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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2018 July 15-31

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E.U. Hits Google With $5 Billion Ginned-Up Protectionist Fines: New at Reason

5 of the 6 largest European antitrust decisions have been slapped on U.S. tech companies

Julie Bly/Dreamstime.comJulie Bly/Dreamstime.comThe European Union's antitrust bureaucracy today levied a $5 billion fine on Google, a new European record.

In a statement, the European Commission alleged that Google violated the law in three ways: unlawfully tying its search and browser apps to the Android operating system, paying manufacturers to pre-install Google Search on devices, and making it difficult for device manufacturers to sell "forked" versions of Android, such as versions running Amazon's Fire OS.

It's a restatement of the Commission's preliminary conclusions from 2016, meaning Google's arguments over the last two years have proven entirely unsuccessful, writes Declan McCullagh.

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The Latest Target of the Trump Administration's Anti-Immigration Jihad: Naturalized Americans

It has revived a dead program and created a task force to review citizenship applications

The Trump administration's unquenchable thirst to slam immigrants—unauthorized but also, as I wrote recently, authorizedAmerican Flagdanita delimont photographynewscomhas now taken an even more ominous turn. It is training its sights on a group largely considered sacrosanct: naturalized citizens.

It is reviving a post-9/11 counter-terrorism program called Operation Janus that was disbanded in 2016. The program's purpose was to stop terrorists from slipping through the cracks in the naturalization process. But the Trump administration is using it to denaturalize citizens who've been living in the United States for decades, are married to American citizens, and have no criminal history.

Last September, the administration filed three complaints in federal courts to denaturalize three men who it alleged had obtained naturalization through "fraud." All three were South Asians—two from Pakistan and one from India. They had come to the United States without proper papers, were ordered deported but obtained citizenship under different names after marrying American citizens. The rap against all of them is that they did not reveal their other names on their citizenship application or that they had been ordered deported.

The administration apparently doesn't care that none of this would have necessarily nullified their citizenship petition. A deported person can still obtain citizenship if an American citizen marries him or her, as was the case in all these three instances. And the Supreme Court last year unanimously ruled in Maslenjak vs. United States that merely withholding information (such as past names) or even lying is not sufficient grounds to denaturalize someone. The falsehood has to be material to the citizenship application. (Maslenjak involved a Bosnian-Serbian woman who obtained citizenship after lying to immigration authorities about her husband's role in assisting the Serbian army's 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.) Anything less, it noted, would open "the door to a world of disquieting consequences," in which a lie "would always provide a basis for rescinding citizenship," even if the lie merely resulted from "embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy."

For example, notes The New Yorker's Masha Green, when he applied for his citizenship in 1989, immigration law banned "aliens afflicted with sexual deviation," or those suffering from "psychopathic personality," from entry to the United States. And when he came to this country as a gay fourteen-year-old in 1981, he was aware of his "sexual deviation." Technically that meant that he should not have entered. But he did and he decided to append a letter to his citizenship application, informing the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had done so. He still got his citizenship. But many others in his situation might have chosen not to fess up because their families didn't know or they were ashamed or because that might indeed jeopardize their application even though it shouldn't.

Still, one court has acquiesced to the Trump administration's request to strip the citizenship of the man from India, Baljinder Singh. Singh is a Sikh who came to the United States in 1991 under the name of Davinder Singh a few years after India's ruling regime presided over a Sikh pogrom. He was ordered deported after he failed to show up for an immigration hearing. However, he subsequently filed for asylum but abandoned his application when he married an American woman who sponsored him and put him on the path to citizenship.

The court, at the administration's behest, has downgraded his status to that of a permanent resident, which means that if he does not appeal or loses his appeal he would be subject to deportation. The other two cases are still pending.

What's particularly troubling about Singh's case is that although the administration claims that it is targeting naturalized citizens with past criminal records, it didn't outline any such record on his part.

More chillingly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna claims that under the revived Operation Janus, he has cued up 1,600 cases like Singh's for prosecution.

Operation Janus was conceived after a Customs and Border Protection employee in 2008 identified 206 people who had received final deportation orders but went on to obtain citizenship under different names. A subsequent 2014 Inspector General report flagged about a thousand more such cases. But because the odds that terrorists were lurking among them were so low, the Department of Homeland Security basically decided to deploy other counter-terrorism strategies. The program was disbanded in 2016.

But the Trump administration revived it within months of assuming office. It has created a task force in the US Citizenship and Immigration Service and is furiously hiring lawyers, the Washington Examiner recently reported. The administration claims that apart from the 1,600 cases like Singh's it is pursuing legally, there are 315,000 more cases of suspect citizenship approval that it wants to investigate. These cases stem not from any evidence of malfeasance on the part of the applicants. Rather, they've been flagged because the DHS is missing their fingerprints. Why? Because the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service failed to digitize all its records.

Stripping people of citizenship is an awesome—and potentially—dangerous exercise of government power. Therefore, it is only right that the Supreme Court has set a rather high bar. Hence it is unclear how many people the administration will eventually succeed in denaturalizing. But what is clear is that it will use a lot of taxpayer resources to sow terror in yet another non-native group without any security upside for anyone. Indeed, since 1990 only seven denaturalization suits on average have been filed per year because it takes too much time and effort put together a credible case.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is the brains behind the effort, is an anti-immigration zealot who doesn't care about any of this because he doesn't consider naturalized Americans to be real Americans, notes Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. The wait times for obtaining citizenship have doubled in the last few years. But far from tackling that problem, the administration wants to double down on harassing those already here.

Notes Kesselbrenner to Rewire.News:

The Trump administration is so concerned with enforcement in immigrant communities, they've chosen to prioritize this operation in ways another administration wouldn't. It's one thing to target these people and convict them for hiding serious criminal backgrounds. It's an entirely different thing to go after people who've been citizens a long time because they were dishonest for reasons we don't even know...It's vindictive...and it's totally unreasonable.

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The Framers Did Not Know From 3D-Printed Guns. So How Can They Be Covered by the Second Amendment?

A former congressman suggests that homemade plastic guns can be banned because they did not exist in 1791.

WikipediaWikipediaSteve Israel, who tried to restrict 3D-printed guns when he was a congressman, is not happy that the Justice Department has abandoned efforts to censor the software required to produce such weapons. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Israel urges his former colleagues to pass legislation aimed at putting this genie back in the bottle. Specifically, the New York Democrat wants Congress to require that "printable weapons have components necessary for their operation that make them detectable." He addresses possible constitutional objections with this closing non sequitur: "After all, the people who used quills to write the Second Amendment couldn't comprehend that one day guns would be produced by 3-D printers."

The Framers probably did not anticipate stun guns or semi-automatic pistols either, but that does not mean the Second Amendment has no bearing on the constitutionality of attempts to ban or restrict them. "Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search," the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding." The Court reiterated that point in 2016, rejecting the premise that a state ban on stun guns raised no Second Amendment issues because Tasers did not exist in 1791.

Israel also mentions the "constitutional free-speech right to share computer codes" asserted by Defense Distributed, the company whose software the DOJ recently agreed to allow online without the threat of criminal charges. But he offers no response to that claim. Presumably he would point out that the people who used quills to write the First Amendment couldn't comprehend that one day a network of computers would make it possible to communicate electronically with people around the world, let alone that the exchanges might include instructions for making stuff at home with widely available equipment.

By Israel's logic, Americans have a right to own flintlock rifles, to circulate literature printed on hand presses, and to prevent the government from rummaging through their diaries and personal papers for no good reason. But the Second Amendment does not cover plastic guns made on 3D printers, the First Amendment does not protect speech on the internet, and the Fourth Amendment has nothing to say about the security of information stored on computers, because the Framers knew nothing of such things.

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San Francisco Ballot Initiative Would Tax Ridesharing Companies, Internet Sales, and Robot Cars

City Supervisor Aaron Peskin is on a quest to tax everything good about the 21st century.

Julie Bly/Dreamstime.comJulie Bly/Dreamstime.comDoes San Francisco City Supervisor Aaron Peskin want to tax everything good about the 21st century? He's pushing a plan to levy new fees on ridesharing companies, internet sales, and driverless cars.

Peskin's ignoble effort began with a desire to squeeze the San Francisco–headquartered companies Uber and Lyft for more tax revenue. The companies currently pay San Francisco's gross recipients tax—as does most every business in the city—but California law forbids cities from imposing per-trip fees on ridesharing businesses, forcing Peskin to get creative.

In April he introduced legislation that created a whole new, higher-taxed category of San Francisco's existing gross receipts tax for "transportation network company services." It would apply almost exclusively to Uber and Lyft. In late May, city staff projected that the law would raise roughly $32 million a year.

Fearful that this might not pass legal muster, Peskin amended his legislation in June to also include "autonomous vehicle passenger services"—hitting driverless car companies such a Google's Waymo—and other private transit vehicle services.

The Supreme Court then ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that states and localities could in fact tax the internet sales of businesses that had no physical presence in their jurisdiction. So Peskin expanded his legislation again to incorporate any e-commerce businesses that make over $500,000 in sales in the city.

Peskin currently plans to put his proposal on the local November ballot, where it would need to earn only a bare majority to pass. Four supervisors need to approve Peskin's proposal before August 3 for it to qualify for the November ballot.

Despite the huge amounts of revenue this tax will generate—particularly after the inclusion of internet sales—its specific purpose isn't entirely clear. The revenue it collects will go straight to the city's general fund, from which it can be spent without restriction.

Peskin himself suggests that the taxes could pay, basically, for all good things. "It could go toward police enforcement. It could go to street resurfacing. It could go to traffic calming and pedestrian safety that we call Vision Zero. It could go to a whole host of things," he told local CBS affiliate KPIX earlier this year.

The actual text of his legislation argues that the city must raise taxes to "maintain a high quality of life and continued economic growth."

With the addition of e-commerce companies to the levy, protectionism has become a justification as well. Peskin legislative aide Sunny Angulo said at a Budget Committee hearing that "these e-commerce, internet businesses have had such a profound impact on our local small businesses, our brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop businesses in San Francisco." Taxing them would help level the playing field, she suggested.

Observers could be forgiven for calling the proposal a cash grab. And if that is indeed what Peskin's taxes are, then he has chosen a great means for getting the job done, says Nicole Kaeding of the Tax Foundation.

"For all their flaws, gross receipts taxes...produce a great deal of revenue because their base is much bigger than it would be under a sales tax and it also produces a very stable form of government revenue," says Kaeding.

The downside is that gross receipts taxes are blunt instruments that raise costs on all aspects of a company's business.

"That tax is going to get captured somewhere. It's either going to be through increased prices to consumers or to their labor force," says Kaeding. Uber or Lyft might choose to "not hire as many people, or not expand as fast in the city, or reduce hours or wages or benefits."

Ride share companies themselves have argued much the same thing.

"This is a lose-lose proposition for the people of San Francisco, directly costing residents millions of dollars while stifling economic opportunity for thousands of drivers. Living and working in San Francisco is expensive enough already, and this new ridesharing tax will only make it worse," said a Lyft spokesperson in a statement.

A principle of good government is that you should only ask voters for more money when you have a specific and pressing public need for it. Peskin's proposal instead operates on the principle that the money flowing to cutting-edge e-commerce businesses, ride-sharing services, and goddamn robot cars would be better spent by bureaucrats.

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In Defense of Mark Zuckerberg Letting Holocaust Deniers Use Facebook

Silencing hate isn't the same thing as squelching it.

ZuckerbergLEWIS JOLY/VIVA TECHNOLOG/SIPA/NewscomFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is drawing criticism on social media for defending his company's policy of letting cranks operate on the platform. This policy strikes me as perfectly reasonable, even if Zuckerberg tripped over his words a bit when he articulated it.

The remarks came during an interview with Recode:

Zuckerberg: I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, "Hey, no, you're a liar"—that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let's take this whole closer to home...

I'm Jewish, and there's a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong, but I think—

[Interviewer interjects:] In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It's hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I'm sure you do. I'm sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don't think that it is the right thing to say, "We're going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times."

What we will do is we'll say, "Okay, you have your page, and if you're not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive." But that doesn't mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.

Of course many leading Holocaust deniers are intentionally getting it wrong. They do this because they are anti-Semites, and denying the Holocaust is part of a strategy of making Jewish people less sympathetic and delegitimizing Jewish identity. Others do it because its profitable for them. Infowars, cited as an example of fake news during the Recode interview, might be an example of willful disinformation meant to sell weird stuff. But there are indeed people who naively share Holocaust denial–related content on Facebook without being in on the scam, just as there are gullible people who fall for every other kind of hoax—vaccines causing autism, 9/11 being an inside job, NASA faking the moon landing, etc. Zuckerberg is correct that it's not always easy to differentiate hucksters from kooks.

In any case, the CEO of Facebook gets to set whatever policies regarding content-sharing on his platform that he likes. As Zuckerberg made clear in the interview, his policy takes its cues from the First Amendment. Facebook users may not advocate violence or plan criminal activities, but merely expressing incorrect opinions is permissible. If Facebook were a public square on public property, it would be obliged to maintain precisely this same approach. (This is actually a good argument for not turning Facebook into some kind of truly public utility, even if you don't like its fake news policy. A government-run Facebook would be bound by the First Amendment to maintain speech policies that are at least as permissive as its current ones.)

In our modern political discourse, Facebook plays a role very much akin to the public square: a massive one, involving the entire world. The arguments for letting nearly all voices—even deeply evil ones, provided they do not organize direct violence or harassment—be heard on this platform are the same arguments for not taking the European route on hate speech: Policing hate on a very large scale is quite difficult given the frequently subjective nature of offense; we risk de-platforming legitimate viewpoints that are unpopular but deserve to be heard; and ultimately, silencing hate is not the same thing as squelching it.

(Related: "A Bunch of Senators Just Showed They Have No Idea How Facebook Works. They Want to Regulate It Anyway.")

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'Good Guy With a Gun,' or Too Good to Be True?

This Arizona state Senate candidate says he killed his mother in self-defense more than 50 years ago. But does his story really add up?

A Republican running for state Senate in Arizona says he killed his mother in self-defense more than 50 years ago. Now he's using his experience to campaign against gun control, but the story is muddier than it might initially seem.

Bobby Wilson was 18 in 1963, when he claims his "deranged" mother, Lavonne, shot at him, prompting him to shoot back and kill her. The candidate, who's written a book about his experience titled Bobby's Trials, suggested at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America forum in Tucson last week that if he hadn't acted immediately, his mother would have killed him. "[She] was hell-bent on killing me in my sleep one night. At three o'clock in the morning, I woke up to find a rifle in my face—a semiautomatic rifle at that—and the bullets started to fly, and I started diving for cover," he said.

Speaking to The Arizona Republic, Wilson provided more details about what happened that night. He says after his mother started shooting, she saw a shadow move and swung her gun around, hitting his younger sister with the rifle butt in the process. His sister, Judy, died, and Wilson says an autopsy proved the impact of the rifle butt was what killed her.

Wilson's mother kept on shooting, and though she didn't hit her son, she did smash open several glass jars full of gas, he says. At that point, Wilson claims he fired back with his own rifle and killed his mother with a shot to the face. But when he tried to turn on the light, a spark caused the gasoline to ignite and the house exploded.

Wilson was charged with murdering both his mother and sister, and he faced three trials over the course of the next 10 years. He says his case was finally dismissed in 1973 and he received an apology from the district attorney.

As he told the crowd at the Moms Demand Action forum, Wilson thinks his experience shows why a "good guy with a gun" can stop the bad guys. "You can pass all the laws you want to in this world, and when you've got somebody out there that wants to harm somebody, they're going to do it if you don't stop them," he said.

But Wilson's story is more complicated than he's letting on. He's trying to focus on the self-defense angle to show off his pro-gun credentials, but he isn't exactly the best example for the argument.

Newspaper and court accounts reviewed by the Republic cast doubt on parts of Wilson's account. In the days following the incident, for instance, the Choctaw County Weekly published several articles that contradict the candidate's current claims. As the Republic summarizes it:

According to the newspaper, the charred bodies of Lavonne and Judy Wilson were found lying together in bed "in a 'perfectly relaxed' position, indicating they died in their sleep from suffocation."

Later, according to the Weekly, Wilson confessed to both murders. Court records show that Wilson later claimed to be suffering from amnesia and thus couldn't remember what had happened. As a result, the jury agreed to suspend the case, and there were no additional developments until 1973, when Wilson's attorney successfully argued that the case should be dismissed because his client had been "deprived of his right to speedy trial," according to the Republic.

Wilson would go on to become a lawyer himself, and he says he eventually remembered how events transpired the night his mother and sister died. But it's more than a little suspicious that after reportedly confessing to the murders and then forgetting the details for years, he finally recalled a version of the story in which he's the hero.

Wilson is correct that good guys with guns can stop bad guys, but in this case it's not clear that he really was the good guy.

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How Georgia’s Constitution Makes Jury Nullification Possible: New at Reason

“The jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.”

Photo Courtesy of Catherine BernardPhoto Courtesy of Catherine BernardWhen it comes to jury nullification—refusal by juries to convict defendants under laws they consider unjust or wrongly applied—Catherine Bernard may be the winningest attorney in the United States. Perhaps oddly, though, she may be chalking up those wins by not making a big deal about her chosen legal strategy.

On July 12, a jury in Laurens County, Georgia, found Bernard's client, Javonnie Mondrea McCoy, "not guilty" of the manufacture of marijuana and of possession of drug-related objects, despite his open admission that he had, fact, grown the much-demonized plant. That follows on a similar victory last year in the case of Antonio Willis, who was lured into selling the equivalent of a few joints by an undercover cop. In both cases, Bernard emphasized the humanity of the defendants, of their roles as fallible, but decent people who didn't deserve to be ground up by the wheels of the penal system. J.D. Tuccille speaks with Bernard.

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Trump Contradicts His Intelligence Director, Says Russia Is Not Currently Targeting U.S.

Trump also said he doesn't think any of his predecessors have been as tough on Russia as him.

CNN/Twitter/ScreenshotCNN/Twitter/ScreenshotPresident Donald Trump doesn't think the U.S. is being targeted by Russia, though his director of national intelligence said otherwise just last week.

When a reporter asked Trump today if Russia is still targeting the U.S., he responded, "No." On Friday, by contrast, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a speech that Russia is the "most aggressive foreign actor" when it comes to cyberattacks. "And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy."

Trump's comments on Russia came after several days of controversy over remarks he made Monday during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump told the world he accepted Putin's claim that the Russian government did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, even though U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia was responsible for the hack of Democratic National Committee emails. Yesterday, Trump said that he misspoke and that he believed Russia did interfere in the election.

Though Trump has faced criticism for not being tough enough in his dealings with Putin, he insisted today that he's been tougher on Russia than all of his predecessors. "We are doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia," the president said. "And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it and he's not happy about it and he shouldn't be happy about it."

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Judge Andrew Napolitano on Trump, SCOTUS, and the Return of Freedom Watch: New at Reason

The most libertarian legal analyst on cable news dishes on Brett Kavanaugh, the end of his GOP, and his forthcoming new show.

No legal commentator on cable news is more energetic, constitutionally minded, or libertarian than Andrew Napolitano, who has served as Fox News' senior judicial analyst for nearly two decades. A former New Jersey Superior Court judge, Napolitano is a nationally syndicated columnist—you can read him at Reason—and the author of a shelf full of books about law, history, and race in America.

Reason caught up with the judge at FreedomFest, the annual event held every July in Las Vegas. We talked about Donald Trump's ongoing makeover of the federal judiciary, whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will be good for libertarians, what it's like to be an ex-Republican, and the imminent return of Freedom Watch, the popular and controversial show that Napolitano hosted on Fox Business from 2006 to 2010.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Garcia, Paul Detrick, & Jim Epstein. Graphics by Austin Bragg.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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Four Blue States Scream ‘Federalism’ and Sue to Stop Changes in Federal Tax Deductions

New York gets salty over new limits because now the rich will know they’re being soaked.

Gov. Andrew CuomoG.N.Miller/NYPost / MEGA / NewscomFour blue states are actually invoking federalism in a lawsuit attempting to stop the Trump Administration's new tax rules limiting how much state and local taxes people can deduct from their federal filings.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland are all suing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to try to get the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to invalidate the new $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, arguing that this new cap is "interfering with the States' sovereign authority to make their own choices about whether and how much to invest in their own residents, businesses, infrastructure, and more—authority that is guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment and foundational principles of federalism."

It may be perplexing to try to figure out how on earth a state can argue its sovereignty is violated when the federal government changes its own deduction rules. After all, New York and the other states are not actually being required to change their tax rates or respond to the deduction change in any way.

But here's what they're essentially arguing: The reduced SALT deductions don't affect all states equally and that this all has been done to punish "blue" states. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said yesterday, "this is their political attempt to hurt Democratic states. It is totally repugnant and hypocritical of the fundamental conservative ideology which they preach."

The changes don't actually punish states for being heavily Democratic. They do significantly impact states that have high tax rates, which, well, tend to be under Democratic control. They're no longer being shielded from some of the consequences of all these taxes.

So, in a subtle way, there is a kernel of truth here—the change in deduction laws may, as a consequence, force these states to change their tax laws and possibly their state spending. That's part of the nature of the complaint—that this policy "violates" federalism because it results in the federal government trampling all over and distorting state-level tax policy decisions.

There's a fundamental flaw in this argument. It only works if you acknowledge that the deductions themselves as they existed (as far back as the income tax) have always had a distorting effect on state tax decisions. These SALT deductions are not claimed equally across the population. They disproportionately benefit the wealthiest citizens who itemize their taxes. New York calculates that New Yorkers will see a $14.3 billion tax hike without the SALT deductions. But that doesn't mean the hike will be spread across all the citizens of the state. It's those who earn more than $100,000 a year who claim 81 percent of SALT deductions.

As a result, states that have higher concentrations of wealthy people (like New York and Maryland) could raise taxes on their high end and be sheltered from the consequences because of the federal deductions. The "tax the rich" mentality of the politicians of these states didn't scare all the wealthy folks away because they knew they'd be able to take it out of their federal claims.

This, Veronique de Rugy explained last year, means that the existence of the deductions was itself essentially a subsidy to states like New York and New Jersey:

Indeed, the deduction provides an indirect federal subsidy to state and local governments in high-income areas by decreasing the net cost of nonfederal taxes to those who pay them. As the Tax Policy Center notes, in some instances these state and local governments effectively "export a portion of their tax burden to the rest of the nation."

Estimates show that by sheltering state and local taxpayers from the spending decisions of their lawmakers, the deduction encourages anywhere between 2 and 20.5 percent more spending. Not surprisingly, the deduction distorts the financing decisions made by state and local lawmakers. In 2016, for instance, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker cited SALT as instrumental in proposing a hike in income taxes over a hike in the sales tax. He said, "We selected an income tax over a sales tax for a couple of reasons. ... State income taxes are deductible from your federal taxes."

Translation: "Thanks to SALT, we can increase your taxes without upsetting you as much as we should." You don't have to be a genius to understand that when taxpayers are less vigilant about policy changes and lawmakers' spending behaviors, we don't get the best policies implemented.

Just ask New Jersey, whose black hole of public employee pension debt keeps getting worse while thousands of retired public employees earn six-figure pensions at taxpayers' expense. That's what they're trying to protect with this lawsuit.

Cuomo complains that it will make New York "less competitive" than other states. You know how to fix that? Lower your tax rates!

Read the lawsuit here.

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A Texas Man Is Executed Even After His Victim's Family Pleads for His Life

"His execution doesn't change what he did 14 years ago. It doesn't bring my dad back."

|||Screenshot via YouTube/Law at the MarginsScreenshot via YouTube/Law at the MarginsA 34-year-old Texas man became the 13th prisoner to be executed in the United States in 2018, but not before the family of his victim fought for him to receive clemency for his 2004 crime. Fourteen years ago, 21-year-old Christopher Anthony Young of San Antonio sexually assaulted a woman at gunpoint in front of her three children and stole her vehicle. Young then made his way to a convenience store owned by 55-year-old Hasmukh "Hash" Patel. He pulled out his gun and demanded money. The attempted robbery turned fatal when Young shot Patel, who tried to run away. Police found Young the next morning, and he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by a Bexar County judge in 2006.

Since that time, a diverse group of people have worked to obtain clemency for Young so that he could instead serve life in prison. Among those trying to get Young off death row was his victim's own son, 36-year-old Mitesh Patel. Patel, who once planned to watch Young's execution, became a prominent voice in the fight for Young's life after seeing his remorse.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Young and Patel each explained their respective change of hearts. According to Young, he stopped placing the blame on others and took responsibility for the actions that led him to death row. "And that's a hard realization," he added. As Young's thinking began to change, he was contacted by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Laurence Thrush for a project about David Dow, the capital defense lawyer representing Young. The project eventually fell through. Despite this, the men grew to have a relationship that inspired Thrush to make a video with the intent of saving Young's life.

It was the videos captured by Thrush that led Patel to have his own realization.

"I assumed he was a typical death row inmate with no remorse," he said. For the younger Patel, watching Young and learning about the influence he had in the lives of his daughters "struck a chord." Patel did not wish to see Young's children go through the same pain he did after losing his father, a sentiment that he repeated in an interview with NowThis.

"We'd rather see some good from all of this," he told the Chronicle. "His execution doesn't change what he did 14 years ago. It doesn't bring my dad back."

A week before Young's execution, Patel joined faith leaders and other advocates in a rally at San Antonio's main plaza. The rally was paired with a clemency petition that asked Texas Governor Greg Abbott to either halt Young' execution or grant him life in prison. While speaking to the crowd, Patel said that he forgave Young. He also spoke of Young's mentorship to younger people. "He actually has a desire to break the chain of other people possibly in his shoes from continuing down that path," he said. "My family and I would rather see that come to fruition because that speaks better to what my dad stood for."

Other calls for Young's life were paired with concerns about religious and racial discrimination. A black juror was barred from sitting on the jury because of her service in her Baptist church's ministry. Religious leaders said the action was discrimination on the grounds of religion and lawyers argued that the move violated the Constitution's Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses. After Young was denied last-minute clemency, lawyers also argued that there was a racial component to his case. Drawing comparisons to another case of white Texas killer Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, whose father asked for clemency after surviving an attempted murder at the hands of his son, many, like Houston-based attorney Randy Schaffer, wondered if the commutation that spared Whitaker's life "is a policy that only applies to the white and privileged who make a religious plea."

Young was injected with a fatal dose of compounded pentobarbital on Tuesday at 6:13 p.m. He passed away 25 minutes later. Patel remained at home with his family.

Among his final words, Young said, "l want to make sure the Patel family knows I love them like they love me."

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After Slapping Allies With Tariffs, U.S. Drags Allies to WTO to Complain About Tariffs

The United States has accused the victims of its tariffs of engaging in unfair and punitive measures with their retaliatory tariffs.

Xinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomXinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomIn another skirmish in the steadily escalating trade war, the United States has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against countries that retaliated against American steel and aluminum tariffs with protectionist measures of their own.

On Monday, the U.S. filed separate cases against China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Turkey, accusing them of responding to U.S. national security concerns with "retaliatory tariffs designed to punish American workers, farmers and companies," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

While one can understand why those nations felt the need to respond to Trump's tariffs, especially since the national security rationale offered by Lighthizer and the president is almost certainly bogus (a conclusion shared by the military itself), retaliatory tariffs aren't the best strategy. They lead to higher prices for citizens on both sides of the dispute.

The economic case for tariffs might be weak, but the legal rationale is clear. Pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president of the United States is authorized to tax imports so long as some national security justification can be produced, rendering these actions perfectly legal by domestic standards.

"Unfortunately, America's claims are legitimate," says Dan Ikenson, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), a precursor to the WTO conceived in 1947, included a national security exception for tariffs. That exception remained after the GATT evolved into the WTO.

"This exception allows nations broad discretion in their definition of a 'national security concern,'" says Ikenson. That puts the defendants in this case on the backfoot.

Don't expect a final decision from the WTO anytime soon. It could take up to a year and a half to convene the WTO panel and have them pass judgment, and then another year and a half from there if the respondents choose to appeal. That's three years, a long time in which a lot can change in the unpredictable sphere of modern politics.

Independent of the outcome of these trade disputes, America's trade policy risks setting a dangerous precedent for other countries. For instance, other member nations could just as easily begin to claim national security considerations and impose their own protective tariffs, effectively undoing a century of progress in trade policy.

Prior to President Donald Trump's renouncement of international trade, tariffs were at historic lows. The relatively free trade embraced by recent administrations has played an undeniable role in recent U.S. economic growth and development. If the U.S. and other nations wish to ignore this lesson, they are rejecting progress in favor of short-term political gains and intellectually antiquated mercantilism.

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Marriott Ditching Plastic Straws, Still Not Sure What It Will Use Instead

The hotel chain says it will eliminate roughly 1 billion plastic straws by July 2019.

Lucian Milasan/Dreamstime.comLucian Milasan/Dreamstime.comThe world's largest hotel chain said today it will stop using plastic straws and drink stirrers by next July, though it's still trying to come up with a viable alternative.

Marriott International, which owns and operates about 6,500 hotels and resorts around the world, says the move "could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws per year and about a quarter billion stirrers," according to a press release. Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson touted the plan as "a powerful step forward to reducing our reliance on plastics," while the company's release said the initiative represents part of Marriott's "commitment to reducing its environmental impact."

But it's not clear what Marriott customers will use instead of plastic straws, as the company said individual hotels will figure that out over the next year.

Marriott is far from the first company to announce plans to stop using plastic straws. Starbucks, the nation's largest food and drink retailer, said last week it would be going strawless by 2020. Other companies caught up in the strawless craze include American Airlines and the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains. Meanwhile, Seattle became the first U.S. city to ban plastic straws in July, and there are active attempts to implement similar bans in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.

Various Marriott hotels in the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Australia have already gotten rid of plastic straws. And in March, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Florida opted to replace plastic straws with biodegradable paper ones. Amanda Cox, the Florida resort's director of sales and marketing, told the Associated Press that prior to ditching them, the hotel used about 65,000 plastic straws every month.

Over the next year, it's certainly possible that other Marriotts will decide to use eco-friendly straws as well. But that might not be such a great idea, as Reason's Christian Britschgi notes:

Why not use more eco-friendly disposable straws? Because they are terrible. Paper straws are known to collapse halfway through a drink. Compostable straws cost six to seven times more than their plastic alternatives, don't keep for long, and fall apart when exposed to high heat.

And as Starbucks recently proved, some nifty alternatives to plastic straws, like strawless nitro lids, don't actually use less plastic. According to Britschgi:

Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.

As a private company, Marriott is of course well within its rights to ditch plastic straws, but it is hardly helping the environment by doing so. Straws are a tiny fraction of the plastic waste that makes its way into the ocean. Most of the straws that do wind up in the water are the result of littering or poor waste management. If Marriott really wants to make an environmental splash, it should focus its efforts on ensuring that the straws its guests do use end up in the trash, as opposed to getting rid of the little suckers completely.

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Florida Couple Gets to Keep Home's 'Starry' Paint Job; Mayor Must Publicly Apologize for $10,000 Fine

In a settlement reached Tuesday night, two residents of Mount Dora, Florida, will receive $15,000 and permission to keep their Van Gogh-inspired paint job.

Photo courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationPhoto courtesy Pacific Legal FoundationThe mayor of Mount Dora, Florida, will have to publicly apologize Wednesday afternoon for his city's overzealous code enforcement that targeted a home painted in the likeness of Vincent van Gogh's masterpiece, "Starry Night."

More importantly, the city will remove a lien against the property and drop more than $10,000 in fines it had issued to the husband and wife who own the home, according to a settlement approved unanimously by the city council Tuesday night. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the settlement also includes the payment of $15,000 to homeowners Lubomir Jastrzebski and his wife, Nancy Nemhauser.

The couple's colorful home became the subject of national media attention and legal scrutiny last year when city officials deemed the elaborately painted mural covering a wall in front of the house to be "graffiti" and ordered the couple to remove it. At first, they were told the house and wall had to match—but after Jastrzebski and Nemhauser expanded the mural to include the entire house, city officials shifted their argument and claimed the display constituted an unapproved "sign" because it attracted people to look at the house. The couple were fined $100 per day.

It was something of a sign. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser intended the wall to serve as a sort of beacon for their 25 year-old son, who suffers from autism. If he were to ever get lost, they reasoned, he could simply tell anyone in town to take him to the van Gogh house.

Since then, the Starry Night House became national news. Jastrzebski and Nemhauser refused to pay the fines and filed a lawsuit against Mount Dora claiming that the city violated their First Amendment rights to free expression. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit public interest law firm, represented them.

Attorneys from PLF seemed pleased with the outcome when it was announced Tuesday night.

A federal judge ordered the city to halt those $100 per day fines earlier this year. Losing that preliminary ruling seems to have caused officials in Mount Dora, somewhat famous as a colony for artists in central Florida, to reconsider their fight against the beautifully painted house.

As part of the settlement, Mount Dora will be required to rewrite its code enforcement rules. The city council will form a seven-member advisory committee, including Nemhauser, to advise the city on new ordinances and codes.

As the settlement was nearing a final vote from the city council this week, Jastrzebski told the Sentinel that he was happy with the outcome but still shocked by the whole process.

"I almost felt like being in communistic Poland where the rules were being made up by officials on the fly," he said. "I couldn't believe something like this could happen in the United States of America."

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Fighting Back Against FOSTA: Reason Roundup

Plus: the FDA takes on nut milk and the IRS eases up on nonprofit donor rules.

@surajpatelnyc/Twitter@surajpatelnyc/Twitter"FOSTA has had an entirely predictable chilling effect." The groups challenging the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA) just filed a new motion in reply to the government's efforts to get a quick ruling in its favor. Tomorrow, they will appear before a federal court and seek to temporarily block FOSTA from being enforced.

Their motion urges the court not to trust Department of Justice (DOJ) assertions that folks "need not fear application of FOSTA's open-ended terms and draconian penalties." This "utterly ignores a history of Internet regulation that includes overly broad and unconstitutional efforts to regulate speech," argue lawyers for plaintiffs Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Human Rights Watch, massage therapist Eric Koszyk, sex worker rights activist Alex Andrews, and The Internet Archive (aka the WaybackMachine, a national treasure).

"FOSTA is even more extreme" than most attempts at online speech regulation, they say.

The new law—sold as a way to stop underage sex trafficking but in reality a federal ban on any online content that "facilitates" or "promotes" prostitution—took effect in April and "impos[es] more severe criminal penalties than ever, and pil[es] on redundant layers of potential civil liability while simultaneously stripping away immunities," states the new motion. "Although the Government suggests (repeatedly) that FOSTA reaches only speech that advertises illegal activity, the Act by its plain terms extends far more broadly."

Already, "FOSTA has had an entirely predictable chilling effect," says the new motion, "and as such it causes both injury-in-fact that gives Plaintiffs standing to challenge it, and First Amendment violations that constitute irreparable harm."

Read the whole thing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) site. EFF is one of several groups representing the plaintiffs in this case, Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States, along with Daphne Keller, Walters Law Group, and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine.

The suit was first filed in June.

On Thursday, EFF will attempt to persuade a federal judge to temporarily block enforcement of FOSTA as the case plays out. "The hold is needed, in part, to allow plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation, a sex worker advocacy group, to organize and publicize its annual conference, held August 2-5," said EFF in a press release.

FREE MINDS

New rules for nonprofit donor info. The IRS is easing up on reporting requirements for nonprofits "that spend money to influence elections but are not required to disclose donors to the public—called 'dark money' groups by critics," note Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Jeff Stein at The Washington Post.

"The decision was immediately heralded by free-speech advocates who have long sought to protect donors' private information," write Lee and Stein. "But it was rebuked by those who want to reduce the role of money in politics, who claim it would make U.S. elections more susceptible to anonymous foreign donations."

Under the new Treasury Department rule, these groups are no longer required to disclose donor names and addresses in their federal tax filings.

FREE MARKETS

"An almond doesn't lactate, I will confess." That's U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb speaking at Politico's Pro Summit in D.C. yesterday. Gottlieb is lending support to a silly plan by dairy companies hoping to quash the popularity of almond milk and its ilk by banning these nut-based drinks from calling themselves milk. Gottlieb isn't going that far, but he did announce that he will introduce a new FDA guidance document that could put new limitations on nut-milk labeling.

Gizmodo is attempting to portray it as some sort of uniquely Trumpian "gift [bestowed] upon Big Dairy," but the crony politics behind dairy labeling knows no partisan bounds. Last year, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin sponsored a similar proposal called the DAIRY PRIDE Act.

FOLLOW-UP

Trump goes all Jabberwacky on Russia response. President Trump has walked back his earlier statements on Russia, in which he said during a press conference that he couldn't see why people thought Russia had interfered in the election. "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia" were Trump's words then. But on Tuesday evening, the president told NBC News: "I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't.'"

"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,'" Trump continued. "Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things."

But in predictable Trump fashion, this circular concession didn't sit well and Trump soon returned to being all in with the Russia positivity, tweeting early Wednesday morning that "the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success" than his recent NATO meeting and "many positive things will come out of that meeting."

QUICK HITS

  • MGM Resorts International is counter-suing victims of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
  • "Federal prosecutors say this is the first time a bitcoin-for-cash exchanger will be going to jail for such an act in the central district of California," Brian Doherty reports.
  • Agree or disagree?
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There Is No Such Thing as a Free Pharma Lunch (Anymore): New at Reason

Initiatives to curb drug-maker influence have endangered medical workers, patients, and the healthcare system.

Marsia16/Dreamstime.comMarsia16/Dreamstime.comAdam Barsouk is a medical student and cancer researcher who has witnessed the unintended consequences of pharmaceutical regulation first hand. He writes about his experience for Reason:

I am a cancer researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). A few years ago, UPMC began restricting educational materials and office meals provided by pharmaceutical companies. Since then, numerous other hospitals across the country, including all of the major ones in my hometown of Pittsburgh, have followed suit. Although most bureaucrats paint this as a victory for the bottom-line (studies find that it increases the proportion of cheaper, generic drugs prescribed), I have witnessed (though never received) the many lost benefits of pharmaceutical-sponsored education.

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How the First Amendment Helps Protect Your Second Amendment Rights: New at Reason

Code is speech, making it hard for the government to stop the spread of 3-D printed guns.

Cody WilsonMark McDaniel/ReasonCan a gun be protected by our rights to free speech? According to a recent settlement by the Department of Justice, when the gun is a schematic written in computer code, it can.

Reason readers will be familiar with the saga of Cody Wilson and his gun rights collective, Defense Distributed. Disturbed by the rising tide of anti-gun sentiment in the cultural discourse, Wilson and his comrades set out to secure Americans' rights to defend ourselves against government abuse. But they took a different tack than Second Amendment advocates before them. Rather than spending billions on lobbying and public persuasion campaigns, Defense Distributed bound their fate to the mast of technological determinism. They put guns on the internet.

It has been about five years since the first 3-D printed gun was fired. Engineers at Wilson's Austin-based firearms defense syndicate had been hard at work building the first prototypes. While the design looked a bit like a toy gun that a young boy might play with, the plastic-cast first DIY handgun, dubbed "the Liberator," was truly fearsome to regulators and gun control hardliners. On its launch day, Defense Distrbuted's "Wiki Weapon" schematic file had been downloaded 50,000 times from their DEFCAD.org website. Andrea O'Sullivan discusses the battle over the right to publish code that soon followed.

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Brett Kavanaugh’s Fourth Amendment Blind Spot: New at Reason

The Supreme Court nominee’s skepticism fades when cops and spies look for evidence without a warrant.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters / NewscomJoshua Roberts / Reuters / NewscomThis week Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican senator from Kentucky, said he was "worried" and "disappointed" by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's views on the Fourth Amendment. It is not hard to see why, Jacob Sullum says.

Kavanaugh, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 2006, is skeptical of politicians who want to restrict gun rights, regulators who limit freedom of speech or assert powers with a weak statutory basis, and prosecutors who try to convict defendants without proving all the elements of their alleged crimes. But as Sullum notes, Kavanaugh seems less inclined to scrutinize the claims of cops and spies who collect evidence without a warrant.

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Don’t Ban Straws: New at Reason

Tashka2000 / Dreamstime.comTashka2000 / Dreamstime.comWant to sip a refreshing beverage this summer?

If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, writes John Stossel, you won't be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw.

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Brickbat: Hugs and Kisses

HugKoldunova / Dreamstime.comA woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia after rushing onto the stage and hugging singer Majid al-Mohandis during a concert. Mohandis is a man and women in Saudi Arabia are not supposed to mix with men who are not related to them.

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Yeah, Bill Weld Is Totally Running for the Libertarian Presidential Nod in 2020: Podcast

The former governor cut government's size, scope, and spending in Massachusetts. Now he says he wants to shrink the federal government too.

"The huge standoff between the Republican and Democratic Parties, both of them being extreme right or extreme left,...make it more likely than it's ever been that a third party...will win the presidential election in 2020," says former Massachussetts governor (and former Republican) Bill Weld.

In a special podcast hosted by Matt Welch and me and taped last week at FreedomFest, the Libertarian Party's 2016 vice-presidential candidate waved off speculation that he's running for the party's presidential nomination. The election is too far away and too many unpredictable things could happen, he told us with a smile, even as he talked about all the party's candidates he's been helping out. Weld has already won over another lapsed Republican, Washington Post columnist George Will, who recently wrote that Weld incarnates "what a broad swath of Americans say they favor: limited government, fiscal responsibility, free trade, the rule of law, entitlement realism and other artifacts from the Republican wreckage." At the recent Libertarian convention in New Orleans, Weld impressed a good share of the party faithful too. His Twitter feed is filled with shout-outs and endorsements of Libertarian candidates such as Larry Sharpe and calls to "Stop the Duopoly."

In a wide-ranging conversation, Welch and I grill Weld about the ideological fissures within his party, whether he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the waning moments of the 2016 campaign, and how he would sell a message of principle in a nation that is getting more tribalistic by the minute.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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

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Why Shouldn't a Free American Carry Hundreds of Thousands of Bucks in a Trader Joe's Paper Sack?

Entrapment prosecution of bitcoin exchangers highlights government's war on privacy.

localbitcoinslocalbitcoinsTheresa Lynn Tetley has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison, plus a $20,000 fine and three years of supervised release. Her crime: exchanging U.S. currency for bitcoins with federal agents who went out of their way to suggest that maybe they'd gotten their bitcoins by committing crimes. Federal prosecutors say this is the first time a bitcoin-for-cash exchanger will be going to jail for such an act in the central district of California.

The U.S. Attorney's office had asked for a far longer sentence of 30 months in prison. They also, in the course of the arrest and prosecution, stole nearly $300,000 in cash and 25 gold bars from Tetley.

The most telling thing about the entrapment prosecution is the sentencing memo, which blatantly lays out the feds' fear and contempt for any attempt to keep a financial transaction private, whether or not anything inherently illegal is happening.

Whether or not someone doing the honest public service of exchanging U.S. cash for bitcoin is aware that the bitcoin may be the result of some b.s. crime, the sentencing memo insists that they act as if they do. Tetley's failure to "register with the federal government," the memo says,

signaled to her clients that she was unconcerned with the government's regulations concerning money laundering, and thereby would not conduct customer due diligence or report to the government suspicious transactions or certain transactions over $10,000. Customers, regardless of the source of their funds, could then utilize her services, exchange Bitcoin for cash or vice versa, without fear of being the subject of reports filed with the federal government for certain transactions that otherwise would be reported.

Defendant charged a premium to these customers seeking to avoid the regulated financial system, and collected higher fees for her services than those charged by regulated exchangers. For this conduct, defendant has pleaded guilty to 18 U.S.C. §§ 1960 [prohibition of unlicensed money transmitting] and 1956(a)(3) [laundering of monetary instruments].

Convicting Tetley, who provided her services under the name "bitcoin maven" at localbitcoins.com, did not require her to know or think that the cryptocurrency came from selling drugs or anything illegal at all, according to the memo. That was just an "aggravating factor for sentencing."

The document drips with the government's desire to know everything we do involving money. At one point it makes a point of noting that she brought the cash for one of her federal agent customers in two Trader Joe's paper bags, as if that is inherently outrageous to public order.

"Unlicensed exchangers such as defendant generally do not conduct customer due diligence, file transaction reports for cash transactions in excess of $10,000, or file suspicious reports," they claim. (In most cases, such reports merely gives government snoops a chance to know what we are doing, whether or not it is inherently criminal.) Thus, the U.S. attorney insists, "failure to register as a money transmitting business is a serious offense, and not a simple administrative oversight of failing to file a form with the federal government."

In the government's eyes, apparently,

Providing cash in envelopes (and in the significant amounts she did), in coffee shops and restaurants, is no way to conduct legitimate business, certainly when that volume exceeds the millions, and someone such as defendant—a former stockbroker and real estate investor—was certainly aware of that.

That Tetley "proceed[ed] in this manner highlights the seriousness of the offense that warrants a custodial sentence of 30 months."

At least the judge didn't agree with that superpunitive sentence. That the government goes out of its way to criminalize innocent activity because it has the potential to make it harder for cops to do their jobs is heinous. As J.D. Tuccille and I have both pointed out previously in Reason, applying such money transmitter laws to bitcoin exchangers arises not from a desire to make the world safer for honest people who haven't harmed anyone but from a desire to ensure we can't have any financial transactions outside the eyes and arms of the state. It's an ugly sentiment, and the authorities apply it to old-fashioned cash as much as they do to the exotic new financial instruments of the blockchain age.

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Sessions' Escalating Drug War Causing Cold Feet Over Safe Injection Centers

San Francisco was supposed to have sites up and running this month. It does not.

London BreedYichuan Cao/Sipa USA/NewscomPrivately operated, privately funded safe injection sites were supposed to open in San Francisco this month, allowing addicts to use drugs safely in a place where they can be monitored to prevent overdoses. These were going to be the first safe injection centers to open in the United States.

But no facilities have opened yet. The newly elected mayor, London Breed, supports the injection facilities as a way to help clean up the city. (Residents have been sending the local media picture of drug needles found at local train stations.) But for now, she and the city are taking a step back and instead opening a "demonstration" injection center at a church, so that members of the community can see what they're actually like before one opens.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the mock site will be open to visitors at the end of August. Clearly the city will miss its July deadline.

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross say there's more to this delay than just easing community fears about injection centers. City Hall sources told them that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is deeply concerned that the city could be found legally liable for allowing injection facilities to operate:

One City Hall source privy to the conversations told us Herrera was particularly worried about the threats from the Trump administration to go after drug dealers and new guidelines issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March applying the death penalty to numerous drug-related crimes under existing law.

"The threats from his government are no joke, and the city attorney advised (Farrell and other city officials) that heroin is a Schedule 1 drug...with a lot of legal liability," said the source, who was not authorized to speak for the record. "San Francisco's public health director could wind up being put in jail" for allowing people to shoot up, no matter the surroundings.

Recall that under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice continued to shut down and charge people involved in medical marijuana operations with federal crimes in California for years before they backed off. And the Sessions Justice Department has been openly hostile to non-punitive responses to drug issues.

San Francisco isn't the only place that seems to be getting cold feet about moving forward with the injection centers. NPR notes that 13 different communities are considering sites but are worrited about what the Justice Department might do. Nobody wants to be the first:

Scott Burris, director of Temple University's Center for Public Health Law Research, says municipalities are worried about a showdown with Jeff Sessions' Department of Justice.

"You can talk about cities racing to be first," Burris says. "But my guess is that you have a lot of cities who are actually racing to be second."

Last December the U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont put out a statement warning against safe injection sites, stating that they "would violate several federal criminal laws, including those prohibiting use of narcotics and maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use. It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and [safe injection site] workers and overseers. The properties that host [safe injection sites] would also be subject to federal forfeiture."

Reason's Mike Riggs has blasted the U.S. attorney's completely incorrect claims that injection facilities encourage dangerous drug use and lead to more overdoses.

The government may be wrong on the facts and the science, but it's the one with the guns and the prison cells. Last week Sessions announced an opioid prosecution "surge": He is ordering prosecutors in 10 federal districts to go after every single synthetic opioid dealer they can get their hands on. He is making it clear that he has a hammer-nail approach to the opioid crisis, and the last thing any injection facility owner would want is to be perceived as a nail.

That injection sites would probably do a better job of reducing drug overdose deaths than this cruel enforcement scheme. Sessions does not appear able to process that possibility. So even if San Francisco believes injection sites would actually help clean the place up, officials have to be wary about a harsh response from the Justice Department if they actually try it.

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Trump Claims He Misspoke During Putin Presser, Meant to Say Russia Was Involved in Election Interference

"The sentence should've been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.'"

TrumpScreenshot via NBC NewsAfter enduring 24 hours of criticism from all corners of the political spectrum, President Trump is now running away from remarks he made during a joint presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday.

On Monday, Trump suggested Putin had persuaded him that the Russian government did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—despite U.S. intelligence officials' near certainty that Russia was responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. But on Tuesday, Trump claimed to have misspoke when he said, "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia."

"I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" said Trump, according to NBC News. "The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things."

As Trump himself notes, the corrected sentence is ungrammatical, since it contains two negatives. Whether this is truly what the president intended to say is anyone's guess. But the president was right to change course: Even if no one within the Trump campaign colluded with Russian hackers, and even if Russia's efforts didn't actually change the outcome of the election (both reasonable assertions, based on what he know right now), it's still overwhelmingly likely that Russia was involved.

Trump shouldn't go to war with Putin over this, and diplomacy is the best course of action. But diplomacy does not and should not require Trump to peddle falsehoods to the American people as an authoritarian Russian government watches approvingly.

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Starbucks Wants to Send More Plastic to a Recycling Industry in Crisis

Thanks to Chinese restrictions on imported recyclables, even less of America's waste is getting reused.

Fedecandoniphoto/Dreamstime.comFedecandoniphoto/Dreamstime.comWhen I reported last week that Starbucks' plan to ditch its straws will actually increase the coffee chain's plastic use, the company offered a novel defense of its new policy. While not disputing that it would be using more plastic after switching over to strawless lids, the Seattle-based business argued that because those new lids are recyclable, its new policy is still a net environmental win.

"The strawless lid is made from polypropylene, a commonly-accepted recyclable plastic that can be captured in recycling infrastructure, unlike straws which are too small and lightweight to be captured in modern recycling equipment," a company spokesperson told Reason.

A few of the company's more caffeinated supporters jumped on this logic, arguing that this more than earned Starbucks the praise that had initially greeted its strawless policy, and that any pushback was unwarranted:

So the company is allegedly keeping plastic trash from filling our overflowing landfills and trash-saturated oceans. There are three problems with this argument. The first is that the plastic piling up in landfills, as opposed to the sea, is not a serious environmental problem. The second is that even when plastic is recyclable, it is rarely actually recycled. The third is that none of this does anything to address the chief cause of oceanic plastic pollution.

Let's start with the landfills.

In a landmark 1996 New York Times article, John Tierney found that even if America keeps producing waste at the same rate, "all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing." So far, Tierney's analysis has held up. The nation is not running out of landfill space, nor are at-capacity landfills an environmental or even aesthetic burden. As Tierney noted in a 2015 Times story revisiting the issue, land used for garbage dumps wouldn't even "be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island. The United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill."

Sending plastic straws to be buried under future parks doesn't sound that bad.

Landfill space aside, some might argue that it's still a better environmental move to reclaim materials we've used already. Thus Starbucks' switch from unrecyclable straws to recyclable lids will save resources in the long run, even if it uses more plastic upfront.

Yet our recycling industry has long done a poor job of recycling plastic. According to a 2016 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 9.5 percent of the plastic generated in 2014 was recycled that year, with another 15 percent being incinerated and a full 75.5 percent of it winding up in landfills. (These percentages are based on the aggregate weight of all plastic generated.) Afterward the plastic recycling rate has hovered around 9 percent.

Since the publication of that report, things have only gotten worse, thanks to China. Once one of the largest buyers of recycled materials, the country has essentially closed itself off from the world's waste.

According to Brandon Wright, communications director for the Waste and Recycling Association, China used to buy about 30 to 40 percent of all recyclable materials from the United States. But since 2013 the Chinese government has been conducting rigorous inspections on the materials entering the country, looking to weed out substandard plastics and papers. And this year China imposed far more stringent restrictions on the types of solid waste allow into the country. In January it banned the import of 24 formerly accepted materials. In March it reduced the amount of contaminated material (all those cheese-coated pizza boxes) that it would accept from 7 percent of a bale to .5 percent.

Wright says that about 25 percent of U.S. recyclable material is contaminated, making China's new standards nearly impossible to meet. When asked how much recyclable materials are shipped to China today, he says "very little."

China's exit has upended much of the recycling business here in the States. In environmentally conscious Oregon, some recycling companies—unable to find a buyer for what they collect curbside—have been granted waivers to just take the contents of recycling bins straight to the landfill. California, which once shipped two-thirds of its recyclable materials to China, is being hard hit by the new restrictions as well, prompting what the Los Angeles Times has called a "recycling crisis."

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on the dire straits of Minnesota's recycling industry under these new Chinese restrictions. Some processors have reportedly started storing the materials they collect in trailers, unable to find a buyer for them. Others have laid off staff. Minnesota's waste haulers, who used to get paid to drop materials off at processing centers, are now being charged for their troubles. Recyclers are now desperately urging their customers to put more of their waste in the garbage bin, with the helpful mantra "when it doubt, throw it out."

So Starbucks wants to dump yet more plastic lids on an industry that can't keep up with the current volumes of recycling. Many of these new lids will no doubt meet the same fate as much of our current curbside recyclables and end up in a landfill anyway. Indeed, given that Starbucks' new lids use more plastic then the old lid-straw combination, we could wind up not just with more plastic being used in the stores but more winding up in landfills as well.

In fairness to Starbucks, whether a company's waste winds up in a landfill or is reused has little bearing on the biggest plastic pollution issue facing the world today: all that plastic winding up in the world's oceans. Some 8 million metric tons of plastic are estimated to end up in ocean each year.

But the vast majority of this comes not from Americans sipping lattes but from poorer coastal countries that lack decent waste management systems. This is undoubtably a problem, but it's a problem that needs to be addressed directly by improving waste management in the countries generating the most waste. Starbucks' plan to ditch straws for recyclable strawless lids—as well-intentioned as it is—does nothing to solve this problem.

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Former President Obama Criticizes Leftist Shutdown Culture

You can't make the world a better place, he says, if you silence "those who aren't like you because they are white or they are male."

ObamaScreenshot via ABC NewsIn a speech commemorating Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday, former President Obama condemned "strongman" politics and the rising tides of nationalism. Coming just a day after President Trump's humiliating presser with Vladimir Putin, in which Trump appeared to have gullibly swallowed Putin's obvious lies about Russia's interference in the 2016 election, many will see Obama's remarks as a thinly veiled criticism of his successor.

But Obama also made remarks that can only be seen as a condemnation of intolerant leftists who shut down speakers on college campuses because they find their views offensive. Here's what the former president had to say (emphasis mine):

Democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, maybe they'll change ours. You can't do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponent has to say from the start. And you can't do it if you insist that those who aren't like you because they are white or they are male, somehow there is no way they can understand what I'm feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.

This a direct rebuke of the notion that only people who are oppressed for some reason—because of their race, gender, sexuality, disability status, size, etc.—should be allowed to speak on issues relating to said difficulties.

It's not surprising that Obama would say this. The 44th president has consistently touted norms of speech consistent with Enlightenment liberalism. In his 2016 commencement address at Rutgers University, he implored students to engage speakers with whom they disagree, not to shut them down.

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Las Vegas Hotel Sues Victims of 2017 Mass Shooting

Citing a post-9/11 terror law, MGM Resorts International argues that it isn't liable for the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

|||Francis Dean /Deanpictures/NewscomFrancis Dean /Deanpictures/NewscomMGM Resorts International is filing a federal lawsuit against more than 1,000 victims of the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The company aims to exploit a legal loophole protecting companies that use "anti-terrorism" tools.

Last year, gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival just before killing himself. Nearly 60 died and more than 500 were taken to the hospital. Paddock's vantage point in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel contributed to his ability to harm so many.

Hundreds of victims filed lawsuits against MGM Resorts, which owns both the Mandalay Bay and the Route 91 Harvest venue. The suits accused the company of not doing enough to prevent the deadly events. In one suit filed on behalf of 450 victims, the plaintiffs argue that MGM had a "duty of reasonable care" to monitor hotel guests.

Earlier this week, MGM Resorts filed its suit, hoping to absolve itself of liability. The lawsuit is not asking for money; it wants the court to consider the applicability of the 2002 SAFETY Act. As the Las Vegas Journal-Review explains, the law

extends liability protection to any company that uses "anti-terrorism" technology or services that can "help prevent and respond to mass violence."

In this case, the company argues, the security vendor MGM hired for Route 91, Contemporary Services Corp., was protected from liability because its services had been certified by the Department of Homeland Security for "protecting against and responding to acts of mass injury and destruction.

The lawsuits argue that this protection also extends to MGM, since MGM hired the security company.

If the suit is won, it would render inviable any future civil suits against MGM over the massacre.

Attorney Robert Eglet, who is representing a number of the victims, calls the lawsuit "outrageous," telling the Journal-Review that MGM is engaged in a "blatant display of judge shopping."

MGM Resorts spokesperson Debra DeShong released a statement, as reported:

The Federal Court is an appropriate venue for these cases and provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.

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Whirlpool Took Tariffs for a Spin, Ended Up With Tumbling Sales

Tariffs let the government pick winners and losers—but sometimes even the winners get hung out to dry.

AARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS/NewscomAARON JOSEFCZYK/REUTERS/NewscomBefore the White House was slapping tariffs on Chinese imports, before its tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the opening salvo in what would become President Donald Trump's trade war was fired without hardly any notice. In January, the administration imposed tariffs on imported washing machines, with the duty ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent along a sliding scale.

That sounded like great news to the Whirlpool Corp., an American appliance manufacturer. "This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool," CEO Marc Bitzer said on an investor conference call, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Almost every government intrusion into the economy will create winners and losers, but tariffs do so in espescially direct ways. And it was no accident that Whirlpool was a "winner" of the Trump administration's first foray into trade protectionism. The company had lobbied hard for the trade barriers, telling the United States International Trade Commission that foreign companies like Samsung and LG were undercutting it on price. The tariffs would "create a level playing field for American workers and manufacturers," Whirlpool officials told the commission. They would allow the domestic manufacturer to hire 1,300 more workers at its Ohio plant, the company said.

Now, the Journal reports, things look quite a bit different. Whirlpool's share price is down 15 percent over the past six months. (Fellow washing-machine makers Samsung and LG have seen their stock prices fall as well.) Even with a boost from the new corporate tax rules, Whirlpool's net income was down $64 million in the first quarter of 2018 when compared with the same period of the previous year.

Why? Because tariffs on steel and aluminum have increased the cost of Whirlpool's raw materials, essentially wiping out the advantage it gained by having its foreign competitors penalized.

For consumers, it means the price of a new washing machine—whether made in Ohio, South Korea, or China—has jumped by about 20 percent in just a few months. That's pretty much exactly in line with what analysts predicted in January when the tariff was announced.

Bureau of Labor StatisticsBureau of Labor Statistics

"We have repeatedly stated that this tariff is a tax on every washing machine buyer in the U.S.," a Samsung spokesman told the Journal. "Since the tariff was implemented, U.S. consumers have paid more for their washing machines across all brands."

While the tariffs can be credited with pushing Sumsung to open a small manufacturing facility in South Carolina (LG is reportedly considering doing the same), the costs imposed on consumers seem to far outweigh the potential for new jobs. That's something that economists have generally agreed on ever since the Trump administration started racheting up barriers to trade: Tariffs may create some jobs, but they'll cause more to be lost.

Similar stories are playing out in other sectors of the economy where the Trump administraton has deployed protectionist policies. The 25 percent tariff on imported steel, for example, is raising prices and forcing layoffs, but it is not resurrecting steel towns in the Rust Belt.

When it comes to tariffs, the losers lose and often the winners lose too. And consumers lose most of all.

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Putin Invokes JFK and MLK Assassinations in Weird U.S./Russia Comparison

"Haven't presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about—well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King?"

Fox News/YouTube/ScreenshotFox News/YouTube/ScreenshotRussian leader Vladimir Putin responded yesterday to a question about the deaths of Russian dissidents with one of the strangest bursts of whataboutism yet: He invoked the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In a Fox News interview that aired hours after Putin's joint press conference with Donald Trump, host Chris Wallace asked the Russian president why "so many" of his critics "end up dead or close to it." Wallace specifically referenced the deaths of politician Boris Nemtsov, reporter Anna Politkovskaya, and former double agent Sergei Skripal.

Putin replied that "all of us," including Trump, have political rivals, prompting Wallace to indicate that other politicians' rivals "don't end up dead." An undeterred Putin offered this reply:

Haven't presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about—well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King? What—and what happens to the clashes between police and, well, civil society, and some—several ethnic groups? Well, that's something that happens on the U.S. soil. All of us have our own set of domestic problems.

Though Russia's constitution supposedly allows for freedom of speech, Russian officials have "great discretion to crack down" on views they don't like, according to the human rights group Freedom House. And while Putin said Monday he is not "the kind of strongman" people portray him to be, many of his outspoken critics might say otherwise—at least the ones who are still alive.

Needless to say, the U.S. is hardly perfect. We do have our own "domestic problems," including the police killings that Putin alluded to. Still, Americans are allowed to speak out against their own government without fear of death or prison.

And the invocation of the assassinations is bizarre. You can read it as a conspiracy theory that past U.S. leaders had King and Kennedy assassinated, but raising that idea in this context would imply that Putin has been assassinating his critics—not an unreasonable thing to suspect him of doing, but also not something he's likely to confess on Fox News. Alternately, you can take it as a suggestion that Nemetsov and the rest were victims not of the state but of the same sort of general political turbulence that produces people like James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald. But in addition to being a dubious argument in general, that would be an especially curious way to contrast contemporary America and Russia, given that King and Kennedy were killed more than half a century ago. In any case, while the U.S. has seen its share of political violence over the last few decades, I think it's safe to say that Russia's had a lot more of it.

The Russian News Agency, meanwhile, is using Putin's Fox interview to highlight Moscow's alleged efforts to bring the culprits behind those political crimes to justice. That isn't a surprising response: The state-run news outlet has little choice but to defend the nation's leader. After all, the consequences for dissidence can be dire.

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NAACP Sues Connecticut to Stop 'Prison Gerrymandering'

Incarcerated prisoners are counted where they're jailed for representation purposes, even though they usually cannot vote.

PrisonAngelo Gilardelli / Dreamstime.comThe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing Connecticut to stop the practice of counting prisoners as though they're residents of the districts where they're incarcerated, a practice that inflates the political power of some parts of the state at the expense of others.

Felons serving prison time generally cannot legally vote, but they still count in the census and for determining district boundaries. In Connecticut, they were counted in the state's 2011 redistricting plan as residents of the prison facility instead of where they came from.

The NAACP lawsuit calls this "prison gerrymandering." The end result is that prisoners, disproportionally black and Latino, end up being counted as residents in the rural areas where the jails are concentrated. This increases the population used to determine district boundaries of the prisoner-heavy areas without actually increasing the number of voters, and takes numbers away from the cities, like Hartford and New Haven, where these prisoners come from.

The suit notes that Connecticut's laws don't require that prisoners be counted this way; the state's Reapportionment Commission made the choice. The lawsuit also notes that on the rare occasions when people in Connecticut are incarcerated yet also eligible to vote, they are required to cast ballots for races in their home districts, not the districts where they're incarcerated.

The end result is a 10- to 15-percent variance in district populations. A state House district in Connecticut has an average of around 23,670 residents. In the districts with the prisons, about 1,000 to 2,000 people cannot vote due to incarceration.

The NAACP argues that this an unbalanced representation system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The group is asking the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to stop the state from using the 2001 plan.

It's worth noting that the federal census does the same thing. In February the Census Bureau announced it would use a person's "usual residence" for the 2020 count. That means where a person lives and sleeps much of the time, not his or her legal residence. So people who are incarcerated will be classified as being residents of the congressional districts where they are jailed.

Most states do the same thing too. Indeed, only four states—Maryland, Delaware, New York, and California—count prison inmates as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes.

Read the lawsuit here.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says Unemployment Is Low 'Because Everyone Has Two Jobs,' Which Is Not How Unemployment Rates Work

"Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world."

AOSScreenshot via Firing LineAlexandria Ocasio-Cortex was roundly criticized on social media yesterday for supposedly botching a question about Israeli-Palestine relations during an interview with Firing Line's Margaret Hoover. But Ocasio-Cortez's admission that she was "no expert on geopolitics" was much more satisfactory than her answer to a question about the unemployment rate, which she claimed was low merely "because everyone has two jobs."

This is wrong for two reasons. First, people working multiple jobs has no distorting effect on the unemployment rate, which is calculated by taking the number of unemployed people and dividing it by the number of people in the labor force. The raw number of jobs being worked by Americans has no bearing on these numbers.

Second, everyone does not have two jobs. As Bloomberg View's Noah Smith points out, only about 5 percent of workers are moonlighting. This rate has actually dropped slightly over the last three decades.

Ocasio-Cortez continued: "Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, and can barely feed their kids." Again, the number of overtime hours Americans are working has no impact on the unemployment rate.

Ocasio-Cortez blames profit-seeking "no-holds-barred capitalism" for the conditions in which people struggle to feed their kids. Hunger and poverty are indeed problems faced by millions of Americans—14 percent of U.S. households experience food insecurity. Under capitalism, though, world poverty has declined precipitously. Over the past few decades, the economic growth that global trade has brought to developing economies has helped lift a billion people out of poverty. Between 2001 and 2011, some 700 million people exited from extreme poverty worldwide.

"Capitalism has not always existed in the world and it will not always exist in the world," said Ocasio-Cortez. But the scale of human suffering was inarguably greater in the era before capitalism, and would be again in any post-market era, if socialism's failure rate is any indication.

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Rand Paul Blames Criticisms of Diplomacy on 'Trump Derangement Syndrome'

Paul defends Trump's conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the name of diplomacy.

In the wake of Donald Trump's meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) has accused the summit's critics of "Trump Derangement Syndrome."

The comment came during a Monday appearance with PBS' NewsHour. Earlier in the interview, Paul argued that having a conversation, "even with our adversaries," is beneficial for addressing the countries' mutual interests. "It would be nice to have help from Russia on North Korea as far as denuclearization," he told Judy Woodruff. "We have the Ukraine situation. So...I think that we won't have any progress if we don't have any conversations."

Later, Paul addressed the meeting's critics:

I think Trump is different, and he's willing to meet with foreign leaders and, actually, I think you may get a breakthrough because of the meetings. And I think, if this were anybody else, if there weren't such acute hatred for Trump, such Trump Derangement Syndrome on the left, I think, if this were President Obama—and it could have actually been President Obama early in the first term, when they were trying to reset our relations with Russia, that could have easily had a meeting like this—and the left and the media would have had a lovefest over President Obama.

Paul also published a defense of the president's meeting in Politico, writing: "Politicizing international affairs is a dangerous game, but that hasn't stopped far too many in Washington, who seem to have forgotten that a vital part of keeping America safe and secure is avoiding war through strong and consistent diplomacy, from playing politics."

Trump tweeted a word of thanks to Paul on Tuesday morning after the senator made similar comments on CBS' This Morning.

Earlier this week, Paul sparked a bit of outrage when Trump critics focused on a line from his Sunday interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. Paul observed that the U.S., like Russia, has meddled in foreign elections, saying, "We all do it." Though Paul made the statement in the midst of calling for stronger protections for the American electoral process, like Mother Jones' David Corn called Paul a traitor.

Bonus link: Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Nick Gillespie, and Matt Welch discuss Rand Paul's Sunday comments on the Reason Podcast.

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Stossel: Plastic Straw Myths—New at Reason

The claim that Americans use 500 million plastic straws daily is based on a nine-year-old's school project.

Have you used a plastic straw lately? Did you feel guilty? Celebrities and activists hope so! They want us all to #stopsucking.

Politicians took notice. Seattle recently banned plastic straws, and other places are considering similar bans.

Companies are also getting in on the trend; Starbucks recently decided to phase out plastic straws in all its stores by 2020. Other companies like American Airlines, Sea World, and Royal Caribbean are planning to ban plastic straws.

In our latest video, Stossel TV contributor Kristin Tate, author of How Do I Tax Thee, examines what a straw ban would accomplish.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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Compromised, Proud, or Diplomatic? Trump's Performance With Putin Gets Wildly Mixed Reviews: Reason Roundup

Kremlin Pool/ZUMA Press/NewscomKremlin Pool/ZUMA Press/Newscom"I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party's emails during the 2016 election, President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday following his private talk with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. That, of course, is not what U.S. law enforcement and intelligence leaders say. So, to many people, Trump's comments are yet more proof that he's a puppet of Putin. "Compromised," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) this morning on MSNBC. Treason!, howled many, including former CIA Director John Brennan.

There's a simpler explanation, one rooted in less sinister circumstances, if not necessarily less sinister an outcome. We can even say it without speculating about Trump's particular sort of damaged psyche in clinical terms. Put simply, Trump is too damn proud to react to Russia in anything like what we might think of as a normal way. To concede that Russia interfered in any way in the election, even all on its own, challenges the meritocratic or populist spin on Trump's win. Trump thinks, or wants to think, or wants us to think that he did this all on his own.

And then the even simpler explanation, the one being pushed by Trump's tried and true cheerleaders: Trump was just trying to keep things going smoothly with Russia, and lashing out at Putin while he's right there on stage next to him would be counterproductive.

My inclination is to the erratic pride explanation here, with some of the peacemaking instinct his fans are postulating. There is some wisdom to not insulting tempestuous enemies with large nuclear arsenals directly to their face.

But Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley called Trump's full answer "an astounding word salad of debunked conspiracy theories," and this is also a very fair assessment. Here's the full exchange between Trump and an Associated Press reporter:

AP: Just now president Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell president Putin—would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

TRUMP: So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are those servers? They're missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton's e-mails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer. OK? Thank you.

Fox News contributor Byron York called Trump's comments "appalling" but suggested that they were connected to Trump's feeling that "if he gives an inch on the what-Russia-did-part" of this story, "his adversaries will take a mile on the get-Trump part. That's consistent with how Trump approaches other problems."

The Republican senators from Arizona weren't quite so forgiving. "I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression," tweeted Jeff Flake. "This is shameful." John McCain called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory....No prior president has ever based himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Their responses are comparatively restrained.

For a few more Reason-able takes (beating you to the bad pun this time!), see Robby Soave ("disappointment with Trump's behavior is well-justified....He could have signaled a desire to work toward more peaceful relations without coming across like a dupe"...but treason?) and Peter Suderman writing here yesterday.

Protesters who gathered in front of the White House last night, calling it #OccupyLafayettePark, promised they would be back tonight.

Erin Scott/ZUMA Press/NewscomErin Scott/ZUMA Press/Newscom

FREE MINDS

Los Angeles Times order "not plausibly lawful." More from Ken "Popehat" White on the story mentioned here yesterday about a federal court judge, John F. Walter, ordering the Los Angeles Times to pull a factual story about a shady detective. The judge "also ordered the Times to appear in Court this Wednesday to argue whether the temporary order should be made into a permanent injunction," White notes.

In other words, based on an emergency request from the defendant, with no prior opportunity to be heard, a federal judge ordered a major newspaper (1) not to write about the details of a federal plea agreement it had obtained lawfully, (2) not to write anything that "relies on, or is derived in any way" from the plea agreement, an incredibly broad and vague term that is extraordinarily chilling to speech about the case, (3) to take down any story it's already published, and (4) told the paper they can see the order, but not the application stating the legal and factual grounds for the order.

White concludes that "Judge Walter's order is not plausibly lawful" and is "patently unconstitutional, and the sort of order that is only issued when a judge deliberately defies First Amendment law or is asleep at the switch." He explains why in detail here.

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Scotland Levies New Taxes on Working-Class Drinkers: New at Reason

Scotland's "minimum-unit pricing" screws over poor drinkers.

davidhills/iStockdavidhills/iStockIn an old joke, a little boy climbs onto his father's knee.

"Daddy," he says, his wide eyes bright with optimism. "Now that alcohol is so expensive, does that mean you'll drink less?"

The father laughs.

"No, my son," he replies. "It means you'll eat less."

In May, Scotland decided to test this joke on a national scale when it became the first country in the world to implement "minimum-unit pricing," writes Jillian Keenan.

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Laws Are for the Little People: New at Reason

Lots of government officials enjoy legal immunity with a wink and a nod. But in Arizona, immunity is actually official.

Douglas Graham / Loudoun Now/NewscomDouglas Graham / Loudoun Now/NewscomWhen informed by a sheriff's deputy that doing 97 miles per hour in a 55 zone was a tad excessive, Arizona state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-District 5) answered, "Well, I was doing 120 earlier...This goes 140. That's what I like about it."

Under fire from the public and the press, Rep. Mosley apologized both for speeding and for his "jokes about frequently driving over 100 miles per hour." But he drove away from that incident free as a bird, reports J.D. Tuccille., and likely faces no consequences more perilous than what the voters can muster up at the ballot box. As he explained to the deputy, he enjoys "legislative immunity."

Lots of government officials seem to enjoy immunity with a wink and a nod, notes Tuccille. But in Arizona, immunity is actually official.

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Brickbat: Come and Knock on Our Door

For Rent signBigapplestock / Dreamstime.comThe San Diego, California, City Council is considering a law that would ban landlords from rejecting tenants because they use federal Section 8 vouchers to pay their rent. Supporters say that more than 85 percent of San Diego residents who receive those vouchers are non-whites and the measure will reduce housing segregation.

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Cut Loose! Arkansans Can Get Footloose on Sundays

City officials repeal a dancing ban.

|||Pressmaster/Dreamstime.comPressmaster/Dreamstime.comAn Arkansas town has abolished a 65-year-old ordinance, often referred to as the Footloose law, that was aimed at preventing public dancing on Sundays.

Until its recent revocation, Sec. 14-91 of Fort Smith's municipal code required that dance halls and other businesses that allow dancing stay closed on Sundays. Initially signed into law by Mayor H.R. Hestand in 1953, the ordinance suggested that Sunday dancing "greatly endangers the public health, safety and welfare." The ban followed the trend of other blue laws, which ban activities such as hunting and horse racing on Sundays.

The ordinance was reminiscent of the 1984 movie Footloose, which is set in a small Oklahoma town where dancing on Sundays is forbidden. While the dancing ban in the movie is strictly enforced, Fort Smith officials said there is no record of an arrest or fine under their ordinance.

"If you don't care to dance on Sunday, that's fine," said City Director Andre Good, who headed efforts to repeal the ordinance. "We should all respect that. But let's not impose some outdated, outmoded morality code on all our fine fellow citizens."

Good hoped the fight against the dancing ordinance would lead to reconsideration of other outmoded laws. With that in mind, city leaders unanimously agreed to dissolve seven of the 34 commissions, boards, and committees that were believed to be outdated, including the Massard Prairie Civil War Battlefield Park Advisory Commission, the Oak Cemetery Commission, the Outside Agency Review Panel, the Parking Authority, the Residential Housing Facilities Board, the Riverfront Task Force, and the Streets Bridges and Associated Drainage Capital Improvements Plan Advisory Committee.

Bonus link: Reason's previous coverage on dancing ordinances and bans in Arizona, Ohio, California, and Washington, D.C.

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FCC Chairman's 'Serious Concerns' Could Spell Doom for Sinclair/Tribune Merger

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says certain aspects of the deal could be in "in violation of the law."

MIKE THEILER/UPI/NewscomMIKE THEILER/UPI/NewscomSinclair Broadcast Group's proposed acquisition of Tribune Media might not happen after Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said today he has "serious concerns" about the $3.9 billion deal.

Sinclair, which owns or operates more than 190 local TV stations across the U.S., is looking to control Tribune's 42 stations, including those in big cities like New York and Chicago. In order to comply with government regulations preventing one company from owning more than one station in the same market, Sinclair has said it would sell at least 20 of its existing stations.

But Pai said in a statement he's not convinced Sinclair would be giving up control of those stations. "Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction," he said. "The evidence we've received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law." As a result, Pai said he has shared a draft order with his fellow FCC commissioners designating those issues "for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge."

Pai did not make the draft order public, but Politico reports the FCC is worried about the close ties some of the proposed buyers have to Sinclair.

FCC officials said one problematic deal was the plan to sell Chicago station WGN to Steven Fader, a Maryland business associate of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith who oversees car dealerships. Others that raised alarm were the deals to sell stations in Dallas and Houston to Cunningham Broadcasting, a company with close ties to the Smith family.

Though Pai's statement doesn't officially kill the Sinclair-Tribune merger, the future of the proposal is in serious jeopardy, says Marci Ryvicker, a senior analyst with Wells Fargo Securities. "It sounds like the [administrative law judge] is being asked to review just the divestiture stations, but our legal contacts suggest there could be full review of the entire transaction," Ryvicker wrote in a research note on Monday, according to The Baltimore Sun. He added that though there's chance Sinclair could work to get the merger approved, "our legal contacts believe Pai went far enough to suggest the deal is at more serious risk." And as noted by The Hill, a similar move in 2011 by then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski effectively killed a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile.

Pai's announcement was particularly surprising given the fact that last August, the FCC seemingly made it easier for Sinclair to complete the merger. The agency reinstated an old provision that would have allowed Sinclair to buy Tribune without surpassing the "congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap of 39 percent," according to Politico.

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Preschoolers Told Not to Play on Preschool's Playground Equipment

Slides were designed for kids 5 and up, and these tots are only 4.

SwingsNadezhda1906 / DreamstimeTots in a pre-school program in Nova Scotia can look all they want at their playground's equipment: they just can't, you know, play on it.

That's because the play structures are labeled for use by children age 5-12, and the pre-schoolers are ages 3 and 4.

That doesn't mean the equipment is a Monty Python-esque contraption of rotating knives, only that a cautious company labeled its slides and such as suitable for older kids, and the program is worried its insurance won't cover any kids injured on equipment not officially deemed for them.

But, as Playgroundology.com points out:

Let's remember that these school playgrounds are open to the public after hours and kids can play on the equipment as they choose regardless of age.

Kids have always played with equipment that did not have a specific age range attached to it. Hills, rocks, streams, and trees do not come with "ages 5 and up" warning labels. If something is too hard for three-year-olds to climb, they won't climb it—or they'll try to, and learn about bravery, taking risks, and maybe how it feels to fall. How can we expect to raise resilient kids when we don't trust their resilience, even on playground equipment fit for kindergarteners?

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Trump's Putin Summit Is Another Reminder He Prefers Dictators to Democratic Leaders

The president has a long history of admiration for authoritarians and strongmen.

DAVID SILPA/UPI/NewscomDAVID SILPA/UPI/NewscomAmong the most consistent characteristics of Donald Trump's worldview is his admiration for dictators, authoritarians, and political strongmen—not in spite of their most thuggish tactics, but because of them.

Trump often appears more comfortable in their company, and with their style of politics, than with the leaders of liberal democracies. This aspect of his personality was on display again today in his joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

At the press conference, Trump refused to acknowledge Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. That Russia interfered is now well-documented in both a report by Republican lawmakers and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recent indictment against Russian military intelligence operatives. Allowing that Russia interfered in the election is not equivalent to saying that Russia's actions swung the election in favor of Trump, but the president cannot seem to distinguish between the two.

Putin has maintained that Russia did not make any attempt at interference, and Trump appears eager to agree. Asked today about Russia's actions, Trump said, "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia." Apparently last week's announcement by Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. deputy attorney general, that a group of Russian intelligence officers had been "charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents and release those documents with the intent to interfere in the election" does not constitute any reason whatsoever. Trump effectively sided with Putin over the conclusions offered by officials in his own administration.

Trump did not merely deny an allegation that at this point is seriously contested only by the Russian government and its close allies. He also responded to a question about whether he holds the Russian government "accountable for anything in particular" by drawing an equivalence with his own country. "I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish."

This is far from the first time that Trump has responded to questions about Russia's corrupt and murderous practices by suggesting that there is no meaningful difference between the two countries.

MORE »
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Watch Georgia Cops Flip a Coin and Joke Before Arresting a Woman for Speeding

The officers are now on administrative leave.

Body-cam footage from an April traffic stop appears to show two Georgia cops using a coin-toss phone app to decide whether they'd arrest a driver for speeding in the rain. The officers, Courtney Brown and Kristee Wilson of the Roswell Police Department, wound up ignoring the results of the coin toss and following ordinary police procedure. But the very idea of leaving such a weighty choice up to chance has led to a national controversy.

The footage—first reported by the Atlanta station 11 Alive—shows Brown approaching Sarah Webb's car. Webb tells Brown that she was speeding because she was late to work. Brown replies that speeding in wet conditions means that she'd likely receive a reckless driving charge. Brown then goes back to the cruiser, where Wilson is waiting. After noting that Webb does not have any speeding tickets, the pair pul up a coin toss app on Brown's phone:

Wilson: A [arrest] head, R [release] tail.
Brown: OK. (sound of coin flip, laugh)
Wilson: This is tail, right?
Brown: "Yeah. So release?"
Wilson: 23. (code for arrest)
Brown: Michael Jordan? (laugh) All right, so I've got too fast (laugh) for conditions, reckless...

Though the coin toss' result meant that Webb would have gone free, Brown and Wilson decided to follow through with the arrest anyway. Brown returned to Webb's vehicle, arrested Webb for reckless driving, and then placed her in the back of the cruiser.

Webb didn't learn about the coin toss until 11 Alive contacted her months later about the video. The charges against Webb were thrown out shortly before the video was made available to the public; the prosecutor reportedly refused to prosecute the case after watching the body camera footage.

Police Chief Rusty Grant released a statement via Facebook the day after the incident became viral. Grant said he was "appalled that any law enforcement officer would trivialize the decision-making process of something as important as the arrest of a person." Roswell Mayor Lori Henry also criticized the officers' actions on Facebook, calling the behavior "inexcusable and unprofessional."

Henry also asked her constituents to have faith in an investigation being conducted by the department's Office of Professional Standards. Brown and Wilson have been placed on administrative duty while the investigation continues. Since the officers appear to allude in the footage to the tactic being used previously, 11 Alive reporters are looking into whether there's a larger story here.

11 Alive has also posted a longer, 23-minute video to provide more context.

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Local NIMBYs Hold Up Medal of Honor Museum Over Height Concerns

Designed by famed architect Moshe Safdie, a planned Medal of Honor Museum is 75 feet too tall for local zoning codes.

Mary Mallucci/Dreamstime.comMary Mallucci/Dreamstime.comThe Medal of Honor Foundation spent years planning a memorial for the recipients of the American military's highest honor. The famed architect Moshe Sadfie—designer of such iconic structures as Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial and Montreal's Habitat 67—has been tapped to design the building, which the foundation intends to erect in Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Sadfie envisions a sleek, pentagonal structure.

Designs were finalized back in 2015, and the foundation has raised $19 million of the $100 million it will need to finish the museum. Everything seemed to be falling into place—until it came time to get the government's approval. In January, the Mount Pleasant Planning Commission rejected the project nearly unanimously for being 75 feet too tall.

Sadfie's design calls for a 125-foot structure. But the plot where the foundation wants to build the museum is not zoned to allow buildings of more than 50 feet.

"I have ultimate respect for this project. I just think it's a little much," said Commissioner Roy Neal in January, just before he voted to reject the design.

The city council can approve variances for taller buildings, and other structures near their proposed site go as high as 80 feet. The flight deck of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, stationed right next to where the museum would be built, is nearly 100 feet high.

Nevertheless, the Mount Pleasant city council has refused to budge on the height issue, citing the character of the building, concerns about whether financing for the project will come together, and irritation at an alleged lack of consultation from the project's planners. Designs for the project were available for three years on the foundation's website.

In late May, the Foundation agreed to scrap its current design and committed to hearing community input on what the museum should look like. In late June, the foundation held the first of two public meetings on a new design, where community members expressed a desire that it be "awe-inspiring." Another public meeting is planned for later this month.

To be clear, the Medal of Honor Museum is no libertarian dream project. Some 20 percent of its funding comes from South Carolina taxpayers, and it is being built on public land owned by the Patriots Point Development Authority.

But the city's objections to the project do not hold that there has been too much government involvement, but rather that there hasn't been enough. "They didn't consult with town council," Mount Pleasant Councilman Joe Bustos complained to CityLab. In other words: They didn't do the requisite consultation and ring-kissing. And what good is a building without that?

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Security Drags Journalist Out of Trump-Putin Press Conference

After Sam Husseini refused to lower a sign that read "Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty," he was forcibly removed.

An accredited journalist covering Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin's press conference in Finland today was forcibly removed before both leaders came out to answer questions.

Sam Husseini, who was covering the summit for the progressive publication The Nation, was holding up a sign that read "Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty" when security guards grabbed him and marched him out of the room. According to CNBC, Russian authorities considered his sign a "malicious item."

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta reports that Husseini had been asked to leave the room earlier. He did so, then returned to retrieve his things; on his return trip, he told the assembled reporters that he had gotten the boot because of the sign. "At that point, as he held it up, the security officials grabbed him and forcibly removed him from the room," Acosta says.

Video captured at the scene showed the situation escalating. Husseini says his sign wasn't a protest, but a security guard keeps trying to get him to lower it anyway. When Husseini refuses and keeps talking, the guard attempts to wrest the sign from his hands, knocking the reporter's glasses off in the process. Several other guards join the effort, and Husseini is eventually dragged out of the room as a crowd of journalists watched.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Susan Ormiston has said on Twitter that Husseini had been "heckling" other journalists as they reported live from the briefing room. According to Ormiston, the people who removed Husseini were with the U.S. Secret Service.

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Is Rand Paul Really a Traitor?: Podcast

Short answer: no

Whoa, if true. ||| TwitterTwitterSen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been taking his lumps in the media and other sectors of the anti-Trumposphere for these comments on CNN Sunday about Russia's hackery into the 2016 presidential campaign: "If we have proof that they did it, we should spend our time protecting ourselves instead of having this witch hunt on the president. I think we need to be done with this so we can protect our election....We all do it. What we need to do is make sure our electoral process is protected. They are not going to admit it in the same way we're not going to admit we were involved in the Ukrainian elections or the Russian elections." To which Mother Jones D.C. Bureau Chief David Corn tweeted simply: "Traitor."

This is one of several often-hysterical Trump/Russia-related controversies tackled today on the editor-roundtable version of the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Nick Gillespie, and me. Is the U.S. president's seeming equivalence of Russian and American interference in other countries' domestic elections accurate, and/or inappropriate? What does it mean (and is it meaningful) that Trump calls the European Union, China, and Russia "foes"? Is it proper for the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania to express clear preferences in the politics of its allies? These and other questions come under vigorous, if world-weary, debate.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'Day Into Night' by Rho is licensed under CC BY NC 3.0

Relevant links from the show:

"Trump Apologies for America Ahead of Helsinki Summit With Putin," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"12 Russian Operatives Indicted for Hacking Democrats, Voting Systems During 2016 U.S. Presidential Election," by Scott Shackford

"The Case Against the Case Against the Mueller Investigation," by Jonathan H. Adler

"Trump's Economic Illiteracy Has Deep Roots," by Eric Boehm

"Trump Wants to Win at Trade. He's Missing the Point," by Katherine Mangu-Ward

"Donald Trump, Lying, and Eroding Social Trust," by Ronald Bailey

"This Year's World Cup Is a Tale of Cultural Blending, Written by Immigrants," by Eric Boehm

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

Subscribe at iTunes.

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Follow us on Twitter.

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A Finnish Newspaper Tries to Remind Trump and Putin About Freedom of the Press

The paper has put up hundreds of billboards highlighting both leaders' "turbulent relations with the media."

Nikolsky Alexei/ZUMA Press/NewscomNikolsky Alexei/ZUMA Press/NewscomFinland's largest newspaper has put up almost 300 billboards criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin's treatment of the press.

Helsingin Sanomat's billboards feature headlines from past stories that "highlight the presidents' turbulent relations with the media," according to a press release. The posters, which are in Russian and English, went up ahead of today's meeting between Trump and Putin in Helsinki. They were meant to be seen by both world leaders as they traveled from the airport to the meeting.

"Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press," one of the billboards reads, while another says, "Trump calls media enemy of the people." Other billboards criticized Putin, with one reading, "Russian reporter who criticized Putin gains asylum in Britain."

Kaius Niemi, editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, has said the newspaper wants to remind Trump and Putin about "the importance of free press" and show support for American and Russian journalists facing "ever toughening circumstances" in their respective countries. "The media shouldn't be the lapdog of any president or regime," he added.

That sentiment was evident in many of the billboards:

As the newspaper notes in its press release, both Trump and Putin have had "contentious" relationships with the media. In Russia's case, contentious is an understatement. "Between draconian laws and website blocking, the pressure on independent media has grown steadily since Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012," the group says. Russia was ranked 148th out of 180 countries in the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders' 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Even the U.S., which guarantees freedom of press under the First Amendment, was only ranked 45th in the index, down two spots from last year. Reporters Without Borders notes Trump's "attempt[s] to block White House access to multiple media outlets" and his "call[s] for revoking certain media outlets' broadcasting licenses."

Finland, where Trump and Putin met today, is ranked fourth on the index.

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Trump's Presser with Putin Was Disgraceful. But No, It's Not 'Treason' to Meet with Russia.

"A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here."

TrumpMetzel Mikhail/ZUMA Press/NewscomDuring a joint press conference Monday morning, President Donald Trump told the world that he accepted Vladimir Putin's dubious assertion that the Russian government did not meddle in America's 2016 election. In doing so, Trump contradicted his own intelligence officials, who remain confident that Russia was indeed responsible for the hack of Democratic National Committee emails, regardless of whether anyone within the Trump campaign colluded in this effort.

That Trump could stand next to Putin and go out of his way to please the autocratic leader was "disgraceful," in the words of CNN's Anderson Cooper. If Twitter is any indication, Cooper's sentiments are widely shared by people in media and politics, and not just the left-of-center ones. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote, "I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful." Fox News's Guy Benson called this one of Trump's "worst days as president." The Federalist's Mollie Hemmingway said Trump should have chosen different words. Even Rep. Peter King (R–N.Y.), ordinarily a reliable defender of Trump, said he "strongly disagrees" with the president's take on Russian interference.

This disappointment with Trump's behavior is well-justified. The president didn't have to bow to Putin, fully embracing every obvious lie the Russian leader had told him. He could have been polite without being craven. He could have signaled a desire to work toward more peaceful relations without coming across like a dupe.

But this does not mean it was a mistake for Trump to meet with Putin in the first place, or that the theory—promoted just days ago by New York magazine's Jonathan Chait—that Trump is some sort of Russian agent (and has been since 1987!) holds water. Former CIA chief John Brennan claims that Trump's performance was "nothing short of treasonous" and that it "rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.'" That's plainly wrong. And Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.), a frequent spokesperson for the #Resistance on cable news, was engaged in unhinged fearmongering when he tweeted this over the weekend:

Unsurprisingly, the most reasonable response to the presser came from the reliably levelheaded Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) who said, "A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here." Diplomacy is good, and Democrats shouting "Treason!" whenever the president does something dumb is as obnoxious in the Trump years as it was when the Republicans did it during the Obama years. It's a mistake to indulge in grand conspiracy theorizing—Manchurian candidates! The Americans! Urinating sex workers!—to explain the president's actions when mundane incompetence and egomania fit just as nicely.

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Should This Obnoxious Drunk Be Punished for His Political Views?

That's what Illinois prosecutors are trying to do by charging Timothy Trybus with hate crimes for objecting to a woman's Puerto Rican flag shirt.

YouTubeYouTubeIt is pretty clear that Timothy Trybus broke the law when he harassed Mia Irizarry for wearing a T-shirt featuring the Puerto Rican flag at a park in Chicago last month. But now that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office has charged Trybus with hate crimes in addition to assault and disorderly conduct, the government is trying to punish him for his opinions as well as his actions.

During the June 14 incident, which you can watch in a viral video that Irizarry recorded with her cellphone, an audibly intoxicated and belligerent Trybus repeatedly confronted her in and near a gazebo she had reserved for a birthday party and berated her. "Why are you wearing that?" he asked, pointing at the flag shirt. "This is America....You're not gonna change us, you know that?...You should not be wearing that in the United States of America....If you're an American citizen, you should not be wearing that shirt in America."

Trybus did not touch Irizarry, but he got uncomfortably close and raised his voice, notwithstanding her requests that he leave her alone. Meanwhile, a park police officer who has since resigned stood by passively, ignoring Irizarry's pleas for help, although he did ultimately tell Trybus to "shut the fuck up."

YouTubeYouTubeThe initial charges against Trybus seem to fit his behavior. Under Illinois law, someone commits assault when he "knowingly engages in conduct which places another in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery." Disorderly conduct includes "any act" committed "in such unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace." Both offenses are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $1,500 and up to 30 days in jail. By contrast, the hate crime charges filed last week, taking into account the enhancement for offenses committed in a public park, are Class 3 felonies, punishable by two to five years in prison.

The hate crime provision applies when someone commits any of several offenses, including assault and disorderly conduct, "by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals." In this case, the allegation presumably is that Trybus harassed Irizarry at least partly because of her race, color, or ancestry, which seems like a reasonable supposition.

But even if that's true, it's hard to deny that Trybus faces the possibility of years rather than weeks behind bars because of the views he expressed about the propriety of displaying the Puerto Rican flag. If he had instead objected to T-shirt advocating marijuana legalization or Donald Trump's impeachment, he might still have been arrested for assault and disorderly conduct, but he would not be charged with felonies. The subject he chose and the position he took were crucial in determining the penalties he now faces.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who joined Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois in calling for hate crime charges against Trybus, made it clear that the goal is to emphasize that certain opinions are beyond the pale and should never be publicly aired. "People have to learn there are consequences, especially in the era of Trump," Gutierrez told the Chicago Tribune. "I really do believe there are people who say to themselves, 'If Trump can do it, I can do it. Why can't I go out there and say the things the president says?'"

Gutierrez, in other words, hopes the threat of prison will deter people from echoing the president's controversial views on matters related to race and immigration. That expectation should give pause to anyone who doubted that enhancing criminal penalties based on a defendant's bigoted beliefs poses a danger to freedom of speech.

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Police Kill Man with Bulldozer over 10 Marijuana Plants

Drug war absurdity meets police recklessness.

BulldozerRedshed / Dreamstime.comPennsylvania State Police killed a man with a bulldozer over a 10-plant marijuana grow "operation" on state lands in Berks County.

The man's death was likely an accident, but it highlights how recklessly and foolishly police have perpetuated the drug war, even as Americans want to pull back.

On July 9 a state worker on a bulldozer was clearing out some brush to improve hunters' access to state lands. He saw a suspicious car off the road and called the cops. When law enforcement came out to investigate, the Reading Eagle reports, they found those 10 marijuana plants.

They also found two men: David B. Light, 54, and Gregory Longenecker, 51. Light surrendered to police immediately. Longenecker ran.

The police called in a helicopter to follow Longenecker, but they lost him in the dense brush of the state lands. A trooper jumped onto the bulldozer and used it with the state worker to try to chase the grower. What happened next is a little vague, thanks to police spokespeople's propensity to describe events in ways that leave out any sort of clear cause-effect relationship. But according to State Police spokesman David Boehm, the bulldozer was clearing a path through the underbrush when the state trooper on the bulldozer told the worker to stop. Then they looked behind the bulldozer and saw Longenecker's body.

The subsequent autopsy determined that Longenecker died of "traumatic injuries." At the time of Longenecker's death, Boehm had tried to float the possibility that maybe the man died of a heart attack prior to being run over by a bulldozer. (Presumably the terror of having a bulldozer bearing down on him, about to run him over, caused Longenecker to have a heart attack and die, right before the bulldozer actually ran him over.)

Boehm also told the Eagle that the police do not think Longenecker's death was the result of a "police pursuit." He insisted they were just trying to "locate" him by commandeering a bulldozer and sending it racing into the brush while a helicopter hovered overhead.

That defensive posturing is likely a reaction to angry questions wanting to know why the police responded so harshly to a grow operation involving 10 whole plants. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has trashed the State Police's behavior, reports the Associated Press:

"We simply cannot understand how a man is dead over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants," said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of NORML's Pittsburgh chapter and a former Allegheny County prosecutor. "The whole investigation was ridiculous. I've seen law enforcement take down major heroin traffickers that haven't engaged in this level of aggression."

The officer who had been on the bulldozer is on administrative leave while the incident is under investigation.

Recreational use of marijuana in Pennsylvania is still a crime, though Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have decriminalized the possession of small amounts. The state legalized medical marijuana use in 2016 to treat a limited set of conditions.

Light has been charged with felony counts of drug possession with intent to deliver and conspiracy to possess drugs with intent to deliver, as well as drug possession, possession of a small amount of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and criminal trespass. He was released on a $25,000 bail. Jeff Reidy of NORML tells the Associated Press that the 10 marijuana plants probably had a street value of less than $5,000. He theorizes that they were probably only for personal consumption.

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It's Amazon Prime Day! Support Reason by Buying Stuff You Would Have Bought Anyway!

There are good sales, but you can always stock up on science fiction and beef jerky too!

AmazonAmazonToday is Amazon Prime Day! We're not saying you have to go buy anything, but if you were going to partake anyway, consider using our affiliate links so that Reason gets a cut. If you're not already a Prime subscriber, you can get a free trial and if you're in college you can get 50 percent off. And you nerds can try Twitch, too. All the deals kick in at 3:00 today and last for about 36 hours.

Lots of our readers do their Amazon shopping via Reason already, which lets you toss a few pennies to your favorite (?) magazine while you shop anytime, not just on Prime Day. A pleasingly large number of you, for instance, bought The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin last year.

And shoutout to the readers who bought The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason.

We helped some of your mourn with Anthony Bourdain's last book, Appetites. Some of you have found that you can't go wrong with some classic H.L. Mencken. Or heck, you can go all in on some John Stuart Mill.

AmazonAmazonAnd of course you can get all of your ordinary life stuff at Amazon Pantry too. Those family size packs of beef jerky aren't going to schlep themselves, friends.

(Don't worry, by the way: We don't know what specific readers buy, just what y'all buy in the aggregate.)

Whether you're picking up a new space cat shirt or Bruce Lee's memoir (both purchases your fellow Reason readers have made in past years), Reason gets a little piece of the pie if you start at our link.

Thanks for supporting Reason in all the weird ways that our weird, wonderful world makes possible. Go shop a bit, then come back and read more.

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'Concerned' Rand Paul Isn't Sure How He'll Vote on Kavanaugh Confirmation

The Kentucky Republican is worried about Kavanaugh's record on the Fourth Amendment.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomCiting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's record on privacy issues, Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) said Sunday that he has yet to decide if he'll vote to confirm the judge.

"I'm concerned about Kavanaugh," Paul said on Fox & Friends, alluding to the judge's views on the Fourth Amendment, which protects American citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures." Paul explained that since President Donald Trump "did such a great job" with his first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, he is keeping an "open mind" regarding Kavanaugh. But the Kentucky Republican is "worried" and "perhaps disappointed" that Kavanaugh may "cancel out Gorsuch's vote on the Fourth Amendment."

Paul referenced a 2015 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that affirmed the National Security Agency's right to collect telephone metadata without a warrant. In his concurring opinion, Kavanaugh wrote that "the Government's metadata collection program is entirely consistent with the Fourth Amendment" and that "critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy."

"I disagree completely," Paul said. "And I think if we give up our liberty for security, we may end up with what Franklin said, and that's neither—neither liberty nor security."

Paul said he's "willing to meet" with the judge to see how he would rule on other issues. "There are 10 rights...10 amendments listed in the Bill of Rights, and so the Fourth Amendment's one of them," Paul said. "So we're already down one, let's see how he does on the other nine."

Paul is not the only libertarian-leaning lawmaker to express concern over Kavanaugh's record on the Fourth Amendment. Minutes after Trump announced Kavanaugh's nomination, Rep. Justin Amash (R­–Mich.) called the judge a "Disappointing pick," adding that "We can't afford a rubber stamp for the executive branch."

But Paul's view is particularly important given the GOP's slim 51–49 majority in the Senate. If every Democrat votes against Kavanaugh, Republicans can only afford one defection. And if Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.), who's being treated for brain cancer in Arizona, can't make it to D.C. for the vote, Republicans might need their entire caucus, including Paul, to support him.

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Florida Police Chief Charged with Arresting Random Black Men to Improve His Department's Record

Former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano is accused of arrested black men for burglaries to boost the department's image.

|||Jay Weaver/TNS/NewscomJay Weaver/TNS/NewscomAn investigation into a false arrest has uncovered a former Florida police chief's scheme to boost his department's clearance rate by arresting innocent people.

The authorities are charging former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two officers, Charlie Dayoub and Raul Fernandez, with conspiracy to violate civil rights. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Atesiano's department arrested a 16-year-old citizen for a series of burglaries, without evidence, all "to maintain a fictitious 100 percent clearance rate of reported burglaries." If convicted, the trio faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison.

At least one other arrest is now being investigated as well. In 2014, Erasmus Banmah, 35, was charged with five vehicle burglaries in one day. Those charges were dropped after police did not cooperate with prosecutors.

Former Biscayne Park village manager Heidi Shafran ordered an internal probe of the department in 2014 in response to allegations about the department's racial bias. The probe's results, published in the Miami Herald last week, indicate that Atesiano directed his officers to pin crimes on random black men to boost the department's clearance rate. As Officer Anthony De La Torre described the method to an investigator, "If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries." De La Torre said the tactic was used so the department would have "a 100% clearance rate for the city."

As reported:

During [Atesiano's] roughly two-year tenure as chief, 29 of 30 burglary cases were solved, including all 19 in 2013. In 2015, the year after he left, records show village cops did not clear a single one of 19 burglary cases.

Arrest records also reportedly show that black males were arrested in nearly all of the 30 burglary cases in 2013 and 2014.

The probe contained similar accusations from four officers about arresting innocent residents, though De La Torre was the only officer to mention a racial aspect to the scheme. The officers, who make up a third of the force, said the instructions came from the top down. The report concluded that the department was run like a frat house.

In another part of the report, Officer Thomas Harrison accused former Captain Lawrence Churchman of using homophobic, racist, and sexist language in the workplace. At one point, Churchman allegedly said he didn't want "any niggers, faggots, or women bitches working at Biscayne Park." Churchman was suspended alongside Cpl. Nicholas Wollschlager, who was also accused of ordering suspicious burglary arrests and of drinking on the job. (Wollschlager was later rehired.)

Atesiano stepped down in 2014, just days after Shafran told him to cooperate fully with the investigation. The department is now being run by a new chief, Luis Cabrera, who has made an effort to show transparency by auditing the evidence room.

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Trump Apologies for America Ahead of Helsinki Summit With Putin: Reason Roundup

Plus: Judge censors story about crooked cop, cities get tough on home-based businesses.

@JackPosobiec/Twitter@JackPosobiec/TwitterPresidential summit between Trump and Putin today. Displaying an interesting diplomatic tack ahead of his Monday morning meeting with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump opined that America's relationship with Russia "has NEVER been worse"—cold war, schmold war, amirite?—and that this situation is all our fault. These historically strained U.S.-Russia relations come "thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity, and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted at 2:05 a.m.

Reactions from folks across the political spectrum were full of disbelief and scorn for Trump's statement, which comes on the heel of a new indictment of Russian intelligence officials for alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Here is The Guardian's Moscow correspondent, for example:

And Cato Institute policy analyst Julian Sanchez:

But at least some stakeholders—like, uh, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs—seemed satisfied with Trump's assessment:

The Trump-Putin summit takes place in Hesinki, Finland, where residents weren't exactly rolling out the welcome mat:

MORE »
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Brett Kavanaugh's Soft Spot for Police Abuses: New at Reason

C-SPANC-SPANThe history of liberty in America features an endless battle over the rights of individuals versus the powers of police. The Constitution was written with the intent of protecting citizens and controlling cops. But that's not quite in keeping with the preferences of Brett Kavanaugh, writes Steve Chapman.

Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee made his views clear in a lecture paying tribute to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, delivered last year. What Rehnquist saw as one of his biggest achievements, Kavanaugh noted, was freeing law enforcement from the annoying restrictions placed on it in the 1960s and '70s. And Kavanaugh was there to second the motion.

View this article
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Brickbat: How Blue Can You Make Me?

Blue cupsNehru / Dreamstime.comRobert Park calls it The Blue Loop, a 1,000-foot-long trail of blue cups, blue toys and other blue objects he placed in a wooded area on his home's yard. He says it's art. Officials with Bath Township, Michigan, call it junk. Even though it's all on his own property, the township has ordered him to remove it or they will take it down, bill him for the cost of removal, and fine him $250. They've taken Park to court to attempt to force him to comply.

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Germany Just Agreed To Essentially Close Its Borders. How Did We Get Here?

Rigid work restrictions forced hundreds of thousands of people to sit in camps, in limbo, living on taxpayer money. Nothing good can come from that.

Haeferl / Wikimedia CommonsHaeferl / Wikimedia CommonsGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel stunned the world in 2015 by announcing that she would allow nearly a million asylum seekers into her country, a humanitarian gesture offering hope to those suffering from the ravages of wars worldwide.

The move transformed her into the poster child for opening up international borders. High-profile German politicians, mainstream media outlets, and the public rallied behind the idea. Images of Germans welcoming refugees at train stations matched public opinion polls showing majority support for the new arrivals. To those who were feeling a bit nervous, the chancellor reassured them that the country and her government could "handle it."

But by 2018, the public mood had soured significantly. A new YouGov poll finds 72 percent of Germans saying their country's immigration policy is negligent, with only 12 percent saying it's about right. Last week, the reversal in public sentiment became official when the German chancellor ended a standoff with hardline immigration restrictionists in the government by dealing a mortal blow to the concept of open borders. She agreed to speed up deportations, to turn back refugees already registered in another European Union nation, and to let anti-immigration leader Horst Seehofer remain as head of the ministry charged with implementing these policies. She even acceded to opening "transit centers" along the border in Bavaria where refugees could be detained, though this provision was later dropped.

The deal is a dramatic repudiation of everything Merkel asked Germans to believe in just three years ago, which leaves many wondering: What on Earth went wrong?

The German Bureaucracy Did Not Deliver

Channeling a million migrants into productive lives in their new home is no small job, and in this case, government itself became a stumbling block. Germany's bureaucratic institutions were asked to review each application and grant or deny asylum, allow residence, or deport—as quickly as possible. They were also tasked with providing shelter, health insurance, food, and "integration" assistance in the form of language courses and job placement.

But even as officials worked to help the newcomers, restrictions designed to zealously protect native workers' jobs made the effort nearly impossible. Aside from needing legal status, in Germany, refugees face regulatory hurdles—from additional training and certification requirements to demands that they already know the language—before they can qualify for jobs at any level.

Germany's bureaucratic monolith, not exactly known for its efficiency, and resistant to rapid change, was expected absorb the sudden influx. And refugees' new lives hung in the balance. Without approved legal residency and permission to enter the job market, they could not hope to support themselves and contribute to society. Instead, hundreds of thousands of people would sit in camps, in limbo, living on taxpayer money, indefinitely. A report from the Institute for Employment Research found that just 10 percent of the working-age refugees who arrived in 2015 were employed by 2017.

Nothing good could come from such a situation. A series of high-profile refugee-related scandals followed, taking a toll on the nation's patience. Studies revealed that the new arrivals were not finding employment. The year 2016 began with reports of mass groping by foreigners in Cologne's central train station. There were a couple of murders committed by refugees, one of whose application had been denied but who was not deported. And a scandal erupted in Bremen after migration office employees allegedly took bribes in exchange for approving asylum applications.

Reports of ill-equipped public employees surfaced in the media. Local leaders openly denounced the German federal government's failure to provide needed resources. Merkel's own Interior Ministry began saying the refugee inflows were not sustainable.

Evidence was mounting that the bureaucracy was simply unable to "handle it," as the chancellor had promised.

Loosening Regulations Could Have Prevented This Crisis

There was never any room for error in Merkel's open-border policy. While empathy and solidarity led Germans to back her push initially, a deep appreciation for order and stability are also etched into the country's psyche. The uncertainty that resulted from three years of bureaucratic failures led to increased anxiety and eroded the public's support for immigration.

And the far right was lurking. Every error by the state, it claimed, proved that Merkel's efforts were a grave mistake.

The strategy worked. After the 2017 elections, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a euroskeptic-turned-anti-immigration organization, entered Parliament with the third most votes of any party. The result shocked and frightened the German mainstream, exposing the scope of the blowback to Merkel's failed refugee policy.

To save her party and her tenure, the weakened chancellor gave in to her more hawkish allies, inking this month's agreement to formally end the experiment in open borders and joining a long list of flip-flopping politicians willing to betray their convictions for political expediency.

Migration is still a must for Germany's future, thanks to worrying demographic patterns. Without a lot of new workers, the aging population and its shrinking taxpayer base will lay ruin to the country's generous welfare system.

But the country is stuck wondering how to successfully integrate such a huge mass of outsiders. This riddle is one shared by a number of countries worldwide.

Merkel could have enacted new immigration laws focused on easing barriers to employment. Admittedly, this would have required major policy changes for a risk-averse country, such as opening low-wage jobs to newcomers—but it would have helped avoid the idleness (and resulting boredom and frustration) that can push people to commit crimes, which in turn increases resentment among the native-born population. Instead, she threw the problem at a bureaucracy unaccustomed to dealing with high levels of immigration and hoped it would figure something out. The consequence has been plummeting support for refugees and a German people more bitterly divided than at any time since World War II.