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Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2019 January 8-31

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U.S. Air Traffic Controllers Are Working Without Pay During the Shutdown. Canada's Privatized Air Traffic Control System is Bailing Them Out With Free Pizza.

Spinning off America's air traffic control system from direct government control would immunize it from the shocks caused by government shutdowns.

One feel-good story making the rounds today is about the crews of Canadian air traffic controllers who are sending pizza to their American counterparts, working without pay during the now 24-day partial shutdown of the federal government.

The pizza deliveries started last Thursday, when a team from Edmonton, Canada sent pizzas across the border to Anchorage, Alaska. It then snowballed from there, with at least 300 pizzas sent to 40 different U.S. facilities, according to the Washington Post.

It's a nice gesture, one that is no doubt welcome for U.S. controllers, who're some of the few federal workers that are required to show up to work even if though they are not being paid. (Several air traffic controllers are suing the federal government over this.)

It's also a gesture that wouldn't be necessary if the U.S. had the same air traffic control system as our northern neighbor.

Back in the mid-1990s, Canada spun off its air traffic control system from a government-controlled and operated entity to the private, non-profit corporation NavCanada.

Though the government of Canada still appoints several members of its board, NavCanada is independent of government subsidies. Instead users of Canada's airspace, including airlines, general aviation, and business jets, pay for the navigation and flight information services that NavCanada provides.

The immediate upshot of this is that NavCanada is spared having to be part of Canada's (admittedly more tranquil) budgetary politics.

The same cannot be said of America's air traffic control system. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—which operates the country's air traffic control system—must be reauthorized by Congress every five-years, as must be the taxes that fund it. Salaries for air traffic controllers are likewise subject to discretionary appropriations from Congress.

This leaves the system, and air traffic controllers themselves, at the mercy of our increasingly erratic and dysfunctional Congressional politics. When that dysfunctional politics caused a shutdown of the government on Dec. 20, air traffic controllers stopped getting paid.

This instability has been one reason why the National Air Traffic Controllers Association—the air controllers' union—has long been a proponent of Canada-style reforms that would spin the air traffic control system off into a non-profit, self-funded entity.

"We're looking for stable, predictable, reliable funding," said NATCA president Paul Rinaldi in a 2017 video. "Since 2007, we've seen 23 short-term extensions of FAA re-authorization. We've experienced the partial shutdown of the FAA. We've seen a full shutdown of the government. What we really need to seek is to insulate us from the day-to-day actions of Congress."

A spun-off air traffic control corporation like the one Canada has, and which has been proposed here (even earning the endorsement of Trump back in June 2017) would solve this problem by getting its funding from fees paid by airlines and other users of the country's airspace.

Not only would that insulate the incredibly important business of air traffic control from a government shutdown, it would also mean America's woefully outdated air traffic control system would be able to adopt newer technology more quickly.

"In America in 2017, pilots are still guided by radio beacons on the ground that date to the 1930s, and by instructions delivered via shared voice radio frequencies. Surveillance of U.S. airspace still relies almost entirely on 1950s-era radar, despite widespread use of GPS by ordinary citizens," wrote Reason's Bob Poole in November 2017, pinning the blame on the slow-moving appropriations process and the innovation-crushing FAA.

In contrast, the independent, self-funding air traffic control systems of places like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, are able to buy new technology off-the-shelf as it becomes available, putting them decades ahead of the U.S. in terms of safety technology.

Unfortunately, air traffic control reform has proven incredibly controversial, and has so far failed to make its way through Congress. Some had hoped that Trump's endorsement of reform would help finally get a bill passed, but by all accounts, the president failed to do the legislative arm-twisting to get the job done.

That's left air traffic controllers dependent on Congressional funding, and—when that ran dry—pizza from Canada.

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Press Outlets Dunk on Rand Paul for Going to Canada, Land of 'Socialized Medicine,' for Surgery. But the Clinic Is Private.

Checkmate, libertarians? Nope.

RandBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomSome media outlets and activists are suggesting that Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) is guilty of hypocrisy because he will travel to Canada for surgery related to his 2017 assault at the hands of a neighbor. Paul, after all, has warned loudly against adopting the Canadian health care system.

"Rand Paul, enemy of socialized medicine, will go to Canada for surgery," tweeted Talking Points Memo. The tweet includes a link to a Courier-Journal story that reminds readers that "Paul has called universal health care and nationalized options 'slavery.'" Newsweek went a similar route. And the Democratic Coalition tweeted:

Checkmate, libertarians? Nope.

Those who chuckled at this supposed irony missed a major detail, even though it was noted in the press coverage: Paul's surgery will take place at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario. The clinic is private, and run for profit; The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale, who is from Thornhill, notes that it was "grandfathered in to Ontario's socialized health system."

According to Dale, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton, a left-leaning Canadian politician, attracted criticism in 2006 for visiting the private clinic, even though he was a champion of publicly provided health care. That is indeed hypocritical. Paul's decision to seek out the best care—and pay for it—is not.

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Apple's Tax Tactics Deserve Defending, Not Shaming: New at Reason

Is it moral to pay higher taxes, even if that hurts employees, consumers, and shareholders? David Brooks seems to thinks so.

THOMAS PETER/REUTERS/NewscomTHOMAS PETER/REUTERS/NewscomEmployees of Apple "should be humiliated and ashamed" because of the iPhone company's "clearly sleazy" decision to minimize its corporate taxes, New York Times columnist David Brooks claims.

"The Apple corporation exists because of American institutions," Brooks writes, complaining that "Apple parked its intellectual property in an Irish subsidiary so it could avoid paying taxes in America and support those institutions. It saved $9 billion in 2012 alone."

The Times columnist complains that Apple "stiffed its own country."

"We turned off the moral lens," Brooks complains, contending that "remoralizing...the market is the great project of the moment."

Brooks doesn't so much argue that Apple's behavior is immoral as he does assert it, hurling tendentious language—"clearly sleazy," "ashamed," "stiffed"—without spelling out the reasoning behind this "moral" system that requires a corporate management to pay higher taxes than legally required.

It's not immediately obvious that it would have been more moral for Apple voluntarily to have paid $9 billion more in U.S. taxes in 2012. In that case, the $9 billion would have been available for politicians in Washington to spend. Some portion of it would probably have been wasted. Instead, Apple was able to use the money for other purposes—compensating employees, investing in the growth and development of its business, and creating value for shareholders and customers, writes Ira Stoll.

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Are Government Shutdowns Good for Libertarians?: Podcast

Rebutting Krugman, cracking on Graham, and searching in vain for "freedom" in a caucus.

Libertarian Party volunteers clean up the National Mall on Jan. 6, 2019. ||| lp.orglp.orgSen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) has had an interesting week of defending President Donald Trump's bluster in the ongoing government shutdown, most recently yesterday on Fox News, which is where we start this week's Reason Podcast, editors' roundtable edition.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and yours truly talk about national emergencies, prohibition metaphors, opportunistic defenders of "freedom," and whether Paul Krugman was right when he called the shutdown a "big, beautiful libertarian experiment." Also up for discussion are the negative reactions to Democratic presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard, the hawkish anti-Trumpery of the D.C. foreign policy/intelligence consensus, and the modern capitalistic miracle of eyewear.

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

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'Hallon' by Christian Bjoerklund is licensed under CC BY NC SA 3.0

Relevant links from the show:

"Sorry, Paul Krugman, the Government Shutdown Is No Great Libertarian Experiment," by Peter Suderman

"Trump's National Emergency Is an American Obscenity," by Matt Welch

"'Our Porous Border' and Other Myths of Trump's Increasingly Popular Wall Mania," by Nick Gillespie

"Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows Supports Asset Forfeiture, National Emergency Declaration to Fund Wall," by Robby Soave

"The Democrats' Alternative to Trump's Wall Isn't Good for Privacy or Property Rights Either," by Christian Britschgi

"Mitch McConnell is Keeping the Senate Out of the Shutdown Fight. It's a Hypocritical Abdication of Congressional Responsibility," by Peter Suderman

"Please, TSA Workers, Don't Come Back," by J.D. Tuccille

"For Once, the TSA Is Right," by Joe Setyon

"Tulsi Gabbard, Iraq War Veteran and Skeptic of America's Wars, Will Run for President in 2020," by Eric Boehm

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

Subscribe at Apple Podcasts..

Follow us at SoundCloud.

Subscribe at YouTube.

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Follow us on Twitter.

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Supreme Court to Consider Whether Police Can Order Blood Draws from Unconscious Drivers

Warrantless "implied consent" laws are under review over Fourth Amendment concerns.

Blood drawSusanne Neal / Dreamstime.comThe Supreme Court will consider whether the government can draw blood from unconscious motorists to check for alcohol or drugs without their consent or a warrant.

The justices have previously weighed in on attempts to force people to submit to warrantless blood draws. In 2016 the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a North Dakota law that threatened drivers with criminal penalties for refusing to let the authorities draw their blood without a warrant.

But the Wisconsin law at the heart of Mitchell v. Wisconsin is different. Wisconsin has an "implied consent" law that authorizes police to order blood draws for drivers who are unconscious and therefore unable to consent. The cops just have to suspect that the driver is drunk; no warrant or permission is required. Many states have similar laws.

That's what happened to Gerald Mitchell in 2013 after he was arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He moved to suppress the test results because he did not consent and police did not seek a warrant. Wisconsin's top court ruled 5–2 against Mitchell, determining that this implied consent statute does not violate the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless searches.

The more you try to explain "implied consent," the more absurd it sounds. One of the dissenting judges in Wisconsin observed that the "implied consent" doesn't actually come from Mitchell but from the state's legislature, through the magic of "deeming" something: "One only 'deems' when the thing deemed did not really happen, but you intend to act as though it did. So it makes no sense to ask if the driver freely and voluntarily gave something he manifestly did not give in the first place."

You may recall a viral story from 2017 of an Utah nurse who was arrested for refusing to draw blood from a patient in a coma unless he got a warrant. There was a side debate about Utah's implied consent law there, but even under the statute the detective was in the wrong. Just like in Wisconsin, Utah's implied consent law requires police to have probable cause that the driver was under the influence. But the driver in that Utah case had been struck head-on by a car fleeing the police. The authorities had no reason to suspect he had been driving under the influence in the first place.

Versions of these implied consent statutes exist in 29 states. Seven state courts have ruled that these warrantless blood draws are unconstitutional, while six states (besides Wisconsin) have determined that they're fine. So the time seems right for the Supreme Court to take the case. And on Friday it agreed to do just that, announcing that it would hear the case to consider "Whether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement."

Read more about Mitchell v. Wisconsin here.

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Michigan Taxpayers Spent $30 Million on Legal Fees for State Employees Involved in Flint Water Crisis

When the government screws up, the people pay for it.

SnyderRebecca Cook/REUTERS/NewscomState employees accused of wrongdoing in the Flint water crisis have racked up an impressive tab: Defending and prosecuting these officials has cost Michigan taxpayers more than $30 million so far.

That's according to MLive.com, which obtained the relevant documents from a variety of state offices:

… the bills aren't stopping anytime soon.

Eight criminal cases remain on court dockets in Genesee County and $2 million appropriated for special prosecutors remains in the bank.

The totals don't include expenses like expert witness fees or payments to attorneys representing current and former city of Flint employees or to former state-appointed emergency managers here.

In total, the spending has topped $8.5 million for the Governor's Office, $8.1 million for the DEQ, $7.1 million for DHHS and $6.9 million for the AG.

These include criminal and civil charges. The entity that's spent the most in attorney's fees is the governor's office, though former Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was never charged. (One also pays lawyers to help avoid going to court, of course.) In June of 2017, a federal judge ruled that Flint residents could sue some state and local employees for their roles in the crisis, but not the state of Michigan itself.

The Flint water crisis first captured the national public's attention in late 2015 after the decision to use the nearby Flint River as a water source for the city led to increased levels of lead in the water supply, which may have contributed to an outbreak in Legionnaire's disease. (Note that many Flint authorities supported changing the water source on grounds that the new treatment plant would create jobs and serve as a form of fiscal stimulus.)

The crisis revealed a staggering level of incompetence on the part of public officials: especially Flint's emergency financial manager (appointed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder) the Flint City Council, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In fact, the state government ensured that public employees in the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget received safe drinking water—in the form of water coolers—a year earlier than Flint citizens did.

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Grocery Store Applies for Historical Designation to Avoid Being Designated as Historical

The anti-development crowd has weaponized D.C.'s historic preservation process. A Safeway wants the city to rule that nothing important happened there.

Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/NewscomKris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/NewscomA grocery story in Washington, D.C., has taken the unusual step of asking the city's Historical Preservation Office to rule that the site is not historically significant.

In a 39-page application, owners of a Safeway in the Palisades neighborhood argue that there is no reason to preserve the grocery store building or the lot on which it rests. The store "does not embody design significant to the development of the grocery store or supermarket," the application argues, and "the building's simple rectangular form is undistinguished and devoid of any architectural character or historical significance."

The goal of the application is to leave the apparently insignificant building "in the exact same regulatory state it's in currently," reports Greater Greater Washington, which first noted this unorthodox approach to historical un-preservation. It is effectively a preemptive step to avoid any future effort to designate the store historically significant, which would likely decrease the property's value and make it more difficult for the Safeway's owners to sell the property or tear down the structure to redevelop the site.

It's also a subtle way of undermining anti-development efforts in the nation's capital. Individuals and neighborhood groups opposed to building more housing (in a city where housing is astronomically expensive) have weaponized the city's historic designation process to block development. This hasn't been hard to do—the city's historic preservation statues are written broadly, and the city council has eagerly accepted pretty much every application. As a result, nearly one in five D.C. properties are protected by historic preservation laws, Greater Greater Washington reported last year.

But if everything is historic, is anything historic? Obviously, there are sites in Washington of historical import, but there's no reason to think that a grocery store built in 1941 would be one of them. That the owners of this Safeway feel the need to seek protection from such a designation gives you a pretty good idea of how out of hand things have gotten.

Overly aggressive historic preservation designations don't just harm redevelopment efforts and increase housing costs. They can also harm the very properties they are intended to protect. Just last month, Reason's Joe Seyton wrote about how the owners of famous Strand Bookstore in Manhattan are fighting New York City's effort to declare the building a historic structure, a move which would likely increase renovation and maintenance costs for the business.

"By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history," owner Nancy Bass Wyden told The New York Times. "We're operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle."

In trying to get the D.C. Historical Preservation Office to declare that it's not special in any way, the Palisades Safeway is trying to avoid those hassles. If they succeed, they'll have beaten the anti-development crowd at their own game by using the historic designation process to clear the way for future development. You might even say they'll have made history.

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The World Is Getting Better, Declare Op-Eds in Leading Newspapers

Doomslayer Julian Simon vindicated after 40 years.

WorldupDubovykandDreamstimeDubovykand/DreamstimeThe human prospect is better than ever, declared a spate of op-eds as 2019 started. All I can say is: Welcome to the real world—I'm glad you guys have caught up.

"The World Is Getting Quietly, Relentlessly Better," headlined The Wall Street Journal's economics commentator, Greg Ip. "Why 2018 Is the Best Year in Human History!" exclaimed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle warned: "Don't fall for the doomsday predictions." For economist Tim Harford in the Financial Times, the headline was "Why I predict we will be wealthier in the future."

As the author of The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century (2015), I'm glad to see these commentators embracing the state of mind that the great physician-statistician Hans Rosling called Factfulness.

Let's briefly review some of the facts about global trends that the four columnists highlight. At the Journal, Ip reports that "poverty around the world is plummeting; half the world is now middle class; and illiteracy, disease and deadly violence are receding." Indeed, the World Bank notes that the percentage of people living in extreme poverty rate—that is, living on less than $1.90—a day has fallen from 36 percent of the world in 1990 to 8.6 percent in 2018. The World Bank predicts that it will drop to just 3 percent by 2030.

To his credit, Times columnist Kristof devotes one column per year to detailing just how much better the world is becoming. In his latest, he points out that "Each day on average, about another 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time....Every day, another 305,000 were able to access clean drinking water for the first time. And each day an additional 620,000 people were able to get online for the first time." He points out that global average life expectany is way up too. Average global life expectancy was just over 52 years in 1960; it has now increased to 72 years. In addition, the global literacy rate has risen from 69 percent in 1976 to 86 percent in 2016.

Citing the wonderful new Simon Abundance Index developed by Marian Tupy of the Cato Insitute and Gale L. Pooley of Brigham Young University–Hawaii, the Post's Von Drehle observes that natural resources are tending to become more abundant even as world population continues to rise. Measured by global average hourly income, the price of a representative basket of 50 key commodities—food, energy, minerals, and so forth—has fallen by nearly two-thirds since 1980. Measured by the time it takes to buy the basket, the Earth's resources have become 380 percent more abundant as the human population grew by 69 percent.

Finally, over at the Financial Times, Tim Harford forecasts that "we'll be five times richer in 2118 than we are today. That would put global income at around $80,000 per person—roughly twice the current average salary in the UK today—and income in the leading economies will be more than $250,000 per person per year in today's money." He further notes that "$250,000 a year in 2118 should buy wonders that could not be had today for any money."

To get some idea of what $250,000 in 2118 will buy compared to that sum today, he suggests thinking about what $70,000 (more than $2 million in today's dollars) in 1900 could buy you then compared to today. In 1900, $2 million could not buy you antibiotics, a home refrigerator, an air conditioner, a movie in a cinema, a radio, a television, a computer, a smartphone, or internet access. A three-minute long-distance telephone call cost the equivalent of nearly $40 a minute. Just over 4,000 automobiles were manufactured that year; a gasoline-powered open canopy Duryea Runabout sporting a 15 horsepower motor cost $1,750—or $51,000 in today's dollars.

Ip, Kristof, Von Drehle, and Harford are following the analytical path pioneered by the late University of Maryland economist Julian Simon. The Simon Abundance Index is well-named after "doomslayer" Simon. As Simon once explained, he initially believed the dire predictions of coming civilizational collapse due to "overpopulation" and the imminent depletion of non-renewable resources. But his dogged pursuit of the data persuaded him that those apocalyptic forecasts were wrong.

The result was the publication of the brilliant The Ulimate Resource in 1981 and the magisterial The Resourceful Earth, co-authored with Herman Kahn, in 1984. These volumes made the case that human ingenuity operating under the rule of law in free markets will increase resources and generate the wealth that enables humanity to ameliorate environmental problems over time.

In his 1991 edited volume, The State of Humanity, Simon declared, "This is my long-run forecast in brief: The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse."

If Harford is right—and he likely is—then Simon's forecast about humanity's future material prosperity will turn out to be too modest.

Disclosure: I read Simon's work in the 1980s and met him in 1990. He has been a major inspiration for my reporting for more than three decades. In my 1990 Forbes article on Paul Ehrlich's failing population doom predictions, "Doomsday rescheduled," I reported: "University of Maryland economist Julian Simon has tangled more than once with Ehrlich. He comments, 'Every prediction that Ehrlich made has been proved wrong. Is there any reason to believe him now?'"

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For Once, the TSA Is Right

Blame normal TSA incompetence, not the government shutdown, for allowing a passenger to smuggle a firearm through security.

ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/NewscomROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS/NewscomA passenger sneaked a firearm through airport security in Atlanta earlier this month before flying with it to Tokyo. This has attracted a lot of media attention, with CNN, Time, CBS, The Hill, The Washington Post, and others publishing write-ups of the incident.

Meanwhile, we've seen a lot of stories about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, who are working without pay during the partial government shutdown, calling in sick. Airports in Houston and Miami have even closed down some security checkpoints.

So is the shutdown making airports less safe? Was it the stalemate in Washington, D.C., that allowed someone to slip a gun past TSA screeners?

The short answer: probably not. The story about the firearm appears to have been first reported by WSB-TV, an ABC affiliate based in the Atlanta area. On January 2, a man boarded his Delta flight to Japan with a firearm. Once he landed, he informed Delta workers that he had a gun. Delta in turn informed the TSA, who said in a statement that "standard procedures were not followed."

The TSA insists the shutdown had nothing to do with the incident. "The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false," the agency said in a statement to the press. "In fact, the national callout percentages were exactly the same for Wed, 1/2/19 and Wed, 1/3/18 (when there was no shutdown)—5%," an agency spokesperson added in an email to Reason.

In other words, this wasn't the shutdown; it was just normal TSA incompetence.

Sounds plausible to me. The TSA has a pretty bad track record when it comes to identifying items that could actually pose a threat. A 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation, for instance, revealed that in 67 out of 70 cases, undercover investigators succeeded in smuggling weapons or explosives through security.

Acting TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway lost his job as a result of that investigation, but things didn't get much better. In March 2017, a woman made it through airport security in Charlotte, North Carolina, before realizing she had forgotten to remove a loaded gun from her purse. In July of that year, KMSP reported that undercover investigators had been able to smuggle explosives or fake weapons through Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport security 16 out of 17 times. And in November 2017, another DHS investigation revealed that TSA screeners were still failing to identify test weapons at a high rate. The failure rate was "in the ballpark" of 80 percent, a source told ABC News at the time.

The TSA just isn't very good at evaluating risk. It may be great at confiscating plastic toys and bullet-shaped ice cubes. But firearms and explosives are a completely different story, shutdown or no shutdown.

This post has been updated with an emailed statement from a TSA spokesperson.

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Fights in Washington Sow Chaos in Syria: New at Reason

Trump decided to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. But no one knows when or how it’s happening and Congress is nowhere to be found.

|||Bureaucratic Fights in Washington Sow Chaos in SyriaBureaucratic Fights in Washington Sow Chaos in Syria

"Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate...Will attack again from existing nearby base if [ISIS] reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone...."

This fragmented January 13 tweet by President Donald Trump suggests that he is trying the impossible: helping Turkey create its proposed "safe zone" in Syria without fighting Kurdish rebels along the border. But it's the most recent guidance the public has on America's policy in Syria.

Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, believes that "no decisions have been made on Syria yet." Instead, he suggests, the president is "leaking [the executive branch's] internal discussions" in order "to test the water of public opinion."

In the absence of congressional oversight, unelected bureaucrats have been privately feuding to determine how to carry out Trump's decision to pull all U.S. troops out of the country. And without clear signals from Washington, the Self-Administration of Northeast Syria—an unrecognized statelet carved out of former ISIS territory—is running out of time to negotiate for its future, writes Matthew Petti in his latest for Reason.

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Birth Control Rules Halted by Judge Just Before Scheduled Start Today: Reason Roundup

Plus: Libertarians face resistance while picking up trash without a permit, and Trump imagines Sen. Warren at the Wounded Knee massacre.

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomThe fight kicked off by the Obamacare contraception mandate continues to rage in the White House and in federal court. In rules slated to take effect today, the Trump administration attempted to expand freedom-of-conscience exceptions for employers and others opposed to providing birth control options as part of employee health-insurance plans. But a federal judge just blocked the new rules from taking effect in 18 states and Washington, D.C., until the conclusion of their lawsuit against Trump's contraception-mandate update.

"The States have submitted voluminous and detailed evidence documenting how their female residents are predicted to lose access to contraceptive coverage because of the Final Rules—and how those women likely will turn to state programs to obtain no-cost contraceptives, at significant cost to the States," writes the judge.

The new decision stops the latest (2018) iteration of the Trump administration rules, which are an update on rules it issued in 2017. Those old rules were temporarily blocked soon thereafter and struck down entirely last month.

"In a similar case, Democratic attorneys general challenged the revised version of the rule on Thursday at the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The court has not yet ruled on that request for an injunction but may do so by Monday," reports Politico.

Dear FDA: Please stop the madness and just make birth control pills available over the counter already...

FREE MINDS

Trump imagines Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) at a massacre. Here's the president tweeting this morning:

As The Washington Post notes, "U.S. soldiers killed and maimed hundreds of Sioux men, women and children at the Wounded Knee massacre."

QUICK HITS

  • I wrote about feminism and collectivism for Libertarianism.org:
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Jeff Sessions Deals One More Blow to Criminal Justice Reform on His Way Out the Door: New at Reason

The former Attorney General has made it much for difficult for the DOJ to crack down on police departments accused of civil rights violations.

public domain, drbimages/iStockpublic domain, drbimages/iStockAs his last move before resigning as U.S. attorney general in October, former Sen. Jeff Sessions signed a memo making it much more difficult for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enter into binding court agreements with police departments accused of civil rights violations.

It was a parting shot at Sessions' longtime ideological enemies, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and his department's own Civil Rights Division, writes C.J. Ciaramella.

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Brickbat: Resistance Is Futile

Locutus of Borg'Star Trek: The Next Generation'Documents from a lawsuit by a Star Trek fan against the Manitoba offiicals who revoked his personalized license plate show a senior official threatened "serious disciplinary action" against those who issued the plate. Nick Troller got the plate which read "ASIMIL8," a reference to Star Trek's Borg, in 2015. In 2017, a person filed a complaint saying the plate was insensitive because of past government actions trying to force Native Americans to assimilate. The plate was approved by a five-person committee, which searched the Internet for any hidden meanings but apparently never made any connection to government policies toward natives.

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'Our Porous Border' and Other Myths of Trump's Increasingly Popular Wall Mania

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and other major Republicans are spreading misinformation in support of the president's fixation on a border wall.

Washington PostWashington PostAs the government shutdown continues, it's worth underscoring that the precipitating factor—President Donald Trump's insistence that any new spending bill include somewhere around $5 billion for the construction of a border wall, barrier, or fence—is built upon a foundation of sand. The president insists that "there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border," but the evidence of that is scant.

Over the past several years, including two during which the Republican Party controlled the White House and Congress and could have appropriated funds to build the wall that Candidate Trump promised in speech after speech (usually claiming Mexico would pay the bill), there has been no mad rush or spike in people, especially terrorists, or drugs flowing north from Mexico that justify talk of crisis, especially one that can only be addressed by building physical barriers in the middle of nowhere.

Indeed, the number of illegal immigrants in the country is at a 10-year low and the number of people caught trying to enter the country illegally between checkpoints on the Southern border is one-fourth of what it was in 2000 (see chart). Compared to decades past, the majority of illegals enter the country legally and then overstay tourist, student, or work visas. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security said 170,000 people entered the country illegally outside of border checkpoints while 628,000 people who entered the country legally overstayed visas. Whether traveling alone or as a family, asylum seekers from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador offer themselves to authorities in order to start the application process and, even though are overwhelmingly likely to be denied asylum (more on that in a moment), voluntarily show up for court dates between 83 percent and 99 percent of the time, according to government data.

As Cato's Alex Nowratesh has documented, the terrorist risk posed by people crossing the Southern border is vanishingly small. Between 1975 and 2017, 20 foreign-born terrorists entered the country either illegally or as asylees. "[Eleven] terrorists who entered as asylum seekers murdered 9 people in terrorist attacks.... Of those 9 terrorists who entered illegally, only 3 did so along the border with Mexico." The perpetrators were ethnic Albanians from Macedonia who were brought here as children.

To the extent that drugs, especially heroin and fentanyl, flow north, they overwhelmingly enter the country by being smuggled through legal checkpoints. Building walls or fences isn't going to stop that. Nor will lying about the number of terrorists supposedly caught at the border, as White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did recently. She claimed, against all evidence, that the government had caught 4,000 "known or suspected terrorists" on the Southern border in 2017; in fact, six would-be immigrants were snagged.

Abaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/NewscomAbaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/NewscomAnd yet respectable leading Republicans (no, not you, Rep. Steve King) such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) insist, like the president, that we are suddenly so deep in crisis nothing short of a wall can fix it. Not long ago, both were Tea Party darlings whose emphasis was on reducing the size, scope, and spending of government across the board. Though both voted for a short-term spending bill in December that didn't include wall funding, they now agree that the government should not reopen until Trump gets his money.

In 2010, I remember hearing Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, give a speech at a Club for Growth event that raised the hair on the back of my neck because it was so emotionally powerful. He explicitly spoke not just to the wealthy grandees in the dinner hall that night but to the mostly Latino wait staff who lined the back of the room. America, he said, was a land of opportunity that has prospered materially and morally to the extent that we have been open to people coming here to work hard and pursue happiness. The future of his Republican Party, I remember him saying, depended on reaching out to newcomer immigrants and making it clear that they, like his parents, were welcome participants in the American experiment.

Early on in his Senate career, Rubio was a member of the so-called Gang of Eight, a group of senators who crafted comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to legalization for currently illegal immigrants, streamlined and expanded visas programs for both high-skill and low-skill workers, and various security measures, including increased requirements for employers to verify worker status. The Gang of Eight plan was recognized as moderate and passed the Senate overwhelmingly in 2013, by a vote of 68 to 32. The Republican House, led by Speaker John Boehner, refused to vote on the measure and it died, taking with it Rubio's commitment to immigration reform. Since that defeat—and massive abuse from increasingly nativist Republican voters, commentators, and elected officials—Rubio switched directions and fallen in line with restrictionists. He reversed his position on "dreamers," young immigrants brought here illegally as children by their parents, and has rejected a path to legal status for them. And he is currently joining in the Trump administration's demand for a wall as a precondition for reopening the government.

It's nice to see that some humanity remains in Rubio—he says the current "crisis" is "primarily a humanitarian one"—but he is wrong to imply that something has changed in our border policies or large-scale immigration flows.

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Is CBD a Miracle Cure or a Marketing Scam? (Both.): New at Reason

Cannabidiol is caught between two worlds.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonJennifer Aniston uses it for anxiety. Podcast host Joe Rogan applies it for elbow pain. You can buy dog treats infused with it, as well as facial scrubs and hand lotions, tinctures, and vaporizer cartridges. It's used as an ingredient in cocktails, beer, and gummy worms. It's sold at Amish markets and at fancy boutiques and at prepper depots. In October, it received the ultimate blessing for a trendy new cure-all: It was the subject of a multipart special on daytime basic cable hosted by Dr. Oz.

"It" is cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound contained mostly in the flowers of the female marijuana plant but also in the burlier hemp plant—both strains of Cannabis sativa. Like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD attaches to receptors throughout the body. But unlike THC, it doesn't alter perception or sharpen the appetite. Instead, people who use pure CBD report feeling calmed and relaxed. As Aniston recently told Us Weekly, "CBD helps with pain, stress, and anxiety. It has all the benefits of marijuana without the high."

But alongside all the celebrity buzz and bright marketing claims, there is another, more inspiring type of story about CBD: Children wracked by dozens of severe epileptic seizures a day who are suddenly well, their desperate parents weeping in relief. Although there is a near-complete absence of data concerning casual, low-dose use in lollipops or scented skin creams, a growing body of scientific evidence shows the efficacy of large doses of pure CBD for treating certain dire medical conditions.

The growing universe of CBD products—powerful cures and spa-day fun alike—is threatened by overzealous regulators, some of whom insist that CBD be classed among the most dangerous drugs. That means the people who stand to benefit most—the sickest and most desperate CBD users—remain at grave risk.

CBD, then, is caught between two worlds: the medical reality of its effectiveness in large doses on the one hand, and the popular image of a tasty, calming, faddish cure-all on the other, writes Reason's Mike Riggs.

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Reason Is Hiring a Digital Advertising Director

Come work with us!

If you're a digital business guru who loves promoting freedom, we have the perfect job for you.

View the job description here and below. Email your resume to opportunity@reason.com!


Reason is looking for an advertising and email marketing director to manage digital revenue generation and drive revenue growth. Location is flexible but applicant must be able to work effectively with a largely virtual team.

Digital Advertising and Revenue

Manage all functions of online advertising revenue generation, ad stack setup & strategy, demand partner selection & evaluation, and yield optimization at reason.com.

  • Develop and implement strategies for maximizing advertising revenue on Reason's digital platforms including reason.com, YouTube, and email newsletters.
  • Continuously measure performance of Reason's ad networks and adjust delivery settings to optimize revenue from these networks.
  • Regularly identify opportunities to add new ad networks and implement them in system.
  • Provide ad sales support including media kit development, identification of prospects, preparation of proposals, traffic analysis for targeted campaigns, development of customized placements, etc.
  • Perform analyses to establish and update pricing for directly sold ads and coordinate with ad sales rep on inventory available for directly sold ads based on value of space.
  • Optimize affiliate program revenue from Amazon Associates and similar programs.
  • Implement and measure the performance of experimental revue generation programs of all kinds.
  • Create monthly advertising revenue reports and manage outstanding accounts.

Email Marketing Platform Management

Manage all aspects of Reason's customer email platform and email marketing vendor relationship.

  • Develop and implement strategies for Reason.com email communications, including expanding the reach and effectiveness of existing and new editorial newsletters, as well as regular and targeted promotional communications with customers.
  • Work with development to develop and execute email communications with donors and subscribers (informational, fundraising, events, etc.)
  • Work with print circulation contractors in all aspects of Reason print and digital subscription email campaigns.
  • Analyze performance (opens, clicks, purchases) of email communications and work with colleagues to maximize performance
  • Identify and implement methods of growing the size of Reason's email lists, including purchasing or renting other lists and experimenting with alternative ways of capturing visitor email addresses.
  • Coordinate and execute day-to-day processes
  • Manage staff training of marketing platforms

Other

  • Work with our website developer on building tools related to ad units, email subscription management, Amazon Associates promotions, and related issues.
  • Provide customer service for digital subscribers and registered Reason.com users
  • Extensive involvement in web analytics
  • Implementation of other digital publishing initiatives that emerge.

Requirements

  • Minimum of three years' experience in digital advertising and email marketing
  • Experience with major advertising platforms and email marketing platforms
  • Ability/willingness to implement ideas in a hands-on manner
  • Understanding of and commitment to our organizational mission and goals
  • Experience with WordPress, Excel, and Google Analytics.

If interested, please send your resume and salary requirements to opportunity@reason.com.

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The Supreme Court's Decision To Duck a Foie Gras Case Is Bad News for Food Freedom: New at Reason

Benoit Tessier/REUTERS/NewscomBenoit Tessier/REUTERS/NewscomThe U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not (yet) hear an appeal in a case challenging California's unconstitutional and much-reviled foie gras ban. The case will now head back to U.S. District Court.

Culinary leaders—from California chefs to French foie gras producers—are aghast. So is Reason food columnist Baylen Linnekin, who wrote and submitted an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in this case—foie gras producers and sellers—on behalf of both the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes Reason) and the Cato Institute, in which he urged the Supreme Court to take up the foie gras case.

Interfering with interstate commerce is exactly what these laws intend and what they do. The Supreme Court's decision not to overturn these laws now means more states will pass them, and that could eventually see agricultural states retaliate with commerce-suffocating laws of their own. This week's decision is a recipe for conflict.

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Liberty Has a New Champion on the Federal Bench: New at Reason

Don Willett has championed economic freedom and accountability for cops.

saratm/Fiverrsaratm/FiverrDon Willett first rose to fame as a libertarian-leaning Texas Supreme Court justice who penned constitutional defenses of economic freedom. Since joining the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in late 2017, Willett has been making a name for himself in another area of the law: criminal justice reform, writes Damon Root.

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Tulsi Gabbard, Iraq War Veteran and Skeptic of America's Wars, Will Run for President in 2020

The Hawaii congresswoman will be a voice for humility in U.S. foreign policy.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomRep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii), a veteran of the Iraq War and critic of America's interventionist foreign policy, says she will run for president in 2020 with a message of peace.

CNN reports that Gabbard will announce her plans to seek the White House on Saturday's edition of The Van Jones Show, which is slated to air at 7 p.m. A formal announcement of her candidacy will follow in the coming weeks, Gabbard said in comments released by CNN on Friday evening.

Gabbard says she will run on a platform that includes criminal justice issues and climate change, but she tells CNN that America's ongoing wars will be her central focus.

"There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace," Gabbard said, according to CNN. "I look forward to being able to get into this and to talk about it in depth when we make our announcement."

Gabbard has earned her right to be critical of those conflicts. In 2004, she volunteered for a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq while serving in the Hawaii Army National Guard, leaving her seat as a state legislator to do so. She was deployed a second time, to Kuwait, in 2008.

Since entering national politics in 2012—when she became the first Hindu elected to Congress—she has been an outspoken critic of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. She opposed the Obama administration's interventions in Syria as being "against America's national security, international credibility, economic interest, and moral center" and has called for putting an end to the Afghanistan war "as soon as possible."

She's also reached across the aisle to work with libertarian-minded Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) to nudge America's foreign policy in a less warmongering direction. Gabbard co-sponsored the House version of Paul's bill to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and backed Amash's amendment to defund the National Security Agency over its warrantless surveillance program.

She's also been critical of her own party, calling out Hillary Clinton's track record of supporting foreign wars during the 2016 presidential primary. "Sec. Clinton has a record and positions that will take us into a future that will include more interventionist wars of regime change," Gabbard told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in March 2016.

Gabbard has already secured a veteran of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I–Vt.) 2016 campaign as her campaign manager, CNN reports. Gabbard had endorsed Sanders in 2016 after falling out with the Democratic National Committee over its handling of the primary and her opposition to Clinton's foreign policy views. While her support for Sanders' economic message may turn off libertarians for obvious reasons, it's difficult to imagine there being anyone in either major party primary who will be more critical of America's wasteful and seemingly endless post-9/11 wars. Her participation in the race will raise the profile of some important issues, for which libertarians should be glad.

She's also got a chance to be a strong candidate. She's young and cool—she surfs; she wants to end marijuana prohibition!—and isn't afraid to be an unorthodox, nonpartisan voice. She will certainly stand out in a Democratic field that figures to be crowded.

Being a fourth-term congresswoman from a small state (and a religious minority to boot) may prove limiting to Gabbard's presidential ambitions. But the last three general elections have been won by the major party candidate who staked out the more dovish position on America's foreign wars—so don't count her out right away.

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Can You Curse On-Air During a Government Shutdown? Reason Investigates

There's one fool-proof way to find out.

Tero Vesalainen/Dreamstime.comTero Vesalainen/Dreamstime.comNational parks, new kinds of beer, and paychecks for hundreds of thousands of federal workers are just a few casualties of the ongoing partial government shutdown. And while the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security remain unfunded, the parts of the government authorized to shoot you are functioning just fine.

One agency that's not functioning like normal is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is in charge of enforcing federal laws against "obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts" on the radio and television. "Due to the partial government shutdown," the FCC notes at the top of its website, "the FCC suspended most operations at mid-day Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019."

That raises some burning questions: What happens if you curse on the air during a government shutdown? Will the FCC hunt you down and dole out punishment? Hungry for answers, I started investigating.

Profanity, according to a page on the agency's website, is banned on broadcast radio and TV from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The same goes for "indecent" content, which involves "sexual or excretory organs or activities."

But even when the government is functioning normally, the FCC doesn't actively seek out violators. Instead, the agency relies on consumers to notice banned content and file complaints. It's usually not until much later that the FCC takes punitive action. "Any enforcement that happens is way after the fact," Bob Corn-Revere, an attorney specializing in First Amendment law and communications, media, and information technology law told me. "It isn't instantaneous."

There are two major kinds of complaints you can file with the FCC: formal and informal. Formal complaints cost $225 to file and "are heard very much like court proceedings," according to FindLaw.com. "When [the FCC] receives a complaint, it looks [at] the complaint in due course and then makes a determination whether or not enforcement is warranted," says Corn-Revere.

Informal complaints, on the other hand, cost nothing. While the FCC does look them over, it usually only takes action based on "trends or patterns," reports Wired.

Both formal and informal complaints can normally be filed online. But links to the FCC's "Consumer Complaint Center" appear to be redirecting users to a page titled: "Impact of Potential Lapse in Funding on Commission Operations." Included on that page are links to the FCC's "Public Notice" regarding the funding lapse.

According to the notice, "the systems unavailable" during a shutdown "include, among others, the Consumer Complaint Center (including the main FCC Call Center and the American Sign Language Consumer Support Video Line)."

So if consumers can't file complaints with the FCC during the shutdown, does that mean you can curse on the air without fear of reprisal? Not necessarily. Angry consumers can wait until the shutdown's over, or file a complaint via mail. That being said, the shutdown will certainly slow down the process. And it's possible some folks who planned to file a complaint online will have forgotten by the time the shutdown is over.

Ultimately, I can't know for sure what will happen to people who swear on the air while the shutdown is ongoing. I reached out to the FCC's Office of Media Relations but did not hear back (probably because their representatives are furloughed). I also tweeted at FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, and will update this post if I hear back.

There's still one way to find out what might happen. Broadcasters, I'm looking at you.

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Sorry, Paul Krugman, the Government Shutdown Is No Great Libertarian Experiment

Trump's shutdown is a temporary, political fight that won't save any money or reduce the size of government.

Jorge Nunez/EFE/NewscomJorge Nunez/EFE/NewscomIn The New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman declares that the current government shutdown can be understood as "a big, beautiful libertarian experiment." Government programs have been forced to pause, federal workers aren't being paid, the swamp of Washington is relatively quiet. Isn't this exactly what libertarians want?

Even Krugman understands that it isn't. As he acknowledges in the column, the sudden nature of a shutdown like this means private sector companies that might take over some of the federal government's current activities "don't exist now and can't be conjured up in a matter of weeks. So even true libertarians wouldn't necessarily celebrate a sudden government shutdown." To be clear: A temporary, unplanned shutdown of an undetermined length that probably won't save money is not what most libertarians have in mind when they talk about limited government.

For one thing, shutdowns like this one are shortlived and limited in scope: During the shutdown, much of the government—including automatic spending on the major entitlement programs that make up the bulk of government spending and the biggest drivers of long-term debt—remains open. And although it is at least theoretically possible that the impasse lasts for months, it increasingly looks as if President Donald Trump will declare a state of emergency, continue fighting for a border wall in the courts, and move on to ending the shutdown. So whether it lasts another two days or another two months, the rest of the government will eventually reopen. When it does, no significant long-term progress toward reducing the size of government will have been made.

Federal workers affected by the shutdown are almost certain to eventually receive backpay. That's what happened during previous shutdowns, and given that the Senate has already approved a backpay resolution for after the current shutdown ends, that's what is likely to happen this time as well.

At the same time, the federal government will, by law, owe interest on contract payments and other fiscal obligations it didn't meet during the shutdown. Which means that ultimately, the shutdown won't save taxpayers money. If anything, it might actually cost more than if the government had stayed open.

There's also public opinion to consider: Government shutdowns tend to be unpopular, and, if anything, drive support for expanding government.

Consider what happened in October 2013, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) led a push to shut down the government over Obamacare.

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70 Years After They Were Wrongly Imprisoned, the Groveland Four Have Been Pardoned

The criminal justice system failed four black men after a white woman accused them of rape.

|||Everett Collection/NewscomEverett Collection/NewscomNearly 70 years ago, four black men in Lake County, Florida, were accused and convicted of raping a white woman. Today, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Earnest Thomas have received posthumous pardons from the state.

The men, commonly referred to as the "Groveland Four," were accused of raping a 17-year-old in 1949. Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were beaten into confessing after their arrest. According to the Innocence Project, documents from the case revealed that there was no evidence of a sexual assault. In addition to the documents, no physical evidence of the men's involvement was presented in court, including a medical examination of the accuser.

After the first trial, Greenlee received a life sentence while the others were sentenced to death. A mob of 1,000 men hunted down Thomas and shot him over 400 times. The arrests also prompted white residents to commit violent acts against a black neighborhood, including burning down houses and shooting guns into homes of black residents.

Thurgood Marshall, who was with the NAACP at the time and would eventually become the first black Supreme Court justice, secured new trials on appeal for Irvin and Shepherd. While being transported for the second trial, Irvin and Shepherd were shot after Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall said they attempted to escape. Irvin survived and disputed McCall's account, telling the FBI he was shot without provocation. He survived despite being denied an ambulance ride because of his skin color. Shepherd died of his injuries. McCall, meanwhile, was re-elected five times after the incident.

A former FBI agent who testified on Irvin's behalf said prosecutors manufactured evidence. Despite this, Irvin was convicted a second time for the rape.

Both Greenlee and Irvin were eventually paroled. Greenlee, who was paroled in 1960, died in 2012. Irvin, who was paroled in 1968, was found dead in his car in 1969.

In 2017, the Florida legislature passed a measure that formally apologized to the Groveland Four and asked former Gov. Rick Scott to perform an "expedited clemency review of their cases" and "grant full pardons." Historians have long held that the men were wrongfully convicted.

The state clemency board handed out posthumous pardons on Friday.

While no charges were brought against the prosecutors or local law enforcement, the family was able to confront accuser Norma Padgett, 86, in court. Padgett asked that the men not be pardoned. Beverly Robinson, Shepherd's cousin, called Padgett a liar in court. Robinson claimed that she read a story written by Padgett's niece indicating that the accusations were false.

Newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statement on the pardons.

"For seventy years, these four men have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit," DeSantis said. "As I have said before, while that is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing. I believe the rule of law is society's sacred bond. When it is trampled, we all suffer."

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L.A. Teachers to Strike After Rejecting Offered Pay Raise

They were offered 3 percent, but wanted 6.5. The district probably can't afford that.

Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomRonen Tivony/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomAfter a temporary delay, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District seem likely to go on strike Monday morning. They are demanding, among other things, a 6.5 percent pay increase after rejecting a 3 percent hike offered by the district.

About 30,000 teachers in the nation's largest school district had originally planned to strike on January 10, but union leaders postponed the strike until Monday after a judge ruled that the union had failed to give the district adequate notice for the work stoppage. Even with a few extra days to reach an agreement, the two sides remain apart, according to the Los Angeles Times, despite the district offering to pay an additional $75 million to meet union demands regarding staffing levels and class sizes.

The main disagreement, of course, is about wages. The union wants a 6.5 percent raise immediately, while the district has offered a 3 percent raise followed by another 3 percent raise next year, the Times reports. (Update: The average LAUSD employee earns $73,000 annually.)

Even without handing out pay raises, the Los Angeles Unified School District finds itself in dire financial straits.

On its current trajectory, the school district will face a $422 million shortfall by 2020, driven in large part by its $15 billion in unfunded health care benefit liabilities for current workers and retirees. A task force that studied the district's fiscal condition in 2018 concluded that the structural deficit "threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs."

A major driver of the budget problems at the LAUSD is employee pension and health care costs. According to the budget task force, those costs will consume more than half of the district's annual budget by the end of the next decade. Since there is no way to give employees raises without also increasing the future liabilities owed by the pension system, boosting pay now will only add to the long-term problems facing the district.

"LAUSD has already offered much more than it can afford (increase teacher pay across the board, dollars for lower class sizes, and new positions) so either way the resolution will likely expedite the drawdown of the district's reserves," says Aaron Smith, an education policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this blog.

The other major issue is class sizes. The union is demanding that the district hire more teachers and staff to reduce the average class size in Los Angeles schools—which currently range from an average of about 26 students per class in elementary schools to nearly 40 per class in the city's high schools. In its most recent offer, the school district said it would set caps of 37 students for high school classes and 34 students for lower grades.

But while smaller class sizes would be nice, that's far from the only consideration facing the LAUSD. As even former Obama-era Education Secretary Arne Duncan has argued, teacher quality matters far more than class size as a determinant of student outcomes.

Hiring more employees is unlikely to solve the district's problems. Since 2004, the LAUSD has seen a 16 percent jump in administrative staffers while student enrollment has fallen by 10 percent. Increasingly, students (and their parents) are opting for charter schools, which have proven to be successful and efficient alternatives. More than 160,000 students already attend charter schools in Los Angeles, and another 41,000 are on waiting lists trying to get in.

The school district likes to blame its structural problems on the loss of students to charter schools—but the real problem is that LAUSD has failed to adapt to changing circumstances. In 2015, the district's Independent Financial Review Panel made a series of recommendations to help the district adjust to competition from charters—for example, if employees and retirees had to cover just 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, the district could save $54 million annually. Those ideas have mostly been ignored.

A long strike will likely only exacerbate those problems, warns Smith. A protracted strike may encourage more families to seek out alternatives to the public schools.

"If anything," he says, "the strike will further illustrate exactly why more (not fewer) charters are needed."

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When it Comes To Trump, the Bulwark's Charlie Sykes Is 'All Out of Fucks To Give': Podcast

Q&A about the rise of right-wing "grifters" such as Charlie Kirk, the death of The Weekly Standard, and the future of the American right.

"The conservative [movement] needs to be rethought in a variety of ways," says Charlie Sykes, the editor in chief of The Bulwark, the conservative website started in part by William Kristol in the wake of the demise of The Weekly Standard. "There's no question that Trumpism represents a repudiation of much of the conservative tradition, but we're not going to be able to simply turn the clock back."

A longtime radio host and best-selling author based in Milwaukee and early critic of Donald Trump, Sykes says that The Bulwark, whose motto is "conservatism conserved," is a place where the broadly defined right, including libertarians, can go to think through what happened to the Republican Party and what might come next in American politics. Calling Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk an opportunistic "grifter," Sykes tells Reason that "to the extent that Republicans lash themselves to the mast of Trumpism...they make it more possible that we're going to have President Bernie Sanders and fully nationalized health care."

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

Photo credit: St. Martin's Press.

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Halloween Comes Late with Television’s Winter Premieres: New at Reason

Witches, aliens, and vampires, oh my.

'The Passage''The Passage,' FoxWho says television isn't diverse? Here we are, the first real TV week of 2019, and already we've got new series on vampires, space aliens, and witches. Multiculturalism rules! Especially with all those fangs.

The best of the bloody bunch, somewhat surprisingly, is The Passage, based on a trilogy of vampire-apocalypse novels by Justin Cronin. It's been lurching around in development hell for 11 years, morphing from a movie to a series of three movies to a TV series as different producers got hold of it. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look at it, along with a Roswell reboot on CW and A Discovery of Witches on Sundance Now.

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Assault Weapon Bans Are All About Appearance: New at Reason

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s latest bill classifies firearms not by what they do but based on how they look.

A string of high-profile mass shootings over the past few years has spawned a movement to outlaw so-called assault weapons, in particular the popular AR-15.

On January 9, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) introduced a federal bill to ban assault weapons—legislation that's been depicted as life-saving, common sense policy. But its definition of an assault weapon is totally arbitrary.

Proposals like Feinstein's latest draft bill leave shooters with plenty of equally deadly alternatives.

"An assault weapon is whatever is covered by an assault weapon ban," says Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, author of a feature story on the topic in our June 2018 issue. "The criteria that are used to identify assault weapons are things that have little or nothing to do with how useful or how deadly an assault weapon is in the hands of a mass murderer."

The federal government banned assault weapons in 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed a bill also sponsored by Sen. Feinstein. That legislation expired 10 years later. Meanwhile, seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted their own assault weapon bans.

There's little evidence that the 1994 legislation reduced gun deaths, in part because it was mostly a symbolic gesture.

"Unless you really delve into the specifics of what these bills do, you don't understand how utterly arbitrary they are," says Sullum.

Read the full article here.

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Developer Sues Labor Groups Over Use of California Environmental Laws To Stop Construction

Two unions called out for threats to sue if they don’t get hired to build.

Icon developmentIcon Company renderingA property developer in California is taking two labor unions to court, accusing them of abusing the state's oppressive environmental review processes in order to get union workers hired on projects.

Los Angeles, like much of California, is in desperate need of more housing. And developers very, very much want to provide that housing. In Paramount City, in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Icon Company wants to renovate the site of a long-closed Montgomery Ward store and resurrect it with a $150-million mixed development that includes more than 600 apartments along with shops and restaurants.

This is infill development, eliminating actual blight (a commercial building that has been abandoned for decades), bringing more housing to a heavily Latino community with a median household income of around $46,000. This is the kind of development everybody should support. It's even next to a planned mass transit rail line extension.

But the Icon Company had to fight several local labor union groups who challenged the development and claimed that the project would have result in increased emissions and would negatively affect the air quality in the neighborhood.

What on earth does the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and the local chapter of the Laborers Union of North America have to do with evaluating the air quality of construction projects? The lawsuit from Icon argues that the union isn't really terribly concerned about traffic density. It's all about the money. Icon is accusing the two unions involved of violating federal racketeering and antitrust laws. Icon claims that the union's environmental challenge is happening because the developers declined to sign an agreement to use only union labor. From the Los Angeles Times:

In the months leading up to a City Council vote, the two unions warned that the project would have negative effects on traffic, air quality and other issues. Yet behind the scenes, union officials offered to drop their environmental challenge if the Icon Co. agreed to hire only unionized construction workers, the developer's lawsuit states.

The company refused to sign, in part out of a concern over the increased cost, said Karl Tilleman, an attorney for Icon.

"The union defendants' sole purpose in filing [environmental] challenges was to delay the project and coerce, intimidate and pressure Icon to agree to use exclusively union labor, otherwise Icon would suffer significant cost increases to the project," said the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the project unanimously, which actually goes to show how serious the housing crisis is here if city officials in a union-run town are willing to ignore labor complaints.

But thanks to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) the battle is not over. After Los Angeles approved the development this past summer, the labor unions then filed suit under CEQA, claiming that the city hadn't adequately studied the environmental impact.

This is par for the course for California and is a big reason why it's so hard to build in the state. NIMBY types use it to block new housing and commercial developments that might threaten their property values, and union groups use it to hold up construction until they get their piece of the pie.

In fact, a study produced in 2015 by a law firm found that these CEQA lawsuits actually often end up targeting developments intended to advance the state's pro-environmental agenda, hitting transit and renewable energy projects, as well as high-density and affordable housing projects along transportation corridors. Neighbors simply don't like them, so they invoke the law, and unions leverage the threat of a lawsuit for negotiation purposes. The law can lead to some truly strange places—I know of a community where citizens used it to successfully prevent a school closing because the district hadn't researched the environmental impact of not keeping it open.

CEQA is such an oppressive force on development in California that state leaders themselves often have to exempt big government projects from it if they want to get them built.

The labor union representatives are, of course, insisting that everything they're doing is above board. They're simply using the law as it is intended and say they have a legitimate environmental case. That may well be true—that's actually part of the problem.

Read the lawsuit here. Does it have a chance? Well, it's partly a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act claim, so I'm going to leave it to Ken "Popehat" White to explain. It's probably an uphill battle.

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Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows Supports Asset Forfeiture, National Emergency Declaration to Fund Wall

You know, for a caucus called "freedom"...

MeadowsJONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/NewscomRep. Mark Meadows (R–N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted on Friday morning that President Trump should "use asset forfeiture money or other discretionary fees to start construction" on the wall, and declare a national emergency if Democrats won't negotiate.

Because nothing screams freedom like the president using ill-gotten gains to pay for a public works project the legislature has refused to authorize.

In an interview with POLITICO, Meadows sounded a bit more concerned about setting a bad precedent that would empower future executive branches to sidestep Congress and act unilaterally, but noted Trump "would find broad support if it's determined that ultimately he has to do it."

That's a fairly damning statement. According to its bio, the House Freedom Caucus purportedly supports "open, accountable & limited government, the Constitution & the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety & prosperity of all Americans." One might expect more of its members to recongize that Trump's proposed course of action violates many of these principles and weakens them in the long term.

Unfortunately, the caucus is largely supportive of Trump doing whatever he wants. From that same POLITICO story:

Freedom Caucus member Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) urged Trump to make the emergency declaration in an op-ed in the Daily Caller, while Rep. Mark Green, a freshman and newly minted Freedom Caucus member, is also girding for action on securing the border.

"I support whatever means it takes to get it done," the Tennessee Republican told Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs. "We have a crisis at the southern border. It's time to act."

"Whatever it takes to get it done" and "time to act" are not phrases associated with constrained government and the protection of individual liberty. But with the noted exception of the uncommonly principled Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.)—who is also a member of the much more libertarian (and much smaller) Liberty Caucus—this group of legislators ostensibly dedicated to preserving freedom seem perfectly willing to jettison their priorities if they stand in the way of Donald Trump and his wall.

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The Democrats' Alternative to Trump's Wall Isn't Good for Privacy or Property Rights Either

Congressional Democrats want to put more cameras and sensors on private property.

Ron Sachs/SIPA/NewscomRon Sachs/SIPA/NewscomIn response to President Donald Trump's insistence on the need for a border wall to keep the country safe from drug dealers, people smugglers, and illegal immigrants, Congressional Democrats have been bandying about a more moderate-sounding solution: better border security technology.

In her brief televised response to Trump's Tuesday Oval Office address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that "we can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings."

This theme was picked up by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D–Texas) in an article for CNN titled "The answer to border security is technology, not wall."

"Instead of a wall, we should increase the use of modern technology, including cameras, fixed towers and aerial and underground sensors," writes Cuellar. "We can't double down on a 14th century solution to a 21st century challenge if we want a viable long-term solution."

As one of the first acts of the new Congress, House Democrats—with the aid of five Republicans—passed a funding measure for funding the Department of Homeland Security that precluded wall funding but included $336 million for new border security technology.

Lost in this sales pitch is that many of the same things that make a physical barrier undesirable also apply to new surveillance technology—as we can see from the current efforts to deploy these technologies along the southern border.

The 1952 Immigration and Naturalization Act gives border patrol agents the power to warrantlessly enter any private lands within 25 miles of the border "for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States." In recent years, the Border Patrol has adopted an insanely broad definition of "patrolling" that includes placing cameras and sensors on private property without the permission of the owner.

Take Roberto Palacios, a rancher and attorney who owns a property near the Texas-Mexico border. He found a surveillance camera installed on a mesquite tree near his house in November 2017. When he removed the camera, both the Border Patrol and the state police demanded it back and threatened to charge Palacios with theft if he refused.

In February 2018, Palacios sued Texas state law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—which oversees the Border Patrol—for criminal trespass and violating his Fourth Amendment rights.

Also suing the federal government over the placement of sensors and cameras on its land is the North American Butterfly Association, a nonprofit that operates the National Butterfly Center, a wildlife refuge for butterflies along the Texas-Mexico border. Border Patrol refuse to tell the center where the cameras and sensors they've planted are, so staff and visitors are potentially under federal surveillance anywhere they go in the park.

These are hardly the only folks to have surveillance devices placed on their land. In 2012 the State of Texas launched Operation Drawbridge, which has seen it place more than 5,000 cameras along the Mexican border. They feed images to state and federal officials in real time.

Nor are these the only technologies threatening privacy near the border. The use of drones and surveillance blimps has proliferated in the region, while folks passing through legal ports of entry have been subject to everything from facial recognition technology to having their fingerprints run through error-prone terror watchlists.

The "digital border fence" may be less unsightly and less expensive than Trump's wall, but it presents many of the same problems for privacy and property rights. Democrats who call for more of this are showing that they care more about opposing the symbolism of a border wall than actually guarding against its negative effects.

Bonus video: Check out ReasonTV's report on the Butterfly Center's lawsuit:

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Americans OK With Leaving Syria and Afghanistan: New at Reason

A new poll finds widespread war-weariness.

|||Jason Schulz/Dreamstime.comJason Schulz/Dreamstime.comThe long life of the Afghan war makes it hard to remember how popular it was when it began. As the fighting began, 80 percent of America supported it. Nobody in Congress except Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Calif.) was prescient enough to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force and its open-ended-enough-to-attack-a-dozen-more-countries wording. Not until 2014 did a majority of Americans begin to regret that the war ever started.

Now some polls suggest it's nearly as unpopular as the wildly unpopular ill-fated war in Iraq, writes Lucy Steigerwald in her latest at Reason.

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Alabama Congressman Invokes 9/11 to Defend Border Wall

Tragedy alone is not justification enough for drastic measures.

Things got heated this morning on CNN, as Rep. Mo Brooks (R–Ala.) and New Day co-host John Berman argued over whether we need a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border. The argument reached its low point when Brooks decided to start invoking 9/11.

"Let's look at 9/11 by way of example," the Alabama Republican said. "We lost 3,000 people, more or less, on 9/11. That justified going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our troops are still there to varying degrees. 3,000. With the southern border, we have the loss of at least 15,000 Americans a year—that's part of the justification." (He seems to have conjured that dubious figure by adding a debatable count of the number of people killed by illegal immigrants in 2017 to the number of people who have overdosed on imported heroin since 1999.)

The 9/11 attacks were indeed used to justify the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001 with the goal of taking down the Taliban, who they accused of giving safe haven to Al Qaeda. That war has cost more than $1 trillion, not to mention the lives of over 2,300 Americans and even more Afghans. Yet according to a government watchdog's report to Congress last year, the violence and instability in the country has only gotten worse. And does anyone really believe that Americans are any safer?

Yuri Gripas/REUTERS/NewscomYuri Gripas/REUTERS/NewscomIn 2003, the U.S. went to war in Iraq, accusing Saddam Hussein of developing illicit weapons of mass destruction. They turned out to be wrong about that. Still, almost 5,000 Americans died as a result of the war. The exact financial cost is murky, but it's at least $800 billion

And Brooks is citing these wars as a precedent? If anything, they're a reason to remember that the response to a tragedy can itself be tragic and ill-advised. America's open-ended wars were a mistake; and it would be a mistake to spend billions of taxpayers' dollars on a border wall that won't even work.

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Government-Enforced Eugenics Is Always Wrong

Parents, not bureaucrats, have the moral authority to decide whether to gene-edit prospective progeny.

TestTubeBabiesTest Tube BabiesLet's take it as a bedrock moral principle: Government-enforced eugenics is always wrong. State agencies should never be allowed to tell parents what sorts of children they may or may not bear.

The Arizona State bioethicist J. Benjamin Hurlbut violates this principle in "Human genome editing: ask whether, not how," an essay in the current issue of Nature. Hurlbut notes that the Chinese researcher He Jiankui recently announced the birth of two babies he had gene-edited as embryos with the goal of resisting infection by HIV. This announcement provoked a storm of condemnation from most other researchers in the field, largely because He's CRISPR editing has not yet been shown to be safe. Thus his editing may have introduced unanticipated genetic damage that will affect the future health the two infant girls. Furthermore, did the infants' parents understand the procedure? If they didn't, they couldn't give true informed consent to the genome-editing.

But neither safety nor consent was Hurlbut's chief concern. Instead, he claims that the "crucial and as-yet-unanswered question" is "whether it is (or can ever be) acceptable to genetically engineer children by introducing changes that they will pass on to their own offspring. That question belongs not to science, but to all of humanity."

Hurlbut asserts the alleged need for determining a "broad social consensus" about "a decision that belongs to all of us." At stake, he declares, "are the ways in which we as a human community guide and govern our technological futures." He also eschews leaving human genome-editing to national (as opposed to global) regulation, let alone to markets. Doing that, he claims, "denies humanity a role in judging what futures should be brought into being."

By "humanity," Hurlbut means "government." He makes that clear when he favorably cites the fact that 29 European countries have ratified the 1997 Oviedo Convention, which declares that "making heritable genetic modifications to people violates human rights and dignity." In other words, these governments are telling parents that even after genome editing has been shown to be safe, they will not be allowed to use it to benefit their prospective children. Governments have decided for parents that they should remain at risk for passing on such genetic diseases to their children as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, fragile X syndrome, and Huntington's disease.

Decisions about having children do not and should not "belong to all of us." As I have earlier argued:

Twentieth-century eugenicists used government power to forcibly prevent parents from passing on traits they deemed deleterious. Now 21st-century eugenicists contend the government should require parents to risk passing along genes that the parents think are deleterious to their children, whether they want to or not. Individuals may not always make the right decisions with regard to reproduction, but, as history has shown, parents are more trustworthy guardians of the human gene pool than any government agency.

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Dianne Feinstein Wants to Ban Parts That Make 'Assault Weapons' Legal Again

The latest version of the senator's "assault weapon" ban targets products that highlight the irrationality of "assault weapon" bans.

Reason / Joanna AndreassonReason / Joanna AndreassonThis week Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced the latest version of her "assault weapon" ban. "Americans across the nation are asking Congress to reinstate the federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," she claims. "If we're going to put a stop to mass shootings and protect our children, we need to get these weapons of war off our streets."

Since this bill, like its predecessors, does not apply to firearms that Americans already possess, it won't actually take anything "off our streets"— or, to be more accurate, out of anyone's gun cabinet, basement, or garage. That's better than the alternative of mass confiscation, but it gives you a sense of Feinstein's dishonesty on this subject that she claims to be eliminating guns at the beginning of her press release, only to note five paragraphs later that "owners may keep existing weapons." Since Americans own more than 16 million guns that are covered by Feinstein's definition of "assault weapons," that is no minor detail.

Feinstein has not posted the text of her bill yet, but it sounds a lot like the 2017 version. The 2019 bill, like the previous one, bans "205 military-style assault weapons by name," along with any firearm that "accepts a detachable ammunition magazine and has one or more military characteristics," such as "a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel or a folding or telescoping stock." It also "exempts by name more than 2,200 guns for hunting, household defense or recreational purposes," which is supposed to show us how generous Feinstein is being. But this list, which consumed nearly 100 pages of the 2017 bill, is completely gratuitous, since any gun that's not banned by name and does not fit the general definition would remain legal regardless of whether the bill said so explicitly.

The bill's arbitrariness should be obvious, since features that do not make a gun any more deadly in the hands of a mass shooter, such as a folding stock or a threaded barrel, nevertheless transform it into an intolerable "assault weapon," as opposed to a gun suitable for "hunting, household defense or recreational purposes." The picture above, which shows a Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle and a Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, starkly illustrates Feinstein's silliness. The two models fire the same ammunition at the same rate and have the same magazine capacity. Yet the one on top was specifically banned by the 2017 bill, while the one on the bottom was specifically exempted.

Thordsen CustomsThordsen CustomsThe 2019 bill includes a new provision that provides further evidence of Feinstein's wacky approach to gun control. According to the senator's press release, the bill "bans Thordsen-type grips and stocks that are designed to evade a ban on assault weapons." Feinstein is talking about products like the FRS-15 Enhanced Stock Kit (left), made by the California company Thordsen Customs. The kit replaces an adjustable stock and pistol grip on a gun that would otherwise qualify as a prohibited "assault weapon" under state bans like California's. Once you switch out the parts, the gun has neither of those forbidden features. In other words, the kit enables a gun owner to comply with an "assault weapon" ban, which Feinstein perversely characterizes as evading the ban.

"What our rifle stock does is remove both of those individually named items and replace them with a single-piece, solid, traditional-style rifle stock like you can find on any other traditional-style rifle," says Alan Thordsen, founder and CEO of Thordsen Customs. "That's all it does."

Thordsen is bemused by Feinstein's disapproval of products that enable people to follow the arbitrary dictates of legislation like hers. "We are complying with the ban," he says. "If there's a feature that is banned, we change the feature. That's not evading. That's not skirting the law or violating the spirit of the law. We are conforming with the law and creating products that enable law-abiding people to keep their legal firearms in a legal configuration so that they are not criminals."

Although "they singled our product out by name," Thordsen says, "more generally they were talking about any device or product that will convert your current assault-weapon configuration to a non-assault-weapon configuration," which is "one step closer to a total semiautomatic rifle ban....The whole thought of banning parts or devices that will take your possibly noncompliant firearm, if this bill were to pass, and make it compliant again is ridiculous."

By the same logic (if that's the right word), smooth rifle barrels should be banned because they can replace threaded barrels, transforming a prohibited "assault weapon" into a legal gun. The problem here is not sneaky entrepreneurs like Thordsen but irrational legislators like Feinstein. Thordsen's real offense, one suspects, is highlighting how pointless bills like Feinstein's are.

"Military-style assault rifles are the weapons of choice for mass murderers," Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) claims in Feinstein's press release. That is not true, since mass shooters are much more likely to use handguns. Even if it were true, and even if a bill like Feinstein's could make those "military-style assault rifles" disappear (which it does not even purport to do), mass murderers would still have plenty of equally lethal options. It therefore requires colossal chutzpah or monumental self-delusion for Feinstein to claim her ban would "put a stop to mass shootings."

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A New Bill Would Rein in Executive Overreach and the Administrative State. But Does Congress Really Want That Power?: New at Reason

The REINS Act is back. Again.

|||Endrias Zewde/Dreamstime.comEndrias Zewde/Dreamstime.comThis week saw the reintroduction of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. Sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa), Joni Ernst (R–Iowa), Todd Young (R–Ind.), and Ted Cruz (R–Tex.), the REINS Act tackles two major libertarian priorities: reducing burdensome regulations and reining in executive power. By passing it, Congress would reassert its role as a check on both runaway presidents and the administrative state.

As a joint statement released by the senators introducing the bill explains, the bill would require "that Congress affirmatively approve every new 'major rule' proposed by the Executive Branch before it can be enforced on the American people, as opposed to the status quo, where regulations ultimately take effect unless Congress specifically disapproves." (A "major rule" is defined as "a regulation that may result in an economic impact of $100 million or greater each year.")

This would be a welcome change. With active affirmation rather than passive consent, there would be much more scrutiny over the rules imposed on Americans and far fewer regulations would pass muster. Grassley is right when he says that "even when well-intended, government regulations are all too often ineffective, counterproductive or even outright harmful." He's also right that "more needs to be done to reclaim the rightful role of Congress as the lawmaking body of government," writes Corie Whalen in her latest for Reason.

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The 'Fake News' Epidemic Was...Fake News

It's "important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms," researchers say.

Gary Waters IKON Images/NewscomGary Waters IKON Images/NewscomMost social media users still know bullshit when they see it, a new study suggests. In a study of social media behavior during the 2016 election, more than 90 percent of their sample "shared no stories from fake news domains," a trio of researchers reports in Science Advances.

The study has been getting a good deal of media attention, mainly for the parts that confirm people's biases. "Conservatives were more likely to share articles from fake news domains," states the study abstract. And "on average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group."

The conservative bit comes with a caveat: In 2016, fake news domains "were largely pro-Trump in orientation." So it's not necessarily that conservatives are more susceptible than moderates or liberals to propaganda; it could just be that there was more propaganda aimed at them.

The research team—Andrew Guess of Princeton, Jonathan Nagler of New York University, and Joshua Tucker of New York University—considered the possibility that older people were more likely to be Trump fans. But they found "the age effect remains statistically significant when controlling for ideology and other demographic attributes." Older liberals shared a lot of fake news too.

A common denominator in many visits to hoax articles was scrolling through Facebook. That network appears "to be much more common than other platforms before visits to fake news articles," the study found.

While much has been made over Russian-backed bots and ads promoting propaganda content, the reach and influence of such misinformation attempts may have been greatly overstated. The researchers say it's "farfetched" to suggest that fake news—which they define as "fake or misleading content intentionally dressed up to look like new articles, often for the purpose of generating ad revenue"—had a strong impact on the election's outcome.

It's "important to be clear about how rare this behavior is on social platforms," they write.

"The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all," the study notes. Furthermore, "this is not because people generally do not share links: While 3.4% of respondents for whom we have Facebook profile data shared 10 or fewer links of any kind, 310 (26.1%) respondents shared 10 to 100 links during the period of data collection and 729 (61.3%) respondents shared 100 to 1000 links."

Among respondents for whom they had the appropriate data, only 8.5 percent shared any fake news pieces. About 18 percent of the Republican respondents shared at least one fake news article, as did 3.5 percent of Democrats.

Read more about their findings and methodology here.

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Two Governors Kick Off 2019 With Big Occupational Licensing Reforms

A new law in Ohio and an executive order in Idaho require state lawmakers to take a more active role in overseeing occupational licensing boards.

ELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomTwo Republican governors got the new year off to a productive start by striking a small blow against their states' occupational licensing boards.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill requiring the state legislature to review all licensing boards at least once every six years to ensure there is a continued public need for the licensing rules. The legislature will also be tasked with determining whether one-size-fits-all licenses are "the least restrictive form" of regulation for specific professions. If it determines that the answer is "no," the boards can be shuttered. Finally, the legislature will have to determine if a board's actions have inhibited economic growth, reduced efficiency, or increased the cost of government.

"Occupational licensing should only be a policy of last resort," says Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm. A 2018 analysis published by McGrath's group calculates that licensing laws cost Ohio 68,000 jobs and $6 billion in economic activity annually. "This licensing reform has the potential to create more economic opportunity and save Ohioans billions of dollars," McGrath says.

The bill also opens the door for Ohioans with criminal records to obtain licenses in some fields. More than a million residents of the state have a criminal record of some sort, and about 25 percent of all Ohio jobs were off-limits to those individuals solely because of their records, according to a recent report from Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning think tank.

Licensing rules that automatically disqualify individuals with criminal records continue to punish people long after they have paid their debts to society. Under the reforms that Kasich signed this week, individuals with criminal records will be able to ask licensing boards whether their specific criminal records would be grounds for denying a license before they spend time and money (sometimes years and several hundred dollars) trying to meet the qualifications.

It would be better to require licensing boards to publish a specific list of crimes for which a license application could be denied. It makes sense, for example, to prevent someone with a history of crimes against children from getting a license to be a preschool teacher, but not to keep him from being a carpenter. Still, Ohio's new law will likely help some residents of the state navigate the complex licensing process and land a job.

In Idaho, the first executive order issued by newly elected Gov. Brad Little will impose a mandatory periodic review of the state's occupational licensing boards by the state legislature, similar to the reform in Ohio. In his first "state of the state" address, Little promised to put regulatory and licensing reform at the top of his agenda.

The executive order "will deliver more jobs and economic opportunity to Idahoans, particularly our low-income friends and neighbors," says Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank.

Idaho and Ohio join three other states—Louisiana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma—that passed similar licensing sunset provisions last year.

It would be better, of course, for states to strike many occupational licensing laws from the books entirely. A promise that the legislature will review those laws and boards every few years is only as good as the people who sit in the legislature—and lawmakers always have more interesting and politically beneficial things to do than check up on how a bunch of bureaucrats are doing.

But the mandatory sunset periods are an undeniable step in the right direction, even if only as a way to curb some of the boards' worst behaviors. It's one thing to pass a rule saying that someone needs 1,000 hours of training before he can safely use a blow dryer on a customer's scalp when you think you are the final authority on the matter. Simply knowing that you'll be subject a periodic review might put the brakes on that sort of thing. And if it doesn't, the periodic reviews give the public (and pro-liberty groups like the Institute for Justice and state-based think tanks) an open door to press for changes or at least to highlight the more problematic laws.

The reforms in Ohio and Idaho are not a guarantee that licensing boards won't continue to abuse their authority. But they tip the scales slightly toward economic freedom.

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Trump's National Emergency Is an American Obscenity

Republicans embrace presidential authoritarianism, continuing a foul bipartisan tradition of legislating immigration through the executive branch.

||| Leah Millis/REUTERS/NewscomLeah Millis/REUTERS/NewscomWhen then-president Barack Obama attempted in November 2014 to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to protect an additional 3.7 million illegal immigrants from deportation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), a longtime supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, opposed the move. Indeed, he signed onto an amicus brief challenging the executive order at the Supreme Court.

"What is at stake in this matter is nothing less than an effort to supplant Congress's constitutional power," the brief read. "There is little doubt that the Executive adopted the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents ('DAPA') program as part of an explicit effort to circumvent the legislative process."

Graham, who has since graduated to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was right then. He's a disgrace now.

President Donald Trump, according to the latest reporting, is "laying the groundwork for a declaration of national emergency to build [a] border wall," telling his phone buddy Sean Hannity last night: "Now if we don't make a deal with Congress, most likely I will do that....I would actually say I would. I can't imagine any reason why not because I'm allowed to do it. The law is 100 percent on my side."

Needless to say, people with more familiarity with law don't share the president's view. "The validity of this claim is dubious at best," Ilya Somin explains at The Volokh Conspiracy. "It's a terrible idea," editorializes National Review. "Even if it's legal—which is unclear, at best—it would represent another unwelcome step in America's long march toward unilateral government by the executive." Opines NR's David French: "If you look at the plain language and clear intent of the relevant statutes, they do not permit Trump to defy Congress and build his wall. He knows it. Congress knows it. His own lawyers know it."

The congressional Republican most vocally opposed to the national-emergency scheme is, unsurprisingly, the self-described libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.). "I think it would be a huge mistake," Amash told Michigan Advance yesterday, "and it would be a massive executive overreach....There's no national emergency. Obviously, there are problems at the border, but to declare a national emergency—and assume all sorts of powers—would be way beyond what I think is authorized."

But Amash's is a lonely view even within his own Freedom Caucus bloc of ostensible constitutionalists. "I would prefer the legislative option," Freedom Caucus Rep. Scott Perry (R–Pa.) tells The Huffington Post. "But if he keeps on trying and trying and trying, and the other side is so intractable that they refuse to discuss it, what other option do you have?"

This foul immigration cycle—legislative impasse, presidential policymaking, legal challenges, all lubricated by grotesque partisan hypocrisy—long predates Trump.

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Trump's Immigration Rhetoric Carries Shades of 1994 Proposition That Killed California GOP: New at Reason

All this anger about immigration (and a lack of sympathy for the poor people coming here) is not only cruel, but politically foolish.

KEVIN DIETSCH/UPI/NewscomKEVIN DIETSCH/UPI/NewscomCalifornia's infamous Proposition 187, which banned most public services for illegal immigrants, passed overwhelmingly in March 1994. It received nearly 59 percent of the vote, with only a handful of Bay Area counties voting against it. The measure wasn't drafted by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, but he was its most high-profile supporter.

The statewide initiative did more than try to turn off the spigot for taxpayer-funded programs. In opposing the initiative at the time, The Orange County Register complained that "it would also introduce Big Brother elements into schools and hospitals. Immigration and welfare problems should be resolved with less government, not more." It noted that reporting "suspicious-looking immigrants...will be the conservatives' unintentional mechanism to create even more racial divisiveness."

The Prop. 187 campaign was never about a rational debate about immigration, public services and government intrusion. It was an emotional debate, fueled by frustration at the state's changing demographics. The initiative was blocked by the courts, but no matter. As myriad commentators have noted, the California GOP suffered a steady decline since then.

More than two decades later, Donald Trump won the presidency based in part on his unyielding approach to illegal immigration. By the way, he received the lowest percentage of the California vote of any major political party candidate since 1924. And he continues to stir the immigration pot during the ongoing federal "shutdown."

All this anger about immigration (and a lack of sympathy for the poor people coming here) is not only cruel, but politically foolish. Republicans are riding high with their tweet-crazy hero at the helm, but don't be shocked if in a few years the national GOP resembles its barely existent California variant, writes Stephen Greenhut.

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Kurt Loder Reviews The Upside: New at Reason

Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston in a surprising comedy.

STX EntertainmentSTX EntertainmentThe Upside tells a feel-good story with no real surprises. But that's okay. The movie's pleasures lie in its details and its top-drawer performances.

We know exactly what's coming the minute we see Dell (Kevin Hart), a wisecracking black ex-con, turning up at the palatial New York penthouse of a white millionaire named Phillip (Bryan Cranston). Phillip is a paraplegic (he broke his spine in a paragliding accident) and he's in need of a new caregiver—someone to lift him from bed to wheelchair every day, to take him outside for walks, and to generally be on call 24/7. The job comes with deluxe room and board, and naturally there are many highly qualified candidates for it, writes Kurt Loder.

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Brickbat: Relying on Guesswork

ConfusionDaniil Peshkov / Dreamstime.comA new California law requires law enforcement officers to record the age, gender, sexual orientation, and race of anyone they stop. The catch? They can't ask the person any questions about those characteristics and they can't use the person's driver's license or any other documents to gather that information. They can only go by their perceptions. The law is aimed at curbing racial or other types of profiling.

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Rep. Justin Amash Takes on Eminent Domain with 'Just Compensation' Bill

The bill would likely stop Trump from using the "military version of eminent domain."

Jeff Malet Photography/NewscomJeff Malet Photography/NewscomLegislation proposed today by Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) would essentially require the federal government to offer landowners "just compensation" before seizing their property to make room for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Eminent Domain Just Compensation Act, the text of which Amash posted to Twitter, doesn't specifically mention President Donald Trump's proposed border wall. But considering the timing—Trump and congressional Democrats are currently at an impasse regarding $5.7 billion in wall funding—the immediate potential impact is pretty clear.

As Amash's office noted in a press release, the Fifth Amendment does allow the government to take "private property for public use," as long as "just compensation" is provided. "But in some cases," the statement explains, "the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other government agencies are using 'quick take' condemnations to take possession of private property before just compensation has been determined."

"It is unjust for the government to seize someone's property with a lowball offer and then put the burden on them to fight for what they are still owed," Amash said in a statement. "My bill will stop this practice by requiring that a property's fair value be finalized before DHS takes ownership."

The libertarian-leaning Republican does not necessarily oppose building a wall on the southern border. "I don't have an inherent objection to a border wall," he told the Ionia Sentinel-Standard last week. But he emphasized that "it should take into consideration private property at the border and environmental concerns."

There are indeed significant private property concerns when it comes to building the wall. That's because the federal government owns less than a third of the land on the southern border. The rest belongs to other entities, including states, Native American tribes, and private individuals. Most of the border land in Texas is private property, and as they've explained to Reason TV, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, some of those landowners don't plan to go down without a fight.

Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Post one major issue is that landowners who decide to fight the government in court are often forced to give up access to their land in the meantime before a final payout is determined. Amash's legislation would likely remedy this "by requiring that court proceedings settling compensation be completed prior to the government's taking possession of the property," according to the press release.

The bill would thus stop the Trump administration from using what the president referred to on Friday as the "military version of eminent domain."

"[Lawsuits are] not going to hold [the wall] up because under the military version of eminent domain and under, actually, homeland security we can do it before we even start," Trump said. If Amash's bill became law, the government wouldn't be able to seize land until those lawsuits are settled.

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Bill de Blasio: 'We Will Seize Their Buildings, and We Will Put Them in the Hands of a Community Nonprofit'

NYC's mayor takes on private property (again).

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomFresh off proposing yesterday that private employers be required to provide their workers with 10 days of paid vacation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set his sights on a new target: property owners.

During his State of the City Address, delivered Thursday, de Blasio warned that the city will take action against landlord abuse, even if that means seizing private property.

"When a landlord tries to push out a tenant by making their home unlivable, a team of inspectors and law enforcement agents will be on the ground in time to stop it," the mayor said. If fines and penalties don't do the trick, then "we will seize their buildings, and we will put them in the hands of a community nonprofit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve," he added.

But surely city officials won't have the time to find and punish each one of the city's bad landlords, right? Wrong. That's because de Blasio is creating a new agency devoted solely to landlord abuse: the Mayor's Office to Protect Tenants.

"The city's worst landlords will have a new sheriff to fear," de Blasio said, calling the new agency (which he created on the spot by signing an executive order) a "new arm of city government that will root out the worst landlord abuse."

As the New York Daily News notes, the city already has an Office of Tenant Advocate. However, it has not yet been funded, according to the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council.

So what will the Office to Protect Tenants do? De Blasio didn't really explain, though his executive order says it will serve as a "central resource for tenants, social service agencies, advocacy organizations, legal services providers, landlords and management companies of affordable housing, and others on tenant issues," including "tenant harassment."

According to his office's website, De Blasio is "pursuing new local law to seize upwards of 40 of the most distressed multiple dwelling buildings annually and transition them to responsible, mission driven ownership." Passage of this legislation would presumably give the Office to Protect Tenants the authority to seize land.

This is really nothing new for de Blasio, who basically told New York magazine in 2016 that he does not believe in the right to private property. "I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be," he said. "Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents."

There are a host of problems with this mindset, as Reason's Scott Shackford detailed at the time. But it all boils down to this: Politicians like de Blasio want to control what other people do with and on their own property. If landowners don't listen, then there's a simple solution: Seize their land.

This sort of thinking doesn't work out in real life. Look no further than an existing New York City program meant to provide affordable housing. The Third Party Transfer (TPT) Program supposedly lets nonprofit groups buy "distressed vacant and occupied multi-family properties," then rent them out to people in need of a relatively cheap place to live. But longtime property owners have complained that the city has seized their homes over unpaid city debts.

Consider retired nurse Marlene Saunders, for instance. She nearly lost her house, a completely paid-off brownstone worth upward of $2.2 million, over an unpaid water bill of less than $4,000. It was only after her local councilman stepped in that the city decided to let Saunders keep it.

The mayor's announcement today doesn't mean that program is going away. In fact, the mayor will actually look to expand the TPT program to meet its goal of seizing more land, according to Crain's New York.

It's worth noting that the worst landlord in New York isn't even a private landowner. In December, then-NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, who's since been sworn in as attorney general of New York State, put the city's own housing authority at the top of her "2018 NYC Landlord Watchlist."

De Blasio may have been alluding to this today when he said the Office to Protect Tenants "will hold every city agency…accountable for protecting tenants." Still, it's ironic that the mayor wants to seize private property when the real problems are happening in city-run buildings.

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We Found a Perfect Metaphor for Government

The city admitted its mistake after collecting the fines.

Nicole LaVeglia of Queens parked her car in a legal spot on January 2. Less than an hour later, the city's Department of Transportation showed up, drilled a hole, and installed a "No Parking" sign near the vehicle. With the car suddenly in violation of the sign, the New York Police Department then towed the car and LeVeglia was slapped with $185 in fines.

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Time for Congressional Republicans to Grow a Spine: New at Reason

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of two increasingly lonely libertarians in the House of Representatives, had a crazy idea Wednesday morning in the wake of President Trump's unpersuasive prime-time speech about border wall funding and the government shutdown: Have the House and Senate hash out a spending bill, send that bill to the president, and if he vetoes it, they can override, or not. "This is our system," Amash tweeted, with the slightest hint of desperation. "We should follow it."

What an intriguing concept, writes Matt Welch: Congress could do its job and ask the president to do his.

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Importing Prescription Drugs From Canada Could Save Vermonters $5 Million a Year—Or Nothing At All

Either way, it won't address the factors driving up prescription drug costs for American consumers.

Lars Hagberg/ZUMA Press/NewscomLars Hagberg/ZUMA Press/NewscomVermont's commercial health insurers could save anywhere from $1 million to $5 million a year by importing prescription drugs wholesale from Canada, according to a new report from the state's Agency of Human Services (AHS). Yet the report also says insurers—and thus patients—could save no money at all, despite the fact that name-brand prescription drugs cost less in Canada than they do in the United States.

Somewhere between $5 million and zero is quite a range. What explains the big spread? The short answer is federal regulation.

For Vermont, or any other state, to legally import prescription drugs from Canada, it must devise an importation system that the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will certify. To get that approval, said system must do two things:

  • "pose no additional risk to the public's health and safety," and
  • "result in a significant reduction in the cost of covered products to the American consumer."

"A program that costs more to operate than produces in savings," the AHS noted in its Dec. 31 report to the Vermont legislature, "is highly unlikely to meet the Secretary's criteria for certification."

No state has received HHS certification under Section 804 of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to import prescription drugs wholesale from Canada. No state has even attempted to use Section 804. The AHS report shows a few reasons why.

The certification process would require Vermont to devise a system of state regulations that federal drug regulators, who have vastly more experience and money, will sign off on. Vermont would need to hire and train staff who can license and monitor importers in the U.S., exporters in Canada, and any third-party contractors participating at any point in the supply chain. The state would have to physically inspect, either directly or using a third party, Canadian manufacturers, both to grant them export licenses and periodically afterward. Importers would also need to be inspected, drug batches would need to be tested, databases would need to be managed, and all parties would need to be audited regularly. Number crunchers would need to keep track of the savings (or lack thereof).

As of right now, the Vermont Board of Pharmacy is the state's supervising body for the pharmacy industry, and "no sitting member has any experience to speak of in respect to drug manufacturing, the wholesale distribution of legend drugs, or supply-chain security."

If Vermont can do all of that regulating for $800,000 a year, and importation saves the state's commercial insurers exactly $1 million per year, would HHS deem $200,000 a "significant reduction in cost"? What about savings of $500,000? If Vermont feels the savings are significant, and HHS doesn't, who wins? The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act is silent on these questions.

The AHS prepared its report at the request of the Vermont legislature, which voted in May to begin the Section 804 certification process. The AHS surveyed commercial insurers, who forecast savings of "$2.61–$2.82 per member per month," even with a markup as high as 45 percent (that's where the $1 million to $5 million number comes from). The report also tells us that the agency understands broadly what it needs to do to regulate an importation system, but not how much regulating will actually cost, or whether licensing fees will pay for the additional regulation. The agency says it now needs to determine whether "the absolute cost of operating such a program and whether that cost eclipses the savings for participating commercial payers."

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is vehemently opposed to letting Americans buy prescription drugs from countries with nationalized health care systems, and that industry has a lot of influence with HHS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When Vermont voted to begin the Section 804 process in May, a pharmaceutical lobbyist called the legislature "highly irresponsible." I bet pharmaceutical lobbyists have read the AHS report and are devising their own regulatory suggestions that can be submitted to HHS. While I'm speculating, I'd guess those regulations will be very difficult to comply with (this is assuming the industry doesn't simply argue that no amount of regulation will make importation "safe").

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is also not a fan of large-scale importation from Canada (or anywhere else). He said last year that no "well-intentioned legislation" at the state level could create "a safe way to check the drugs coming in through these different importation schemes."

This opposition is not surprising. U.S. consumers subsidize prescription drug costs for Canada and nearly all of Europe. Pharmaceutical companies look to the U.S. market, with its highly distorted payment systems, as a way to preserve their profit margins and pay for the cost of getting approval from the FDA and other medicines regulators. It's much easier to block reforms to the U.S. system (and preserve U.S. profits) than it is to roll back nationalization in Canada and the European Union.

The FDA, meanwhile, is a deeply conservative agency when it comes to drug safety, and it generally opposes systems that it cannot supervise and control. While the AHS report suggests that regulatory compliance would be solely Vermont's responsibility, I imagine the FDA would want to play a role as well (beyond certification) and that another layer of fees might be necessary to fund the FDA's new oversight responsibilities. Such fees could further reduce the cost savings of importation. Again, this is mostly speculation, because there's no precedent.

Even with what appears to be excellent model legislation and consultation from the National Academy for State Health Policy and the company FDAImports, I suspect that the odds here favor the status quo. Even if Vermont prevails, Section 804 certification for a population of 600,000 wouldn't address the larger problems of a broken payer system and our obscenely generous drug patent laws.

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California Police Fight To Stop New Law Releasing Their Misconduct Records

A new year brings new transparency, and new lawsuits to try to limit it.

Top secret recordsFrannyanne / Dreamstime.comThanks to the state's newly implemented public records rules, we're starting to see the first stories detailing misconduct of California police officers. We're also seeing the lengths to which police groups will go to keep those records secret.

In Burlingame, up in the Bay Area, media outlets were successful in getting records showing that a police officer, David Granucci, was fired last year after the Burlingame Police Department found out he had offered to help a woman deal with a DUI charge if she'd have sex with him. He appears to have made similar offers to two other women, one of whom apparently went through with it.

For decades, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for media outlets or the public to find out exactly what happened with Granucci because a state law in California, pushed through by police unions and signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown back in 1978, blocked the release of disciplinary records.

But the rules finally changed last year when Brown, who just concluded his fourth and final term as governor, approved changes that made public police investigation and disciplinary records. The law went into effect with the start of the new year.

Some folks are now doing whatever they can to stem the tide of releases. Two California cities, Inglewood and Long Beach, destroyed decades of police records, with both municipalities insisting that it was part of a plan to streamline record-keeping and had nothing to do with the new law. The police commander in Long Beach says they made sure to preserve records pertaining to current employees and only purged records of officers who no longer worked there. It's not clear how that's a good idea, given that officers who get fired for incompetence or misconduct frequently move on to other police departments in other cities, with the public often unaware of their troubled backgrounds.

Then there are the lawsuits. Police unions and their representatives are now trying to argue that the transparency law only applies to new records, produced after the start of 2019. There's nothing in the bill itself that says this: It amends existing public records laws to add additional records that law enforcement agencies are required to release. The date of the bill's implementation was the start of the year.

The California Supreme Court has declined to hear a suit from San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department employees, in which they argue that the law is not retroactive. But in Los Angeles, a superior court judge did grant an injunction that stops the Los Angeles Police Department from releasing records from prior to Jan. 1, until a hearing to determine whether the law covers records prior to 2019.

To be clear here, this new law does not order the public release of all police personnel records. It requires the release of records that pertain to incidents in which a law enforcement officer fires a weapon; an officer-involved incident that results in a person's death or great bodily injury; an officer found to have engaged in sexual assault with a member of the public (this includes any sex act while on duty—relevant to the disclosure of the records about Granucci's firing); and officers found to have engaged in dishonest conduct like concealing evidence, falsifying reports, and/or committing perjury.

These are all things the public deserves to know about state employees who have the power to kill them, take their belongings, and deprive them of their freedom. Nevertheless, police unions are fighting to stop law enforcement agencies from releasing this information, claiming that revealing records about their conduct somehow violates their rights.

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A Texas County's GOP Is Split Over the Vice Chair's Muslim Religion

Shahid Shafi identifies as a Republican because he believes in small government.

|||David Walker/Dreamstime.comDavid Walker/Dreamstime.comOn Thursday evening, members of the Tarrant County, Texas, Republican Party (TCRP) will vote on whether to give Vice Chair Shaid Shafi the boot. The problem some TCRP members have with Shafi: He's Muslim.

Shafi entered the United States in 1990 and was naturalized in 2009. He is currently a member of the Southlake (Texas) City Council and makes a living as a trauma surgeon. He wrote in an open letter that he identifies as a Republican because he believes in "small government, lower taxes, individual responsibility, religious freedom, school choice, energy independence, rule of law, and secure borders." Shafi also spoke to his own personal record as a council member, reminding others that he voted for lower property taxes in his area.

Due to his experience and commitment, TCRP Chairman Darl Easton appointed Shafi to serve as vice chair in July. However, members like precinct chair Dorrie O'Brien strongly support his ousting over concerns that he supports Islam, Islamic law, or "Islamic terror groups." O'Brien, who has said that her faction has enough votes to prevail, claims that her concerns have nothing to do with Shafi's religion.

Shafi addressed these concerns in his open letter, saying that he's never been associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), or any terrorist organization. Furthermore, he specifically listed support for "American Laws for American Courts" as well as "Israel's right to exist."

Since the TCRP's internal drama became public, prominent Republican figures and conservative outlets have disavowed the recall efforts.

"Discrimination against Dr. Shafi [because] he's Muslim is wrong," tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz. "The Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office [and] the First Amendment protects religious liberty for every faith. The Party of Lincoln should welcome everybody [and] celebrate Liberty."

"Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation and state and attacks on Dr. Shafi because of his faith are contrary to this guiding principle," wrote Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in a statement.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush also became involved, tweeting, "I urge the Tarrant County GOP to stop this attempt to remove a hardworking county party official based on religious beliefs. We must move towards a more inclusive Republican Party and stop tearing down our own if we are to keep Texas red."

Easton has also criticized the faction against Shafi, saying, "Most of them already have a prejudice against Muslims, and a lot of that comes from the attack on 9/11 and the Shariah law they claim all Muslims must obey." Even though Shafi is an active member of his party, Easton observed, his efforts on behalf of the GOP have gone unrecognized by those seeking to remove him.

Despite the faction against Shafi and Thursday's looming vote, elected Republican officials in the county signed a document in December saying they both support religious liberty and the chairman's appointments. The TCRP shared the affirmation on their Facebook page.

Update: The move to recall Shahid Shafi failed a 49-139 vote.

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Mitch McConnell is Keeping the Senate Out of the Shutdown Fight. It's a Hypocritical Abdication of Congressional Responsibility

Five years ago, McConnell declared the need to restore the Senate. Instead, he's broken it further.

Sipa USA/NewscomSipa USA/NewscomIn January 2014, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.), then the GOP minority leader, gave a lengthy speech titled "Restoring the Senate."

The point of the speech was to argue for the body's relevance and importance, to make a case that the Senate was where America's toughest legislative problems could and should be worked out, through vigorous debate, seriousness of purpose, and a shared sense of serving more than a single party's short-term political priorities.

"Over the past several years, the Senate seems more like a campaign studio than a serious legislative body," McConnell said. Centralization was a big part of the problem, he argued; debate should be embraced rather than avoided. He complained that "major legislation is now routinely drafted not in committee but in the Majority Leader's conference room and then dropped on the floor with little or no opportunity for members to participate in the amendment process, virtually guaranteeing a fight." McConnell warned that brute, simple-minded partisanship would produce legislation that was both worse and less politically stable, exacerbating the volatility of both politics and policy.

Meanwhile, the Senate had become subordinate to the political priorities of the White House. That needed to change. "The Senate should be setting national priorities, not simply waiting on the White House to do it for us." The ongoing failure to buck the executive branch and minimize shallow political gamesmanship, he said, "diminishes the Senate."

Five years later, McConnell is the Senate majority leader under a GOP president, and he is running the Senate in almost exactly the manner he previously decried.

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4 Reasons Requiring Background Checks for All Gun Sales Is a Bad Idea

The policy is very popular and a top priority for House Democrats, but it would hurt innocent people without doing much to improve public safety.

ATFATFThis week, as one of their first legislative initiatives after taking control of the House, Democrats unveiled the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would require that almost all firearm transfers involve federally licensed dealers. The aim is to make sure that all gun buyers undergo background checks to verify that they are legally allowed to own firearms.

This policy is very popular, favored by 84 percent to 94 percent of respondents in recent national polls. It's not hard to see why: Assuming that Congress has selected fair and logical criteria for owning guns, shouldn't those rules be enforced to the fullest extent possible? Why make an exception for private transfers, thereby giving potentially dangerous people a way to complete purchases that would otherwise be blocked?

On the face of it, there is no downside to broadening the background check requirement, and it might stop would-be mass shooters and other violent criminals from arming themselves. Advocates portray a system of "universal background checks" as the epitome of "commonsense, bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation," the sort of policy that unites reasonable people across the political spectrum. It seems you'd have to be a crazy extremist to oppose the idea. Yet if you dig into the details, you will find sound reasons to be skeptical. I can think of at least four:

1. "Universal background checks" are not really universal. I am not talking about the exceptions for police, military personnel, and transfers between close relatives. I am talking about the impossibility of enforcing a requirement that all gun sales go through federally licensed dealers. Last year researchers who looked at what happened after Colorado, Delaware, and Washington imposed that requirement reported that "background check rates increased in Delaware, by 22%–34% depending on the type of firearm," but "no overall changes were observed in Washington and Colorado." It's easy to understand why the average gun owner might balk at the hassle and expense of bringing his firearm to a licensed dealer so he can legally dispose of his own property. People who knowingly sell guns to criminals are even less motivated to comply. The government may want to record all heretofore private transfers, but there is no practical way of accomplishing that goal.

2. The criteria for owning guns are not fair or logical. Federal law prohibits gun sales to millions of Americans who pose no threat to others, including anyone who uses illegal drugs, anyone who was ever subjected to involuntary psychiatric treatment, and anyone with a felony record, whether or not the offense involved violence or even a victim. Assuming that a broader background check requirement actually results in more background checks, more people will unjustly lose their Second Amendment rights because a database shows they were convicted of marijuana possession or treated for suicidal impulses. While most "unlawful users" of controlled substances probably can avoid detection, they will have to lie on the federal firearm purchase form, which is itself a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. And as the form explicitly says, unlawful users of controlled substances include people who use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, even when it's allowed by state law.

3. Background checks won't stop mass shootings. While 70 percent of respondents in a 2018 Gallup poll thought "requiring background checks for all gun sales" would be "very effective" in "preventing mass shootings," the perpetrators of these attacks typically do not have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records. Those who are not legally allowed to own guns can still get them from people who are, as the perpetrators of the Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres did.

4. Background checks won't stop ordinary criminals from getting guns. Violent criminals are already breaking the law by using guns to commit crimes and even by owning the guns if they have felony records. What are the chances that they or the people who sell them guns will suddenly decide to obey the law when it requires background checks for all transfers?

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, in short, would criminalize actions that violate no one's rights, impose burdens on innocent gun owners, and deprive harmless people of the right to armed self-defense without doing much of anything to improve public safety. No wonder it's a top priority for Democrats.

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Steve King's White Nationalism Is Deeply Un-American

The Iowa congressman and his nativism are deeply at odds with the essential promise of America.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/NewscomJOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/NewscomRep. Steve King, the nativist Republican congressman from Iowa who has likened illegal immigrants to "livestock," is just asking questions. In a New York Times interview, he says:

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?" Mr. King said. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

In the recent past (2017) King insisted that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," and only a few years before that (2013) he insisted that "there isn't anyone that can fairly characterize me as anti-immigrant." Which pretty much tells you what kind of bubble the guy is living in: He's openly hostile to immigration, both legal and illegal, but refuses to admit as much.

Still, even if the Vietnam draft-dodger can't be swayed, it's worth at least pointing out to those who might be open to discussion that equating America with whiteness is fundamentally un-American. The United States has a deeply troubled history with race and racism, but one of the few things that makes our country different is that we aspire to be a nation that aspires (and often achieves) a sense of identity that goes far beyond blood and soil. Take it away, Jean de Crevecouer in Letters from an American Farmer (1782):

What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.

He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.

I've noted elsewhere that Crevecoeur has his limits (among other things, he speaks only of men and he owned slaves for a time). But he accurately captures a process by which America is a country that has long aspired to be a place where people could be judged, in Martin Luther King's phrase, by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

It's disturbing that members of the federal government, such as Steve King, persist in identitarian politics. Yet in a country that is more genuinely diverse and less racist than ever, his sort of thinking signals nothing more than the death rattle of the racial collectivism that has always stained American history.

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Trump's 'Impenetrable' Barrier Meets a Saw

The Wall vs. Home Depot

ARIANA DREHSLER/UPI/NewscomARIANA DREHSLER/UPI/NewscomBefore he became president, Donald Trump promised to build an "impenetrable" barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. "On Day One, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall," he said in August 2016.

But if that barrier gets built, it looks like it'll be pretty, well, penetrable.

At first, Trump wanted a concrete wall. Now putting aside for a moment the many arguments against constructing a wall, concrete would tough to breach—though not impossible. A February 2018 Customs and Border Protection report, which KPBS obtained in September, stated that all eight of the steel and concrete border wall types ordered by the president were vulnerable to breaching, though many of the specific breaching techniques were redacted.

In any case, Trump has recently shifted to calling for a steel-slatted barrier. That way, border agents on the U.S. side can see what's happening on the Mexican side. But it also means people with the right sawing equipment can cut through the wall. At least, that's what a photo of a breached steel slat prototype obtained by NBC News shows:

NBC says the photo was taken after Marine Corps experts at "Pogo Row" (a testing location near the California-Mexico border) "were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools."

San Diego Sector Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott tells NBC that the prototypes tested at Pogo Row were not as big as the ones toured by Trump when he visited the border in March. But that shouldn't matter much: If they're made of the same material, they should be vulnerable to the same breaching technique, no matter how big.

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A Real Wall Against a Fake Threat Won't Make America Safe Again

Give up your wall, Mr. President.

Border WallJonathan McIntosh via Foter.comPresident Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) are locked in a battle of wills over the border wall. After declaring a "barrier...absolutely critical to border security" during his Oval Office address, Trump walked out of a meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer when they refused to budge on the wall money. This may well be a prelude to Trump acting on his threat to declare a national emergency and using unobligated Pentagon funds to get the military to build a wall.

That would be a terrible abuse of his power, because there is no wall-worthy national security threat at the border.

Contrary to Trump's claims, a wall won't do much to stanch the flow of drugs to this country. Why? As best as can be determined, most of the heroin and cocaine intercepted on its way to the U.S. comes through legal ports of entry. And even if the wall did substantially block smugglers, the same sorts of drugs—or close substitutes—would be instead generated domestically, as long as there is a demand for them.

As for the human beings coming across the southern border, they are increasingly asylum seekers, and their cases deserve to be heard and processed quickly—which means investing in more immigration judges, not misdirecting resources on a misguided wall.

No matter how many times it is pointed out to Trump, he simply won't admit that the flow of illegal immigration is rapidly trending downwards. In 2000, the authorities apprehended 1,643,679 unauthorized migrants. In 2017? 303,916. There was a slight uptick in 2018, but nothing approaching a "crisis"—a word that Trump used six times in his seven-minute national address earlier this week. So going by the sheer numbers, if there was ever a time for a wall, it has already passed.

If the quantity of immigrants doesn't justify a wall, their "quality" doesn't either.

The administration has already taken a walloping for its whopper that 4,000 terrorists were apprehended at the southern border in 2017, a figure that was off by 4,000. Yes, about 3,000 "special interest" people were flagged entering from that side, but that merely means that they hail from countries that are a potential source of terrorism, not that they are terrorists themselves. No one who has come in from the southern border has ever conducted a terrorist attack. Even the ultra-restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies acknowledges that the administration is vastly exaggerating the terrorist threat.

What about other kinds of criminals? Trump has never backed away from his statement that Mexico sends us "rapists" and "criminals" rather than its "best" people. In truth, Mexico no longer sends us very many people at all—unlike back in 2000, when Mexicans made up 98 percent of the total migrants and Central Americans about two percent. As Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, points out, the split is now close to 50-50.

And among those coming in, criminals are the rarest of rare exception.

Leutert notes:

Since the Trump administration took office, the Border Patrol has detected fewer gang members crossing irregularly than during the Obama administration. In FY2017, these detections amounted to 0.075 percent of the total number of migrants (228 MS-13 members out of 303,916 total migrants). When combined with MS-13's rival, the Barrio 18 gang, the number rises only slightly to 0.095 percent. This is far from the "infestation" of violent gang members described by the president.

Furthermore, unlike the immigrants coming from Mexico, 98 percent of who were working-age men looking for better economic opportunities, half of the apprehended immigrants from Central America are families, many of them not-so-threatening women and children without men, predominantly from three countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Leutert notes that although the migrants from Guatemala tend to come from rural areas to escape extreme poverty (often mortgaging their farms to make the journey), those from Honduras and El Salvador are predominantly urban dwellers trying to get away from gangs. (Those gangs, in turn, formed after America started deporting criminal aliens back in droves.)

The previous unaccompanied minor "crisis" occurred not because Central American parents were acting irresponsibly, as many restrictionists claim. It was because they were trying to extricate their kids from the clutches of gangs trying to recruit them. "Boys of eleven years old (or younger) may be recruited as lookouts and teenage girls may be eyed for becoming members' 'girlfriends,'" Leutert says.

Families are now coming together to seek asylum. One would think that would gain them some brownie points from immigration hardliners who were slamming them for sending kids alone. But no! Now they are being accused of using kids as "pawns" to gain entry into the United States (because, per the Flores ruling, kids can't be kept in detention for longer than a few days so families who come with them are more likely to be "caught and released"). But that's not the case. Families are all fleeing together because gangs have started charging exorbitant extortions that are beyond the means of small mom-and-pop businesses to pay. And the price for failing to pay up, Leutert points out, is often death.

If there were lots of criminals and terrorists trying to sneak across the border undetected, a wall might help. But asylum seekers are actually trying to get caught because they want to live and work legally in the country. Indeed, as Vox's Dara Lind points out, they turn themselves in to the first border agent they encounter—at a port of entry if they can, but if those are too backed up, or if they're forced to languish for days and weeks because the Trump administration will only let a few in at a time (an illegal practice called metering), then between ports.

All a wall would do in that case is seal off access points between ports, creating bigger backups at ports of entry. Far from alleviating the brewing humanitarian situation at the border, as Trump claimed in his address, a wall would exacerbate it.

Restrictionists also claim that asylum-seeking families that are "caught and released" typically just disappear, never to be heard from again. But that's a highly dubious claim, to say the least. In one Obama-era program where asylum seekers were paired with case managers before being let go, the asylum seekers had a 100 percent attendance record at court hearings. They also had a 99 percent rate of check-ins and appointments with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.

More generally, the immigration advocacy group American Immigration Council published a report four years ago that looked at studies from over the previous two decades examining how well asylum seekers fulfilled their legal obligations. It found "very high rates of compliance" among those "who were placed into alternatives to detention."

The report cited a 2000 U.S. government-commissioned study that found an "83 percent rate of compliance with court proceedings among asylum seekers who were found to have a credible fear in the expedited removal process." It also showed an 84 percent compliance rate among asylees under minimal supervision, and 78 percent among those who were unsupervised.

This makes sense: The penalty for living in the country without authorization—both legal (given that unauthorized people have a very hard time obtaining visas) and in lost wages—is so high that asylum seekers have a built-in incentive to do things by the book. That's why, far from wasting money on the wall, it would be better to invest in more judges and legal hearings for a speedy dispensation of asylum cases.

The real crisis will be if Trump declares a national emergency to deal with his fake threat.

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Kamala Harris Has Not Set a Date, Allegedly: Reason Roundup

But brace yourself for the Harris 2020 campaign to officially start sometime soon.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomHas California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris settled on a presidential run and picked a date to announce her candidacy? A variety of media outlets have reported as much, citing San Francisco talk radio station KCBS as the source. On Wednesday, KCBS reported that Harris would announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Day (January 21), "probably at a campaign rally in Oakland." Their intel allegedly came from anonymous sources close to Harris.

But today, Politico's Christopher Cadelago reports that "a formal announcement date is not settled," per "a person close to her."

Take all that for what you will. The bottom line is likely the same: Brace yourself for the Harris 2020 campaign to officially launch sometime soon.

If you need a refresher on Harris' horrible history, here's C.J. Ciaramella reviewing her newly released book.

In The Truths We Hold, Harris touts her record as a "progressive prosecutor," but the book glosses over numerous instances where her office defended prosecutorial misconduct.

Harris recounts her career as a line prosecutor in San Francisco, up through her tenure as California Attorney General and her election to the U.S. Senate. The book is a rather clear attempt by Harris to preemptively defend her record on criminal justice, which has emerged as an important issue, especially on the left flank of the Democratic Party....

What her book doesn't address, however, is the many times her own office contributed to that dark history.

And a bit more of Reason's Harris coverage:

FREE MARKETS

Malcolm Gladwell is full of crap about marijuana and the dangers of its decriminalization. Yesterday, Reason's Jacob Sullum tackled a fearmongering anti-pot piece from The New York Times. But there are a lot of bad takes like it these days, including a recent New Yorker story by Malcolmn Gladwell. For some fun, see this Twitter thread from journalist Dave Levitan, which takes on the bad stats and misrepresentations point by point. A sample:

FREE MINDS

Good news for Google and free speech. From Fast Company:

For years, Google has been fighting an order from a French regulator, which tried to force the company to follow the law beyond European borders. The legal framework demands that internet companies purge search results about people's personal information. France argued that allowing results to remain in other locations made the law ineffective. Google and other technology advocates rebutted that allowing the law's scope to expand globally would allow repressive regimes to essentially erase all dissenting online content about them around the world.

Now, Google has a legal adviser to the European Union's top court on its side. More here.

QUICK HITS

• Former Sens. Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) were the least popular members of Congress last year, according to Morning Consult.

• It's a public domain bonanza!

• Hoaxes upon hoaxes:

• Glory days...

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Don’t Reignite the Fight Against Intrastate Gambling: New at Reason

Dreamstime.comDreamstime.comIt's been reported that the Department of Justice is drafting an opinion to reverse a 2011 finding from the Office of Legal Counsel that paved the way for states to regulate online gambling as they see fit. Such a move, writes Veronique de Rugy, would not just be a blow to states like Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania that have already legalized online gambling, as well as the many others considering such action; it would also go against basic federalist principles.

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Brickbat: Greek Life

Woman studyingVladans / Dreamstime.comThe University of Virginia has suspended the Señoritas Latinas Unidas sorority for hazing. Officials agreed with a girl who pledged the sorority that a requirement that members study 25 hours a week violated the school's anti-hazing policy. The sorority has sued the college in federal court, complaining that they are being discriminated against, noting other programs at the college with similar study requirements.

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Millennial News Site Thinks the CIA Being Run Entirely by Women Is a Progressive Victory

This is not the first time generic "yaaassss slay kween" feminism has been used to obscure an awful person's record.

NowThis, a news website that primarily caters to left-of-center millennials and Gen Z-ers, tweeted this on Wednesday: "The CIA's highest level positions are now all held by women—another stride towards progress." The tweet even included a flexed bicep emoji, a symbol of progress that invokes Rosie the Riveteer. Here it is:

Most of the responses to the tweet involve people dunking on it, and for good reason. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) being run entirely by women is not another stride toward progress. A stride toward progress would be the CIA shutting down, or at the very least renouncing its past misdeeds: torturing prisoners, spying on American citizens, overthrowing foreign governments, etc., etc.

Yes, current CIA Director Gina Haspel is a woman. She also ran a CIA black site in Thailand and was personally involved in the waterboarding of at least one detainee. When asked about these activities during her confirmation hearings, she was unrepentant. She said, essentially, that she was just following orders.

I'm highlighting this tweet because it speaks to intersectionality's corruption of the modern progressive movement. Intersectionality, of course, is the academic tradition from the late 1980s that stressed group-based oppression: particularly racism and sexism. Over the years, proponents of intersectionality have added other areas of concern: everything from transphobia and homophobia to size-ism and able-ism. It's not that the intersectional thinkers are necessarily wrong—transphobia exists, and it's bad—but rather that a monomaniacal focus on group-based oppression can be naïve. Haspel taking over the CIA, for instance, might be a blow to sexism in some very narrow sense, but it does nothing to remedy the CIA's appalling record on civil liberties, something progressives purport to care about.

This is not the first time generic yaaassss slay kween feminism has been used to obscure Haspel's appalling awfulness: My colleague Scott Shackford made a note of The Advocate's coverage, which commended the CIA director for making "herstory" in a tweet that practically demands a barf emoji response.

Recall that some on the left complained Trump had threatened to drop "the mother of all bombs" on Afghanistan—not because killing yet more people in the war-torn country would be wrong, but because the phrase itself is sexist. This approach should frustrate true progressives. It certainly frustrates libertarians who would occasionally like to ally with them.

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Having Won the War Against Straws, California Mulls a Crackdown on Paper Receipts

A new bill would fine businesses up to $300 for giving customers unsolicited paper receipts.

Screenshot via YoutubeScreenshot via YoutubeEmboldened by successfully restricting access to plastic straws, California's busybody legislators are now mulling a crackdown on another ubiquitous feature of our consumer society: the paper receipt.

On Monday, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D–San Francisco) introduced a bill that would require businesses to provide their customers with an electronic receipt unless they specifically requested a paper one, in an effort to both cut down on waste and protect human health from the deadly chemicals found on paper receipts.

"It's common sense legislation. We think it's minimal cost, and we think it's really putting the power back in the consumers," said Ting at a press conference, standing next to an expressionless aide wearing a giant paper receipt costume on which were written fun facts about the bill.

Ting's bill is modelled explicitly on the state's recently passed straw-on-request bill, down to the penalties.

Any default provision of a physical receipt would expose the paper proof-of-purchase providing proprietor to daily fines of $25, capped at $300 per year—a carbon copy of the fines restaurateurs face for handing out unsolicited plastic straws.

The similarities between the two policies do not end there.

Straw bans got their start with a number of well-marketed advocacy campaigns from environmental nonprofits with catchy, alliterative names like 'Strawless in Seattle' or 'Skip the Straw.'

Ting's bill likewise draws both its inspiration and most of its facts and figures from nonprofit Green America's Skip the Slip campaign—which does its best to hype the environmental impact and health risks of paper receipts.

According to a May 2018 report from Green America, America's yearly receipt usage costs us 10 million trees and another 21 billion gallons of water. The group also warns that some 93 percent of receipts come coated in Bisphenol-S (BPS) or Bisphenol-A (BPA), everyone's favorite chemicals to hate.

On closer inspection, neither of these data points seem like much to worry about.

The average American uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water a day, which works out to be about 10 to 12 trillion gallons a year for the whole country. About 15 billion trees are estimated to be felled each year globally. Paper receipts are a rounding error.

Reason's Ron Bailey has likewise cataloged how health concerns over BPA—often found in products like water bottles and plastic utensils—are largely unfounded. Green America's report gives few reasons for why BPA on receipts—a product that is not touching the food you eat or the water you drink—would be a concern.

It was the same story with plastic straws, which—despite all the fuss—make up minuscule percentages of beach litter and marine plastic debris.

Passing some sort of receipt-on-request law will not do much to improve the health of California's environment or its residents. If anything, it will ensure that more of them are coaxed into giving over their data for an electronic receipt, which will almost certainly increase digital litter in their inboxes.

It is true that receipts, unlike straws, are becoming less relevant as more and more purchases are digitized. Nevertheless, it should be up to businesses and consumers to figure out how they want to record their purchases.

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Bill de Blasio Proposes Mandated Paid Vacations Because 'New Yorkers Need a Break'

"If you work hard and you don't get a break, that's not fair," de Blasio said.

Albin Lohr-Jones/Sipa USA/NewscomAlbin Lohr-Jones/Sipa USA/NewscomNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today proposed a plan requiring private employers to provide their workers with 10 days per year of paid vacation.

The proposal would benefit hundreds of thousands of full- and part-time employees who don't have access to paid time off (PTO), de Blasio's office claims. If the plan is approved by the New York City Council, all private businesses with five or more workers would need to offer their workers two weeks of vacation time.

"New Yorkers need a break," de Blasio said today from City Hall. "If you work hard and you don't get a break, that's not fair."

The proposal is the first of its kind in the United States, according to The New York Times. De Blasio's office specifically highlighted the 470,000 combined employees in the city's professional services, retail, hotel, and food industries who don't get paid vacation.

"It's bad for your physical health. It's bad for your mental health," the mayor said. "It's no way to live."

Under the plan, workers would be able to take time off for any reason once they've been employed for 120 days. Companies would be allowed to require that employees give two weeks' notice before taking time off, or deny PTO requests if too many workers are taking off at the same time.

It doesn't sound like employees could automatically take 10 days of PTO after 120 days of employment. According to The Washington Post, workers would accrue their PTO gradually over the course of their employment.

The proposal probably has a decent chance of passing. The city council is dominated by Democrats, and judging from some of their reactions in de Blasio's press statement, a good number already appear to support the proposal.

But support is far from universal. "Everyone wants employees to have a fair amount of vacation time, but one-size-fits-all government mandates tend to make it harder to hire, grow businesses and create jobs," Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who used to work for former House Speaker John Boehner (R–Ohio), told the Post. "This sounds like that's what this would do."

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a local business group, agrees. She called the plan "another example of municipal overreach into the city's private sector economy."

"Most New York City employers are doing whatever they can to attract and keep good workers and do not need the government dictating their benefit policies," Wylde said in a statement. Many of the businesses that would be affected, she said, "are struggling retailers, who are facing rising rents and online competition."

Steel and Wylde bring up fair points. If private employers believe offering their workers paid vacation time will increase productivity, morale, or profits, then they will. Most businesses already do this, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 76 percent of private industry workers had access to PTO as of March 2017.

The problem is that PTO doesn't make sense for every business.

"When policymakers like de Blasio mandate benefits, it results in a reduction in salary/wages, or other employee benefits for employees," says Vanessa Brown Calder, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute who specializes in social welfare, housing, and urban policy. "That is because employers are interested in limiting total costs (compensation) for a given productivity level," Calder told Reason in an email.

If private employers are forced by the government to offer those benefits, then they may decide to cut wages as a result. But let's say workers at any particular company make $15 an hour (which is the minimum wage for business in NYC with 11 or more employees): Their wages can't legally be cut any more. In order to make ends meet, the business may end up cutting hours or even laying off some employees.

Mandatory benefit proposals essentially tell workers and companies what kind of compensation packages are acceptable. In reality, some workers would gladly trade higher pay for more time off. "However, not all employees would," notes Calder. "When policymakers like De Blasio mandate benefits, it (counterintuitively) reduces employees choices."

There are other reasons why de Blasio's plan isn't a good idea. "Mandates that make employees more expensive offer less incentive for businesses to hire more and more highly skilled employees (that's bad news for lower-wage workers)," wrote Independent Women's Forum Carrie Lucas in a July 2017 piece for Reason. "A government one-size-fits-all paid leave program would also discourage voluntary alternative work arrangements like job-sharing and telecommuting that benefit employers and employees."

Lucas was specifically referring to proposals that provide new parents with paid leave. But it's the same idea. Paid family leave and paid vacation time are both great policies when employers decide to implement them. But forcing such policies on businesses and their workers can, often does, and likely will have unintended consequences.

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'We Are Fighting for Free Speech Every Single Day,' Says Students for Liberty's Wolf von Laer: Podcast

What to expect at LibertyCon, the annual meeting of the largest libertarian student group on the planet (plus how to get 40 percent off registration).

"We are fighting for free speech every single day," says Students for Liberty's CEO Wolf von Laer, who also contends that college campuses around the world are "breeding grounds for socialism."

I spoke with Laer, who has a Ph.D. in political economy from King's College (London), and David Clement, director of external relations, about SFL's upcoming LibertyCon, which takes place in Washington, D.C., January 17-20, and pulls together 2,000 students, activists, and libertarians from all over the world.

Reason is a sponsor of LibertyCon and folks such as Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, Peter Suderman, Robby Soave, and Elizabeth Nolan Brown will join Libertarian Party Vice Presidential nominee Bill Weld, FCC head Ajit Pai, legal giants Randy Barnett and Alan Dershowitz, and others for the conference. During lunch on Saturday, Reason will present a "live" version of the magazine, featuring some of your favorite journalists, the musical styling of Remy, and the comedy of Andrew Heaton and Austin Bragg.

Go here for a list of speakers and use the code REASON to get a 40 percent discount on registration.

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

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

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Does Legalizing Marijuana Cause 'Sharp Increases in Murders and Aggravated Assaults'?

The link that Alex Berenson perceives between cannabis and violence is not apparent in careful research on the issue.

The New York TimesThe New York TimesAlex Berenson, the former New York Times reporter who has just published an anti-pot polemic that he aptly named after a notoriously hysterical 1936 anti-pot movie, says marijuana legalization "appears to lead to an increase in violent crime." Like his claim that marijuana causes schizophrenia and other "serious mental illnesses," his claim that it causes violence is based on a highly selective reading of the evidence.

"The first four states to legalize—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington—have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014, according to reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Berenson writes in the Times. "Police reports and news articles show a clear link to cannabis in many cases."

As Jesse Singal notes, selecting 2014 as the starting year seems suspect, since two of those states (Colorado and Washington) approved legalization in 2012. But 2014 does coincide with the lowest national violent crime rate since the late 1960s. The national rate rose by 3.5 percent in 2015 and by 3.4 percent 2016, then fell by about 1 percent in 2017, for a total increase of about 6 percent between 2014 and 2017. It's true that the increase in violent crime was sharper in the four states that Berenson mentions. Can the difference be attributed to marijuana legalization?

Probably not. University of Oregon economist Benjamin Hansen finds that "the homicide rates in Colorado and Washington were actually below what the data predicted they would have been given the trends in homicides from 2000-2012." He says "we can't conclude that marijuana legalization increases violence, and perhaps even there could be small negative effects."

Nor is the effect that Berenson perceives apparent in national data. The share of Americans reporting past-month marijuana use in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health rose by 55 percent from 2002 to 2017, a period when the national violent crime rate fell by 23 percent.

How plausible is it that legalizing marijuana would immediately cause "sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults"? Here is how a bunch of experts at the RAND Drug Policy Research Center summarized the evidence in a 2013 report commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy: "Even though marijuana is commonly used by individuals arrested for crimes, there is little support for a contemporaneous, causal relationship between its use and either violent or property crime. There is evidence supporting a possible intertemporal relationship, but it is not clear to what extent this is unique to marijuana." The authors flatly state that "marijuana use does not induce violent crime," while "the links between marijuana use and property crime are thin."

Free PressFree PressIn line with that research, several studies have found that relaxing legal restrictions on marijuana is not associated with an increase in violent crime. A 2016 analysis of data from 11 Western states, published in the Journal of Drug Issues, found "no evidence of negative spillover effects from medical marijuana laws (MMLs) on violent or property crime." To the contrary, the researchers found "significant drops in rates of violent crime associated with state MMLs."

A 2017 study published in Contemporary Drug Problems compared FBI crime data in states with different legal regimes and found that "property and violent crime rates appear to be lower in both decriminalized and medically legalized states, but the difference is not statistically significant." A 2018 study published by Germany's Institute of Labor Economics compared California counties with different policies regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and found "no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime." Another 2018 study, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, found "no causal effects of medical marijuana laws on violent or property crime at the national level" and "no strong effects within individual states, except for in California, where the medical marijuana law reduced both violent and property crime by 20%."

If letting people use marijuana for recreational purposes leads to "sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults," you would expect to see something similar in jurisdictions that allow medical use, especially when the rules are loose, as they were in California for two decades before full legalization. Yet these studies find nothing of the sort. And if more marijuana use means more "paranoia and psychosis," resulting in "an increase in violent crime," as Berenson claims, you would expect that the national increase in cannabis consumption would have been accompanied by a national increase in violent crime. Yet exactly the opposite happened.

Berenson's book has received respectful reviews in The New Yorker and Mother Jones, along with considerable pushback from people who study these issues. You can expect to see more of the latter.

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Kamala Harris’ New Book Tries to Massage Her Record as a Prosecutor, But the Facts Aren’t Pretty

The book neglects to mention all the times Harris' office appealed cases that were thrown out for gross prosecutor misconduct.

Senate/ZUMA Press/NewscomSenate/ZUMA Press/NewscomLikely 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) released a new memoir this week. In The Truths We Hold, Harris touts her record as a "progressive prosecutor," but the book glosses over numerous instances where her office defended prosecutorial misconduct.

Harris recounts her career as a line prosecutor in San Francisco, up through her tenure as California Attorney General and her election to the U.S. Senate. The book is a rather clear attempt by Harris to preemptively defend her record on criminal justice, which has emerged as an important issue, especially on the left flank of the Democratic Party.

"The job of a progressive prosecutor is to look out for the overlooked, to speak up for those whose voices aren't being heard, to see and address the causes of crime, not just their consequences, and to shine a light on the inequality and unfairness that lead to injustice," Harris writes.

She also addresses police brutality. "I know how difficult and dangerous the job is, day in and day out, and I know how hard it is for the officers' families, who have to wonder if the person they love will be coming home at the end of each shift," she writes. "I also know this: It is a false choice to suggest you must either be for the police or for police accountability. I am for both. Most people I know are for both. Let's speak some truth about that, too."

Of one of her first cases as a prosecutor, Harris writes that she begged a judge to hear the case of an innocent person arrested during a drug raid, so that the woman wouldn't have to spend the weekend in jail. It was "a defining moment" in her life, she writes. "It was revelatory, a moment that proved how much it mattered to have compassionate people working as prosecutors."

Harris explicitly acknowledges the immense power of prosecutors in the criminal justice system and the myriad misconduct issues it has created.

"America has a deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice," she writes. "I know this history well—of innocent men framed, of charges brought against people of color without sufficient evidence, of prosecutors hiding information that would exonerate defendants, of the disproportionate application of the law."

What her book doesn't address, however, is the many times her own office contributed to that dark history.

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The Feds Are Using a Gag Order To Censor a Critique of Its Prosecutions. Bring on the Lawsuits.

The Cato Institute and Institute for Justice team up to fight for the right to publish a book attacking behavior by the SEC.

Censored businessmanScott Griessel / Dreamstime.comThe liberty-loving attorneys of the Institute for Justice are teaming up with the Cato Institute to fight a federal policy that forbids defendants from discussing the terms of civil settlements they enter into with the federal government. If they don't keep their mouths shut, these defendants are threatened with harsher punishments.

The offending agency targeted in a federal lawsuit filed today is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Cato Institute wants to publish a book by an entrepreneur who believes he's the victim of prosecutorial overreach by the SEC. But he can't tell his story for fear of further prosecution.

Normally this is the point where we'd tell you who this person is and why the SEC went after him. But we cannot. As part of the agreement he reached to settle the matter, the plaintiff in the Cato suit had to accept a gag order that prevents him from discussing or criticizing the case. Even though the settlement does not require him to admit guilt, he is nevertheless forbidden from saying anything that would indicate that he thinks the "complaint is without factual basis."

Because this gag order prevents him from talking about the case, it also prevents the Cato Institute from publishing his book. Cato and the Institute for Justice are thus not revealing the man's identity because doing so would also reveal that he disagrees with, and is critical of, his settlement with the SEC. If he violates the gag order, SEC prosecutors could try to vacate the settlement and punish him more harshly.

Over at the Cato Institute, Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice, explains about as much as he can without revealing the specific case:

The case began when a well-known law professor introduced us to a former businessman who wanted to publish a memoir he had written about his experience being sued by the SEC and prosecuted by DOJ in connection with a business he created and ran for several years before the 2008 financial crisis. The memoir explains in compelling detail how both agencies fundamentally misconceived the author's business model—absurdly accusing him of operating a Ponzi scheme and sticking with that theory even after it fell to pieces as the investigation unfolded—and ultimately coerced him into settling the SEC's meritless civil suit and pleading guilty in DOJ's baseless criminal prosecution after being threatened with life in prison if he refused.

Most SEC cases—98 percent of them, according to the Institute for Justice—end in settlements. If each of these settlements includes a similar gag order, that means almost no one targeted by the SEC can publicly discuss or evaluate the merits of the case against them. We do not have the ability to consider whether citizens are coerced into accepting these deals because they cannot afford to fight back, not unlike what we see in many criminal court cases.

These agreements only bind in one direction. Here's a recent press release from the SEC that details the settlement with a securities firm executive, emphasizing the accusations of fraud against him but noting that he neither admitted nor denied guilt when accepting the judgment. They get to describe these cases how they choose; defendants have to remain silent out of fear. Here's a whole page of links to these press releases.

Jaimie Cavanaugh, an Institute for Justice attorney working on the case, tells Reason that these SEC actions start with the agency threatening their targets with massive prosecutions and then settling for fines and allowing the person to forego an admission of wrongdoing. Those fines seem to correspond with the amount of money that person or company's insurance will cover, Cavanaugh says. That should raise concerns over whether these enforcement mechanisms are being used for revenue generation—a white-collar version of asset forfeiture, if you will. The censorship keeps the public from evaluating the extent that this might be happening.

"We think the book would tell the story of what's happening to lots of people," Cavanaugh says. And it's not just the SEC. Other agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Commodity Futures Trading Commission write similar gag policies into their settlements.

The lawsuit from the Institute for Justice, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to have this gag order declared an unconstitutional violation of the Cato Institute's First Amendment right to publish this man's book. They're asking for an injunction to stop the SEC from enforcing these gag orders.

Read the complaint here. A spokesperson from the SEC declined to comment in respone to the filing.