Free Minds & Free Markets

Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2018 March 15-31

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Everybody Hates Jeff Flake

3 reasons why the anti-Trump center-right is the most off-putting place to be in American politics...for now.

Last night Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the loudest GOP critic of President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, invoked the I-word amidst speculation that Trump might fire Robert Mueller:

Then a funny thing happened: Both left and right crapped all over him.

Jeff Flake talks to reporters. And talks to reporters.... ||| ERIN SCHAFF/UPI/NewscomERIN SCHAFF/UPI/Newscom"Stop begging. Pass a law," scoffed Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman in the Obama administration. "It's right there in the Federalist Papers," a sarcastic New Republic staffer Jeet Heer seconded. "Congress will be able to check the president by going on its hands and knees, begging for lawful behaviour."

Things weren't much friendlier on Team Red. "Sounds more like a Jeff Flake crisis than a constitutional crisis," snorted commentator Dan Bongino. At The American Spectator, Brandon J. Weichert placed Flake in the "chorus of consternation from so-called congressional conservatives."

This pattern, curious though it may be, is nothing new. Lefties have been giving Flake the (often inaccurate) too-little-too-late speech since before the 2016 election; conservatives have long called him an immigration softy angling pathetically for media applause. And in a state both passionate and schizophrenic about its politics, Flake has been strikingly unpopular since the beginning of his Senate career.

But there are commonalities, too, with the way people shudder instinctively at other NeverTrumper (or Unfitter) Republicans, including ones not otherwise particularly similar to Flake, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich. So is there a common thread of reaction knitting those two rumored 2020 candidates, along with 2016 fifth-place finisher Evan McMullin, plus Flake's fellow retiring Sen. Bob Corker and whoever else is fragging the president from the GOP big tent? I would suggest three:

1) Sanctimony is inherently off-putting.

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Political Correctness Strikes Again: High School Teacher Fired for Offensive Comments About Troops

"The classroom should never be a place where students feel that they are picked at, bullied, intimidated."

SalcidoScreenshot via YoutubeA California high school teacher was fired for calling American military troops "freaking stupid" and "the lowest of our low."

The teacher, Gregory Salcido, is also a city council member. At the time he made his controversial remarks, he was talking with his history class at El Rancho High School about why the wars in the Middle East had dragged on. According to a student's audio recording, Salcido said: "We have a bunch of dumb shits over there. Think about the people who you know who are over there. Your freaking stupid Uncle Louie or whatever. They're dumb asses. They're not like high-level thinkers, they're not academic people, they're not intellectual people. They're the lowest of our low."

The comments quickly went viral, drawing strong rebukes from veterans—including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired general, who said, "I think the guy ought to go to hell."

Salcido's comments were publicized in January. He was placed on leave pending an investigation. This week, he was fired. El Rancho Board of Education President Aurora Villon said, "the classroom should never be a place where students feel that they are picked at, bullied, intimidated."

But as far as I can tell, Salcido wasn't bullying any specific member of his classroom. Is he not allowed to criticize the military, and the endless wars our servicemen are forced to fight? Can we not have such a discussion in a high school history classroom without everyone losing thier minds?

Any conservative who makes fun of liberal students demanding safe spaces, but then turns around and says people who question the troops should lose their jobs, is being awfully hypocritical. This controversy is the Mirror Universe twin of the Amy Wax kerfuffle, in which conservatives defended an educator who was accused of saying racially insensitive things, and liberals called for her head. Political correctness afflicts both sides of the political spectrum.

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FOSTA Passes Senate, Making Prostitution Ads a Federal Crime Against Objections from DOJ and Trafficking Victims

The measure will "make it harder, not easier, to root out and prosecute sex traffickers," said Sen. Ron Wyden, one of only two senators to vote no on FOSTA.

screenshot/CSPANscreenshot/CSPANThe U.S. Senate just passed one of the worst bills in recent memory, the so-called "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA) that cleared the House of Representatives in late February.

This is the measure that would make online prostitution ads a federal crime and decimate Section 230, the federal provision shielding web publishers and platforms from certain legal liabilities for the things that users post. It's largely portrayed as a response to Backpage, but its reach goes far far beyond that.

"In the absence of Section 230, the internet as we know it would shrivel," warned Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) from the Senate floor Wednesday. "Civic organizations protecting their right to free speech could be [ruined] by their more powerful political opponents" and "there would be an enormous chilling effect on speech in America." That's why big companies like Facebook like efforts like this to weaken it, Wyden added—"because it would pull up the ladder in the tech world" so new companies couldn't afford to get in.

Wyden stressed that he's been highly proactive on measures that could actually helps victims of sexual exploitation. But FOSTA "is not going to prevent sex trafficking [and] it's not going to stop young people from becoming victims," he noted. In fact, "the legislation before the Senate is going to make it harder, not easier, to root out and prosecute sex traffickers."

This isn't just Wyden's opinion. The Department of Justice has not only called FOSTA unconstitutional; it says the legislation will "create additional elements that prosecutors must prove at trial," thereby making it harder to get guilty parties convicted.

"You're heading in the wrong direction if you [pass a bill] that would raise the burden of proof in cases against sex traffickers," Wyden chastised his colleagues. He was one of two senators today—along with Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)—to vote against the measure.

Another downside: Under FOSTA, any attempts by a website or app to filter out bad content could lead to more legal liability. The only way for companies to stay safe will be to completely give up on content moderation and trying to stop illegal ads from getting through. An amendment to FOSTA, offered by Sen. Wyden, would have closed this loophole, but it was shot down by a large majority.

And we haven't even touched on the damage FOSTA will do for sex workers, who could lose their ability to find and screen clients electronically, forcing them back onto the streets or into other situations where they'll be more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. They could also lose the ability to warn each other about dangerous customers on sex-work message boards.

As Alana Massey noted recently at Allure, "these bills target websites that are widely and inaccurately believed to be hubs of trafficking activity when it is precisely those websites that enable people in the sex trades to do their work safely and independently, at the same time as they make it easier for authorities to find and investigate possible trafficking cases."

In a lengthy Senate floor speech on Monday, bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told a series of whoppers about U.S. sex trafficking, starting with an assertion that "there is a federal law that now permits trafficking online."

There isn't. And when it comes to federal law enforcement, Section 230 doesn't even apply. Without any changes to existing law, those who commit federal crimes such as sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking via force/fraud/coercion, knowingly advertising a victim of trafficking, paying for sex with someone under age 18, forced labor, debt bondage, and all sorts of related activities are fully prosecutable, and Section 230 has nothing to say about it.

In defense of his bill, Portman also cited an increase in the number of "sex trafficking cases" reported to a national hotline run by Polaris Project—an entity that counts any call, text, or email as a "case" of sex trafficking (even though the vast majority are simply requests for information or unsubstantiated "tips") and that has spent the past decade lobbying for state laws requiring all sorts of businesses to post the number.

But the worst part of Portman's defense was this attempt at an argument:

Unbelievably, for years, these websites have gotten away with [sex trafficking] because when parents...file a lawsuit for damages to try to stop what is going on, they are told: We are immune. When the prosecutors in these local communities step up and ask: "How could this illegal activity be going on? This is illegal to do on the street corners, certainly it is illegal to do online," the judges say: We are immune.

And yet, Portman isn't introducing legislation to hold the street corners—or the government entities who own them—accountable as sex traffickers when prostitution takes place there.

The bright side is that there's a strong chance this bill will run into trouble in the courts. "Unlike the SAVE Act, which prohibits the knowing advertisement of trafficked sexual services, this statute implicates constitutionally protected speech," points out Notre Dame law instructor Alex F. Levy. (Read Levy's guest post at Eric Goldman's blog for all the legal nitty gritty on why.)

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Did Donald Trump Kill the Libertarian Movement? Or Just Put It in Suspended Animation?

The challenge for libertarians is to explain that you don't get all the good stuff without having certain institutions, ideas, and temperaments in place.

RicochetRicochet"The challenge for libertarians is to explain to people that you don't get all the good stuff we like—the Netflixes, the Whole Foods, the Ubers—without having certain free-market and live-and-let-live institutions, ideas, and temperaments in place."

Today I appeared on Ricochet's podcast Michael Graham in the Morning to discuss whether Donald Trump killed libertarianism, if the president's idiotic push for killing drug dealers will work, and whether there are any principled Republicans or Democrats left. Spoiler alert: Most of my answers involve some variation on the word no.

Go here to listen via iTunes. And go here to stream on Ricochet's site. My appearance kicks in at 26:40.

And while you're podcasting out, don't forget to subscribe to the Reason Podcast, our thrice-weekly audio program featuring a no-holds-barred conversation every Monday with me, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, and Peter Suderman (plus exciting guest stars such as this week's Elizabeth Nolan Brown); interviews with leading politicians, authors, and newsmakers (such as tomorrow's with Steven Pinker); and downloads of Reason events and talks (such as yesterday's Soho Forum debate about "rape culture" on college campuses).

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Liberal Professor: Video Games Promote 'Toxic Meritocracy'; Wouldn't It Be Great If They Had More Pure Luck?

Mario Party is not a great game.

BowserScreenshot via Mario Party / NintendoAt a time when President Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association, and others on the right are blaming video games for promoting violence—with nary a shred of credible evidence—a new book has leveled a completely different criticism at the gaming industry: "toxic meritocracy."

According to Christopher Paul, chair of the Department of Communication at Seattle University and author of The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst, video games promote individuality, reward skill, and encourage players to do their best in order to win. These are supposedly bad things.

"Games are based on leveling up and getting stronger," Paul tells Campus Reform. "We expect the most skilled, hardest working player to win. The typical narrative in a game is a rags to riches story where the player propels the character into a key role and perhaps even attains god-like status."

"All those things shape our expectations and focus players on individuals, rather than the collective," he added. "As actualized meritocracies, video games quickly become really toxic spaces where players are focused on individual glory, rather than creating positive spaces for interaction."

Not all is bad, Paul notes, pointing out that games like Mario Kart and Mario Party are more cooperative and based on "luck, contingency, and serendipity," elements that he hopes game developers will prioritize more in the future.

"Moving away from merit allows communities to be developed on different terms, giving an opportunity to build something else, something new, something that has features other than the endemic toxicity that comes with meritocratic systems," Paul contends.

Speaking as someone who played a whole lot of Mario Kart and Mario Party growing up (and in college...and as an adult...), I will say that the luck-based elements are sometimes a lot of fun, but they're also infuriating. In the Mario Party games in particular—where the "luck" aspect can be overwhelming and game-breaking—my play-group often came away thinking, "Well, that was a terrible game." The mini-game comes to mind where Bowser appears, forces you to pick a random color, and then relieves you of your hard-won coins and stars if you choose wrong.

If that's your thing, more power to you. Play all the Mario Party you want. But I don't think it's "toxic" for more serious gamers to prefer games with clearly defined rules and a skill-based system that rewards good gameplay. Gamer culture has its problems, but promoting meritocracy isn't one of them.

At least Paul doesn't want to regulate away the aspects of gaming he doesn't like. The person who wants to do that is the president of the United States.

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Seattle Officials Knowingly Lowballed Streetcar Costs by 50 Percent

Another transit project's costs go off the rails.

Seattle StreetcarSteve Morgan/Wikimedia CommonsWhen Seattle officials claimed that a proposed one-mile streetcar extension would boost ridership by more than 400 percent and would cover half its costs with ticket sales, some ordinarily transit-friendly city council members wondered whether those numbers were too good to be true. They were.

Last week The Seattle Times published a memo by the King County Metro Transit Division, which is contracted to operate the streetcar. The memo says those projected operating costs for the Center City Connector (C3) project were 50 percent below Metro's estimates. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) concealed Metro's numbers when shopping around for money from local and federal officials.

"To find out that that information may have been, if not inaccurate, at least disputed—we should have known what these disputes are—is maddening," Seattle Councilmember Mike O'Brian said at a briefing.

SDOT projected that it would need 70 staff members to operate its streetcar network after the C3 expansion, which would cost it some $16 million a year. Metro calls this a significant underestimate, saying the new streetcar line will need 136 total staff and cost $24 million annually to operate.

On Monday, Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered an independent review of streetcar costs, sidestepping her own transportation department entirely.

The C3 project—which started construction late last year—has had a rocky recent history, repeatedly overshooting cost estimates while coming under fire from city politicians.

In 2014, SDOT released a detailed evaluation report for the C3 project that estimated its capital costs at between $108 and $115 billion in estimated 2017 dollars. A 2015 evaluation by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) pegged the total capital costs at $134.88 million. A year later this was revised upwards again, to $166 million. Now the project is said to cost $177 million.

By 2017, councilmembers were starting to raise doubts about the utility of the new streetcar line and the financial risk it posed to the city.

In June of that year, the council voted to accept the first $50 million of a $75 million grant from the FTA's Small Starts program on the condition that SDOT come back to the council with a detailed plan of the operating costs in the fall. At that time, SDOT was already working on such a plan for FTA, which it submitted in July without any review from its partner agency, Metro—which, remember, would be the actual agency operating the streetcar.

When Metro got wind of SDOT's plan, its staff was shocked at how low the budget estimates were. They told the department repeatedly throughout August that it was lowballing the amount of money it would need. According to the memo, these concerns were ignored or waved away.

When it came time to present that report on the operating costs, SDOT submitted the same low estimate to the City Council.

Already SDOT was predicting that ticket fare would cover an incredible 56 percent of the operating costs of its new line, far above what most other streetcar systems in the country manage. New operating cost estimates coming to light make these projections seem even more fanciful.

This is hardly surprising given how often streetcar projects overshoot their budgets and underperform on ridership.

Transit agencies rarely pay a price for missing the mark like this, given the commitment cities have already made by the time the cost overruns start turning up. They don't want to pull the plug that far into the project, and so the increased costs are passed on to local taxpayers, who are asked to shell out more money or accept reduced services for what is ultimately more of a fashion statement than a real transportation solution.

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Fix NICS Bill Would Help Block Gun Sales to Peaceful People

The measure, which Congress may be on the verge of enacting, aims to improve enforcement of misguided rules.

C-SPANC-SPANLegislation aimed at improving background checks for gun buyers may be included in a must-pass spending bill that Congress is expected to approve tomorrow or Friday. The bill, which would encourage data sharing with the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has faced a surprising amount of resistance for a measure that has broad support among Republicans as well as Democrats and even has the backing of the National Rifle Association.

Some of the resistance to the bill, known as the Fix NICS Act of 2017, is tactical. Democrats, perceiving an opportunity to enact broader gun control following last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school, worry that if Fix NICS passes by itself, Congress will do nothing more. But there are also substantive concerns about Fix NICS that have been raised by supporters of gun rights, who rightly worry that it will help block firearm sales to people who pose no threat to others.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced Fix NICS last November in response to the mass shooting that killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The perpetrator of that attack, Devin Kelley, had been convicted by a general court martial of assaulting his wife and stepson while serving in the Air Force, which disqualified him from owning guns under federal law. That record should have prevented Kelley from passing a background check when he bought the rifle he used in the attack, but the Air Force failed to share the information with NICS.

Cornyn's bill aims to prevent that sort of screw-up by requiring federal agencies to certify twice a year whether they are sharing "all relevant records" with NICS and submit plans for improving compliance. Agencies that fail to follow through on their plans would be ineligible for bonus pay. Fix NICS also would encourage sharing of local and state records, which the federal government cannot directly mandate without running afoul of the 10th Amendment, by giving agencies that demonstrate "substantial compliance" preference for Bureau of Justice Assistance grants.

Fix NICS, which Donald Trump supports and the House approved in December as part of a bill that also would make each state's concealed-carry permits valid throughout the country, has 76 cosponsors in the Senate, including 32 Republicans. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has due-process objections to the bill, is not one of them.

Lee argues that the Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly identifies veterans as "mental defectives," which disqualifies them from gun ownership, when they need help managing their benefits. In a March 18 Townhall essay co-authored by Mark Geist, Lee says about 168,000 veterans have lost their Second Amendment rights as a result of that policy. "Our veterans should not have to worry that their civil rights will be violated if they seek help from the very federal agency that was designed to help them," Lee and Geist write. Lee favors an amendment "requiring a judge to determine that a person is a danger to [himself] or others, or meets similar criteria, before being labeled a 'mental defective.'"

Gun Owners of America shares Lee's concern and raises another objection to Fix NICS. The group notes that current law requires the attorney general to "immediately" correct mistakes when he learns that people have been erroneously included in the NICS database. Fix NICS would give the attorney general 60 days to act, the GOA says, and there are no consequences if he fails to do so.

The NRA argues that the GOA's complaint is misguided, since the revised law would retain the word immediately but give it substance by requiring correction within 60 days. "Fix NICS actually provides some remedy for people who may have been erroneously entered into the NICS database," Lars Dalseide, a spokesperson for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told the Washington Free Beacon's Stephen Gutowski in December. "This Fix NICS provision expedites NICS appeals for those individuals, requiring a response within 60 days. Under the current system, the appeals process has taken more than a year in some cases."

The broader problem with Fix NICS is that it aims to improve a system that blocks gun sales to people based on criteria that are unfairly and irrationally broad. Those people include millions of Americans who have never shown any violent tendencies.

Congress has decreed that any felony punishable by more than a year in prison, no matter how long ago it was committed and regardless of whether it involved violence, is enough to strip someone of the fundamental right to armed self-defense. So is any record of court-mandated psychiatric treatment, even if the involuntary patient never posed a threat to anyone else; unlawful use of controlled substances, including taking medication prescribed for a relative and smoking pot in states where it's legal; and living in the United States without the government's permission, which (contrary to what the president seems to think) is by no means an indicator of violent intent. To the extent that "better" background checks prevent peaceful people from buying firearms, they do not qualify as an improvement.

Update: The spending bill unveiled on Wednesday night includes Fix NICS.

[This post has been revised to include the NRA's response to the GOA's criticism of Fix NICS and to clarify that felonies disqualify gun buyers only when they are punishable by more than a year in prison (as they typically are).]

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Libertarian Dad Jokes: New at Reason

It's all fun and games until somebody gets droned.

In homage to Dad Joke videos everywhere, Reason's Andrew Heaton and Austin Bragg try their hand at one-liners, cornball punchlines, and "comedy."

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Minneapolis Cop Finally Charged for Killing Unarmed Woman Who Merely Surprised Him Last Summer

County attorney blames uncooperative police for the delay.

Mohomed NoorHennepin County Sheriff's OfficeFormer Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor has now finally been charged with shooting and killing Justine Damond last July after the woman had called the police to report a possible rape.

Noor faces third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. He has turned himself in and has been booked into jail with a $500,000 bail. He faces a potential prison sentence of 25 years.

Damond's shooting ended up as international news last summer, as she was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. The case symbolized to the world the trigger-happy behavior we've come to see in many American police. The incident took place not long after a jury found a police officer not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile, also in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Here's what officials say happened: Damond called 911 to report somebody possibly being raped our assaulted behind her home last July. Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, inspected the alley behind her home in their patrol car. They found nothing, and apparently were backing out of the alley when Damond surprised them in their vehicle by possibly thumping on the car on the driver's side. Harrity, who was driving, reacted with surprise, and reached for his gun. But Noor apparently beat him to the punch, reached across, and shot Damond in the abdomen.

Neither men had their body cameras on at time, but both turned them on immediately after the shooting. Here's how County Attorney Mike Freeman described Noor's snap decision to shoot Damond:

Freeman said the investigation of the shooting uncovered no evidence that Noor "encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force."

"Instead, officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat, a location at which he would have been less able than officer Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car," Freeman said.

The shooting showed evidence of "a depraved mind," as the charges are defined, and "culpable negligence," Freeman said, though he acknowledged that proving that to a jury is "a daunting task."

It took so long to charge Noor, Freeman explained, because police refused to cooperate with the investigation. Even though he had previously said he would no longer go through secret grand juries to charge police with crimes because he wanted to improve transparency over the process, he said he had no choice this time because police refused to talk. The union responded that the officers were merely advised of their rights. Something to remember next time a police officer asks you questions.

As Noor prepares for his court appearance, we unfortunately have another questionable police shooting playing out in Sacramento. On Saturday police shot and killed Stephan Clark, 22. Clark was suspected by police of breaking into cars, and officers were responding to a 911 call about it. He fled from police, and when they cornered him, police claim he turned toward them and advanced on them, holding an object in front of him. He was shot 20 times by two police officer. Then it turned out the object he was holding was a cellphone.

The two officers were wearing body cameras and as per city policy enacted in 2016. The footage of the shooting will be eventually released so the public will be able to see the circumstances of Clark's shooting.

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Sessions 'Strongly Encourages' Federal Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty for Some Drug Dealers

The Trump administration starts negotiations on drug sentencing with a harsh opening bid.

Kevin Dietsch/CNP / Polaris/NewscomKevin Dietsch/CNP / Polaris/NewscomAttorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty "when appropriate" in order to combat the opioid crisis, in a March 20 memo first obtained by NBC. The instructions came a day after President Donald Trump called for capital punishment for some drug offenders.

To combat the opioid crisis, Sessions writes, "federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal," such as working with the Department of Justice Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and bringing civil and criminal actions against opioid makers and distributors. U.S. Attorneys should also seek the death penalty when the law allows:

Sessions memo, obtained by NBCSessions memo, obtained by NBC

Federal prosecutors have been allowed to seek the death penalty for certain drug offenses since 1994, Politico reports, thanks to a law signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet Politico also reports that no prosecutor has sought death for a federal drug offense in the 24 years since then, and civil liberties groups argued after Trump's speech on Monday that the Supreme Court has ruled against using the death penalty in cases where the defendant did not commit murder.

But that makes it a strategically brilliant policy for Sessions and Trump to endorse. Trump said Monday that most big drug dealers do only 30 days or a year in jail (which is not true), and Sessions wants longer sentences for drug offenses, propped up with mandatory minimums. Between the two of them, something like a 15- or 20-year mandatory minimum for importing or dealing illicit fentanyl would probably hit the spot. That would be unlikely to pass the Senate as an opening offer, but it looks a lot more generous when you compare it to executing people. Never mind that the statutes Sessions cites aren't all that relevant to the opioid debate, which involves more online activity and accidental overdoses than it does armed scuffles over drug turf.

Seeking the death penalty under existing laws, meanwhile, could still net life and de facto life sentences.

By throwing fuel on the fire Trump started, Sessions is priming the chattering class and the media to see single and multi-decade sentences as a humane alternative to execution. Those sentences are more humane, but only when compared to capital punishment. Trump and Sessions have rapidly and unapologetically shifted the Overton Window on drug penalties. With the most barbaric option on the table, punishments that are simply cruel and excessive are destined to seem more tolerable.

You can read Sessions' entire memo after the jump.

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Trump Says He's 'Delivering' for Farmers. His Steel Tariff Says Otherwise

"There's not a day on the farm when a farmer doesn't touch steel," says Rep. David Young. And all that steel is about to get more expensive.

Tuesday was National Agriculture Day, and President Donald Trump was on it:

But while Trump talks about "delivering for" American farmers, the most significant economic policy to come out of the White House so far this year stands to hurt farmers—and businesses dependent on farming—more than many other sectors of the economy. Trump's 25 percent tariff on imported steel will increase the cost of farming equipment and cut into farmers' bottom lines, and the tariff might trigger a trade war that could cut off American exports to Europe and China.

Scott Sinklier/NewscomScott Sinklier/Newscom"There's not a day on the farm when a farmer doesn't touch steel," Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) told Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during a House Appropriations Committee hearing earlier this month. "The agriculture industry is worried about these tariffs on aluminum and steel."

Young joined the rest of Iowa's congresssional delegation in sending a letter to the White House earlier this month urging Trump to reconsider the tariff "given the consequences this will have on states like Iowa, rural communities throughout the nation, and on America's farms."

While Iowa is best known for its farms (and its caucuses), the state's manufacturing industry is also worried about the potential consequences of tariffs. More than 3,000 factories are scattered across the state, according to the Des Moines Register, and many of them make the equipment used on farms in Iowa and across the Midwest. Steve Sukup, CFO of Sukup Manufacturing, which employs about 600 Iowans to make steel grain bins and dryers, tells the Register that tariffs are "a step backward" after tax and regulatory reforms helped businesses like his.

Agriculture industries are hardly alone in fearing Trump's tariffs. Artificially inflating the price of imported steel will hurt businesses across a wide swath of the economy. According to 2015 Census data, steel mills employed about 140,000 Americans and added about $36 billion to the economy that year, but steel-consuming industries employed more than 6.5 million Americans and added $1 trillion to the economy. In other words, for every steel-producing job in the country that might benefit from Trump's proposed tariffs, 46 steel-consuming jobs are put at risk. Everything from cars to housing will be affected. According to a policy brief released by the Trade Partnership, a Washington-based pro-trade think tank, Trump's tariffs will wipe out about 179,000 jobs.

Farmers and lawmakers from farming states are particularly worried about the prospect of retaliatory tariffs being imposed by Europe, China, and others targeted by Trump's steel and aluminum levies. American agricultural products would be an easy target for retaliation, because America has a large trade surplus with many other nations. For example, 60 percent of the soybeans grown in Iowa end up being shipped to China.

"Strong, fair trade favors American families and businesses," the Iowa lawmakers wrote in their letter to the White House, "and allows them to export their goods, which is critical for the farmers, manufacturers, and insurers in our state."

Soybean exports were already in a precarious state, according to Peter Meyer, senior director of agricultural analytics at S&P Global Platts, which advises investors about commodity markets. Writing at The Hill, he warns that fewer exports to China would wreak havoc on American farmers.

"The fragile U.S. economy cannot afford a trade war with China," he says. "No one should legitimately believe that political promises made in one area will not have an effect in another."

Trump seems to think so. Trade wars are "good, and easy to win," the president infamously tweeted shortly before launching his steel tariffs. In the factories and fields of Iowa, that feeling is not shared.

"There hasn't been a trade war we've won," Sukup tells the Register. "And we have the most to lose from it."

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Elizabeth Warren’s Unaccountable Federal Agency Backfires on Her: New at Reason

A lesson in not letting political power get in the way of proper oversight

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomSen. Elizabeth Warren is spitting mad at Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director who does double duty heading up an agency whose creation Warren championed: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB's previous director was an ideological ally of Warren. Since Mulvaney took over Warren has ripped the agency's decisions. Warren said Mulvaney is giving "the middle finger" to consumers, and she railed at Mulvaney's indifferent response to the 10 (!) letters she has sent him demanding answers to more than 100 questions.

The other day she tweeted that she is giving Mulvaney "one last chance." Yet as The Wall Street Journal points out, she has only herself to blame for her apparent impotence.

Time and again during debate over the CFPB, conservatives and libertarians warned that its powers were too great and that its accountability to the other branches of government was too limited. But that was just the way Warren and other supporters wanted things. Neither Congress nor other political forces could influence an unaccountable regulatory agency. Now Warren finds herself thwarted by the very lack of oversight she championed. A. Barton Hinkle explains more.

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Loyola Chicago Cuts Off Comedian Hannibal Buress's Mic After Politically Incorrect Performance

"He violated the mutually agreed upon content restriction clause in his contract."

BuressMatias J. Ocner/TNS/NewscomLoyola University Chicago students were furious when school officials cut off comedian Hannibal Buress's mic just a few minutes into his routine on at a university-sponsored performance Saturday night.

Buress had begun by calling attention to the agreement the university had forced him to sign as a condition of giving a performance: It prohibited him from talking about rape, sexual assault, race, or sexual orientation. Buress, who is black, often incorporates politically charged themes in his material.

A few minutes into his routine, Buress made a joke about sexual abuse within the Catholic church, which prompted school officials to kill his audio, according to the Loyola Phoenix. Loyola is a Catholic university.

"Loyola University Chicago cut the mic on Hannibal Buress's performance Saturday, March 17, because he violated the mutually agreed upon content restriction clause in his contract," Loyola spokesperson Evangeline Politis tells Reason via email. "It is standard for the University to include a content restriction clause in entertainment contracts; Buress is the only entertainer to disregard the clause to the degree that his mic was cut."

Buress attempted to perform without a mic, so officials reportedly turned up the background music to drown him out. He then left the stage for 15 minutes. Students in the audience began chanting "Hannibal" in protest of the university's decision. Finally, the comedian was allowed to finish his performance.

Since Loyola is a private university, it is within its rights to impose conditions on would-be performers. But there are plenty of reasons to think a blanket ban on speakers addressing controversial subjects is a terrible thing for a university to enforce. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Bill Rickards writes:

So one has to wonder, how well does Loyola handle the full thrust of public debate if this is how it responds to jokes about a sore subject for the Catholic Church?

When universities impose restrictions on a performer's speech like this, whatever their legal right, it is important to consider the implications of those restrictions and the question of what is accomplished by enforcing them. Comedy, in particular, is an art that often drives social change, allowing a speaker to set aside—or indeed poke at—discomfort around sensitive or charged subjects in order to challenge ideas and powerful people or institutions. For example, Buress sparked renewed public attention to allegations of sexual assault by Bill Cosby. Do academic institutions serve themselves well when they invite comedians to perform and entertain, so long as they don't challenge those institutions?

Everyone who opposes mandatory trigger warnings in the classroom should be similarly concerned about an administration enforcing "content restrictions."

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Austin Bombing Suspect Killed, Trump Urges Saudis to Buy More Weapons, Former Playboy Model Sues Tabloid Publisher to Talk About Love Affair With President: A.M. Links

  • Karen McDougal (right) s_bukley/NewscomA suspect in a recent string of bombings in Austin, Texas, was killed during a standoff with police early Wednesday morning. Police say he killed himself with one of his own bombs.
  • The art of the (arms) deal: After Congress met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to talk about his country's role in civil war and strife in Yemen, President Trump urged the prince to buy more U.S. weapons and military equipment, saying the Saudi's current $12.5 billion purchase is "peanuts."
  • Former model Karen McDougal is suing to be released from a nondisclosure agreement she signed with American Media Inc, parent company of the tabloid The National Enquirer. McDougal alleges that the company—whose chief exec David Pecker is a longtime friend of Donald Trump's—paid her $150,000 in 2016 to keep quiet about a "10-month romantic relationship with Donald Trump" McDougal'd had a decade earlier.
  • A European Union plan to tax tech companies on revenue, not profit, could hike the tax burden on companies by hundreds of millions.
  • Russia's top court says popular encrypted messaging app Telegram must hand over user data when requested by Russian security services.
  • Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Justine Damond, an Australian woman who had called police to her home to report a sexual assault.
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Trump’s ‘Tough’ Drug Policies Are Not Smart: New at Reason

The president’s anti-opioid plan is heavy on tactics that have already failed.

C-SPANC-SPANDuring a visit to New Hampshire on Monday, Donald Trump gave a 19-minute speech about opioid abuse in which he used the word tough or variations of it 19 times, more than four times as often as he used the word smart. That ratio seems about right, Jacob Sullum says, given the details of the president's plan to end "this scourge of drug addiction in America" and "raise a drug-free generation of American children."

Trump's plan is heavy on tactics that have already failed, Sullum notes, including propaganda aimed at scaring kids away from drugs, heavy penalties for dealers, and interdiction at the border. Trump also wants to intensify the crackdown on prescription opioids, which hurts pain patients and drives nonmedical users toward deadlier substances.

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Why Trump Is Right to Reject the Paris Climate Agreement: New at Reason

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comPresident Trump's pick to be the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is not a fan of the Paris climate agreement, the treaty that claims it will slow global warning by reducing the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Politicians from most of the world's nations signed the deal, and President Obama said "we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet."

Trump wisely said he will pull America out of the deal. He called it a "massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries." Unfortunately, observes John Stossel, Trump often reverses himself. That's why it's good that Pompeo opposes the Paris deal. Such treaties are State Department responsibilities. Pompeo is more likely to hold Trump to his word than his soon-to-be predecessor Rex Tillerson, who liked the agreement.

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Brickbat: The Walking Dead

DeadNomadsoul1 / Dreamstime.comA Romanian court has told Constantin Reliu he is dead and there's nothing he can do about it. Reliu left the country to work in Turkey in 1992. After not hearing from him for years, his wife had him declared dead. Turkey deported him last year. When he got back to Romania, he found he was officially dead. The court said that decision can't be overturned.

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Self-Driving Car Not at Fault in Yesterday's Deadly Accident, Trump Congratulates Putin on Election Win, and the Senate Set to Vote on Yemen War: P.M. Links

  • Uber fleetKyodo/NewscomPolice say that the self-driving Uber vehicle is not at fault in yesterday's deadly collision with a pedestrian. The Washington Post's Megan McArdle argues it's far too soon to tell if self-driving cars are safer than their human-piloted alternatives.
  • Trump congratulates Putin on his election win, suggests the two will meet in "the not-too-distant future."
  • School shooter in Maryland injures two before being killed by armed school resource officer.
  • The Senate is set to vote on a resolution withdrawing U.S. personnel from supporting Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney's sole Republican primary challenger in the race for the state's single congressional seat criticizes her for praising torture, saying, "We're a really red state. We're crusty, old conservative cowboys and miners, and we're rough and tough and opinionated, but we are not torturers."
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown says high-speed rail critiques are "bullshit."
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Congress Is Still Ignoring Its Spending Problem as Deadline Looms for $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill

Four out of five voters agree that Washington has a spending problem, but a new omnibus spending bill will add yet more to the national debt.

Alex Edelman - CNP/NewscomAlex Edelman - CNP/NewscomCongressional leaders hope to vote on a new spending bill by the end of Thursday, a day before the deadline to avoid another government shutdown.

The $1.3 trillion* bill will fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. According to reports from Politico, CNBC, and other outlets, big ticket items still being negotiated include how much to spend on President Donald Trump's border-wall pet project, how much to spend on a new train tunnel linking New Jersey with New York City, and whether to include protections for immigrants who came to America illegally as children.

You know what's almost entirely absent from the discussion? Any concern for America's long-term fiscal health.

To be fair, the right time to have that discussion was probably earlier this year, before Congress passed the budget deal that paved the way for this bill. The omnibus package set to pass this week fills in specific line items, while the budget outlines spending priorities in broad strokes. But instead of addressing any deeper fiscal issues, lawmakers voted to raise spending caps and add to the national debt.

The current budget plan will add an estimated $1.7 trillion to the federal debt in the next decade, and it will cause the Treasury to run a trillion-dollar deficit every year for the foreseeable future, according to a nonpartisan analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Because tax cuts passed late last year reduced future government revenues, higher spending in coming years will have a dramatic effect on America's national debt. The committee projects that annual interest spending on the national debt will rise from $263 billion in 2017 to $965 billion by 2028.

Not everyone in the government is ignoring the problem. David Malpass, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs, told Fox Business last month that he's increasingly troubled by huge budget deficits. "I think it is too high now, and it's going higher," he said of the national debt.

It's going higher, in part, because of quick succession with which Republicans approved tax cuts and massive spending increases, a combination that undercut an argument Republicans have used for years to push for lower taxes. Only by cutting government revenue could spending be brought under control, the argument went. That logic seems to have misunderstood just how disconnected revenue has become from spending—even among Republican officials who spent a good portion of the past decade talking about the need for fiscal restraint.

"It turns out that tax cuts did not starve the beast," writes Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "The beast simply grabbed a plate of deficit-finance and continued eating."

If cutting taxes can't bring spending under control, the last, best hope lies with voters. A February poll from Rasmussen Reports found that 77 percent of likely voters think politicians' unwillingness to cut spending is more to blame for the budget deficit than taxpayers' unwillingness to pay more in taxes. Voters also say they want Congress to balance the budget, Rasmussen reports, but they generally believe that won't happen.

The usual caveats apply here. First, it's not surprising that a poll of voters found that voters think politicians are the problem. A poll of politicians would probably show that they think voters' unwillingness to pay more in taxes is a larger part of the problem. Second, voters in aggregate usually agree that they want to pay less in taxes and see the government spend less—but it's difficult to get a consensus on what, exactly, should be cut.

Foreign aid usually polls well as a target for spending cuts, but it accounts for a teeny, tiny share of federal spending. If you're serious about getting the federal deficit under control, you need serious cuts to the Pentagon and to entitlements—and election after election shows that, given the choice, voters tend to back candidates who promise to increase spending in those areas while railing against proposed cuts.

Indeed, the federal government could eliminate all spending except entitlement programs and the interest on the federal debt, and the budget still would not be balanced.

If voters call for bringing deficits under control and for cutting spending—not only in surveys, but at the ballot box—there's perhaps some small hope that the trend of higher spending and more borrowing can be reversed. In the meantime, Congress appears ready to gorge itself with massive spending increases that will drive the national debt to new highs.

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D.C.’s Cache of Seized Illegal Guns Has Antique Rifles and Paintball Guns, But Few Bump-Stock-Compatible Weapons

I sent a FOIA request to the lab that processes guns seized by police in the nation's capital. Here's what I found out.

Alec WardAlec WardWhen I wrote recently about D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposal to ban bump stocks, I noted that the legislation would be entirely strategic and/or symbolic, since D.C.'s gun laws already outlaw most guns that can be readily fitted with a bump stock.

But I was still curious about how many illegal bump-stock-compatible wepaons there might be in the District. So I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to D.C. government asking for details on the district's illegal guns.

In response I received a spreadsheet from the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), which forensically processes illegal guns that fall into the hands of the city police. The spreadsheet details the make, model, and caliber of 2,192 guns processed in 2017.

Here are a few things I learned from the data:

1) Very few of the guns on the list were bump-stock-compatible.

First, a disclaimer: Determining whether a gun will accept a bump stock is not always a straightforward yes/no classification. The question is complicated by homemade bump stocks, custom fabrications, and the like. For these purposes, I called a gun "bump-stock-compatible" only if it was a semi-automatic AR-15 or AK-47 pattern rifle or carbine. Those types of firearms are, as far as I could determine, the only ones for which bump fire stocks are currently manufactured and sold at any kind of mass-market scale.

Using those parameters, I found just 27 guns on the list of 2,192 which were bump-stock-compatible. That's 1.2 percent, which suggests it is unlikely that D.C. has a significant problem with bump stocks being used in crimes.

2) Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority were pistols.

Amidst national debates about mass shootings, bump stocks, and "assault weapons," it often seems to get forgotten that, nationwide, handguns play a vastly larger role in gun crime than do rifles ("assault"-style and otherwise) or shotguns. The DFS data reflect that. Judging by the caliber, at least 1,800 of the 2,192 entries were semi-automatic handguns or revolvers.

3) A surprising number of antique and historical firearms appear on the list.

Before seeing it, if you had asked me how many bolt-action infantry rifles from World War I and before would be on the list of guns seized by police in D.C., I'd probably have said zero. But I'd have been wrong. The list included several antique rifles, including a handful of bolt-action rifles that would have been military standard issue around 1895 or so. How these guns ended up in the custody of the Metropolitan Police Department is anyone's guess. (Maybe someone's unregistered antique firearms collection was discovered?) As a history enthusiast, I cringe at the thought of these rifles, which wouldn't be out of place in a museum, being destroyed.

4) Some of these guns weren't guns at all.

I noticed that several entries in the list I received gave ".177," ".68," or "6mm" as the caliber of the gun in question. These aren't common bullet calibers, so I looked up the makes and models. As it turned out, the "6mm" entries were all airsoft guns, a realistic toy weapon which shoots a 6mm plastic sphere at velocities too low to break the skin. The .177s were BB and pellet guns, something I should have been able to guess from the fact that the manufacturer was listed as "Daisy." And the .68s? I thought initially that these might be some sort of muzzle-loading hunting rifles, but nope. Google provided the answer: paintball guns.

How exactly it came to be that 15 airsoft guns, 46 BB guns, and 4 paintball guns were sent to D.C.'s crime lab for forensic analysis, I don't know. It's certainly possible they were being carried as decoy guns (which is still illegal in D.C.), but I somehow doubt they'd provide much in the way of useful ballistics. Oh, well.

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Freedom-Loving Parents, Rejoice: Utah Approves Free-Range Kids Bill

And your state could be next.

Free kidsRawpixelimages / DreamstimeIt was almost 10 years ago to the day that I wrote the column, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." It caused such a media firestorm that I started a blog in response: Free-Range Kids. That blog eventually became a book, and then a movement. Today, Let Grow, my non-profit, continues the fight against over-protective parenting.

Utah has now become the first state to pass—unanimously—the Free-Range Kids bill, which specifically allows parents to let their kids run errands, play outside, and even wait briefly in the car without fear of arrest. As the Deseret News explained:

The bill, which Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday that he'd signed, specifies that it isn't neglectful to let kids do things alone like travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car. The law takes effect May 8.

Utah's law is the first in the country, said Lenore Skenazy, who coined the term free-range parent. A records search by the National Conference of State Legislatures didn't turn up any similar legislation in other states. ...

Skenazy, who wrote the book "Free Range Kids" after writing about letting her 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone, has said the law is a good way to reassure parents who might be nervous about their parenting decisions.

Read the rest of the story here, and then pass it along to your legislators: your state could be next. Here is a template of the Let Grow Proclamation you can take to any elected representative, even a local city councilperson.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hateful Agenda

The outfit's silly hit jobs against intellectual opponents only discredit it

The Southern Poverty Law Center was formed during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement to keep track of shadowy hateSPLCRobert King/Polaris/Newscom outfits, racists and extremists spreading vile propaganda against various ethnic and other groups. It was a worthy goal—so long as it lasted. In recent decades, the organization has taken to doing hit jobs on intellectual opponents who deviate from the liberal orthodoxy.

SPLC's latest victim is conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.

I don't always agree with Sommers' brand of feminism, but to allege as the SPLC does that she is a peddler of male supremacy is ridiculous, I note in my column at The Week. She is wrong about some things and right about others. But instead of refuting her ideas, SPLC tried to demonize her with guilt by association.

Such tactics combined with SPLC's ridiculously loose criteria could potentially snag anyone who doesn't fully buy the Social Justice Warrior agenda. Even the Dalai Lama might find himself on the SPLC list of hate monger given that His Holiness considers homosexuality "sexual misconduct."

Go here to read the piece.

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San Francisco Mired in Mink Poop Fight

The upshot: Say goodbye to fur sales.

Fur pupperWilleecole/Dreamstime.comSan Francisco is set to become a little less stylish today. This afternoon, the city's Board of Supervisors will vote on an ordinance banning the sale of any product containing animal skin with "fur, fleece, or hair" attached to it—everything from mink stoles to rabbit foot key chains. The measure is expected to pass.

Violators would receive a $500 fine for their first fur offence, rising to $750 for a second and $1,000 for any violations thereafter. The ban exempts sales of used furs in second-hand shops, pawn shops, and nonprofits. The personal possession of furs purchased outside the city will also be permitted, as will fur products intended for use by cats or dogs.

The measure would go into effect January 1, 2019.

"It is unfashionable to take the life of another living creature for the purpose of wearing them," the bill's sponsor, Supervisor Katy Tang, declared in a press release. The bill's purpose, according to the release, is to send a message that "the violence these animals endure for the purpose of becoming clothing and/or accessories is not consistent with the values of our city."

Tang, a professed vegetarian who has told the San Francisco Chronicle that she indulges in the occasional purchase of leather shoes, has also advanced an environmental argument. Her legislation hypes the dangers of the million or so pounds of mink feces produced by fur farms in the United States each year, which reportedly add unhealthy levels of phosphorus to the ecosystem.

Cutting down on the scourge of mink feces will not come cheap. The San Francisco controller estimates that the city's retailers will lose $11 million in sales annually thanks to the ban. The Chamber of Commerce is more pessimistic: Based on a survey of city retailers, it suggests a ban would cost $45 million a year.

According to the Chamber, roughly 50 retailers sell fur products in San Francisco, with some businesses relying on fur for some 75 percent of overall sales. At least two businesses reported over $4 million a year in fur sales, according to the Chamber's survey.

San Francisco will be the first major U.S. city to ban fur sales. Two other California towns, West Hollywood and Berkeley, passed similar bans in 2011 and 2017, respectively.

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YouTube Comedian Convicted of Hate Crime for Making Dumb Video of a Dog Saluting Hitler

"Keep fighting for free speech, the great meme war," said Count Dankula.

DankulaScreenshot via Count Dankula / YoutubrA Scottish court convicted Youtube personality "Count Dankula" of a hate crime for posting a joke video of his girlfriend's dog giving the Nazi salute.

Count Dankula, whose real name is Mark Meechan, was released on bail earlier today and will be sentenced next month, according to Breitbart.

Just before the verdict, Meechan told his fans: "If worse comes to worst and everything goes fucking terribly, keep fighting for free speech, the great meme war."

The video that got Meechan in trouble was posted on Youtube in April 2016. It depicts his girlfriend's dog, Buddha, responding to Meechan saying "want to gas the Jews?" over and over again. Meechan also positions the dog to be watching an Adolf Hitler rally on the computer, and to perform a Nazi salute. As Reason's Christian Britschgi reported earlier, Meechan claimed his sole intention was to troll his girlfriend, who was "always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is."

"And so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi," said Meechan. "I'm not a racist by the way, I just really wanted to piss her off."

Police arrested Meechan for violating Section 127 of the U.K. Communications Act, which prohibits "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing" electronic communications. At the trial, Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and a witness for the prosecution, offered the following testimony: "My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an offhand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that." But the video presents little evidence that the dog underwent some sort of rigorous programming. (My dogs respond positively to pretty much everything any human being says, as long as it's uttered in a friendly tone.)

Meechan has claimed that this trial is about defending the right to make offensive jokes, and engage in free speech more generally. Unfortunately, the U.K. doesn't have the First Amendment—such speech would undoubtedly be protected in the U.S., where the Supreme Court has routinely thwarted the government's efforts to punish even the vilest kind of expression.

It may very well be the case that the Glasgow judge was right about the facts of the case, and that Meechan broke the law. But it's wrong, as a matter of moral principle, to lock people up for engaging in hate speech. It's particularly wrong here—but it would be wrong even if Meechan was a legitimate Nazi sympathizer.

Yesterday I wrote about the so-called campus free speech "crisis," and why I think there's solid evidence that some young people—the most radical activists, in particular—are turning against the First Amendment. Kids today are more favorably disposed toward some kinds of speakers that used to be considered offensive—communists, gays, atheists—but many remain willing to support censorship of racists and other deplorable persons. Of particular concern is their attitude toward hate speech: Current college students were evenly split on the question of whether the government should prohibit hateful expression.

Liberals and civil libertarians must continue to challenge this attitude if we don't want to end up living in a country where the state imprisons people for making idiotic but harmless Youtube videos. Meechan's conviction is an odious reminder that such places exist, even in the most advanced, progressive, and supposedly tolerant corners of the world.

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Los Angeles Reverses Course on Police Body Camera Secrecy

A new plan would release footage in cases of officer-involved shootings and use of force.

Police body cameraMbr Images / Dreamstime.comLos Angeles may be about to reverse course and approve a plan that would make public body-camera footage of some police incidents.

The Los Angeles Police Department has been operating under a policy that treats police body-camera recordings as though they are not public records. As a result, the LAPD has absolutely refused to release such recordings to the public without a court order.

The LAPD persisted with this policy even after getting a $1 million federal grant to pay for the body cameras. So the taxpayers shelled out for the expensive system but officials refused to provide the government transparency that was the reason for demanding the cameras in the first place.

Under a new policy that the city's Police Commission is expected to approve today, the LAPD will release video evidence of what they describe as a "critical incident" within 45 days, or even earlier if the police chief decides it's in the public interest.

The policy defines a "critical incident" as: Any officer-involved shooting, regardless of whether anybody was hit; any use of force resulting in death or bodily injury requiring hospitalization; deaths in custody (unless there's no preliminary evidence of use of force, misconduct, or violent behavior by the detainee); and any other encounter that the police chief or the commission deems in the public interest.

The policy also includes privacy protections to safeguard the identities of juveniles and victims of some crimes, including redactions and blurring of faces as necessary. The policy also allows for the delay of video release to protect the safety of people (including police officers involved) and to protect sources of ongoing investigations. The policy requires specific, fact-based explanations for any delay request and requires unanimous approval by the police chief and the commission. We will have to see how that actually gets implemented in practice.

This is an excellent first step in moving away from terrible policies that subvert the purposes of body cameras, which are to help both document what happens in encounters between police and citizens and to properly hold all parties involved for misbehavior.

We've seen what has happened in North Carolina as a result of a state law that shields body camera footage from public records laws unless judges order their release. In Greensboro, police and a local judge blocked the release of footage of a teen's violent arrest by police. The judge said this was to protect the reputation of the arrested teen and his family, even though the family itself was petitioning the court for its release. A police officer in Asheville, meanwhile, faces charges for beating an alleged jaywalker, but only after the body camera footage was leaked to a media outlet.

Even under the LAPD's restrictive policy, we were starting to see leaks. Last November, footage got out that seemed to reveal a police officer planting cocaine on a suspect stopped for a hit-and-run crash. Note that such video footage still would not necessarily be released under the new policy, so there's still more work to be done.

Read the policy draft here.

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Reason Readers and Ajit Pai Helped Memphis Barber Pay His Absurd Licensing Fine

But sadly Elias Zarate is no closer to being a barber, because he still doesn't have a high school diploma. And, yes, that matters for some reason.

Photo obtained from Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber ExaminersPhoto obtained from Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber ExaminersThanks to readers of Reason, Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, and other random strangers who had never met him, Elias Zarate was able to pay off a $1,500 fine (plus another $600 in fees) imposed by Tennessee's haircut cops.

What crime warranted such a stiff penalty? Zarate cut hair without a license—that's a violation of Tennessee Cosmetology Act code 62-4-108, which requires all licensed barbers to have a high school diploma. What's finishing high school got to do with being a good barber, you may ask? Well, nothing, but Tennessee is one of 13 states to require completion of high school as a prerequisite to getting a barber license

As Reason reported in January, Zarate dropped out of high school midway through the 12th grade to help raise his two younger siblings—their mother had died in a car accident and their father abandoned the kids to tenuous living arrangements with relatives—and ultimately got a job working as a barber in Memphis. Zarate loved the work and there's no indication that anyone complained to the state board about his skills with a razor and scissors. After getting busted, Zarate approached the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, hoping for some help with getting a legitimate license. They slapped him with a fine and told him he'd have to go back to high school before he could work again.

"I was thinking, how am I supposed to pay for this fine, you know, because they're stopping me from working," Zarate told Reason.

And that's where this story goes from being yet another reminder about the arbitrary awfulness of occupational licensing laws to something that might just restore your faith in humanity.

With the help of licensing reformers at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank, Zarate set up a GoFundMe account to help pay off his fine. After our story about his situation—and a clutch tweet from Pai—the page was flooded with donations.

Zarate ended up raising more than $3,200, with most of it coming in the form of small donations from people who likely have never met him and never will. Take a minute to read through some of the comments on the page and bask in the collective middle finger being raised to the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.

"I just want to thank everybody who donated, it means so much to me," says Zarate in a video posted by the Beacon Center. "I just want to be able to get into barber school and make everything right with the state and provide for my family."

But now that Zarate has paid off his fines—he did so on Friday of last week—he's still no closer to having a career as a barber. Righting that wrong will require action from the state legislature.

After Zarate's story became public, Gov. Bill Haslam called for a bill to reduce the educational requirements for a barbering license. Legislation introduced in the state House and state Senate would require the completion of 10th grade—the same standard that applies to cosmetology licenses in Tennessee—before an applicant could get a barber license, rather than requiring the completion of high school.

It's not clear why there should be any educational requirement attached to a barber license. Cutting hair well does not require knowledge of trigonometry or a careful study of the meaning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Proper sanitation for the equipment used by licensed barbers—the only thing that could remotely be considered a reason for government to intervene—could be, and indeed is, taught during the mandatory training that all barber licensing applicants must complete in Tennessee. It is not taught in Tennessee high schools.

The closer you look, the less sense it makes. You can become a licensed emergency medical responder in Tennessee without a high school diploma—indeed, you can do it with far less work than is required to become a barber. Getting an EMR license in Tennessee requires only that an applicant can "read, write, and speak the English language," according to Tennessee Department of Health guidelines.

Zarate is hardly alone when it comes to facing the wrath of the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, examined meeting minutes and disciplinary actions for the board and found that it had levied $100,000 in fines against dozens of braiders in 30 different hair shops and salons since 2009. "All of those violations," wrote Nick Sibilla in Forbes, "were for unlicensed braiding; none were triggered by any health or sanitation violation."

Individuals pitching in to help a guy like Zarate is a heart-warming story; but the reality is that state boards can issue more fines than could ever be paid off in such a fashion. Eliminating unnecessary licensing laws that have nothing to do with public health and safety is the only way to ensure that barbers, hair braiders, and cosmetologists in Tennessee and elsewhere have the freedom to pursue their careers without fear of the haircut cops.

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Mississippi Bans Abortions After 15 Weeks, Faces First Legal Challenge Today

The nation's most-restrictive law is passed amidst a long-term decline in unwanted pregnancies.

"We are saving more of the unborn than any state in America, and what better thing can we do?"

That's what Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said as he signed the nation's strictest law regarding abortion. The only exemptions in House Bill 1510, reports the Clarion Ledger,

are if a fetus has health problems making it "incompatible with life" outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren't exempted.

Currently, federal law prohibits banning abortions before 20 weeks, which is considered the moment at which a fetus is viable. The law is being challenged by Mississippi's only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization:

Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis, in a sworn statement, said she'll have to stop providing abortions to women past the 15 week ban, or else lose her Mississippi medical license, as House Bill 1510 requires. Carr-Ellis said women shouldn't be forced to carry their pregnancies to term against their wills or leave the state to obtain abortions.

"A woman who is pregnant should have the ability to make the decision that is best for her about the course of her pregnancy, based on her own values and goals for her life," Carr-Ellis said in the statement.

I realize and respect that some libertarians are opposed to abortion except when a pregnant woman's life is endangered by bringing the pregnancy to term.

But Carr-Ellis's perspective seems right to me, especially before viability. Personhood is a legal concept, not a scientific fact, and will always be subject to definition and redefinition as our knowledge and morality change. But despite some ambiguity, viability has a strong claim as being the moment at which personhood should be granted and the state can rightly begin to take some interest, with interventions becoming more likely as the pregnancy continues. This is roughly the thinking behind Roe v. Wade (1973), which has been revised and amended in subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court, and it also accords well with public opinion on abortion. By a two-to-one margin (61 percent to 31 percent), Americans support unfettered rights to an abortion in the first trimester of a pregnancy but that position reverses in the second trimester (27 percent to 64 percent) and drops further in the final trimester (14 percent to 80 percent). That pattern is reflected in when women have abortions, too, with 95 percent of abortions taking place by week 15. In Mississippi, "78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older. That's out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic."

Guttmacher InstituteGuttmacher InstituteGranting pre-viability fetuses full legal rights from the "moment of conception," the stated goal of many if not most abortion opponents, is imprecise and opens up our private lives to all sorts of invasive state interventions. For instance, prior to the new law, Mississippi counted a pregnancy as beginning with the first day of a woman's last menstrual cycle, or about two weeks before most other states started counting. So even though Mississippi's previous ban on abortions started after 20 weeks, it effectively meant it started at 18 weeks by the methods used in other places. Beyond that, there is a serious question of how to account for naturally occurring abortions. "Embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent," notes Reason's Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey. "The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception." If "moment of conception" becomes the legal definition, then what is to be done about the millions of "deaths" that occur every year?

In any case, the rate of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 years to 44 years has declined below what it was when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Better contraceptives and more access to them is the leading cause of the reduction, as the incidence of unwanted pregnancy is way down across all age groups. It's also likely that increasingly tighter state-level restrictions and the reduction in the number of abortion providers plays a role, too, though given that only 1.3 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks, the legal cut-off in most states, it's not clear how much impact such restrictions have. Prior to the Supreme Court legalizing the procedure, it's estimated that between 200,000 and 1.2 million abortions were performed per year, with most of them being illegal.

The first challenge to Mississippi's new law comes today, with a federal judge hearing arguments for and against blocking the implementation of the 15-week ban as its constitutionality is tested in the courts.

In 2013, Reason held a discussion about "Abortion & Libertarians" featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Ronald Bailey, and The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway. Take a look:

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China's Freedom-Crushing 'Social Credit Score': New at Reason

Americans should be wary of something similar

China's government has announced that they'll assign a mandatory government "social credit score" to everyone in the country by 2020. It will be based largely on what you do online. Say something that gets censored, you lose points. Same if you watch porn, or are late in returning a rented bike, or buy lots of alcohol.

China's government boasts that the social credit system will "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step."

Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions.

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A.M. Links: Trump vs. FBI, Austin-Bound Package Explodes at FedEx Facility, Weinstein Company Files for Bankruptcy

  • Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comA package bound for Austin, Texas, has exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio.
  • "President Trump shook up his legal team Monday by hiring a combative former prosecutor who has publicly argued that Trump is the target of an elaborate FBI conspiracy—marking another confrontational move by the president against the rapidly mounting legal threats facing him and his administration."
  • French police have detained former French President Nicolas Sarkozy as part of an investigation into improper financial dealings with the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
  • The last known male northern white rhino in the world has died.
  • The Weinstein Company has filed for bankruptcy.

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Brickbat: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

SnowmanOg-vision / Dreamstime.comDistrict of Columbia Council member Trayon White Sr. seems to think the snowfall that recently hit the city wasn't just the last sign of winter. "Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y'all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation," White said in a video posted to his official Facebook page. "And D.C. keep talking about, 'We a resilient city.' And that's a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful."

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Watch Live: 'Is There a "Rape Culture" on College Campuses?'

Watch and vote on Reason/Soho Forum debate featuring Cathy Young and Michael Kimmel.

"There is a rape culture on college campuses that creates an unsafe environment for female students."

That's the resolution for tonight's Reason-Soho Forum debate, which starts at 6:30 P.M. ET at the Subculture Theater in New York's East Village.

Michael Kimmel will be arguing the affirmative. He is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and the author of Manhood in America; Angry White Men; The Politics of Manhood; The Gendered Society; and the best seller, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Cathy Young will be arguing the negative. She is a contributing editor at Reason magazine, a weekly columnist at Newsday, and a regular contributor to the Jewish Daily Forward and The Weekly Standard. She's the author of two books: Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (1989) and Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (1999).

The Soho Forum is an Oxford-style debate, which means that the audience votes before and after the proceedings. The participant who moves the most people to his or her side is declared the winner. Livestream viewers can vote by following the instructions made by moderator Gene Epstein and going here to register both your pre-debate and and post-debate answers.

For more information go here. To check out past Reason/Soho Forum debates, go here.

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Trump Doubles Down on Death for Drug Offenses

Despite potential legal obstacles

MATTHEW HEALEY/UPI/NewscomMATTHEW HEALEY/UPI/NewscomIn New Hampshire today, President Donald Trump promised once again to tackle the opioid crisis with the full force of the federal government, reiterating his support for executing drug traffickers.

"We have to get tough on those people. We can have all the blue ribbon committees we want, but if we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty," he said.

Trump's preference for executing drug offenders was first reported last month.

Some drug dealers "will kill thousands of people in their lifetimes," Trump claimed at his New Hampshire event. "They'll be jailed for 30 days, or a year, or they'll be fined. And yet if you kill one person, you get the death penalty or you go to jail for life. If we're not going to get tough on drug dealers who kill thousands of people and destroy so many people's lives, we are just doing the wrong thing."

"This is about winning a very, very tough problem," he added. "Toughness is the thing they most fear."

"Drug trafficking is not an offense for which someone can receive the death penalty," the ACLU's Jesselyn McCurdy said in a statement released shortly after Trump's speech. "The Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently rejected the use of the death penalty in cases where there has been no murder by the convicted individual."

"Like unnecessarily long prison sentences, there is no evidence that the death penalty actually prevents crime. It's an ineffective way to address this problem," said Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Justice Program at the NYU School of Law's Brennan Center.

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that he is working with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on a bill to create new mandatory minimums for fentanyl, and possibly to write a new capital offense into federal drug law.

"I'll also be working with Senator Cotton and others to explore the possibility of even stronger penalties—that could include the death penalty if the fentanyl results in someone's death—for those who choose to push this deadly drug into our communities," Graham said in a press release.

Trump said he would call for more federal funding for developing nonaddictive painkillers, an idea in which FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has also expressed interest. Trump also alluded to changes in the reimbursement practices of Medicaid and Medicare to make sure "opioid addiction is not subsidized by the American taxpayer."

Congressional Republicans claimed in January that Medicaid expansion fueled the epidemic; Stanford's Keith Humphreys has argued otherwise.

"The best way to beat the drug crisis is to keep people from getting hooked on drugs to begin with," Trump said. To that, he supports "spending a lot of money on great commercials showing how bad it is, so that kid's seeing those commercials during the right shows on television of wherever--the internet--when they see these commercials, they say, 'I don't want any part of it.'"

In 2006, the Government Accountability Office published a study on federally funded anti-drug advertising that suggested "exposure to the advertisements generally did not lead youth to disapprove of using drugs and may have promoted perceptions among exposed youth that others' drug use was normal."

"Failure is not an option, addiction is not our future," Trump said. "We will liberate our country from this crisis. We will raise a drug-free generation of children."

"We will be spending the most money ever on the opioid crisis."

Trump touted a new high watermark for National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an annual pseudo-holiday in which the Drug Enforcement Administration asks Americans to empty their medicine cabinets of unused and expired drugs. The most recent event, Trump said, saw the agency collect 900,000 pounds of pharmaceutical products, "more than the weight of three Boeing 757s."

The administration often illustrates the impact of the opioid crisis using aeronautical metaphors. "Every three weeks, we are losing as many American lives to drug overdoses as we lost in the 9/11 attacks," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in 2017.

Trump revealed that "our Customs and Border Protection[sic]" seized three times the amount of illicit fentanyl in 2017 than they did in 2016. "I told China, 'Don't send it,'" Trump declared. "And I told Mexico, 'Don't send it.'"

The Chinese government has denied responsibility for illicit fentanyl use in the U.S., but has nevertheless taken steps to crack down on grey and black market chemical manufacturers. In December, residents of Guangdong province gathered in a sports stadium to watch as seven drug dealers were sentenced to execution.

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Maryland City Raises Property Tax on Businesses by 800 Percent, in Bid to Attract More Businesses

Now they're being sued for it.

Olivier Le Moal/Dreamstime.comOlivier Le Moal/Dreamstime.comHere's a good rule of thumb: If you want more of something, don't tax the dickens out of it. This principle appears to have eluded the town of Seat Pleasant, Maryland, which jacked up five businesses' property taxes by 800 percent as part of a scheme to attract more businesses to the community.

Now two of the targeted companies are suing, claiming the small suburb—located just outside D.C—violated everything from their own charter to the U.S. Constitution when it imposed the tax.

"It is backward economic thinking. It's borderline racketeering," says Steven Franco, who owns and operates the Discount Mart and is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Franco saw his property taxes shoot up from less than $6,000 to over $55,000 in less than a year. This, he says, has had an "extremely adverse impact" on his business. "People's schedules have been cut. Profits have been almost depleted....One guy had to get laid off."

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include married couple Si Quang Chen and Chang Lin Chen, who own a Chinese restaurant next to Franco's store. Their property tax bill went from $3,482 to $31,180.

In May 2017, the Seat Pleasant council passed a yearly budget that included a special assessment to fund a "Special Revitalization District for Businesses." The tax was supposed to bring in about $252,864 a year, which would be used to spur economic development and develop a "stronger financial portfolio" for the city.

According to Seat Pleasant's charter, a special assessment like the one levied on Franco and the Chens must be spent on specific improvements to the targeted taxpayers' properties—for example, by adding a sidewalk or sewer main. The city must also hold a public hearing on the assessment and give affected property owners a chance to appeal.

But the budget document makes it clear that the assessment is intended to benefit the entire town. Menawhile, the lawsuit alleges that Franco and the Chens received neither a public hearing nor a chance to appeal. The suit also claims that the tax violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on taking property without due process of law.

Mayor Eugene Grant, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, tells the local NBC affiliate that "all of these dollars are necessary for us to provide efficient and effective services for the residents of Seat Pleasant."

Grant is a controversial politician, who held court for several months in a tent outside the Seat Pleasant City Hall after the city council voted to bar him from the building because of alleged hostile behavior toward city staff. In 2016, he engineered a takeover of the city council with a slate of candidates favorable to himself, in an election that sparked accusations of voter fraud.

Grant has expressed a desire to redevelop the area occupied by the businesses that were hit by the assessment. Franco thinks the tax is intended to force him to sell his property to the city, which already owns sizable nearby lots. Grant had previously floated the idea of using eminent domain to seize Franco's property, according both to the lawsuit and to texts supposedly sent between Grant and Franco. (The texts have been posted to the website

Franco, whose store sells everything from milk to computers to school uniforms, says that Seat Pleasant is already a difficult place to do business, setting aside the special assessment.

Most Maryland personal property taxes—a tax paid on furniture, tools, and other movable property used in a business—are levied at less than 2 percent, with many towns and counties charging less than 1 percent or having no personal property tax period. Seat Pleasant's personal property tax, by contrast, is 15 percent, over six times the Maryland jurisdiction with the next-highest rate.

Franco says that such high tax rates, plus the treatment he and other business owners have experienced, will only discourage the economic development that local officials say they want to create.

"Anyone who is considering coming in to do business is going to have serious second thought," Franco says. "Seat Pleasant could be a great place, but their policies are backward economic thinking."

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for April 2.

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Woman Struck, Killed by Self-Driving Car, Facebook Shares Tumble, GOP Challenge to Penn. Map Rejected: P.M. Links

  • FacebookDado Ruvic/REUTERS/NewscomA pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., has died after being struck by a self-driving car operated by Uber. This is believed to be the first death of a pedestrian due to autonomous cars. Uber has suspended testing of the cars in the city, as well as in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
  • Facebook shares tumbled today on reports that a consultancy firm got inappropriate access to more than 50 million users.
  • Judges have rejected a Republican challenge to Pennsylvania's new congressional district map. The Supreme Court also declined to intervene.
  • Actor Cynthia Nixon today announced that she's going to challenge Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the primary. Current polls don't bode well for her chances.
  • Kroger announced it will stop carrying magazines that feature assault rifles in its stores, meaning they're essentially banning pictures of guns. One wonders what will happen to magazine sales altogether if the grocery chain discovers that many guns themselves have "magazines."
  • A tenants' group says Jared Kushner's company filed false paperwork with New York City to claim that none of the apartments in buildings it owned were rent-controlled. Many were.

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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Seasteading Progress May Be Halted in French Polynesia

Has the seasteading movement lost its latest home?

Last year, the government of French Polynesia adopted a Memorandum of Understanding that said it would look into the prospects of allowing a seastead to be built near one of its islands. "Seasteads" are artificially created island polities that can experiment with different rules and add a level of competition to government.


As I reported in the June 2017 Reason, that

agreement commits the parties to "studies addressing the technical and legal feasibility of the project in French Polynesia" and to preparing a "special governing framework allowing the creation of the Floating Island Project located in an innovative special economic zone." Since the Seasteading Institute is an educational nonprofit, the signing ceremony was also the public debut of a for-profit spinoff called Blue Frontiers, which intends to build, develop, and manage the first Polynesian seastead.

As Radio New Zealand first reported, French Polynesia's ruling party, Tapura Huiraatira—currently embroiled in some serious political turmoil over pensions, and facing a backlash against the seasteading idea—has now declared that the Memorandum of Understanding does not actually commit them to definitely allowing a seastead to be built. It adds that the agreement technically expired at the end of 2017.

Randolph Hencken, one of the principles of Blue Frontiers and the Seasteading Institute, insists that this development will not derail the movement's efforts. "French Polynesia—an archipelago of 118 islands—is one of the promising countries we are cultivating relationships with in regards to stationing seasteads," he writes.

"Some people and some politicians from the Island of Tahiti—during the election cycle—have expressed opposition," he adds. "This led to the majority party reminding people that the Memorandum of Understanding is a non-binding document and that there is not a backroom deal taking place with us. The [agreement] required us to perform environmental, economic, and legal studies—all of which we completed last year. There is no need to renew the [agreement]."

If French Polynesia doesn't work out as the site of the first functioning seastead, Hencken says, "other communities which are concerned by sea level rise have reached out to embrace our project, and many more options are also being considered. There are many locations in protected waters, in French Polynesia and other countries, that we are interested in and are building relationships with the goal of starting seasteading. We plan to take our investment, resources, and talents to one of these locations and create mutually beneficial relationships with our neighboring communities."

As Blue Frontiers' Joe Quirk, author with Patri Friedman of the definitive book on seasteading, explains in detail in a post at Medium, whether or not French Polynesia's ruling party is publicly supportive right now, many stakeholders in the island nation are still bullish on the idea.

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Identifying 'Fake News' Is More Art Than Science: New at Reason

The New York Times slams Larry Kudlow for circulating fake news during the 2008 recession, but the Times said the same things at the time.

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomA recent article in The New York Times' faulted Lawrence Kudlow, recently appointed as chairman of the National Economic Council, for having been "wildly wrong" by, as the Times put it, "denying the existence of recessions while they were already underway during President George W. Bush's administration." The Times quoted Kudlow as writing in December 2007, "Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas…the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead."

It's not clear that Kudlow's December 2007 view qualifies as "wildly wrong." The nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research, which has a committee of eminent academic economists that retrospectively dates recessions, describes December 2007 as "the peak of the business cycle," meaning that it was both the "last month" of the expansion and the "first month of the recession." Fourth quarter real GDP growth in 2007 was positive, not negative.

Even if Kudlow was wrong, wildly or less than wildly, in December 2007, he sure had plenty of company. One Times news headline from that month was "Shares Rally on Surprisingly Strong Jobs Data." The lead paragraph of that news article spoke of "renewed optimism about the outlook for the economy." Another Times news headline from that month was "Economy Holding Up, Reports Find." That article began, "Maybe the American economy is not going to keel over just yet, after all. Government reports released Thursday showed surprising resilience in the broader economy."

That's why identifying "fake news" is often as much an art as it is a science, writes Ira Stoll.

Read the full article.

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Uber Self-Driving Car Hits and Kills Pedestrian in Arizona

This unfortunate accident will not slow down the autonomous vehicle revolution.

UberSelfDrivingUberThe ride-hailing service Uber is temporarily halting tests of self-driving cars because one of them hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The woman, Elaine Herzberg, was apparently struck while she was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk at night. The car was reportedly operating in autonomous mode while being monitored by a human safety driver. This is apparently the first case in which someone has been killed by an autonomous vehicle.

The company is devising a technology that will let its cars "talk" with pedestrians, in hopes of making such accidents less likely.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2016 the automobile fatality rate averaged 1.18 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. So far, Uber's self-driving vehicles have racked up between 2 and 3 million miles on streets and highways. Obviously this accident will be carefully scrutinized to figure out what happened and who is at fault.

Keep in mind that NHSTA blames 94 percent of automobile crashes on human error. We can be sure that investigators will let us know if robot error is the cause of this unfortunate death.

Americans tolerated far higher fatality rates—as many as 40 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled—at the dawn of the automobile age. The first American killed by an automobile was Henry H. Bliss, who was struck by an electric taxi while helping a lady descend from a streetcar on Central Avenue West in New York City. It took 70 years for automobile fatalities to fall below 2 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The safety record of self-driving vehicles will presumably improve much faster than that. I fully expect to hail and take my first ride in a fully autonomous vehicle in the next five years.

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In Oklahoma, Inmates Could Be Gassed to Death by a Substance Unfit to Kill Pets

The American Veterinary Medical Association states that nitrogen may be "distressing" for any animal other than birds.

Nitrogen gas has never been used for state-sanctioned executions anywhere in the U.S., but that hasn't stopped Oklahoma officials from embracing it.

As the state struggled to find a solution to the nationwide shortage of phenobarbital, the poison used in lethal injections, officials came to see nitrogen gas an answer to this problem. Nitrogen is cheap and widely available, though few studies have been done to verify its effects.

In 2015, the state passed a law which made nitrogen hypoxia the state's primary execution method, should lethal injection be ruled unconstitutional or should the state run out of the necessary supplies. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh announced that Oklahoma will begin using nitrogen gas on its inmates once a formal execution procedure is finalized. While six states allow the use of gas as a secondary means of execution, Oklahoma is the first to make it the primary method.

"We can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait on the drugs," Hunter tells KOCO. Nitrogen "will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain, and requires no complex medical procedures."

Oklahoma has had a number of high-profile botched executions in the last decades.

In 2014, prisoner Clayton Lockett was injected with an untested cocktail of drugs after authorities were unable to locate his veins for 51 minutes. Lockett struggled to die for nearly an hour before his execution was complete. When the state executed Charles Warner in 2015, only after his death did the authorities announce that they had used the wrong combination drugs. (Warner's last words were "my body is on fire.") Shortly afterward, the state halted another execution because it also had the incorrect combination of drugs.

Michael Copeland, a criminal justice professor at East Central University whose research led to Oklahoma's 2015 bill, suggests the nitrogen offers a more peaceful alternative to the traditional injection.

"While lethal injections used to be an effective and humane way to execute someone, it's really not anymore," Copeland told Time in 2015. "The facts on the ground have changed. Now it's like an experiment every time. Here's some drugs and maybe we'll have a paramedic administer it and let's see what happens. Maybe this will kill 'em. It's kind of haphazard, and I think it's only going to get worse."

Supporters of the nitrogen method believe it's painless. As the subject breathes the gas, he dies of oxygen deprivation in a matter of minutes as nitrogen displaces the oxygen in his bloodstream. Unlike carbon monoxide* poisoning, in which the toxic build up of gas causes subjects to feel like they are suffocating, the subject would be unconscious before dying of oxygen deprivation. This process is called "nitrogen hypoxia."

Supporters who argue hypoxia is painless mostly cite accidental deaths as proof of their claim, pointing to passed out pilots, scuba divers, and others who have experienced levels of oxygen deprivation as evidence of its safety. When Copeland presented his case for nitrogen gas to the Oklahoma House Judiciary committee, his presentation included YouTube videos of people passing out from inhaling too much helium—an inert gas that may behave like nitrogen in the bloodstream.

But the American Veterinary Medical Association suggests nitrogen should not be used on animals other than birds, stating that it has "distressing" effects on mammals. Nitrogen hypoxia has caused "seizure like behavior" in rats, mice, and mink; they breath rapidly before dying, suggesting stress. Similarly, the World Society for the Protection of Animals states that nitrogen should not be used on animals if other alternatives are available; it argues that death may occur before loss of consciousness even when high concentrations of nitrogen are administered.

"This method has never been used before and is experimental," Dale Baich, a federal public defender who is challenging the state's lethal injection protocol, tells KOCO. "How can we trust Oklahoma to get this right when the state's recent history reveals a culture of carelessness and mistakes in executions?"

Getting executed is substantially different than inhaling too much helium. Prisoners could hold their breath or resist the process if they aren't sedated. And as Nitrogen has never been used to execute people before, there is no way of knowing how it will affect the inmates. If this substance has been shown to cause rats and mice stress when they died, why experiment on human lives? Nitrogen may make things easier for the prisons, but that doesn't mean it will make dying less horrible for prisoners.

CORRECTION: This sentence initially identified the wrong gas.

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Rand Paul Threatens to Filibuster Trump's CIA Pick, Because Torture: Podcast

Plus: Facebook goes after Trump's social media firm, and Trump tiptoes toward a trade war.

Aaron Bernstein/REUTERS/NewscomAaron Bernstein/REUTERS/Newscom"On what level could torture ever be acceptable?" This weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) declared that he would do everything in his power to block President Danald Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel, because of her role running a torture program at a secret detention facility during George W. Bush's administration. "There are a few things in life where it is worth standing up and saying, 'Enough is enough. This is wrong. This is, you know, this is beneath contempt,'" Paul said.

On today's Reason Podcast, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, and special guest Elizabeth Nolan Brown discuss Paul's filibuster threat, which also extends to Trump's secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo; the emerging controversy over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a social media analytics firm that worked for Trump's campaign; and Trump's push for "reciprocal" tariffs with rival nations and whether it threatens the existence of the World Trade Organization.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Relevant links from the show:

"Rand Paul: 'A Tariff Is Simply a Tax'," by Matt Welch

"Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Should Shut Up About Soup Cans, Already," by Eric Boehm

"Stone Age Statue Was Too Racy for Facebook," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"Who Are the Republicans Warning About Firing Mueller, and How Many of Them Are Running for President?" by Matt Welch

"Trump Has Exposed the GOP's Shallowness on Fiscal Restraint and Free Markets," by Shikha Dalmia

"Trump to Rex Tillerson: Someone Has Told You That You're Fired!" by Matt Welch

"Trump Is More Like Recent Presidents Than Anyone Wants To Admit" by Nick Gillespie

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes.

Don't miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.)

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Legislator Wants to Fine Parents of Bullies $750, Make Them Take Classes

"A judge will make the determination are they guilty."

BulliesIgor Dutina / DreamstimeA state representative in Pennsylvania has proposed a bill that would fine parents up to $750 and make them attend parenting classes if their kids engage in bullying.

State Rep. Frank Burns, a Democrat, spent last year extracting anti-bullying pledges from every school in his district, which is outside Johnstown. Now he wants to go further. As explains:

The fines wouldn't be imposed right away. Rather, they'd be the end product of a process that starts off with schools taking some sort of disciplinary action with the first instance of bullying.

After the second instance, the "parents are brought into the school for a conference. Then an action plan is set forth for school's responsibility, and what the parents responsibility is," Burns said. "Parents also required to attend parenting classes set up by the school."

And if all that doesn't work and the bullying continues, the "school can file a citation, and the parent can go to court and have their say. A judge will make the determination are they guilty," Burns said.

Parents could face initial fines of $500, going up to $750 for repeat offenses, Burns' office said.

The problems here are many, and begin with the definition of bullying. Is there really a way to distinguish "being mean" from "bullying"? If so, who gets to decide? The kid who feels hurt? The parents of the kid? The school?

According to site, the list of activities the government considers bullying includes "teasing" "taunting" and "leaving someone out on purpose." That's a wide swath of human behavior. Too wide. What if some kids want to leave someone out on purpose because that "someone" is a bully? Now he can claim to have been bullied.

"Bully" is a fluid category. Bullies don't always think they're bullies. Often, they feel aggrieved, too. Rather than turning some kid into an official pariah—and kicking his family financially (which may lead to him being kicked physically)—the school and government should not get into the habit of formally labeling people. A law like this can even make bullying worse, says Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist who has been researching and bullying for decades. "The reason is very simple," he said in an email. "What will you fight harder? A traffic ticket that serves as nothing more than a warning, or one that carries a $750 fine and gives you a permanent criminal record? Well, that's exactly what will happen when parents have to pay huge fines." The kids labeled bullies will angrily deny it. They may get their friends to turn against the alleged victims, too. Then the parents will fight the school's accusation, fueling "even more intensive feuds."

Besides, isn't a process that allows anyone to anonymously report a bully ripe for abuse? We've already seen what happens when busybodies call child protective services to complain about a neigbhor they don't like. More anonymous reporting is not what we need.

Lastly, there's also the meta problem of teaching kids to outsource their moral development to the authorities. In the New York City subway there are signs that say, "If you see a sick passenger, do not attempt to help them. Alert a police officer or a transit employee." The government is telling us not to be fully human: Do not to exercise judgment or compassion, stand back and wait for officials to handle even the everyday problems that individuals handled until now. The bullying law proposed by Rep. Burns takes an age-old issue and teaches kids not to try to solve it. Ask an adult instead.

Of course, sometimes bullying really is crazy cruel, and a higher authority should intervene. That has always been the case, and schools are already on high bully alert. This bill will not help kids. But it could hurt a lot of families.

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The Justice Department Tries to Hammer Out What to Reveal from Carter Page's Surveillance Orders

Judge allows until summer for an unprecedented disclosure of warrant info from one of our most secretive courts.

Carter PageSergei Karpukhin / Reuters/REUTERS/NewscomEverybody already thinks they know whether the FBI had a valid reason to snoop on former Donald Trump campaign aide Carter Page. This summer, we might actually find out who's right.

USA Today and the James Madison Project has gone to court to try to force release of documents the feds used when they sought the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court's permission to wiretap Page. The Department of Justice's lawyers have asked a federal judge to give them until July to figure out what to make public. Today a judge approved the request.

Page has become the focal point in the debate over the special investigation to determine to what extent (if any) Russians may have worked with Americans to meddle with the outcome of the 2016 election.

Page stepped down from the campaign after his connections to Russia became public. Subsequently, his communications with the Russian government prompted the FBI to request and receive permission from the FISA Court to wiretap him multiple times.

Page's name also appears in the infamous "Steele Dossier," the intelligence document generated by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The document, prepared and on behalf of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, was one of the sources used to justify the wiretap.

What we don't know is how central that dossier was to the investigation, how much the FISA Court understood its political roots, and how much of it was verified with other sources prior to the warrant requests. Those who are in the know also happen to be Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Congress with agendas to either attack or protect the probe.

We as citizens have been left with several interpretations of the underlying information. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) helmed a report that insists the FBI concealed the political roots of the Steele Dossier and relied too much on its information (some of which is unverified) in order to get permission to snoop on Page. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his side countered with a report that essentially says the opposite: that the FISA court understood the political roots of the Steele Dossier, and that the Dossier was far from the only source of information used to justify snooping on Page.

Given the limited information, many people are letting their partisan loyalties do their thinking for them: Those who believe the Trump administration is in bed with the Russians continue to do so; those who think it's all a "deep state" plot to hurt Trump continue to do so.

Reason writers have been warning about potential abuse of FISA surveillance authorities against Americans for years, long before Trump ran for office. But no FISA warrant application has ever been made public, even in a heavily redacted format. That's what makes the USA Today push so important.

Success in getting a FISA surveillance application released would give a better sense not just of how the FBI investigates people around Trump, but how such tools are used on the rest of us. As such, people on all sides (or no sides) should really be pushing to learn more about how exactly the FBI uses this court. This was going on well before Trump, and (thanks to Trump) it may continue long after he's gone. We should all want more transparency in how the FISA Court gets used.

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Cambridge Analytica Was Doing Marketing, Not Black Magic

There's no reason for alarm (yet) over a Facebook data "breach" that benefited a firm with ties to Trump's campaign.

Lauren Hurley/ZUMA Press/NewscomLauren Hurley/ZUMA Press/NewscomA little-known company called Cambridge Analytica (CA) is at the center of a breaking story about Facebook, the Trump campaign, and possibly shady data exchanges. But it's unclear whether CA did anything wrong here, or if it was just engaged in the kind of micro-targeted marketing common in consumer and political campaigns.

On Sunday, Facebook announced that it had suspended the accounts of CA and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). "In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica [and to] Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies," explained Facebook VP Paul Grewal in a statement.

Facebook Login lets websites and apps offer the option to sign in using your Facebook account, and it lets them request and obtain data from those who do. Kogan had created a personality-test app that was download by around 270,000 people, according to Facebook. This, Facebook says, gave Kogan access to such user info as "the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it."

All of this is standard. Where Kogan crossed a line and violated Facebook's terms of service was in passing this information on to third parties. When Facebook found this out, it suspended Kogan's Login account and demanded he, CA, and Wylie delete the data; all confirmed that they did. But now Facebook says it has reason to suspect that "not all data was deleted."

What's lifted this story into big news territory is the fact that the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the summer of 2016.

Senate Intelligence Committee members immediately called for more regulation of digital political advertising and more investigations. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) wants Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a Judiciary panel. Meanwhile, the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office announced this morning that it's launching its own investigation. State prosecutors are wading in too.

Both U.S. and U.K. officials say they're concerned that Facebook didn't notify users about Kogan's "breach." But Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos insisted in a series of now-deleted Saturday tweets that calling it a breach was wrong:

See more from Stamos here.

CA issued its own series of sassy tweets, starting with "Reality Check: Cambridge Analytica uses client and commercially and publicly available data; we don't use or hold any Facebook data." It said the company "did not use any Facebook data for the 2016 Trump campaign" and opined that "advertising is not coercive; people are smarter than that."

"This isn't a spy movie," CA continued. "We're a data analytics company doing research & analysis on commercial, public and data sets for clients" that span "the political mainstream."

It also pointed out that Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign was "famously data-driven" and "pioneered microtargeting" of the sort CA does.

Critics of the kerfuffle over CA's actions have also been pointing to the Obama campaign. In late 2014, Facebook shifted its policy to prevent future campaigns from using the same sort of "sophisticated social targeting"—heralded then as "a powerful new form of voter outreach"—that Obama data gurus had employed.

CA says it didn't use the Facebook data to target potential Trump voters, and it says it didn't know that Kogan wasn't supposed to share the data his app had collected. But even if it did use the data that way, and even if it did know where it came from, the only real violation would be using Facebook user data in a way that company itself sanctioned until four years ago. Calling such actions "a project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon" (as The Guardian does) hovers somewhere between hyperbolic and flat-out wrong. It drastically mischaracterizes the nature and novelty of microtargeted political ads, in a way strongly reminiscent of the whole "Russian election hacking" hoopla as a whole.

There's an emerging tendency—one seen repeatedly when new forms of media emerge—to regard any form of online advertising or social media campaigns as deceptive and devious if political actors are involved. People worried about the same thing when targeted robocalls began, and when TV political ads were new, and so on, back throughout the history of politics and persuasion.

With every iteration of this, we see the same fear that people are powerless against the secret messages encorded into these ads. But as the Tufts political scientist Eitan Hersh tweeted Sunday, "every claim about psychographics etc made by or about [Cambridge Analytica] is BS." This is nothing like a precise science or a devious plot here.

This would be a fine opportunity to discuss how much Facebook users really understand about who sees their data, or how we can improve Americas' privacy, or how Facebook tries to be all things to all people. Instead, a lot of people want to force this into a narrative about election influence. In doing so, they ascribe way too much power and sophistication to advertisers and political consultants, and way too little responsibility and literacy to the rest of us.

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Trump's Tariffs Will Make Housing More Unaffordable

Steel tariffs are likely to make prices rise further, particularly in markets where housing demand is already outpacing supply.

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomNearly half of America's steel imports are used for construction. New tariffs on that imported steel will hurt construction workers and drive up the price of housing.

President Donald Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on all imported steel earlier this month. Even though Canada and Mexico, two of America's largest sources of imported steel, are exempt from the tariff, the new tax on steel imports is likely to send shock waves through sectors that depend on steel to make everything from cars to beer kegs. Particularly in markets where housing demand is already outpacing supply, higher prices for steel likely will cause prices to rise further.

While some housing can be built with wooden frames, projects taller than about five stories require steel. If steel gets more expensive, construction firms will be forced to reconsider large-scale projects that use large amounts of it. Large-scale, multi-family housing is the best solution to tight housing markets in places like San Francisco and Nashville, but they are the types of construction most likely to be affected by steel tariffs.

From there, the repercussions ripple outwards. Investors could be scared off by price volatility, and affordable housing projects operating on tight margins would likely be the first projects to face the ax, warns Nolan Gray, policy director of the Center for Market Urbanism.

More expensive materials and smaller-scale projects might force construction companies to lay off workers. According to a policy brief released by the Trade Partnership, a Washington-based pro-trade think tank, Trump's tariffs will wipe out about 179,000 jobs—including an estimated 28,000 jobs in the construction industry.

Reduced construction of new housing means inflated prices for what does exist, and projects that do get built will have to charge higher rents to recoup building costs.

"What Trump wants to see are steel mills that are reopened and a handful of laid-off workers back on the job," writes Gray at CityLab. "What goes unseen are the millions of families who will pay higher rents, the homes and apartments that will go unbuilt, and the Americans who can no longer afford to move to thriving cities."

The steel tariffs are a second punch to a homebuilding industry already dealing with the fallout from Trump's 21 percent tariff on timber imported from Canada. Framing lumber accounts for about 18 percent of a home's final cost, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Bloomberg reported earlier this year that Trump's lumber tariff has increased the price of single-family homes by an average of $1,300 as "builders have started to raise their prices to keep profit margins stable."

That should provide a pretty good roadmap for how steel tariffs will affect the multi-family housing market.

And plenty of other markets too. According to 2015 Census data, steel mills employed about 140,000 Americans and added about $36 billion to the economy that year, but steel-consuming industries employed more than 6.5 million Americans and added $1 trillion to the economy. In other words, for every steel-producing job that might benefit from Trump's proposed tariffs, 46 steel-consuming jobs that could be hurt.

It's not clear whether Trump has considered carefully the full consequences of his tariffs, which he seems to view primarily as a negotiating tactic to force other countries to capitulate to his demands. But whatever damage trade barriers do to exporters will be felt far more acutely by industries in America that rely on those imported goods. China can always find other buyers for its steel, but American-based car manufacturers or construction firms have no such option—they have to buy steel from somewhere, and domestic production doesn't come close to meeting demand.

Tariffs on lumber and steel (and the 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum Trump signed earlier this month) might be just the beginning of Trump's trade-policy makeover. Axios reports that Trump plans to ask Congress to pass a law allowing him to set new tariffs on a wide range of finished products, such as cars. (The tariffs on lumber, steel, and aluminum apply only to raw materials.) Congress would likely refuse to pass such a bill, because it has the potential to disrupt international trade and perhaps even doom the World Trade Organization.

Trump also reportedly plans to hit China with a series of new tariffs targeting $30 billion worth of annual imports, on everything from electronics to furniture. Those tariffs could be announced as soon as this week, according to Politico.

In other words, if Trump gets his way, Americans will end up paying more for their homes—and for just about everything we buy to fill them.

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Both Sides Get Gambling All Wrong: New at Reason

Where's the argument that defends personal liberty?

Horse RaceKiankhoon / Dreamstime.comA. Barton Hinkle watches supporters and opponents of expanding gambling opportunities in Virginia and is bothered that nobody seems to acknowledge that people should be able to decide for themselves what to do with their money:

Colonial Downs has been shut for the past four years over a dispute, rooted in economic difficulty, between the owner and Virginia's horse industry. A prospective owner, Revolutionary Racing, might reopen the track—if it can incorporate video gambling on historical races. That system allows bettors to wager on races that already have been run; the gamblers know the odds for each horse but not its name or other identifying information.

The lack of knowledge about the horses puts historical race wagering in the category of slot-machine gambling: It's really just a matter of dumb luck. (In Kentucky, gamblers even bet on cartoon horses, removing all pretense that skill is involved.)

The random nature of the game raises the hackles of social conservatives, who barely tolerate horse racing in the first place. Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, says her group is "incredibly disappointed that the General Assembly would pass a massive gambling expansion that is the equivalent of slots under the guise of saving the horse-racing industry."

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Who Are the Republicans Warning About Firing Mueller, and How Many of Them Are Running for President?

Here are the three main categories of don't-go-there Republicans.

There is nothing I don't love about this photograph. ||| Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomIs President Donald Trump laying the groundwork for a Friday Night Massacre, and if so which elected Republicans are standing athwart history repeating itself yelling "I dunno man, maybe slow down?"

First, let's recap the weekend highlights:

On Saturday, the day after embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired the retiring Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Trump for the first time tweeted out the name of his tormentor, saying, "The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!" (For fact-check of those claims, consult The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.)

That same day Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, told The Daily Beast, "I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier." (White House lawyer Ty Cobb has since insisted that the president "is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.")

Meanwhile, Trump is out here tweeting that Mueller's team has "13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans" (WashPost context-check), and that it's all a "total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!" and so forth.

The Republicans who have raised objections to the prospect of Trump trying to fire Mueller broadly fall into three categories: Hawks, Squishes, and Retirees (some of them libertarian-leaning). These blocs map pretty well onto the conservative opposition to Trumpism thus far, and therefore could be more influential than they are today come December 2018, should the GOP lose the House and Senate.

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Some Pundits Say There's No Campus Free Speech 'Crisis.' Here's Why They're Wrong.

"Everything we think about the political correctness debate is wrong," says Vox's Matt Yglesias. Not exactly.

Free speechSTEPHEN LAM/REUTERS/NewscomIs the campus free speech "crisis" a myth? Well, it depends on your definition of crisis, but there's plenty of evidence that some kind of problem exists, despite what several recent contrarian takes would have us believe.

Last week, several writers have sought to prove the tales of political-correctness-run-amok that I routinely cover for Reason don't represent a trend. Moreover, they say, the evidence suggests the opposite: Support for free speech is growing, young people like free speech more than other groups, and college is broadly a civilizing experience.

"Everything we think about the political correctness debate is wrong," wrote Vox's Matt Yglesias. (This isn't exactly a new opinion from Yglesias—I've seen him previously claim that political correctness is actually a good thing.)

"People always think students are hostile to free speech," says the headline on a Washington Post article by Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University. "They never really are." The image accompanying the article is of Milo Yiannopoulos, whose attempts to speak at Berkeley were met with violence, both threatened and actual, some of which I witnessed.

Also at The Washington Post, Jeffrey Sachs makes a statement no less strong than Yglesias's and Hartman's: "The campus free speech 'crisis' is a myth. Here are the facts."

Sachs teaches at Acadia University, where an associate professor of psychology, Rick Mehta, is under investigation for voicing conservative opinions in his classroom. His department head complained that some of his students refuse to come to class because the experience of listening to him talk about why the gender wage gap is exaggerated produces too much anxiety. A professor of social work told the Toronto Star why she came down on the offended students' side, saying Mehta's opinion "does border on hate speech."

Sachs, Yglesias, and Hartman say we must set aside such anecdotes and dig into the data. But they are doing the exact same thing they accuse the propagators of the crisis narrative of doing: using an incomplete picture to make extreme and unsupported claims. While there's plenty of room to debate the extent of the so-called campus P.C. crisis, its detractors make too much of one part of the data while glossing over evidence that should concern everyone who claims to care about free speech.

Sachs and Yglesias both cite the General Social Survey (GSS), which has measured the public's opinion on a variety of questions—including tolerance for offensive views—since the 1970s. The findings strongly suggest that the public is growing more tolerant, and that young people are the most tolerant of all, according to Sachs:

On almost every question, young people aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to support free speech. Check out the data for yourself. Not only are young people the most likely to express tolerance for offensive speech, but with almost every question posed by the GSS, each generation of young people has been more tolerant than the last.

To his credit, Sachs also mentions the GSS's significant limitations: The data include 18- to 34-year-olds who are not students, and it specifically excludes students who live in "group quarters," i.e. dorms. Additionally, the wording of some of the questions is outdated. A much larger proportion of the U.S. population is in favor of letting "homosexuals" and "communists" speak in public today than in 1975. But tolerance of homosexuality is (thankfully) at an all-time high, and communist speech doesn't invoke the same fears as during the Cold War. Put another way: The kind of speech people find offensive may have changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are more willing to tolerate the kind of speech they do find offensive.

Case in point: racist speech. In 1976, 73 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 thought a racist should be allowed to make a speech in public, according to the GSS. By 2015, that percentage had fallen to 56 percent. Young people went from being the age group most tolerant of racist speech to the age group least tolerant. On the question of "should a racist book be removed from the public library," the findings were similar: Youth support for censoring such a book increased from 25 percent to 39 percent.

Certainly, this finding should be weighed against the GSS's general findings that younger people, and the highly educated, tend to be more tolerant. (People with a college degree are much more likely to say that anti-religious speech should be allowed in public, for instance.) But other surveys paint a somewhat different picture, including one conducted by the polling firm YouGov and published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

In his piece, Hartman cites the YouGov survey as evidence that "the vast majority of students, including conservatives, feel relatively uninhibited in expressing their views." But 58 percent of students, according to the survey, say they want to be part of a campus where they wouldn't be exposed to "intolerant and offensive ideas." Another 48 percent think the First Amendment should not protect hate speech.

And cutting against the GSS's findings, a massive 2017 survey conducted by the Cato Institute found evidence that students' attitudes toward free speech might actually be more illiberal than other Americans'. As I wrote in my summary of the Cato poll:

About half of the country's college students (51 percent) believe disrespectful people should be stripped of their free speech rights, while 55 percent of Americans overall think the opposite—that people are entitled to free speech regardless....

Cato found strong support for keeping hate speech legal among Americans with a college education: 64 percent said the government should not restrict hate speech. But current students were evenly split on the same question. And Americans under the age of 30 were the most likely demographic to say that hate speech is equivalent to violence: 60 percent believed this, compared with 57 percent of senior citizens and just 49 percent of middle-aged Americans.

To the extent that the Cato and FIRE findings contradict the GSS, I think it's because of the way the questions were worded. Students think gay people, communists, and atheists should be permitted to speak in public because they don't consider these people's views to be hateful, offensive, or intolerant. At the same time, some students think speech that denigrates racial minorities, gay people, women, the trans community, and Muslims is not just unacceptable, but equivalent to violence. The survey that best captured this result was undertaken by McLaughlin & Associates and published in New Criterion in November of 2015: 50 percent of people between the ages of 17 and 30 said a university should ban the publication of a political cartoon that criticized a particular religion or ethnicity.

When I talk to students who are protesting speakers they find offensive, they generally tell me that they support the First Amendment and don't want the government to arrest or punish people for engaging in free speech. They also tell me some combination of the following: Hate speech isn't free speech; if marginalized people feel threatened by the speech, the speech is actually violence; neither campus authorities nor mobs of angry students are forms of government force, and thus it's not illegal or unethical when these entities shut down offensive speech.

But let's say Yglesias, Sachs, and Hartman are right: that most young people are more pro–free speech than both older Americans and young people of the past. This still would not necessarily mean there is no campus free speech "crisis." That's because the initiators of campus P.C. incidents are not the entire student body; they're a small subset of left-wing activists. These radicals may be completely outnumbered on campus. Their ranks may not be growing—they may even be shrinking, to judge from the data about college as a civilizing experience and the increasing tolerance of young people in general. But what matters is whether their power to enforce their desire for censorship is increasing.

It's hard to tell for certain whether it is, but at the very least there's reason to be concerned.

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Authorities Investigate Mysterious Explosion in Austin, SRO Tried to Have Nikolas Cruz Involuntarily Committed: A.M. Links

"RT if socialism is your retirement plan."

  • ExplosionSERGIO FLORES/REUTERS/NewscomIn Austin, Texas, two men were injured after a package on the side of the road exploded, possibly because of a trip wire. This is the fourth strange explosion in two weeks, and authorities believe they are all connected.
  • Scot Peterson, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school resource officer accused of failing to confront alleged mass shooter Nikolas Cruz, previously attempted to have him involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. It's not clear why this recommendation, which would have prevented Cruz from being able to purchase firearms, was never acted upon.
  • Some millennials aren't bothering to save for retirement because they hope socialism will replaced capitalism by then, according to Salon.
  • Oregon judge suspended for refusing to marry gay couples.
  • A Washington, D.C. city council member thinks the Jews are responsible for recent bad weather.
  • Students celebrate St. Patrick's Day by worrying about cultural appropriation.
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Is There a 'Rape Culture' on College Campuses?: Live Debate Tonight

Cathy Young and Michael Kimmel square in Reason/Soho Forum debate in New York. Buy tickets or watch here at Reason.

Soho ForumSoho Forum"There is a rape culture on college campuses that creates an unsafe environment for female students."

That's the resolution that will be debated at tonight's Reason-Soho Forum debate, which takes place at the Subculture Theater tonight in New York's East Village. Doors open at 5:45 P.M. and tickets must be purchased online (go here or see below for details).

Co-founded and moderated by Gene Epstein, the Soho Forum is "a monthly debate series that features topics of special interest to libertarians, and the series aims to enhance social and professional ties within the NYC libertarian community."

The Soho Forum is an Oxford-style debate, which means that the audience votes before and after the proceedings. The participant who moves the most people to his or her side is declared the winner.

Details on the event:

Dave Smith, comedian and host of the podcast Part of the Problem, will begin the evening with a set of observations and insights tailored to tonight's highly charged topic.

For the affirmative:

Michael Kimmel is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. Among his many books are Manhood in America; Angry White Men; The Politics of Manhood; The Gendered Society; and the best seller, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook in 2013.

For the negative:

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine, a weekly columnist at Newsday, and a regular contributor to the Jewish Daily Forward and The Weekly Standard. She's the author of two books: Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (1989) and Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (1999). A frequent speaker on college campuses, Young has also been a regular participant in the "Battle of Ideas," a unique annual weekend-long event in London that brings together speakers of diverse perspectives for dozens of panels on various issues.

Monday, March 19, 2018
Cash bar opens at 5:45pm
Event starts at 6:30pm
Subculture Theater
45 Bleecker St
NY, 10012
Tickets cost between $10 and $18 and must be purchased in advance.
Seating is limited, so buy tickets now.

Reason is proud to partner with the Soho Forum, to livestream each debate as it happens, and to publish the debates both as videos and as episodes of the Reason Podcast. Go here for our archive.

You can set a Facebook reminder to watch the event by going here or returning at 6:30 and refreshing this page.

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The Trump Administration Is Pursuing Regime Change in Syria Under the Guise of Fighting Terrorism: New at Reason

15 years after the start of the war in Iraq, the Executive is still abusing our Constitution.

SGT. MATTHEW CALLAHAN/UPI/NewscomSGT. MATTHEW CALLAHAN/UPI/NewscomIn January, in a public address at a Washington think tank, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attempted to explain the significant shift in the Trump administration's Syria policy now that the Islamic State terrorist group was been pushed into smaller and smaller pockets of terrain.

Keeping ISIS contained so it doesn't regenerate, Tillerson said, was only a fifth of the battle. Washington will also drastically expand into far-reaching objectives: assisting with post-conflict reconstruction; keeping U.S. troops in Syria until Bashar al-Assad is removed from power; combatting Iranian influence; and creating the conditions for millions of Syrian refugees to finally return to their homes.

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Trump's Anti-Speech Agenda Gets a Boost From the Left: New at Reason

Lefty academics and activists are lining up to agree with Trump that the First Amendment is indeed overrated overall.

Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Press/NewscomPaul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Press/NewscomIt may not yet be "the end of free speech," but that particular fundamental right is probably a bad candidate for a new life-insurance policy, writes J.D. Tuccille.

We have an environment in which the president of the United States is dismissive of the free speech rights of his opponents, prominent constitutional scholars sniff at free speech unless it's used by the "right" people for their favored goals, and the country's leading civil liberties organization is suffering an internal revolt by staffers who oppose "rigid" support for free speech protections.

Now seems like a perfect time for opponents to rally around unfettered debate and the First Amendment, suggests Tuccille. Instead, lefty academics and activists are lining up to agree with Trump that a free press and individual rights to freedom of speech, belief, and association are indeed overrated overall.

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The Man Who Counts Bodies in the Desert: New at Reason

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/GettyFrederic J. Brown/AFP/GettyOver the last 24 years, during four presidential administrations, enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border has gotten much tougher. The miles of fencing grew; the number of guards exploded. While there's no evidence that "securitization" reduced illegal immigration—the number of border apprehensions of undocumented aliens did not fall dramatically until the Great Recession—it did succeed in forcing migrants to cross in less hospitable places. Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess says the result has been a spike in the number of people meeting lonely deaths in the deserts of Arizona. In 2000, his office began keeping detailed records of the human remains they received. In January, Reason's Christian Britschgi spoke with Hess about the specifics of his grim work.

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Trump the Wuss: New at Reason

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comThere are all sorts of possible reasons to admire Donald Trump, but none more imaginative than one offered by a fan attending his Pennsylvania rally before Tuesday's congressional election. Trump's planned meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, said retiree Paul Ambrose, was the product of his unflinching toughness.

"To me, Obama was a butt-kissing liberal," he told a Washington Post reporter. "Trump is Teddy Roosevelt. He just might go in there and kick some ass."

Oh, would he now? In reality, writes Steve Chapman, Trump has confirmed over and over that he's a weakling masquerading as a tough guy.

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Brickbat: Oh, Man

Police officerElnur / Dreamstime.comA Belgian court has fined a man 3,000 euros for contempt of a police officer, making sexist remarks in public and serious violation of a woman's dignity because of her gender. The man, who wasn't named by media, was stopped by a female police officer for a traffic violation and told her she should be doing a job "adapted to women." He became the first person convicted under a new new law barring sexism in public.

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Fear of a Free, Prosperous Internet: New at Reason

Big tech businesses serve America. Should we be alarmed?

The New PressThe New PressSay you've sprained your ankle. You consult Google, where you find copious information about using compression bandages to stabilize your sprain. But you'd like some back and forth with someone who has experience. You post about your injury on Facebook, triggering a real-time conversation with volunteer first responders offering pro tips.

You then pop over to Amazon, because the nearest drug store is more than 16 miles away and you don't want to drive with a sprained right ankle. You've got too much debt riding on your credit card to add to it blithely, but no problem—you use PayPal to get a bandage delivered to you that same day. And if your sprain leads to hard-to-handle bills, you can put out a call for help using GoFundMe.

A totally banal incident, and unimaginable at every step just two decades ago. Our abilities to learn, discuss, buy, receive, and give have changed magnificently for the better because of the behemoth internet companies on which every step of that dull anecdote hinges, writes Brian Doherty in his review of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball by Noam Cohen.

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Cincinnati Might Spend $300 Million for a Shot at Hosting Six NCAA Tournament Games

The NCAA says Cincinnati will get to host first and second round games in 2022, but only if taxpayers fund massive upgrades to U.S. Bank Arena.

Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire 007/Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire/NewscomChris Williams/Icon Sportswire 007/Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire/NewscomThe first weekend of the annual NCAA college basketball tournament is priceless for fans of the sport. The smorgasbord of college hoops includes 48 games played over four days in eight different locations.

When the 2022 tournament comes around, Cincinnati, Ohio, is hoping to be part of the madness. The NCAA has named the city's U.S. Bank Arena as one of the eight hosts for the first two rounds of games that year, but the promise comes with some seriously expensive strings attached. To land just six games, the city will have to fund a $370 million renovation of the 43-year old stadium—and the arena's owners are asking taxpayers to cover $300 million of that total.

Voters in Cincinnati may get a chance to vote on the proposal this November. While city officials have not yet decided what to do with the arena, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the most likely funding mechanism would be an extension of an existing "temporary" sales tax that was supposed to expire in 2020. The quarter-cent sales tax is currently being used to fund renovations to Union Terminal, a former passenger rail station now being converted into a museum.

Backers of the proposal are touting a study from the University of Cincinnati claiming that a refurbished arena could be worth $670 million in future economic growth—but stadiums are generally bad public investments and those promises of economic development rarely pay off. The Enquirer says an upgraded facility could help Cincinnati attract political conventions (city leaders are apparently jealous that Cleveland got chosen over Cincy for the 2016 Republican National Convention), big ticket musical acts, and other high profile events.

Still, the best reason to be skeptical of Cincinnati's plans to blow $300 million on an upgraded basketball arena is the city's own history with stadium deals.

Hamilton County, which surrounds and encompasses Cincinnati, spent $350 million (Harvard economist Judith Grant Long estimates the final cost was closer to $550 million, including infrastructure work and cost overruns) in the mid-90s to build a new stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League. The infamously bad deal included a rider putting regional taxpayers on the hook for future upgrades to the stadium. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011, Hamilton County "agreed to pick up nearly all operating and capital improvement costs—and to foot the bill for high-tech bells and whistles that have yet to be invented, like a 'holographic replay machine.' No team had snared such concessions in addition to huge sums of public money."

To fund the stadium, Hamilton County took on more than $1 billion in debt. Paying off that debt now consumes about 15 percent of the county's operating budget ever year, according to the Journal, and local officials have been forced to cut funding for schools and the county sheriff's office in order to pay for it. There's plenty of competition, but Cincinnati's stadium deal has been widely labeled the worst such scheme in the country.

A key part of the bad deal, says Roger Noll, a professor of economics at Stanford University, is the "optimistic forecasting" that led local officials to believe the stadium would pay for itself in the long run. Sound familiar?

More recently, Cincinnati has been negotiating with the the modestly successful local professional soccer team, FC Cincinnati, for a new stadium. The team wants to jump from a minor league to Major League Soccer, but MLS has made it clear taxpayers must first agree to fund a new soccer-only stadium for FC Cincinnati, which currently shares facilities with the University of Cincinnati. The price tag: about $200 million, at least half of it coming from public sources, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports.

Letting taxpayers vote on whether to fund a $300 million upgrade to U.S. Bank Arena is the right thing to do—as opposed to just steaming ahead without getting consent from those who will have to pay the tab.

But, really, Cincinnati officials should look at their own history of getting swindled by sports franchises and organizations before even considering asking for the public's input. The NCAA tournament is one of the best sporting events of the year, but's not worth $300 million.

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Live Debate 3/19 in NYC: Is There a Rape Culture on College Campuses?

On Monday, March 19 in New York, Cathy Young and Michael Kimmel will debate whether campuses are unsafe for women. Buy tickets today or watch live!

Soho ForumSoho Forum"There is a rape culture on college campuses that creates an unsafe environment for female students."

That's the resolution that will be debated at the next Reason-Soho Forum debate, which takes place in New York City on Monday, March 19.

Co-founded and moderated by Gene Epstein, the Soho Forum is "a monthly debate series that features topics of special interest to libertarians, and the series aims to enhance social and professional ties within the NYC libertarian community."

Reason is proud to partner with the Soho Forum, to livestream each debate as it happens, and to publish the debates both as videos and as episodes of the Reason Podcast; go here for our archive.

The Soho Forum is an Oxford-style debate, which means that the audience votes before and after the proceedings. The participant who moves the most people to his or her side is declared the winner.

Details on the event:

For the affirmative:

Michael Kimmel is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. Among his many books are Manhood in America; Angry White Men; The Politics of Manhood; The Gendered Society; and the best seller, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook in 2013.

For the negative:

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine, a weekly columnist at Newsday, and a regular contributor to the Jewish Daily Forward and The Weekly Standard. She's the author of two books: Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (1989) and Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (1999). A frequent speaker on college campuses, Young has also been a regular participant in the "Battle of Ideas," a unique annual weekend-long event in London that brings together speakers of diverse perspectives for dozens of panels on various issues.

Monday, March 19, 2018
Cash bar opens at 5:45pm
Event starts at 6:30pm
Subculture Theater
45 Bleecker St
NY, 10012
Tickets cost between $10 and $18 and must be purchased in advance.
Seating is limited, so buy tickets now.

The most recent Reason-Soho Forum debate asked whether sex-offender registries should be abolished.

More info on that here.

Click below to watch.

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Eating Insects Could Be the Future of Culinary Innovation: New at Reason

Photo source: Ferrari/ZUMA Press/NewscomPhoto source: Ferrari/ZUMA Press/NewscomHere in the U.S., we tend not think of insects as food, and are horrified when they turn up in food. Though finding a bug in one's meal is often cause for alarm and disgust, the laws around U.S. food standards recognize that bugs making their way into what we eat is simply a fact of life.

But in other parts of the world, people eat insects on purpose. The United Nations calls insects "a highly significant food source for human populations." Another source claims people in 80 percent of all countries—one of every three humans—eat bugs. The things we want to keep out of our food are actually a great source of protein, fat, and fiber.

Yet in a world full of willing bug eaters, it's perhaps no surprise that the law—the thing that so often dictates what we may or may not eat—prevents us from thinking of grubs as grub, writes Baylen Linnekin.

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We Broke the Climate and We Can Fix It: New at Reason

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonIt's way past time for humans to start devising an emergency back-up planetary cooling system.

Should man-made global warming turn out to be faster and more intense than currently projected, we need a plan for how to respond. Geoengineering offers one possible answer.

Broadly speaking, climate geoengineering proposals fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal and solar reflection. The first involves diverting carbon dioxide from power plant emissions or soaking it up directly from the atmosphere and then burying it underground. The second category—the chief focus of some surprisingly informative congressional hearings in November—entails marine cloud brightening or stratospheric aerosol dispersal, writes Ron Bailey for the April print edition of Reason.

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Florida May Be About to Launch the Most Ambitious Criminal Justice Transparency Project in the U.S.

“This may seem like a great, obvious idea, but no one else has done this."

Gary Coronado/ZUMA Press/NewscomGary Coronado/ZUMA Press/NewscomLast Friday, the Florida legislature passed a first-of-its kind bill to collect an unprecedented amount of data on its criminal justice system.

If Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law, the state will begin collecting detailed criminal justice records from all 67 counties in the state starting in 2019, which will then be published online in one central location.

Amy Bach, the executive director of Measures for Justice, a group that collects and analyzes criminal justice data from counties around the country, says this sort of centralized data collection has never been tried at the state level.

"This may seem like a great, obvious idea, but no one else has done this," Bach says "It really puts Florida as the national leader."

One of the most vexing problems for researchers, policy-makers, and journalists is that the data surrounding the criminal justice system is a mess. There are 3,144 counties in the U.S., each with their own criminal justice system. There are no uniform standards for what records they collect or common definitions of terms across those counties.

In an interview with Reason before the bill passed, Florida Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes said the aim of the legislation was to create "the gold standard for data in the country."

"We don't even have a common definition for recidivism in the state," Brandes told Reason earlier this month, lamenting the current system. "We have a law that says you have to serve 85 percent of your sentence, but if you ask the prosecutors, the Department of Corrections and the governor's office what 85 percent means, you get three different answers."

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Details Emerge About Yesterday's Bridge Collapse in Florida, Local Toy Stores Thrive as Toys 'R' Us Goes Bust, and CA City Agrees to Pay Couple $2.5 Million For Falsely Accusing Them of Faking a Kidnapping: P.M. Links

  • Alt-textGARY I ROTHSTEIN/UPI/NewscomLocal toy stores stand triumphantly atop the rotting corpse that is Toys 'R' Us, reports CNN.
  • Washington man who survived samurai sword attack from jealous girlfriend gives tell-all interview to the Oregonian.
  • The Miami Herald has a good write up of what might have led to yesterday's bridge collapse at Florida International University, which Reason wrote about here.
  • City of Vallejo, California, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to a couple it falsely accused of staging a kidnapping hoax.
  • Vanessa Trump is lawyering up after filing for divorce from current husband, Donald Trump Jr.
  • National Review's David French praises the NRA for endorsing Gun Violence Restraining Orders. Reason criticized these policies here and here.
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5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria: New at Reason

They weren't as sophisticated or effective as you might think.

The feds filed charges against 13 Russians in February 2018 after they allegedly sought to "sow discord in the U.S. political system" through social media posts, ads, and videos made to look like the work of American activists. The New York Times reported that Donald Trump's "admirers and detractors" both agree with him that "the Russians intended to sow chaos" and "have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams." But Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says a close look at the indictment tells a different story.

Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions.

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No Fourth Amendment Protections Against Warrantless Cell Phone Searches at U.S. Border, Says Federal Court

"Border searches never require a warrant or probable cause."

In its 2014 decision in Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court held that law enforcement officials violated the Fourth Amendment when they searched an arrestee's cell phone without a warrant. "Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. "With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.' The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought."

But what about when an American citizen is returning home from abroad and U.S. border officials want to thoroughly search the contents of that person's cell phone? Does the Fourth Amendment require the government to get a warrant before searching cell phones at the border? According to a decision issued this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the answer to that question is no.

The 11th Circuit's ruling came in the matter of United States v. Vergara. Hernando Vergara is a U.S. citizen who was returning home from a cruise to Mexico. Because of a prior conviction for possessing child pornography, a Customs and Border Protection officer searched his luggage, including the three cell phones that Vergara was carrying. One of those phones contained "a video of two topless female minors." The Department of Homeland Security entered the picture at that point. Vergara's cell phones were taken away to a DHS facility where they were subjected to a warrantless forensic search, which typically involves retrieving deleted files and other significant inspections of the phone's digital records. DHS discovered child pornography on Vergara's phones.

Vergara and his lawyers argue that this evidence should be deemed inadmissible because the government never obtained a search warrant. His position is based in significant part on the increased privacy protections for cell phone users that the Supreme Court recognized in Riley v. California.

But a divided panel of the 11th Circuit took a different view. "The forensic searches of Vergara's cell phones occurred at the border, not as searches incident to arrest," declared the majority opinion of Judge William H. Pryor. "And border searches never require a warrant or probable cause."

Writing in dissent, Judge Jill Pryor wrote that while she agrees "with the majority that the government's interest in protecting the nation is at its peak at the border," she disagrees "with the majority's dismissal of the significant privacy interests implicated in cell phone searches." In Riley, she noted, the Supreme Court recognized "the significant privacy interests that individuals hold in the contents of their cell phones." And in her view, "the privacy interests implicated in forensic searches are even greater than those involved in the manual searches at issue in Riley." If it were up to her, "a forensic search of a cell phone at the border [should require] a warrant supported by probable cause."

One thing is clear: We have not heard the last of this debate. Either this case, or one very much like it, is almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court.

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Arthur Miller Through His Daughter’s Eyes: New at Reason

HBO documentary pushes the playwright’s humanity while downplaying some of the controversies.

Arthur MillerThe public image of the playwright Arthur Miller has always been chilly and cerebral, perhaps best summed up in his explanation to a reporter of why he wouldn't be attending the funeral of his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, who committed suicide 18 months after they split: "She won't be there."

The signal achievement of Arthur Miller: Writer, a documentary made by his writer-filmmaker daughter Rebecca, is to introduce some color into that black-and-white picture. In old home movies and impromptu interviews shot over she shot over two decades, her father is seen joking, singing, building furniture (complete with the requisite cursing: "Goddamn angles drive you crazy," he mutters when pieces don't fit together), and swapping family folktales with his brothers and sisters.

Humanizing her father is at once the most singularly successful element of Rebecca Miller's documentary, and the source of its failures. "He lived through so many different eras, almost like different lifetimes," she says early during her narration of the documentary, an insightful observation. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a closer look.

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Will and Grace Botches the Gay Wedding Cake Fight

Nobody has the right to force bakers to print speech they hate. The debate is over what counts as speech.

Granted, we shouldn't expect complex legal analysis from television comedies, even ones that have lawyers in them. But I thought that Will & Grace, of all shows, would at least grasp the basics of the conflict around conservative bakers and gay wedding cakes.

Alas: Thursday's Will & Grace, in its comic pursuit of laughs connected to current gay issues, gets the entire wedding cake debate absurdly wrong in its attempt to flip the script.

In "The Beefcake and the Cake Beef," over-the-top wealthy gadfly Karen, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, is rejected by a bakery when she tries to get a cake made with "MAGA" on it for a birthday party for the president.

Here's the set-up:

Refusing Karen is well within the bakery's rights, and it will be regardless of how the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the Supreme Court comes out. A pro-Trump message on a cake is speech. A cake baker, a T-shirt printer, or a book publisher cannot be forced to print speech that he or she disagrees with. That's called compelled speech.

The show ends up taking this role reversal to a weird and terrible conclusion. Grace, who hates Trump and all he stands for, pushes the bakery to make Karen's MAGA cake, going so far as to raise the specter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) coming after them. To its credit, the show takes the argument to its natural, terrible conclusion: The episode ends with the baker reluctantly baking a customer a cake with a swastika on it.

But in doing so, the show pretty much gets everything backwards. It mentions that the ACLU has represented the free speech rights of Nazis, and this is true, but the show doesn't even grasp the basic idea that the bakery has speech rights too. When it comes to compelled speech, the ACLU would likely be defending the bakery here.

MAGA cake on 'Will and Grace'The argument about gay wedding cakes is fundamentally about what counts as speech and expression. The ACLU is representing gay couples in these wedding cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop. Their argument is not that bakers have to cook whatever cake their customers demand. They're arguing that this isn't a speech or religious freedom issue and that it's foundationally about denying service to gay people in violation of public accommodation laws. They don't see wedding cakes and other wedding products as a form of expressive speech. The writing on the cake, yes. The cake itself, no.

I think the ACLU is wrong here. So does the Reason Foundation, which publishes this site: We've submitted an amicus brief supporting the bakery and arguing that custom-made wedding goods like cakes and floral arrangements count as expressive speech and therefore that the government cannot force businesses to provide them. But even some libertarians disagree. Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy (hosted here at Reason) submitted an amicus brief supporting the opposite side.

Within this dispute, though, neither side argues that a baker should be required to make any cake that any customer wants. People do not give up their rights to free speech (and more important, the right to refuse to communicate some speech) just because they've opened a business and serve the public. Everything about this debate is where those boundaries of speech sit.

So Grace was completely in the wrong when she browbeat the bakery into making Karen's MAGA cake. By doing so, she treated those bakers as though they're nothing but servants with no say in what they may do—which, ironically, makes her just like Karen.

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Sign Referencing Civil War Hero Is Sexual Harassment, Says Massachusetts Lawmaker

Rep. Michelle DuBois wants to remove a statehouse sign that reads "General Hooker Entrance" because it is an affront to "women's dignity."

@RepDuBois/Twitter@RepDuBois/TwitterHere's a twist on the debate over public monuments to problematic figures like Confederate leaders: A Massachusetts state lawmaker wants to censor references to a man who scored Civil War era wins against the Confederacy. Her reasoning? That man's name is Joseph Hooker.

As we're all aware, General Hooker's last name became slang for "someone who has sex for money." Today, "hooker" is widely considered a slur by folks in the sex-work community. Yet as far as I'm aware, there have't been any sex worker campaigns to remove references to Joseph Hooker from public view—presumably because most well-adjusted people realize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

"There are all sorts of benign words in our language that sound like words unfit for polite company," writes Jon Keller at CBS Boston, offering Uranus and clap as further examples. "And they offer us an opportunity to teach snickering kids about Civil War history or outer space—and about showing respect for others while avoiding making fools of ourselves."

State Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Plymouth) disagrees. She has been calling for the removal of a statehouse sign that reads "General Hooker Entrance" (so inscribed because it stands opposite a statue of General Hooker), which she described as an affront to "women's dignity."

"Female staffers don't use that entrance because the sign is offensive to them," DuBois told WBZ-TV this week.

If that isn't the ultimate in futile, fainting-couch feminism, I'm not sure what is.

DuBois also complained that she had heard teen boys joke with teen girls that they were "general hookers" while using the door.

Of course, DuBois is positioning herself as a crusader against sex-based harassment and patriarchy. But attitudes like hers—which treat women as excessively fragile beings, and which posit that female "dignity" is diminished by even so slight an association with sex work as walking under a door that says "hooker"—just props up old-fashioned and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that Hooker had famously defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in battle, when it's really the other way around. (We should have paid more attention to those Ken Burns documentaries after all.) The o