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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2018 November 8-31

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California Wildfires Destroy Homes and Lives. Why Do Regulators Encourage Building in Fire Zones?

A toxic mix of bad insurance regulations and bad housing regulations ensure Golden State residents will continue to return to fire ravaged areas.

Toa555/Dreamstime.comToa555/Dreamstime.comSome 50 people have died in the fires currently raging in the Golden State, with 48 perishing as a result of the Camp Fire in the northern, mostly rural Butte County, which has also destroyed 7,600 homes. This makes it the deadliest and the most destructive fire in California history.

In response to devastation on this scale, one would expect insurance premiums to shoot up, and for many of the effected residents to move away from fire-prone areas into larger, safer cities. But thanks to California's funky way of regulating insurance, this is likely not going to happen, says Ray Lehman, an insurance policy expert at the R Street Institute.

"California makes it really difficult for the market to do what it would normally do in these cases, which is when assessments of risk go up, insurance rates go up, and a place becomes less attractive to build there," Lehman says.

As with most of California's problems, its dysfunctional insurance market can be traced back to a decades-old ballot initiative—in this case Proposition 103.

Passed in 1988, Prop. 103 created an elected Insurance Commissioner, who is responsible for approving rate increases. The law also allows for extensive public input on any proposed rate hike. This makes trying to increase rates in response to increased risks a laborious, political process. As a result, insurers are slower to respond to risk, and less able to write policies that discount fire-safe practices on an individual basis, say, by charging less for having a stone porch instead of a flammable wood one.

In addition, California regulators are forbidden from setting policyholder rates based on future risks (like increasing incidences of wildfire due to climate change, for instance), or the increasing cost of reinsurance (which is insurance on insurance). Insurers are being squeezed as reinsurers raise their prices to reflect growing wildfire risks, but they can't raise policyholder insurance rates to reflect the risk that all parties have identified. In essence, insurers—not the insured—have to pay for that risk, which defeats the entire purpose.

The consequences of this system are two-fold. The first is that, as the state's Department of Insurance noted in a lengthy report from January, some people are having trouble finding any insurance at all for properties in very fire-prone areas. Because insurers can't sell them policies that reflect the likelihood of their houses burning down, they won't sell them insurance at all.

The second consequence is that those homeowners who are getting insurance are not paying what they should considering the likelihood they'll lose their home to fire, which means they have no incentive to rebuild their properties in a way that would reduce their risk.

"There is not an incentive when they rebuild to rebuild to a better standard and use better practices. That's the bigger concern," says Lehman.

The issue is compounded further by the polar opposite ways in which California state law and localities treat development.

In those cities and counties affected by wildfires, regulators are quick to waive zoning laws and permitting requirements post-disaster. These redevelopments are also exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—which mandates expensive pre-construction environmental reviews, and which can stall projects for years.

In other parts of the state, CEQA is in full effect and restrictive zoning codes and permitting requirements make it incredibly difficult to build more residential housing. This is particularly true in large (and largely wildfire-free) urban centers. Indeed, the number of structures destroyed by the Camp Fire alone is a little less than twice the number of residential units San Francisco managed to add last year.

In short, California is encouraging people to build where they should not, and discouraging them from building where they should.

Incentives are aligned in such a way that it makes more sense for property owners who've lost a home to fire to rebuild in the same spot rather than move to a location where there home would most certainly never be at risk of burning down.

And this is why so many Californians live in fire-prone areas, and are likely to face ever deadlier and more destructive fires.

Of the 20 largest California fires—measured by acres burned—recorded in the last 100 years by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, three occurred in the last two years. However, in the ranking of the top twenty most destructive fires—measured by number of structures burned—seven are from the last two years, as are five of the twenty deadliest fires.

The monies the state has had to expend on fire suppression has also skyrocketed. In Fiscal Year 2010, Cal Fire spent some $90 million on fire suppression. In Fiscal Year 2017, spending was up to $773 million—a state record.

Far from looking for fixes to this problem, California politicians are doubling down on their current approaches to both housing and insurance.

A crop of insurance bills landed on outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's desk this year, and almost all of them make it even easier for folks to cover themselves in the event of wildfire, and harder for insurance companies to avoid renewing their policies or limiting payouts.

As for housing, the state has punted on a number of promising reforms that would have made urban development easier.

Even if there were political reform, the fact that California's insurance regulations were set by ballot initiative—and thus would have to be undone by ballot initiative—makes that a daunting task.

Sadly, this means Californians can look forward to more unnecessary property destruction and fire-related deaths.

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Georgetown 'Tree Killer' Fined $53,000 for 'Excessive Pruning' on His Own Property

The homeowner was working to preserve a historic building

Flickr/NCinDCFlickr/NCinDCThe Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation (DOT) is fining the owner of a Georgetown mansion more than $53,000 for the "excessive pruning" of two of his own trees.

Accu-Crete CEO David Hudgens, the homeowner hit with the fine, says the trees were interfering with the maintenance of the Newton D. Baker House, named for the secretary of war who lived there from 1916-1920. Built in 1794, the house was once owned by former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, then Yolande Fox, a singer and socialite who died in 2016. Hudgens is the current owner, and his preferred method of maintaining the property has outraged his neighbors in Georgetown.

At least five trees have been removed or trimmed. The Washington Post reported earlier this month:

Neighbors say the trees began to disappear soon after Hudgens, who owns two other houses on the street and lives next door, bought the home. In January, the city removed three trees in treeboxes along the street, then last month he cut down a magnolia on his property and trimmed branches off another.

It's the latter two trees that Hudgens is in trouble over. "When the current owner of that property 'trimmed' the two trees to a very large extent, thereby removing much of the volume of the trees, the Georgetown community expressed its outrage," reads a resolution passed by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) late last month. "Appropriate sanctions should be imposed to preserve the trees in Georgetown both for ourselves and for future generations."

The DOT has now acted, fining Hudgens $53,611.20, according to the Post. DOT spokesperson Terry Owens explained why in a statement to Reason. "The fine was for the excessive pruning of 2 magnolia trees. Both trees are legally protected under the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002," he said.

Owens added:

One tree measured 100.794" in circumference, making it a heritage tree. The other tree was smaller, measuring 77.91" circumference. The fine for "removing" a heritage tree is the same as that for removing a special tree. In both cases, the law establishes a fine schedule of $300 per inch of circumference.

Hudgens did not respond to Reason's request for comment in time for publication. However, he told The Georgetowner for a story published earlier this month that the trees needed to be dealt with. "The front wall was being pushed by secondary growth and needed a root dam," he said. Hudgens also said he paid for the trees' care while former owner Fox, who he was friends with, was still alive. In total, he claimed to have spent about $150,000 on what the Post described as "landscaping, tree removal and repairs."

The land and trees in question don't belong to the city or to Hudgens' neighbors—it's his own private property. And yet Hudgens appears to have no intention of changing the property for the worse. As he told The Georgetowner: "One hundred years from now, this will be a preserved structure."

"I've done nothing with these trees without the advice of multiple arborists," he told the Post. "I've cut no tree down without the authority of the city."

This past Halloween, some neighbors set up signs next to his property in an attempt to bring people's attention to the issue. "Tree Killer Lives There," read one sign, while another said: "Save our trees." A fake tombstone even had the words "Beloved magnolia 1840-2018 destroyed R.I.P."

After consulting a bevy of tree experts and the city, Hudgens should have consulted the hyperbolic busybodies next door.

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Does Trump Really Think You Need ID to Buy a Box of Breakfast Cereal?

Also, are people putting on disguises so they can vote more than once?

MEG/NewscomMEG/Newscom

In an interview today with The Daily Caller, President Donald Trump seemed to suggest that you need ID to buy cereal.

Trump's remarks about cereal came as he continued to emphasize the importance of voter ID laws in order to prevent alleged voter fraud. "If you buy a box of cereal—you have a voter ID," the president said. "They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing."

So was Trump saying you need an ID to buy cereal? It wouldn't be the first time he's made a head-scratching remark about IDs and groceries. Back in August, Trump said people need to bring photo identification with them to the grocery store. "You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID. You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture," he said.

Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to defend her boss, noting that you do in fact need to "show your ID" to purchase alcohol. Trump, though, had not said anything about alcohol.

Trump was not completely wrong. If you pay for your groceries with a check, you do need to show ID. But just 4 percent of grocery store transactions were carried out with a check in 2017, according to MarketWatch.

As The Washington Post pointed out, Trump's not the only president or presidential candidate who doesn't seem to understand how supermarkets work. In 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush seemed "amazed" by a grocery store scanner, according to The New York Times. And in 2007, then-GOP presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani grossly underestimated how much bread and milk cost. In 2008, GOP presidential candidate John McCain admitted he hadn't pumped his own gas in years and couldn't say how much it cost.

Trump also made another questionable claim today in regard to alleged voter fraud. "The Republicans don't win and that's because of potentially illegal votes," he told The Daily Caller. "When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on."

Trump did not provide any evidence in defense of his assertion that voters are disguising themselves in order to vote more than once.

Correction: This post originally stated that Giuliani made his remarks about bread and milk in 2008. In fact, the comment came in 2007.

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Over 20,000 New Jersey Drunk-Driving Cases Might Be Tossed Due to Uncalibrated Breath Tests

New Jersey State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis was charged with falsifying records.

|||Lisa F. Young/Dreamstime.comLisa F. Young/Dreamstime.comThe New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that breathalyzer evidence from more than 20,000 drunk driving cases is inadmissable due to a calibration error.

For seven years, State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis was in charge of calibrating Alcotest machines in five counties. The machines were used to test drivers' blood alcohol content. In 2016, Dennis was charged with falsifying records because he did not use a thermometer to check that the control solution used for calibration was at body temperature.

Calibrating the machines correctly matters quite a bit, as testing at a 0.08 blood alcohol content versus a 0.10 carries different fines and license suspension times. While the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice claimed that the temperature test was was not needed for accurate calibration, it is legally required.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the criminal charges against Dennis made the test results used in each case inadmissible and ordered that prosecutors inform defendants of the ruling. According to New Jersey DWI lawyer Andres Mejer, the cases can now be challenged or reopened in court. A federal class action lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of the individuals involved. The suit requests compensation for attorney fees, refunds for paid fines, and record expungement.

Field tests fail more than you probably realize. A North Carolina sheriff's office celebrated a massive fentanyl bust after crime scene investigators tested substances during a raid. Months later, a private lab found the substance to be white sugar.

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Man Pleads Guilty to Charges in Deadly Swatting Prank Call

Police, however, still shift away responsibility for killing unarmed, innocent Wichita man.

Tyler BarrissPOOL/REUTERS/NewscomTyler Barriss, 27, of Los Angeles will be going to federal prison for a nasty prank "swatting" call in 2017 that sent police in Wichita, Kansas, to the home of a stranger and ended with an officer fatally shooting Andrew Fitch, 28.

Fitch was unarmed and standing on his porch when he was shot by police. He was not involved in any criminal behavior and didn't even know Barriss. Barriss, disgruntled from a wager over a game of Call of Duty, was attempting to send a SWAT team (lying about a violent hostage situation) to the house of one of his fellow gamers as a form of retaliation. But he had the wrong address.

Police say they had no idea the call was fake when they arrived at Fitch's home. Fitch, hearing the commotion outside, went out on his porch to see what was happening. A police officer shot him from across the street, claiming Fitch ignored his commands. Fitch died, likely the first person to be killed in one of these dangerous prank swatting calls.

Barriss has a lengthy history of phoning in threats and credit fraud, and he's pleading guilty to a whole host of nasty behavior besides this one call—51 charges in all. The prosecutor is recommending a 20-year sentence.

Barriss should go to jail and should be punished for his role in Fitch's death and his other threatening behavior. But throughout all of this, police appear to still be refusing to publicly accept any sort of responsibility or consider what they could do differently to prevent another unnecessary fatal shooting from happening. The Wichita officer who shot Fitch, Justin Rapp, was cleared of responsibility in April, with the district attorney determining that the shooting was reasonable based on the information the officer had at the time.

Fundamentally, this grants police the authority to shoot innocent people when responding to prank calls, and that's just a terrible way to deal with what happened. It feeds the very dangerous narrative that it's acceptable for police to kill as long as they are afraid. And that incentivizes police to say that they were afraid or believed that something bad was about to happen ("We thought he was reaching for his waistband" reared its ugly head in this case) in order to justify poorly thought out and deadly decisions.

For the kicker, as part of the plea deal, Barriss has to send letters of apology to Fitch's family—and also to the police and dispatchers he tricked. It certainly says something about our deference to authority that the Wichita Eagle's reporting of the agreement notes the apology letters to the police and dispatchers before Fitch's actual family.

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Mitch McConnell Touts Wild Spending Bills as 'Bipartisan' Accomplishments

Should the Senate majority leader really be celebrating more reckless spending?

KEN CEDENO/UPI/NewscomKEN CEDENO/UPI/Newscom

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) celebrated bipartisanship in a Fox News op-ed yesterday. There's just one problem: His idea of bipartisanship seems to mean endless federal government spending.

The purpose of McConnell's op-ed was to call on Democrats, who won control of the House of Representatives last week, to work with Republicans. If both parties can come together, McConnell indicates there's a lot they can accomplish, just as they have in recent years.

"I have good news: reports of the death of bipartisanship in Washington have been wildly exaggerated," the Kentucky Republican writes. "In fact, some of the most significant accomplishments of this Congress have been delivered with overwhelmingly bipartisan support."

So what "significant accomplishments" is he referring to? More federal government spending, of course! McConnell writes:

Under bipartisan committee leadership, we took major steps toward restoring regular order to our appropriations process. The Senate passed more funding measures before the beginning of this fiscal year than at any point in the last two decades.

The measures included the largest year-on-year increase in defense funding in 15 years, which put an end to the Obama-era atrophy of our armed forces.

He's not wrong. For the most part, massively wasteful government spending is one thing Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. In March, for instance, President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill. The spending package had easily passed both houses of Congress with relatively bipartisan support, despite the many ridiculous things it allocated money for (nine of which Reason's Eric Boehm pointed out at the time).

Lawmakers weren't done. In August, Trump signed a $716 billion military budget for the 2019 fiscal year that boosted the Pentagon's spending by a whopping $82 billion. As Boehm noted, that $82 billion alone is more than the military budgets of most countries, including Russia. There was virtually no major resistance, as the bill passed 359-54 in the House and 87-10 in the Senate.

And lest one think the Department of Defense needs all that money to keep Americans safe, a 2013 Reuters investigation revealed that "$8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out to the Pentagon since 1996…has never been accounted for." In September, Reason's Zuri Davis reported on one egregious example of Pentagon waste: The Air Force spent over $300,000 on 391 custom coffee mugs over a two-year period.

As if that wasn't enough, Congress passed another giant spending bill in September, this one allocating $854 billion to various departments in the executive branch. Just seven senators voted no on the bill: six Republicans and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). Trump actually got upset about the bill, but not due to its price tag. He threw a fit because there was no new money for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, though he ended up signing it anyway.

This kind of spending comes at a cost. The federal government ended the 2018 fiscal year with a $779 billion deficit, its largest since 2012. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit will exceed $1 trillion by 2020. In total, the federal government owes roughly $21 trillion, and as Reason's Nick Gillespie warned this week, even the interest payments on that massive debt will soon exceed what we spend on many other federal programs.

Unfortunately, neither Republicans nor Democrats in either house of Congress seem to care. McConnell is partly right: Bipartisanship can be good, just not when one of the only things lawmakers can agree on is more wild spending.

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Bob Woodward Is Right: The Press Is 'Emotionally Unhinged' About Trump

The legendary newsman calls for more reporting rather than more outrage or puffery.

Here's what The Washington Post's Bob Woodward has to say about media coverage of Donald Trump:

BOB WOODWARD at Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples, Fla., shortly after CNN sues White House over @Acosta :: "In the news media there has been an emotional reaction to Trump ... too many people for Trump or against Trump have become emotionally unhinged about this."

In subsequent tweets, NBC's Dylan Byers adds:

WOODWARD on CNN lawsuit: "This is a negative ... Trump is sitting around saying, 'This is great.'"... "When we engage in [Trump's strategy] we're taking his bait."...

+ WOODWARD: "The remedy [isn't a lawsuit], it's more serious reporting about what he's doing."

SIPA/NewscomSIPA/NewscomThis strikes me as essentially correct—and it's worth noting that Woodward is talking about both pro- and anti-Trump folks. Although the latter vastly outnumber the former in the press, there's no question that Trump Derangement Syndrome cuts both ways. Recall, for instance, the Wall Street Journal piece by David Gelernter about "The Real Reason They Hate Trump" for a classic example of pro-Trump derangement.

Woodward's comments call to mind recent remarks by Jon Stewart. The former Daily Show host told CNN (of all places):

[Journalists are] personally wounded and offended by this man. He baits them and they dive in, and what he's done well, I thought, is appeal to their own narcissism, to their own ego...

It's all about the fight. He's able to tune out everything else and get people just focused on the fight and he's going to win that fight.

Stewart is right. Anybody who tries to go toe-to-toe with Trump reliably ends up getting flattened or, at the very least, wasting his or her time. And Woodward is right to stress the need for more and better reporting, regardless of your feelings about the president.

For instance, is the president's deregulatory agenda actually doing anything? Trump partisans say yes while a recent report says no. What is the reality? Read this by Reason's Christian Britschgi to find out. Is the migrant caravan still an existential threat (no, it never was)? Did the end of the world speed up because the United States pulled out of the Paris climate agreement (no)? Is Trump adding massively to the national debt, which is coming due with a force that threatens to swallow economic growth for years to come (yes)?

There are a hell of a lot important stories to figure out. It would be a shame if the press lets its feelings get in the way of doing its basic job.

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Widely Reported Alarming Ocean Warming Study Is Wrong

Skeptic of catastrophic climate change projections is right about significant errors in alarming new study.

BoilingOceansFredericbDreamstimeFredericb/DreamstimeA major error in an alarming study published in Nature on October 31 suggesting that "ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates, with implications for policy-relevant measurements of the Earth response to climate change, such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases and the thermal component of sea-level rise." How much higher? Using a novel technique to measure the accumulation of heat in the oceans, Princeton geoscientist Laure Resplandy and her team calculated that the amount of heat being absorbed by the oceans is more than 60 percent higher per year than the estimates offered by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014.

Dire headlines warning that catastrophic global warming was more likely than previously thought ensued.

However, British climate researcher and statistician Nicholas Lewis re-crunched the numbers in the study and found that Resplandy and her team had made significant errors in their calculations. I noted in my reporting on the controversy that I had reached out to Resplandy and had not heard back from her or her colleagues yet. I added that I expected that she and her colleagues need time for a careful evaluation of Lewis' arguments. Now co-author Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate scientist Ralph Keeling has acknowledged that Lewis is at least partially right and the reseachers are preparing a correction to their original article (apparently not yet published).

The San Diego Union-Tribune article, "Climate contrarian uncovers scientific error, upends major ocean warming study," is reporting that Keeling now accepts that Lewis is right and that the study's findings are far more uncertain than they had claimed in their Nature article. "When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there," Keeling said to the Union-Tribune. "We're grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly."

"Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that's going on in the ocean," Keeling said. "We really muffed the error margins."

But getting the error margins wrong is not the only problem with the research, suggests Lewis. Keeping in mind that the correction has not yet been peer-reviewed or published, Lewis responded to an email asking for his reaction to these developments:

In general terms, if [Keeling] is only saying that they acknowledge that their study underestimated the uncertainty in their ocean heat uptake estimate, that is not enough. They should also acknowledge that another consequence of their mishandling of the treatment of uncertainty was that their central estimate of ocean heat uptake was overstated by approximately 30%.

So far as I can tell (from statements on their websites), the authors hope to alter an assumption that affects one aspect (that relating to constancy of the land oxygen-carbon exchange ratio) of the input data used to derive their ocean heat uptake estimate, in such a way that will increase its level, when correctly calculated, to a value close to their originally published estimate. It would seem a little surprising that a valid adjustment made after publication happened, conveniently, to have the effect of almost cancelling a statistical methods error.

Unfortunately their work involves many assumptions where there scope for subjective choices by the authors, so it is difficult to validate those assumptions. I would hope that Nature will have any changes made by the authors to their assumptions examined carefully by peer reviewers who are experts in the same field as Resplandy and Keeling, as well as by statistically expert peer reviewers. However, the failure of the original peer review and editorial process to pick up the fairly obvious statistical problems in the original paper do not engender confidence in Nature's approach.

The upshot, says Lewis, is that "If you calculate the trend correctly, the warming rate is not worse than we thought – it's very much in line with previous estimates."

Of course, peer review is not perfect. However, cynical folks might be forgiven for thinking that this ocean warming paper is an example of a study confirming the prevailing scientific shibboleths being subject to far less scrutiny than those that might challenge them.

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Pennsylvania Governor Waited to Release Amazon HQ2 Bid Until After Winners Were Announced

Sure, the public deserves to know what Amazon was getting offered. But it deserved to know all along, too.

Mike Segar/REUTERS/NewscomMike Segar/REUTERS/NewscomOn one hand, more states and localities should do what Pennsylvania did yesterday in the hours after Amazon announced that it would not be locating it's second headquarters there.

On the other, it's far from a shining example of transparency.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday released copies of letters the state sent to Amazon promising $4.5 billion in direct subsidies over 25 years if the online retailing giant had picked a Pennsylvania location (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both made bids) for its new headquarters. The state also promised more than $100 million in infrastructure improvements around the proposed sites.

The grants would have been provided through a new state economic development grant program, the administration told the Associated Press' Marc Levy, and that program would have been open to other businesses as well—but, c'mon, you don't exactly see states scrambling to create new, multi-billion grant programs to subsidize pizza shops and toymakers.

Pennsylvania officials, like those in many of the other states chasing the Amazon HQ2, had refused to disclose how much of Amazon's tax burden they were willing to shift onto other taxpayers. When faced with public records requests for details of its bid, Pittsburgh claimed the documents were a "trade secret." The state Office of Open Records, which adjudicates disputes over right-to-know requests in Pennsylvania, laughed at that idea and told Pittsburgh to give up the goods, but the city and state successfully dragged the appeal process out until Amazon made a decision.

They weren't alone in trying that ridiculous tactic. In Connecticut, officials also claimed their Amazon HQ2 bid was a "trade secret." More ridiculously, the state's Freedom of Information Commission agreed, and allowed the bid to be kept secret.

Indeed, this sort of secrecy surrounding backroom deals to squander billions of taxpayer dollars is not limited to the Amazon HQ2 project. San Jose, California, for example, is currently fighting a lawsuit seeking the release of details about a proposed land sale to Google. City officials says they signed a nondisclosure agreement about the deal, raising some serious questions about whether they are working for the public or not.

Another common excuse is to claim—as Wolf did on Tuesday in explaining why Pennsylvania kept their bid secret for so long—that releasing information to the public would somehow create a disadvantage in a high-stakes competition. That's nonsense too. To believe it, you'd have to think that Pennsylvania saying it was offering $4.5 billion would somehow trigger other states to offer more. Except, well, other states did offer more. New Jersey plied Amazon with $8.5 billion, and Maryland promised $5 billion. If Amazon was merely going to pick the biggest pile of cash (which is not what it did, anyway), then how does keeping the public in the dark benefit Pennsylvania's bid in that scenario? Amazon is going to know all the bids anyway, regardless of how many others do.

Silly justifications for government secrecy are a dime a dozen, but such opacity surrounding billion-dollar economic development schemes is almost never in the public's best interest. Instead, it's usually about protecting the politicians. It's a way to prevent taxpayers from voicing meaningful opposition to such giveaways until the deal is done.

It also amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that the public will be opposed; if taxpayers would be on board with something like this, the details would never be kept secret. Indeed, they would probably be runing ads touting how much money they were spending on Amazon—or at least they would be posting the equivalent of "your tax dollars at work" signs—rather than constructing flimsy legal arguments and political rationalizations for keeping everything secret.

Wolf deserves a modicum of credit for 'fessing up about Pennsylvania's offer—but it would have meant considerably more to have come clean before the decision was made, and before this year's election. Now that he doesn't have to face the voters again (he's term-limited), this post hoc effort at transparency costs him nothing.

Still, other officials should follow the lead. Put all your cards on the table and let's see what Amazon was getting offered. The public deserves to know—and it deserved to know all along.

If states and cities are going to fritter away billions in grants, subsidies, and tax breaks, that competition should take place out in the open, like this:

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Trump Brags About Deregulation, but a Huge Number of His Deregulatory Actions Were Started Under Obama

Trump has slowed new regulations to a trickle, but has largely failed to cut back the regulatory state.

Mehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto/Sipa US/NewscomMehdi Taamallah/NurPhoto/Sipa US/NewscomPresident Donald Trump likes to brag about his record of cutting regulations. Yet new data from his own administration suggest that the rules he's managed to eliminate have had a minor impact at best—and many began under the Obama administration.

That doesn't mean that Trump's deregulatory agenda is a myth, as some critics have claimed, but it does show the limitations of what any one administration can do unilaterally to pare back the administrative state.

"No president has ever cut so many regulations in their entire term, O.K., as we have cut in less than a year," said Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

"Regulatory reform is a cornerstone of President Trump's agenda for economic growth," wrote his regulatory czar Neomi Rao in October 2018. "The first two years of the Administration have produced unparalleled reform, and we project even more significant results in the coming year."

Reports from the administration tout its success repealing 22 rules for every regulation passed, or its elimination of thousands of pages from the federal register. Reason has reported on the number of libertarian-friendly policy wonks the president has appointed to prominent positions.

Yet according to Stuart Shapiro, a professor at Rutgers University and regulatory policy analyst in the Clinton and Bush administrations, this all doesn't amount to much of a policy change.

"Claims of both extensive deregulation and a major impact on the economy weaken considerably upon closer scrutiny," Shapiro wrote in Regulatory Review yesterday.

In Fiscal Year 2018, the Trump administration chalked up 176 deregulatory actions. This includes everything from allowing more telemedicine at the Veterans Administration to repealing animal welfare regulations for organically farmed cows and chickens.

Of these, 57 were rated significant—meaning their repeal saved the economy over $100 million, or was a major change from previous policy.

On the flip side, the administration took 14 regulatory actions, all of which were significant. That gives Trump a 12-1 ratio of deregulatory to regulatory actions, or a 4-1 ratio of significant deregulatory actions compared to regulatory actions.

On paper that sounds pretty good. But as Shapiro points out, the numbers obscure the middling impact a lot of these rule changes have had.

Of the 57 significant rules Trump eliminated, 11 were merely delayed, and another five were withdrawn—meaning the rules were not in effect in the first place. Four deregulatory actions were initiated by the Obama administration.

Of the remaining 37 regulations, Shapiro notes, the cost savings are either negligible or unreported. The 21 deregulatory actions that did come with measurable cost savings saved some $23 billion in net regulatory costs, or about $1.6 billion in regulatory costs per year. That's something, but, notes Shapiro, not much when compared to the $20 trillion U.S. economy.

Looking back at past tallies of Trump's deregulatory actions shows a similar pattern.

The federal government releases a report on regulatory actions twice yearly, one for the spring and fall. Looking at the 142 deregulatory actions taken from the Spring 2017 report up through the Spring 2018 report, Reason found that 44—or nearly a third—were initiated by the Obama administration.

Interestingly, a good chunk of these Obama-initiated rule changes involved loosening restrictions on imported fruits and vegetables, something at odds with Trump's more protectionist trade agenda, which has imposed tarrifs on a whole host of imported foods.

Another 41 rules were either delays or withdrawals of pending rules, meaning while some rules were stopped from going into effect, no existing rules were taken off the books.

Of the deregulatory actions Trump did initiate that were changes to existing rules, many were minor.

One deregulatory action counted by the Trump administration was the elimination of Department of Education rules governing the Troops-to-Teachers grant program, which subsidizes veterans who are pursuing teacher's certification. The program still exists, but now it is administered by the Department of Defense.

The story is similar with the administration's repeal of rules for a Department of Commerce program that gave grants to local governments setting up TV and radio stations. The Trump administration axed these rules in September 2017, about six years after funding for the program had been discontinued.

In one interesting example from earlier this year, the Department of Labor counted as a deregulatory action the changing of the mailing address for its Benefits Review Board.

In another supposedly deregulatory move, the Trump administration compiled all the Department of Agriculture's import restrictions on plants into one "Plants for Planting" manual, without changing any of the underlying rules.

Even some of the truly significant changes the administration likes to talk up are not the result of Trump's deregulatory drive, but were rather policies that had been in the works for years, and that the Trump administration just happened to be in office for when they came into effect.

Take fishing regulations. In its Fiscal Year 2018 regulatory report, "Cutting Red Tape, Unleashing Economic Freedom," the administration included a whole section on "freeing America's fisherman" which notes that "large areas off the coast of New England have been opened to commercial sea scalloping for the first time in year," a move that is supposed to produce $654 million in economic benefits.

The change the report is referring to is known as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 (OHA 2), which did indeed open up new fishing grounds for the commercial fishing industry.

Missing from the "Cutting Red Tape" report is the fact that most of the deregulatory changes included in OHA 2 had actually been recommendations from the New England Fisheries Management Council, which had been working on an update to federal law since at least 2004.

"As thrilled as we were that OHA was implemented, I think that was more of a staff determination after years of review. I don't think I could call that something that came from the oval office or from the cabinet," says Bob Vanasse, executive director for Saving Seafood, the media relations arm of the commercial fishing industry.

This kind of puffery has led Shapiro to treat Trump's deregulatory drive as essentially meaningless. He's been joined by other critics of the administration like Washington Post's columnist Jennifer Rubin, who has called Trump's deregulation "a myth."

As much as the administration deserves criticism for its inflated stats however, writing off Trump's deregulation is a bit premature.

For starters, it misses the more informal character of relations between federal regulators and the industries they are tasked with creating rules for.

"There's no question that the people that President Trump has appointed are far more business friendly, and far more willing to listen to the concerns of people in industry," Vanasse tells Reason, which he says is a significant when it comes to developing and implementing policy.

The Obama administration he says, was far more interested in going it alone: "[Their] ideas were cooked up at the Center for American Progress and they were going to happen no matter what. It was a roadshow."

When assessing the Trump administration's record on deregulation, it's important to look at the rules that are not getting proposed, in addition to those being repealed or replaced.

"There are a few elements to trying to deregulate. One is just slowing down what is happening. The second is getting rid of what's come before," says Clyde Wayne Crews, a regulatory scholar with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "In terms of stopping the flow, Trump, I thought did a magnificent job."

In its final year, the Obama administration issued 83 economically significant regulations. In its first year, the Trump administration issued just four.

Crews says that there are limits to how much regulation any president can repeal unilaterally. Going after bigger regulatory fish inevitably leads to litigation from supporters of the old rules.

"For the rules that were in place and subject to rapid modification, Trump has done that," Crews tells Reason. "Now that he tries to go after the larger items like the Clean Power Plan or the Waters of the United States rules… it gets tougher and you have to go through brand new regulatory proceedings. And then what happens is all of the lawsuit flurries start."

There are some Congressional regulatory reform efforts that would give the president more power to unilaterally get rid of more rules, or restrict the powers of agencies to issue new rules.

Some of these, like the Regulatory Accountability Act—which would allow parties affected by major new regulations to propose alternatives, and then require agencies to adopt the most cost-effective alternatives—managed to pass the House but has stalled in the Senate.

There is almost no legislative appetite for deeper reform, like eliminating the federal departments all these rules are coming out of.

The Trump administration is definitely inflating the count of its deregulatory actions—taking credit for rule changes it did not start, or which have minimal effect at best—in order to promote itself as some sort of red tape-slashing, bold reformer.

That said, those who feel the brunt of federal regulation do report a far better working relationship with the federal government, and the flow of new rules has slowed to a trickle.

In short, there are few significant wins for human freedom or economic liberalization in Trump's deregulation record. But his administration has gotten rid of a few dumb rules, made compliance with a few others more managable, and limited the pace at which the regulatory state is adding new restrictions. That ultimately adds up to the economy getting less free at a slower pace. In this political climate, that is probably the best we can hope for.

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Libertarian Filmmaker, Podcaster Kmele Foster Wants To Change the World: Podcast

So far, the world is kind of listening. Q&A with the co-host of The Fifth Column and co-founder of Freethink Media.

Kmele Foster, FacebookKmele Foster, FacebookIn 2004, Michael Bell's 21-year-old son was killed by police during a routine traffic stop in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Within three days, local law enforcement declared it had fully investigated the matter and announced that police had acted properly throughout. Pushing through his grief, Bell also pushed for change, beginning a decade-long campaign to legally mandate truly independent investigations into deadly use of force by police. He succeeded in Wisconsin and, to date, seven other states to pass such legislation.

Bell's crusade is the subject of a recent video by today's podcast subject, Kmele Foster of Freethink Media, an online video platform founded in 2011 to tell stories about human perseverance, inspiration, and progress. Foster is also the former co-host, with Kennedy and Reason's own Matt Welch, of the Fox Business show The Independents, and a current co-host of the popular podcast The Fifth Column, a free-wheeling, boozy deep-read of news and popular culture.

Born in 1980 and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, I talk with Foster about how the Michael Bell story exemplifies what Freethink Media is trying to accomplish, what it was like growing up in an immigrant household (his mother is Jamaican), why libertarianism is underrepresented among racial and ethnic minorities, how he came to his anarcho-capitalist beliefs, and what his hopes are for his 1-year-old daughter.

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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Amazon Welcomes You to "National Landing": Reason Roundup

In addition to tax credits, Virginia is giving Amazon the right to rename the area around its new headquarters.

screenshot from Google Mapsscreenshot from Google MapsIt was just yesterday that Amazon officially announced the locations of its new headquarters and the company is already remaking the D.C.-metropolitan area in its image, with authorities blessing. Amazon will build one new outpost in Crystal City, Virginia—a place three Metro stops from downtown D.C. with an aesthetic Katherine Mangu-Ward aptly described as "late-'60s Bulgaria"—along with new digs in Long Island City, Queens.

Just to set the scene: Crysal City was named after a historic chandelier, features a bizarre and largely empty series of underground tunnels that they insist on calling a mall, and boasts a "gentleman's club" known for its breakfasts squeezed in the same strip mall as a 7-11, Chinese takeout, and a kabob place. And aside from that strip mall, it has all the charm of an old sweat sock.

Not that you would know from Amazon PR materials. The company is rebranding the area National Landing, "an urban community" with "abundant parks and open space with sports and cultural events for residents of all ages throughout the year." This is a name that Amazon just made up and convinced the state to sign off on. "If you've never heard of National Landing, don't be surprised—it didn't exist earlier today," says local radio station WAMU.

"National Landing is a newly branded neighborhood encompassing parts of Pentagon City and Crystal City in Arlington, and Potomac Yard in Alexandria," Arlington spokesman Ryan Hudson told NBC Washington.

"Crystal City was already a dumb enough name, but at least its kitschiness aged well," comments CNN's Nathan McDermott, in one of the nicer local comments about the name change. "National Landing sounds like an outlet mall from 2002."

The area has put out a helpful guide for relocating Amazon employees, with neighborhood descriptors that sound like they were written by bots and bear little resemblance to these actual areas.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called the Amazon get "a big win for Virginia." Here's Reason reporter Eric Boehm on why that's a laugh (or at least a sad chuckle):

In New York, Amazon will receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits through a state-level economic development program and a cash grant of $325 million that's tied to the construction of new buildings at the Long Island City location over the next 10 years. In Virginia, the state is ponying up $573 million in tax breaks tied to the creation of 25,000 jobs, and the city of Arlington will provide a cash grant of $23 million over 15 years funded by an existing tax on hotel rooms.

Yes, the numbers are staggering—New York state's pledge of $1.52 billion for 25,000 jobs works out to more than $60,000 in taxpayer support per new job created...

There was also this incentive:

As Boehm points out, "Amazon appears to have selected New York and the D.C. area based on more than just how many zeroes local officials agreed to put on the giant cardboard check." Other areas offered more incentives and bigger tax breaks. It seems that proximity to centers of power, business, and cultural cache may be bigger factors than government handouts.

Folks from Seattle have been warning its new East Coast cousins about how this will turn out. Writes Katie Herzog at The Stranger:

Once upon a time, baristas, bartenders, and self-described "artists" could rent in Seattle in exchange for a bag of weed and a few hundred bucks a month. Not anymore! Seattle rents have increased 57 percent over the last six years, with the average renter now paying nearly $2,200 a month—for a one-bedroom!

Herzog ends with this advice: "Move. You cannot save your city, but you can save yourself."

The only attractive photo of Crystal City ever taken, from Maura Judkis/TwitterThe only attractive photo of Crystal City ever taken, from Maura Judkis/TwitterSome in the areas are trying to keep a positive face, but it's not terribly convincing. Here's the editorial board of the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post in what is ostensibly a piece in favor of Amazon coming to "National Landing":

Like most bonanzas, this one is certain to come with trials. San Francisco, with its epidemic of NIMBYism, hellish housing prices and squadrons of homeless, is a glaring object lesson in the limits of tech-driven prosperity.

By dividing HQ2, Amazon may have halved the headaches it will foist on state and local officials. Still, it will be their job to anticipate the fallout and disruption to people's lives, and take proactive steps to mitigate the effects of crowding, traffic and higher prices.

Those are serious headaches; in many ways, they're also the right headaches to have, far more desirable than anemic economic prospects, dwindling tax revenue and young people desperate to attend college and seek employment elsewhere.

Amazon: giving us the right headaches, at least?

Local businesses, however, seem pleased. "Whatever Jeff Bezos wants is fine with me," said Billy Bayne, the owner of the Crystal City Restaurant Gentlemen's Club, in the Washington Post. "I'm just happy he's here."

FREE MINDS

Yikes. From CBS News:

Shortly after 9/11, the CIA considered using a drug it thought might work like a truth serum and force terror suspects to give up information about potential attacks. After months of research, the agency decided that a drug called Versed, a sedative often prescribed to reduce anxiety, was "possibly worth a try." But in the end, the CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use.

The existence of the drug research program — dubbed "Project Medication" — is disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) under a judge's order and was released by the organization Tuesday.

QUICK HITS

• Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Neomi Rao will replace Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, President Trump announced yesterday. Jonathan Adler of Volokh Conspiracy and Case Western Reserve University Law School says it's "an excellent choice."

• Zuri Davis has the latest details on the Florida recount drama.

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Restricting E-Cigarette Flavors Endangers Public Health: New at Reason

The FDA’s decree will make vaping less appealing and less accessible to smokers interested in switching.

Richard B. Levine / NewscomRichard B. Levine / NewscomCritics of the vaping industry portray the flavors that the Food and Drug Administration wants to ban from stores that admit minors as evidence of a conspiracy to hook the youth of America on nicotine. The FDA itself has a more sophisticated understanding of the market, Jacob Sullum says, but is still far too willing to sacrifice the interests of adult smokers in the name of fighting an "epidemic" of underage e-cigarette use.

"We recognize [e-cigarettes] as a viable alternative for adult smokers who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine without all the harmful effects of combustion," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC last month. "If we could switch every adult smoker to an e-cigarette, it would have a profound public health impact."

It follows that making e-cigarettes less appealing and less accessible has a public health cost, measured in smoking-related diseases and deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. Yet that is what the FDA's new restrictions on e-cigarettes, which limit the flavor options in most stores to menthol, mint, and tobacco, will do.

View this article

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The Case Against Single-Payer Health Care: New at Reason

U.S. SenateU.S. SenateAmerica needs single-payer health care, say progressives. Canada, England, Norway, Cuba, and a few other countries have it, and we're constantly told that it works well—people get good care and never have to worry about a bill. They spend less on health care and live longer.

But that claim, explains John Stossel, is both naive and misleading.

View this article
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Brickbat: London's Burning

Grenfell TowerWorld History Archive/NewscomBritish police have arrested five people on suspicion of a public order offense after video of them burning a mock-up of the Grenfell Tower in a bonfire went viral. The Grenfell Tower, a residential building, burned in 2017 killing 72 people. Prime Minister Theresa May was among those who condemned the individuals in the video.

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The FBI Says Hate Crimes Rose 17% in 2017, But That Doesn’t Mean Things Are Actually Getting Worse

1,000 more agencies submitted data in 2017 vs. 2016, which could account for much of the increase.

FBIGene Blevins/Polaris/NewscomOn Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released hate crime data for last year. The main finding, which appears in the headlines of several news stories about it, was that hate crimes rose 17 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Media and activist groups often blame hate crime spikes on President Trump's divisive rhetoric: the Southern Poverty Law Center has called this "the Trump effect," and pointed to supposed surges in schoolyard bulling as evidence of such a trend. The latest FBI statistics are producing similar commentary.

"The report covers the first year of President Donald Trump's time in the White House," writes Vox's German Lopez, "and he's been repeatedly criticized, from his campaign to his presidential statements and tweets, of stoking racist sentiment, particularly against immigrants and refugees."

But, as Lopez correctly notes elsewhere in his post, any talk of hate crime increases must be considered in light of a very critical detail: the overall number of law enforcement agencies reporting hate crime data also increased greatly—approximately 1,000 additional agencies contributed figures in 2017 than in 2016. This means it's not obviously the case that hate crimes are more prevalent in 2017. Maybe the government just did a better job of counting them.

This seems even more plausible when the raw totals are considered. The FBI counted 7,175 hate crimes in in 2017, compared with 6,121 in 2016. That's a difference of about 1,000. If every agency reporting data for the first time in 2017 reported just one hate crime, this would account for the entire 17 percent increase.

This is the problem with counting hate crimes: the numbers just aren't that useful, given that not all police agencies participate, or give accurate totals. As I noted in a previous post, Baltimore County—which represents 830,000 people—reported just one hate crime in 2016. This year, Baltimore County reported 10 hate crimes. Did incidents of hate increase tenfold in a single year? Probably not; it's likelier that the police simply submitted more reliable data this year.

As with the dubious claim that anti-Semitic hate has spiked 57 percent under Trump, the media needs to be careful about encouraging unfounded fatalism.

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3 Reasons 'Medicare for All' Is a Really Bad Idea

It will cost way too much, increase wait times, and slow down the development of new drugs.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom"Medicare for All" is, arguably, the rallying cry for progressive Democrats these days. Health care costs were a major issue in the midterm elections and the best way to fix everything once and for all, say progs, is to give all Americans the same sort of coverage given to those of us who are 65 and over. What's not to like about Medicare, say proponents. Seniors love it and it's a proven form a single-payer health care.

Er, no, says a concise and persuasive op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, by Scott W. Atlas of the Hoover Institution. For starters, there is the cost problem:

For California alone, single-payer health care would cost about $400 billion a year—more than twice the state's annual budget. Nationwide "Medicare for all" would cost more than $32 trillion over its first decade. Doubling federal income and corporate taxes wouldn't be enough to pay for it. No doubt, that cost would be used to justify further restrictions on health-care access.

In 2017, Eric Boehm noted at Reason that a single-payer bill passed by New York's state assembly would cost $173 billion annually (the state generates about $71 billion a year in revenue). Even when you factor in savings from people not having to pay insurance premiums and co-payments, there's just no way to raise the revenue on such plans. In 2014, Boehm writes, Vermont had to throw in the towel because it "would have required an extra $2.5 billion annually, almost double the state's current budget, and would have required an 11.5 percent payroll tax increase and a 9 percent income tax increase."

But cost isn't the only problem. Atlas writes that in Great Britain, "a record 4.2 million patients were on England's [National Health Service] waiting lists." And there's this:

In Canada last year, the median wait time between seeing a general practitioner and following up with a specialist was 10.2 weeks, while the wait between seeing a doctor and beginning treatment was about five months. According to a Fraser Institute study, the average Canadian waits three months to see an ophthalmologist, four months for an orthopedist and five months for a neurosurgeon.

In contrast, wait lists are not a major concern in the United States.

Finally, there's also the development of new drugs. Atlas writes:

Single-payer systems also impose long delays before debuting the newest drugs for cancer and other serious diseases. A 2011 Health Affairs study showed that the Food and Drug Administration approved 32 new cancer drugs in the decade after 2000, while the European Medicines Agency approved 26. All 23 drugs approved by both Europe and the U.S. were available to American patients first. Two-thirds of the 45 "novel" drugs in 2015 were approved in the U.S. before any other country.

Most proponents of Medicare for All say they don't want to fully nationalize health care, as Canada has done. Instead, they want to guarantee a basic, accessible, free (or near-free) system. Atlas has an answer for that, too: "America's poor and middle class would suffer the most from a turn to single-payer, because only they would be unable to circumvent the system." In fact, he warns that,

the nations most experienced with single-payer systems are moving toward private provision. Sweden has increased its spending on private care for the elderly by 50% in the past decade, abolished its government's monopoly over pharmacies, and made other reforms. Last year alone, the British government spent more than $1 billion on care from private and other non-NHS providers, according to the Financial Times. Patients using single-payer care in Denmark can now choose a private hospital or a hospital outside the country if their wait time exceeds one month.

Read the whole article here.

Our health care system is definitely screwed up, but that's because we refuse to let markets function with the same sort of effectiveness they do in other parts of the economy. There are ways to take care of people who have pre-existing conditions that don't end up causing costs for everyone to go berserk. We can speed up drug trials without compromising safety, and we also need to rethink how we certify and license doctors, nurses, and everyone else who provides some dimension of health care.

Given the way the Republicans refused to take health-care policy seriously in the wake of Obamacare's passage, it seems unlikely that we'll be moving toward market-friendly solutions any time soon. That's a damn shame and if we do end up with Medicare for All, the bill will be almost incalculable in terms of more than taxes.

Related video (from 2012): Meet Keith Smith, a doctor in Oklahoma who brought market forces to bear on the delivery of surgery.

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Michelle Obama Didn't Want to Nag People About School Lunch

But she sure did anyway!

Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomMichael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

In her new book, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama indicates that she wasn't trying to force healthy food initiatives down people's throats. But the results of her attempt to get children to eat better tell a different story.

In the months following her move to the White House, Obama tried to "develop the pillars on which our larger effort would be built," she writes. "We'd give parents better information to help them make healthy choices for their families." She adds: "We'd work to create healthier schools. We'd try to improve access to nutritious food. And we'd find more ways for young people to be physically active."

Obama goes on to acknowledge the concern that her efforts might be seen as government overreach. "The West Wing was apparently fretting about my plans, worried I'd come off as a finger-wagging embodiment of the nanny state at a time when controversial bank and car-company bailouts had left Americans extra leery of anything that looked like government intervention," she writes.

But the former first lady claims that wasn't her goal. She writes that she wanted to "make this about more than government." Obama believed a "human appeal" was better than a "regulatory one" in order to convince companies that supply school lunches and produce soft drinks to make changes. It was better to "collaborate," she writes, than to "pick a fight."

Obama was wary of using politics to accomplish her goals. "I wasn't interested in following the tenets of the political world or appearing on Sunday morning news shows," she writes. Still, it seems like it would be impossible for her to carry out all of her plans without politics. It was a memorandum signed in February 2010 by President Barack Obama, after all, that created what she describes as "a first-of-its-kind federal task force on childhood obesity."

Michelle Obama's efforts continued throughout 2010 as she advocated for the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is most famous for setting nutrition standards for school lunches around the country. Obama notes that while she was "generally happy to stay out of politics and policy making," this was her "big fight—the issue for which I was willing to hurl myself into the ring."

It was a fight she won. Republicans took back control of the House in the 2010 midterms, but President Obama "made the effort a priority in his dealings with lawmakers, knowing that his ability to make sweeping legislative changes was about to diminish," she writes. The president signed the bill into law in December.

The first lady saw this as a big success. Among other things, the bill "added more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy to roughly forty-three million meals served daily," Obama writes. "For me, it was a straightforward good thing—a potent, ground-level way to address childhood obesity."

Obama's motives were admirable—healthier children is a worthy goal. The problem is having the federal government tell schools what they can and can't serve to students. As lawyer and food policy expert Baylen Linnekin has explained in Reason, the changes that came about thanks to the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act were not for the better. Not only did food costs go up, but many students decided the quality of the healthier meals was so bad that the food wasn't even worth eating, meaning that lots of food went to waste.

In 2014, Reason's Robby Soave even took note of the sarcastic Twitter label #ThanksMichelleObama, which students used to share pictures of their less-than-appetizing lunches.

Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has noted that school cafeterias should certainly be encouraged to serve healthier food. But as she pointed out, "setting highly specific and ironclad rules for schools across the country crosses the line." The federal government can't possibly know what will work best for each school better than local officials and actual school administrators.

In a 2014 piece for Time magazine, Reason's Nick Gillespie may have put it best: "If we can't trust our schools to figure out how best to fill their students' stomachs, why the hell are we forcing our children to attend such institutions in the first place?"

Michelle Obama seems to have had pure motives when it came to decreasing childhood obesity. Unfortunately, decreasing individual choice wasn't the answer.

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Comics Legend Stan Lee Was the Godfather of Shared World Storytelling

Without him, Hollywood as we know it might not exist.

FS2/WENN/FayesVision/NewscomFS2/WENN/FayesVision/NewscomLike so many others, I was saddened yesterday to hear about the passing of Marvel Comics impressario Stan Lee.

I spent the formative years of my youth reading stories about superheroes he created. My first publication was in the letters page of Amazing Spider-Man (naturally, I suggested a team-up with the Fantastic Four), and as an adult, I have written thousands of words about movies based on Marvel Comics characters. It is possible that over the course of my lifetime, his creations and co-creations have occupied more of my mental energy than any other pop-culture phenemona. Yes, his legacy is complicated, but he was a legend, and he'll be missed.

Over at The Washington Post, I've got a piece on the way Lee's particular brand of sprawling, shared-world storytelling changed comics, and eventually movies, forever. Here's how it starts:

Next time you go to the movies and see a post-credits scene teasing a sequel that is still years away, or a winking reference to some obscure bit of franchise lore, or a cameo appearance by the star of another superhero franchise, think of Stan Lee.

Lee, who died on Monday at age 95, was the driving force behind Marvel Comics. A singular pop-culture visionary, he helped create many of Marvel's most popular characters, including Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Black Panther and the Fantastic Four. Just as important, however, was how he changed the way these stories were told. As Marvel's self-promoting maestro, he popularized the serialized, shared-world superhero storytelling that has all but consumed the movie business over the past decade. Without Lee, Hollywood as we know it might not exist.

Be sure to read Brian Doherty and Scott Shackford on Lee's considerable pop-culture legacy.

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Here's What's Happened So Far in the Florida Recount

Florida's Senate race is far from over.

|||Paul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomPaul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomThough the midterm elections are over for most, one state is still counting ballots.

On election day last Tuesday, Floridians stood in long lines to cast votes for their next governor, senator, and state representatives. Ballots also contained a number of proposed amendments to the state constitution. For weeks, the gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis, a congressman, and Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, garnered national attention following accusations of racism, socialism, and Trumpism.

Despite talks of a "blue wave," DeSantis managed to pull ahead and claim victory. Gillum then conceded the race to his opponent. Though Republicans typically win the Florida governorship, the results in this race were unusually close, with DeSantis carrying a victory margin of just 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, in the race for U.S. Senate between Democratic Rep. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the results slowly came within a 0.5 percent margin, triggering an automatic recount under state law. (Florida does not have runoff elections for these races.) Though Scott claimed the unofficial victory, Nelson announced on Wednesday morning that his team was "proceeding to a recount.

Much to the irritation of Scott's campaign, the Nelson campaign's recount efforts got a boost as the heavily Democratic counties of Broward and Palm Beach were still processing absentee and early voting ballots on the day after the election. State law also gives a 10-day grace period following the election to count overseas absentee ballots.

Then, on Thursday and Friday, pictures of undelivered ballots in mail centers began to cause panic that votes were not being counted. Though some voted as early as October, several voters either had their absentee ballots returned or received word that they were either delivered later than promised or lost altogether. Adding to those concerns was the slow pace at which Broward County officials were counting ballots, even missing a Thursday deadline to submit recounted votes.

Scott filed several lawsuits in response, including one accusing Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes of withholding information about the number of counted and uncounted ballots. Scott initially won those suits.

Yesterday, however, a Broward Circuit Court judge denied one of Scott's lawsuits requesting that the ballots and machines at the Broward Election office be impounded. Instead, Judge Jack Tuter requested the addition of three deputies who are not affiliated with Snipes. The deputies will monitor cameras and USB drives that contain votes, and also supervise, without reporting to the county supervisor of elections.

Nelson has pursued his own legal action. A suit filed on Monday sought to count absentee ballots that were sent before election day, but delivered after polls closed.

Other issues have arisen outside of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office was forced to restart its recount effort when a human error was caught well after 33,000 early voting ballots were processed through a voting machine.

Amid the drama in the Senate race, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gillum withdrew his concession on Saturday (neither his concession nor the withdrawal are legally binding). Acknowledging that his loss may remain unchanged, Gillum made an "uncompromising and unapologetic call that we count every single vote."

The move was largely ignored by DeSantis, who has already appointed a transition team in preparation for his governorship.

President Trump has also gotten involved in the Florida recount. On Monday, Trump demanded that the Senate race be called in favor of Scott and insinuated that fraudulent behavior was afoot.

Though Trump did not expand on his accusation, he later tweeted that the "characters" involved will not be able to "find" enough votes to swing the election in Nelson's favor.

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Union of Concerned Scientists For Nukes!

Activist group finally recognizes that it can't achieve its energy and climate goals without nuclear power.

NuclearVaclavVolrabDreamstimeVaclavVolrab/DreamstimeThe activists at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have had a partial change of heart about nuclear power. Back in 2007, the UCS' Global Warming and Nuclear Power report declared, "prudence dictates that we develop as many options to reduce global warming emissions as possible, and begin by deploying those that achieve the largest reductions most quickly and with the lowest costs and risk. Nuclear power today does not meet these criteria."

In its new report, The Nuclear Power Dilemma, the UCS now recognizes that nuclear power plays an important role in addressing the problem of man-made global warming by helping to keep U.S. carbon dioxide emissions considerably lower than they would otherwise be. The UCS notes that there has been a 28 percent reduction in U.S. power-sector emissions of carbon dioxide below 2005 levels. This is largely due to the switch from coal to cheap fracked natural gas, to increased energy efficiency, and to the deployment of some solar and wind generation capacity.

The UCS fears that this trend toward lower carbon dioxide emissions will be derailed because many of the currently operating nuclear power plants will close because they are being outcompeted by generation facilities fueled by cheap natural gas and subsidized renewable power generation. "More than one-third of existing plants, representing 22 percent of total U.S. nuclear capacity, are unprofitable or scheduled to close," notes the report. "The possibility that the nation will replace existing nuclear plants with natural gas and coal rather than low-carbon sources raises serious concerns about our ability to achieve the deep cuts in carbon emissions needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change." The UCS has evidently come to realize that closing down nuclear power plants will perversely "lock-in" fossil fuels and thus make it harder and more expensive to "save the climate."

In order to avoid this outcome the UCS advocates either raising the price of electricity generated from burning fossil fuels by putting a price of $25 per ton on carbon dioxide emissions (to be increased at 5 percent annually) or adopting a steadily rising national low-carbon electricity standard. The UCS favorably cites the subsidy schemes adopted by New York, New Jersey and Illinois to keep open nuclear power plants outcompeted by natural gas and subsidized renewable energy generators.

Of course, the UCS's mild embrace of nuclear power has provoked criticism by some progressives. Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Obama administration, said to ThinkProgress that nuclear reactors "are a bad bet for a climate strategy." Why? Because the costs of building nuclear power plants have risen steeply over the years.

Sadly, it should be noted that the UCS itself has been a loud cheerleader for the very over-regulation that led to the steadily rising costs for deploying new nuclear power plants. In 2017 Australian National University researcher Peter Lang calculated that had the trend of rapidly falling costs and accelerating deployment of nuclear plants in the 1960s and 1970s been allowed to continue, nuclear power could now be around 10 percent of its current cost. Such low cost nuclear power by 2015 could have replaced worldwide up to 100 percent of coal-generated and up to 76 percent of gas-generated electricity. In other words, in an alternative world without the regulatory obstructionism practiced by environmental activists, humanity would already be well on the way toward mitigating the problem of man-made global warming.

It's welcome news that the UCS has taken this small step towards recognizing the value of low-carbon nuclear power. It would be even better if the activist group would also come around to advocating the rapid development and deployment of new safer nuclear power generation technologies, such as molten salt thorium reactors, small modular reactors, and traveling wave reactors.

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Juul Announces Preemptive Restrictions on Its E-Cigarette Flavors

The company's plan to prevent underage vaping, which includes limits on constitutionally protected speech, goes beyond what the FDA is expected to require.

Juul LabsJuul LabsToday the company that makes Juul e-cigarettes announced a "Youth Prevention Action Plan" that includes withdrawing most of its flavors from brick-and-mortar stores in response to the Food and Drug Administration's demands that it do something about underage vaping. The concession illustrates the FDA's power to impose restrictions on e-cigarette manufacturers and limit consumer choice even without bothering to issue formal regulations.

"We launched flavors like Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber as effective tools to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes," Juul Labs says. "However, we are sensitive to the concern articulated by [FDA] Commissioner [Scott] Gottlieb that '[f]lavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal,' and understand that products that appeal to adults also may appeal to youth. As of this morning, we stopped accepting retail orders for our Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber JUUL pods [from] the over 90,000 retail stores that sell our product, including traditional tobacco retailers (e.g., convenience stores) and specialty vape shops."

That move goes beyond the restrictions that the FDA is expected to announce this week, which ban e-cigarette flavors except for tobacco, menthol, and mint from stores that admit minors but allow their sale by tobacconists and vape shops. Altria, which makes MarkTen e-cigarettes, has already said it will stop selling pods in flavors other than tobacco, menthol, and mint anywhere until the FDA approves them. The two companies together account for nearly four-fifths of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

It is still not clear what form the FDA's new rule will take. The National Association of Convenience Stores notes that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the 2009 law that gave the FDA authority over tobacco products, says the agency may not "prohibit the sale of any tobacco product in face-to-face transactions by a specific category of retail outlets." But since the FDA has threatened to move up the deadline for approval of e-cigarettes or take flavored varieties off the market altogether, it has a lot of leverage to demand changes short of those actions. As Gottlieb noted in an interview with Politico last week, "This is an existential threat for them."

In addition to removing most of its flavors from offline vendors, Juul says it is "adding additional age-verification measures to an already industry-leading online sales system that is restricted to people 21 years old" or older; limiting customers to "two devices and fifteen JUUL pod packages per month, and no more than ten devices per year" in an effort to prevent bulk purchases of e-cigarettes that may be diverted to minors; and "attacking the presence of JUUL Labs on social media in two ways—eliminating our own social media accounts and continuing to monitor and remove inappropriate material from third-party accounts." That last item suggests the FDA can indirectly censor constitutionally protected speech by holding the threat of ruinous regulatory action over the heads of e-cigarette companies.

Juul evidently has calculated that it will do better in the long run by heading off more drastic measures aimed at fighting what the FDA, based on data the public still has not seen, describes as an "epidemic" of underage vaping. But the immediate effect will be to limit the options available to smokers who might be interested in switching to e-cigarettes, making these harm-reducing products less accessible and less appealing, which may lead to more smoking-related deaths than would otherwise occur.

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Michelle Obama Felt 'the Shadow of Affirmative Action' as Princeton Undergrad

Her experience is a good example of why affirmative action policies are a bad idea.

Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomMichael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

Michelle Obama felt "the shadow of affirmative action" as an undergraduate student at Princeton University, the former first lady writes in her new book, Becoming.

Obama, who graduated in 1985, says she sometimes wondered why she had been accepted into Princeton, a majority-white school, in the first place. "It was impossible to be a black kid at a mostly white school and not feel the shadow of affirmative action," Obama writes. "You could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, 'I know why you're here.'" This was often "demoralizing," Obama says, while acknowledging she "was just imagining some of it."

"It planted a seed of doubt. Was I here merely as part of some social experiment?" she asks.

The former first lady says she gradually realized that affirmative action wasn't the only way the school filled quotas. "As minorities, we were the most visible, but it became clear that special dispensations were made to admit all kinds of students whose grades or accomplishments might not measure up to the acknowledged standard," she writes. Obama cites student-athletes, as well as the "legacy kids" who attended Princeton like their "fathers and grandfathers" before them, "or whose families had funded the building of a dorm or a library."

Princeton probably did use affirmative action to raise enrollment numbers for minority students, but the school apparently didn't do a great job. "There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous," Obama writes. She adds that this drove her to "overperform" in order to "keep up with or even plow past the more privileged people around" her.

This is not the first time Obama has talked about her experience as a black student at Princeton. In May, she posted on Instagram about how "scary" it was to be a black "first generation college student" at a school consisting of "generally white and well-to-do" students.

She was also interested enough in race relations that she wrote her Princeton senior thesis on the topic. The thesis surveyed black Princeton alumni to see how they "felt about race and identity after being at Princeton," Obama writes in Becoming. In 2013, National Affairs provided more details on the thesis, which was titled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community":

Black alumni were asked whether they felt "much more comfortable with Blacks," "much more comfortable with Whites," or "about equally comfortable with Blacks and Whites" in various contexts during three different periods in their lives—before attending Princeton, while students at Princeton, and after leaving Princeton.

Her senior thesis aside, Obama's experience at Princeton is a good example of why affirmative action policies aren't a good idea. Citing Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University, Reason's Robby Soave explained in 2016 that racial quotas can cause white students to look down on their black classmates. Soave wrote:

[W]hen administrators artificially sort people according to race in a manner ordained by race-based college admissions, they will inflame tensions by creating a false race-based achievement gap. In this way, efforts to increase diversity and combat racism are actually worsening the problem.

To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton. By all accounts, she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer. But the fact that people looked down on her because of Princeton's affirmative action policies is unfortunate, just as it is for all deserving minority students who wonder whether they're just filling a quota.

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Amazon Snags $2 Billion in Bribes and Tax Credits From New York and Virginia

But Amazon's decision to put it's new headquarters in Arlington and Queens also shows it wasn't all about the money.

PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS/NewscomPASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS/NewscomAmazon is getting some prime real estate.

In exchange for more than $2 billion in economic incentives, the online shopping giant will locate a pair of new corporate headquarters just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and just across the East River from Manhattan. Tuesday's much-anticipated announcement of the locations for Amazon's "HQ2" also included details—which had previously been kept from the public—about the economic incentives that successfully lured the Seattle-based firm to the east coast's political and economic hubs.

Amazon says it will invest $5 billion and create more than 50,000 jobs across the two new locations, with at least 25,000 employees at each of its new corporate campuses, to be located in Virginia's Crystal City and New York's Long Island City. Nashville wins a consolation prize: a new supply chain and logistics center that promises 5,000 jobs in exchange for $102 million in economic incentives.

In New York, Amazon will receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits through a state-level economic development program and a cash grant of $325 million that's tied to the construction of new buildings at the Long Island City location over the next 10 years. In Virginia, the state is ponying up $573 million in tax breaks tied to the creation of 25,000 jobs, and the city of Arlington will provide a cash grant of $23 million over 15 years funded by an existing tax on hotel rooms.

Yes, the numbers are staggering—New York state's pledge of $1.52 billion for 25,000 jobs works out to more than $60,000 in taxpayer support per new job created—but Amazon appears to have selected New York and the D.C. area based on more than just how many zeroes local officials agreed to put on the giant cardboard check.

After all, New Jersey offered Amazon $5 billion (with another $2 billion from Newark), and Maryland offered $8.5 billion. Yet Amazon passed them both over to pick their neighbors.

"At the end of the day, it suggests that even New York City and Virginia and Nashville didn't really need to offer those subsidies, because Amazon is chasing other factors," Michael Farren, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a free market think tank housed at George Mason University, tells Reason. Although most of the Amazon HQ2 bids were kept secret—sometimes in direct violation of state open records laws—Farren's research estimates that the average offer to Amazon from the 20 finalist cities totaled around $2.15 billion from cities and $6.75 billion from states over the next 15 years.

For that amount of spending, the average state could cut its corporate income tax for all businesses by 29 percent, says Farren. That's the sort of thing a place like New York (home to one of the nation's worst business tax climates) could have used. But instead of helping businesses from the Bronx to Buffalo to be more competitive, New York taxpayers will help a wildly successful company bring more jobs to Long Island City.

The fact that Amazon was willing to accept a smaller incentive package for a more ideal location should send a message to politicians everywhere. Namely, landing major employers has more to do with running a thriving, sustainable city than it does with how much of other peoples' money you throw around.

Of course, being close to the seat of political power matters too. Virginia's deal comes with the unwritten promise that Amazon will be just a stone's throw away from not only the country's top lawmakers, but from the most important lobbying firms too. It's yet another unfortunate side effect of an all-powerful central government that seemingly draws all aspects of American life closer to it, both literally and metaphorically.

Add to that the fact that New York City has been the center of American economic and cultural life for hundreds of years. When it comes right down to it, Amazon's decision to plop down new headquarters in these two locations is something of a no-brainer. It's also a symbolic transition for a company that was born in the start-up culture of Seattle but has now become the symbol of American capitalism in the 21st century. Even though most of Amazon's business can be done from anywhere—indeed, that's the very essence of Amazon—location still matters.

Of course, the $2 billion in other peoples' money doesn't hurt either.

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Maine’s GOP Congressman Sues to Stop Ranked-Choice Voting

Bruce Poliquin is currently ahead. But a new requirement that he get a majority vote could unseat him.

Rep. Bruce PoliquinBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomMaine Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin has filed a federal lawsuit in hopes of stopping the state's implementation of a new voting method from wrecking his re-election chances.

In initial election returns, Poliquin is ahead of Democratic challenger Jared Golden, but just barely, 46 percent to 45 percent. The problem for Poliquin is that under Maine's new ranked-choice voting system, he has to surpass 50 percent in order to win. There are two other independent candidates in the race covering the spread between the two major party candidates.

Previously, those laggards would matter only in the sense they could spoil one of the front-runners' chances. But with ranked-choice, it's a bit different. Rather than choosing one candidate, voters are invited to rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 percent, there's a retallying of the ballots where the candidate with the least number of votes is dropped. For those who voted for that candidate, their second choice (if they selected one) is tallied as their vote instead. And so it goes until one candidate gets a majority of the vote.

So even though Poliquin is leading, he could very well end up losing when the other two candidates are dropped out in following rounds of tallying. He and the Maine Republican Party have an interest in stopping ranked-choice voting in its tracks, even though voters approved the implementation of it via ballot initiatives (twice).

Today, Poliquin and a couple of Republican voters filed a suit claiming that this transition to ranked-choice voting violates the United States Constitution in an attempt to get a federal judge to stop the subsequent recounts.

The lawsuit (which can be read here) argues that implementing ranked-choice voting violates Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. That section sets up that members of the House of Representatives shall be elected by the people, though it does not specifically state how that election should be decided, whether through a majority or plurality.

The lawsuit takes note of a federal appeals court case from 1970, Phillips v. Rockefeller, involving a challenge to a U.S. Senate election in New York. In that case, a panel of judges ruled that when the authors of the Constitution wanted a majority vote to determine outcomes, they specifically stated so (as the Constitution does when referring to the electors choosing the president). If they do not, then historically only a plurality vote has been required to win a Congressional election.

But there's a notable difference with this case and what is happening in Maine. In the Phillips case, the plaintiff was challenging the results of the election because the winner, James L. Buckley, did not receive a majority of the vote. The plaintiffs were attempting to use the court to force through a change in how elections are run. The judges resisted for the above reason.

In Maine, though, the voters themselves decided through the ballot initiative process to require a majority vote for federal elections, and it's not really clear from that case that the judges are saying that a plurality must be the rule either. The conflict here appears to be whether the people of a state can decide for a higher threshold than plurality. In that, the U.S. Constitution is silent.

Maine's own state constitution is clear, though, in using the word "plurality" to determine who wins state-level races, so thus far ranked-choice voting is not being used to determine the ultimate winner of the governor's seat or state legislature seats, even though voters agreed to implement ranked-choice for those races as well. Right now, ranked-choice is being used only for federal races because the U.S. Constitution doesn't have a demand for plurality. Maine's top court has warned that lawmakers should change the state's own constitution to implement ranked-choice vote for state-level elections. They have not yet done so.

The attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting is asking to join the suit to try to argue against Poliquin's demand. John Brautigam said that ranked-choice voting implemented elsewhere have been upheld by state and federal courts and believes it will be upheld. In May, a federal judge declined a request from the state's GOP to stop the use of ranked-choice voting for the primary elections in June.

The Press Herald in Maine notes that it's not yet clear when the judge will take up this lawsuit. In the meantime, Maine's secretary of state's office is continuing with the vote tallying unless a judge orders them to stop.

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Why Stan Lee's Flaws Were Part of His Virtues

Less creator than editor, pathetic company man, purveyor of childish nonsense? No amount of next-level quasi-sophisticated Stan Lee critique can avoid the proper conclusion: He was the Man.

Stan Lee, who died yesterday at age 95, is a topic that attracts obsessive nerds. Nerdery inspires a hunger to have a deeper, more complicated opinion than the standard one non-obsessives might have. In Lee's case that normal opinion is probably best expressed as "Stan Lee was awesome, the prime driving force of the wonderful Marvel Comics universe, which has understandably brought joy to millions in comic books and now in our most popular motion pictures."

When I was first began obsessively consuming Marvel Comics in 1975, Lee was already a half-decade past writing them himself; still, his spirit dominated them. Each comic the company issued featured a "Stan Lee Presents" logo on the splash page and his monthly "Stan's Soapbox" columns. Stylish hardcover books, as well as monthly titles from Marvel, were reprinting his 1960s work that established the intricately interconnected Marvel superhero universe. That sense of intertwined continuity has spread, as his youthful devotees took over popular storytelling everywhere, through entire multiverses of adventure movies to most quality TV shows that strive to do more than tell disconnected weekly stories of someone solving a problem.

But smart comics cognoscenti grew to a second-level realization: that loving and crediting Lee uncritically was untrue to how Marvel Comics were actually created. To boot, venerating Lee without proper caveats was unfair to some truly creative artists. It was his artist partners Jack Kirby (the Fantastic Four and Thor most prominently and continuously) and Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Dr. Strange) who most deserve credit for the wildest and most wonderful imaginings of Marvel, given how Lee as writer/editor (and company employee while his artists were freelancers) didn't provide full scripts, at most talking through story ideas with artists then taking their spectacular drawn pages that laid out the action and writing dialogue on them.

What's more, Lee's lifelong role as an employee or at least paid-off emissary of Marvel made him regularly refuse to fully and specifically credit his artist partners as true co-creators of the characters. (Books will surely be written, as many magazine articles have, on the specifics of Lee's relationship with the artists, the company, and the truth, but the preceding are the broad basics of the comics fan arguments.) Ownership of the characters, whomever truly created them, remained with the corporation and its owners, who are now Disney, never Lee or the artists. But to add injury to insult, as many Marvel fans saw it, Lee's continuing role with Marvel and as producer on the films made him far more money from his role as writer/editor than Kirby or Ditko ever saw.

MarvelMarvel

A third-level clever take on Lee and his achievements, and those of his artist partners, is that, well, isn't it just embarrassing that so many adults in our culture have held on to affection for and obsession with these goofy preteen fantasies of impossible superbeings? Sure, learned critics, academics, and journalists have churned out decades of smartypants theses arguing Marvel Comics' relevance to the fears of the atomic age or their supposed mythic or Shakespearean echoes, but isn't that all just excuse-making for childhood toys we've been too indulgent to put away in the closet where they belong? (The continued affection of "serious" people for Marvel Comics has been expressed everywhere this week, though I confess to feeling at times that unlovely frisson of the nerd wanting to challenge interlopers with "Oh, you love Stan Lee, huh? Then please explain Mike Murdock to me, buddy." But it is true even in the '60s that many hundreds of thousands from ages six to at least 26 were reading his comics, and via reprints and the movies, now tens of millions have had a chance to become true fans.)

Reed Richards, universe-exploring leader of the Fantastic Four, is pictured in the panel to the right, as drawn by Kirby. In that panel his Lee-scripted soliloquy delivers a heavy dose of the fascination and grandeur of grappling with life itself that made Lee's comics so influential on so many who read them. He also says a few things that inadvertently frame the real way to consider Lee's career: "There will be others...those who come after me...and each of us, in his own way, does what he can for those who will follow."

So sure, If you wanted to minimize Lee's importance even in terms of the huge Marvel movies (those who love comics for their own sake often want to minimize them, and those contemptuous of the supposed idiocy of a culture that spends so much time and money making and watching superhero tales do so for their own reasons), you could rightly point out that beyond the sheer concepts of "Norse God superhero" or "gamma-irradiated scientist turns monster" or "iron-suited industrialist" or "Russian lady spy turned hero," the characters in the Marvel films are more based on later Marvel writers or the film writers and actors themselves than specifically on how Lee wrote them; and that Lee worked, since he was a teen in the early '40s, in a tradition and community of comic artists and writers from whom he learned and took much. It is true that Lee did not create de novo, and that the creations he had a hand in have had a rich, in some cases richer, life without him.

But the galaxy-brain level final conclusion to what to think about Stan Lee, after all the above has been justly processed, has to be: Stan Lee was awesome. His brilliant artists did not work in a creative or business vacuum. The particulars of his dialogue and characterization were absolutely key to Marvel's coolness and success.

And no matter what the cultural adults in the room say, and without trying to staunchly defend it to such non-believers, this ostensible adult and so many, many others now pouring out love for Stan Lee prove it: Not every wonderful, affecting story has to have the depth of insight into the actualities of the human condition of a Henry James novel, or even the depth of character and cogency of concept of the best modern science fiction.

The concepts and characters and adventures of Lee and his partners at Marvel—in all their goofiness and absurdity—captured something compelling about heroism, and our sense of the core mysteries of human and cosmic existence, and besides any such hand-waving justificatory generalizations any of us might embarrassedly make, were just so damn cool, man.

Their sheer exuberant explosive existence justifies themselves, and kids and adults of all ages have been drawn into them, deep into them, for more than half a century, captivated by the concepts, the plots, the interconnections, even the specifics of his phrasing and language choice. (Face it, true believers, many Marvelites got a quarter or more of their "interesting" vocabulary straight from Lee, if truth be our destiny.)

Maybe we're all congenital idiots here on the bus of Stan Lee fandom, but in a sense the love and fascination inspired by his work at Marvel in the '60s are their own proof of greatness. We'll be awestruck by the Negative Zone and gangs of mutants fighting for supremacy and evil scientists with mechanical arms and giant Nazi robots and Asgard and the Dark Dimension and all the other concepts, acted out by enduringly charming and iconic if absurd and sometimes faux-deep characters, that Lee brought or helped bring us, as long as America endures.

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Black Security Guard Uses Gun to Prevent Violence, Cops Show Up and Kill Him

"Everybody was screaming out, 'Security!' He was a security guard."

RobersonScreenshot via WGN9Jemel Roberson was working as a security guard at Manny's Blue Room Lounge in Robbins, Chicago, last weekend when a fight broke out. He acted heroically—using his gun to protect innocent people. Then the police killed him.

The incident transpired around 4:00 a.m., after several drunken customers were ejected from the bar. Witnesses told WGN9 that one of these people came back with a gun and started shooting. Roberson, a 26-year-old black man, was armed, and returned fire. He was able to detain the shooter by pinning him to the ground and placing his knee on the suspect's back. But when the police arrived, they thought Roberson was the assailant, even though he was wearing a vest that said "security."

"Everybody was screaming out, 'Security!' He was a security guard," Adam Harris, a witness, told reporters. "And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun."

The police shot and killed Roberson. He was the only casualty; the shooter and three other people were injured.

Midlothian Police released a statement describing the incident as follows: "A Midlothian officer encountered a subject with a gun and was involved in an officer-involved shooting. The subject the officer shot was later pronounced deceased at an area hospital." They plan to investigate.

Roberson was the father of a nine-month-old baby. His family is pursuing a lawsuit, and has created a GoFundMe page to help with burial expenses.

This is an example of a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun, only to be murdered by another bad guy with a gun: the state, in this case. And while we don't yet know just how irresponsible the cops' behavior was here, we know it resulted in an innocent man's death—and that multiple people were warning police not to shoot.

An innocent person's death is always tragic, but those who support the Second Amendment should be especially perturbed that responsible gun use got a man killed by cops.

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Why Some Capitalists Are the Worst Enemies of Capitalism: New at Reason

Amazon lobbies for government favors and bad regulations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently came up with a new business to attack: Amazon. Sanders said Amazon didn't pay its workers enough and because of that, many qualified for government assistance.

At first, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended his company.

That was the right thing to do, says John Stossel. He notes: "It's not companies' fault that some workers qualify for handouts. More people would collect them if Amazon were not hiring. By creating jobs, Bezos gives workers better choices."

But the media rarely mention that. Instead, they bombarded Amazon with negative coverage.

So Bezos caved. He declared that all Amazon workers would now all be paid $15 an hour or more. That higher wage sounds good to most people, but Stossel point out that while the higher minimum is good for workers who have jobs now, it can shut out beginners.

But Amazon did not stop there. It has also begun lobbying for the government to force all its competitors to pay a higher minimum wage too.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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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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USC Education Student Filed a Title IX Complaint Because Another Student’s Answer Offended Her

Rossier School of Education student also created a petition to require racial sensitivity training.

USCLan56 / Wikimedia CommonsHere's how one University of Southern California student handled an awkward moment: She complained to the professor, filed a Title IX report when the professor declined to spend an entire class period litigating the matter, dropped the course entirely, and then launched a petition demanding that everyone who offended her be forced to undergo racial sensitivity training.

That's according to write-ups of the incident in The Daily Trojan and The College Fix, which offer details of Rossier School of Education student Gina Loring's curious quest for justice.

Loring was completing group work with some other students in her Learning 525 class last September when someone typed a thoughtless and racially problematic answer into a shared document. The group had been asked to consider how to increase "the number of women of color who receive prenatal care," and another student wrote, "sterilize them" and "take away their babies at birth." It's not clear whether this student—a white female student—was serious about this; as Loring would later write in her petition to the college, "the white female student admitted she had written the comments and then deleted them, stating her group, which included her and two latinx women, did not 'agree' with the comments, but had offered them as a possible solution, as that was their understanding of the exercise."

Loring demanded that the instructor, Dr. Kimberly Hirabayashi, address the matter. Dr. Hirabayashi obliged, but not to Loring's satisfaction, According to Loring:

I said I did not think we should move on, and stated I was stunned by the inappropriate and offensive nature of the comments, given the socio-historical context of sterilization and separating families as tools of oppression and genocide, as well as the saliency of current immigration policies separating children from their parents. Several other students also expressed their discomfort with the comments. A white male student defended the students who had written the comments, stating there was no ill intention. The instructor took a diplomatic stance, stating she wanted to maintain a comfortable learning environment, and repeatedly emphasized that no one should feel blamed. At her invitation, I met with Dr. Hirabayashi prior to the next class meeting and requested she bring resolve to the incident by acknowledging the comments as inappropriate and holding the students accountable. She then proceeded to open class with a vague statement about the incident, at no point addressing the comments directly. She then redirected the focus to the day's lesson plan: a case study surrounding the disproportionately high pregnancy-related mortality rates of women of color. The incident was thus not only left without resolution, it was magnified.

Loring ultimately dropped the class and filed a complaint with the university's Title IX office, which ostensibly handles sexual misconduct. She also launched a petition that calls on the university to mandate critical race theory training for Dr. Hirabayashi, the students involved in the group work, and all first-year students in the school of education. The petition has been signed by more than 800 people, last I checked.

This incident is a strong example of a phenomenon I've noticed among aggrieved leftist students: immediate, constant appeals to authority. It was not enough for the professor to briefly address what was an admittedly stupid move by a fellow classmate—according to this activist, the very curriculum of the education program should be rewritten so as to make offensive statements not merely unutterable, but unthinkable in the first place. And while anyone can make a petition about anything, the Title IX process is a powerful tool for formal adjudication of problematic speech and conduct.

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'Mobile Brothels' Could Be Enabled by Self-Driving Cars, But That Doesn't Mean They Will: Reason Roundup

Plus: Amazon goes to Washington (for good) and Chicago cops shoot man who stopped bar shooting.

Cover Images/NewscomCover Images/NewscomWait, but why? Driverless cars for mass consumption are't a thing yet, so naturally now is the time to start fretting about how they could enable sexual activity.

That people may generally have more car sex on hands-free commutes does make some sense. But because 21st century America has gone collectively bonkers about possible prostitution, some academics and media are taking this one step further and worrying that self-driving cars will become mobile brothels.

"People are going to sell sex in driverless cars, researchers say," reads one Washington Post headline. The New York Post headline warns that "Self-driving vehicles will turn cars into brothels on wheels." And so on, across U.S. and U.K. press.

This prediction was but one small part of a larger study looking at how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will change tourism-dependent industries. It appears in the Annals of Tourism Research, and covers the competition AVs will give to "all industries tied to transport."

Most media coverage of the paper has focused on predictions about sex, particularly how AVs may be used by sex workers. Self-driving cars will "revolutionize red light districts, putting prostitution on wheels," chirps Fast Company.

The paper's authors are more temperate, writing that "the intersection of automated mobility and the urban night demands ... analyses," and this "might include questions of how prostitution, and sex more generally, in moving CAVs, becomes a growing phenomenon." They suggest that "'hotels-by-the-hour' are likely to be replaced" by self-driving cars and while these will "likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, ... such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed."

Their speculation seems somewhat sketch to me. Unless things get way more dystopian by the 2040s—when the authors predict AVs to be in full swing—there's little reason to think that homes, hotels, and other places where prostitution is currently common would give way to a roving red-light districts, staffed by a fleet of car-camera hacking sex workers. Even if automated cars are convenient and safe enough to set and forget, they're still not as comfortable or private as other options. And the potential for police intervention on the road is high (whether the sex would be otherwise legal or not).

At least a few folks have been pushing back on the idea. Here's sex worker rights activist Kate D'Adamo:

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Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt Was Also About Gov’t-Funded Market Research: New at Reason

Cities and states scrambled to pass along data to the corporate giant it can now use to make all sorts of market-dominating decisions

Amazon HQIna Fassbender/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomThere was a good amount of criticism over how public officials slavishly courted Amazon in its hunt for new space for another headquarters with favors and favoritism. No matter: the company merely leveraged its position to muzzle officials of the 20 regions that made the shortlist.

What have gone less discussed are the many indirect ways in which policymakers were unknowingly deputized to bolster Amazon's bottom line. It really was ingenious on Amazon's part. They have been able to not only have their pick of the nation's plum and primed office space, they will be able to monetize the resulting data too. Andrea O'Sullivan explains more.

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Anti-Porn Republicans Haven't Gone Anywhere

The porn wars haven't died, they're just packaged differently.

MEGA / Julien''s Auctions / MEGA / NewscomMEGA / Julien''s Auctions / MEGA / NewscomThere's been a "total abandonment of pornography as a battleground in America's culture war," writes Politico reporter Tim Alberta in "How the GOP Gave Up on Porn." He couldn't be more wrong.

The flashpoints have shifted certainly since the 1970s and '80s, when Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority teamed with second-wave feminists to take on Playboy and Hustler. And social conservatives' embrace of President Donald Trump does present a stark contrast to earlier eras. Alberta notes that while that Falwell sprung to action in response to a Jimmy Carter interview in Playboy ("a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day," the pastor called it), Jerry Falwell Jr. has praised Trump despite the president's vulgarities, even posing with the president in a photo in which Trump's '90s Playboy cover can be seen.

But such hypocrisy should not be mistaken for a radical repositioning of Republican dogma on "obscenity." The dreams of Falwell Sr. and his radfem counterparts are still very much alive in the Republican Party.

"Over a decade spent covering Republican politics," writes Alberta, "I struggle to recall instances of politicians calling attention to pornography. The lone exception: Diane Black, a congresswoman running this year for governor of Tennessee, blamed the rise in school shootings on adolescent porn habits. She was widely ridiculed and ultimately lost the GOP primary. Her comment was a cautionary tale."

Perhaps Alberta should search his memory (or Google) a little harder. After all, it was just two years ago that Republicans added language to their official party platform that declared porn "has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions."

That same year, 2016, a Utah Republican lawmaker convinced his colleagues in the state legislature to declare porn a public health crisis. Since then, six states—Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Virginia—have passed similar resolutions (something Alberta devotes several paragraphs to near the end of the article, despite his earlier quote about Diane Black standing alone).

In 2015, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly Morality in Media, organized an anti-porn summit on Capitol Hill—picking back up an event it had abandoned in the late '80s. Prominent Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) was the summit's honorary sponsor. Since then, NCOSE has celebrated getting Walmart to remove Cosmopolitan from checkout aisles, under the rationale that the magazine is too racy for general audiences.

Last year, Republicans in at least a dozen state legislatures introduced measures to ban porn access for anyone who wouldn't pay a $20 fine, and Utah conservatives called for reappointing a statewide porn watchdog.

This year, the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat advocated banning porn. And a search on Congress.gov for the 2017-18 legislation mentioning "pornography" turns up 93 results. (Douthat's column has a cameo in Alberta's article; those 93 results do not.)

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomBut never mind reality. Fresh from declaring that there's been no recent Republican action against porn because he doesn't personally remember it, Alberta gets right to theorizing about why: The right has "surrendered the fight on many social issues as America has moved left" and the anti-porn movement, like "traditional marriage and supporting prayer in public schools," has been tossed aside. This ignores the fact that anti-porn activism of yore was often a bipartisan cause, with second-wave feminists serving as major drivers of the issue; the fact that many in the academic and feminist left still oppose pornography; and the fact that even in recent years, mainstream liberals have worked with Republicans and on their own on all sorts of anti-porn actions.

In California, a coalition of left and right activists fought to make condom use a requirement in all porn films and to appoint a "porn czar" to monitor for violations; the same activists then turned their sights on Nevada. In Dallas, the city council and Democratic mayor supported banning an adult entertainment expo from its Convention Center.

Around this same time, the FBI was running dozens of its own Dark Web porn sites in a massive (if misguided) attempt to catch people sharing pornographic images of minors.

One could credibly argue that there's been less focus on the horrors of naked ladies per se and more on stopping exploitation. But this shift seems more predicated on limited resources and accepting technological realities than a waning impulse to control the sexual lives of others.

Let's not forget Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era program that covertly pressured banks and payment processors to end relationships with porn actors, sex toy sellers, and others in adult entertainment and novelty industries. The initiative represents one of many ways the federal government has been trying to go after legal sex work and adult industries by choking off their access to digital infrastructure. This year a bipartisan group of legislators took aim at sex workers' access to web hosting and advertising with FOSTA, an act alleged to target sex trafficking that actually ensnares adult advertising of all sorts.

Plenty of porn-adjacent panics have sprung up since the 1990s as well, and plenty of political effort has gone into fighting them. So, yes, we might have fewer federal obscenity prosecutions, but we also have many more federal sex crimes on the books overall and no shortage of activity on their behalf. Since 2000, we've seen an ever-escalating federal war on prostitution, all sorts of panic (and prosecutions) over teen sexting, and dozens of bills introduced (in Congress and statehouses) to bring "revenge porn" and "sextortion" to an end.

For instance, last year the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill that would have subjected teen sexters to a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Republican Sen. Richard Burr moved to expand FBI data-collection practices used in terrorism and national security matters to include investigations into teen sexting. And underage teens who send racy pictures to one another are routinely threatened and arrested under child pornography laws.

Alberta blames Bill Clinton for the proliferation of porn in the 1990s, but he admits that the Clinton administration intensified efforts to eradicate child pornography as general obscenity charges fell. Many of those efforts wound up problematic in practice, but this conception—that the government should stress less about the erotic activity of consenting adults and instead prioritize preventing the exploitation of underage people—is in line with the direction mainstream America was going in the 1990s and largely continues along today.

Many of those 1970s and 1980s anti-porn crusaders have used this to their advantage in fighting against attempts to decriminalize commercial sex. For going on two decades, efforts to reframe all prostitution as "sex slavery" or "human trafficking" and to inflate instances of underage and forced prostitution have been a bipartisan affair, reinvigorating the old coalition of religious conservatives, sex-negative feminists, law enforcement, and concerned citizens easy to amp up over any cause that invokes The Children.

And invoke the children Alberta does. After ascribing to porn all sorts of negative and at best unproven, at worst thoroughly debunked effects (he says it contributes "to abusive relationships and the fracturing of families" and that it incites "destructive behavior," including violence, misogyny, and child abuse), he turns to fears over Generation Z growing up exposed to so much porn. Lots of experts are very, very afraid, and lots of people feel intuitively that the kids aren't OK.

But data actually supporting all those fears have been scarce to nil. And in the same decades that access to porn has dramatically increased, rates of everything from domestic violence to sexual assault to crimes against children (including sex crimes) have fallen.

So Alberta uses the trick many prohibitionists play when there's no actual evidence to support their claims: Follow vague murmurs about grave harm with concrete statistics about ancillary things. Hence, we get six straight paragraphs on the size and scope of the porn industry, how much money porn makes, how many people claim to consume it, and how many people allege in polls that they disapprove. Alberta concludes that "if ever there were a national dialogue needed about porn—if ever there were a moment for some opportunistic politician to make a cause of it—the time would be now."

With all the legitimately pressing problems facing America today, it's astonishing that anyone could earnestly advocate for more obscenity prosecutions and renewed cultural fighting over pornography. But here we are. Alberta has little clue what's been going on in porn politics this millennium, but he's sure that something more must be done.

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Reporters Become Participants in Tribal Political Warfare: New at Reason

Journalists, like other Americans, will have an easier time only when the struggle for control of government stops mattering so much.

Christian Monterrosa/Sipa USA/NewscomChristian Monterrosa/Sipa USA/NewscomEven before a left-wing mob laid siege to conservative commentator Tucker Carlson's house, the publication on Twitter of the home address of liberal journalist Matthew Yglesias, and the White House stripping CNN's Jim Acosta of his press credentials after he verbally sparred with the president, many journalists were nervous that they had become targets in a politically polarized country. Hundreds of news publications coordinated simultaneous editorials condemning President Donald Trump's criticism of the news media.

But in a country divided between political factions that increasingly hate each other, most of the media have chosen sides. That makes them participants in, rather than observers of, the strife around us, writes J.D. Tuccille. And having joined the melee, journalists, like other Americans, will have an easier time of it only when government is rendered less dangerous and the struggle for power stops mattering so much.

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The Sorry State of FOIA: New at Reason

More people than ever want to know what the government is doing in their name and with their money.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonWhen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in 1966—about five years before public trust in government started to crater as a result of the Pentagon Papers and then Watergate—it was a landmark law and an exciting, promising new tool for reporters, researchers, and concerned citizens. More than 50 years later, it is a wheezing, arthritic artifact of more optimistic times, writes C.J. Ciaramella.

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Brickbat: Shall We Play a Game?

PasswordGinasanders / Dreamstime.comIt started in seventh grade, when Jeremy Currier and Seth Stephens found a sticky note with log-in information on a computer in the school library. Using that information, they were able to access files created by staff. A couple of years later, in high school, they found another sticky note with log-in information on the laptop of a school security guard. They used that to take control of the school's security cameras. Eventually, they hacked all of their Michigan school district's computer systems. Even though, according to Education Week, there's no evidence they "cheated or changed grades, disrupted classes or sold answers to tests, zeroed out lunch balances or broke into anyone's locker, installed malware or deleted files, harassed people online or stole anyone's identity" the two were expelled when their exploits were finally discovered, and they are now the subjects of a criminal investigation.

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Are Democrats Now the Party of the Rich? New at Reason.

The Trump rebranding of the GOP as a working class party coincides with a number of super-rich Democrats winning high-profile elections.

EVAN SEMON/REUTERS/NewscomEVAN SEMON/REUTERS/NewscomMaybe it's time to rebrand the Democrats as the party of the rich.

This month saw the election of Jay Robert "J.B." Pritzker as governor of Illinois. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, is worth an estimated $3.2 billion, and spent $171.5 million to get himself elected, according to Money magazine.

Another winner was Edward M. "Ned" Lamont Jr., in the Connecticut governor's race. Lamont, an heir to the J.P. Morgan banking fortune of his great-grandfather Thomas Lamont, estimated his assets in 2006 at between $90 million and $300 million, and showed reporters tax returns last month with income totaling $18 million over 5 years.

The winner of the election for governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, filed financial disclosure forms as a member of the House of Representatives indicating estimated wealth of more than $300 million.

Pritzker, Lamont, and Polis are all Democrats.

Somehow, the wealth of Pritzker, Lamont, and Polis has gotten less attention, perhaps because it doesn't so easily fit the country-club Republican stereotype, writes Ira Stoll.

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There Are 200 California Inmates Fighting the Camp Fire. After Prison, They Likely Won't Be Allowed to Become Firefighters

California's licensing laws mean inmates can risk their lives for less than $2 per day, but can't earn a living after they get out of prison.

Elijah Hurwitz/ZUMA Press/NewscomElijah Hurwitz/ZUMA Press/NewscomAbout 200 inmates are among the thousands of firefighters still doing battle with the massive wildfire that has destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed at least 31 people.

Once they are released from prison, however, most of them will be prohibited from joining the fire crews that they currently work alongside. It's a cruel irony that demonstrates just how difficult life can be for the formerly incarcerated—even those with needed, practical skills—who continue to be punished long after they have paid their debt to society, and bad policy that effectively prevents the state from calling upon well-trained, experienced firefighters when wildfires erupt.

According to local media reports, there are 200 inmates from 16 different fire crews helping fight the dangerous Camp Fire, which is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state's history. As of Monday morning, the fire had burned more than 113,000 acres and was only 25 percent contained. There are also inmate firefighters helping to battle two blazes in southern California, including one that has burned the set of Westworld and prompted an evacuation of Malibu.

Those inmate fightfighters are volunteers who earn $2 a day, and $1 an hour when fighting an active fire, while working alongside professionals who get paid an average of $74,000 per year. Those significant cost savings are part of the reason why convicts can account for up to half of the firefighting personnel on the scene at any California wildfire, according to a 2017 profile of the state's inmate firefighter program by The New York Times.

California's inmate firefighter program is open to prisoners who are not convicted of arson, sexual crimes, kidnapping or gang-related offenses, as long as they do not have a history of escape attempts and are not facing a life sentence. They receive two weeks of firefighting training and must pass a physical exam.

As I wrote in August, most of California's inmate firefighters will not be able to work in the firefighting profession after they are released because of the state's deliberately exclusionary licensing laws. Firefighters in California are required to be licensed as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), which requires taking classes and passing a few state-administered exams. No problem there, but state law allows licensing boards to block anyone with a criminal record from getting an EMT license.

These so-called "blanket bans" on letting formerly incarcerated individuals obtain mandatory licenses don't do much to improve public safety—if someone is a legitimate threat to the public, or has been convicted of certain crimes, the licensing board could block that individual application without denying a job opportunity to scores of others—and may increase crime in the long run. Indeed, a 2017 study by the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty at Arizona State University found that formerly incarcerated residents are more likely to commit a new crime within three years of being released from prison if they live in a state that prohibits them from getting a license solely due to a criminal record.

Instead of a blanket ban, California should rewrite its licensing laws to include prohibitions for specific criminal offenses—exactly how the California Department of Corrections operates their inmate firefighter program, for example, by prohibiting individuals who committed certain crimes. That's one of the reasons why the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit that advocates for loosening access to jobs, says California's licensing laws "need imrpovement."

"The persistent, horrific wildfires year after year make this human rights issue even more pressing for the men and women fighting these fires every day who cannot do so once released," says Katherine Katcher, founder and executive director of Root and Rebound, a California-based nonprofit that helps the formerly incarcerated find jobs after getting out of prison, told me in August. She said the state's discriminatory licensing rules "shut people out of living wage careers that they are trained and qualified for solely because of old, expunged, and irrelevant convictions."

Giving the formerly incarcerated better economic opportunities when they get out of prison is good for everyone. It makes the adjustment to post-prison life less difficult for the formerly incarcerated, it increases the number of qualified and trained firefighters in a state where wildfires are a serious concern, and it means the time and money spent training inmates to battle wildfires would provide dividends long after they've been released.

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Comics Giant Stan Lee Dead at 95

Marvel’s former chief left behind a massive cultural legacy preaching tolerance and personal responsibility.

Stan LeeABA/NewscomStan Lee, a man who helped create some of Marvel's most popular and iconic superheroes, died today. He was 95.

Stan Lee was to Generation X kids (and even some older readers) what Walt Disney was to baby boomers. Though the foundation of Marvel's superhero stories and Lee's involvement with them took off in the 1950s and '60s before some GenXers were born, the industry saw a massive boom from the 1960s to the 1980s, as Lee moved up from writer and editor to publisher.

My own introduction to Lee was hearing his voice in the narration to the Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the early 1980s. That cartoon pushed me into comic books, and I was devoted Marvel reader for decades after that. (Funny side story here: I was initially drawn to the comics by the representation of Iceman in the cartoon, who stirred some very early recognitions of my sexuality. Iceman himself came out of the closet as gay in 2015.)

Lee, like Disney, openly embraced being the public face of Marvel, not just some behind-the-scenes business leader. As Marvel's superhero comics spread into other media, such as television and film, he became known for his amusing cameos.

Under Lee, Marvel's superheroes became more than awe-inspiring ubermen to be idolized. They became more like real people who young readers could relate to. The Fantastic Four were a family, with all the conflicts and storytelling those relationships entailed. Spider-Man was famously a coming-of-age comic for teens about the responsibilities of powers and adulthood.

Those Spider-Man stories are often credited with the line "With great power comes great responsibility." The saying probably predates the hero's 1962 origins by more than a century, but Lee's comics did lean heavily on the idea of personal responsibility to separate heroes from villains. And Marvel's heroes had a complicated relationship with government authority, with officialy increasingly worrying that these powerful individuals could not be controlled and therefore were a threat.

We saw this play out in Spider-Man as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson constantly decried the young hero's "vigilante" actions. In the X-Men, whose heroes were born with their powers, the relationship between the heroes and the government became outright hostile (a dynamic that continues, off and on, to this day). Even the Avengers, as all-American as they were, often found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In the 1970s and beyond, the comics offered young readers stories where heroes operate outside the confines of government institutions to do good.

Marvel comics these days (now owned by Disney, in an interesting cultural development) gets some criticism for trying to appeal to younger demographics through obvious diversity inclusions—having Iceman come out as gay, having women (temporarily) play the role of Thor or Iron Man, and the like. But that's actually not a new thing. With Lee as a publisher, readers saw a black man (James Rhodes) take over as Iron Man for some time, and a black woman take on the mantle of Captain Marvel. X-Men villain Mystique was clearly coded as being in a romantic relationship with another woman, though the Comics Code prevented the book from actually saying so. The X-Men were an obvious metaphor about race relations, being treated by suspicion by the populace on the basis of birth qualities that they could not change. Later, in the 1980s and '90s, this morphed into a metaphor for anti-gay fears. In one comic in the 1980s, Professor Xavier was beaten nearly to death by a group of people who discovered he was secretly a mutant. Years later, a science-fictionized version of AIDS popped up that affected only mutants. Marvel's comics were always attuned to cultural developments of the time. (Not always for the better—as the war on drugs heated up in the '80s, they were there to help it along.)

The popularity of Marvel's comics under Lee made a movie empire an eventual certainty, even if his core audience had to grow into adulthood and special effects technology needed to improve dramatically (helped out by the very same people who read his comics as children). His heroes are the stars now of annual summer blockbusters, his role in culture as entrenched as Disney's was. Comic sales themselves are down from where they were in Lee's heydays, but the culture of the superhero is not going anywhere soon. Lee's role in making Marvel's comics into a cultural touchstone for multiple generations has made it a certainty.

From earlier this year: Brian Doherty explored the Objectivist attitudes of comics artist Steve Ditko. Ditko, who died in June, helped Lee create such characters as Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

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What Does It Mean To Be a Libertarian?: New at Reason

Leading lights of the libertarian movement share their thoughts on what the term is all about.

saratm/Fiverrsaratm/FiverrPeople come at libertarianism from a lot of different angles. In Reason's 50th Anniversary issue, leading lights of the movement share their thoughts on what the term is all about. Check out the whole thing at the link below.

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The National Debt Is Coming Due, Just Like We Told You

By 2020, interest on the debt will cost more than Medicaid. By 2025, it will cost more than defense spending. And that's just the start.

What happens when you borrow the equivalent of your annual income and those low, low teaser rates start to increase? Congratulations, America, you're about to find out.

The Wall Street Journal reports some non-shocking, non-surprising news:

Wisconsinart, Dreamstime.comWisconsinart, Dreamstime.comIn 2017, interest costs on federal debt of $263 billion accounted for 6.6% of all government spending and 1.4% of gross domestic product, well below averages of the previous 50 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates interest spending will rise to $915 billion by 2028, or 13% of all outlays and 3.1% of gross domestic product....

It will spend more on interest than it spends on Medicaid in 2020; more in 2023 than it spends on national defense; and more in 2025 than it spends on all nondefense discretionary programs combined, from funding for national parks to scientific research, to health care and education, to the court system and infrastructure, according to the CBO.

A quick recap of our dismal national fiances: The U.S. economy generates about $21 trillion in annual activity. Debt owed to the public comes to about $15.5 trillion, but when you add intra-governmental debt (which you should, because it represents actual commitments to pay), the figure is...about $21 trillion.

This is not good, both for obvious and and for less obvious reasons. Among the obvious problems: When you have to pay more in interest, it crowds out your ability to spend on other things. If you're a government, it also might mean that you raise taxes or inflate your money. (You could also cut spending, but politicians tend to resist that for as long as possible.)

The federal government spends about $4.4 trillion a year, split among several categories, including what is considered "mandatory" and "discretionary." The mandatory stuff includes entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Congress doesn't need to vote on this spending for it to continue. Discretionary spending includes spending on the military, homeland security, schools, and other stuff that does need to get voted on. The percentage of spending that is mandatory has grown from around 30 percent in 1962 to about 62 percent of federal outlays today. Discretionary spending comes to about 30 percent, and interest on the debt rounds out the rest. Government spending will increase whether a divided government does anything or not. And, absent significant changes in current law, what the government spends on will be more and more limited. From a libertarian perspective, less government spending is a good thing, but we're not really going to get that, even with a gridlocked Congress.

More importantly and less obviously, high levels of national debt exert a downward pressure on long-term economic growth. In a 2012 paper, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff define a "debt overhang" as a situation in which the debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 90 percent for five or more consecutve years. After looking at 26 debt overhangs in 22 advanced economies since 1800, they conclude that "on average, debt levels above 90 percent are associated with growth that is 1.2 percent lower than in other periods (2.3 percent versus 3.5 percent)." These overhangs last a long time—in their sample, the average lasted 23 years—creating a cumulative loss in economic growth that's "nearly a quarter below that predicted by the trend in lower-debt periods."

That work has been validated by left-wing economists associated with the University of Massachusetts, who were critiquing an earlier version of Rinehart and Rogoff's work that had mistakenly found that debt overhangs reduced growth below zero. The critics conclude that "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public-debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent.

Whether or not there is anything magical about 90 percent, there's every reason to be concerned when the government is spending far more than it can ever collect in taxes. We're essentially entering an era where "debt overhang" is the new normal and there's no sign that's going to change any time soon.

Two percent growth isn't nothing, of course. But it's well below the historical average since World War II, and the difference really compounds over the years:

Reason.comReason.com

We're already poorer for lower economic growth, even as the government spends more (and borrows more to cover those costs). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says the economy grew by 3.1 percent in 2018, but it estimates that annual growth is going to slow to 1.7 percent annually between 2023 and 2028.

Bonus link: More than seven years ago, Mercatus Center economist and Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy and I explored a way to balance the budget without raising taxes. Check that out here.

CORRECTION: Carmen Reinhart's name was misspelled in the original post.

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High School Boys Made the Nazi Salute in a Prom Photo. That's Terrible, But Not a Crime.

Social media can shame them and the school can punish them, but the police shouldn't intervene.

NaziScreenshot via TwitterA troll-ish photo from Wisconsin shows about 50 boys performing the Nazi salute. The juvenile and obnoxious picture, which was taken at Baraboo High School's junior prom last spring, has attracted some well-deserved shaming from the media. The school district is investigating as well—not improperly, since junior prom is a school function.

Less defensibly, the police are investigating the matter too. "At this point, I really can't comment too much because it's an active case," Police Captain Rob Sinden tells The Huffington Post.

I'm not sure why the police need to be involved in this at all, since it's not a criminal matter. It is not illegal to make a Nazi salute; pro-Nazi hand gestures are protected under the First Amendment. Nor is this a "hate crime," properly understood, since there's no underlying criminal issue to address. Making a Nazi salute while engaging in assault or theft or property defacement could result in additional charges; that doesn't seem to apply here. (I have emailed Sinden for comment, and I will update this post if I hear back.)

It should be possible to punish misbehavior—either informally, via social shaming, or formally, via normal school disciplinary procedures—without involving the police each and every time a teenager does something stupid.

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Kansas City Health Officials Bleached Food Meant for the Homeless; Volunteers Came Back with More

How is bleaching food better than letting homeless people eat it?

Petr Tkachenko/Dreamstime.comPetr Tkachenko/Dreamstime.comThe Kansas City Health Department hasn't made it easy for Free Hot Soup. The group's volunteers showed up at four locations November 4 to serve food to the homeless. But city officials had been monitoring the group's social media posts, and they knew where to go to try to stop the sharing. The Kansas City Star reports that chili, sandwiches, and soup "were dumped in bags and soaked in bleach to make sure no one went back to try to recover it."

According to the health department and Mayor James Sly, the issue is food safety: Free Hot Soup doesn't have a permit to feed the homeless, so the city hasn't been able to check whether the food is safe to eat. Plus, the group allegedly didn't keep the food at the right temperature.

Obtaining the correct permit is free for groups that don't charge for food. But it's not that simple. According to the Star, Kansas City Director of Health Rex Archer

said the city can't allow food to be served publicly without affirming that the preparers are trained in safe food management, proper temperature controls and other defenses against contamination, and have an inspected kitchen.

Free Hot Soup's food comes from volunteers who choose to help out when they can, and there's no feasible way for the group to ensure that every kitchen where food might be prepared has been inspected.

The organization operates its events as potluck meals among friends, and thus argues it doesn't need a permit. "We don't have to have a permit to go have a birthday party in the park with our family and friends," one of the group's leaders, Rachelle Burnett, points out to WDAF. "Why would we have to have a permit to come here and have a picnic with our friends in the park?"

"It's our right of freedom of association and freedom of speech," says Amy Bell, an attorney helping the group. "And for many people here, it's a freedom of religion issue...that their religion dictates that they come and share their food and help the needy," she tells KSHB.

Over this past week, health department officials and Free Hot Soup volunteers met in an attempt to find a solution. It's unclear whether they came up with anything, though the volunteers weren't bothered yesterday when they resumed giving out food in at least three locations.

It wasn't a total win, though. Burnett tells KSHB that at her location, volunteers shifted away from hot meals in favor of less healthy prepackaged foods.

Kansas City is far from the only jurisdiction to infringe on people's right to feed the homeless. Reason has documented many such cases, including one in 2014 where two ministers and a 90-year-old activist were arrested for feeding Fort Lauderdale's homeless. In January 2017, Tampa police were caught on video arresting several members of Foods Not Bombs, a group that seeks to end both poverty and war. Their crime: serving hot meals without a permit.

In August, a federal court ruled that Food Not Bombs' weekly food-sharing events in Fort Lauderdale are constitutionally protected "expressive conduct" under the First Amendment. By organizing those events, wrote Judge Adalberto Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the group was trying to make a political point: that money spent on war should be used to end poverty instead. That ruling was a win, but as lawyer and food policy expert Baylen Linnekin has explained in Reason, many cities across the country still have bans in place preventing people from feeding the homeless.

These bans, of course, are discriminatory and unconstitutional—and they're just bad policy, too. It's hard to imagine how more food for those stuck on the streets can be a bad thing. It's even harder to understand how bleaching food is better than letting homeless people eat it.

Correction: This post previously referred to St. Lauderdale rather than Fort Lauderdale.

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Divided Government Means More Fiscal Discipline: New at Reason

Keith Lamond / DreamstimeKeith Lamond / DreamstimeRepublicans no longer enjoy a monopoly on power. On Election Day, they kept control of the Senate but lost the House—inviting Democrats to obstruct, delay, and frustrate Donald Trump's legislative priorities, assuming he has any.

In other words, writes Steve Chapman, in the next two years, Congress will probably do next to nothing. That's a good thing.

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We Are So Unprepared for the Coming Budgepocalypse: Podcast

You have come to the right place for CBO death porn.

Those terrifying fingers coming soon to a throat near you ||| ReasonReasonOne of the best things about divided federal government, Nick Gillespie reminds us on the new editors' roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast, is that at least it's not unified. Which is to say, there's less chance of unfunded entitlement expansions, big new overseas military commitments, and all the debt/deficit that they bring.

Fellow podcasters Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, and yours truly weigh in with dramatic Congressional Budget Office readings, tales from post–World War II governance, and grim assessments of almost all politicians who hold elected office. Also debated: voter fraud fantasia, President Donald Trump's reading comprehension issues, and this delightful Isaac Asimov roundtable discussion from the 1970s.

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

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'Fifteen Street' by Blue Dot Sessions is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Relevant links from the show:

"House Democrats Plan to Use Their New Majority to Target Trump. Let's Hope It Keeps Them Too Busy to Legislate," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"With Midterms Done, Are We Going To Get Serious About Policy or Continue the Clown Show?" by Nick Gillespie

"When the Bubble Bursts, We're So Screwed," by Matt Welch

"Trillion-Dollar Deficits Are Nearly Here. Thanks, Republicans!" by Peter Suderman

"Failed States," by Michael Flynn and Adam B. Summers

"It Can Happen Here," by Arnold Kling, David Henderson, and Maurice McTigue

"The 19 Percent Solution," by Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy

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Trump Still Determined to Slap New Tariffs on Auto Imports

White House advisors are worried that "he could get impatient one day and force their hand like he did with the steel and aluminum tariffs."

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/NewscomJONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/NewscomPresident Donald Trump is reportedly chomping at the bit to impose tariffs on foreign-made cars despite warnings from the auto industry, from economists, and from his own advisers that the move could cost American jobs, hike car prices, and increase friction between the U.S. and Europe.

There is no sense that the tariffs are imminent, but Trump remains "jazzed" about the idea of import taxes on foreign cars; White House advisers are worried that "he could get impatient one day and force their hand like he did with the steel and aluminum tariffs," reports Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Trump has been talking about putting tariffs on cars since well before he became president, but the threat of auto tariffs ramped up during the spring and summer. The Commerce Department held hearings on the proposed tariffs in July, around the same time that the White House instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to find a "national security" justification for tariffs on imported cars—something that is necessary for the president to impose tariffs unilaterally, under the terms of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. That's the same process used to impose the tariffs on steel and aluminum, which Trump ordered in March after months of investigations and hearings. The deadline for Ross to complete his report is early next year.

In a speech given in Berlin on Monday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sounded a pessimistic note about trade relations with the U.S., according to Bloomberg. Juncker and Trump had reached a temporary truce in July that prevented further escalations of the trade war between the U.S. and the E.U., but Juncker now says he expects that truce to expire shortly after the new year.

Trump's justification for auto tariffs seems to rest—much the justification for the steel and aluminum tariffs—on two very different arguments. Politically, he seems to believe the auto tariffs are powerful leverage that can be used to squeeze other concessions out of Europe and other trading partners. At a political rally in West Virginia during August, Trump bragged about telling Juncker how America would soon "put a 25 percent tax on every car that comes into the United States from the European Union."

That tax, of course, will be paid by Americans buying those cars. Still, the threat of tariffs has worried European officials, because they could disrupt international supply chains and harm American sales of European-made cars. If sales drop, American automakers could have to cut jobs too.

An analysis from the Center for Automotive Research, an industry-backed group, says a 25 percent tariff on automotive parts imports will result in up to 2 million fewer vehicle sales in the U.S., triggering more than 714,000 job losses in the industry and reducing U.S. economic output by $59 billion.

Trump's second argument for the tariffs is even more nonsensical. Under the terms of Section 232, there has to be a national security justification for the auto tariffs. There is no way that imported cars are a national security threat. At the July hearing hosted by the Commerce Department—a hearing held with the goal of finding such a justification—more than 40 people representing automakers, dealerships, and specialty equipment manufacturers repeatedly told the department that tariffs will increase costs for raw materials, which will hike prices for consumers, which will reduce car sales, which will cost manufacturing jobs, all without any benefit to national security.

Even if Trump listens to his advisers and holds off on the tariffs, the auto industry and consumers are likely to start feeling the pain from other aspects of Trump's trade policy. Tariffs on Chinese imports will hit many of the roughly 30,000 parts used to assemble vehicles at American automaking facilities, and higher component prices will increase the final sticker price on American-made cars.

With direct tariffs on cars and car parts, the effect will be more pronounced. A July analysis from the European Commission estimates that a 25 percent import tax on foreign cars would increase sale prices to American consumers by between $1,400 and $6,900, depending on the value of the vehicle. Similarly, the Center for Automotive Research says the average car sold in the U.S. would cost $4,400 more after tariffs, while the tariffs would also increase the price for American-made cars by about $1,200.

For much of the year, it was at least possible to give Trump the benefit of the doubt about the threatened auto tariffs. It was conceivable, after all, that he was just using them as a NAFTA renegotiating ploy. But if Swan is correct that Trump's "zest for car tariffs" has kept swelling even after the NAFTA negotiations are done...well, you might want to buy that new car sooner rather than later.

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Top National Police Organization Declares Support for Modest Federal Sentencing Reforms

What did it take? A promise not to make mandatory minimum reductions retroactive.

Mitch McConnellMIKE THEILER/REUTERS/NewscomCould it be? The nation's biggest police organization publicly coming out in favor of criminal justice reform?

Yes, it's true. The National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has just announced its support for the FIRST STEP Act, a prison reform bill that eases up federal incarceration for nonviolent crimes by expanding eligibility for halfway houses, keeping federal inmates closer to their homes, and banning the shackling of pregnant inmates, among other changes aimed at scaling back the harshness of our federal prison system.

The bill passed the House in May, and the Senate is working on some changes to it. The Senate version of the bill would reform mandatory minimum sentencing to give judges more leeway. It would also make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. That bill changed the law to reduce penalties for crack cocaine convictions to make them match powder cocaine convictions.

The bill is fairly modest, given the current congressional dynamics. Even though it's polling well, its future was uncertain. On Friday, its chances were bolstered significantly by the FOP's announcement that it's on board:

"By individually targeting those offenders with the lowest risk to offend, law enforcement and correctional officers can better focus their resources," [FOP President Chuck] Canterbury explained. "The F.O.P. played a key role in making sure that truly dangerous offenders, like those who commit crimes while armed and those who traffic and deadly narcotics like fentanyl, are ineligible to participate in the First Step program."

Note that even as legislators and police recognize the bad consequences of treating crack cocaine like a uniquely dangerous threat deserving harsher punishment, they're falling into the trap of treating fentanyl as a unique threat—and ignoring how the government's own attack on the medical use of painkillers pushes people toward the more dangerous black-market drugs that are more likely to cause overdoses.

The press release notes that the lawmakers have gotten FOP's support by promising not to make other sentencing reforms (besides the Fair Sentencing Act) retroactive. So those handed mandatory minimum life sentences for a drug offense under federal three-strikes regulations cannot request mercy to get their sentences cut to 25 years. This seems cruel, but hey, it keeps prison guards on the job. The bill also earned FOP support by granting guards the authority to carry concealed firearms on prison property as long as they're outside the secure perimeter of the prison.

But regardless of the gaps in the bill, it would still make life better for thousands of people currently in prison for nonviolent drug crimes. And with Attorney General Jeff Sessions being shown the door, the bill's prospects for passage may be improving. Sessions opposed weakening mandatory minimum sentences, but President Donald Trump seems open to these modest reforms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he's going to see if he's got the votes to get it passed during the upcoming lame duck session.

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If This Bill Passes, Possessing Pot in Texas Will Be Treated Less Harshly Than Distributing Straws in San Francisco

A new bill in the Texas legislature would repeal criminal penalties for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

Alana290/Dreamstime.comAlana290/Dreamstime.comA new bill in the Texas legislature would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis.

Rep. Joe Moody (D–El Paso) today introduced HB 63. If it becomes law, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana would be a civil infraction, punishable by a maximum $250 fine. Currently, possession of any marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor and can earn you up to $2,000 in penalties and six months in jail.

Some 41,000 people were convicted of marijuana possession in Texas between August 2017 and August 2018, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Moody's bill would also bar police officers from arresting someone solely for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.

"Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session," says Moody in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Moody's bill is pretty limited compared to other drug reform efforts around the country. Marijuana would still be prohibited, and those who rack up more than three civil infractions would be liable for criminal charges on a fourth offense.

Still, that's more lenient than San Francisco's treatment of repeat violators of its plastic straw ban. And it's far superior to the status quo, says Heather Fazio, director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

"Penalties are unreasonably harsh, even for a tiny amount of marijuana," Fazio tells Reason, noting that in addition to the criminal sanctions there are a host of collateral consequences that come with drug offenses. "Hindered access to education, or housing, drivers' licenses' suspension for six months, a suspension of your right to carry, your right to self-defense for seven years."

There are some signs that reform is starting to win friends across the political spectrum. Earlier this summer, the Republican Party of Texas included a call for marijuana decriminalization in its platform. And in an October debate, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said that he would be open to legislation that made simple possession a Class C misdemeanor, meaning it would remain a criminal offense but not come with the possibility of jail time.

"One thing I don't want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana," Abbott said during that debate. Last week he was re-elected by a large margin.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in June found 69 percent of registered Texas voters support reduced penalties for marijuana, and 53 percent support legalization. A full 62 percent of Republicans supported reduced penalties, as did 79 percent of Democrats.

Past efforts for marijuana reform in the Texas Legislature have sputtered out. In the 2017 legislative session, two reform bills with bipartisan support managed to be get voted out of committee—including a decriminalization measure and a medical marijuana bill—but conservatives blocked both from going to the full floor for a vote.

Fazio says she's optimistic about the prospects for reform this year.

"We've got more momentum, especially with the governor now stating his willingness to work with lawmakers on reducing penalties," she says. "I think 2019 will be the year we see this meaningful reform made in Texas, and it's so desperately needed."

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Michigan's Pot Tax Is Too Low, Mitch Albom Says, Because It Could Be Higher

The Detroit Free Press columnist seems oblivious to black-market competition.

YouTubeYouTubeUnder Proposal 1, the marijuana legalization initiative that Michigan voters approved last week, cannabis products will be subject to a 10 percent special sales tax. Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom thinks that rate is way too low:

The goal [of legalization], at least partly, was to redirect the money going to (then) illegal drug dealers and put it to better public use through the government.

And how did we do this? By passing amongst the lowest tax rates on pot in the country. Dealers in Michigan will only have to shoulder a 10 percent excise tax—plus collect our normal 6 percent sales tax, which is what you pay if you buy a toaster at Best Buy.

By comparison, the state of Washington charges 37 percent sales tax on pot. Colorado takes a 15 percent sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax. Oregon, which doesn't have a sales tax on anything else, slaps 17 percent on marijuana. California levies a 15 percent excise tax plus a product-tax rate on every flower and leaf.

And Michigan? We just voted in about the cheapest deal in America. Which means private marijuana enterprises can make more profit here than almost anywhere else.

As Cheech might say to Chong. "Whoa, dude. We did that?"

We did.

No doubt Albom thought he was being clever by deploying a Cheech & Chong reference to portray supporters of legalization as idiots, a rhetorical technique that was already hackneyed when the drug czar used it two decades ago. But if anyone is hazy on the subject of marijuana taxes, it is Albom, who seems to assume that higher rates inevitably mean more money for "public use." If that were true, why stop at 37 percent? Why not 50 or 100 percent?

The problem is that cannabis consumers can continue buying pot the way they always have and are apt to do so if the prices in state-licensed stores are substantially higher than they are on the black market. Politicians who want to displace the black market, or even just maximize tax revenue, ignore that tendency at their peril. Canadian legislators, noting that heavy marijuana taxes in places like California and Washington had made it hard for licensed merchants to compete with old-fashioned pot dealers, settled on a rate similar to Michigan's. So did Massachusetts. Those decisions were based not on ideological opposition to high taxes but on a practical understanding of what happens when legal businesses are undersold by unlicensed competitors: Much, maybe most, of the market is not taxed at all.

Albom, by contrast, seems genuinely oblivious to the effects of competition. "Collecting the lowest taxes doesn't mean you'll get the lowest prices," he says. "Economics might suggest that, but greed is not subject to rules. After all, the state won't be selling you your marijuana, private businesses will. They can charge what they want."

Yes, they can charge whatever they want, as long as they don't mind losing business to competitors who charge less. According to Albom, some people are so greedy that they don't care about making money.

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The VA's Gross Mismanagement Does Nothing to Honor Vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs is honoring veterans of Veterans Day while simultaneously screwing them over again and again.

|||Paul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomPaul Hennessy/Polaris/NewscomAll across America, Veterans Affairs (VA) departments are putting on events to honor veterans for their service. That's nice, but a more meaningful way to honor them would be to address the serious mismanagement that has come to define the department.

In 2014, an audit revealed that 100,000 veterans had been waiting in months- and yearslong lines for care at 700 VA hospitals, and that employees had attempted to mask the issue by falsifying scheduling records. At least 13 percent of scheduling personnel said they did so at the direction of supervisors. Later attempts to clean the backlog have led to appointments being improperly cancelled altogether.

For many veterans, the long wait times were the least of their concerns. This year a Wisconsin veteran with mental health issues froze to death on New Year's Eve after a VA hospital released him without an escort. A few weeks later, a veteran sued a Connecticut hospital after a surgeon left "an abandoned scalpel" in his abdomen. (A New York Times story used the Connecticut hospital's 5-star rating to show the flaws in the VA's ratings system.) Investigations have found practitioners on the VA payroll with revoked licenses, medical malpractice claims, and disciplinary issues.

Meanwhile, thanks to IT issues, hundreds of thousands of veterans have yet to receive education and housing payments supposedly guaranteed by the GI Bill. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Bill, which expanded the original bill's benefits. But the bill did not allocate funds to update the department's antiquated computer system to meet the increased processing demand.

As the Cato Institute's Michael F. Cannon has explained, that the VA's largest problem is...itself. More specifically, the fact that it's controlled by a central government. While he says veterans should be weary of "false 'privatization' efforts," which currently includes a plan to treat the VA like Medicare by writing government checks to private doctors, Cannon is for reforms that "would transfer ownership of the V.A.'s physical capital (land, structures, gizmos) to private citizens—ideally, to the people the VA exists to serve: veterans." That sort of privatization "would constitute a hefty transfer of wealth to veterans that would be a large and welcome step toward making good on Congress' promise to care for them."

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Trump's Illegal Anti-Asylum Presidential Proclamation

He has manufactured a fake border crisis to justify an illicit power grab.

Trump DonkeyHoter via Foter.comPresident Donald Trump issued a proclamation on Friday that effectively scrapped the asylum laws passed by a duly elected Congress. He claims that the approaching migrant caravan justifies a ban on granting asylum to anyone entering between ports of entry on an emergency basis. This means that both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the international treaties that America has signed requiring it to offer an asylum hearing to those fleeing oppression and persecution would now be null and void.

As I note in my new column for The Week, this is a sweeping power grab that should distress everyone—especially rule-of-law conservatives who earn their living berating immigrants for minor transgressions. But what is even more disturbing about Trump's order is that it is based on a fake crisis. There is no stampede at the southwestern border justifying an emergency proclamation, without going through proper rule-making procedures. As this chart provided by National Immigration Forum's Zuzana Cepla shows, the number of apprehensions are literally at a 22-year low. Yet no presdient ever felt the need to engage in such extraordinary usurpation of exisitng laws:

National Immigration ForumNational Immigration Forum

Furthermore, the only reason that Central American asylum seekers are even trying to enter between ports of entry is because border agents have taken to illicitly shooing them away from authorized ports, a practice—called "metering"—that is under legal challenge.

In short, Trump first manufactured a fake border crisis and then used it to justify overruling existing laws. This is pretty much unprecedented, and the ACLU is suing the administration over it.

Go here to read my column.

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Navy Veteran Rep.-Elect Dan Crenshaw: 'Stop Looking for Reasons to Be Offended'

A culture of outrage doesn't help anyone.

YouTube Screenshot via Saturday Night LiveYouTube Screenshot via Saturday Night Live

Navy SEAL veteran and congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas), whose eyepatch was the subject of a much-maligned joke earlier this month, says people need to stop getting offended so easily.

First, some background. On November 3, Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson made a joke about the eyepatch, which Crenshaw started wearing after losing an eye in Afghanistan. "You may be surprised to hear he's a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie," Davidson said. "I'm sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever."

Davidson was roundly criticized for the bad-taste joke. And then, this past Saturday, the comic apologized on the air to Crenshaw, who by then had won his election. Crenshaw showed up to accept the apology in person. It made for an entertaining segment, as Crenshaw got a bit of revenge with some jabs of his own.

This morning, Crenshaw spoke with the hosts of NBC's Today about his SNL appearance. "It felt like the right thing to do," he said. "I would appreciate it if everybody would stop looking for reasons to be offended, and that's what this was all about":

Crenshaw has handled the controversy admirably from the start. The day after Davidson originally mocked him, Crenshaw wrote on Twitter: "I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended."

His reaction has been a breath of fresh air in the midst of a 24-hour news cycle that likes nothing more than fresh outrage. As Reason's Robby Soave pointed out in May, too many conservatives and liberals love to one-up each other when it comes to finding things to get outraged about. This is particularly pointless when it comes to comedians. Some things (like baby rape or war wounds) don't make for good jokes. But telling a bad joke should be neither a crime nor an unforgivable offense. Searching for things to get offended over just perpetuates a culture of outrage, which doesn't help anyone but professional outrage-mongers.

Bonus link: Remy is OUTRAGED over outrageous outrage:

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Bureaucrats Consider Shutting Down Informal Play School for 2-Year-Olds Because It's Too Safe

The 45-year-old cooperative has ground rules, which means D.C. government considers it an unlicensed daycare.

PlayschoolOksun70 / DreamstimeBureaucrats in Washington, D.C. may make it impossible for an informal parent group to meet.

For 45 years, parents have brought their two-year-olds to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation as part of a cooperative play school endeavor. It's a chance to socialize with other haggard moms and (presumably some) dads dealing with the terrible twos, and it's volunteer run. But as Karin Lips, mom of a baby she hopes will join the club in two years, writes in The Washington Post:

On Sept. 7, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education investigators inspected a playgroup of toddlers to assess whether the cooperative was an illegal daycare. The investigators issued Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School parents a "statement of deficiencies," alleging that the Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School was violating the regulations that apply to a "child development facility."

The problem—which isn't actually a problem, unless you define it as such—is that because the play group has some rules and requirements, including the fact that parents must submit emergency contact forms, as well as tell the group when their kid is sick, the play group is not a play group but a "child development facility." And child development facilities are subject to regulation and licensing by the government.

As Lips points out, this actually creates an incentive for parent-run play groups to be less safe, because if they don't have rules about emergency contact info, and how to evacuate and such, they are considered officially "informal" and can go on their merry, possibly slipshod, way:

The D.C. Council should consider what will happen if the government regulates voluntary cooperatives like this out of existence. For starters, these parents and 2-year-olds will be worse off, denied the opportunity to get together for a few hours each week to visit with their friends.

But this regulatory encroachment could be the District's first step toward broader government overreach in this area and the crowding-out of voluntary associations. From nanny-shares to babysitting co-ops to regularly scheduled times to play at public parks, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education investigators could find new opportunities to crack down on the voluntary ways that D.C. families approach playtime and child care for their children.

Take a step back and you see a group of people—toddlers and parents—enjoying themselves. They're meeting, playing, and perfectly content. But another group is trying to butt in and end the fun—and the convenience.

Just who's acting like a two-year-old?

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House Democrats Plan to Use Their New Majority to Target Trump. Let's Hope It Keeps Them Too Busy to Legislate: Reason Roundup

Plus: menthol cigarettes may be banned, Big Tech warms to new regulation, and NYC building raided over illegal Airbnb listings.

modified from KCS Presse / MEGA / Newscommodified from KCS Presse / MEGA / NewscomWhat's a subpoena cannon? We're about to find out... Democrats are prepping to weaponize the House of Representatives against President Donald Trump—stockpiling potential subpoenas, readying the proverbial Pelosi boxing gloves, etc. "House Democrats plan to probe every aspect of President Trump's life and work, from family business dealings to the Space Force to his tax returns to possible 'leverage' by Russia," reports Mike Allen at Axios. He adds:

One senior Democratic source said the new majority, which takes power in January, is preparing a "subpoena cannon," like an arena T-shirt cannon.

I cannot tell if this is a joke. It's hard to tell when Allen is joking, and the same goes for #Resistance Democrats. In any case, a "subpoena cannon" would be gauche and ridiculous and I really hope it happens. We all know 2019 can only get more absurd than this year, so why not kick things off in a befitting fashion?

The Axios folks have put together a list of 85 potential investigations that House Democrats want to launch. "We have our boxing gloves on," incoming House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey told the publication. "I'm ready. And so is Nancy [Pelosi]."

Incoming House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) says that Trump is likely to resist requests and subpoenas from the committee and that he foresees the fight going all the way to the Supreme Court. If that's the case, Brett Kavanaugh could wind up deciding Trump's fate. Fun!

ABC News reports that Democrats are homing in especially on Trump arranging payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, both of whom allege former trysts with Trump.

"Since the payments were not campaign contributions based on the [Federal Election Commission] rulings it would be as useless as Mueller's absurd investigation of Russian collusion which has established that the only Russian involvement was collusion with Hillary and DNC to produce fraudulent Steele dossier," Trump counsel Rudy Giuliani said in a statement.

FREE MINDS

Jonesing for GDPR. So far, the European Union's General Data Protection Rule (GDPR) has been bad news that promises only to get worse. Naturally, powerful Americans are eyeing it enviously.

For a while, big tech companies were resistant. But now that they already have to comply in European markets or face major fines, and with meddling of some sort all but certain in the U.S., many have started pushing for Congress to adopt the same rules as in the E.U.

Both the tech companies and the politicians are trying to sell this to the public under the ruse that it will protect their privacy. But the few consumer privacy protections are 1) debatable in their effects and 2) interspersed with all sorts of anti-competitive and pro-censorship mandates. If it's consumer privacy protection people seek, we don't need all this extra baggage imported too.

Read more on GDPR woes from Reason columnist Andrea O'Sullivan.

FREE MARKETS

What police state? New York City police swarmed and raided a fancy Midtown apartment building in October. The hardened criminals inside? Residents sharing their extra rooms or renting out apartments on Airbnb without the permission of city bureaucrats. Police passed out 27 violation notices at the Atelier condo—and that could be just the beginning.

"The raid...may be a sign of what's to come. New York and other cities are seeking to limit short-term rentals that can run afoul of local laws designed to limit hotel-style stays in residential buildings," suggests Josh Barbanel at The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, a

new city law due to take effect in February could lead to a surge in the number of summonses issued. The law requires booking sites to transmit information about every short-term rental to the city. A lawsuit filed by the industry to stop the new law is pending in federal court in Manhattan.

FDA thinks we need more black markets. It's not just flavored e-cigarettes that are drawing the ire of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who wants to keep flavored vaping products relegated to tobacco and vape shop sales. According to The Wall Street Journal, Gottlieb also wants a total ban on menthol cigarette sales.

Rich millennials still sold on cryptocurrency. Despite this year's drops in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency prices, "affluent millennials"—defined by pollsters as folks ages 24 through 38 with at least $100,000 in household income or $50,000 in investable assets—are still sticking with them. A new survey finds that 25 percent say they currently hold some cryptocurrency.

Old habits die hard. "General Motors has recharged since being bailed out by the government in bankruptcy nearly a decade ago," writes the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. "But now Government Motors is back: The largest U.S. automaker wants the Trump Administration to juice its bottom line with a truckload of electric-car mandates and subsidies."

FOLLOW-UP

Checking in on some of the still-contested midterm races from last week. Democrat Kirsten Sinema is still narrowly beating Republican Martha McSally in Arizona...Florida Republican Rick Scott is doing everything in his power to prevent all valid ballots from being counted, as he tops Democrat Bill Nelson by about 0.15 percentage points...Democrat Stacey Abrams is still trying to force a runoff election in the Georgia governor's race.

QUICK HITS

  • The Woolsey Fire continues to claim land—and lives—in California. By Sunday, the fire had ravaged 85,550 acres of land and destroyed at last 177 buildings, including the homes of Miley Cyrus and other celebrities. "Wildfires across California have scorched nearly 200,000 acres and killed at least 31 people in total in recent days," the Los Angeles Times reports.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining more people than ever.
  • After 15 terms, California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher won't be returning to Congress next year. The Associated Press called his race on Saturday for Democrat Harley Rouda.
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Chicago Expelled a Male Student 4 Days Before Graduation Because His Ex Made a Dubious Sexual Violence Claim

He's suing the university—and the accuser.

ChicagoRdsmith4 / Wikimedia CommonsA former student who was expelled for sexual misconduct just four days before graduating is suing the University of Chicago for allegedly violating his due process rights.

He has also sued his accuser—his ex-girlfriend—which is a rare step for those seeking justice in such cases. Most lawsuits born of shoddy campus sexual misconduct adjudication solely target the institution.

That the accused student, "John Doe," has chosen to sue his accuser, "Jane Roe," is indicative of the serious, malicious actions he ascribes to her. According to Doe's lawsuit, their relationship was entirely consensual, and Roe did not dispute that. After they broke up, they continued to have sex, and those encounters were all consensual as well. Roe did not allege wrongdoing until her friends—to whom she had trash-talked Doe, and promised to stop seeing her ex—discovered she was still sleeping with him. She then claimed Doe had engaged in nonconsensual sex with her after she had passed out.

"UC expelled [John Doe] despite overwhelming evidence that Jane Roe fabricated her story because she was too embarrassed to admit to her friends at UC that she was engaged in a secret sexual relationship with her ex-boyfriend," wrote Doe's lawyers in his lawsuit.

Obviously, the lawsuit only represents one side of the story, and presents the facts in a light most favorable to Doe. There appears to have been an extremely messy break-up and subsequent friends-with-benefits period; no doubt there is some blame to go around.

But a panel of university officials litigated their relationship and found Roe blameless for what had transpired. Doe actually filed a counterclaim accusing Roe of misconduct and violence. Officials scoffed at this and cleared Roe, according to the lawsuit.

Doe was not so lucky. In fact, he was expelled—even though one of his witnesses, a friend of Roe's, had told the university that the friend had spoken with Roe for an hour via FaceTime immediately before the encounter. This witness, "CG," said Roe did not seem too drunk to consent, and in fact bragged that she and Doe were about to have "angry sex," just before the call ended.

Again, these are all details from the lawsuit, though they directly quote from statements and text messages in the university's investigatory file. The full lawsuit is here.

To summarize the back story, according to the lawsuit: Doe has claimed that he and Roe began dating during the fall 2017 semester. She spent so much time at his place that his roommates asked her to help pay for utilities. "For the most part, we had a good relationship—he was nice to me, we enjoyed each [other's] company, and I was happy," Roe wrote, according to the lawsuit.

That came to an end during winter break, when Doe accompanied Roe on a family trip to Costa Rica. During an argument, Roe punched Doe in the face and scratched him, and Doe spit at Roe. This caused them to break up.

When classes resumed, they continued to have sex, despite some persistent hurt feelings. Roe did not think her friends would approve of her continuing to sleep with Doe, so she misled them about what was going on. Roe texted a friend from her hometown, "KH," the following:

We both talked shit to our friends and they'd all be pissed if they knew we went back to each other in any capacity

So now idk where to go from here

I might just use him for sex when I want it and have no emotional connection

Roe subsequently misled KH as well, telling this friend that she was not having sex with Doe when she actually was.

"Like I don't want you to feel hurt or betrayed or anything but like I promise you that I'm not going back to him ever," Roe texted KH. "He's not my go to it's always you."

KH replied: "I really don't want u to go back to him or even be friends with him and if u do its really going to hurt me because things went back to normal and I'm closer to you than I ever was and I don't want you to be ruined again."

Roe took elaborate steps to deceive her friends: She changed Doe's name in her phone so it wouldn't look like he was sending her messages, and she turned off location services on her phone so they wouldn't know she was heading to his apartment.

That all these sexual encounters were consensual is not disputed. "I will say once again that each time we had sex post-relationship was consensual," Roe later told the investigators.

The only exception was a March 9 encounter. Doe invited Roe over to his place after a party that involved drinking. Well after 1:00 a.m., Roe posted Snapchat videos of herself in Doe's apartment. Around 3:00 a.m., Roe began facetiming with a friend, "CG." According to the lawsuit:

CG stated that Jane Roe facetimed her from Plaintiff's bed at around 3 a.m., Plaintiff and Jane Roe were wearing minimal clothing and the three of them talked for about an hour. CG said that "by all appearances, everything seemed consensual." Jane Roe "was able to participate fully and communicated clearly in the conversation." Jane Roe "was not incapacitated." After an hour, Jane Roe told CG that it was time for her to go and "angry fuck" with the Plaintiff.

Doe alleges that Roe's late-night Snapchat videos from his apartment effectively exposed her dishonesty to her friends. She then claimed that she had been too drunk to remember what was happening, and any sex between them was nonconsensual. A month later, she filed a complaint with the associate dean of students.

The ensuing investigation was unfair to Doe, he claims. He was not initially made aware of the charges against him; he did not know, for instance, which aspects of their relationship Roe had cited as evidence of wrongdoing. His hearing was scheduled for May 31—in the middle of final exams—and he was not informed of Roe's specific allegations until May 17.

Investigators compiled a report that consisted of interviews with 26 witnesses (including KH and CG). But the only people to testify at the hearing were Doe and Roe. They did so separately: The university did not allow cross-examination, and it did not permit lawyers to be present. The lawsuit describes the hearing as wildly prejudiced against Doe. Based on a preponderance of the evidence, officials found him responsible for having done things Roe never even alleged in any formal capacity, including that he was responsible for some bruises on her body. (One witness, "MS," testified that Roe had once fallen through a glass table, and she had posted a picture of her injury on social media with the caption, "My RA's just expressed concern for me after seeing my super bruised legs and I had to explain to them that I just fell through a glass table and am not, in fact, being abused.")

The university concluded that Doe had engaged in nonconsensual sex with Roe, as well as "coercive behavior," including "shaming," "name-calling," and "repeatedly asking for sex after being told no." His punishment was immediate expulsion, four days before he was scheduled to graduate. His appeal was denied. He also lost the job he had been promised after graduation, as it was contingent upon finishing his degree. He became depressed and suicidal.

The lawsuit accuses the university of breach of contract and abridgment of due process. It also contends that Roe defamed Doe and portrayed him in a false light.

I would certainly like to hear her side of the story. It could be the case that there was good reason for the university to reach a guilty verdict, and that the process was fairer than it seems. But it's difficult to square Roe's texts and calls to friends with what she alleged, at least according to the lawsuit.

One final note: The story was actually covered by the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon. The author of that article—a sorority sister of Roe's, according to a disclaimer at the end—interviewed Roe, who said:

After the relationship ended, she said, she realized his behavior had been abusive.

"A lot of people have this idea that an abusive relationship is—you're throwing punches at the other person. But there's a lot more to it. You can have emotional abuse, verbal abuse," she said.

She said that attending a Panhellenic Council workshop—a film screening and discussion on relationship violence—was "eye-opening," confirming for her that she had been involved in an abusive relationship. Realizing this, she resolved to "move on" and put the experience behind her.

Doe told the newspaper, "I did not do this. I swear to that with every ounce of my being."

Even Roe thought the expulsion was a harsh outcome, she told The Maroon.

"To go through four full years of college, and to have paid for all of it, and get nothing for it, is a terrible thing to have happen," she said, while adding that "this all could have been avoided had he not behaved the way he did and made the decisions he made, and he is the only person to blame for him being expelled."

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Brickbat: Who You Gonna Call?

rainbow flagBumbleedee / Dreamstime.comPaul Makonda, governor of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, has asked residents to report gay people to him. Makonda has vowed mass arrests of "homosexuals in our city."

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Instead of Making Today About Trump, Let's Remember the Dead of World War I

"If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied," wrote Rudyard Kipling of the Great War. Think about that, not contemporary politics.

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomCHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomAnyone expecting the midterm elections to lance the boil of ultra-banal media coverage of Donald Trump's presidency has got to be disappointed. Less than a week after the Democrats picked up control of the House of Representatives and a bunch of state legislatures and governor's mansions, the media and politicians seem laser-focused on the small stuff, like whether CNN's Jim Acosta manhandled a White House intern during a press conference.

President Trump is deeply complicit in this, of course. His primary method of operation is to keep all eyes glued on him, no matter what. Thus, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I is now mostly being discussed in terms of Trump's unwillingness to venture out into the rain to pay his respects. Here's a representative tweet, from a British member of Parliament:

John Kerry, a former Secretary of State, United States senator, presidential candidate, and wounded Vietnam vet, got his digs in as well:

For what it's worth, The New York Post reports that the president did in fact go outside today, to a different cemetery, and in the rain, though bitching about it.

At his final stop in Paris, President Trump sucked it up and got soaked — but didn't seem happy about it.

A day after Trump was criticized for skipping a trip to an American cemetery due to inclement weather, the president spoke at a different US cemetery in the rain, and expressed jealousy that some of the veterans in the audience were seated under cover.

"You look so comfortable up there. Under shelter. As we're getting drenched," Trump told a World War II vet. "You're really smart people."

Here's an alternative way to think about the end of World War I, a terrible, stupid war made more terrible and stupid by America's late-breaking participation. Focus on the number of people who died instead:

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease. The Triple Entente (also known as the Allies) lost about 6 million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead. This article lists the casualties of the belligerent powers based on official published sources. About two-thirds of military deaths in World War I were in battle, unlike the conflicts that took place in the 19th century when the majority of deaths were due to disease. Nevertheless, disease, including the 1918 flu pandemic and deaths while held as prisoners of war, still caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents.

More here.

And take some time to read Rudyard Kipling's "Epitaphs of the War," penned between 1914 and 1918. Kipling, who carries a whole hell of a lot of baggage of his own, was originally in favor of the war and helped his son get a commission despite eyesight so poor it was disqualifying. His son was killed, the body never recovered. Kipling wasn't a pacifist by any stretch and he didn't necessarily think World War I was avoidable so much as insanely and incompetently prosecuted. Whatever his thinking, he penned lines that still burn with anger and resentment, including these:

If any question why we died,

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Every leader should read "Epitaphs" before considering military action.

We'd all do a little better using historical commemorations for a moment of reflection instead of advancing the latest partisan outrage.

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No More Vietnam Syndrome: New at Reason

guvendemir/iStockguvendemir/iStockU.S. foreign policy for decades proceeded in the shadow of the failure in Vietnam. Some 58,000 Americans were killed in that war. Stateside protests were fierce enough to persuade President Lyndon Johnson to sit out the '68 election. Seven years later, after about 2 million civilian Vietnamese deaths, the U.S. finally gave up without having prevented a Communist takeover of the country.

"Vietnam syndrome" restricted our foreign conflicts, for a time, to such swift and relatively petty adventures as 1983's post-coup invasion of Grenada (which, though it involved fewer than 8,000 U.S. troops, did kill 19 U.S. soldiers, wound 116 more, and prompt a massive majority of the U.N. General Assembly to dub the American action a "flagrant violation of international law") and the 1989 overthrow of troublesome Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, writes Brian Doherty.

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The Wild Rise of Lyndon LaRouche: New at Reason

What a conspiracy theorist, a Vietnam War deserter, and a Trump adviser have in common

Operation Chaos Henry Holt and CompanyOperation Chaos Henry Holt and CompanyPaul Krassner reviews the new book Operation Chaos by Matthew Sweet in the latest issue of Reason. A snippet:

In March 1981, I delivered a comedy routine cum keynote address at a convention of Yippies. I asked the audience a rhetorical question: "How would you like to be a Secret Service agent guarding Ronald Reagan, knowing that his vice president, George Bush, is the former head of the CIA?" Satire would soon be outdistanced by reality: At the end of the month, John Hinckley shot the president, hoping to impress the actress Jodie Foster and take her bowling.

On April 2, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner quoted a dispatch from the New Solidarity International Press Service, an outfit run by followers of the unlovable conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. "A group of terrorists and drug traffickers linked to Playboy magazine," it said, "met in New York City's Greenwich Village area and publicly discussed an assassination of President Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George Bush. The meeting, convened by the Yippie organization, featured former Playboy editor Paul Krassner and numerous individuals associated with High Timesmagazine, Hustler magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times."

I was scheduled to perform stand-up at Budd Friedman's Improvisation Comedy Club in Hollywood the next month, and Friedman had asked me to try to get some advance publicity. "Paul," he told me after the report appeared, "that's not exactly what I meant."

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Criticize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Her Socialist Views, Not Her Struggle to Find Affordable Housing in D.C.

This problem should inspire sympathy, not scorn.

AOCANDREW KELLY/REUTERS/NewscomA New York Times profile of newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted that the young democratic socialist was having some trouble finding an apartment in Washington, D.C.

"I have three months without a salary before I'm a member of Congress," said Ocasio-Cortez. "So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real."

This comment was the hook for an odd segment on Fox News; the panelists sort of seemed to be mocking her while simultaneously agreeing that D.C. is unaffordable for renters. It sounded like they really wanted to accuse Ocasio-Cortez of hypocrisy, but there's nothing hypocritical about being a socialist who is poor.

Their callousness gave Ocasio-Cortez an opening.

"40% of ALL Americans currently struggle to pay for one basic need like food or rent," she tweeted. "The real scandal is that at the wealthiest point in our history, we are at one of our most unequal. Most Americans are barely scraping by."

As in other major cities, D.C.'s housing issues are partly the fault of government policy: most notably, zoning laws that make it difficult to build new apartment buildings. The city council even moved to restrict Airbnb type arrangements—the exact kind of short-term housing Ocasio-Cortez is currently in need of—to appease residents who are fixated on the downside of greater density (i.e., having more neighbors who occasonally make noise).

The free market could help alleviate housing shortages in D.C. and elsewhere, if only government would get out of the way. It's perfectly appropriate to criticize the kinds of anti-market policy prescriptions a socialist like Ocasio-Cortez is likely to recommend. But let's not beat up on her for failing to have as much access to wealth as the average member of Congress. This problem should inspire sympathy, not scorn.

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Trump's Military Parade Would Have Been Foolish, Expensive, Authoritarian. Canceling It Was the Right Move.

There will be no military parade today. There shouldn't be one any other day, either.

President Donald Trump is in France today, attending ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War.

That's a far, far better way for him to spend his time (and our tax dollars) than what originally had been penciled into his calendar for today: a military parade through Washington, D.C., that would have been completely unnecessary, ridiculously expensive, and symbolically awful.

Trump canceled the plan for such a parade in August, citing cost overruns after Pentagon officials leaked to the press that the parade was on track to cost $92 million—about three times the initial budget. That was three months before the parade was supposed to happen, and this is the Pentagon we're talking about, so there's really no way to know how large the final price tag would have been. It's true that $92 million is a drop in the bucket of federal spending—heck, it's not even 0.01 percent of the Pentagon's budget—but America is going to face trillion-dollar annual deficits over the next few years, and you can't start saving money until you stop wasting it on frivolous displays of militarism that accomplish nothing.

When Trump initially conceived of the parade—after returning from a visit to France for Bastille Day in July 2017—he pitched the idea as a show of American military force and a way to honor the men and women of the armed forces. The problem? Veterans groups, members of Congress, and top military officials said it was a bit too much militarism for their tastes. Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told Politico the idea was "overwhelmingly unpopular" among "folks from all political backgrounds."

Polls show that a vast majority of American military personnel are opposed to the idea of having such a parade. Presumably, the America they volunteered to risk their lives for isn't the type of place where this sort of thing happens.

To be clear, an American military parade should not happen at all, but scheduling it for the weekend of Veterans Day just added insult to injury. Veterans Day, of course, is celebrated in November because it was originally Armistice Day—back when we were foolish enough to believe that November of 1918 was indeed the end of all wars. The name has changed, but the purpose of the day remains the same: a somber remembrance of the horrors that war has inflicted, not as a celebration of the terrible tools used to kill, wound, and maim human beings.

Let it be said that Trump is doing the right thing today by celebrating peace, rather than indulging his fetish for America's power to make war.

He gets credit even though he ended up canceling plans to visit an American military cemetery in France because of bad weather, and even though he may have mistakenly believed he was going to see another military parade in France like the Bastille Day one that he so enjoyed, and even though he's leaving France one day before the opening of an international peace conference hosted by Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron.

He gets credit for all that because at least he's not holding a parade celebrating war on a day that should be a reminder of how awful it is.

If the president returns from France determined to have a parade anyway, it should be, as Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) has suggested, a parade celebrating the men and women who have fought during the 17-plus years of American's seemingly interminable War on Terror. And it should coincide with the ending of those largely unauthorized conflicts. The last time tanks went rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, the justification was the end of the First Gulf War. If Trump brings the troops home, he should get his parade.

In the meantime, no. Just no.