture alliance / Klaus Ohlensc/NewscomKlaus Ohlenschl�ger/picture alliance / Klaus Ohlensc/NewscomThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wasted $690,000 over two years to pay for an empty parking space, according to a federal audit released this month. The same audit also found that the EPA blew $840,000 on parking fees for employees in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., despite federal rules prohibiting such subsidies.

Those rules, by the way, are meant to discourage commuting by car in order to protect the environment.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General found that 29 percent of the parking spaces at the agency's D.C. headquarters were unused from January 2015 to December 2016, while 27 percent of parking spaces at the regional office in Atlanta were empty during the same period. Each of those spaces cost taxpayers about $290 per month, according to the report.

During the two-year period examined by the audit, the EPA paid about $1.6 million to rent parking spaces from the General Services Administration (GSA) in the parking garage attached to the Ronald Reagan Office Building. Employees at the D.C. office paid about $850,000 in parking costs. In Atlanta, the EPA paid more than $41,000 to rent spaces in a parking garage attached to the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, where employees parked for free.

Other regional EPA offices do not provide free or subsidized parking for employees and many federal agencies do not either.

"In an age of dwindling federal resources, the EPA's use of taxpayer money—over $840,000 in a 2-year period—to fund employee parking may not be an effective use of federal resources and may take funds away from mission-critical public health and environmental initiatives," the auditors' report says.

In a reponse to the audit, Donna Vizian, acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Administration and Resources Management, said the agency would review parking space usage and stop paying for empty spaces. Of the 73 unused spaces near the D.C. office, Vizian said, 53 will be returned to the GSA. The remaining 20 spaces will be used by "unfilled political appointees" and visitors.

While $1.5 million is not a particularly large sum of money by Washington's standards, the EPA's wastefulness looks particularly bad because it runs counter to stated federal goals about reducing government workers' environmental impact. A 2015 executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama instructed agencies to "promote sustainable commuting and work-related travel practices for Federal employees" and "reward carpooling and the use of public transportation, where consistent with agency authority."

Never would that be more consistent with agency authority, one would expect, than at the EPA.

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Movie Review: Justice League: New at Reason

Gal Gadot goes slumming with Ben Affleck’s new DC super-team.

Several of the movie's protagonistsFor this week's movie review, Kurt Loder presents the pros and cons (mostly cons) of Justice League. A sampling:

PRO: At least Justice League isn't a grim slog like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What a drag that movie was.

CON: I'd say this film had a little lighter tone, except I don't think it could be said to have any particular tone at all. There are some funny lines, some standard superhero mopery, and clumps of character moments—meet the Flash, say hi to Cyborg—amid acres of hysterical CGI, some of it quite bad. Every now and then you also get an unexpected squirt of all-purpose syrup– something I attribute to Joss Whedon, who did some writing on the movie and later took over post-production and substantial reshoots after director Zack Snyder was sidelined by the death of his daughter last spring. Whether or not Whedon was actually responsible for the scene in which Superman and Lois Lane stand cooing at each other in a (CGI) cornfield, I feel that his presence enabled it.

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Thomas Massie on Tax Reform: “It's highly likely that we pass whatever the Senate comes up with”

Libertarian Republican congressman admits that an already-worrisome debt will increase, and that the Senate may well disregard the House’s framework, but “just because my colleagues don't believe that we have to cut spending doesn't mean I can't vote to cut taxes”

It's happening! ||| CSPANThe House of Representatives Thursday afternoon passed its version of tax reform by a vote of 227-205. Of the 13 Republican no-votes, 12 were from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey, and California, where millions of residents stand to suffer from the replacement of the century-old federal income-tax deduction for all state and local taxes (SALT) with a simple $10,000 cap on the mortgage-interest deduction alone. (The bill also reduces the deductibility cap on the mortgage itself from $1 million to $500,000, while eliminating it for second homes.) The average annual SALT deduction exceeds $10,000 in at least 20 states, with anywhere between 17 percent and 46 percent of a state's filers itemizing it.

Of the 16 Republicans from those three high-tax state who voted yes, as well as their six counterparts from the Illinois delegation, that $10,000 mortgage carve-out was critical for their support. It's also totally absent from the Senate version of the bill (which keeps the mortgage cap at $1 million). Therefore, reluctant "yes" votes needed assurances, such as the one given over the weekend by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), that House leadership will not "accept" a take-it-or-leave-it bill from the more politically delicate Senate.

But is that really true?

We already watched this scenario play out last month: After the House sweated over and eventually passed a theoretically deficit-neutral 10-year budget blueprint, the Senate tacked on $1.5 trillion in deficits, and the House responded with a hi-five, because tax cuts. As was the case with the serially failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare this year, even though the policy-poor legislative monstrosities polled terribly with the public, Capitol Hill Republicans were generally not eager to be the ones to tell President Donald Trump that he wouldn't be getting his win. Given that cutting taxes is about the last thing that unifies all elected Republicans, and the clock is running out before 2018 midterm season, the political desperation is already intense—imagine what it would be like if the Senate comes back with a 51-50 vote with zilcho state/local tax deductions, and now the House members who have already voted yes to (a very different) reform wanna get in the way of the tax-cuts train?

You can take the boy out of Kentucky, but.... ||| Matt WelchSo on Thursday morning I put the question to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), the iconoclastic libertarian who had voted against the 10-year budget but was about to be an enthusiastic "yes" on tax cuts, during an interview on SiriusXM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick. "Do you think that it will actually go to a conference committee," I asked, "or is it going to be another fold job by your pals in the Freedom Caucus?"

Massie's answer: "I think it's highly likely that we pass whatever the Senate comes up with, simply because they've got a narrower path to getting something done, and they'll say, 'If you change it too much, we won't be able to pass it again over here in the Senate.'"

Even if it does go to committee, Massie predicted, it will tilt heavily toward the Senate. "I think it is likely the House passes whatever the Senate comes up with, or if it goes to conference, which it could do because they might want to buy more time to get this thing right, I think whatever comes out of conference will look more like the Senate bill than the House bill."

After the jump, an edited transcript of our conversation, which touched on the GOP's spending problem, the threat of a debt overhang, and more.

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Brickbat: This Will Send Your Blood Pressure Soaring

SWAT teamNikola Fific / DreamstimeThe Toledo, Ohio, SWAT team raided Alfred Miller's home, killing his two dogs and doing thousands of dollars worth of damage. They seized just one pill, for high blood pressure. The name on the search warrant was Joe McDuffey. Miller says he doesn't know who that is. Cops will only say this is an ongoing an investigation

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Permissionless Biotech Crop and Livestock Innovation

The USDA just dumped Obama administration's proposed ridiculous biotech crop regulations; the FDA should quickly follow suit.

GeneticEngineerVadymvdrobotDreamstimeVadymvdrobot/DreamstimeObama administration minions issued drafts of biotech crop and livestock regulations just two days before they left office last January. They were apparently motivated by their worry that genetically improved crops and livestock created using precise new genome-editing techniques like CRISPR would escape government oversight.

There is good news. The USDA has now withdrawn these proposed regulations. The FDA should immediately follow suit and withdraw the scientifically indefensible regulatory proposals submitted by the Obama Administration. As I reported earlier:

Treating each version of new improved livestock as a drug is really bad news for developers and consumers, since it takes years for a new drug to get through the FDA process at an average cost of more than $1 billion. Consider that it took the agency 20 years to approve the Aquabounty salmon that was genetically engineered simply to grow faster.

The proposed USDA regulations were designed to change the way the agency approves genetically engineered plants and the draft FDA rules would subject genetically improved livestock to the same onerous process required to get the agency's permission to market new animal drugs. On the face of it, the precision of new genome-editing techniques would seem to call for less, rather than more regulation.

The Obama administration proposed that breeders of gene-edited plants submit their new varieties to the USDA for pre-approval. Waiting on agency decisions would very likely slow down the process of developing new biotech crops even more.

Under the Obama administration's proposed rules, the FDA would have required pre-approval of genetically improved livestock like Holstein dairy cows engineered to contain the same gene for hornlessness found naturally in Angus beef cattle. Since that gene in Angus cows harms no one, it wouldn't hurt anyone if it were in Holstein cows. So why should breeders have to beg FDA permission to sell hornless Holsteins?

Why should breeders have to get regulatory permission at all to sell genetically engineered crop varieties or livestock? Breeders have for nearly 100 years been inducing genetic changes in plants by bathing them in caustic chemicals or blasting them with gamma rays to create hundreds of new crop varieties. The Mutant Variety Database run jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency lists more than 3,000 commercially available crop varieties created using mutagenesis. None of these mutated crop varieties required regulatory approval before their developers could introduce them into the marketplace. Why should crops created using vastly more precise biotech genome-editing need regulation?

Animal welfare issues might arise in the cases of gene-edited livestock, but otherwise there is no scientific justification for regulating them as "new animal drugs."

The FDA should speedily follow the USDA's salutary lead and withdraw the draft biotech regulations that the Obama administration left behind at that agency. Both agencies should step back and adopt the principle of permissionless innovation with respect to modern biotechnology.

Mercatus Institute fellow Adam Thierer defines this as "the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default." He adds, "Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm to society, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if they develop at all, can be addressed later."

Since there is no such compelling case against advanced biotechnology, both agencies should radically reduce the amount of regulation that they currently impose on the development and deployment of modern biotech crops and livestock.

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ACLU Poll: Majority of Americans, Including Trump Voters, Say Prison Population Should Be Reduced

“Americans reject President Trump’s 1990s-era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach"

A majority of Americans, including Trump voters, say there are problems with the criminal justice system and that the prison population should be reduced, according to a poll by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released Thursday.

In a telephone survey of 1,003 U.S. residents conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the ACLU, 55 percent of respondents said there are serious problems in the criminal justice system that should be fixed immediately. Another 36 percent agreed that there are some problems in the system that should be fixed eventually.

Seventy-one percent of respondents also said that it's important to reduce the U.S. prison population, including 57 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Trump voters polled.

In a statement, Udi Ofer, ACLU's deputy national political director, said the poll "demonstrates near-consensus support for criminal justice reform, including reducing the prison population, reinvesting in rehabilitation and treatment, and eliminating policies like mandatory minimums. Americans believe that resources should be shifted from incarceration to rehabilitation."

"Americans reject President Trump's 1990s-era tough-on-crime approach and overwhelmingly believe in a different and smarter approach," he said.

The U.S. currently incarcerates roughly 2.2 million people, but there's been growing momentum over the past few years to reduce prison and jail populations, as well as divert people from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

Several major cities have launched initiatives, backed by the MacArthur Foundation, to change their bail practices, and voters have elected reform-minded district attorneys in key races, most recently in Philadelphia.

Not everything is trending in the same direction. The number of incarcerated women has been rising precipitously. States are passing harsh new mandatory minimum and felony murder laws in response to the opioid crisis. And while many states—most notably red states like Texas—have slowed or reversed prison population growth in response to ballooning costs and high recidivism rates, similar efforts at the federal level are stalled.

Among the other findings of the survey: 72 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports eliminating mandatory minimum laws, and 68 percent said they would vote for a candidate who supported reducing the prison and jail population and reinvesting the savings in drug and mental health treatment.

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Senators Aim to Axe Program Giving Farmers Guaranteed Profits While Sticking Taxpayers With the Tab

It's "like insuring your car for $5,000, and getting a check for $10,000 after it's totalled," says Sen. Jeff Flake

Gina Sanders | DreamstimeGina Sanders | DreamstimeWhen crops fail, taxpayers pay.

A popular federal crop insurance program—the Harvest Price Option, or HPO—will cost taxpayers an estimated $21 billion over the next decade in order to guarantee profits for farmers who experience crop failures.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are aiming to slash agricultural subsidies by eliminating the Option. The bill would keep traditional insurance crop programs in place.

Traditional crop insurance is a safety net protecting farmers during unexpected crop failures. It pays farmers when harvests sell for less than the price predicted at planting season.

An HPO policy guarantees reimbursement based on the highest market price, for example, during a drought that hurts yields and creates a crop shortage that drives up prices. If the crop price at harvest is higher than was anticipated at planting season, and crop yield is lower than expected, farmers with an HPO policy get reimbursed for crop losses based on the higher market prices.

For that reason, HPO policies are popular, insuring in 2016 more than 90 percent of U.S. acres planted with corn and soybeans, and more than 80 percent of acres planted with wheat, sorghum and cotton.

Proponents of HPO claim that without the federal subsidized insurance, American farmers would face harsh economic conditions.

The elimination of HPO most likely won't be the death knell for American farms. It won't even be the end of agricultural subsidies in general. As Reason's own Christian Britschgi has reported, it's not like farmers are short of other options when it comes to taxpayer subsidies.

Joseph Glauber, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently pointed out to The Hill, prior to HPO implementation in the 90s, the agricultural sector opted to receive similar insurance coverage through the private sector.

Yet HPOs are lucrative for insurance companies as well as farmers. The federal program currently guarantees insurance companies a yearly payment of 14.5 percent of premiums, according to a report of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). (Sen. Flake and Sen. Shaheen have filed a bill that would reduce that reimbursement rate to 9 percent.)

The federal government also agrees to cover insurance company losses if payouts exceed premiums, the report said. In addition, farmers pay only 40 percent of the insurance premium while the federal government pays the tab for the remaining 60 percent.

"HPO is like insuring your car for $5,000, and getting a check for $10,000 after it's totalled," Flake said in a released statement "It's the kind of program that only makes sense in Washington."

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Franken Accused of Groping Woman, House Passes Tax Bill, Mistrial in Menendez Corruption Case: P.M. Links

  • Franken and TweedenVia Leeann TweedenSen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is the latest to be accused of aggressive and unwanted sexual advances toward a woman during a USO tour in 2006, Leeann Tweeden, now a morning news anchor on KABC radio in Los Angeles. He has apologized for his behavior and has asked for an ethics investigation.
  • Republicans passed their tax reform bill through the House. Every Democrat (and 13 Republicans) voted against it.
  • A judge has declared a mistrial in the corruption prosecution of Democratic New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. The jury was deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict.
  • Senators have agreed to a deal on a bipartisan bill that would push states and federal agencies to do a better job reporting crimes to a national background check database for people attempting to purchase guns.
  • A married Republican Ohio lawmaker who touted his conservative values and support for "natural" marriage between a man and a woman has resigned after being caught apparently engaged in "inappropriate conduct" with another man in his office. To be fair, though, that doesn't mean he wanted to marry the guy.
  • Twitter has announced it is removing its verification blue checkmarks from Twitter accounts if they promote hate or violence or harass others. That should totally fix things.
  • Print out this story about a diplomat plunging five stories to his death doing one of those "trust game" falls and show it to your HR department if management ever tries to make you do this in an office team-building exercise.

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New Gun Bill Urges Everyone to Obey the Other Gun Bills

The legislation mostly reminds federal agencies to follow the laws already on the books.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.om Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomA new bipartisan bill aimed at fixing the holes in the federal background check system was introduced today. Sponsored by an unlikely collection of senators that includes Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the "Fix NICS Act" promises to "enforce current law regarding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System" (NICS) by giving money to states that do a good job of getting records into the system, and by penalizing federal agencies that do a bad job of it.

The proposal is a response to the Air Force's failure to report Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley's assault conviction to the NICS, which would have prevented him from passing any federal background check.

As far as legislative responses to mass shootings go, this one at first glance seems pretty harmless. For evidence, look at the air of disappointment with which its Democratic sponsors unveiled it. "It's no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns," said sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Murphy had introduced a bill in late October to actually expand background checks. Feinstein likewise demanded more background checks after the Vegas shooting to compliment her proposed ban on bump stocks. The Fix NICS Act does none of this.

Instead it would require every federal agency, within a year, to create a plan to do better job of handing over records to the federal background check system. The bill would deny bonuses to these agencies' political appointees should they fail to come up with a plan or otherwise fail to comply with it.

The bill would also prioritize certain grants to states that draft similar plans.

This is pretty weak sauce, so it's far from clear that it'll be effective at encouraging more compliance. A similar effort 10 years ago—the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007—obviously failed to prevent the murders in Sutherland Springs.

Ineffective as it might be, the Fix NICS Act is far preferable to some of the other gun control measures bandied about since the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas. Several days after that shooting, a bipartisan House bill was introduced that would retroactively criminalize not only bump stocks—the obscure weapon modification used by Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock—but also any device that increases a semiautomatic weapon's rate of fire. A few weeks after that, another bipartisan House bill was unveiled that would require background checks for the purchase of bump stocks.

Neither has gone anywhere so far. As Reason noted when that second bill was introduced, the outrage machine that is the modern news cycle seemed to have moved on from bump stocks. The November 5 Sutherland Springs shooting sparked renewed interest in some form of gun control regulation, but that second wave appears to have subsided too.

What does that leave us with? A bill so bland that both hardcore gun controllers like Feinstein and relatively solid Second Amendment advocates like Cornyn can publicly support it.

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House Republicans Just Passed a Major Tax Reform Bill

The process of passing tax reform will only become more difficult from here.

House Republicans passed a major overhaul to the tax code todayRon Sachs/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomRon Sachs/CNP/AdMedia/Newscom. The bill passed 227 to 205 on a party line vote, with a handful of Republicans, mostly from high-tax blue states, joining Democrats in opposition.

The House plan cuts taxes by roughly $1.5 trillion over the next decade, with tax reductions for both businesses and individuals. The plan would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent down to 20 percent, and would condense the current seven individual income tax brackets into four while expanding the child tax credit and doubling the standard deduction.

The lower corporate tax rate would be a permanent change. However, a new $300 tax credit dubbed the "family flexibility credit" that is intended to help middle would expire in 2023, leading one analysis to find that, after that year, only 40 percent of Americans would pay lower taxes under the plan—and 22 percent would pay more.

The House legislation also reduces or eliminates many major deductions, including carve outs for medical expenses, cars, moving, tax preparation, and student loan interest. The plan gets rid of the state and local tax deduction for income and sales tax would be eliminated, and caps the deduction for property taxes.

That deduction provides the biggest benefit to residents of high-income, high-tax states that tend to vote Democratic—hence the handful of GOP blue state defectors. Unlike the revised Senate tax plan that was released earlier in the week, it does not repeal Obamacare's individual mandate to purchase health coverage.

Although some Republican representatives grumbled about the plan's treatment of various deductions, the passage of a tax bill in the House was never really in question. Republicans will now move forward with a related bill in the Senate, where passage is far less certain. Senate Republicans plan to pass the legislation with only Republican votes and a simple majority. They hold just 52 seats, which means they can lose just two votes (Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie).

But one Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), has already said he will not vote for the plan.

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Trump Trip to Asia Mostly a Welcome Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy

Diplomacy and dialogue are more fruitful than containment and condemnation.

Chris Kleponis/CNP/AdMedi/SIPA/NewscomChris Kleponis/CNP/AdMedi/SIPA/NewscomPresident Donald Trump doesn't think he's getting enough credit for his 12-day, five-country trip to Asia. He has a point.

Trump's diplomatic efforts in Asia are a repudiation of Barack Obama's "Asia pivot," which sought to contain China's rise by expanding American influence in the region. The Obama approach prompted China to take a more confrontational stance vis a vis the United States—an effect that apparently caught the Obama administration by surprise even though it shouldn't have.

Trump's reset can reduce tensions in the region while giving U.S. allies an incentive to take more responsibility for their own stability and security. Japan and South Korea, for example, have both recently committed to increasing their own military expenditures.

And while China insists its decision to send a high-level envoy to North Korea (the first such trip this year) was "common practice" and "unrelated" to the American president's visit, Trump has pushed regional stakeholders to take a more active role in defusing tensions with North Korea. China may not have the total control over North Korea's foreign policy that Trump imagined before he assumed the presidency, but it did have more room to cooperate with the West.

And while several Asian countries announced a trade deal without the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days into Trump's presidency, that's not necessarily bad news either.

Trump's anti-trade rhetoric is indisputably harmful, and the lack of any news about any kind of bilateral deals at the end of his long trip is not a good sign for the future of such pacts. But a continental trade deal that doesn't include the U.S. could be a stronger arrangement than one that did. After all, the original Trans-Pacific Partnership also excluded China. Given that China is the second largest economy in the world, its exclusion never made sense from a trade perspective. But it made sense if the TPP was another tool to contain China.

In the trade deal's current form, it is far better positioned to eventually include the U.S. and China, as it will be better able to avoid geopolitically motivated pressure from the U.S. The foreign minister of Japan insists the new deal will "serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area" across Asia; a deal perceived (rightfully) as a tool of U.S. foreign policy would not have such a bright future.

Trump did not spend his Asia trip lecturing other countries about the importance of liberal democracy and human rights, to the chagrin of some observers. Yet such lectures are usually meant more for the domestic U.S. audience than audiences overseas. Just as Americans don't appreciate even the perception of being lectured by foreign countries like Russia, so it goes in other countries. (That said, it would be nice if Trump would refrain from actively praising a nation's human rights abuses.)

The U.S. can promote human rights and liberal democracy much more effectively through leading by example and through fostering self-reliance rather than dependence among its allies. Liberal values are their own best spokesperson—witness China's eagerness to advocate for free trade and globalization where Trump won't. If Trump's perceived disinterest in international governance leads other countries to decide they too should take ownership of the world order rather than relying on the U.S., we will all be better for it.

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How Trade Tariffs Screw Over the Little Guy (Aluminum Foil Edition)

Donald Trump's protectionist tariffs against Chinese aluminum will double the price of a very widely used product: aluminum foil.

Donald Trump, Twitter, ReasonDonald Trump, Twitter, ReasonDonald Trump ran for president as a protectionist and is ruling like one. From former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel comes news of a massive hike on aluminum from China:

The Commerce Department has said it will impose preliminary duties of 97 percent to 162 percent on the Chinese imports that supply much of the U.S. market with thin aluminum foil. That's likely to have much more far-reaching effects on U.S. companies than the minor deals President Donald Trump announced on his trip to China.

Aluminum-foil buyers, many of them swing-state manufacturers, are reeling at the size of the duties, which would at least double the price of Chinese foil.

Think about how much stuff you buy uses aluminum foil. Actually, just read the partial list Postrel has created:

Aluminum foil wraps burritos, physics equipment and the highlighted tresses of hair-salon customers. It forms flexible ducts and lasagna pans, lines cigarette packs and fast-food sandwich wrappers. It hides between layers of film in flexible packaging. It protects aspirin bottles from tampering, petri dishes from light and tractor engines from overheating. It tops yogurt cups and peanut cans. It backs blister packs of antihistamines, antacids and birth-control pills. It goes into automotive parts and air-conditioning systems.

U.S. manufacturers rely on aluminum foil. So do nail salons, building contractors and bakeries.

In her Bloomberg column, Postrel talks to people in the foil industry. They are already looking for new suppliers since Chinese foil, which is state of the art and high-quality, is being artificially priced out of the U.S. market. America doesn't make that much foil because it's cheaper and more efficient to buy from, well, poorer countries; just two companies have mills in America that are making the stuff targeted by the tariffs. So this isn't going to Make America Great Again, it's just going to force U.S. customers to find new, more-expensive supplies. The countries whose manufacturers will win include Taiwan, South Korea, Bulgaria, and...Russia. Another possibility: Foil middlemen in Canada and Mexico might import Chinese product and, assuming NAFTA isn't ditched, send the product to the United States at some sort of mark-up.

For the want of cheap aluminum foil, your burrito was not lost exactly, but made more expensive for no good goddamn reason. Other than political pull and the economically illiterate policy decisions of President Donald Trump. Postrel concludes by talking to a foil broker who voted for Trump but is shaking his head of late:

"I think people hear, 'Make America Great,' and they think bringing jobs back to America. What jobs is this going to bring back?... It's going to improve the [domestic] aluminum manufacturers' bottom line. It's not going to improve it because they got better, or they got more efficient, or they figured out a better way to do it. It's going to be because they've been able to raise their price and fill their mills, because people don't have choices anymore."

Read the whole thing here. And without going full Johnny-Carson-with-toilet-paper on you, start thinking about hoarding aluminum foil or switching to wax paper.

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$3 Million Settlement Awarded to Students Subjected to Illegal, Invasive Mass Pat Down at Georgia High School

The Sheriff who ordered the search is being charged with sexual battery.

Worth High SchoolThe Georgia Sheriff's department that patted down an entire high school in a futile search for drugs has agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit.

The Worth County Sheriff's Office agreed to a settlement reached yesterday with nine of the roughly 900 students at Worth High School in Sylvester, more than 150 miles south of Atlanta. The students accused sheriff's deputies of groping their genitals and feeling inside their bras.

"We hope this settlement sends a message to law enforcement beyond just south Georgia — or beyond Georgia — that this abuse of power is just not tolerated," said Mark Begnaud, the Atlanta attorney who represented the students.

The April search, which Reason covered here, was done without any probable cause and over the objections of school staff. In response to the search, nine students filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.

"We did not give permission but they didn't as for permission," Lawrence Walters, the school's superintendent, told local NBC affiliate WALB. "I've never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don't condone it."

Wednesday's settlement, which still needs to be approved by a U.S. District judge, would put an end to that lawsuit. The legal troubles for Jeff Hobby, the Sheriff who ordered the search, are just beginning.

In October, Hobby was indicted on several charges related to the search, including sexual battery, false imprisonment, and violating his oath of office. On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order removing Hobby from office.

That both Hobby and the Sheriff' Office he ran are suffering real consequences for their invasive and unjustified search is a rare silver-lining to the otherwise appalling story.

As Reason's Robby Soave noted back in April, "Teenagers are compelled to attend school until they reach a certain age. They do not lose their constitutional rights when they step inside one, however."

Wednesday's settlement vindicates the idea that students do indeed have rights.

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Minor Violations Lead to Massive Prosecution Fees in Two California Desert Towns

A couple of busted windows can result in a bill for thousands—even tens of thousands—of dollars.

IndioCourtesy of Indio City HallA couple of cities in the California desert have found a novel and remarkably cruel way to make money—force citizens to pay for the privilege of being prosecuted by the attorneys contracting with these cities.

We've seen cities across the country abuse their own citizens—particularly its poorest residents and visitors—with vicious enforcement of petty laws designed to create a revenue stream via a cascade of fines and fees.

But I don't think we've seen an enforcement mechanism as nasty and cruel as the one the Desert Sun has uncovered out in California's Inland Empire. The cities of Indio and Coachella partnered up with a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for violations of city ordinances that call for nothing more than small fines—things like having a mess in your yard or selling food without a business license.

Those cited for these violations fix the problems and pay the fines, a typical code enforcement story. The kicker comes a few weeks or months later when citizens get a bill in the mail for thousands of dollars from the law firm that prosecuted them. They are forcing citizens to pay for the private lawyers used to take them to court in the first place. So a fine for a couple of hundred dollars suddenly becomes a bill for $3,000 or $20,000 or even more.

In Coachella, a man was fined $900 for expanding his living room without getting a permit. He paid his fine. Then more than a year later he got a bill in the mail from Silver & Wright for $26,000. They told him that he had to pay the cost of prosecuting him, and if he didn't, they could put a lien on his house and the city could sell it against his will. When he appealed the bill they charged him even more for the cost of defending against the appeal. The bill went from $26,000 to $31,000.

Brett Kelman of the Desert Sun found 18 cases in Indio and Coachella where people received inordinately high legal bills for small-time violations. A woman fined for hanging Halloween decorations across a city street received legal bill for $2,700. When she challenged it, the bill jumped to $4,200.

Kelman notes that these thousands of dollars in fees came from a single court hearing that lasted minutes.

Silver & Wright representatives declined to talk to the Desert Sun. One of them even claimed attorney/client privilege even though they're serving as prosecutors on behalf of city governments. But the law firm's web site makes it very clear that what happened is not a mistake. It's a law firm focused on helping cities go after private properties for "nuisance abatement" and code enforcement. Among its services is "ordinance drafting." That they offer such services matters because, according to the Desert Sun, the two cities contracted with the law firm first, and then they crafted brand new nuisance ordinances to facilitate Silver & Wright recouping the fees by billing citizens for their own prosecutions without having to go through a judge.

"Cost recovery" is another emphasis of Silver & Wright's services. Here's a direct quote from their site: "Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral or even revenue producing." [emphasis added]

They're openly bragging about using prosecutions as a way to help cities make money.

And then there's this buried deep in the story: Matthew Silver, one of the firm's partners, is also a vice president for the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers. He runs a private law firm but also leads a professional association for government employees responsible for enforcing the laws that lead to his firm's billable hours (or minutes, it seems).

In response the Desert Sun's investigations, it appears that Coachella officials will rethink their methods. Indio's interim city manager and a council member, however, defended the harsh enforcement, insisting this "aggressive approach" was getting results. This aggressive approach apparently includes an $18,600 bill for having overgrown grass, two broken windows, and a "sun-damaged address number."

Read more from the Desert Sun here.

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Porn Star Cherie DeVille and Rapper Coolio Announce White House 2020 Bid

Their slogan? "Make American Fucking Awesome Again." But DeVille's real mission is to challenge stereotypes about sex workers.

fuckingawesome.comfuckingawesome.comFrustrated with the state of American politics, porn star and physical therapist Cherie DeVille says she's running for president in 2020 with the rapper Coolio as her running mate.

"If our criteria now for becoming a political official is minor celebrity, I have that," DeVille told The Hill on Tuesday. "I feel like I can be [what] the American people—for better or for worse—want, which is interesting news, scandalous news, you know, not 'boring' political news. But at the same time [I can] do what the American people really need" by being "a person with integrity, and having someone listen to the people."

DeVille said she sobbed when Donald Trump won the 2016 election, not necessarily because of his personality or politics but because of what she felt it "meant for the direction the country was going in. We're voting for people as if we're on a reality television show."

But if you can't beat 'em...well, you know the saying. By August 2017, DeVille had enlisted porn actress Alix Lynx as her press secretary and musician Coolio—who "is primed to bring the nation CoolioCare"—as her vice-presidential partner.

Their campaign slogan: "Make American Fucking Awesome Again."

fuckingawesome.com/pornstarforpresidentfuckingawesome.com/pornstarforpresident

So...this has to be a publicity stunt, right? In the same genre as Kid Rock's potential Senate bid?

Yes and no. DeVille and Coolio have certainly been playing up the camp and kitsch factors so far. And DeVille—who earned a doctorate and ran her own physical therapy business before launching a porn career in her 30s