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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2018 December 1-31

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Prosecutors Recommend Prison for Cohen, Say He Paid off Women on Trump's Behalf

Manafort, meanwhile, tried to conceal that he was still talking to Trump administration officials after he was indicted.

Federal prosecutors are recommending that former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen serve a "substantial" prison sentence (around four years) for his eight tax fraud and campaign violation crimes, according to a memo released today.

But also, significantly, the memo documents Cohen's claims that he was operating at the behest of Trump when he paid off two women Trump allegedly had affairs with to keep them from going to the press during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen pleaded guilty to those crimes back in August and said back then that he arranged payments on then-candidate Trump's behalf and at his request. Cohen was paid for this work through some money laundering methods to conceal the political purposes behind the payments.

So Cohen actually saying he was doing it at Trump's request isn't new. But one of the sentencing memos released today (by federal prosecutors with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) makes it clear they believe Cohen:

Cohen memoJustice Department

"Individual-1" in these memos is Trump, just in case it's not clear. And no, these aren't charges coming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigations. These are all from New York's federal courts and are unrelated to the investigation of whether anybody in Trump's circle coordinated with Russian officials in their attempts to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 election.

That's the other sentencing memo. Mueller's office also submitted a sentencing memo today for Cohen's other guilty plea from the end of November, where he acknowledged lying to Congress when he said negotiations with Russia to build a hotel in Moscow had ended before the primary season kicked off in the spring of 2016 (they had not). Mueller's memo says Cohen has met with the special counsel's office in seven different sessions to provide valuable information. Cohen told them he had been in communication with Russian nationals as far back as November 2015, a few months after Trump formally declared he was running for president, to try to arrange possible meetings between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mueller's memo is not giving a specific sentencing recommendation, but because Cohen is being cooperative and has accepted responsibility for his lies, his office is requesting that any prison time for which he might be sentenced for misleading Congress be run concurrently with the sentences he gets for his fraud and campaign violation plea bargain with the New York office.

Both the New York sentencing memo and Mueller's memo can be read here.

Trump tweets a response!

Well … okay, then.

Meanwhile, some more details are coming out from the Department of Justice explaining why they say former campaign head Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement conditions with them:

It is a mystery how Manafort could have thought he could have contacts with Trump administration officials after he was indicted and not be found out. But there you have it.

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Wisconsin Republicans Undercut Incoming Governor's Ability to Cancel $3 Billion Foxconn Giveaway

Now that a Democrat will be governor, Wisconsin GOP is suddenly uncomfortable with letting governors direct economic development schemes.

Nikhilesh Haval/Photoshot/NewscomNikhilesh Haval/Photoshot/NewscomAs Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker heads for the door, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have passed a series of bills that could kneecap his incoming successor's ability to control ongoing lawsuits that involve the state, limit his ability to alter the implementation of state laws, and block his plan to renegotiate a massive taxpayer-funded subsidy for Foxconn, the Taiwan-based tech firm that is planning to build a new manufacturing facility near Milwaukee

Governor-elect Tony Evers, a Democrat, unseated the two-term Walker in November's election, even as Wisconsin Republicans enlarged their majorities in the state House and state Senate—thanks in part to legislative district maps that favor the GOP.

Among Evers' campaign promises was a pledge to review the $3 billion tax break Walker offered to Foxconn. During the campaign, Evers criticized the Foxconn subsidy as "a lousy deal" and promised to disband the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the public-private agency created in 2011 by Walker to serve as a conduit for state-backed tax breaks, loans, and other corporate give-aways. The deal with Foxconn already looks bad for the state—the subsidies promised by Walker amount to $230,000 per job, and that's if Foxconn follows through with its promise to create 13,000 jobs in the state. Already, Foxconn seems to be backing away from that pledge, saying last month that it may have to import Chinese workers to fill some roles at the yet-to-be-built facility.

Even before the high-profile Foxconn deal, the WEDC had been criticized in audits for poor oversight of its own spending and, as Reason's Peter Suderman put it in 2016,"an almost total failure of transparency and accountability." Walker also used the agency to deliver more than $400 million in taxpayer subsidies for the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks.

Implementing changes to either the Foxconn deal or the WEDC will be more difficult if Walker signs the bills passed this week by the state legislature, one of which "would shield the state jobs agency from his control and allow the board to choose its leader until September, likely at least delaying Evers' ability to maneuver on the Foxconn subsidy," the Associated Press reported this week. Other bills would block Evers' ability to withdraw Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit over Obamacare and would limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election. Both chambers of the legislature passed the bills in early morning sessions this week after all-night debates, but Walker has yet to sign them.

The proposals are a mixed bag. Limiting early voting to a reasonable amount of time before an election probably makes reasonable sense—deadlines matter in politics, and Election Day is the ultimate deadline; candidates should be allowed to make their appeal to voters in full before votes are cast. But even if you agree with most of what the Republicans in Wisconsin are doing from a policy perspective, the politics on display are highly toxic.

Republican's willingness to engage in this sort of bad faith legislating should not be tolerated by the state's voters—the majority of whom voted for Democrats in state legislative races this year, too, by the way.

Some of that outcome is due to the fact that Democrats in Wisconsin, like in America as a whole, tend to cluster in a few densely populated places while Republicans are more spread out. It's easy to draw districts that favor the rural party with political geography that looks like that, and Democrats largely have no one to blame but themselves for the trade-offs that come with evolving into a primarily urban and suburban party.

Still, it's not wrong to view what's happening in Wisconsin this week as being fundamentally undemocratic. A defeated governor who championed an unpopular and expensive giveaway to a wealthy foreign company is poised to sign a series of bills tilting power towards a branch of government where his party controls nearly two-thirds of the seats despite having the support of less than half the state—all so that party can maintain a greater degree of power.

Take for example, how Speaker of the House Robin Vos justified the lame duck bills.

Sure, Evers is likely to disagree with "many" of the Republicans in the legislature "believe in," but Evers was duly elected by the voters of the state—something that seems not to enter into Vos' understanding of the situation.

At other times, Vos has argued that the last second changes are a reflection of Wisconsin Republicans' commitment to the separation of powers. "We have allowed far too much authority to flow to the executive," Vos told the AP. "To you, this is all about politics. To me, it's about the institution."

The timing seems to belie that argument. If you think a powerful executive branch is fine when the governor is wearing a Team Red jersey but not when he's wearing a Team Blue jersey (or vice versa), then it doesn't seem like you're actually worried about the separation of powers at all.

The same can be said of each individual proposal being passed this week. If Republicans in the legislature thought it was critical that the governor's control over the WEDC was problematic, they should have proposed and passed changes long ago. Regardless of the merits of any of the individual bills included in the lame duck agenda, the way in which they reached Walker's desk should be enough of a reason for him to veto them—though there is little reason to suspect he will.

Cementing Walker's Foxconn cronyism is bad enough, but the Republican maneuvers in Madison this week also smack of a strong disrespect for the ultimate holders of political power in Wisconsin: the state's voters.

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New York Considers Legalizing, Taxing Weed to Save Its Ailing Subway System

Legalized pot is great. Taxing it to pay for public transit is not.

Wing Travelling/Dreamstime.comWing Travelling/Dreamstime.com

The New York City subway system has fallen on hard times. Decaying infrastructure has led to overcrowding, service cuts, fires, declining on-time rates, and an exodus of riders. The system is atrociously inefficient, and the state and local officials who share responsibility for it seem more interested in swapping barbs than fixing problems.

Enter three New York University (NYU) transportation experts. In a new report, they argue for a novel way of fixing the failing subway: legalizing marijuana.

"Subways need a dedicated revenue source with the potential for growth in future decades—one that does not divert funds from other public services, and that has yet to be tapped by the state and local government," they write. Taxing recreational pot, they argue, "offers New York State a unique opportunity" to generate that revenue.

The idea has gotten write-ups in The New York Times, the New York Post, Vox, and Curbed, with the consensus seeming to be that it would be a small step in the right direction, even if it won't generate nearly enough money to pay for all the needed repairs. (A state-wide pot sales tax of between seven and 15 percent could pull in somewhere between $110 and $428 million a year—far less than the $40 billion needed to shore up the entire system.)

Some politicians are getting on board with the plan, too. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tells the Times. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

But there are problems with this idea. For starters, it would push New York's subway system even further away from an ideal where those who ride it pay the costs of its operation.

"Unlike the bus service in Paducah, which is going to need some type of subsidy, the New York City subway system ought to very pretty close to recouping its full cost from fare box revenue, advertising, financing, etc.," says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert with the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.

The state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—which runs New York City's subway, its buses, and other regional rail lines—currently recoups about 40 percent of its operating expenses from farebox revenue. That's higher than most transit agencies in the U.S., but well below what could come from riders in the densest, most populous city in the country, says Feigenbaum.

He suggests the MTA try things like charging higher prices for longer subway rides—as opposed to the current flat per-ride fee—or charge variable rates on the given time of day, with higher fares for crowded rush-hour commutes and lower ones in the middle of the day.

The costs these changes don't cover could be recouped through other financing mechanisms, such as value capture financing, whereby property owners pay a slice of the increased values of their land from the proximity to subway lines toward the operation of the subway itself.

A more user-fee-oriented model wouldn't just provide more revenue, says Feigenbaum. It would also make the subway system function better.

Getting more revenue from riders would make transit officials more interested in pleasing riders, as opposed to pleasing the political actors holding the purse strings. Tying revenue to actual usage would also give transit planners better information and better incentives to run trains where and when people want to use them.

If there's surge pricing during rush hour for instance, it makes it more worthwhile to run additional trains during that time.

"If you could get the subway to operate like something close to a business," says Feigenbaum, "the fees would offer predictability in terms of how you're budgeting and in terms of how you're planning for the future."

The marijuana plan would also shift the burden of paying for the subway onto something that has no rational relationship to it. That's especially true when one considers the fact that the NYU report is suggesting a state tax, putting stoners in Buffalo and Albany on the hook for New Yorkers' commutes.

The NYU report argues that because marijuana is currently illegal, legalizing and taxing it won't take revenue from existing programs. In addition to basically treating growing government as a value-neutral proposition, this ignores the opportunity costs of spending each new dollar of cannabis tax revenue.

Every dollar of that money that goes to the subway is a dollar that doesn't go to another public program that has a more rational relationship to marijuana use—education programs designed to discourage underage consumption, say.

At the end of the day, a lot of the problems experienced by both the New York City subway system and the state's black market for recreational marijuana could be solved by treating both more like normal private businesses. That would certainly be a lot better than taxing one to pay for the other.

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A Look at America’s History of Seeking Out Fun: New at Reason

The 20th century brought us the concept of leisure time, and with it, lots of fads.

'America in Color: Playtime''America in Color: Playtime,' SmithsonianAs Christmas shoppers rampage through malls like George Romero zombies, it's hard to imagine that there was ever a time when amusing ourselves was not a big business. But for the country's first hundred years or so, Americans spent most of their spare time trying to avoid being eaten by bears or turning into giant smallpox sores. It was until the 20th century that the concept of leisure time—and the yearning for stuff to fill it—really caught on.

Playtime, an episode of the Smithsonian Channel's series America in Color, tells the story of that primitive quest for fun in (mostly) breezy style. With a remarkable collection of vintage film footage—much of it assembled from home movies—Playtime covers everything from the turn of the century amusement parks on Coney Island to the 1953 advent of the Rodent Empire headquartered at Disney World; from wing walkers to flagpole sitters, from the lost art of sand yachting to a federally funded, all-black production of Macbeth set in Haiti. Television critic Glenn Garvin explains more.

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Repudiating the 'Dual Sovereignty' Exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause Could Undermine the Federal War on Weed. Oh No!

The Supreme Court seems disinclined to overturn precedents allowing serial prosecutions of the same crime.

SCOTUSSCOTUSJudging from yesterday's oral arguments in Gamble v. United States, most members of the Supreme Court do not seem inclined to reconsider the "separate sovereigns" exception to the constitutional ban on double jeopardy. That doctrine, also known as "dual sovereignty," allows serial state and federal prosecutions for the same crime on the grounds that breaking the laws of two governments constitutes two offenses. While that rule seems inconsistent with the original public understanding of the Due Process Clause, most of the discussion yesterday focused not on the merits of that argument but on the dangers of overturning a longstanding yet historically dubious holding.

There is some dispute about exactly how old the dual sovereignty doctrine is, because the Supreme Court alluded to the idea as early as 1847 and enunciated it more explicitly in 1852 but did not officially embrace it until 1922, when it approved a federal prosecution for bootlegging after a state prosecution. In 1959 the Court approved a state prosecution for robbery following a federal acquittal for the same crime. Justice Elena Kagan described the dual sovereignty doctrine as "a 170-year-old rule," which is how Assistant Solicitor General Eric Feigen framed it. Louis Chaiten, the lawyer representing Terance Gamble, who is challenging his federal conviction for illegal gun possession following his state conviction for the same crime, disagreed with that characterization. But however you date the doctrine, several justices were clearly uncomfortable about overturning what they view as a venerable principle of constitutional law, even assuming that principle is fundamentally mistaken.

In addition to the repeated invocations of stare decisis, there was much discussion of the practical consequences of repudiating the separate-sovereigns exception. On that point, some of Feigen's hypothetical horrors look more like benefits to me. Without the dual sovereignty doctrine, he warned, the federal government might not be able to launch duplicative prosecutions of mass murderers, such as the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, who are already being prosecuted in state court. Since such federal cases are completely gratuitous and impinge on state autonomy, that strikes me as an argument in Gamble's favor.

And don't get Feigen started on marijuana. "Let's say someone's caught in California with 100 kilograms of marijuana, which is a misdemeanor in California, as the states point out in their brief, but is a felony under federal law," he said. "And he agrees to plead to the state offense, and, therefore, that would bar a federal prosecution for possession with intent to distribute" (which would trigger a five-year mandatory minimum). If you believe the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the authority to prohibit intrastate possession of marijuana and/or that people should not go to prison for conduct that violates no one's rights, Feigen's nightmare of state interference with the federal war on weed looks more like a dream come true.

Chaiten was keen to reassure the justices that the impact of enforcing the Double Jeopardy Clause as it was intended would be modest. Federal civil rights cases could still proceed even when based on conduct already punished by a state, he said, because the federal offenses involve additional elements, making them distinct crimes. Federal courts need not count foreign prosecutions of terrorists who kill Americans toward double jeopardy, he said, unless they recognize "the competent and concurrent jurisdiction of the first court." He also noted that 20 states have statutes that generally bar a second prosecution for a crime that has already been prosecuted by a "separate sovereign," while another 17 apply that rule to certain crimes, and that "seems to have worked out OK."

The justices who seemed most sympathetic to Chaiten's position were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Neil Gorsuch.

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Trump Considers Tying Criminal Justice Reforms to Border Wall Funding

The FIRST STEP Act might get shoved into an end-of-year spending bill.

border wallThere appears to be enough bipartisan backing to pass some modest reforms to federal prison conditions and mandatory minimums. Even the Fox Broadcasting Company has put out a statement of support for the FIRST STEP Act. Yet the bill is still stuck in the Senate, and the future of federal criminal justice reform legislation remains unsettlingly cloudy.

President Donald Trump formally announced his support for the law in November, and it has already passed the House. But Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) says it might not get a floor vote until January. McConnell is being pressured by fellow conservatives who back the bill and say they know they have the votes to pass it, but a group of Republicans is apparently trying to remove some "safety valve" provisions that permit judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentence guidelines in some cases. That safety valve has the potential to reduce the sentences of more than 2,000 defendants a year.

Trump reportedly has a plan to get the law passed. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), the president wants to shove the FIRST STEP Act into a year-end must-pass spending bill. Lawmakers just passed a stop-gap bill to continue funding the federal government for a couple more weeks. But that runs out right before Christmas.

Graham tweets:

In other words, Trump is trying to tie the FIRST STEP Act to funding for his border wall. He wants $5 billion to start the wall. Senate Democrats have said that they're willing to fund $1.6 billion for more border security but that they're not going to give Trump all the money he wants. And obviously, once the Democrats take over the House they're not going to give him the funds.

Republican Senators have introduced legislation to give Trump $25 billion for the wall, but that bill has no chance of going anywhere at all.

Trump's tactic here is not terribly unusual. Year-end "must pass" omnibus spending bills have become a depository for unrelated legislation when congressional leaders are struggling to pull together votes. Some of these bills wouldn't survive public scrutiny. Back in 2016, Reason explored several of the unrelated pieces of legislation that got dropped into a $1.1 trillion spending bill passed before the end of 2015.

So the big question here is whether the two demands can be separated. Could the FIRST STEP Act get tossed in the spending bill even if Democrats refuse any consideration of more border wall spending? And will Trump still support it in that case? If he's stubborn, could that actually cause politically ambitious Democratic senators like Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to turn against the FIRST STEP Act so they can use it as a bludgeon against Trump?

More on the contents of the FIRST STEP Act from Jacob Sullum here.

UPDATE: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who had been opposing the FIRST STEP Act (after previously supporting it) says he's back on board after an amendment was added to "exclude violent offenders from being released early." His statement is here.

UPDATE: This afternoon Trump (who promoted the FIRST STEP Act in a speech in St. Louis today) also tweeted his hopes that there'd be a Senate vote:


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Wayne County Cops Seized Her Car Over $10 Worth of Weed. Now She's Suing.

The lawsuit argues that the excessive penalty violated her Eighth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court is currently considering a similar case.

Junfu Han/TNS/NewscomJunfu Han/TNS/NewscomA Detroit woman is suing Wayne County, Michigan, after police seized her car for possession of $10 worth of marijuana under the state's civil asset forfeiture laws.

Crystal Sisson alleges in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday that she was pulled over by Wayne County Sheriff's deputies this July after they surveilled her going into a Detroit medical marijuana dispensary, where she had bought a small amount of marijuana for $10. After discovering the marijuana, which is decriminalized in Detroit, the sheriff's deputies cited her for "illegally occupying a place where controlled substances are sold" and seized her 2015 Kia Soul.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property—cash, cars, and even houses—suspected of being connected to criminal activity. Law enforcement groups say it is a vital tool for disrupting organized drug trafficking and other crimes, but civil liberties groups say it has too few protections for innocent property owners and far too many perverse profit incentives for police and prosecutors.

To get her car back, Sisson had to pay the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office $1,200 to settle the forfeiture case, a typical practice in the county. Sisson's lawsuit, however, argues that the seizure and settlement was unconstitutionally excessive.

"Because the City of Detroit had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and Sisson purchased a small amount of marijuana from a medical marijuana dispensary that Wayne County allowed to operate, the forfeiture of Sisson's vehicle and/or the $1,200 settlement for the forfeiture action is an excessive penalty in violation of Plaintiff's constitutionally protected Eighth Amendment rights," the lawsuit says.

Sisson's suit is notable because the Supreme Court is currently considering a similar asset forfeiture case, Timbs v. Indiana, that revolves around the case of Tyson Timbs, whose Land Rover, worth $41,000, was seized after he sold two grams of heroin to an undercover officer. Court watchers strongly suspect the Supreme Court will incorporate the Eighth Amendment, making the Excessive Fines clause apply to states.

Sisson is only one of hundreds of Wayne County residents who've been surveilled, pulled over, had their car seized, and been forced to pay out more than $1,000 to get it back, all for visiting legal, state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Three Detroit-area residents filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Wayne County this July for its asset forfeiture program. One of the plaintiffs, Stephen Nichols, had been waiting three years for a court hearing after his car was seized. The other two plaintiffs, like Sisson, allege their car was seized after visiting a medical marijuana dispensary. As Reason reported:

The two other named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Adam and Ryan Chappell, are a father and son, respectively. According to the suit, the younger Chappell was borrowing his dad's car one day in July 2016 when Wayne County sheriff's deputies saw him pull into a medical marijuana dispensary in Detroit. The cops pulled him over as he left and seized the car. No marijuana was recovered from the car, and no criminal charges were filed in the case, according to the lawsuit.

[...]

Chappell was then handed a notice that the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office intended to forfeit his car, unless he paid a $900 out-of-court settlement fee or filed a claim to contest the seizure within 20 days, along with a $250 bond. (The bond requirement has since been eliminated by the Michigan state legislature.)

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office reported in 2016 that it surveilled 32 medical marijuana dispensaries, performed 634 investigatory stops of cars leaving dispensaries, and impounded 467 vehicles as part of Operation Push-Off, a local law enforcement initiative targeting drugs, prostitution, and drag racing funded by licensing fees collected from the state's medical marijuana program.

According to state reports, Wayne County law enforcement received $473,256 in Medical Marihuana Operation and Oversight Grants in fiscal year 2016 and $483,132 in 2017. Essentially, Michigan requires Wayne County medical marijuana dispensaries to pay Wayne County cops, who then rob and extort the dispensaries' customers. The mafia offers a better deal.

Of course, Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana this November, so Wayne County cops will have to find another asset forfeiture cookie jar.

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Beyond Pot Legalization: 21st Century Drug Policy Is about Wellness and Happiness: Podcast

Jacob Sullum, Dana Rohrabacher, and Adrian Moore talk about the next steps in ending the war on drugs at Reason's 50th anniversary celebration.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest policy wins for Reason since our debut in 1968 has been the legalization of marijuana in the United States. Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow use for recreational purposes and another 33 allow its use as medicine. Donald Trump has even indicated that he'd sign legislation turning control of pot over to the states.

So when Reason celebrated its 50th anniversary in November, we put together a panel devoted to talking about how drug policy has changed over the years, the difficulties in actually implementing legalization, and how drugs the government still considers "illicit"—LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, and more—are now being talked about not simply as ways to get high but as means to increase mental health, happiness, and well-being.

The panelists included:

  • Adrian Moore, Ph.D., who runs the research division of Reason Foundation and consults with cities and states that are implementing marijuana legalization
  • Dana Rohrabacher, a longtime Republican member of Congress who consistently pushed to end the federal war on pot
  • Jacob Sullum, a Reason senior editor who has written about drug policy for years and is the author of Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use

We pick up the conversation, which I moderated, as Adrian Moore begins his comments.

We'll be releasing more panels from our anniversary celebration over the coming weeks. For a discussion of whether the First Amendment is flourishing or fading (featuring the ACLU's Nadine Strossen, the Volokh Conspiracy's Eugene Volokh, and Reason's Stephanie Slade), go here.

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

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'Hard Boiled' by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Photo Credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS/Newscom

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

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Libertarian Jeff Hewitt Wins Seat on Riverside County Board of Supervisors

The L.P.’s biggest 2018 winner wants to tackle California’s public sector pension crisis head-on

||| Jeff HewittJeff HewittJeff Hewitt, the Libertarian mayor of tiny Calimesa, California, has narrowly won a seat on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Riverside County Registrar of Voters announced early this morning.

The 65-year-old supervisor-elect, best known for booting out the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) from Calimesa and replacing it with a cheaper, city-owned department, squeaked past former GOP assemblyman Russ Bogh, 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. Hewitt won despite being heavily outfundraised, with Bogh's chief sources of money coming from public sector unions, and Hewitt pulling cash from state and national libertarians, including California tomato-industry giant (and Reason Foundation Board of Trustees member) Chris Rufer.

"I raised $550,000 total, and he raised $1.1 million total, so he out-raised me two to one," an exultant Hewitt told me yesterday. "However, he outspent me nearly three to one between the primary and the general election, so that in itself is amazing. There is no one in this area that thought I was going to be the winner."

The seat, like Hewitt's mayoral post, is nonpartisan, though his party affiliation is nobody's secret, sitting as he does on the Libertarian National Committee. In a fundraising email sent Wednesday, L.P. National Chair Nicholas Sarwark characterized the prospect of a Hewitt victory as a "mega-win."

Riverside is the 11th most populous county in the United States, with 2.4 million-plus inhabitants, or more than West Virginia and Wyoming combined. Hewitt, whose district includes the cities of Moreno Valley, Menifee, and Perris, is one of five supervisors overseeing an annual budget of $5.5 billion. The county's precarious finances took a massive hit in the 2008-09 financial crisis, and continue to groan under the weight of public sector pension obligations and contract negotiations between elected officials and the unions that support them.

"You realize I will now be one of five people determining 101 [fire] stations, the largest user of Cal Fire," Hewitt said. "I went from being their most hated enemy, to now they're going to have to start kissing up….We've got our priorities, with pensions and pension reform basically being the first—getting all new hires away from the unsustainable CalPERS, and putting a program in so that we can possibly follow through on all these [pension] obligations, these ridiculous ones that we've made to the people that are already grandfathered in."

Hewitt becomes the 28th Libertarian to win office in the November election, and the 53rd overall for 2018, according to the party. That latter number is an increase from 34 in 2016, Sarwark indicated in his email. "This may be the most significant WIN by the LP since it stole an Electoral College vote," Matthew Barnes, a Hewitt campaign volunteer, gushed earlier this week at Liberty.me. "[His seat is] one of the most prized political positions in the country and easily among the top 20 most influential positions in all of California. The result will likely mean that for the first time in history, the Libertarian Party will have a solid member supervising a significant county seat."

While perhaps hyperbolic, and containing a whiff of morale-boosting after the party's many disappointments last month (Gary Johnson's distant third-place showing for U.S. Senate; Larry Sharpe's dispiriting 4th place for New York governor; and the drubbings of party-switching state representatives Laura Ebke, Brandon Phinney and Caleb Dyer), such enthusiasms nonetheless reflect a reality: Jeff Hewitt's win is an important demonstration project not just in how Libertarians can win elections, but what they can do once in office.

"I used the advantages of being a Libertarian," Hewitt said. "I used the donors that weren't available to other people, and we used ideologically driven libertarian canvassers that sold me as good as I could sell myself…. Every one of our about 13 different canvassers that worked on my campaign, they were taught to go run campaigns in the future, successful campaigns. And they're all Libertarians."

Critical to that effort was Young Americans for Liberty's Cliff Maloney, whose Operation Win at the Door has fanned out nationwide to support pro-liberty candidates. ("He's super helpful," Sarwark said this week in a conference call to Libertarian activists.) And earning the most rave reviews was long time Libertarian activist and Hewitt campaign manager, Boomer Shannon. "I hope in this next cycle, we're going to see three, four, five successful campaigns just from the people that Boomer…was able to show how to do this," Hewitt said.

Shannon portrays the victory as one of grassroots personal connections over the top-down, out-of-touch approach of the Democratic and Republican parties. "We have a saying around here that guides our attitudes: 'Politics is about people; and the number one skill is making friends,'" Shannon told Matthew Barnes. "We could have never had this level of success if Jeff had not first volunteered for the planning office in his hometown, ran for the city council and then been promoted to Mayor. A candidate's reputation is the foundation every campaign is built upon."

Hewitt, a former swimming-pool digger, is as gregarious a character as you will see in any room full of Libertarians. He is not shy about talking to strangers. And he is ruthlessly pragmatic when talking to voters about what matters to them.

"As a Libertarian, things like asset forfeiture and other social rights that we are fighting for—I agree with all those things. I'm not good at arguing for those," he told me at the Libertarian National Convention this summer. "Most of my things are economic freedoms as far as trying to get taxes down. That's how we get people from the other two parties. A lot of Democrats, they think we need to pay taxes, but guess what? They like it when they have more of their money left, too."

"If the majority of people say, 'Hey look, we want our public safety, we want some of our roads or our parks done,'" he continued, "don't shove it in their face and go, 'No, all those things should be private!' You and I may agree on that, but when we come in there and we deliver a better product for them at a much reduced price, we've applied free market principles already right there."

As for the eternal debates over platform language and philosophical principles? "The Libertarian Party doesn't need any more principle, doesn't need any more platform—it's got great ideas," he said. "Now, how do you implement them? We obviously elect officials."

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Will Arrested Chinese Tech Exec Become a Trade War Pawn? Reason Roundup

Plus: Trump dumps on the media as CNN faces a bomb scare, murder rates are falling, and corporate gender quotas don't work.

Mfc/Ropi/ZUMA Press/NewscomMfc/Ropi/ZUMA Press/NewscomThe arrest of Chinese tech exec Meng Wanzhou got relatively little attention at first. But the move could mean a major escalation in America's trade war with China.

Meng's company, Huawei, is under Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation after allegedly violating sanctions on Iran, though DOJ won't say more than that. Meng was detained by Canadian authorities on the United States' behalf during a Saturday flight transfer in Vancouver.

"Her arrest was meant as a warning shot by the Trump administration in its campaign to limit the global spread of Chinese technology," reports The New York Times. "But it has thrown Mr. Trump's trade negotiations with Beijing into disarray, drawing a sharp protest from the Chinese government and sending financial markets into a panicky swoon, before a modest recovery on Thursday afternoon."

Last weekend, Trump's chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit made it seem like a compromise on trade was near.

Now the timing of Meng's arrest "could feed the suspicion of Chinese officials that nationalist factions in the Trump administration were trying to sabotage the trade deal," notes the Times. National Security Adviser John Bolton said he had just found out before Trump's dinner chat with Xi and had not informed the president yet, and "former American officials said the awkward timing of it was most likely a coincidence that grew out of the unpredictable travel schedule of Ms. Meng."

But people inside the White House may already be looking for ways to leverage Meng's arrest on behalf of Trump trade war pursuits.

The Huawei investigation has reportedly been ongoing since 2010, led by U.S. attorneys in states where Huawei has offices (Alabama, California, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas). The Times reports that "investigators grew concerned that company officers were working on behalf of the Chinese government" and that if Meng stands trial in the U.S., "prosecutors might try to demonstrate Huawei's ties to the Chinese Communist Party and various state agencies, and to dramatize the potential security compromises related to that."

FREE MINDS

On fake bombs and fake news. CNN had to halt live programming last night when its Manhattan building was evacuated over a bomb threat.

"Right now, @realDonaldTrump could tweet the following: 'Bomb threats against CNN and other media outlets are never acceptable.' But he won't," commented Republican strategist and author Rick Wilson. Instead, around the same time as CNN was being evacuated, President Donald Trump tweeted:

The tweet was ostensibly a follow-up to two prior tweets full of "Witch Hunt!" and "17 Angry Dems" and "Sad!"

This morning, Trump has continued on his disjointed Twitter frenzy about Robert Mueller's investigation and impending report. It's better if you read it in an old-timey schlock crime-series narrator voice:

Will all of the substantial & many contributions made by the 17 Angry Democrats to the Campaign of Crooked Hillary be listed in top of Report. Will the people that worked for the Clinton Foundation be listed at the top of the Report? ... Will all of the lying and leaking by the people doing the Report, & also Bruce Ohr (and his lovely wife Molly), Comey, Brennan, Clapper, & all of the many fired people of the FBI, be listed in the Report? Will the corruption within the DNC & Clinton Campaign be exposed?..And so much more!"

Stay tuned! On the next episode of the U.S. leader's Twitter feed...

As far as White House strategy on responding to Mueller's report goes...well, there really isn't one, according to The Atlantic's Elaina Plott:

There are numerous other reasons no response plan has been produced, White House sources said, including the futility of crafting a strategy that Trump will likely ignore anyway. There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller's findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle. Those close to Trump have either doubled down on the "witch hunt" narrative, they said—refusing to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing—or decided to focus on other issues entirely. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer has even taken to treating the probe like a game: On Wednesday he tweeted a (quickly deleted) link where followers could place bets on "how many tweets containing #mueller" the president will send "before the investigation is up."

Attempting to plan "would mean you would have to have an honest conversation about what might be coming," a former senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told me.

FREE MARKETS

Driving voluntary change. By the end of 2019, California corporations that are publicly traded must have at least one woman on their board of directors. But "while it's hard to argue against the value of women on boards, how a company gets there can be controversial and raise several questions," cautions Kiersten Barnet, who chairs the steering committee of the 30% Club ("a group of business leaders who are committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organizations through voluntary actions," according to her bio).

"Most notably, there is the question of whether quotas lead to the desired outcome of better gender balance throughout company ranks," Barnet writes at Fast Company:

Past government regulations, like Norway's government-mandated quotas beginning in 2008, have shown that while they may increase the number of women on boards, there is no substantive evidence that shows quotas as a catalyst for systemic change across companies. In Norway's example, the percentage of women in C-suite and senior leadership positions has not risen in tandem. On a larger scale, mandated regulations for diversity and inclusion risk causing complacency across private firms tempted to check a box, instead of taking an opportunity to be leaders in driving wide-reaching change.

More here.

QUICK HITS

  • Former attorney general William Barr is being considered for the job again. Barr "is President Trump's leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department," The Washington Post reports. That's bad news:

UPDATE: Trump has confirmed he'll nominate Barr.

  • The U.S. murder rate is falling again.
  • The Appeal takes a look "at the women left behind" by New York City's efforts to decarcerate.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen is up for a Best Actor award at the Golden Globes for his power-trolling series Who Is America?
  • World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee presents a (rather lackluster, IMHO) "Contract for the Web."
  • Encrypted email platform Protonmail offers good reading list on internet privacy.
  • Are you ready for the "inevitable" clampdown on tech and the media?
  • Politico's Jack Shafer on the presumptive death of The Weekly Standard: "The magazine never lost its voice, it just lost the conservative movement."
  • "In 10 years of political reporting I've met a lot of intense, oddly dressed people with very specific ideas about what the perfect world would look like, some of them in elected office—but none quite so strange as the ideological soup of starry-eyed techno-utopians and sketchy-ass crypto-grifters on the 2018 CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise": Laurie Penny on her half-a-week at sea with "crypto's nouveau riche."
  • Congratulations, Australia, writes Scott Shackford—you've just destroyed the world's data privacy!
  • Protecting and serving:
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California's Republican Party Is Irrelevant. Embracing Criminal Justice Reform Could Help Change That: New at Reason

Conservatives and moderates don’t agree on much, but they do agree on this: The state GOP is dead in the water and needs a new strategy to revive itself.

Hindustan Times/NewscomHindustan Times/NewscomCalifornia's two major Republican factions—conservatives and moderates—have been arguing about the future of the party for at least two decades. They don't agree on much, but after the California party's midterm drubbing they do agree on this point: The state GOP is largely dead in the water and needs a new strategy to revive itself.

A recap is in order. In 1998, 46.8 percent of voters were registered as Democrats, 35.8 percent as Republicans and 12.4 percent chose "No Party Preference." As of 2018, the Democrats held fairly steady at 44.4 percent registration, but those independents grabbed second spot with 25.5 percent and Republicans had sunk to 25.1 percent. On Nov. 6, Democrats took seven GOP-held congressional races (one has yet to be certified), won every statewide office and expanded their supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate.

One good place to rebuild: criminal-justice reform. The past few years California has made dramatic changes in its approach to incarceration. While the Jerry Brown administration was, say, dealing seriously with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding, Republicans largely resisted. These and other proposed reforms would, in their tiresome rhetoric, let violent criminals out on the streets or hobble the police.

There's a strong free-market case and civil-liberties case for reforming these government-run, union-controlled systems. Groups such as the R Street Institute and Right on Crime make the right-of-center case for shaving out-of-control spending, battling recidivism and coming up with alternative sentences for low-level offenders. Conservative Texas, for instance, has shut down prisons as California built new ones. Sadly, the state GOP's one-note approach has made its input irrelevant, which is too bad given that some Democratic proposals really do go too far, writes Steven Greenhut.

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Adolescent Pot Use in Post-Legalization Colorado and Washington Is Still Failing to Rise

A favorite prohibitionist theme is refuted by reality.

The recent, laughably bad Centennial Institute report on marijuana legalization in Colorado talks a lot about the impact of cannabis consumption on high school students. In fact, lost productivity due to marijuana-related high school dropouts is the biggest component of the costs it erroneously attributes to legalization. Yet conspicuously missing from the report is any claim that legalization led to an increase in marijuana use by teenagers, a popular theme among pot prohibitionists. The omission is understandable in light of survey data showing that rates of marijuana use among middle and high school students in Colorado and Washington, the other state that legalized recreational use in 2012, have been essentially flat since then:NSDUHNSDUHThese numbers come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which generates state-specific data based on two-year averages to compensate for the relatively small samples at that level. According to the most recent numbers, the rate of past-month marijuana use among 12-to-17-year-olds was a bit lower in 2016-17, after three years of state-licensed sales (and four years of legal home cultivation in Colorado), than it was in 2011-12.

Results from the biennial, state-sponsored Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, in this chart limited to high school students (which helps explain why the rates are higher than the NSDUH numbers), are similar:

HKCSHKCS

I have to say I am rather surprised by these numbers. I was never comfortable with assurances that legalization would not lead to more underage use. While it's true that licensed marijuana merchants, unlike black-market pot dealers, actually card their customers (and anyone who has bought marijuana in Colorado or Washington can testify that the stores take that responsibility seriously), it seemed to me that leakage from the adult market might very well make pot more readily available to teenagers, resulting in more cannabis consumption. So far it hasn't happened, maybe partly because legalization made marijuana less appealing to adolescents—a reversal of the "forbidden fruit" effect.

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Kurt Loder Reviews Mary Queen of Scots: New at Reason

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie in an awkward royal history.

Focus FeaturesFocus FeaturesWho knew that 16th Century Scotland was so very much like our own time and place? At the rather grim court of the Scottish Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan), we encounter an unexpected ethnic diversity (there are nobles of color) and a surprisingly up-to-date view of gender. (Addressing a transvestite man cavorting among the ladies of the bedchamber, Mary says, "Be whoever you would be with us. You make for a lovely sister.")

Maybe this is the way it was back then—I haven't read Professor John Guy's biography of Mary Stuart, upon which Beau Willimon (House of Cards) based his screenplay for Mary Queen of Scots. But it is a historical fact that Mary never met the English Queen Elizabeth I, her cousin and reluctant antagonist—and yet the two women do confront one another in this movie. Which is fine by me, since the scene in which they finally come face to face, in a room that's oddly but dramatically filled with wafting white curtains, is the best scene in the movie, writes Kurt Loder.

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Searching for New Atlantis in China: New at Reason

A whirlwind tour of a world being born.

Aimee2013/Dreamstime.comAimee2013/Dreamstime.comTwin baby girls, Lulu and Nana, were born in Shenzhen, China, last month. That's not news, but this is: These two will likely never have to fear HIV infection. Not because a new vaccine was invented, but because they were born immune to the most common forms of the virus.

You might think this would be a reason to celebrate—imagine a world where no one ever contracts HIV again—but instead of champagne popping, a volcano of outrage and disgust erupted upon the girls' birth announcement.

Many are upset because Lulu and Nana are mutants, the world's first genetically edited babies. When they were but day-old embryos, a scientist in Shenzhen altered their DNA to grant them immunity from infection using a new technique called CRISPR/Cas9.

The fact that this happened in China did not go unnoticed in the commentary. The widespread coverage of He Jiankui, the lead researcher, portrays him as a vainglorious fool acting recklessly in a lawless land. In an ominous twist to the story, He has apparently gone missing.

Is Shenzhen a crazy place? Or is it just different? It may be that Jiankui was rash—we in the U.S. are still haunted by the ghost of the thalidomide incident in 1962—but a troubling assumption hides behind all the commentary: namely, that all regulations and moratoriums ought to apply universally and uniformly across the world.

"The most serious thing I've heard is that he didn't do the paperwork right," Harvard geneticist George Church told the journal Science. "I'm sitting in the middle and everyone else is so extreme that it makes me look like his buddy. He's just an acquaintance. But it seems like a bullying situation to me."

Church is the only prominent scientist to defend He, though this is in some ways unsurprising. Church has already received his own notoriety for cloning a wooly mammoth by using the CRISPR technique and for raising the possibility that Neanderthals might make a come back.

When did it become controversial to think different cities might be allowed to have different scientific regulations and rules about consent? Is there just one global bureaucratic empire of science, asks Michael Gibson in his latest piece for Reason.

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When Nonviolence Isn't Enough: New at Reason

Does the right to self-defense apply against agents of the state?

stevenfoley/iStockstevenfoley/iStockIn August 2017, Richard Hubbard III stopped at a red light in Euclid, Ohio, but his front bumper went a few feet past the white line. The cops pulled him over. That's no surprise: Police in Euclid, Cleveland Heights, and the surrounding cash-strapped towns strictly enforce traffic rules. But officers didn't just give the driver a ticket.

The police demanded Hubbard—a black man—step out of his vehicle. Dashcam footage shows that he calmly complied. Yet one officer immediately spun Hubbard around, bent his arm, and slammed him against his Hyundai. He flipped Hubbard again, punched him in the face, and kicked his groin. Hubbard screamed and put his arms up to protect himself. The other officer joined in.

They threw Hubbard to the ground but continued to punch, hammer, and kick him. When he tried to protect his face, they chanted the informal motto of American police, "Stop resisting!" Even when Hubbard was subdued, prostrate with his hands behind his back and two large officers pinning him down, one officer continued to pummel his skull.

Imagine you witness the whole thing. A thought occurs to you: You're armed. You could shoot the officers, perhaps saving Hubbard's life or preventing him from being maimed and disabled. May you do so?

In this article, Jason Brennan makes the controversial case that yes, you may. Read the whole thing at the link below.

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Brickbat: Looking Out for the Children

Scared childJelena Ivanovic / Dreamstime.comIn 2016, Arshid Hussain was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in a grooming gang that sexually abused more than 50 girls in Rotherham, England. The Rotherham Council recently contacted Hussain offering to keep him involved in the life of a child he fathered with one of the girls he assaulted. "We're constantly being re-victimized and as a rape victim I'm constantly told 'well actually, he's got his human rights,'" said Sammy Woodhouse, the mother of the child. "What about my human rights? "

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Kevin Hart Quits Oscars Hosting Gig Over Past Homophobic Tweets, Social Media Mobs Win Again

"I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past."

HartAbaca Press/Hahn Lionel/Abaca/Sipa USA/NewscomActor and comedian Kevin Hart, who was tapped to host the 2019 Oscars earlier this week, resigned that job late Thursday night after social media sleuths dug up his homophobic tweets from a decade ago.

In an Instagram video, Hart claimed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had issued an ultimatum: apologize, or lose the gig. Hart initially refused to revisit the issue, which he claimed he had addressed several times in the past. "This is not the first time this has come up," he said. "I've addressed it. I've spoken on it. I've said where the rights and wrongs were."

Hart also criticized those that went looking for such tweets in the first place.

"The same energy that went into finding those old tweets could be the same energy put into finding the response to the questions that have been asked years after years after years," he said.

This was a brave stance; unfortunately, it did not last. At midnight, Hart posted on Twitter that he had stepped down as host. He also offered an apology to the LGBT community.

Congrats, social justice lynch mobs: You win again.

Most of the people I saw on Twitter demanding penance from Hart were journalists at generally left-of-center publications, which makes this something of a left-led lynch mob. For comparison, the previous notable social media pile-on—which targeted Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn over his gross child sex jokes—was driven by far-right Twitter personalities Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. Recall that when Cernovich and Posobiec did this same thing—dig up weird comments from a different era of the internet and force modern corporate PR concerns to do their work—they were accused of launching a bad-faith smear campaign of retaliation. It will be interesting to see whether those who put Hart in this same position are capable of reflecting on the similarities. I'm betting not.

When Roseanne said something horribly offensive about Valerie Jarrett, she was justly fired, in the view of many liberal commentators. But when Sarah Jeong was found to have tweeted constantly about how much she hated white people, this was questionably described as satire, and nothing happened: She got to keep her new gig at The New York Times.

I for one was glad that Jeong survived an attempted social media assassination, because there ought to be some understanding that human beings are more than their worst moments on Twitter. And I hoped that right and left could call a truce on finding reasons to get people fired. Alas, the perpetual outrage machine must be fed.

For what it's worth, Hart's tweets—like Gunn's, Roseanne's, and yes, Jeong's—were bad. It sounds like he had some issues with gay people back in 2010. These issues probably stem from his own insecurities. I assert that with some confidence, because Hart himself admitted as much. He made it part of his comedy routine, in fact. (Not that this matters to the woke crowd: Even comparatively progressive jokes offend certain unreasonable people when the messenger doesn't fit neatly into the requisite category.) Consider this interview Hart did with Rolling Stone in 2015:

In 2010's Seriously Funny, he tells the audience, "One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay. That's a fear. Keep in mind, I'm not homophobic. . . . Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will." This leads into vignettes in which Hart reacts to imagined signs of Hendrix's blossoming homosexuality with interjections of "Stop, that's gay!" Discussing this bit today, Hart says, "It's about my fear. I'm thinking about what I did as a dad, did I do something wrong, and if I did, what was it? Not that I'm not gonna love my son or think about him any differently. The funny thing within that joke is it's me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities — I panicked. It has nothing to do with him, it's about me. That's the difference between bringing a joke across that's well thought-out and saying something just to ruffle feathers." Even so, he adds, "I wouldn't tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren't as sensitive as they are now. I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren't necessarily big deals, because we can. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?"

Why indeed?

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Miami Beach Shut Off Home's Electricity, Water, Over Unpaid Airbnb Fines

The fine is likely unconstitutional, and the city's strong-arm tactics were blocked by a judge this week.

Eur/Photoshot/NewscomEur/Photoshot/NewscomWhen a homeowner refused to pay possibly unconstitutional fines for an Airbnb listing, the city of Miami Beach, Florida, took the unusual step of turning off the water and electricity supply to the house.

In a lawsuit filed last month, homeowner Ralph Serrano accuses the city of resorting to "strong-arm tacitcs" to get him to pay "constitutionally excessive fines" totaling $200,000. Earlier this week, a district judge ordered the city to immediately restore utility services to the home

The saga began last year, when Miami Beach began cracking down on short-term rentals by issuing fines up to $100,000 for violations of city zoning ordinances that effectively outlawed Airbnb-style rentals in most of Miami Beach's residential areas. Serrano refused to pay a series of fines imposed during 2017, arguing that the city's penalty was a violation of the Florida Constitution's ban on excessive fines—other Miami Beach residents are currently engaged in a separate lawsuit against the city making the same argument, and even a member of the city council has admitted the fines are "grossly disproportional."

In March of this year, the city revoked the home's certificate of occupancy and later used the lack of a certificate to order Florida Power & Light and Miami-Dade County Water to shut off electricity, sewer, and water services.

The city zoning ordinance that allowed Miami Beach to target homeowners like Serrano for listing their property on Airbnb spells out the punishments for violating the rules, including the massive fines and the right to seek a court-order to mandate payment if property owners refuse to do so. Nowhere in the ordinance does it say that the city can terminate utility services or revoke a certificate of occupancy as punishment for refusing to pay a fine. The city's actions have resulted in "a de facto forfeiture" of his home, Serrano argues.

When Serrano approached the city about getting the power and water services restored, he alleges, city officials provided him with a list of demands that included showing proof of a long-term rental contract for the home—despite the fact that it is illegal to rent a home that lacks a certificate of occupancy—and required him to show evidence that he'd asked Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms to remove listings for the home. Those requests also exceed the city's authority under the zoning ordinance, Serrano says.

The lawsuit will move forward despite this week's order from Judge Jennifer Bailey telling the city that it must restore utility service. A hearing is scheduled for January.

"The judge's order is a step in the right direction, correcting these strong-arm, illegal and unconstitutional tactics by the City of Miami Beach," Serrano told Reason in an emailed statement. But Serrano says the house has already suffered mold damage after going months without power.

The action taken again Serrano represents a significant escalation in Miami Beach's ongoing war on short-term rentals. The city's aggressive policing of short-term rentals has made headlines for years, but it upped the ante in 2016 by increasing the maximum fines from $1,500 to $100,000 for a first offense. City officials have argued that the fines are not excessive because some of the rental rates in Miami Beach are astronomical—Kylie Jenner, for example, stayed at a $12 million Miami Beach villa, rented for about $8,000 a night on Airbnb. But that's hardly the whole picture. A $100,000 fine is still a lot of money, even for someone who owns a $12 million home—but that same fine can be destructive when levied against an average homeowner, and is no where near being proportional to the offense.

As of last year, the city had issued more than $6.5 million in fines, but had collected only about $125,000.

Longtime resident Natalie Nichols filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the Florida Constitution prohibits excessive fines. The Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based libertarian think tank, is assisting with the lawsuit.

Miami Beach has apparently been undeterred. The city recently considered changing it's anti-Airbnb rules from a mere zoning violation to a full-fledged misdemeanor, meaning that violators could be tossed in jail for simply renting out a house for a weekend.

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Are You Ready for the 'Inevitable' Clampdown on Tech and the Media?

When Apple's CEO Tim Cook says "the free market is not working," bad things are coming.

Georgetown Book ShopGeorgetown Book ShopOne of the most remarkable statements ever made by the CEO of a major corporation generated relatively little notice or pushback. But just a couple of weeks ago, there was Tim Cook, the head of Apple, spitting in the eye of the very economy that made his company the highest valued corporation on the planet.

"I am not a big fan of regulation," Cook told Axios in an interview. "I'm a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn't worked here. I think it's inevitable that there will be some level of regulation... I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something."

Holy hell! Regulation of the tech industry and the larger economy (both of which are already pretty heavily regulated, if we're being honest) is inevitable? The free market isn't working? Well, maybe not quite as well as it used to for Apple, which been a little droopy over the past several years in terms of killer new devices and mega-hits. Right around the time Cook was prophesying, Microsoft and Amazon both could lay at least temporary claims to be more valuable. Maybe in that sense the free market isn't working so great anymore...for Apple. But come on already. Factor in the housing bust from a decade ago, the Great Recession, mall closings, the opioid epidemic, and whatever else you want to, and any semi-serious analysis is going to conclude that over the last few decades, "The living standards of Americans have vastly improved during the past 50 years, with the quality of available consumer products steadily rising even as their prices have steeply fallen."

And it's not just Americans, of course. Just a week before it ran its dour interview with Tim Cook, Axios reportedly cheerily that "half the world is now middle class." The world is becoming more equal, not less. So two cheers for capitalism (for more on how income mobility and broad-based economic gains are the rule and not the exception in America too, go here for starters).

But the facts on the ground—however disputed they might be—are irrelevant when titans of industry, such as Cook, declare that "the free market is not working" and that regulation is "inevitable." His opinion carries more weight than yours or mine. And he's not alone. Earlier this year, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg embraced increased government control in anticipation of sitting down before Congress. "The question is more what is the right regulation rather than 'yes or no should we be regulated?'" he told Wired.

When actually talking to Congress, Zuck even volunteered to help write the regulations, while noting that the more Facebook and social media are regulated, the less likely it is that a rival will emerge. But hey, that's an outcome he and Congress were willing to live with. Conservative Republicans want Facebook to do more to spread content they like (Ted Cruz does love him some Diamond and Silk!) and Democrats want to make sure that the next time Hillary Clinton runs for president she loses simply because she ran the worst campaign of all time, not because of whatever Facebook did to screw her over. In more recent hearings (which came on the heels of yet more revelations of Facebook's weak record of protecting user data and whatnot) Zuckerberg's colleague Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey reiterated their willingness to jump on various bipartisan regulatory bandwagons.

The same consensus is visible in elite opinion, too. The Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, who popularized the concept that eventually became a short-lived law known as "Net Neutrality," has a new book out called The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. In it, he calls for the breakup of what are known as the FAANG companies, tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, who he says wield too much market power. Like Cook, he sees regulation as inevitable but actually worries the government won't do enough to really bust up the companies. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, he said:

[I] think that companies like Google and Facebook have come to hold too much power. There's a growing sense that they have too much control over information, news, advertising, even who we are and what's going on. I'm actually most concerned that we'll cut some kind of deal that effectively nationalizes or weakly regulates Facebook. and that that deal will endure for a long time. That's the trajectory we're on, and I would resist that.

Some of Wu's support comes from a surprising place, and it suggests just how widespread the belief is that we need to heavily regulate tech and social media. Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law school professor better known as the proprietor of the libertarian-leaning aggregator website Instapundit, endorses Wu's analysis, writing, "These new tech monsters have a one-two punch that Standard Oil lacked: Not only do they control immense wealth and important industries, but their fields of operation—which give them enormous control over communications, including communications about politics—also give them direct political power that in many ways exceeds that of previous monopolies." Reynolds muses,

Facing a similar situation [of major trusts and monopolies], [Teddy] Roosevelt declared, "When aggregated wealth demands what is unfair, its immense power can be met only by the still greater power of the people as a whole."

With today's economy dominated by the FA[A]NG companies, will Donald Trump — another brash New Yorker who found himself in the White House — follow TR's lead? Perhaps a better question is, why wouldn't he?

When you have people such as Wu and Reynolds, representing the progressive left and the libertarian right, agreeing on both the problem and the solution, something bad is definitely afoot. (For a quick look at how antitrust law typically yields bad results, go here.)

Then there's the legacy media, which is also doing its damnedest to characterize tech and social media companies as not simply all-powerful, but unprecedentedly dangerous in their actual effects on our lives, dreams, and politics.

A recent story in the Washington Post, for instance, tracked how a satire site, America's Last Line of Defense, that literally tells its readers "nothing on this page is real," is nonetheless believed by any number of dumb people. "The more extreme we become, the more people believe it," the creator of the site tells the Post, which notes that the "page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55." The New York Times recently released a breathless, three-part video series called Operation Infektion about "Russian disinformation from the Cold War to Kanye." Neither of these products (and others like them) do a particular good job of explaining why new modes of media are particularly dangerous or even effective. How much does it matter that retirees are willing to believe just about anything that anyone says about a particular politician? Operation Infektion's big example of how brilliant the KGB was deals with it spreading the lie that the U.S. government created AIDS back in the 1980s, a conspiracy theory that never reached mass acceptance or affected world events.

The overall impact of these sorts of journalistic pieces is to add to the idea that we are in a bold new world that needs bold new solutions. Ironically, of course, those solutions are themselves older than the mummies on the Senate Judiciary Committee: breaking up businesses or heavily regulating them, typically with rules written by the very people who run them. This is what the railroads managed to do back in the day, as socialist historian Gabriel Kolko reminds us. Contrary to received progressive mythologizing, railroad tycoons worked with would-be regulators to fix the markets in their favor. It's a predictable evolution from what Burton Folsom called a "market entrepreneur" (one who makes a fortune by producing a superior product or service at a price people want) to a "political entrepreneur" (who uses government power to lock in a superior position in the market). Tim Cook, in other words, knows what he's doing.

I worry less about the market power of the FAANG companies than I do about the rise of a new industrial state in which powerful companies and powerful politicians team up to decide how best to run the world in which you and I live. As bad and stupid as Facebook's, Twitter's, and YouTube's attempts at policing themselves have been, I don't see things getting better if Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) or Charles Grassley (R–Iowa) get involved, do you?

Maybe instead of freaking out all the time about how stupid media consumers are, we can start focusing on how to become more critical readers and listeners. Maybe instead of listening to CEOs of trillion-dollar companies, who insist that the free market has crapped out, we can establish basic, common-sense fiscal, monetary, trade, and labor policies that enable innovation and growth. And maybe instead of trying to figure out how to keep old zombie businesses such as GM afloat with more government money and regulation, we let that failed free market kick things around a little bit.

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Garden State Crime Is Down Since New Jersey Ditched Cash Bail

Money is no longer needed to get out of jail. This hasn’t resulted in danger to the community.

Bail signChris Boswell / Dreamstime.comNew Jersey is about to end its second year using a pretrial court system that has all but stopped using cash bail to decide which defendants can stay out of jail before appearing in court. And guess what? There's been no spike in crime.

Critics of bail reform say that forcing defendants to commit some money as a condition of pretrial release is why they show up to trial and keep their noses clean beforehand. Mind you, it was primarily the bail bond industry making this claim, because it has a financial stake in maintaining cash bail. But they weren't the only ones worried about what would happen to the crime rate when New Jersey allowed more people to remain free before trial.

Thankfully, New Jersey is not seeing an increase in crime. In fact, it's seeing the exact opposite. Stats collected over the past two years show a significant drop in crime across many major categories. The New Jersey Star-Ledger compared the violent crime numbers from the first nine months of 2016 to the first nine months of 2018 and found a 30-percent drop. Homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults, and burglaries are all on the decline.

Over this same timespan, New Jersey's pretrial jail population has dropped by 40 percent.

We should, of course, be wary about too much correlation here. First of all, we're seeing a general drop in violent crime nationwide. And the Star-Ledger is talking about the statistics for the worst, most dangerous crimes. Nevertheless, it is not too soon to say that the reforms have yet to fail.

Under New Jersey's pretrial system, courts use risk assessment tools to calculate the odds a defendant will commit additional crimes or miss court dates while on release; the calculation is heavily informed by a defendant's criminal history. With feedback from attorneys on both sides, a judge evaluates these risks and decides the terms of pretrial release for each defendant, calling for varying levels of monitoring depending on risk level. If the judge decides there's no way to make sure the defendant shows up for court and stays clean on release, the judge can keep him or her detained in jail until the conclusion of the case. Judges detained about 18 percent of defendants in 2017.

In short, the new system appears to be keeping violent and dangerous defendants behind bars while allowing lower-level offenders more freedom as their cases make their way through the court system.

Keeping defendants who aren't dangerous from languishing in jail is important. Those who are stuck behind bars just because they can't afford bail often end up feeling like they have no choice but to plead guilty, if only to get out and get things over with. Defendants who are jailed unnecessarily risk losing their jobs, getting evicted, and suffering other economic consequences that destabilize families. Studies show that defendants are more likely to get bad plea deals and receive harsher punishments than they would if they were free. Why? Because they have no leverage with prosecutors, they're desperate, and sometimes the court system operates so slowly that they serve the equivalent of the punishment in jail before they're ever tried. For many lower level crimes, the pretrial detention feels no different than being convicted.

When looking at New Jersey's declining crime rates, one fairly safe conclusion is that the state has thus far succeeded in assessing risk, which allows defendants to fight criminal charges without one hand tied behind their backs. So not only is New Jersey seeing less crime, it's also seeing less punishment, and that's a good thing.

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Berkeley Councilmember Denies City is Anti-Housing, Then Almost Immediately Votes Against More Housing

California's local officials are always in favor of more housing in general, but rarely support the individual projects that come before them.

ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/NewscomROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/NewscomLocal government officials are never against building more housing in general, but always manage to find problems with the individual projects that come before them.

Witness Kate Harrison, a member of the Berkeley City Council in California, who said recently that claims the city is resistant to new housing projects are "fake news."

"The … fake news from my perspective is this idea that the city of Berkeley is engaged in an ongoing effort to resist building housing. I don't accept that and I don't believe it," Harrison said in a recent council meeting, as reported by local news site Berkeley Side. "I'm really kind of tired of it. I'm kind of tired of us being told, we're the people in the way, the [Zoning Adjustments Board] is in the way, the council's in the way. I just don't, I don't see that. At all."

Shortly after she said these words, Harrison voted against approving a 23-unit, 80-bedroom housing project that would be built off the city's Shattuck Avenue. Her specific concerns about the building included its design and the fact that it did not include any affordable units (that is, units with restricted rents offered to tenants earning less than the area median income.)

Harrison's opposition was not enough to kill the project, as the council voted 5-2 to approve the Shattuck development. Nevertheless, her attitude is emblematic of the goalpost-shifting that affects housing development in the Bay Area. We need more housing, folks like Harrison say, but it must be a certain kind of housing, built a certain way, priced a certain way, marketed to certain people.

Take for instance, an entirely different apartment development, also on Berkeley's Shattuck Avenue, that was rejected by the city's Zoning Adjustments Board back in July. One member of the board voting to oppose the building said her concerns would be alleviated if it were only moved to the other side of the street. Others complained of the height and mass of the proposed structure.

Fortunately for the sponsors of that project, they were able to make use of a state law which allows developers to route around local zoning codes in exchange for adding more affordable housing units. The use of that state law tied the hands of the zoning board, forcing them to green-light the project in November with only minor modifications.

A similar thing happened to Robert Tillman when he tried to turn his San Francisco laundromat into an apartment building. Here's what San Francisco Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said of Tillman's plans for the site: "I think a project absolutely belongs here. The question is what kind of project." The answer: not the kind Tillman had planned.

Cities that say they need more housing should approve more housing. It really is that simple.

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France’s High Taxes Breed a Populist Revolt, Again: New at Reason

Politicians seem unable to learn from a history of grabby tax policies fueling populist anger.

Jean Baptiste Quentin/NewscomJean Baptiste Quentin/Newscom

For all of its reputation as a rule-bound society in which liberal democracy shares the stage with an intrusive state, France has a healthy history of grassroots revolts, too. President Emmanuel Macron probably should have remembered this before he pushed his plan to intentionally tax fuel into unaffordability, writes J.D. Tuccille.

The gilets jaunes—yellow vests, named after the high-visibility garments protesters donned as a symbol—were brought into the streets by the French government's environmental push as implemented through big and continuing hikes in carbon taxes. For fuel, this means a 23 percent increase in taxes just this year, hitting popular diesel especially hard, at a time when taxes already make up about 60 percent of the price.

The protests could have been predicted by anybody who remembers the reaction to France's fuel taxes in 2000—although the current situation is far more serious, Tuccille warns.

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A Powerful Dissent Charges Judges Who Casually Uphold Magazine Restrictions With Disrespecting the Second Amendment

A 3rd Circuit judge says the decision approving New Jersey's 10-round limit treats the right to arms less seriously than other constitutional rights.

YouTubeYouTubeYesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals Court for the 3rd Circuit upheld New Jersey's 10-round limit on gun magazines, echoing five other federal appeals courts that have found such laws to be consistent with the Second Amendment. "New Jersey's law reasonably fits the State's interest in public safety and does not unconstitutionally burden the Second Amendment's right to self-defense in the home," Judge Patty Shwartz concludes in an opinion joined by Judge Joseph Greenaway.

A powerful dissent by Judge Stephanos Bibas, the third member of the 3rd Circuit panel, argues that the majority's reasoning fails to take the Second Amendment as seriously as the Supreme Court said it should be in District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark 2008 decision that overturned a local ban on handguns. "The Second Amendment is an equal part of the Bill of Rights," Bibas writes. "We must treat the right to keep and bear arms like other enumerated rights, as the Supreme Court insisted in Heller. We may not water it down and balance it away based on our own sense of wise policy."

New Jersey, which has banned magazines holding more than 15 rounds since 1990, imposed the stricter limit last June in response to mass shootings. The law requires owners of "large capacity magazines" (LCMs) to surrender them to the state, render them inoperable, modify them so they cannot hold more than 10 rounds, or sell them to authorized owners (such as retired police officers, who are exempt from the ban) by December 10. New Jersey residents who fail to comply by Monday will become felons, subject to a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 18 months in prison for possessing previously legal products.

Judges Shwartz and Greenaway note that "millions of LCMs have been sold since 1994" and that "LCMs often come factory standard with semi-automatic weapons." They "assume without deciding that LCMs are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and that they are entitled to Second Amendment protection." But because New Jersey's LCM ban "does not severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home," they apply "intermediate scrutiny," which requires that a challenged law advance "a significant, substantial, or important interest" in a way that "does not burden more conduct than is reasonably necessary." By contrast, "strict scrutiny" requires that a challenged law be "narrowly tailored" to advance a "compelling governmental interest."

The majority concludes that "New Jersey's LCM ban reasonably fits the State's interest in promoting public safety," because "LCMs are used in mass shootings" and limiting them may reduce the number of rounds fired in such attacks. "Reducing the capacity of the magazine to which a shooter has access means that the shooter will have fewer bullets immediately available and will need to either change weapons or reload to continue shooting," Shwartz writes. "Weapon changes and reloading result in a pause in shooting and provide an opportunity for bystanders or police to intervene and victims to flee."

The 3rd Circuit's choice of intermediate rather than strict scrutiny relies on some rhetorical sleight of hand. "If the core Second Amendment right is burdened, then strict scrutiny applies; otherwise, intermediate scrutiny applies," Shwartz writes. "Thus, laws that severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home are subject to strict scrutiny."

In his dissent, Bibas highlights the majority's slipperiness in applying strict scrutiny only when the right to self-defense in the home is "severely" burdened. "The Second Amendment's core is the right to keep weapons for defending oneself and one's family in one's home," he writes. "The majority agrees that this is the core. So whenever a law impairs that core right, we should apply strict scrutiny, period." By weighing the severity of the burden imposed by the LCM ban before settling on a level of scrutiny, Bibas says, the majority "puts the cart before the horse," since "we never demand evidence of how severely a law burdens or how many people it hinders before picking a tier of scrutiny."

If the size of a magazine can make a difference in the hands of a mass shooter, Bibas notes, it also can make a difference in the hands of a law-abiding person using a gun in self-defense. "The government's entire case is that smaller magazines mean more reloading," he writes. "That may make guns less effective for ill—but so too for good. The government's own police detective testified that he carries large magazines because they give him a tactical 'advantage[],' since users must reload smaller magazines more often. And he admitted that 'law-abiding citizens in a gunfight' would also find them 'advantageous.' So the ban impairs both criminal uses and self-defense."

More generally, "Any gun regulation limits gun use for both crime and self-defense. And any gun restriction other than a flat ban on guns will leave alternative weapons. So the majority's test amounts to weighing benefits against burdens." Justice Steven Breyer advocated such a "balancing approach" in his Heller dissent, Bibas notes, and "the Heller majority rejected it."

Even under intermediate scrutiny, Bibas argues, New Jersey has not met its burden, relying on "anecdotes and armchair reasoning" rather than evidence that limiting magazine size reduces mass shooting casualties. "The government has offered no concrete evidence that magazine restrictions have saved or will save potential victims," he writes. "New Jersey cannot win unless the burden of proof lies with the challengers. It does not." But the majority "effectively flips the burden of proof onto the challengers, treating both contested evidence and the lack of evidence as conclusively favoring the government." Furthermore, he observes, "the majority offers no limiting principle," since "its logic would equally justify a one-round magazine limit."

Bibas also faults the majority for neglecting the "tailoring" required by intermediate scrutiny. New Jersey already had a 15-round magazine limit, and it also has a discretionary carry permit law that severely restricts who may bear guns in public. Yet the state presented no evidence that such policies are so inadequate that the further step of imposing a lower magazine limit is necessary.

Bibas argues that "the majority's watered-down 'intermediate scrutiny' is really rational-basis review," a highly deferential standard that asks only if a policy is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. "Though the Supreme Court has yet to specify a tier of scrutiny for gun laws," he says, "it forbade rational-basis review."

Why does the 3rd Circuit majority, like the other courts that have upheld legal limits on magazine capacity, treat the right to keep and bear arms so casually? "It offers only one reason: guns are dangerous," Bibas writes. "But as Heller explained, other rights affect public safety too. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments often set dangerous criminals free. The First Amendment protects hate speech and advocating violence. The Supreme Court does not treat any other right differently when it creates a risk of harm. And it has repeatedly rejected treating the Second Amendment differently from other enumerated rights. The Framers made that choice for us. We must treat the Second Amendment the same as the rest of the Bill of Rights."

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With an Erroneous Tweet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Inadvertently Reveals That Medicare-for-All Proponents Still Don't Have a Plan

Americans don't support single payer. They support Medicare for All, which is just a meaningless catchphrase.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) tweeted this week that two thirds of the cost of Medicare for All could be offset by cutting $21 trillion in Pentagon spending wasted on accounting mistakes:

Not only was she wrong, but she was wrong in a way that shows how even the most prominent and influential proponents of single payer are still disconnected from the realities of budgeting policy and politics.

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS/NewscomCARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS/NewscomArguably the biggest question dogging proponents of Medicare for All is how to pay for it. A recent study by the Mercatus Institute found that the single payer plan drawn up by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would cost more than $32 trillion over a decade, requiring implausibly large reductions in payments to medical providers as well as enormous tax hikes—more than doubling all corporate and individual income tax rates.

Even if you think the economy could withstand such a large and rapid shift of resources from the private to the public sector, an assumption I don't share, the politics make such a transition effectively impossible. Sanders' left-leaning home state of Vermont couldn't stomach the tax hikes required to implement a state-based single-payer system. It's even harder to imagine a majority of the rest of the country supporting a plan like this. The dual questions of how to pay for it and how to build political support for whatever pay-for is settled on represent a substantial practical challenge to any single-payer campaign. With her tweet, Ocasio-Cortez was attempting to respond to this challenge.

One might charitably describe her response as an error predicated on a misunderstanding.

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Congratulations, Australian Government! You've Just Destroyed the World's Data Privacy!

Parliament passes a bill at the last possible moment to give officials the power to weaken encryption.

Australia snoopingAlexlmx / Dreamstime.comPretty much every single person in the tech industry, human rights circles, and academia warned the Australian government that forcing online platforms to weaken encryption would lead to disastrous results. Nonetheless, lawmakers are pushing forward—and it's not just Australians who will suffer as a result.

Last night, Australia's parliament rushed through the Assistance and Access Bill of 2018 right as their session was coming to a close. The bill gives various government agencies the authority to demand that tech and communication platforms provide them secret bypass routes around encrypted messages.

This is what is known as an encryption "backdoor," and it's a bad idea. Governments insist such tools are needed to fight crime and terrorism. The problem is that an encryption backdoor doesn't care who uses it: If there's a mechanism to bypass privacy security on a communication system, it can be exploited by anybody who knows how. That includes hackers, thieves, officials from authoritarian governments, and all sorts of dangerous people (including, of course, the very government people who insist they're trying to protect us). That's why tech companies have spent years fighting against the idea.

Weak encryption is a threat to the health of any tech platform that involves transferring data, and governments know that. So they insist they're not demanding encryption backdoors while attempting to enact policies that pretty much demand them.

The Assistance and Access Bill won't just grant the Australian government the power to demand that everybody from Facebook to Whatsapp help them bypass security to access private communications. The bill will let officials order companies, through "technical capability notices," to alter their programming to facilitate snooping. And it gives the government the authority to force the tech employees who implement the changes to keep them secret. Break that secrecy, and the employees can face up to five years in jail.

The legislation does state that tech companies cannot be forced to introduce "systemic weaknesses" into a platform's security, but initially the bill didn't even define what that means. Backdoors by their very nature introduce a system weakness. A definition was eventually added but it is less than clear—and given the secrecy involved, how would any outsider know whether these changes introduce a weakness? How could the public possibly trust that officials would back down when a tech company explains that a demand would create a security vulnerability?

The bill presents a worldwide threat to all of our data security. We shouldn't assume that secret surveillance tools forced into an app or online platform will be functional only in Australia. And because of the gag order, companies won't be allowed to tell the public whether it is or not.

For citizens in the U.S., the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada, there's even more to worry about. These five countries have intelligence-sharing agreements. So whatever the Australian government picks up in this secret snooping can be shared with other governments as well, even if those countries themselves forbid such unwarranted surveillance.

Digital Rights Watch has absolutely blasted lawmakers for rushing through the bill at the last moment without considering most of the amendments (173 of them!) that had been proposed:

"The fundamental fact remains that the powers being handed out to law enforcement are ill-informed, badly drafted and a gross overreach," said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

"This Bill is still deeply flawed, and has the likely impact of weakening Australia's overall cybersecurity, lowering confidence in e-commerce, reducing standards of safety for data storage and reducing civil right protections. In its very design, it is antithetical to human rights and core democratic principles. Lawmakers are on notice that they will be responsible for the consequences of introducing weaknesses into our digital infrastructure—including adverse consequences borne by everyday people who rely on encryption to go about their daily lives in a digital society."

Despite the complaints about terrorists "going dark," one MP noted that Australia has foiled 11 terror plots since 2014 without this additional authority. Libertarian Australian Sen. David Leyonhjelm (a member of the country's Liberal Democrat Party) critiqued the bill's intrusiveness and the authorities' insistence that legislators needed to rush the bill through by Christmas as though there were some sort of threat looming if they didn't:

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Activists Force Santa Barbara City College VP to Take Leave For Using the N-Word While Explaining Why It’s Bad

"I was complicit. I recognize that I need to reflect on what took place and do thoughtful, informed work to educate myself."

SBCCSushirolla2011 / Wikimedia CommonsSanta Barbara City College has placed an administrator, Vice President Lyndsey Maas,* on leave because she used the n-word during a meeting.

The context greatly ameliorates the seriousness of the offense. Maas had been discussing the problem of black students being called this word on campus, and she related a story that involved someone else using the epithet.

This happened during a November 14 meeting of a gender equity working group. When student activists heard about it, they were furious.

"Lyndsay Maas repeated a story a student had told her about a racial slur that was aimed in the student's direction," The Cal Coast News reports. "Five days later, several people speaking at a Santa Barbara Board of Trustees meeting demanded Maas resign."

These people included former student trustee Krystle Farmer and Black Student Union president Naiha Dozier-El, according to The Santa Barbara Independent. The activists "talked about not feeling safe or welcome on campus and shared experiences in which they were called the n-word, were spit on, and were monitored by police in school spaces." They called on the administration to "just believe us."

Maas was a strange target for such frustrations, since it was describing this very problem that got her in trouble. Nevertheless, Akil Hill, a staffer in the admissions office, demanded that SBCC President Anthony Beebe take action. "She made a mistake, and there has to be consequences," said Hill. "You can't continue coming to work like nothing happened."

Beebe eventually placed Maas on leave, though many want her to resign as well, according to The Independent. Maas did not respond to a request for comment, but released this statement:

That word should never be used in any context as it only serves to perpetuate racism, and I was complicit. I recognize that I need to reflect on what took place and do thoughtful, informed work to educate myself. I will spend my future at SBCC more aware of how words can cause pain. Additionally, I will continue to be a part of the changes needed to help battle on campus racism.

Complicit? This sounds like a forced confession. In any case, I don't accept that there's no conceivable reason to ever use the word itself. What if you need to tell a child, for instance, that this is one of those words you just shouldn't say?

I don't know whether Maas is an effective vice president for the college, and I wouldn't necessarily grant an administrator the same protections as a member of the faculty. But she shouldn't have to resign for using the n-word while explaining that the n-word is bad.

The college did not respond to a request for comment.

Correction*: The vice president's name was initially misspelled. This has been corrected.

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Can the Democrats Really Win 2020 with a New Green Deal?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks so.

OcasioCortezWikimediaWikimedia"This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil rights movement of our generation," declaimed Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) at a "Solving Our Climate Crisis" townhall this week. She was referring to the idea of a Green New Deal, which Mother Jones describes as "a complete realignment of the U.S. economy for a carbon-free future." Not wanting for ambition, Ocasio-Cortez added this goal: "We can use the transition to 100 percent renewable energy as the vehicle to establish economic, racial and social justice in America."

Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have yet to propose any Green New Deal bills. (The first step, she says, is to create a House Select Committee to devise the relevant legislation.) Until then, we'll have to rely on the leftist group Data for Progress' vision of what a Green New Deal would look like. By their lights, the feds should aim for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 by shuttering all natural gas and coal-fired generation plants. All fossil fuel emissions should be ended by 2050. All new passenger automobiles for sale in 2030 should be zero emissions vehicles; all rail, vehicles, and aviation should be totally fossil-fuel free by 2050. Other parts of the Green New Deal include reforesting 40 million acres of public and private land by 2035, greatly expanding mass transit systems, upgrading local water supply and management infrastructure, expanding federal regulation of the waters of the U.S., and requiring that all materials be recyclable by 2040.

The centerpiece of the New Green Deal would be the creation of 10 million new green jobs in its first ten years. "A Green New Deal requires a massive workforce for the construction, operations, and administration of projects, and a federal job guarantee program can ensure there are enough workers to meet that need," says the Data for Progress proposal. "A job guarantee is a legal right that obligates the federal government to provide a job for anyone who asks for one and to pay them a livable wage."

Pointing to problems that may need to be addressed is all well and good, but when it comes to how to pay for the proposed vast transformation of the U.S. economy, the Data for Progress folks basically punt. The most that the Data for Progress report does is hand-wave toward repealing the recent tax cuts and rolling back military spending. But guaranteeing 10 million green jobs alone would require roughly to $500 billion annually, assuming full-time employment at $15 per hour.

The Data for Progress proposal cites some polls that supposedly show that Americans back a Green New Deal, including 64 percent support for a renewable electricity mandate, 71 percent for EPA regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, 74 percent for vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and 55 percent for a green job guarantee. But would Americans really support higher fuel and electric bills along with higher taxes to support this ambitious program? An October 2017 poll from the University of Chicago strongly suggests not. While 61 percent of Americans in that survey think that climate change is a problem, the pollsters report, "questions on how much they would personally be willing to pay to confront climate change (in the form of a monthly fee on their electric bill) reveal great disparity. While half are unwilling to pay even one dollar (emphasis added), 18 percent are willing to pay at least $100 per month."

"The Green New Deal is one of the most interesting—and strategic—left-wing policy interventions from the Democratic Party in years," writes Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic. Meyer thinks that the green jobs guarantee will be so seductive a lure that voters will hardly notice that their taxes have increased along with the costs for heating and cooling their houses and fueling their cars. Perhaps, but given the French workers' fierce reaction to a relatively minor 12 cent per gallon increase in their gasoline taxes, this proposed "left-wing policy intervention" may be less "interesting" to U.S. voters than progressives like Ocasio-Cortez suppose.

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Trump's Ill-Advised Slams on GM

If he wants to help American autoworkers, the president should make trade peace, not war.

Trump MouthTodd KraininPresident Donald Trump has gone after General Motors for its recent announcement that it would mothball several American plants and layoff thousands of workers. But Trump's slams are ill-advised.

GM has been doing the right thing for a change: It's proactively responding to shifting market realities so that it doesn't have to come rattling its tin cup in Washington again, I note in my latest column at The Week.

If Trump really wants to help GM—and protect auto jobs in the long run—he should stop calling himself Tariff Man and make trade peace with the world, especially America's neighbors and China.

His steel and aluminum tariffs have hurt domestic carmakers, his newly renegotiated NAFTA will raise costs of cars just when demand is plummeting, and his threats to further hike tariffs on Chinese will hurt the pocketbooks of working-class Americans without boosting their job prospects.

Go here to read the whole piece.

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Study: Trump's Tariffs Are a $42 Billion Regressive Tax Increase

They are also sapping economic growth, reducing wages, and lowering employment. Winning!

The Trump administration's tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines, and a host of Chinese-made industrial and consumer goods have increased taxes by $42 billion*, with poorer Americans feeling more of a pinch.

That's the bottom line of a new report on the tariffs published Wednesday by The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank. The Trump tariffs have reduced after-tax income by about 0.3 percent on average, according to the study, equating to a decrease of $146 in after-tax income for middle class Americans. The Tax Foundation's economic model suggests that the tariffs will reduce the gross domestic product, a short-hand measure for the overall size of the economy, by about $30 billion while also depressing wages and costing more than 94,000 jobs.

"These tariffs will increase the tax burden on Americans, falling hardest on lower and middle-income households, and reduce economic output, employment, and wages," writes Erica York, the author of the study.

What was that about trade wars being good and easy to win?

The Tax FoundationThe Tax Foundation

If Trump follows through on his threats to impose more and higher tariffs on China along with new tariffs on imported cars, after-tax incomes would fall by an average of 0.92 percent, according to The Tax Foundation.

The study makes clear, once again, that American consumers and businesses are the ones who pay the price of tariffs—not China or Chinese-based exporters, as the Trump administration continues to argue. When goods subject to tariffs enter the United States, the import taxes added by the Trump administration artificially increase the price of those goods, and those higher prices are passed along to subsequent buyers. Higher steel prices, for example, get passed along the supply chain to increase the purchase price of everything from cars and homes to beer kegs and industrial widgets.

From the start, the debate has been a question not of whether tariffs would harm the economy, but what the magnitude of that harm would be. A March study by the Trade Partnership, a Washington-based pro-trade think tank, projected that tariffs on steel and aluminum would grow those industries by about 33,400 jobs, but will also wipe out more than 179,000 other jobs. That's about 146,000 net job losses—five jobs lost for every job gained. A similar study by the Coalition for a Prosperous America, which favored the tariffs, projected a net loss of more than 10,000 jobs.

In the months since, hundreds of American companies have reported being harmed by the tariffs. Major carmakers such as Ford and General Motors expect to lose nearly $1 billion this year because of tariffs, and the stock market remains deeply skeptical of the president's seemingly ironclad confidence that trade barriers will work despite all indications otherwise.

The Tax Foundation analysis is a good reminder that the tariffs are not just affecting corporate balance sheets and Wall Street stock portfolios: These higher taxes are insidiously robbing all of us by nudging prices higher and diverting more revenue to the federal government.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to correct the estimated tax increase tied to the tariffs. It is $42 billion, not $42 million.

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Facebook Also Becoming a Sexuality-Free Zone: Reason Roundup

New rules ban erotic art, talk of shared sexual interests, kink groups, and anything that "encourages sexual encounters between adults."

Just a few days after Tumblr announced that it would ban all pornography, Facebook has pulled the proverbial hold my beer with its new "Sexual Solicitation" policy.

Facebook will now "restrict sexually explicit language"—because "some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content"—as well as talk about "partners who share sexual interests," art featuring people posed provocatively, "sexualized slang," and any "hints" or mentions of sexual "positions or fetish scenarios."

The company has long been known for bizarre content-moderation choices—at times downright puritanical, at others permissive, in a way that goes beyond the typical vagaries of monitoring and filtering massive amounts of content. (An August episode of Radiolab does a better job than anything else I've encountered at tracing why this is and how it plays out in practice.) The site has gotten flak for banning everything from photos posted by breastfeeding mothers to classical art to Stone Age sculpture in a willy-nilly manner.

But its updated Community Standards explicitly ban basically anything that hints at or mentions sexuality, including specifically ordering users not to post erotic art, engage in sexualized banter, use anything above PG language, advertise legal sex work, organize community events or private groups related to non-normative sexuality, or even engage in private talk with other users about hooking up.

The new Sexual Solicitation policy starts by stating that while Facebook wants to faciliate discussion "and draw attention to sexual violence and exploitation," it "draw[s] the line...when content facilitates, encourages, or coordinates sexual encounters between adults." Can we pause a moment to appreciate how weird it is that they lump those things together in the first place? Whatever the intent, it reads as if only content coding sex as exploitative, violent, and negative will be tolerated on the site, while even "encouraging" consensual adult sex is forbidden. It goes on to instruct users not to post:

Attempts to coordinate or recruit for adult sexual activities such as filmed sexual activities, pornographic activities and erotic dances or massages

Explicit sexual solicitation, which is defined as offering or asking for sex or sexual partners, sex chats or conversations and nude images

Implicit sexual solicitation, which is defined as mention of a sexual act along with at least one of the following suggestive elements:
> Vague suggestive statements such as "looking for a good time tonight"
> Sexualised slang
> Sexual hints such as mention of sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios
> Content (hand-drawn, digital or real-world art) that may depict explicit sexual activity or suggestively posed person(s).

Offers or requests for other adult activities, such as commercial pornography or partners who share sexual fetish interests.

Content that engages in explicit sexual solicitation by, including but not limited to the following, offering or asking for:
> Sex or sexual partners
> Sex chat or conversations
> Nude images

Content that offers or asks for other adult activities such as:
> Commercial pornography
> Partners who share fetish or sexual interests

Sexually explicit language that adds details and goes beyond mere naming or mentioning of:
> A state of sexual arousal (wetness or erection)
> An act of sexual intercourse (sexual penetration, self-pleasuring or exercising fetish scenarios)

PC Mag writes:

To be clear, Facebook already had a ban on porn and sexual solicitation on the platform; it was previously stated under the "Sexual Exploitation of Adults" and "Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity" section of Facebook's content rules. However, the social network decided to flesh out the anti-sexual solicitation policy to help Facebook better address the content on the platform, a company spokesperson told PCMag.

"This change was prompted, in large part, by conversations with our content reviewers, who told us that the sexual exploitation policy did not adequately distinguish between exploitation (e.g. 'My ex was a slut. Look at the photos she sent me.') and solicitation (e.g. 'Looking for swingers. Friday at 8 PM, [name of bar]. Wear pink.')," the spokesperson said in an email.

The company didn't directly comment on concerns the new policy was too broad and might prohibit people from engaging in dirty talk on the site. But Facebook said it crafted the new rules with input from third-party organizations that specialize in women's and children's safety issues.

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Trump's War on Trade: New at Reason

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comAfter spending months complaining about the disparity between the United States and other nations' duties, along with the unfair treatment of U.S. exporters, President Trump is once again threatening to pull the plug on one of the best tariff-equalizing deals ever made. That deal, writes Veronique de Rugy, is the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Brickbat: That's Not a Man, Baby

Woman in prisonKorn Vitthayanukarun / Dreamstime.comA federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit filed by Fior Pichardo de Veloz agaisnt the Miami-Dade County, Florida, jail doctor and nurse. The two insisted that Pichardo, who had been arrested on drug charges, be booked into the jail as a man, declaring she was transgender, even though a strip search had shown she was a woman. The officer who did the strip search protested to her supervisors, but they said they had no choice but to go with what the doctor said. Pichardo was held in a cell with about 40 men until her relatives found out where she was and demanded another exam, which showed she was a woman.

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New York Passes Minimum Wage Law for Uber, Lyft Drivers, Hikes Costs To Riders

What happens when prices are increased by fiat? They go up, usually, and in this case they may increase traffic congestion, too.

Rafael Ben-Ari/NewscomRafael Ben-Ari/NewscomNew York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has never been friendly to Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services. The TLC sees a large part of its purpose as propping up the market in taxi medallions, a special license that grants the owner the right to operate a cab in Gotham. As Reason's Jim Epstein documented years ago, the value of those medallions once was more than $1 million. It's not exactly clear what they fetch these days, but it's much, much lower. In August, the city froze the number of drivers allowed to drive for rideshare services, and now the TLC has imposed a wage hike:

The new rules, the first city-wide regulations in the nation, were passed Tuesday and are expected to go into effect in mid-January. They would give drivers for services such as Uber and Lyft a minimum hourly wage of $17.22 after expenses, the commission says.

About 96 percent of the city's 80,000 drivers who work for ride-sharing services would get a raise [of about $10,000 a year], the commission estimated....

The commission's formula factors in drivers' total working time and time spent transporting fares to increase efficiency and reduce the time drivers spend circling busy areas while awaiting fares.

That's going to be complicated enough to figure out, but it's likely that fares will increase. That's what tends to happen when prices are raised by fiat, especially if an employer can't automate its way out of a such an edict.

But it gets better. Not only will prices likely rise, congestion might actually get worse, too.

The formula, which uses a minimum per trip formula, could actually increase congestion because it encourages drivers to take more short rides in Manhattan's central business district, rather than longer ones to other boroughs, the ride-sharing companies say.

More here.

As Christian Britschgi noted for Reason, congestion fell in cities such as San Francisco as ridesharing increased. Also in the mix: New York's subway system is falling apart and major lines are undergoing long shutdowns and delays for repairs. Britschgi has observed that rideshare caps are likely to have the effect of concentrating services in the busiest parts of town, thereby reducing one of the great benefits provided by Uber and Lyft: easy transport options for people living in more far-flung parts of the city, where they have historically been poorly served by traditional cabs.

Uber and Lyft have been nothing short of a godsend for the cities in which they operate (even if they are not above shady behavior, including working with governments to screw over each other and competitors). It's appalling to see such positive disruptors get whittled down by political bosses trying to reassert a status quo that was clearly worse for riders (for a look at how much Uber drivers make, go here).

Watch "Uber and the Great Taxicab Collapse," produced by Jim Epstein for Reason in 2015.

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Trump, on a Future Debt Crisis: 'Yeah, But I Won't Be Here'

He’s probably not wrong.

||| Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/NewscomOliver Contreras/Sipa USA/NewscomThose who appreciate the Donald Trump presidency for its transparent refusal to apply lipstick to piggish federal policy have a new example to point to. The Daily Beast is reporting that Trump "has repeatedly shrugged" off any concerns about the massive and rapidly expanding national debt, reportedly saying about the day of debt-reckoning, "yeah, but I won't be here."

This sentiment is no surprise for the dwindling number of people in public life who worry actively about the long-term fiscal unsustainability of the United States. Trump campaigned, successfully, on "protecting" Social Security and Medicare, expanding the already-swollen military budget, and cutting taxes. There was no way in hell that that combination would reduce budget deficits and debt, and hoo boy has it not.

In many ways, the biggest surprise in this story is that there are still "aides and advisers" who "have tried to convince [Trump] of the importance of tackling the national debt." That concern is almost nowhere to be found in major-party politics anymore, Paul Ryan's crocodile tears notwithstanding. The only politician of note I saw bellyaching about debt and deficits in the midterms was Gary "Young People Are Getting Fucked" Johnson in the New Mexico U.S. Senate race, and he only got 15.4 percent of the vote in his home state, only half as much as his unknown GOP opponent. Democrats did not retake the House by promising long-term fiscal sanity.

||| ReasonReasonThe four basic options for Republicans who once professed to care about this stuff are: 1) quit (Ryan, Jeff Flake), 2) embrace the loneliness (Justin Amash, Rand Paul) 3) just stop talking about it (a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill), or 4) opportunistically profess belief in the Growth Fairy, so you can experience the hands-on enjoyment of expanding government power while pretending you don't want to. The latter is the preferred tack of former House deficit hawk-turned White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and also longtime Washington free-market guy and Trump 2016 economic advisor Stephen Moore, who told the Beast, "when [Trump] was confronted with these nightmare scenarios on the debt, I think he rejected them, because if you grow the economy…you don't have a debt problem."

In the world that actually exists, not only is short-term growth (plus tax cuts) not magically wiping away debt, it's adding to the pile, which contributes to the very real risk that accumulated debt loads and service thereof will have a dampening effect on…economic growth. And keep in mind we're on year nine of twin growth spurts in the economy and Wall Street; when those bubbles pop, tax receipts will go down while demand for services will increase.

So yeah, President Trump doesn't give a rip about debt, except for the irritations of having to pay interest (which is why he's jawboning the Federal Reserve). If George W. Bush could double the national debt, Barack Obama could double it again, and Trump could win on a platform that was estimated to double it once more, you can see the thought bubble forming over his head: Fiscal responsibility is for losers.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when expressing such sentiments out loud was considered irresponsible, even reckless. But that taboo was erased right around the end of 2014, and shows no sign of coming back. Elected politicians on the federal level have learned that voters prefer candidates who never charge current taxpayers anything close to the cost of government. It will probably take an economic disaster, or year-on-year haircut for Social Security recipients, to put a dent in that dangerous dynamic.

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New York City Wants to Make It Illegal to Send a Sexy Pic Without Affirmative Consent

It's been dubbed "NYC's Anti-Airdrop Dick Pic Law," but the bill is much broader than that.

Kike Arnaiz/Westend61 GmbH/NewscomKike Arnaiz/Westend61 GmbH/NewscomIt's illegal to flash your genitals at strangers in public, but not to send unsolicited nudes via text, app, email, or social media. This is a situation the New York City Council seeks to rectify. To that end, a bill introduced last week by Councilman Joseph Borelli—which Wired has dubbed "NYC's Anti-Airdrop Dick Pic Law"—would prohibit "unsolicited disclosures of intimate images."

Under Borrelli's measure, it would be a misdemeanor offense "to send an unsolicited sexually explicit video or image to another person with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm such other person," punishable by up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. Sexually explicit means anything showing "genitals, pubic area or anus of any person."

The problems with Borrelli's plan—which already has four co-sponsosrs—are myriad.

First, let's consider what new conduct it's actually criminalizing. It's already illegal for adults to send sexually explicit images to minors, so that's no excuse for this bill. Likewise, it's already illegal in New York to harass someone, stalk them, or threaten them. So sending sexually explicit images "with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm" could already be prosecuted under another statute, provided there actually is evidence of harassing or threatening intent.

What that leaves us with is basically a way for anyone to press charges against anyone who sends them a sexualized image. Who here thinks this would only be used for instances of legitimate harassment and harm?

The measure would provide plenty of opportunity for jilted lovers to get even with criminal charges. If an intimate image exists, how would a police officer know whether it was sent with intent to "annoy"? Cases that don't meet the criteria for punishment could still lead to a lot of hassle for those targeted.

The opportunity is also ripe for abuse against sex workers who advertise online, whether by those who enjoy harassing them for sport (as with last week's so-called ThotAudit), by customers who feel slighted, or by law enforcement.

Wired positions the proposed law as a matter of "cyber flashing": "a type of digital harassment where creeps use Apple's AirDrop feature to send dick pics and other lewd images straight to the home screens of unsuspecting strangers via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi," as writer Issie Lapowsky tells us.

But it's incredibly hard to trace AirDrop-style messages sent in public. "The lack of attribution artifacts at this time (additional research pending) is going to make it very difficult to attribute AirDrop misuse," writes digital forensics analyst Sarah Edwards in a blog post.

Additionally, the proposed NYC law wouldn't limit charges to dick-pic AirDroppers and sext-happy strangers. It would create a broad and wide-reaching new crime.

Lapowsky notes that a law like this "could have a ripple effect on tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as dating apps like Tinder where these types of unsolicited images are rampant. Right now, the only repercussion for sending or posting nudity on those platforms is getting the content or the account banned. With the law on its side, NYPD could issue subpoenas and other court orders that force these platforms to hand over information about the account holders, just as they do for other crimes and national security issues."

Nevermind that people can turn off the ability for strangers to AirDrop them photos, prevent people from sending unsolicited messages on social media, and block and report to social platforms those who send such messages. In the minds of the regulate-and-incarcerate crowd, it is much better to treat unsolicited butt or genital sightings with the same intensity as we do matters of national security.

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Mandatory Warrantless Rental Inspections Inspire Seattle Lawsuit

Institute for Justice to city: Show probable cause, guys.

Warrant doormatInstitute for JusticeIn an alleged effort to root out slumlords, some cities treat renters as though they don't have any rights, forcing residents to allow government officials in for mandatory warrantless "inspections" to make sure homes are up to code.

The lawyers at the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm, have been trying to fight these inspections for years as unconstitutional violations of the Fourth Amendment. This week they've filed a class-action complaint against the city of Seattle that attempts to put a stop to its inspection program.

According to their lawsuit, Seattle launched an inspection program in 2015 that requires landlords to register rental properties with the city. The city then randomly chooses 10 percent of the rental properties to inspect each year. This includes inhabited apartments and houses. The rental inspections are very thorough, allowing searches of the entire premises and therefore mandating that the people living there allow strangers in to look over their stuff.

In July, according to the lawsuit, a group of renters sharing a home wrote city officials telling them that they do not consent to a search of their property. The owner of the home also wrote to let the city know that she was respecting her tenants' wishes. The city responded that if the landlord refused to let the inspectors in, she faced penalties of $150 a day for the first 10 days, and then $500 a day afterward. Seattle did not even respond to the letter from the tenants.

The Institute for Justice is now representing both tenants and landlords in these cases to try to stop unwarranted inspections under the city's law, arguing that it violates the privacy provisions of the Washington Constitution.

"When a tenant objects and says they don't feel comfortable, there should be a process where the city goes and seeks a warrant," Institute for Justice Attorney Rob Peccola tells Reason. "Instead the City of Seattle has put into place a policy of strong-arming landlords to allow access. These kinds of searches would never be countenanced over a homeowner's objections."

The Institute for Justice wants the city to have to show probable cause that there are code violations within somebody's home before it can demand access. The group is asking for Seattle's inspection system to be declared unconstitutional and for an injunction to be put in place stopping warrantless searches without a tenant's consent.

This suit has been filed under Washington's Constitution rather than under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the state has additional privacy protections that are a little broader, particularly given the U.S. Supreme Court's willingness to allow exceptions for "administrative searches" for public safety reasons.

It was actually under Washington's Constitution in 2016 that another group of property-rights-protecting lawyers, the Pacific Legal Foundation, stopped Seattle from snooping through people's trash to make sure they were separating out their food waste. The Pacific Legal Foundation forced a stop to that practice for the same reason—no warrants.

Read the Institute for Justice's complaint here and read more about the case here.

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After Boosting the Fentanyl Market, Drug Warriors Vainly Promise to Eradicate It

The government can't stop the flow of illegal drugs, but it can always make them more deadly.

Roger Bate / AEIRoger Bate / AEI

Here are some numbers from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that should, in addition to the challenges noted by Mike Riggs, put a damper on Donald Trump's dream of stopping the illicit fentanyl trade.

"Traffickers can typically purchase a kilogram of fentanyl powder for a few thousand dollars from a Chinese supplier," the DEA says, "transform it into hundreds of thousands of pills, and sell the counterfeit pills for millions of dollars in profit." Taking the average of two actual sales cited by the DEA, a kilogram of fentanyl that costs $2,600 can be pressed into 666,666 fake pain pills, each containing 1.5 milligrams of the active ingredient, generating about $10 million in revenue at $15 each.

By comparison, a kilogram of Mexican heroin might generate something like $840,000 in revenue, based on the average retail price per pure milligram reported by the DEA in 2016. In other words, fentanyl is more than 10 times as profitable as heroin, which helps explain why the former has displaced the latter in the United States, especially since smugglers are keen to squeeze as many doses as possible into a given volume.

Given those incentives, cutting off the illicit fentanyl supply will not be quite as easy as the president seems to think. "US government agencies have made considerable efforts to interdict fentanyl and its precursors from entering the US market, but the combination of its small size and high value makes this difficult," Roger Bate notes in a new American Enterprise Institute report. "Mexican gangs and Chinese criminal enterprises find it easy to hide the products through a variety of transit methods."

Bate found that it is easy to buy fentanyl through the Chinese business-to-business trading websites Weiku and Mfrbee. "Via Weiku and Mfrbee, it was possible to buy fentanyl, its analogues such as carfentanil, and their precursors," he says. "Some sellers would only trade in significant volumes (more than a kilogram of fentanyl), but many were happy to sell less than 100 grams of the potent product....Although I had no intention of making the purchases, I was only one click away from doing so....Even if the UK and US authorities did prevent or intercept these deals, I doubt other nations would intercept them, and a motivated user or dealer could use a more circuitous path."

Trump says "the results will be incredible" if the Chinese government cracks down on such websites. Bate is less sanguine. "While the US may come to an agreement with Beijing about closing down sales to the US from business sites such as Weiku, it is unlikely to be fully successful," he writes. "And even if it managed to stop 100 percent of direct sales to the US, enterprising dealers will simply sell into nations such as the UK, repackage the product, and then resell it into the US. Intercepting all packages from the UK and other EU nations to the US will not be possible." Furthermore, "whether or not drugs are available to the general public via the mail, drug dealers have domestic production and overland and sea routes and other courier services that deliver the product to the US."

The fentanyl conundrum is just the latest example of how prohibition undermines itself by enabling criminal organizations to earn a risk premium that motivates all manner of creative evasion. To the extent that increased enforcement has an impact, it tends to makes drug use deadlier. Interviewing drug users and dealers in the Philadelphia area, Bate found that fentanyl has swiftly replaced diverted pain pills, which are less dangerous because their potency and dosing are predictable. "It is arguable that policies to drive oxycodone and other prescription opioids from the illicit market are the main cause of the rise of fentanyl in these markets, and regrettably the resulting spike in fatal overdoses," he writes. "By making prescription opioids harder to come by, government policy has probably driven illicit actors to supply—and drug users to ingest—fentanyls."

That certainly seems to be what is happening. Nor does it stop there. If efforts to restrict the fentanyl supply are at all successful, they will encourage the shift toward still-more-potent fentanyl analogs. Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the number and proportion of deaths involving fentanyl analogs "nearly doubled" between the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017.

In a blog post yesterday, Bate noted signs that fentanyl-related deaths may be leveling off. If so, he does not think the government's drug control efforts should get the credit. "While the numbers may be falling," he writes, "I think the main reason is not because of improvements in federal, state, or local policies, but because dealers—those breaking the law and supplying the deadly stuff—are getting better at controlling dosing. After all, it's bad for business to keep killing your clients and authorities are likely to clamp down on your activities if you keep doing so."

Despite the deadly effects of cracking down on pain pills, Bate says in his AEI report, "lowering the number of prescription opioids in circulation is the right policy—assuming that preventing new opioid addicts is of paramount importance." Even leaving aside the impact on bona fide patients who are losing access to the medication they need to make their lives bearable, that conclusion seems dubious to me.

As Jeff Singer notes on the Cato Institue's blog, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that both nonmedical use of prescription opioids and "pain reliever use disorder" were essentially flat from 2002 (when the current version of the survey began) to 2010, a period when the volume of opioid prescriptions doubled. Those numbers remained flat from 2010 through 2014, while prescriptions declined. (The wording of the relevant NSDUH questions changed in 2015, so the numbers for more recent years are not comparable.)

According to the CDC, deaths involving pain pills more than doubled from 2002 to 2010. But they continued to rise after 2010, even as prescriptions fell by about a third between 2010 and 2017. More important, total deaths involving opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, rose dramatically, more than doubling between 2010 and 2017.

The NSDUH data suggest the relationship between pain pill prescriptions and "new opioid addicts" is not as tight as Bate implies. But opioid use clearly has become more dangerous during the last decade and a half. That may be partly due to larger doses or more reckless drug mixing. But the biggest factor in recent years has been the proliferation of fentanyl, the impact of which has been magnified by the deadly substitution effect that Bate notes.

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Anti-Development Activists Killed California's Last Stab at Free Market Housing Reform. Will They Get on Board With This Latest Attempt?

Senate Bill 50 would override restrictive local zoning laws to allow more housing construction near transit.

BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS/NewscomBENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS/NewscomCalifornia is gearing up for another bitter housing policy fight following the introduction of a bill in the state legislature that would preempt local zoning laws in favor of allowing more, denser housing construction.

"For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers," said State Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco) in a Tuesday Medium post announcing the bill. "As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities."

Wiener's legislation, Senate Bill 50 (SB 50), would give developers waivers to local zoning laws—called "equitable communities incentives"—that would allow the construction of apartment buildings as tall as 45 feet within a half mile of major transit stops, and as tall as 55 feet within a quarter mile of major transit stops. In order to qualify for these incentives, developers would have to reserve a yet-to-determined percentage of new units for low-income tenants.

If all this sounds familiar, it is because it is essentially the same approach Weiner took in his last, ultimately unsuccessful housing reform bill from earlier this year, Senate Bill 827 (SB 827).

That bill, like SB 50, would have upzoned areas near transit, but was killed in committee back in April after encountering stiff opposition from California's powerful construction trade unions—represented at the state level by the State Building and Construction Trades Council—as well as anti-gentrification groups, and local governments.

Re-introducing such a similar bill just months after the last one went down in flames might sound a bit like the clinical definition of insanity, but there are actually some good reasons to think that SB 50 will succeed where its predecessor failed.

For starters, this new bill includes an explicit requirement that any developer taking advantage of its zoning waivers still abide by local construction wage regulations. That is a major sweetener for trade unions who came out against SB 827 largely because they feared it would allow developers to bypass local requirements that construction workers be paid a prevailing (union) wage.

SB 50 also forbids the use of its "equitable community incentives" for projects being built on land that has been occupied by tenants in the last seven years, or was taken off the rental housing market by the owner in the last 15 years. The idea here is to mollify concerns that any loosening of local zoning laws will give developers carte blanche to level low income housing, and put up dreaded "luxury condos," displacing vulnerable tenants in the process.

Neither of these concessions are ideal policy. Both will certainly blunt the impact of the bill. They are nevertheless both politically astute and probably necessary in order to get any zoning liberalization bill through the legislature.

Indeed, this approach already appears to be winning friends and influencing people. The Construction Trades Council has said it would support SB 50, and its political director, Cesar Diaz, even provided a rosy quote for Weiner's press release announcing the new bill.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reports that low income housing and tenants rights groups—some of whom compared SB 827 to a modern day Trail of Tears, with Wiener playing the role of Andrew Jackson—are playing a wait and see approach this time around.

All told, SB 50 is a far cry from the unfettered property rights agenda that would make up a libertarian housing policy. Yet for all its blemishes, it would still override restrictive local zoning laws to allow for more housing construction.

That reform would go part of the way towards alleviating California's pressing housing shortage and the astronomical rents and home prices that have come with it.

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On Repeal Day, Remember That Prohibition May Be Over, But Its Ripple Effects Are Still Making Drinking Worse: Podcast

Drinks Reform editor Jarrett Dieterle talks about how Prohibition came about, and his new report on America’s dumbest booze restrictions.

Raise your glass, folks! Today is Repeal Day, which marks the anniversary of the end of federal alcohol prohibition in the United States.

To celebrate the occasion, I interviewed Jarrett Dieterle, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and the author of a new report on "America's Dumbest Drinking Laws," about how Prohibition came about, what forces were empowered when alcohol was illegal, how alcohol laws changed after repeal, and the many ways in which the effects of Prohibition still linger today.

I'm a fan of cocktails and spirits, and Dieterle is an expert on both the history and current state of alcohol policy in the United States, so naturally the conversation turned to the many ways the two are, and have always been, intertwined.

What was the link between the temperance movement and anti-immigrant sentiments? How did drinks and drinking change during Prohibition? What are some of the bizarre and pointless ways in which states are still making it difficult to buy, mix, and consume alcohol? And—maybe most importantly—what should you be drinking tonight to celebrate Repeal Day?

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

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Photo Credit: ID 87700464 © Nomadsoul1 | Dreamstime.com

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

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Mueller Says Flynn’s Been Cooperative with Russian Investigation, Asks for Light Sentence

Snitches get a slap on the wrist sometimes.

Michael FlynnCarlos Barria/REUTERS/NewscomMichael Flynn, the former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, has provided so much assistance to the Department of Justice's investigations that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is recommending a light sentence for Flynn for lying to the FBI about his connections with Russia.

Flynn has previously pleaded guilty to concealing conversations with a Russian ambassador in December 2016 about responses to U.S. sanctions against Russia. He also concealed ties with the government of Turkey and its campaign to influence public opinion to lay the blame on a failed coup attempt there on cleric Fethullah Gulen. All of this was part of an attempt to extradite Gulen from the United States to Turkey.

According to a sentencing memo released last night from Mueller's office, Flynn has since been extremely cooperative with the federal government, participating in 19 separate interviews for multiple ongoing investigations. And because the investigations are ongoing, much of the explanation of the recommendation is redacted. But Flynn's cooperation is valuable enough that Mueller has recommended a sentence on the "low end of the guideline range"—including the possibility of no prison sentence at all. The recommended guideline range for a sentence for Flynn's crime is from zero to six months.

There will be a lot of overanalysis of what these memos mean (check out this almost comically absurd megaparsing of a sentence about holding senior government leaders to the "highest of standards," as though Mueller's using a sentencing memo to essentially subtweet Trump).

There are a couple of things worth noting in the redacted sections. First, a whole chunk of redacted text details Flynn's assistance in an investigation wholly unconnected to the attempt to determine the extent of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and whether anybody in Trump's campaign assisted. This criminal investigation does not appear to be part of Mueller's work. We don't know what it is because it's completely redacted, but it could be connected to Flynn's ties with Turkey and any potential investigation about their efforts to get at Gulen. Regardless, contextually, that section is very clearly not about the Russian investigation.

But in the section of the Russian investigation, there are parts also redacted that describe useful assistance on something that appears to be unconnected to the stuff about Flynn that we already know. There are several paragraphs blacked out about information that is above and beyond his conversations with the Russian ambassador that fateful December.

There's not a whole lot here, but then people shouldn't have been expecting a whole lot here, and perhaps people should not be either overly excited nor overly dismissive of the memo's contents. The real fireworks may be coming on Friday, though. That's when Mueller is expected to release some of the details as to the lies Paul Manafort has been accused of feeding the FBI even after he agreed to cooperate as part of a plea deal. The lies may be connected to the Russian investigation, but given the extent of the charges and tax fraud Manafort has been convicted of, it could be a completely unrelated matter.

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Taxpayers Will Pay $1 Million to Tear Down $18 Million Baseball Stadium That Predictably Failed to Rejuvenate Camden

The stadium never turned a profit and the team skipped town when local officials decided to start charging rent.

Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI 595/Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI/NewscomDrew Hallowell/Icon SMI 595/Drew Hallowell/Icon SMI/NewscomSpeaking in 2000 at the groundbreaking for a minor league baseball stadium in Camden, New Jersey, then-Governor Christine Todd Whitman reached for the most obvious cliche possible.

The state's economic development authorities, she said, had "heard the message from the movie, Field of Dreams: 'If you build it, they will come.'"

"Well, soon we will see a field of dreams right here in Camden, and my prediction is 'they will come,'" Whitman said.

Taxpayers spent more than $18 million to build the stadium that would eventually be named Campbell's Field, as part of a minor league ballpark-building frenzy across New Jersey that saw similar stadiums erected in Newark, Atlantic City, and Somerset—all part of redevelopment schemes that attracted independent minor league teams (that is, minor league teams not affiliated with the Major League Baseball farm system).

Less than two decades later, taxpayers in New Jersey will pay another $1 million to tear down Campbell's Field.

The sad saga of the Camden Riversharks—the Atlantic League team for whom the stadium was built prior to the 2001 season—will come to an official end more than three years after the team picked up and moved to New Britain, Connecticut, leaving Campbell's Field vacant. The city tried to attract a new team, but after those efforts failed, the Camden County Improvement Authority signed off on a plan to demolish the stadium, according to NJ.com. The Riversharks and Campbell's Field were supposed to revitalize the impoverished city by being the centerpiece of an economic development plan along the edge of the Delaware River. Now, the demolition of the stadium is the first step in a new $15 million economic development scheme that will turn the site into a complex of athletic fields for Rutgers University's Camden campus, NJ.com reports.

The stadium was a mistake from the start, though it did offer sweeping views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Philadelphia skyline across the river. The great view wasn't enough to convince fans to go to Camden, a deeply improverished city best known for its high crime rate. In the team's final two seasons, the Riversharks averaged about 3,000 fans per game—which is actually not bad by the standards of independent minor league baseball—but the team never turned a profit and abruptly skipped town in 2015 when negotiations on a new lease stalled.

By then, the ballpark was so deep in debt that it faced foreclosure because the team had missed several lease payments. To bail it out, Camden paid off $3.5 million in outstanding debt and purchased the property. The city planned to impose a new ticket surcharge to cover those costs, but the city only received one payment from the team before it moved away, NJ.com reported last year.

Camden's not the only city to dump a ton of money into a minor (or major) league ballpark under the guise of economic development, only to see the project become a fiscal black hole. The minor league teams that moved into Newark and Atlantic City around the same time as the Riversharks started playing in Camden have met similar fates. The Atlantic City Surf survived for 11 years before going bankrupt and the Newark Bears folded in 2014. Their riverfront stadium in downtown Newark is also set to be demolished less than 20 years after it was built.

"If there's a lesson here, it's that minor-league baseball stadiums are incredibly risky gambles," writes Neil deMause, author of the book Field of Schemes. "It's the rare team that brings in tons of fans after the initial honeymoon period and it's all too easy for a team to relocate or fold years before the stadium is paid off even if the team is helping to pay off the stadium debt, which it usually isn't."

Perhaps the only good news for taxpayers is that the Camden stadium didn't become an even bigger boondoggle—because it almost did.

Officials in Camden and Philadelphia had long dreamed of a cross-river cable car system—for reasons that really don't make any sense, considering the fact that cars, trains, and pedestrians can already use the Ben Franklin Bridge to get between the two places—and the baseball stadium nearly sparked that project into being. Philadelphia ended up spending $18 million on the tram system before abandoning the idea.

For all that money, all the city got was a large concrete arch along the riverfront.

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China's Xi Fools Another U.S. President With Promises of a Fentanyl Crackdown

And once again, Trump is distracted from real policy by symbolic brutality.

Just days after a White House press release described China's willingness to crack down on illicit fentanyl as a "wonderful humanitarian gesture," President Donald Trump took to Twitter to say "the results will be incredible" if the Chinese government uses "the Death Penalty for distributors and pushers."

The White House announced on December 1 that Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed, during a meeting with Trump in Argentina, that China would "designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law."

Xinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomXinhua/Sipa USA/NewscomWhile the White House press release skirts the issue, Trump eagerly makes plain that the maximum penalty for drug offenses in China is capital punishment. Chinese courts—perhaps at the behest of the Communist Party or in response to international outrage over illicit drug exports—have began using public sentencings to message toughness. This time last year, a court in Guangdong province sentenced seven drug offenders to death. The sentencing was treated like an event: held in a sports stadium, advertised on social media, and broadcast live online.

That Trump sees Xi's willingness to execute even more people—quite a feat, considering that China already leads the world in murdering its own citizens—reveals yet another way in which the American president favors vague bravado over policy nuance. If, in the coming months, China were to announce a large fentanyl bust (or two) and then send a dozen (or more) offenders to the gallows, Trump could take credit for wringing a concession from Xi, even though China regularly murders drug offenders and has for years.

Trump would call that a win, but people who study illicit trade know better. In 2015, China added six fentanyl products (including fentanyl itself) to its list of controlled substances; American overdose rates did not decline. As Sui-Lee Wee reports for The New York Times, China promised the Obama administration in 2016 that it would "crack down" still more on illicit fentanyl; American overdose rates did not decline. Much like American drug warriors, Xi is promising to do more of what he's already done. It hasn't worked before and it won't work now.

China's chemical manufacturing sector is too large to regulate; its law-breakers are too savvy to stay out of business for long; and its regulators are too corrupt to do the work of, well, regulating. Consider these very real obstacles, culled from a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report released in 2017:

  • China is home to over 5,000 pharmaceutical companies and over 160,000 chemical companies, and the line between legal and illegal operation is blurred by the fact that licensed manufacturers will supply both legal and illegal customers.
  • Shippers of illicit fentanyl use a network of package forwarding services that work so well most shippers will guarantee a free replacement shipment in the even of confiscation
  • Fentanyl is intentionally mislabeled as other drugs, or hidden alongside completely legal items, in order to evade detection (and it works)
  • Pill presses, used here in the U.S. and in Mexico to disguise fentanyl as prescription pills, are shipped in pieces to avoid detection (and it works)
  • Just months after adding fentanyl to its list of controlled substances in 2015, Chinese chemical factories began pumping out furanyl fentanyl, which was not on the list of controlled substances. Illicit chemists have done this, and will continue to do this, with every banned substance.
  • Chinese regulators and law enforcement have been known to delay visa approvals for Food and Drug Administration inspectors who visit to the country to inspect factories that export to the U.S., and to destroy records that would likely show legal factories are engaged in diverting substances to illegal markets.
  • Due to the massive (and growing) volume of legal Chinese goods shipped to the U.S. through legitimate online marketplaces, U.S. Customs inspectors simply cannot intercept even a meaningful fraction of the illicit substances sent to the U.S. each day

Hammering out a bilateral agreement that actually reduced the amount of illegal drugs China shipped to the U.S. would be a tall order for even a wonky president. Trump doesn't stand a chance.

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Let's Repeal These Bad Booze Laws Next: Reason Roundup

Plus: RIP The Weekly Standard?, America loves exercise science, and court says no to ban on speech promoting illegal immigration.

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomHappy Repeal Day! Indiana only lets gas stations sell beer if the beverages are warm. Ohio bans alcohol ads from featuring Santa Claus (and many states stop alcohol sales on Christmas). In Utah, mini liquor bottles are banned, but in Washington, D.C., purchasers must buy six at a time.

The prohibition era may be long past, but America is still awash with puritanical, patronizing, cronyist, and otherwise crappy booze laws. To celebrate the 85th anniversary of the U.S. alcohol ban's repeal—and encourage us to stop repeating the era's mistakes—the R Street Institute has ferreted out "America's Dumbest Drinking Laws" that are still on the books.

"While prohibition has indeed been relegated to the dustbin of history, we're still far from free when it comes to drinking," write R Street's Jarrett Dieterle and Daniel DiLoreto. "Even today, alcohol continues to be subjected to a host of nonsensical, onerous and sometimes downright silly restrictions."

Dieterle and DiLoreto scouted bad laws to put together "the definitive list of the Worst Booze Laws in America," singling out 12 top offenders. Among them:

• Alabama's prohibition on alcohol labels that feature "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner."

• A federal law that prohibits distilleries on Native American land. "In 1834, Andrew Jackson signed a law banning distilleries on Native American lands," notes the report:

During that time in American history, the condescending myth of the "drunken Indian" was pervasive and led to a whole host of paternalistic laws being implemented regarding tribal lands and booze. … In 2015, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Washington State attempted to open a distillery on their land, only to be rebuffed. They and others have tried to pressure Congress to scrap this outdated and offensive law but, so far, to no avail.

A bill passed by Congress last week would change this and is awaiting the president's signature.

• Idaho's ban on infused liquor.

• Virginia ratio rules requiring restaurants with liquor licenses to sell at least $45 of food and non-alcoholic beverages for every $55 worth of liquor—a rule that has thwarted craft cocktail bar scene in the state.

One bad booze law not on the R Street report has been getting attention around these parts lately: a Virginia ban on happy hour advertising. "In the Old Dominion, it's legal for businesses to offer happy hour. It's just illegal for them to talk about it," explained the Pacific Legal Foundation's Anastasia Boden at The Washington Post last week. More:

Those that dare to advertise the happy-hour price of a beer or use creative terms such as "Sunday Funday" to pitch the demon rum face big fines or a suspended permit from the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

Restaurant owner Geoff Tracy is challenging the law on First Amendment grounds, with a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

FREE MINDS

RIP The Weekly Standard? The publisher of the once-venerated neo-con magazine is reportedly killing it in order to direct its focus to another property, The Washington Examiner. Clarity Media Group announced Monday that the Examiner will expand to national distribution starting in January.

"This is not about dwindling subscribers," one inside source told Vox's Jane Coaston. "This is about strip-mining TWS for its assets"—subscriber lists, etc.—and that's why a potential sale to other owners was nixed.

FREE MARKETS

"Exercise science" is now America's fastest-growing college major. Ira Stoll suggests that "organized exercise is challenging the humanities and traditional religion as a place where people seek community, meaning, and discipline."

Evidence for this assertion can be found in the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fitness instructors and trainers rose from 182,280 in 2004 to about 280,080 in 2017. "If the federal statistics are accurate," writes Stoll, "America has added about 100,000 yoga instructors, personal trainers, and spin class teachers in the past 14 years or so, but only about 14,000 ministers, rabbis, priests and imams."

QUICK HITS

• It's not OK to criminalize speech that encourages illegal entry into—or illegal stays—in the U.S., per a new ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.

• Rudy Giuliani goes full Clueless Old on Twitter after accidentally inserting an anti-Trump hyperlink into his own tweet.

• "Why the policing of the world's oldest profession is still caught between science and morality": a interactive article at Atavist takes a look at the challenges criminalized sex workers face in South Africa and the Netherlands.

• On sex work decriminalization versus legalization:

• ICYMI yesterday: advocates are now insisting that women make only 49 cents for every dollar a man does.

• A little bit of good economic news, brought to you by J.D. Tuccille and the Tax Foundation.

• More good news: Michael Avenatti won't run for president in 2020.

• And even more good news: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back.

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Woah! More Than 1,100 People Donated to Reason This Week

Thank you for your support of our 2018 webathon.

ReasonReasonWe thank you, loyal readers, for sticking with us through Reason's webathon week, which is now officially over.*

We are both stoked and grateful to report that—thanks to a last-minute surge in giving—we met (and even slightly exceeded!) our goal for the week. More than 1,100 of you forked over your hard-earned dollars to help keep Reason in business. A little over $200,000 is a lot of money to a magazine like ours, and we really appreciate you digging deep to find it for us.

And the fact that so many of you chipped in feels especially valuable in the face of news in recent weeks, days, and months that other publications (including one that used to employ me) are dropping like flies in this treacherous media landscape. Thanks to your generosity—and just as important, your vast numbers—Reason is not at the mercy of the whims of a single sugar daddy or the vagaries of a tech giant's algorithm. We've also been able to avoid going behind a paywall to make the money math work, which means your tax-deductible donation truly supports our mission to get information out to everybody, not just to preach to the choir.

Without you, we couldn't afford to do what we have done every day for the last 50 years. It ain't cheap to produce independent, high-quality journalism about stories that really matter—especially stories other publications are afraid to touch, or don't even know are there. Your donations means we can follow our hearts and our noses in our quest to come right back to you with the absolute best stories, videos, podcasts, and more.

Special thanks to the two folks who offered $25,000 matching grants, goosing giving from new donors and offering everyone more bang for their buck. And a thank you as well to everyone who supports Reason year-round, not just when we stick popups in your face about it.

*If you meant to donate and didn't quite get around to it, you can still sneak under the wire for those perks and swag. Like an indulgent college professor, we're extending the deadline for procrastinators for an extra day.

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Stop Ignoring Double Jeopardy: New at Reason

The Supreme Court should reconsider the misbegotten "dual sovereignty" doctrine.

AmazonAmazonNo one disputes that Terance Gamble, who was convicted of second-degree robbery in 2008, broke the law by possessing the pistol that a police officer found in his car during a traffic stop in Mobile, Alabama, seven years later. In fact, he broke two laws, since both Alabama and the federal government bar people with felony records from owning guns.

Does that mean Gamble committed two offenses? That's the question at the heart of a case that gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider a longstanding but misbegotten exception to the constitutional ban on double jeopardy, Jacob Sullum writes.

Gamble, whose case the Court will hear on Thursday, was prosecuted and sentenced twice for illegal gun possession, once in state court and once in federal court. As a result, he will remain in prison until February 2020, which is three years later than he would have been released if his punishment had been limited to the state sentence.

On the face of it, Gamble's double punishment violates the Double Jeopardy Clause, which prohibits trying someone twice "for the same offense." But according to a doctrine the Supreme Court first enunciated in 1852, Gamble was punished for two distinct offenses: one against the state of Alabama and one against the federal government.

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Brickbat: Uncollegial Behavior

Angry professorDarkbird77 / Dreamstime.comDerek Pyne, an associate professor of economics at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada, says he has been effectively banned from campus for an academic paper he wrote. The topic of the paper was journals with low standards that charge authors fees to publish in them. While he did not name names, Pyne reported that most of his colleagues in the School of Business and Economics had published in such journals.

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Choice, Consent, and Reason: Make a Difference in 2019!

Our annual online giving event ends tonight. Help us fight for "Free Minds and Free Markets" for another 50 years.

Reason's annual webathon ends tonight. We're asking people who like our journalism to support our efforts with tax-deductible donations. Every dollar you give helps us produce more content—more stories, videos, podcastst, media appearances, you name it—in which we make principled libertarian arguments about how society should best be organized.

In early November, Reason celebrated its 50th anniversary, but I'd like to share some footage from a different celebration right now. Here's William "Bill" Niskanen (1933-2011), a widely respected economist who resigned from a position at Ford Motors rather than defend import quotas, served in the Reagan administration, acted as chairman of the Cato Institute, and was for a time a trustee of the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website (he is also the namesake of The Niskanen Center). The occasion was Reason's 15th anniversary in 1983:

A community is defined by its shared convictions. The dominant shared conviction of the Reason community is that the only moral basis for a social order is choice and consent. Choice without consent is meaningless and consent without choice is the consent of the prison. Only a society that is based upon both choice and consent provides the basis for a moral order....

[This] is the difference between a morality of process and a morality of end-states. All of the great tyrants of history have rationalized restricting choice, overriding consent, in the name of some higher end-state.... Reason magazine, Reason Foundation, and the community it represents is one of the most forceful and articulate representatives of the point of view that we should take consent seriously as the basis of organizing the social order. And that is what distinguishes us from the contemporary liberal and the contemporary conservative communities, each of whom has their own agendas about different end-states....

The only way which we can work together as people is to build a society in which choice is available and the basis for choice, whether it is in the economic sphere, or any sphere of our life, is consent.... For those few of us who are not anarchists, it suggests that government should be strongly restrained by an agreed-upon Constitution [and to the greatest extent possible] should be decentralized. To a great deal more than is now the case, government should be the coordinator but not the provider of a variety of goods and services....

You can watch Niskanen's full remarks, put online by Libertarianism.org, here:

As it happens, we named a 2004 anthology of Reason articles Choice, for reasons that echo Niskanen's insights. "Within the broadest possible parameters," reads the introduction, "we believe you that you should be able to think what you want, live where you want, trade for what you want, eat what you want, smoke what you want, and marry whom you want. You should also be willing to shoulder the responsibilities your actions entail. Those general guidelines don't explain everything...but they go a hell of a long way to creating a world that is tolerant, free, peaceful, prosperous, vibrant, and interesting."

If you agree that choice and consent matter—and that Reason does a good job of making that case via great journalism—then please donate now!

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9th Circuit Says a Federal Law Making It a Felony to 'Encourage' Illegal Immigration Violates the First Amendment

The statute is "unconstitutionally overbroad," the appeals court says, because it criminalizes "a substantial amount of protected expression."

YouTubeYouTubeToday a federal appeals court ruled that a law aimed at curtailing illegal immigration violates the First Amendment by criminalizing the speech of anyone who "encourages" an alien to enter or reside in the United States without the government's permission. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that the law is "unconstitutionally overbroad" because it "criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute's narrow legitimate sweep."

The law, 18 USC 1324(1)(A)(iv), authorizes a fine and up to five years in prison for someone who "encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law." The maximum sentence rises to 10 years if the defendant acted "for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain."

This case involves Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, a San Jose, California, immigration consultant who purported to help unauthorized home health care workers from the Philippines obtain green cards through a "Labor Certification" program that expired in 2001. Sineneng-Smith, who knew that anyone who had entered the country after December 21, 2000, was not eligible for the program, was convicted of fraud as well as violating 18 USC 1324(1)(A)(iv).

But as Judge A. Wallace Tashima notes in the 9th Circuit's ruling, which was joined by Judges Marsha Berzon and Andrew Hurwitz, the law on its face encompasses a wide range of less nefarious and less mercenary speech, including the words of "a loving grandmother who urges her grandson to overstay his visa," telling him, "I encourage you to stay." In fact, Tashima says, "situations like this one, where a family member encourages another to stay in the country, or come to the country, are surely the most common form of encouragement or inducement within Subsection (iv)'s ambit."

Another common situation, Tashima says, might involve "an attorney who tells her client that she should remain in the country while contesting removal—because, for example, non-citizens within the United States have greater due process rights than non-citizens outside the United States, or because, as a practical matter, the government may not physically remove her until removal proceedings are completed." Under a straightforward reading of the statute, "the attorney's accurate advice could subject her to a felony charge" and might even make her eligible for a 10-year sentence if the client is paying for her services.

Lest you think the government would never prosecute such violations of the law, Tashima notes a 2012 case in which a Massachusetts woman who hired an unauthorized immigrant to clean her house was prosecuted under 18 USC 1324(1)(A)(iv). She allegedly committed a felony when she "advised the cleaning lady generally about immigration law practices and consequences." It seems clear, Tashima says, that the law is "susceptible to regular application to constitutionally protected speech," and "there is a realistic (and actual) danger that the statute will infringe upon recognized First Amendment protections."

Nor is the law limited to one-on-one conversations. Tashima asks us to imagine "a speech addressed to a gathered crowd, or directed at undocumented individuals on social media, in which the speaker said something along the lines of 'I encourage all you folks out there without legal status to stay in the U.S.! We are in the process of trying to change the immigration laws, and the more we can show the potential hardship on people who have been in the country a long time, the better we can convince American citizens to fight for us and grant us a path to legalization.'" That also "could constitute inducement or encouragement under the statute."

Such speech does not amount to incitement or aiding and abetting a crime, Tashima notes. Rather, it is "pure advocacy on a hotly debated issue in our society," and "criminalizing expression like this threatens almost anyone willing to weigh in on the debate."

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D.C. City Council To Decriminalize Fare Evasion on City Buses and Trains

The idea of decriminalizing fare evasion pits civil liberties advocates against the needs of a (partially) user-funded transit system.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomToday, the District of Columbia City Council is expected vote on a bill that would decriminalize fare evasion on the city's buses and trains. The measure is likely to pass, which means people who ride the bus or train system without paying can be cited for a civil infraction and fined $50, but can no longer be subjected to arrest, 10 days in jail, or fines of up to $300 simply for evading a fare.

The city's transit agency—the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA, or simply Metro)—argues the change will only encourage already-rampant fare evasion. Civil rights groups counter that the current penalties are unjust, and enforced in a racially-discriminatory manner. In this rare instance, everybody's a little bit right.

Using data provided by WMATA, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs reported in September that 91 percent of people stopped for fare evasion were black, and that 30 percent of fare evasion stops took place at just two stations with large numbers of black riders: Anacostia in Southeast D.C. and Gallery Place in the city center. (D.C.'s Metro system has some 91 stations.) Supporters of the bill have argued that enforcement of the current law disproportionately affects black people and are an example of over-criminalization.

"The criminalization of minor, unwanted conduct is significantly more harmful than the failure to pay a $2 fare," argued Councilmember Charles Allen (D–Ward 6), who chairs the council's Judiciary Committee. "Fare evasion do not pose a threat to public safety—and criminalizing such offenses in fact makes communities less safe and erodes trust in law enforcement," said Nassim Moshiree, policy director of the D.C. ACLU, in an October statement.

Metro, meanwhile, claims the system cannot afford not to punish fare evaders. The agency says its bus system alone loses $25 million annually as a result of fare evasion, and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans (who also sits on the D.C. City Council) estimates an equivalent amount is lost to fare evasion on its rail system, for a total of $50 million lost annually. Metro also claims that the current penalties aren't that punitive, and that 92 percent of fair evasion stops result in only a fine or warning; while the 8 percent of fair evasion stops that result in an arrest are often the result of a suspected fair evader having an open warrant, committing a further offense while being stopped, or refusing to provide identification.

"Decriminalizing fare evasion in the District would be unfair to the overwhelming majority of Metro riders, including those of limited means, who pay their fares," reads a letter from Metro's executive board to the D.C. City Council. "Any increase in fare evasion as a result of a change in law in the District would create additional requirements for subsidy increases or fare hikes."

Critics of decriminalization are right to point out that fair evasion is a form of theft, and civil libertarians are right to note that treating fare evasion like we would any other theft disproportionately affects D.C.'s low-income residents and contributes to a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and petty criminality. But the current system is not working. As with most criminal behaviors, it's highly unlikely that fair evaders understand current penalties chapter and verse. That most fair evaders are not stopped at all, or are often let off with just a warning, perpetuates the confusion around the seriousness of the offense.

What's more, Metro says it almost never arrests anyone now for actually evading fares (only for having open warrants or some other offense), so it's not clear how decriminalization puts the agency in a worse enforcement position. Metro officials have said that they might not be able to conduct background checks on those they are detaining for fare evasion if it's only a civil infraction.

Ultimately, I think a lot of this dilemma would be solved by making Metro stations a lot more secure. It is incredibly easy to vault Metro's rainbow-style turnstiles or simply walk though unlocked (and often unwatched) emergency gates. Full-height turnstiles and more closely guarded emergency gates would help to reduce fare evasion. Buses are a more difficult animal to tackle, but San Francisco's transit agency has had some success reducing fare evasion on its buses by creating off-board payment options.

Getting rid of the jail sentence, developing a system for collecting on fines, and making it a harder offense to commit in the first place seems like the best way to balance civil liberties concerns with the needs of a (partially) user-fee funded transit system.

The decriminalization bill, initially introduced by Councilmember Trayon White (D–Ward 8) in July 2017, has the support of 11 of 13 D.C. city councilmembers. A final vote is needed to send the bill to the mayor's desk for signing.

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As 'Tariff Man' Attacks Stock Market, Justin Amash's 'Liberty Man' Is the Hero We Need

Tuesday's tweets demonstrate that Trump still doesn't understand that Americans, not foreigners, are paying his tariffs.

Amid a series of morning tweets that seemed to contradict his administration's claims about a supposed trade deal between the U.S. and China, President Donald Trump declared himself to be "Tariff Man."

The internet had a lot of fun with that one.

The stock market was less enthused.

U.S. markets rallied on Monday following the Trump administration's claim of an imminent truce in the U.S.-China trade war, only to fall sharply on Tuesday as presidential tweets and contradictory messages from senior administration officials indicated that the "deal" might be less firm than previously thought. The Dow finished the day just a hair over 25,000 points—meaning that the stock market has been basically flat since March 1, when Trump announced the first round of tariffs and the Dow was sitting at 24,600 points.

As I noted yesterday, the agreement between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping seemed to be little more than a series of vague goals with no concrete timeline or definitive way to measure progress. According to details released by the White House, Trump agreed to postpone a planned January 1 escalation of tariffs on Chinese goods for 90 days, while Xi agreed to buy more American agricultural goods in the meantime. The deal is, at best, really just an agreement to keep talking—a significant enough achievement after months of icy relations between the two major trading partners, but hardly an indication that the trade war is winding down.

Even so, Trump is once again going to under-perform even the lowest of expectations. On Tuesday, the president questioned "whether or not a REAL deal with China is actually possible"—throwing cold water on the hopes that it was the first step towards a trade war truce. Trump also repeated the threat of imposing more tariffs on China after the 90-day deadline expires.

Meanwhile, Trump's own top economic advisers seem confused about exactly when that 90-day period would begin and end.

Larry Kudlow, head of the White House's National Economic Council, added to the confusion when he said on Monday night that there was not a "specific agreement" that would lead to China lifting its tariffs on American cars—directly contradicting Trump's tweet earlier on Monday that claimed, "China has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S."

Jokes about "Tariff Man" aside, Tuesday's tweets demonstrate that Trump still doesn't understand that it is American consumers and businesses that pay his tariffs—not China, not Chinese exporters, and not people or business that "come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation," whatever the president means by that. This fundamental misunderstanding of economics, combined with his reckless announcement of the detente that wasn't, scared investors and continues to undermine his administration's efforts at reaching a real trade deal with China.

If the stock market continues to slide and prospects of a deal with China prove fleeting, Congress may finally be motivated to take action against Trump's unilateral power to set trade policy. Already this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has suggested to Axios that he would support legislation that limits the president's ability to impose tariffs.

Lacking that, we may need a hero to stand against the threat of Tariff Man.

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Columbia University Students Kick Former SNL Comedian Nimesh Patel Off Stage For Making Unsafe Jokes

Event organizers apologize for "the hurt his words caused members of the community."

PatelScreenshot via NBCNimesh Patel, a comedian and former writer for Saturday Night Live,* was yanked from the stage in the midst of his routine at Columbia University on Friday after students decided his material was homophobic, racist, and making them feel unsafe.

Columbia's Asian American Alliance (AAA) had invited Patel to perform during the group's annual charity event, "Cultureshock: Reclaim," a title that sounds a little too exciting and provocative, honestly, given the students' apparent need for maximum security and comfort.

AAA is run by students, which means it was their decision to pull Patel from the stage after he made jokes that they deemed racist and homophobic, according to The Columbia Daily Spectator. I emailed AAA to ask what exactly Patel said that was so offensive; the group sent me a statement that did not clarify matters.

The Spectator, though, lists one of the allegedly inappropriate jokes:

During the event, Patel's performance featured commentary on his experience living in a diverse area of New York City—including a joke about a gay, black man in his neighborhood—which AAA officials deemed inappropriate. Patel joked that being gay cannot be a choice because "no one looks in the mirror and thinks, 'this black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it.'"

The joke acknowledges that black people and gay people suffer oppression, and that a person who is both gay and black suffers "stacked" oppression. This joke seems almost perfectly "intersectional."

Intersectionality, the operarting system of the modern left, requires everyone to recognize that different forms of oppression are interrelated, and that they stack. The problem for Patel, however, is that intersectionality also recognizes the oppressed as the sole experts on their own oppression. Thus Patel should not have commented on matters relating to black people or gay people, since he is neither gay nor black.

"if you're Black and gay, you don't need a straight South Asian guy to point out that your life is hard because you're Black and gay," wrote a student, Liberty Martin, in an op-ed. Martin accused Patel of "blatant anti-blackness," with reference to the above joke, specifically. Even though the joke reflects a sentiment that gay and black students want everyone to recognize as reality—that life as a gay, black student is hard—the fact that it was made by an Asian guy means it's actually evidence of anti-black bias. (It doesn't have to make sense, you just have to obey.)

Perhaps Patel went on to say actually insensitive things—why the easily offended would attend any comedy show, ever, is fodder for another discussion—but if this joke is representative of his set, the outrage looks that much more ridiculous.

Patel made it 30 minutes before organizers cut off the routine. According to The Spectator:

Patel pushed back on the officials' remarks, and said that while he stood in solidarity with Asian American identities, none of his remarks were offensive, and he was exposing the audience to ideas that would be found "in the real world." Before he could finish, Patel's microphone was cut from off-stage, and he proceeded to leave.

AAA released a statement on Facebook condemning Patel's remarks, which "ran counter to the inclusive spirit and integrity of CultureSHOCK." They apologized for inviting Patel, and for "the hurt his words caused members of the community."

Many students in the audience agreed with AAA's decision to end the event prematurely. One told the student newspaper that Patel's jokes "contradicted the sensitive nature of the event." Another had this to say:

"I really dislike when people who are older say that our generation needs to be exposed to the real world. Obviously the world is not a safe space but just accepting that it's not and continuing to perpetuate the un-safeness of it… is saying that it can't be changed," said Jao. "When older generations say you need to stop being so sensitive, it's like undermining what our generation is trying to do in accepting others and making it safer."

When things like this happen, it's hard to deny that some college campuses have a student fragility problem.

*Update: A spokesperson for NBC reached out to clarify that Patel is no longer a writer for SNL. He left the show after last season.

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Deputies Confused a Granny's Cotton Candy for Meth. A High Bond Kept Her Jailed For Months.

How an unscientific field test and the bail system stripped a Georgia grandmother of justice.

|||Chalermphon Kumchai/Dreamstime.comChalermphon Kumchai/Dreamstime.comWhat do cotton candy and meth have in common? In one Georgia woman's case, both can get you sent to jail. And if that weren't bad enough, unaffordable pre-trial bail kept Dasha Fincher, of Macon, sitting in a cell for three months.

On Dec. 31, 2016, Monroe County deputies pulled Fincher over for a window tint violation and searched her car. Said search turned up a "plastic bag filled with a blue crystal-like substance in the passenger side floorboard." Fincher told the deputies that the substance in question was cotton candy. Officers ran a field test using a Nark II roadside kit. The bagged substance tested positive for meth. Fincher was arrested and charged with trafficking meth and possession of meth with intent to distribute.

Next, a county judge set a $1 million bond. Unable to afford the expensive bond, Fincher remained in jail for three months, until a more thorough test in a crime lab found the substance to be exactly what she said it was: cotton candy.

A recent investigation by a local news station found that the Nark II test kit produced 145 false positives in Georgia in a single year, meaning that Fincher isn't the only person who's been wrongfully arrested and incarcerated as a result of a faulty drug test.

But this isn't just happening in Georgia. A Florida man was wrongfully jailed after a field test confused his donut glaze with meth. A massive fentanyl bust in North Carolina proved to be anything but after a private lab determined that "$2 million worth of 'the deadly opioid fentanyl" was actually white sugar.

The bail problem that compounded the horror of Fincher's arrest is also a national problem. Reason's Scott Shackford has explored how expensive bail makes a suspect presumptively guilty unless they can pay their way out of the system. Many underprivileged suspects spend months in jail without a conviction not because the criminal justice system believes that they are a danger to society, but because they are too poor to pay their way out.

Fincher recently filed a lawsuit against the county, the deputies involved in the stop, and the maker of the field test.

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DeVos Is Rescuing Campus Due Process From Liberals: New at Reason

Feminist RallyFreaksandgigspics via Foter.comFeminists are up in arms over Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' proposed overhaul of Obama's sexual harassment policies, which eviscerated the due process rights of the accused.

But they are betraying their own commitments, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia.

Real liberals would applaud her, because making it easier to convict the innocent can never advance social justice or any other cause. Feminists and their supporters have become so obsessively focused on their narrow agenda that they have lost sight of their broader principles.

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L.A. County's New Blue-Wave Sheriff Is No Friend to Criminal Justice Reform

Alex Villanueva openly wants to get rid of constitutional policing advisors and to conceal names of bad deputies from prosecutors.

Alex VillanuevaSource: Alex Villanueva for SheriffIs Los Angeles's Democratic progressive new sheriff actually a threat to law enforcement transparency and accountability?

The November midterms turned the already very blue California even more blue. The Democrats flipped seven House seats in the Golden State, and Orange County—long a conservative stronghold in Southern California—is now going to be represented in Congress by Democrats.

This wave also flipped the sheriff's office in Los Angeles County, though that's getting much less media attention. Alex Villanueva, supported by local Democratic party organizations (but interestingly not Mayor Eric Garcetti), unseated incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who took over the department in 2014 after abuse scandals rocked the county's jail system, leading to federal charges against then-Sheriff Lee Baca and several other sheriff's department employees.

Villanueva, sworn into office Monday, ran a campaign focused on his Latino identity and progressive ties, showing support for SB 54, the law that turned California into a "sanctuary state," where government and law enforcement officials are restricted in the extent to which they can cooperate with federal immigration officials. Though to what end that actually means immigrants in the Los Angeles County will be protected from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is probably not the extent people think: Villanueva says he won't let ICE officials wander county jails but will transfer people detained in the jails into ICE custody. McDonnell allowed ICE representatives office space within the jail system to coordinate picking up deportable prisoners. This doesn't necessarily mean fewer prisoners face deportation under Villanueva. He's just pushing ICE out of the waiting room, metaphorically.

But some other components of Villanueva's platform are pretty troubling in terms of law enforcement accountability. His campaign capitalized on the well-worn rank-and-file vs. management conflict at law enforcement agencies across the country and he is firmly on the side of those who patrol the streets. The union representing high-ranking members of the sheriff's department endorsed McDonnell. The Association of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department endorsed Villanueva, and he's made it clear the love is mutual.

This is a concern because the LASD has had problems on both sides—both management corruption and bad behavior from deputies. It's not an either/or problem, and Villanueva is acting like it is. The rank-and-file union has been locked in a legal fight trying to stop the LASD from providing a list of deputies with histories of misconduct to prosecutors so that can decide whether to risk putting them on the stand as witnesses. Villanueva openly supports the union's efforts and is opposed to providing this list of bad deputies to prosecutors. He calls it a "fake list" and complains that the sheriff's department officers were put on the list are the result of retaliatory punishment against those who piss off management.

That's a bit of a bold claim, given that the ostensible point of this list is to help prosecutors keep cases from being jeopardized by putting cops on the stand who have a history of misbehavior that the defense can use to then undermine the district attorneys. But that's been a tactic used by police unions—see also Philadelphia—to try to protect officers from consequences, regardless of the impact on criminal cases.

There's more. In response to the jail abuse scandal, McDonnell put into place two new positions of "constitutional policing advisers" to advise the sheriff about use-of-force concerns and police disciplinary matters. Villanueva wants to dump them, complaining that they focused too much on misconduct by deputies and ignored problems with command staff. He tells the LAist that he wants to replace them with a "truth and reconciliation commission" to review wrongful convictions (which sounds like something under the purview of prosecutors, not the sheriff's department), and wrongful terminations of deputies. One of his first acts in office was to prepare to purge and replace all the top staff of the LASD.

Frankly it sounds like voters handed the reins of Los Angeles' sheriff's department over to the deputies' union itself and it sounds like he's using the language of progressives to conceal a desire to shield deputies from accountability.

Peter Bibring of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called these plans of Villanueva's a "troubling step in the wrong direction." On Monday, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU, put out a much milder statement saying, "We look forward to working with Sheriff Villanueva in eradicating deputy violence and deputy gangs, addressing racial profiling, increasing transparency, and strengthening civilian oversight over the department." The statement did not specifically critique any of Villanueva's stated positions.

Fortunately, Villanueva, unlike his predecessors, will have a tougher time trying to conceal records of misconduct by his deputies and detectives. In September, California lawmakers passed a bill that—after decades of state-mandated secrecy—opened up investigative and personnel records about police officers who get in trouble for violence or dishonesty on the job. If those men and women really were targeted as a form of retaliation by management for whistleblowing, as Villanueva claims, we may be able to find out.

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Help Reason Fight for the Unjustly Imprisoned

We do more criminal justice coverage per capita than any comparable national magazine. Please help us do more.

Lyn and Ross Ulbricht ||| iDesigner/FiverriDesigner/FiverrThis morning's Webathon post was illustrated with a woodchipper. For newer readers, that is a winking insider reference to the time in 2015 when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued subpoenas to six Hit & Run commenters—plus a subsequent gag order on Reason—over language that was critical of (and sometimes contemplated clearly satirical cartoon violence toward) a sitting U.S. judge. Since then, "woodchippers" have been a thing around here.

But let us not lose sight of the underlying case in question: the infuriatingly cruel sentencing of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht to life in prison for the decidedly non-violent crimes of "narcotics trafficking; distribution of narcotics by means of the Internet; narcotics trafficking conspiracy; continuing criminal enterprise; conspiracy to aid and abet computer hacking; conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identity documents; and money laundering conspiracy." It is a case, involving a libertarian defendant who thrilled at a demonstration project showing that humans could transact peaceably outside the gaze of government, that we have covered here for years, including in the 12 months since our last Webathon. Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward interviewed Ross's heroic mother Lyn Ulbricht for our "Burn After Reading" issue. John Stossel made a video in February explaining how illiciit online drug sales have only soared since Ulbricht's imprisonment. And Brian Doherty continues to follow the latest frequently outrageous twists in the legal case.

You can and should follow the Free Ross account on Twitter, and take direct action (including petitioning and donations) at the Free Ross website. And if you want to encourage Reason to do more criminal justice coverage that occasionally affects laws and those who suffer from them, please consider donating here in this home stretch of the Webathon.

I am confident in saying that Reason puts more resources per capita into our criminal justice coverage than any comparable national journal of political opinion. We've been looking at the issue from the beginning, and it's among the work we're most proud of.

Wanna know what's happening with the FIRST STEP Act? Read our C.J. Ciaramella. Bail reform? Try Scott Shackford. Drug war? Jacob Sullum literally wrote the book. The left-right, factually untethered, speech-and-freedom-squelching war on sex trafficking? There is no better journalist on that beat than Elizabeth Nolan Brown. We taught the world about indiscriminate dog-shootings by police, exposed the bogus science and constitutionally dubious practice behind drug-sniffing canines, and reveled when the little pups were freed up for better lines of work. We were conducting investigations and spreading the word about the legalized police-theft known as civil asset forfeiture—both in Reason and on television—way before it was cool.

And oh, we helped get a guy off death row.

We know that you want more of this coverage, and the real-world impact that it can have. How do you get more of it? Please donate!

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Fallout 76 Will Trigger Your Existential Crisis

Unlike previous entries in the series, the new, online-only game never justifies its own existence.

Bethesda SoftworksBethesda SoftworksIf you're anything like me, playing Fallout 76 is likely to provoke bouts of existential self-examination.

The game raises questions, such as: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Is there a purpose to my existence? Is it to scour a desolate virtual landscape looking for desk fans while being pummeled by super mutants? To engage in clunky, frustrating shoot-outs with irradiated human husks that somehow manage an astonishing level of accuracy with various firearms? Or maybe to talk to funny robots and listen to audio diaries of dead survivors of a nuclear apocalypse while trying, pathetically, to build a defensible little fort that I will inevitably lose due to a game-breaking glitch that any real-world insurance agent, even the most devout atheist, would doubtlessly categorize as an act of god?

But mostly: Why, dear lord, why am I still playing this game?

Over the past decade or so, I have played hundreds and hundreds of hours of Fallout games—Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4—and I've spent similar amounts of time in the Elder Scrolls games, the sister series of role-playing games created by Bethesda Softworks. And while those games have occasionally caused me to wonder just what, exactly, I am doing with my life, I have always been able to provide an answer: I play for the stories, for the characters, for the world, for the systems of emergent gameplay, for the sheer, overwhelming, immersion of these massive, ridiculous games. And — if I am being honest—every now and then, I play for the desk fans.

To understand why Fallout 76 is such a frustrating mess of a game, you have to understand the appeal of previous games in the Fallout franchise. Since the 2008 release of Fallout 3, the main entries in the series have been single-player open-world role-playing games that you play in a first-person perspective, a lot like a modern shooter. Think of a futuristic, video-game version of Dungeons & Dragons, played by yourself, which you experience looking down the barrel of a gun (or a spiked baseball bat, or a powered punching glove, or a deathclaw gauntlet, or...you get the idea). But the Fallout series differs from conventional first-person shooters in some notable ways.

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Resources Are Almost 5 Times as Abundant as They Were in 1980

New Simon Abundance Index elegantly refutes primitive zero-sum intuitions with respect to population and resource availability trends.

ProgressKamonrutm/DreamstimeHumanity is enjoying a world of increasingly cheap and ever more abundant mineral, argicultural, forestry and energy resources reports a brilliant new study, the Simon Abundance Index. This analysis by Marian Tupy,* editor of Human Progress at the Cato Institute, and Professor Gale Pooley from Brigham Young University – Hawaii uses data on 50 different commodities to track their price trajectories over the past 37 years from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. They find in real price terms their basket of commodities decreased by an average of 36.3 percent between 1980 and 2017.

That's great, but their breakthrough insight is that, since 1980, global real hourly income rate per capita has grown by more than 80 percent, which means that the commodities that took 60 minutes of work to buy in 1980 now take only 21 minutes of labor to buy in 2017. As a result, the "time-price" of their basket of commodities has fallen by 64.7 percent.

Tupy and Pooley also devise a price elasticity of population (PEP) measure that finds that resource abundance increases faster than population does. In economics, they explain, elasticity is a measure of a variable's sensitivity to a change in another variable. They report:

Between 1980 and 2017, the time-price of our basket of commodities declined by 64.7 percent. Over the same time period, the world's population increased from 4.46 billion to 7.55 billion. That's a 69.3 percent increase. The PEP indicates that the time-price of our basket of commodities declined by 0.934 percent for every 1 percent increase in population.

[P]eople often assume that population growth leads to resource depletion. We found the opposite. Over the past 37 years, every additional human being born on our planet appears to have made resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.

Tupy and Pooley combine their findings with regard to time-price and PEP trends to derive the Simon Abundance Index (SAI). The index is named in honor of University of Maryland economist Julian Simon. Simon famously bet Stanford University population bomber Paul Ehrlich and his colleagues that the real prices of a basket of commodities chosen by Ehrlich priced $1,000 would decline between 1980 and 1990. In October 1990, Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $576.07, meaning that the price of the commodities had fallen by more than 50 percent.

SAITupy & Pooley

The new SAI, explain Tupy and Pooley, represents the ratio of the change in population over the change in the time-price, times 100, with the base year at 1980 and a base value of 100. They report that "between 1980 and 2017, resource availability increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 4.32 percent. That means that the Earth was 379.6 percent more abundant in 2017 than it was in 1980."

They also report that the SAI rose to 479.6 in 2018, meaning the Earth was nearly five times more plentiful with respect to the 50 commodities they track than it it was when Ehrlich and Simon laid their famous wager. What about the future? Tupy and Pooley calculate if current trends continue that "our planet will be 83 percent more abundant in 2054 than it was in 2017."

"The world is a closed system in the way that a piano is a closed system. The instrument has only 88 notes, but those notes can be played in a nearly infinite variety of ways. The same applies to our planet," write the authors. "The Earth's atoms may be fixed, but the possible combinations of those atoms are infinite. What matters, then, is not the physical limits of our planet, but human freedom to experiment and reimagine the use of resources that we have."

The SAI devised by Tupy and Pooley elegantly refutes the primitive zero-sum intuitions peddled by the likes of Ehrlich and his acolytes that afflict so much of popular and policy discourse with respect to population and resource availability trends.

*Disclosure: Marian Tupy and I are working together on book that tracks and explains nearly 100 global population, income, commodity, and environmental trends.