Free Minds & Free Markets

Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2019 February 8-31

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Reports Claim Jussie Smollet Allegedly Staged Hate Crime Attack; Police Say News Is 'Unconfirmed, Inaccurate’

Police, Fox contradict local reporters' claims.

SmolletRicky Fitchett/ZUMA Press/NewscomTwo local media outlet are now reporting that the assault of Empire actor Jussie Smollet last month may have been a hoax: Smollet himself is suspected of organizing the attack, which was carried out by two brothers, at least one of whom had appeared as an extra on the show and knew Smollet socially.

"Multiple sources have told ABC7 Eyewitness News that police are investigating whether Smollet and the two men staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off of 'Empire,'" wrote ABC 7.

"Investigators believe Jussie Smollet and the non-cooperating witnesses in the alleged attack of Smollett last month 'potentially staged the attack,' sources tell CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards," wrote CBS Chicago.

The two witnesses are brothers of Nigerian descent, and were picked up at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday night. A relative of the two men confirmed that they knew Smollet, as did their attorney.

"They do know Jussie," their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, told CBS Chicago. "They have worked with him on Empire. My preliminary investigations show that on set it's very tight. They're all very cordial with each other, so they're baffled why they are people of interest."

Police believe the two men were captured on surveillance video near the scene of the crime, according to to ABC and TMZ. Police raided their home Wednesday night, taking bleach, shoes, electronics, and other items.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) described news reports as "unconfirmed, uninformed, and inaccurate."

In a statement to Reason, the CPD said, "We don't have any comment as the investigation is currently ongoing."

Smollet was attacked at 2:00 a.m. on January 29 on the streets of Chicago while he was coming back from a sandwich shop. His two assailants allegedly put a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him, and shouted "MAGA country."

According to the ABC and CBS reports, Smollet may have staged the attack because he was being written off Empire. Fox has denied that this was the case, however.

With the police and Fox both pushing back forcefully against the ABC and CBS reports, it's impossible to say with absolute certainty what the truth of the matter is yet. But the fact that the two men evidently knew Smollet—a detail confirmed by their attorney—certainly makes inside job a more plausible explanation than random hate crime. At the very least, it seems vanishingly unlikely that the perpetrators were white Trump voters.

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Remembering Rushdie: 30 Years Ago, the Novelist Was Marked for Death by Ayatollah Khomeini

Jonathan Rauch says that the fatwa against The Satanic Verses author ushered in a new age of intolerance.

Andrew Lih, CC, WikipediaAndrew Lih, CC, WikipediaToday marks the day, 30 years ago, when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, whose novel, The Satanic Verses, mocked Mohammed. The Iranian leader offered millions of dollars to the true believer who would murder Rushdie. Forty-one years old at the time, Rushdie lived hidden and under guard for a decade before coming back above ground (it's not fully clear if the fatwa is in force anymore, but Rushdie now lives publicly and without protection).

"It feels like ancient history to me," he told an interviewer in 2018, while promoting his latest novel, The Golden House. He expresses satisfaction in finding that at long last, a generation on, The Satanic Verses can be read as a novel, rather than as a controversy, a symbol, a casus belli. "Now, after all this time, it's finally been able to have the ordinary life of a book," he said in March of 2018.

Writing in Spiked, Jonathan Rauch argues

At the time, many observers, myself included, believed the incident to be some kind of inflection point – a view which proved correct. But what sort of inflection point? Thirty years have brought additional clarity, and an ominous development. Today, mob demands for censorship and censure are so common they have acquired a new name: call-out culture. Contra Rushdie, the episode is not ancient history, not at all.

I'm not fully convinced by his argument that there is a straight line between the Rushdie affair and today's diminished defenses of free speech (indeed, Rauch himself hedges toward the end of his article). But his quick litany of high-profile instances where the principle of free-speech has been tossed out the window in the name of protecting the feelings of the aggrieved is sobering and depressing. And certainly this much is true:

The impulse to rally against blasphemy and to drive out impurity is a human impulse, not a radical or Islamist or specifically religious impulse; and that lots of sophisticated people in places like America and the UK are yielding to it; and the ultimate consequences are barbaric and oppressive, because of the victims they destroy and the conversations they squelch.

Read Rauch's full article here.

Read Reason works by and about Rauch here.

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Spending Bill Ignores Promised Funding for Major Criminal Justice Reform Passed Last Year

The FIRST STEP Act was supposed to get $75 million to fund reentry programs and job training. That's missing from the budget bill being voted on Thursday.

West Coast Surfer/picture alliance / moodboard/NewscomWest Coast Surfer/picture alliance / moodboard/NewscomActivists who worked with both parties to pass a signature criminal justice reform bill late last year sounded the alarm on Thursday as a major spending bill worked its way quickly through Congress—without, apparently, including promised funding for the newly passed law.

As Reason's C.J. Ciaramella reported in December when it passed, the FIRST STEP Act aimed to reduce federal prison populations by shrinking some mandatory minimum sentences, giving judges greater discretion over the lengths of prison sentences. Importantly, the bill also called for expanding job training opportunities and programs that seek to ease prisoners' reentry into society, and for funding a risk assessment system that would be used to give some inmates access to early release.

The FIRST STEP Act authorized $75 million in spending annually from fiscal year 2019 (the current fiscal year) through fiscal year 2023, with most of that funding directed to the federal Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Department of Justice. It was widely assumed that funding would be included in the omnibus bill now before Congress—the most high-profile element of which is funding for President Donald Trump's border wall—but there is no explicit funding for the FIRST STEP Act included in the bill.

The omission is particularly glaring since President Donald Trump had highlighted the passage of the bill just 10 days ago at the State of the Union address. Among the White House's guests for the occasion was Alice Johnson, whose story, Trump said, "underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing—and the need to remedy this injustice."

"Notably, for President Trump's agenda, the bill entirely fails to provide appropriations for one of his greatest legislative victories thus far in his term—the First Step Act," said Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, a free market group that supported the passage of the FIRST STEP Act. "It is unacceptable that Congress should not find it important to fund this massive legislative victory, while it simultaneously has no problem funding above and beyond for wasteful programs."

In a statement posted online Thursday afternoon, Brandon called for lawmakers to vote against the omnibus bill, citing concerns about profligate spending, a rushed timeline for a final vote, and the lack of funds for the FIRST STEP Act. The 1,000-plus page bill was unveiled in the early hours of Thursday morning, and had already cleared the Senate (with an 83-16 vote) on Thursday evening.

(For more on the spending components of the bill, see Christian Britschgi's report here. For more on Trump's decision to take $1.3 billion for a border and then declare a national emergency to spend even more money on a wall, see Joe Setyon's report here.)

It's possible the FIRST STEP Act could still receive its promised funding by reallocating other Bureau of Prisons funding, but criminal justice reform advocates told Reason they were skeptical that could happen. Newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr would likely have some control over those decisions, and he has a track record of being skeptical of sentencing reforms—while advocating for putting more people behind bars. It seems unlikely that he'd find $75 million in his own budget if Congress doesn't put it there.

"I think that's potentially a big issue," Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who now works on criminal justice issues, told Reason. "If [DOJ] has the ability to control that money, it's going to take political pressure to get them to spend it" on the FIRST STEP Act, he said.

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South Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill After News Investigation Reveals Abuses

South Carolina would become the fourth state to abolish the practice of seizing property without a criminal conviction.

South Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday to effectively abolish civil asset forfeiture, following a multi-part local news investigation that revealed widespread abuses of the practice, which allows police to seize property even when a person is not charged or convicted of a crime.

If the bill, H. 3968, passes, South Carolina would join three other states—New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina—that have ended civil asset forfeiture by requiring criminal convictions before property can be forfeited. In total, 29 states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform over the past decade.

Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomPaul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomAt a bipartisan press conference Wednesday, South Carolina state legislators unveiled the bill, which already has 71 cosponsors and the support of the free market* American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

"I know some of you are saying, 'Oh my god, has hell frozen over? Cobb-Hunter is supporting something that ALEC is supporting,'" said state lawmaker Gilda Cobb-Hunter at the press conference. "Wonders never cease. It's a great day in South Carolina."

The bill would also redirect asset forfeiture funds to the state's general fund. Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and organized crime, but civil liberties groups say allowing police departments to directly pad their budgets with forfeiture proceeds creates a perverse profit incentive that leads them to target everyday people and petty amounts of cash.

Additionally, the bill would forbid state and local enforcement from participating in the federal government's Equitable Sharing Program, which allows the Justice Department to "adopt" local forfeiture cases and split the proceeds. Critics say the program acts as a loophole that allows police to continue using civil asset forfeiture even in states that have passed reforms.

In January, The Greenville News began publishing the results of a two-year joint investigation with several other news outlets into every single civil asset forfeiture case in the state over a three-year period. The meticulous investigation revealed South Carolina police had raked in $17 million in forfeiture proceeds between 2014 and 2016.

As Reason wrote:

Nearly a fifth of the 4,000 people who had their property seized by South Carolina police between 2014 and 2016 were never arrested nor even charged with a related crime. Under typical civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize cash, cars, houses, and other property suspected of being connected to criminal activity even if the owner is never convicted of a crime [...]

For example, there's the case of Ella Bromell, an elderly woman in Conway, South Carolina. Police and city officials tried to seize her house through civil asset forfeiture because of small drug deals taking place on her property, even though she was not connected in any way to the sales and had repeatedly tried to get rid of the dealers.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has challenged forfeiture laws in several states, applauded the introduction of the bill.

"Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to private property and civil liberties in the nation today," Institute for Justice senior legislative counsel Lee McGrath said in a statement. "If enacted, South Carolina's forfeiture laws would be second only to New Mexico in safeguarding the constitutional rights of its residents. It's encouraging to see so many lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, come together to defend due process."

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated ALEC's ideological identification.

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FCC Commissioner Wants to Ban E-Cigarette Ads, Because 'Public Interest'

Jessica Rosenworcel overlooks the statutory and constitutional obstacles to her plan.

FCCFCCJessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, does not like TV and radio ads for e-cigarettes, and she seems to think they can be banned by reinterpreting the 1970 law that prohibited broadcast ads for conventional cigarettes. She is wrong.

"Today you won't see cigarette ads on television," Rosenworcel wrote on Twitter yesterday. "But nothing stops the ads for e-cigarettes, even if they are targeted at kids. The @FCC can help put a stop to this, and I think it should."

Rosenworcel explains how in a USA Today op-ed piece. "We do not need to sit idly by while the electronic equivalent of the Marlboro Man surfaces in new advertising that introduces the next generation to habit-forming tobacco products," she writes. "Congress charged the FCC with upholding the 'public interest' in its oversight of the broadcast industry....As one court recognized long ago, 'the public interest indisputably includes the public health.'"

Rosenworcel seems to be claiming that the FCC's mandate to regulate the airwaves in "the public interest" gives it the authority to impose whatever speech restrictions it thinks will promote "the public health," which is a pretty alarming conjunction of two vague, expansive phrases. As fellow FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr observed on Twitter today, "The FCC does not have a roving mandate to police speech in the name of the 'public interest.'" A little more concretely, Rosenworcel suggests that "we can work with the FDA to ensure that the Department of Justice—which interprets the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act—does so in a modern way that recognizes the public health crisis from the growth in use of these addictive products."

Leaving aside the "public health" wisdom of suppressing information about products that offer a potentially lifesaving alternative to smoking, Rosenworcel's plan is dubious on both statutory and constitutional grounds. The statute to which she refers says "it shall be unlawful to advertise cigarettes on any medium of electronic communication subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission." It defines cigarette as "any roll of tobacco wrapped in paper or in any substance not containing tobacco." Since e-cigarettes contain no tobacco, interpreting the law "in a modern way" evidently means ignoring its plain meaning.

Even if the Justice Department managed that interpretive feat, there is the little matter of the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." When Congress enacted the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, the Supreme Court was still taking the position that "commercial speech" is not protected by the First Amendment. Hence it is not surprising that a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., upheld the ban on cigarette advertising in 1971, when six radio companies challenged it. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision without comment in 1972.

Since then, however, the Court has reconsidered the original version of the "commercial speech" doctrine, recognizing that advertising is constitutionally protected. Under the test it laid out in the 1980 case Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission, restrictions on truthful, nonmisleading advertisements of legal products will be upheld only if they directly advance a substantial government interest and are no more extensive than necessary.

In the 2001 case Lorillard Tobacco v. Reilly, the Court used that test to overturn a Massachusetts ban on tobacco billboards within 1,000 feet of a school or playground. Although the Court deemed preventing underage tobacco consumption a substantial government interest and even accepted the dubious argument that advertising restrictions directly advance that goal, it said the 1,000-foot rule swept too broadly, barring outdoor tobacco advertising from "a substantial portion of Massachusetts' largest cities" and in some places amounting to "nearly a complete ban on the communication of truthful information about smokeless tobacco and cigars to adult consumers."

If Massachusetts legislators' desire to shield children from tobacco ads could not justify a state ban on billboards, it is hard to see how Rosenworcel's desire to shield children from e-cigarette ads could justify a nationwide ban on TV and radio ads. "Censoring lawful speech based on its content?" Commissioner Carr responded on Twitter yesterday. "I'm with the First Amendment. I'm a no."

At a press conference today, Rosenworcel reacted to Carr's pushback by insisting that "all I've done is called for the idea that the FCC, the FTC, and the FDA should come together, look at what laws are on their books, and identify if there are things we can do to assist with...what the FDA Commissioner called a public health crisis." Yes, and her main idea for assisting the FDA involves censoring speech.

Rosenworcel's obliviousness to the constitutional issue is especially striking because she has been quick (and correct) to say the FCC must resist President Trump's suggestion that the commission should use its regulatory powers to punish or suppress speech he does not like. "History won't be kind to silence," she said on CNN in 2017, "and I think it's important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment."

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Violent Video Games Don't Make Players More Violent IRL

New study trashes crappy consensus correlating gaming violence and aggression in real life

VideoViolenceViniciusBacarinDreamstimeVinicius Bacarin/DreamstimeVideo game violence does not lead to real life violence, finds a terrific new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The title lays it out plainly: "Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents' aggressive behaviour." Oxford University psychologist Andrew Przybylski and Cardiff University psychologist Netta Weinstein set out to test the findings of researchers who claim violent video games induce aggressive tendencies in players. Their "aim was to rigorously test the hypothesis that time spent playing violent video games is positively associated with adolescents' everyday behavioural aggression."

Their top-line finding is that their study "did not support the position that violent gaming relates to aggressive behaviour."

This contradicts the consensus hammered out by an American Psychological Association task force on violent video games in 2017. That task force "found that violent video game exposure was associated with: an increased composite aggression score; increased aggressive behavior; increased aggressive cognitions; increased aggressive affect, increased desensitization, and decreased empathy; and increased physiological arousal." The task force also "concluded that violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes, but found insufficient studies to examine any potential link between violent video game use and delinquency or criminal behavior."

Przybylski and Weinstein set out to devise a particularly rigorous study by pre-registering their empirical approach so that they could avoid the persistent problems in psychological research of "p-hacking"; that is, running multiple tests on a dataset until the researcher finds a result that achieves statistical significance, and then "HARKing," an acronym that stands for "hypothesizing after the results are known." In Przybylski and Weinstein's review of prior literature, the two researchers strongly argue that earlier research is beset with such problems.

In this study, the pair recruited 1,004 British video game players ages 14 and 15, of which 540 participants identified as male, 461 as female, and 3 as another gender orientation. For each player, they also recruited their carers (mostly parents). They determined which games the kids played and coded the level of violence in each game using E.U. and U.S. industry ratings. They measured youth aggression and prosocial behaviour with carer responses on the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire that has been extensively used to assess interpersonal aggression across a wide range of cultures. Then they ran their various regressions.

"We found adolescents were not more or less likely to engage in aggressive or prosocial behaviours as a function of the amount of time they devoted to playing violent games," they report.

Przybylski and Weinstein add, "This pattern of findings further suggests that links reported in the literature might be influenced by publication bias, selective reporting, or an artefact of unobserved or hidden moderators." In other words, the 2017 task force's conclusion that video game violence makes players aggressive is highly suspect.

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Marijuana Activist Who Live-Streamed Meeting With Congressional Staffer Charged With ‘Illegal Wiretap'

Rep. Andy Harris's (R-Md.) office refuses to say whether the congressman supports prosecution of the young activist.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomA marijuana activist who met with a staffer for Rep. Andy Harris (R–Md.) in the congressman's office last year and streamed the meeting to Facebook Live has been charged with making an "illegal wiretap," according to the Maryland State Prosecutor's office.

In October 2018, 20-year-old Jake Burdett was attending a medical marijuana protest organized by the advocacy group Maryland Marijuana Justice outside Harris' office in Salisbury, prosecutors said in a news release. Burdett and several other protesters were invited to meet with one of Harris' staffers in that staffer's office. The staffer informed the activists they could not record in the office, but Burdett allegedly streamed the meeting to Facebook Live anyway.

Unfortunately for Burdett, Maryland is an all-parties consent state, meaning it's illegal for one party to record a meeting unless the other parties say it's OK. "We need to ensure people are respecting boundaries set by Maryland's wiretapping law," State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said in a statement. Burdett was thus charged last week with "the illegal recording of the Congressional Staffer and the illegal distribution of that recording," according to the news release.

While Burdett knew he did not have consent, he did not know that recording anyway would be illegal, claims another pro-cannabis reform group, DC Marijuana Justice, in a press release. Burdett, who plans to plead guilty, also says he apologized to the staffer and deleted the recording after realizing it was illegal.

"This sort of thing happens all the time in Maryland, but it is very rare for someone to actually press charges about it, and it saddens me that Rep. Harris has decided to needlessly drop the hammer to make an example out of me over a mistake I quickly corrected and apologized for," Burdett said in an email to the Salisbury Daily Times. "I also find it odd that we, as citizens and constituents, are not allowed to record conversations with paid staffers by public officials in a taxpayer-funded space."

When asked by Reason if Harris pushed for Burdett to be charged, a Harris spokesperson declined to comment.

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Trump Plans To Sign Border Deal and Declare National Emergency. Here’s What That Could Mean.

Trump won't rely on Congress to fund his 200 miles of border wall.

Polaris/NewscomPolaris/NewscomPresident Donald Trump plans to sign a bipartisan budget deal and then declare a national emergency to obtain money for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

McConnell's Senate floor announcement came the day before funding for parts of the federal government was set to lapse. Congressional leaders from both parties reached a deal to avoid a shutdown earlier in the week, but it was unclear if Trump would sign it. The president has demanded $5.7 billion for his border wall, but the deal in question includes just $1.375 billion for the wall.

Trump "has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill," McConnell said. "He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time. And I've indicated to him that I'm going to support the national emergency declaration."

The White House quickly confirmed the news. "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action—including a national emergency—to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

Trump's use of a national emergency declaration to secure border wall funding should trouble anyone who understands and appreciates separation of powers. According to a 2007 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the 1976 National Emergencies Act entitles the president to "statutory delegations from Congress" that let him "seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens."

We don't know what limits there are on a president's ability to declare a national emergency. There is definitely potential for civil liberties abuses, particularly in regard to eminent domain, which is the process by which the government forces a property owner to sell. David Bier, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, told Reason last month his "biggest concern" is that Trump will use the declaration of a national emergency to "seize private property for the wall without following the normal, albeit, minimal procedures."

Bier has previously noted for Reason that 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, in fact, is private property. In order for the wall to get built, the federal government will need to confiscate quite a bit of privately owned land.

What's less clear is whether Trump can seize land without congressional authorization. Title 42 of the U.S. Code says that when a federal program or project (like the border wall) requires an individual to relocate, that individual must be given "a reasonable opportunity to relocate to a comparable replacement dwelling." But there are three exceptions, including "a national emergency declared by the President."

Trump, for his part, has already suggested using the "military version of eminent domain" to build the wall. And federal law does allow for military department secretaries to seize land "in the interest of national defense." But in the face of one or more inevitable legal challenges, Trump would still have to convince the courts that building a wall is necessary for national defense.

It remains to be seen if Trump can legally seize land for the wall. The same goes for whether declaring a national emergency will help him secure border wall funding. Trump has a few options regarding the latter, as noted by Margaret Taylor, a governance fellow at the Brookings Institute and a senior editor at Lawfare.

Title 10 of the U.S. Code, for instance, says that when the president declares a national emergency "that requires use of the armed forces," the secretary of defense can authorize "military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces." The necessary money would come from un-obligated funds that have already been allocated for military construction.

Title 33 of the U.S. Code applies to similar situations: namely, a national emergency declaration "that requires use of the armed forces." It says that in such cases, the secretary of the Army can "terminate or defer the construction, operation, maintenance, or repair of any Department of the Army civil works project that he deems not essential to the national defense," then "apply the resources of the Department of the Army's civil works program, including funds, personnel, and equipment, to construct or assist in the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense."

Trump has already deployed troops to the southern border, which could come in quite handy.

But does the situation at the border really require military intervention, and thus warrant a national emergency declaration allowing Trump to bypass Congress and build the wall? Short answer: no.

"There is absolutely and without question no crisis at our southern border," Kristie De Peña, director of immigration and senior counsel at the Niskanen Center, told Reason last month. Politicians should "stop framing this as if it's some sort of national security crisis," she added.

Peña also points to the fact that net migration flows to the U.S. are going down. As Reason's Shikha Dalmia explained in January, net migration flows between the U.S. and Mexico have actually reversed in recent years, meaning more Mexicans are attempting to leave the U.S. than are attempting to enter.

"The facts could not possibly justify a state of emergency declaration," said Bier, who noted that Border Patrol agents are actually apprehending less people now than they were in the early 2000s. "I cannot imagine what case the president could make that the challenges this administration faces are unique or unprecedented."

But just because Trump shouldn't declare a national emergency doesn't mean he's legally in the wrong. "It will probably hold up in court," Peña said of Trump's declaration. "There's a strong case to be made that presidents need to have the authority to declare a national emergency. And that's been upheld in court a number of times."

Bier expressed similar sentiments, predicting that just as the Supreme Court upheld Trump's travel ban on a handful of largely Muslim-majority countries, it will uphold his use of a national emergency declaration to secure border wall funds.

Bier put it bluntly: "My belief is that the president can get away with doing almost anything he wants in the name of national security."

This post has been updated with a statement to The New York Times from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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One Year Later, Parkland Remains a Stunning Example of Police Incompetence

The mass shooting became a story about gun control. But it's also a story of incomprehensible government failure.

ParklandAmy Beth Bennett/TNS/NewscomFor most people—including the teenagers who lived through it, and then became national advocates for the anti-gun cause—the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was primarily about one thing: how easy access to firearms leaves schools fundamentally unsafe.

"Our school could be next," a 13-year-old told me when I interviewed her at the 2018 March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., held a month and a half after the events in Parkland, Florida. "What if it is?"

This message was echoed by the well-spoken, telegenic, and unbelievably driven survivors of the Parkland shooting: David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and their friends.

Today marks one year since Nikolas Cruz, a disturbed teenager and former Stoneman Douglas High School student, walked into the school and murdered 17 of his ex-classmates. In the months since the attack, Parkland activists have made some headway on behalf of gun control: The Florida legislature passed a "red flag" law that empowers courts to take guns away from purportedly dangerous people, and raised to 21 the minimum age to purchase a gun. At the federal level, President Trump signed an executive order that banned "bump stocks"—an after-market gun modification that allowed Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock to fire more rapidly.

But though the activists and most of the media have focused on guns and what to do about them, there's another story to be told about Parkland—one that Broward County's local paper, The Sun-Sentinel, has done a praiseworthy job of telling.

It's the story of catastrophic failure at every level of law enforcement, beginning with a corrupt and incompetent sheriff's office warned on multiple occasions about the specific threat posed by Cruz. The Broward County sheriff's office received at least 18 tips between 2008 and 2017 concerning Cruz. A November 2017 caller described him as a "school shooter in the making." Despite knowing that Cruz was in possession of a cache of weapons, the sheriff's office passed the buck, expecting a different police authority to handle it.

On the day of the shooting, a Broward County school resource officer beclowned himself. School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, an employee of the sheriff's office, refused to enter the school and confront Cruz, as did three Broward County Sheriff's deputies who had arrived on scene. These were stunning indictments of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a man who responded to accusations of corruption by comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. "Lions don't care about the opinions of sheep," he said, paraphrasing a Game of Thrones villain.

As questions about his leadership mounted, Israel remained defiantly proud of his behavior—boastful, even. When asked if his office should have handled things differently, he shrugged. "If its and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books," he told CNN's Jake Tapper.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) fired Israel, a Democrat, shortly after taking office. But the failures do not end with the sheriff. The FBI itself was told about Cruz's instability just days before the attack but "processes… were not followed," according to an FBI spokesperson, and the tip was ignored.

Gun control and government incompetence are not unrelated subjects. Generally speaking, the logic of gun control rests on the idea that public safety can be trusted to the police. People don't need guns because the government is protecting them.

That's why law enforcement's spectacular failure before, during, and after the Parkland shooting should be a more pressing topic of discussion. When we talk about various strategies for disarming the public—most of which are law-abiding citizens who do not use guns inappropriately but might want them for self-defense—we should not forget that these strategies place implicit trust in government agencies to protect us from all threats. Every day, as was the case with Parkland, many of these agencies prove themselves to be wildly incompetent for reasons ranging from arrogant leadership and individual cowardice, to toxic workplace culture and shoddy internal systems.

The mantra of post-Parkland activism is that every kid has the right to feel safe. The myriad failures of police bureaucracies at the local, state, and national level raise serious questions about whether the government can provide such guarantees.

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Last Year Saw ‘Furthest-Reaching Attempt to Censor Online Speech’ Since the 1990s, Say FOSTA Challengers

As the lawsuit against FOSTA hits appeals court, three essays about the law that everyone should read.

David Chestnutt IKON Images/NewscomDavid Chestnutt IKON Images/NewscomThe coalition behind a challenge to last year's federal ban on adult advertising isn't giving up. Today, the group—including three nonprofits (Human Rights Watch, the Internet Archive, and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation) and two individuals—filed its opening brief in an appeal to the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They say the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), passed and signed last year, is unconstitutional and "the furthest-reaching attempt to censor online speech since Congress first attempted to regulate the Internet through anti-indecency provisions" in the 1990s.

"FOSTA makes it easier for federal prosecutors, state law enforcement officials, and civil litigants to impose crushing liability on Internet speech using expansive but undefined terms regarding the 'promotion' or 'facilitation' of prostitution and/or the 'reckless disregard' of conduct that 'contributes to sex trafficking,'" explains the brief, adding that "FOSTA's new, content-based criminal penalties and heavy civil liability for online publishers have already led to substantial diminution of online speech."

A U.S. District Court said the group didn't have standing to bring the case because they couldn't show they had been harmed by the law's passage. But FOSTA has, "on ints face and in its reach and ambiguity," presented "a credible threat of prosecution, and thus has chilled Appellants' speech (and that of numerous non-parties)," says their appeal. It has also "led them to refrain in online speech engaged in freely pre-enactment, and deprived them of previously available online platforms." (Read the whole thing here.)

They're far from the only ones claiming harm from FOSTA's passage. One of the latest examples comes from adult-advertising platform Slixa, which recently held a FOSTA essay contest for sex workers. Slixa was "completely overwhelmed by the volume and quality of thoughtful responses we received," the company said. "It was clear that this community is already profoundly aware of the damaging nature of these laws and well informed on their potential future ramifications."

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Bill Weld Is Prepping To Be the First—and Most Improbable—Primary Challenger to Donald Trump (Updated)

Pro-choice, Obama-supporting "Libertarian for life" will take a "substantial" move Friday toward competing for the Republican presidential nomination.

||| MARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS/NewscomMARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS/NewscomCan a pro-choice, pro-amnesty "Libertarian for life" who backed Barack Obama in 2008, thinks the phrase "all lives matter" is "nothing but a dog whistle," and maintained throughout 2016 that Hillary Clinton is preferable to Donald Trump, truly be competitive in the 2020 Republican Party presidential primary? That's what Bill Weld is set to begin finding out in New Hampshire tomorrow morning, when he takes what his friends are forecasting as a substantial move toward declaring his candidacy for president.

Weld, the 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee and current* honorary chair of a nonprofit whose purpose is to "stop the political duopoly" (*Update: Our America Initiative announced this afternoon that Weld has resigned that post effective today), took the pre-primary step January 17 of switching his Massachusetts voter registration back to a Trump-led GOP that he has repeatedly compared to the xenophobic Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s. He has scheduled a second New Hampshire visit for February 26, he has recruited former New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn to help, and his allies are writing thinkpieces about how "Democrats' hopes to take back the White House may lie in the hands of a Republican candidate." (Update 2: WMUR is reporting that Weld will announce Friday the formation of an exploratory committee.)

Like potential independent candidate Howard Schultz and Democrats, Weld's reception among Republicans has been on the chilly side, with even his own Trump-averse protégés, such as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, making cautious statements like, "I'm a big fan of Bill Weld the person, but the decision he makes to run for office is very much his own."

The northeastern moderate conservative was already an endangered species long before Donald Trump began reshaping the GOP; you can count the number of pro-choice Capitol Hill Republicans on half of one hand. Weld stands opposite Trump on trade wars, immigration crackdowns, the national debt, entitlement reform, the rule of law ("Well honestly, hasn't our incumbent done six times [more than Richard Nixon] in public with Manafort in the investigations?" Weld said to me last month), and what he described at the Libertarian Party National Convention last July as "this pitting of us against them and trying to divide everybody."

So why the interest in being a bug on Trump's windshield? Aside from the opportunity to be the first declared 2020 Republican competitor (and near his home turf, to boot), with all the national and local press attention that could generate, Weld has long been nurturing the theory that modern politics are inherently unpredictable. "You think about Donald Trump in 2014, you couldn't got 100 to one on Donald Trump," he said at the L.P. national convention last year. "Emanuel Macron from France in 2015, which is two years before he was elected, you couldn't count on 100 to one for him, because his party didn't exist."

|||With Trump shaking up the GOP even more than independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) shook up the Democratic Party in 2016 and beyond, the perpetually bemused Weld might be thinking, so you're saying there's a chance. "I think he is probably noting that he won his first gubernatorial election in 1990 in a state where only 14 percent of voters were Republicans," New Hampshire Republican consultant and Weld confidant Tom Rath told WMUR. "[He] appears to savor a challenge at the point where he feels as though 'If nobody else does something, I'll do something.'"

If Weld indeed takes the Republican plunge, he'll have an awful lot of his own recent GOP bashing to contend with, including his statement at the Libertarian Party Massachusetts just four months ago that "I think [there's] going to be a crevasse in the two-party monopoly, which is our bounded duty to destroy by every means at our disposal....I feel that either the Libertarian Party has seeped into my veins, or I've seeped into the Libertarian Party a lot in the last couple of years."

Here are seven more occasions over the past 15 months that I have witnessed Weld lambast the leaders and followers of the political party about which he said upon leaving, "I feel free, free at last." All quotes are verbatim.

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Happy Valentine's Day, From The Police State

Roses are red, violets are blue. The state is violence.

It's that special day of the year, when true love is professed, flowers are delivered, and police departments remind everyone that the state has a monopoly on violence.

Specifically, the Thames Valley police force in England wants you to know they have dogs that will chew on your ass:

will u be mine?will u be mine?Here's a South Wales police department bragging about locking up a guy for weed:

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California’s Bullet Train Project Doesn’t Deserve Your Moist-Eyed Love Letters

A corrupt boondoggle that broke the bank for subsidized middle-class trips would not have been the flagship for a greener America.

California bullet trainGary Reyes/TNS/NewscomDemocratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom's announcement that he's reducing the scope of the massively under-budgeted and behind schedule bullet train project quickly drew national attention, even though few outside the state seemed to be paying much mind to what was actually happening with the project and how poorly it was going.

Newsom declared on Tuesday in his State of the State address that he's scaling back the project, approved by voters in 2008. He's going to complete the first leg of the high-speed rail in the Central Valley of California, between Bakersfield and Merced. The state will continue the environmental research to try to connect the rail to San Francisco and to Los Angeles, but Newsom's speech Tuesday made it pretty clear that whatever such a project might look like, it's probably not going to be the same train folks voted for.

But it was never going to be the train that Californians voted for, and that's a significant part of the problem.

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New Bipartisan Spending Deal Includes Billions More for Border Barriers, TSA, and Everything In Between

With the federal government $22 trillion in debt, Congress has decided to spend more money.

William Graves/Dreamstime.comWilliam Graves/Dreamstime.comLate last night, the House and Senate budget committees agreed to a new spending package that will avert an impending government shutdown. The bipartisan agreement gives President Donald Trump less than he wanted for border security, but more than he asked for on most other line items in the budget.

This new appropriations package—technically a combination of seven different spending bills—allocates $328.6 billion in discretionary spending for everything from homeland security and the State Department to the transportation and housing; a $54 billion increase from the White House's 2019 budget request.

One of the few expenditures to receive less money than requested was the border wall. Trump had insisted on $5.7 billion in new funding for 200 miles of wall. The deal struck by Congress instead allocates $1.3 billion on 55 miles of "physical barrier" in the Rio Grande Valley.

Whether it actually funds a "border wall"—the proximate cause of the previous month-long shutdown—is still up for debate.

"This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining [Fiscal Year 2019] spending bills," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Ala.) in a statement which urged his colleagues to approve the package.

However, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D–N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, insists this is a victory for wall opponents, saying in a press release that "this agreement denies funding for President Trump's border wall and includes several key measures to make our immigration system more humane."

Trump himself tweeted approvingly of the deal on Tuesday, before details were finalized, writing "not an easy task, but the Wall is being built and will be a great achievement and contributor toward life and safety within our Country!" A tweet issued today by the president says that he and his advisors are reviewing the deal.

That the same budget item can mean all things to all people shows how silly the past few months of budgetary politics have been, particularly when one considers all the new, less controversial border security funding included in this new deal.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be getting an additional $2 billion above what Trump asked for in his budget request.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—which oversees Border Patrol—is getting $15 billion, including nearly $1 billion more in discretionary funds than it received in fiscal year 2018, and some $734 million more than Trump requested in his budget proposal. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will get $7.5 billion, roughly $500 million more than last year, but $700 million less than what was requested by the White House. Another $100 million would go toward new border security spending, according to a summary of the spending plan.

Overall, the new spending agreement hashed out by Congress includes $22.5 billion for border security.

Some of the new funding is earmarked for improving conditions in immigration detention facilities, and for finding alternatives to detention for suspected illegal immigrants. Nevertheless, for all the heated rhetoric about border security and immigration, this spending agreement largely represents a doubling down on our current immigration status quo, something Reason's Nick Gillespie noted earlier this week.

"On immigration, as on many other issues, it turns out that the differences between Republicans and Democrats is more about semantics and small details rather than contrasting principles," wrote Gillespie.

Several other agencies are also getting billion-dollar spending increases.

The Transportation Security Administration, part of DHS, gets close to $900 million in new discretionary funding, which will be used to pay for salary increases, more agents, and an additional 50 canine teams.

The Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) get funding increases of $500 million and $1 billion respectively, despite Trump's demands to scale back these departments significantly.

The same goes for spending on the Departments Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, and State, which all get slight boosts over 2018 levels.

The Wall Street Journal notes that some conservative members of Congress think the agreement spends too much, and that a few progressives are troubled by how much it spends on border security.

The spending package is nevertheless expected to be passed today with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats. If passed, it will fund the government through September 30.

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Did Vaping Stop the Downward Trend in Adolescent Smoking?

One survey shows cigarette use holding steady, while another shows it continuing to fall.

Survey results published this week indicate that cigarette smoking was about as common among high school students last year as it was in 2017. Is this evidence that the surge in adolescent vaping is finally reversing the decline in adolescent smoking that began in the late 1990s? Probably not.

In the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), which is sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8.1 percent of high school seniors reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month, compared to 7.6 percent in 2017. The difference was not statistically significant. Meanwhile, as the Food and Drug Administration revealed last fall, 20.8 percent of high school students reported past-month e-cigarette use in 2018, up from 11.7 percent in 2017.

NYTSNYTS"Cigarette smoking rates have stopped falling among U.S. kids," the Associated Press says, "and health officials believe youth vaping is responsible." A.P. quotes CDC spokesman Brian King, who says, "We were making progress, and now you have the introduction of a product that is heavily popular among youth that has completely erased that progress."

King is being tricky here. The "progress" has been "completely reversed" only if you count vaping, which does not involve tobacco or combustion, as a kind of "tobacco use" and ignore the huge difference in health hazards between the two forms of nicotine consumption. The CDC, notwithstanding its supposed focus on minimizing morbidity and mortality, habitually obscures these important distinctions. From a public health perspective, a situation in which 20 percent of high school students are vaping while 8 percent are smoking is vastly preferable to a situation in which 0 percent are vaping and 29 percent are smoking (as the NYTS found in 1999).

While the NYTS indicates that past-month cigarette smoking has been flat among high school students since 2016, another government-sponsored survey, the Montoring the Future Study, which also detected a big increase in vaping last year, shows a continuing decline in past-month smoking among 12th-graders:

Monitoring the Future StudyMonitoring the Future Study

Past-month cigarette smoking also continued to fall among 10th-graders in that survey, although it ticked upward among eighth-graders (from 1.9 percent in 2017 to 2.2 percent in 2018).

This week Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb reiterated his determination to reverse the upward trend in adolescent vaping, even if that means making it harder for adult smokers to quit by switching to e-cigarettes. "As a society, we've made great strides in stigmatizing cigarette use among kids," he said. "The kids using e-cigarettes are children who rejected conventional cigarettes, but don't see the same stigma associated with the use of e-cigarettes. But now, having become exposed to nicotine through e-cigs, they will be more likely to smoke."

In other words, Gottlieb worries that vaping is leading to smoking by teenagers who otherwise never would have experimented with tobacco. But if that pattern is common, it's hard to explain why smoking has fallen to record lows among both teenagers and young adults in recent years, or why the downward trends accelerated as vaping became more popular. By contrast, the hypothesis that teenagers who otherwise would be smoking are instead vaping is consistent with the data we've seen so far.

Maybe Juul, the leading e-cigarette, changed everything by offering better nicotine delivery in a discreet and convenient device. But it is hard to fathom why someone who likes Juul and its imitators would be attracted to products that are not only dirtier, smellier, and much more hazardous but also more expensive. If Gottlieb is right, last year's 78 percent increase in vaping by teenagers should be followed by a substantial increase in smoking among teenagers and young adults within the next few years.

A.P. notes that some researchers "had linked e-cigarettes to an unusually large drop in teen smoking a few years ago, and they say it's not clear to what extent the decline in smoking has stalled or to what degree vaping is to blame." One those researchers, Georgetown's David Levy, warns that "it's not clear yet what's going on, and it's best to not jump to any conclusions."

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House Passes Bill To End U.S. Support for Saudi Involvement in Yemen; Rep. Justin Amash Votes 'Present'

Amash had an interesting reason for not voting "yes."

FAISAL AL NASSER/Reuters/NewscomFAISAL AL NASSER/Reuters/NewscomThe House of Representatives approved a resolution Wednesday that would largely end U.S. military involvement in the Yemeni civil war.

Eighteen Republicans joined the vast majority of House Democrats in approving the resolution, which serves as a rebuke to the Trump administration's policy of providing, without congressional authorization, some military aid to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Republican support for the bill came largely from the House Freedom Caucus, though Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.), an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict, notably voted "present" rather than "yes."

The resolution itself cited the War Powers Act of 1973, which seeks to ensure that the president only commits U.S. military forces to conflicts abroad if he has congressional approval. The resolution reads:

Congress hereby directs the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al-Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution (unless the President requests and Congress authorizes a later date), and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.

While U.S. forces are not directly involved in the fighting, they have assisted the Saudi coalition by sharing intelligence and proving logistical support, according to the Washington Post. U.S. forces also supported the Saudis with aerial refueling, but ceased doing so last year.

"More than 14 million Yemenis—half the country—are on the brink of famine, and at least 85,000 children have already died from hunger and disease as a result of the war," the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Ro Khanna (D–Calif.), said after the vote, reported Politico. Khanna previously introduced the resolution in 2017.

The bill argues that U.S. involvement in Yemen falls under under the War Powers Act, which encompasses "the assignment of members of such armed forces to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged, or there exists an imminent threat that such forces will become engaged, in hostilities." According to Khanna's resolution, the "activities that the United States is conducting in support of the Saudi-led coalition, including aerial refueling and targeting assistance, fall within this definition."

The Trump White House disagrees. In a statement Monday, the administration claimed the resolution's premise is "flawed" because U.S. forces in the area have not been "introduced into hostilities." The resolution would also "harm bilateral relationships in the region, negatively affect our ability to prevent the spread of violent extremist organizations…and establish bad precedent for future legislation by defining 'hostilities' to include defense cooperation such as aerial refueling for purposes of this legislation," the statement reads.

But Khanna is bringing up valid points. Congress has indeed never voted to authorize U.S. involvement in Yemen. And Saudi aggression in the country has caused a horrific humanitarian crisis. According to one United Nations report, the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 370 of 552 recorded child casualties in 2017. In total, more than 57,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the start of 2017, the Associated Press reported in November. When you include the casualties from the last nine months of 2015, that number will likely reach 70,000 or 80,000.

Members of Congress from both parties—including Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah), Rand Paul (R–Ky.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have called for an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict. But Amash, who's long been one of those critics, did not vote "yes" on Khanna's resolution. On Twitter, he explained why.

Amash pointed out that the legislation expands the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gives the president power to take military action against any nation or person he believes to have been involved in the 9/11 terror attacks. "The legislation makes an exception for 'Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al-Qaeda or associated forces,'" Amash wrote. "The notion of undefined 'associated forces' is not part of the 2001 AUMF and significantly expands it."

Amash also voted "present" on a motion that added an amendment condemning anti-Semitism to the Yemen bill. The motion ended up passing 424-0 anyway, though libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) also voted "present" before voting "yes" on the resolution itself. Both lawmakers later explained they did not support the amendment because it was totally unrelated to the Yemen bill. In the end, most of the Republicans who voted to add the amendment rejected the bill as a whole.

The resolution now moves to the Senate, which passed a similar measure in December. Even if the bill does get a majority of the votes in the upper chamber of the Congress, Trump is likely to veto it. A two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate would be needed to override his veto and make the resolution binding.

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What Happened at the House Science Committee Hearing on the State of the Climate, and Why It Matters

Extreme weather events around the globe have tripled since the 1980s, but what's happening in the U.S.?

USTempsEPAThe House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held its first full committee hearing Wednesday titled, "The State of Climate Science and Why It Matters." One of the experts who testified before the committee was Dr. Jennifer Francis, who is an atmospheric scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Francis testified, among other topics, on how climate change is affecting natural disaster trends.

"It's not your imagination: extreme weather events have become more frequent in recent decades," she declared. As evidence she cited data from the reinsurance giant Munich Re, whose analysis finds that the occurrence of extreme weather events around the globe have nearly tripled since the 1980s.

MunichReDisastersMunich Re

Those data are the data. But something else interesting is going on, too. First, people are becoming more resilient to natural disasters, and particularly to weather disasters. Globally speaking, far fewer people are dying from natural disasters. As the invaluable Our World in Data reports, around 500,000 people per year use to die in droughts and floods back in the 1920s and 1930s, while fewer than 100,000 per year died (chiefly of earthquakes) in the 2000s and 2010s.

AnnualDeathsOur World in Data

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Was Philadelphia's Soda Tax the Result of a Union-Versus-Union Political Fight?

Indicted union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty ordered the soda tax passed to hurt the city's Teamsters union, federal prosecutors say.

Richard B. Levine/NewscomRichard B. Levine/NewscomOfficially, Philadelphia's much loathed soda tax—the highest such tax in the country—was approved as a way to generate revenue for the city's new pre-K program.

Unofficially, like all vice taxes, it was intended to reduce Philadelphians' consumption of sugary beverages—though it has mostly just changed where people buy soda and hasn't improved public health at all.

But now there's a third possible explanation for the soda tax, and it's downright crazy: a political hit job executed by one of the city's most powerful union bosses against a rival union.

That's the theory starting to emerge in the wake of a federal indictment against John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the longtime business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and one of—if not the—most powerful political operators in the city.

According to federal prosecutors, Dougherty pressed allies on the city council—including Councilman Bobby Henon, who is also charged as part of the 116-count indictment—to pass the soda tax as retribution against the city's Teamsters union, which had disagreed with IBEW Local 98 about which candidate to support during the city's 2015 mayoral election. Dougherty's preferred candidate, now-Mayor Jim Kenney, won that race.

In May 2015, according to the indictment, Dougherty was already planning to strike back at the Teamsters.

"Let me tell you what Bobby Henon's going to do," Dougherty told an unnamed IBEW Local 98 union official, according to the indictment. "They're going to start to put a tax on soda again, and that will cost the Teamsters 100 jobs in Philly."

Indeed, the Teamsters have opposed the soda tax since it was proposed in 2016—shortly after Kenney took office—and say the tax has cost jobs in Philadelphia.

Kenney tells that he didn't know the soda tax was a revenge plot hatched by Local 98—though the paper wryly notes that the mayor "has known Dougherty since childhood, attended high school with him, and came up through the trenches in the city's political wars" with the IBEW union boss as his patron. Henon, who pushed the soda tax through the city council, is charged with having accepted more than $84,000 in cash and gifts from Local 98 in order to do the union's bidding on the city council.

Everyone involved is innocent until proven guilty, of course, but these new revelations about the possible origins of the Philly soda tax are likely to increase public opposition to the already-unpopular levy that adds 1.5 cents to every ounce of soda sold in the city.

By nearly every measure, the soda tax is a failure. The tax has been blamed for the closing of at least one grocery store, and has cost supermarkets about $80,000 a month per store in lost beverage sales. Another study found that soda sales outside city limits increased by 38 percent in the months after the tax passed. Philadelphia's poorest residents are most hurt by the tax, and are less likely to be able to dodge it by shopping in the suburbs. To top it all off, the tax produced about 15 percent less revenue than expected.

"The tax does not lead to a shift in consumption towards healthier products, it affects low income households more severely, and it is limited in its ability to raise revenue," concluded a recent study by three University of Minnesota researchers.

It's also a good warning about how well-intentioned but intrusive government policies can be co-opted by corrupt political forces. Even if you believe that soda taxes are good policy—because they nudge people to make healthier choices, or because pre-K needs funding and this is the best way to do it, or whatever—the idea that everyone in Philadelphia is getting taxed only because one politically powerful union wanted to kneecap another should give you pause. What happens when the next policy you want passed pisses off that union?

Union thuggery in Philadelphia politics is pretty common, but it's also costly. Before the soda tax, the best example was probably the construction of the Comcast Tower, a 57-story skyscraper built in the mid-2000s. When the local plumbers union objected to developer's plans to use environmentally friendly flush-less urinals in the building, the city required that redundant plumbing be installed in the building anyway—officially, that was to ensure the no-flush urinals could be replaced if they didn't work properly, but the real reason was just to make work for the union.

If federal prosecutors are right that Dougherty ordered the soda tax to be created as a political hit, there should be no remaining doubt that the tax ought to be repealed. In the meantime, Philadelphians are left to play their small part in another of the city's endless union-on-union civil wars, 1.5 cents per ounce at a time.

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Daycare Dismantles Swing Sets To Score Higher on State 'Early Achievers' Test

Penalizing play time

SwingsElizaveta Galitskaya / DreamstimeAt least one childcare center in Washington—Three Rivers Christian School—is getting rid of its swing sets in an effort to bolster kids' scores on the state's Early Achievers test, which penalizes schools that let toddlers and preschoolers use the swings for more than 15 minutes a day.*

If the kids' scores go up, so do the subsidies the state gives to day care centers. Every dollar counts: Due to punishing new regulations that will force early childcare providers to undergo expensive training and cerification, Washington daycare centers will need more financial support than ever.

According to The Daily News:

The hope is that swingless playgrounds will bolster the institution's score on Early Achievers, a state rating system for child care centers. Schools lose points if their students use swings for more than 15 minutes a day, said James Murphy, director of the early learning center at TRCS. Removing the sets eliminates any temptation students have to spend longer in the swings — and negatively impact the score.

Early Achievers ratings are directly tied to how much a child care center receives in state subsidies: The higher the score, the more state subsidies a center gets.

The rating system is optional, but centers that opt out don't qualify for any subsidies.

Ironically, the school's homepage features a kid on a you-know-what.

There is little that kids love more than swings, recess, and running around. It turns out there is a reason for that: Playing is how kids learn. That's why Mother Nature baked the drive to play into all of us.

I recently came across this report on the importance of physical activity for mental health and education. The National Center for Biotechnology Info writes that "state-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond." This is a problem, according to the report, because "children respond faster and with greater accuracy to a variety of cognitive tasks after participating in a session of physical activity."

Play is not the opposite of education. It is education. And in fact, taking play out of kids' lives may be leading to awful things like anxiety, depression, and helplessness, as Let Grow co-founder Dr. Peter Gray lays out in this piece, "The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders."

It's understandable that the Three Rivers Christian School, which looks so wholesome and sweet, needs to make sure its subsidies don't disappear. What really needs to change is what we value and consider educational success in young kids.

*Update: The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families disputes that outdoor swing use is counted against daycares. The school is only penalized when infants are left in indoor swings with nothing else to do for a significant period of time, according to a spokesperson.

This post will be updated again after the actual rule in question is reviewed.

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Andrew McCabe Says He Opened Trump Probes in Case He Was 'Fired,' Confirms 25th Amendment Talks

"I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground," the former FBI deputy director says.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe claims he opened an obstruction of justice probe into President Donald Trump so that if he was fired, the case would still be "on solid ground." In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes that's set to air this Sunday, McCabe also reportedly confirmed to anchor Scott Pelley that senior Department of Justice officials had serious discussions about the possibility of evoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

McCabe was fired in May 2018 just two days prior to his scheduled retirement by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There were allegations that McCabe directed subordinates to leak information to the media, and that he misled DOJ investigators regarding his actions. McCabe has denied that he did anything wrong. His latest interview, excerpts of which aired on CBS Thursday morning, came as he prepared to release his new book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

McCabe told Pelley that he met with Trump in the Oval Office several hours after Comey was fired. "I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency, and won the election for the presidency, and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage," he said. "And that was something that troubled me greatly."

"The next day," McCabe said, "I met with the team investigating the Russia cases, and I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward":

McCabe suggested he quickly opened counterintelligence and obstruction of justice investigations into the president to make sure they would remain in the event he was removed from his position. "I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion that, were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace," he told CBS. "I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they were not be able to do that without creating a record why they'd made that decision."

CNN reported in December that McCabe opened the obstruction of justice investigation prior to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation. The New York Times reported last month that the FBI was also trying to ascertain whether or not Trump was working on the Russian government's behalf.

McCabe also reportedly confirmed that he spoke with senior DOJ officials regarding the potential invocation of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove the president from office if they think he's unfit. Multiple media outlets reported these discussions in September, adding that then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also suggested that he or other officials wear a wire and secretly record Trump.

"There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment," Pelley said on CBS This Morning, citing his interview with McCabe.

"They were counting noses," Pelley added. "Not asking Cabinet members whether they would vote for or against removing the president. But they were speculating: 'This person would be with us, that person would not be.'"

"This would not perceived to be a joke," Pelley said. He also says McCabe confirmed that Rosenstein was serious about someone wearing a wire in the president's presence.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: A Bizarre Grab Bag of Terrible Ideas — New at Reason

Q&A with Economist Veronique de Rugy.

Last week, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Senator Edward Markey introduced the Green New Deal, a non-binding resolution that would radically overhaul America's economy in the name of fighting global climate change. The resolution bundled together a variety of big-ticket progressive policy priorities, not all of which were obviously related to climate change, from universal health coverage to a jobs guarantee to subsidized college.

The proposal was swiftly praised by much of the 2020 Democratic presidential field—yet even some liberals wondered if it was trying to do too much at once. In attempting to be all things to everyone, would the Green New Deal end up being nothing to anyone?

Veronique de Rugy, a Reason columnist and a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, joins us to explain what the Green New Deal means, why it would be so expensive, and why even socialist countries in Europe don't try to do this much.

Click here for full text, credits, and downloadable versions.

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Shrinking of Cybersecurity Theater Should Be Celebrated...If True: Reason Roundup

It seems a little premature to say that President Donald Trump has "gutted" the forces meant to address election security and foreign influence in U.S. politics. It's even more strange to frame this as some sort of Trumpian cover-up.

The evidence offered is that two specific task forces, both created in response to the 2016 presidential election, now have fewer members. "One focuses in part on securing election infrastructure and the other focuses on foreign influence efforts, including social media disinformation campaigns," explain Erin Banco and Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast. These days, one is "half the size it was a few months ago, according to two [Homeland Security] officials familiar with the task forces," while "the other task force also shrank significantly shortly after the midterms."

But that's what was supposed to happen. Both task forces were intended as limited-purpose, limited-duration endeavors, according to the Beast's reporting. So it only makes sense that after a couple years, the government may be winding down their efforts. Why characterize this as some sort of shady maneuvering? Especially considering that a whole new agency was created to take over their functions.

Last November, Trump signed into a law a measure creating a permanent Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), housed within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The legislation transferred a range of responsibilites from these temporary task forces (as well as other programs) to the new, permanent agency. And it has big plans.

DHS spokesperson Sara Sendek tells the Beast that her agency is in the midst of expanding partnerships with state and local governments and bringing on more permanent staff, since the task forces' members had previously been plucked from other federal positions on temporary assignment. That's why the numbers recently dwindled, as those temporary assignments came to an end.

"Election security remains a priority for CISA," says Sendek. "The work of these task forces continues to this day and is being institutionalized as a permanent effort. While some of the personnel who were brought on to serve on these task forces in temporary assignments have returned to their regular roles, we are also currently hiring new employees into permanent election positions to build out our team and support our efforts for 2020 and beyond."

Some of the anonymous DHS officials the Beast quotes complain that instead of putting more resources into CISA, Homeland Security—which also houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement—is obsessed with our Southern border and with whipping up fear about migrant caravans. That's both obvious and no good. But the Russian election-meddling and foreign-influence fears are similarly stacked with political hype. Here's to dreaming of DHS getting out of both.


Federal prosecutors dropped attempts to deport rapper 21 Savage on "aggravated felony" grounds. His lawyers said the conviction has been vacated and thus ICE's reasoning didn't stand up. From Buzzfeed:

The government is now pursuing his deportation only on the grounds that he had come from the UK at the age of 7 and had overstayed a visa, according to Charles Kuck, managing partner of Kuck Baxter Immigration, who represents the rapper.

"I think this case is emblematic of a lot of cases where people are detained for not correct reasons, but they don't always have resources to fight the system," he said. "This case is very emblematic of what happens in immigration court and detention."


  • A Bush-era Homeland Security official is using alleged Russian spy Maria Butina to push a spying-on-students agenda he never fullfilled during the war on teror.
  • Musician Ryan Adams is accused of a range of bad behavior in detailed accounts from multiple women, including actress (and his former wife) Mandy Moore, musician Phoebe Bridgers, and a bass player who was 15 when Adams (then in his late thirties) started sexting with her.
  • Sherrod Brown is expected to announce his bid for president soon, joining Amy Klobuchar and perhaps Joe Biden in what Slate describes as the Democratic primary's "center lane."
  • Happy Valentine's Day from the U.K. immigration office.
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The Future of Health Care Is Innovation, Not Government Control: New at Reason

Viktor Levi / Dreamstime.comViktor Levi / Dreamstime.comWhat Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare-for-all," former President Obama's Affordable Care Act, and former House Speaker Paul Ryan's Medicare "premium support" model all have in common is an overemphasis on health insurance coverage—who needs it, who is eligible for it, at what level, and who should pay for it (private sector vs. state governments vs. federal government).

Yet insurance coverage and health care are two different things, observes Veronique de Rugy. A focus on the first one has resulted in an endless debate over which third party pays for people's health care bills. Whether your preference is the government or private insurers, both end up creating massive distortions and moral hazards, which then results in higher costs and poorer-quality health care. It's time to start thinking about how to foster the kind of revolutionary innovation in the health care industry that we've seen in other fields, like information technology. This requires allowing consumers to choose treatments, even high-risk ones. But it also requires innovation in the provision and payment of health care.

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Choosing Smart Embryos Isn't Immoral: New at Reason

Forcing parents to submit to the random vagaries of the genetic lottery puts them and their prospective children at risk of having harder lives.

Zffoto/iStockZffoto/iStockLet's say you're a fertility doctor advising would-be parents who have exactly two viable embryos ready for implantation. The parents want to implant only one embryo. This is not an uncommon scenario; more than 71,000 babies were born in the U.S. via assisted reproduction in 2016.

For several decades now, folks using in vitro fertilization (IVF) have also tested for the single genes associated with certain heritable genetic diseases (such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, or hemophilia) and chromosomal abnormalities (such as those that cause Down syndrome). Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of this pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) testing for diseases that are fatal early in life, according to a 2015 survey in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, and two-thirds support it for conditions that cause lifelong disability, writes Ronald Bailey.

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Brickbat: Would 'Tushyman' Be OK?

Ass, manKipiru / Dreamstime.comAll one Saskatchewan man wants is a personalized license plate with his last name on it. But officials have told Dave Assman his last name is "unacceptable." Assman (pronounced Oss-men) says he's proud of his name. "There's nothing bad about it," he said.

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Lobbyists Are Making Bank on Trump's Steel Tariffs

Steel manufacturers spent $12.2 million lobbying the federal government in 2018, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year.

Ronald Phillips/NewscomRonald Phillips/NewscomPresident Donald Trump took office two years ago with promises to "drain the swamp"—but swamp-dwelling lobbying firms have been one of the main beneficiaries of his trade policies so far.

Steel manufacturers spent $12.2 million lobbying the federal government in 2018, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the previous year, according to new data from Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending. The increase was likely a response to Trump's decision to place a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and to grant broad powers to the Commerce Department to decide which American steel-consuming industries would be exempt from those new taxes. Steel producers spent more on lobbying in 2018 than in any other single year since at least 1998, when the Center began tracking annual lobbying spending.

Leading the way was Nucor, a North Carolina-based steelmaker, which spent more than $2.2 million lobbying last year. Separately, Nucor CEO John Ferriola gave $25,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee for the president and the Republican National Committee, just weeks after Trump imposed the steel tariffs, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal also says Nucor sought to influence the appointment of two high ranking trade officials who serve within the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative—the two parts of the federal government with control over the implementation of the steel tariffs.

That the steel industry has tried to influence government policy is hardly a surprise. Neither is the fact that groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various industry groups representing steel-consuming businesses have also ramped up lobbying in opposition to Trump's tariffs. But the increase in lobbying spending highlights one of the unfortunate realities of Trump's bellicose trade policies: the more control government has over which businesses succeed and fail, the greater the demand for access to the halls of power.

One of the ways that the lobbying power of Nucor and other major U.S. steelmakers has manifested itself is in the all-important exclusion process that determines which imports are subject to tariffs and which are exempt. The shadowy process has no due process protections, little transparency, and appears to be ripe for corruption. An investigation by one congressional office last year found that the Commerce Department had not granted a single exemption when objections to the application had been raised by Nucor or U.S. Steel. The process does not allow denied applications to be appealed. In short, it is the perfect forum for a powerful special interest to do maximum damage.

"A petitioner's ability to state its case is limited to the submission of a standardized form and supporting electronic documentation," Willie Chiang, the CEO of a Texas-based pipeline company, told the House Ways and Means Committee during a hearing last year. "No forum is provided for interaction with those determining the merits of either the petitioners' or the objectors' arguments. In addition, there is no opportunity to respond to objections—even if the objections contain incorrect information."

A group of senators leading an effort to limit Trump's tariff authority have called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into the Commerce Department's exclusion process.

Rather than reducing the influence of the K Street swamp, Trump's dogged pursuit of tariffs has created enormous opportunities for lobbyists to shape government policy, and, more infuriatingly, to determine which of their competitors succeed and fail.

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Anti-Vaxxers Responsible for Yet Another Outbreak of Measles

Robert Kennedy Jr. raves that vaccinations cause "ADD, ADHD, speech delay, autism, food allergy, autoimmune diseases."

VaccinationChernetskayaDreamstimeChernetskaya/DreamstimeMeasles cases caused by the highly contagious virus have been identified in 10 states so far this winter, but the biggest outbreak is in Washington State's Clark County, located just north of Portland, Oregon. So far, 53 people have been diagnosed with the communicable disease, of which 47 were unimmunized and five others are still unverified. One immunized person caught the disease, and one person has been hospitalized.

Public health officials report that 38 cases occurred in children under age 10, and 13 people were between the ages of 10 and 18. Lab tests confirm that the cases match a wild strain of the virus that has so far caused 83,000 cases of the disease during the past year in Eastern Europe.

The Washington State Department of Health reported in 2018 that, prior to the outbreak, only 78 percent of Clark County elementary and seconday school students were up to date on all of their immunizations, and that only 85 percent of kindergartners were immunized using the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

In Clark County, 4,881 students were unimmunized in 2018 due to parents citing "personal exemptions." Interestingly, in the wake of the current outbreak, orders for measles shots in the county jumped from 530 doses in the previous January to 3,150 last month. It appears that there is no vaccine hesitancy in plague-holes.

Columnist Daniel Engber urges us to "Stop Talking About Measles" over at Slate. Since the anti-vaccination movement in the U.S. is not growing in numbers, he suggests that proponents of immunization are being too shrill and need take a chill pill. That's a too-comfortable viewpoint.

I counter that a good part of the reason the ranks of anti-vaxxers are not increasing is because responsible media reports highlight how each outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease is traced to parents who refuse immunization that could protect their kids. If not for such reporting, otherwise unopposed anti-vax activists like Robert Kennedy, Jr. will continue to persuade parents to forego immunizations with their public ravings about vaccination causing "ADD, ADHD, speech delay, autism, food allergy, autoimmune diseases."

Bottom line: Don't be like some hapless parents in Clark County and wait until a disease outbreak occurs where you live. Vaccinate your kids now.

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Donald Trump and Social Justice Warriors Are 'Unmaking America': Podcast

Noah Rothman says the right and the left are using appeals to victimization and identity politics to gain political power.

"The American tradition of political idealism," writes Noah Rothman in his new book Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, "is imperiled by a growing obsession with the demographic categories of race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—the primary categories that are now supposed to constitute 'identity.'"

While phrases such as social justice and identity politics are usually identified with the progressive left, Rothman, an associate editor at Commentary and a contributor to MSNBC, argues provocatively that the rise of Donald Trump shows "victimization has bipartisan appeal."

In today's Reason Podcast, I talk with the 37-year-old journalist about the roots of identity politics, the rise of street violence among alt-right and antifa types, and how we might restore belief in an inclusive, forward-looking America built around common ideals rather than bitter enmity.

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ACLU Releases Model Legislation To Unlock the 'Black Box' of Prosecutor Secrecy

“They’re the most powerful player in the criminal justice system. It’s really important to know how they use that discretion behind closed doors."

Top Photo Group/NewscomTop Photo Group/NewscomProsecutors are arguably the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, but they are also one of the least transparent, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released Wednesday.

The report, "Unlocking the Black Box," found that there are few standards for what categories of data prosecutor offices should collect and whether they should release it to the public. It's also often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain information through public records requests. Even prosecutor policies on things like plea bargaining—which is used to resolve the vast majority of criminal prosecutions—are often shrouded in secrecy.

Journalists, policymakers, and voters are now waking up to the incredible power prosecutors wield (defendants have known it since time immemorial). District attorney races that used to be quiet and sometimes uncontested, have turned into well-funded election battles over mass incarceration, drug policy, and policing. Reform-oriented candidates have unseated incumbent, police-backed candidates in cities like St. Louis and Philadelphia.

However, public understanding of how prosecutors make decisions has lagged far behind, which makes it difficult to understand whether even reformers are living up to their promises. The ACLU's report found that the "few public statistics on prosecutorial decision making often only collect information at the broadest level," which makes it "nearly impossible to uncover individual abuses, systemic discrimination, or patterns that do not align with office policies."

"We realized as we started to talk to our colleagues on the litigation and advocacy side that there's not a lot of research or data on how prosecutors use their extraordinary discretion," says Nicole Zayas Fortier, the report's lead author. "They're the most powerful player in the criminal justice system. They decide who to charge, what to charge, whether to offer a plea deal, and what bail and sentencing to recommend. It's really important to know how they use that discretion behind closed doors."

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

News outlets like Florida's Herald-Tribune had to trawl through numerous databases and dusty boxes of court records to piece together an investigation into racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system.

As Reason reported last year, Florida passed a first-of-its-kind criminal justice bill that requires detailed annual reporting from police departments and state attorneys.

In Illinois, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx voluntarily releases annual reports and raw data on prosecutions, a fairly groundbreaking move for a prosecutor's office, but her office is the exception to the rule.

Far more offices actively stonewall public records requests. For example, a Missouri prosecutor was recently fined thousands of dollars for violating public records laws in an attempt to stymie local muckraker and former Reason contributor Aaron Malin's attempts to pry loose information on state drug task forces. (One of the drug task forces tried to avoid Malin's public records request by claiming it did not exist.)

Even when prosecutors want to be transparent, Fortier says they are hamstrung by limited resources.

"There's a lot of data collection issues," Fortier says. "Even when prosecutors want to share it, they struggle with technology issues or just how things have always been done."

For example, Fortier notes that while Foxx released a trove of six years of data data on felony prosecutions, her office couldn't do the same with misdemeanor data because of differences in the way the information was collected and stored.

The ACLU report includes a piece of model legislation that the organization hopes will be adopted by state legislators. The "Prosecutorial Transparency Act" would identify key decision points made by prosecutor offices, such as charging and plea bargaining, and require offices to collect the data and send it to a central state agency, similar to Florida's system. It would also require offices to disclose their internal policies on issues like plea bargaining.

Such laws would allow watchdogs, reporters, defense attorneys, and prosecutors themselves to see how their decisions impact the local criminal justice system and stack up against neighboring jurisdictions.

"We've seen incredible strides by individual prosecutors, but without set standards you can't really compare it to anything," Fortier says.

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Pennsylvania Lawmaker Calls for Thoroughly Unconstitutional Tax on 'Violent' Video Games

It's not about school safety—it's about the money.

'Fortnite' playersNicolas Maeterlinck 0032475310634/BELGA/NewscomSay that I told you that a state lawmaker wanted to tax a particular product that he found objectionable and then use that money to fund school-related projects. When asked about it by the press, he would openly acknowledge that part of the purpose of the tax was to serve as a new source of revenue for the state. Which political party would you assume this lawmaker belonged to?

If you assumed he's a Democrat, you are so very, very wrong. It's actually Republican Pennsylvania state Rep. Christopher Quinn who wants to add a 10 percent sales tax on a particular retail good, "violent video games." Quinn wants to apply a special tax on games with "adults only" ratings that may include "scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, or gambling with real currency," according to the text of HB 109.

This money would be collected by the state and then set aside in a special fund—The Digital Protection for School Safety Account—which will be distributed to schools to enhance school safety.

To be blunt, Quinn is trying to make video games the villain of school shootings in order to justify a new tax. From NBC10 in Philadelphia:

Quinn told NBC10 this is not about censorship but rather about finding a new revenue stream. He did however note that "many have concluded that violent video games are a risk factor for potential violence."

"This bill does not prohibit violent video games, instead it simply provides a revenue stream—it tries to recoup some of the societal costs—to help make our schools safer by taxing an industry that has been shown to lead to violence," he said.

"Shown to lead to violence" is complete and utter crap. As video games have become more and more popular, violent crimes have been going down, not up.

Second, his memo announcing his plans references a single paragraph from a single article from the National Center for Health Research, and that article points to an American Psychological Association analysis that found that video games might increase aggression. But that same study clearly states they have not been able to find any link between violent video game play and "delinquency or criminal behavior."

A recently released study from researchers from the University of Oxford examined the behavior of 1,000 gaming teens and found no link at all between violent games and aggressive behavior.

Laying the blame on video games is just a useful crutch anyway. By bringing up "revenue," Quinn made it abundantly clear that his real goal is to find a way for the state to get its hands on more taxpayer dollars in order to bankroll pet projects. After all, video games are very popular—the industry raked in about $135 billion in 2018.

He may run into a significant barrier known as the First Amendment. He's attempting to levy a tax on a game on the basis of its content. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment and struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. The Entertainment Software Association (which represents game companies) warns that Quinn's tax would be unconstitutional.

That may be why Quinn's bill has already failed once, but just like a gamer struggling to hack and slash through Dark Souls, he doesn't appear to be giving up. More on the fake "consensus" that violent video games led to aggression in teens, by Reason's Ron Bailey, here.

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'Sex Offenders Are Not Second-Class Citizens,' Says Judge While Nixing Alabama Rules on First Amendment Grounds

The decision rejects driver's licenses labeled "CRIMINAL SEX OFFENDER" and a broad demand for reports on internet use.

Auburn University videoAuburn University video"Sex offenders are not second-class citizens," writes U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins in a recent decision overturning two provisions of the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act (ASORCNA) on First Amendment grounds. "The Constitution protects their liberty and dignity just as it protects everyone else's."

Those points, which should be obvious, are a sadly necessary corrective to the hysteria that has driven legislators in one state after another to enact indiscriminate, mindlessly restrictive, and covertly punitive laws aimed at sex offenders. ASORCNA, which Watkins calls "the most comprehensive and debilitating sex-offender scheme in the nation," is a prime example.

The lead plaintiff in this case, dubbed John Doe 1, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure in the early 1990s, when he was living in Wisconsin. He received a six-month suspended sentence for each charge and was not required to register as a sex offender, even after moving to Alabama in 1994. But 14 years later, Alabama expanded its registry, forcing Doe to comply with ASORCNA's numerous demands and restrictions under threat of imprisonment. Among other things, that meant his driver's license was marked with the phrase "CRIMINAL SEX OFFENDER" in bold red letters. Here is how Doe describes the consequences of that notation:

I have never felt so embarrassed and ashamed in all of my life. I would not wish showing this on my worst enemy. It makes me not want to go places where I have to show it, and I try not to go places where I know I will have to. But every week, there is some places that ask me to show it, and every time, I get them evil looks from people—like I'm a murderer or something. I done paid for what I did over 25 years ago. Nobody should have to carry this. It ain't right, but I don't have a way out.

On Monday, Judge Watkins ruled that Alabama's branding of registered sex offenders' identification cards is a form of compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment. "The branded-ID requirement compels speech," he writes, "and it is not the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling state interest." The state conceded that its ostensible purpose of alerting police officers to a sex offender's status could be served by a much less conspicuous mark, such as a letter, that the general public would not readily recognize as a badge of shame. "Using one letter would keep officers informed while reducing the unnecessary disclosure of information to others," Watkins notes.

Another aspect of Alabama's "debilitating sex-offender scheme" is a requirement that people in the registry report "email addresses or instant message addresses or identifiers used, including any designations or monikers used for self-identification in Internet communications or postings other than those used exclusively in connection with a lawful commercial transaction." Registrants also have to keep the authorities apprised of "any and all Internet service providers" they use. The information, which includes mundane activities such as logging into a Wi-Fi network outside the home or registering with a website to comment on news articles, must be reported within three business days, and local law enforcement agencies have the discretion to demand that it be done in person.

That requirement also violates the First Amendment, Watkins concluded. "An offender must report to the police every time he connects to a Wi-Fi spot at a new McDonald's, every time he uses a new computer terminal at a public library, every time he borrows a smartphone to read the news online, and every time he anonymously comments on a news article," he writes. "Every time he walks into a new coffee shop, he must determine whether opening his laptop is worth the hassle of reporting." Those burdens "chill a wide swath of protected speech under penalty of felony," Watkins says, making the law "facially overbroad."

Watkins notes that the demand for information about online activity applied to Doe and the other four plaintiffs even though their offenses had nothing to do with the internet or children. And like other ASORCNA provisions, such as its restrictions on residency and employment, the rule applies for life, even though the risk of recidivism for most offenders declines over time to the point that registrants pose no greater threat than the average person. "The failure to account for risk is a problem throughout ASORCNA," Watkins observes. "Not all sex crimes are the same. Nor are all offenders the same."

That's a striking statement from a judge who was appointed by George W. Bush just two years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Alaska's sex offender registry based partly on fictitious recidivism numbers that continue to influence state and federal courts. It's a message that judges and legislators throughout the country need to hear.

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Immigrants, Not the Wall, Have Made El Paso Safe, Mr. President

The city was among the safest in the country long before the wall was built.

President Donald Trump has been going around the country claiming that El Paso, a border city in Texas, had a crime problem…until it got aBorder WallJonathan McIntosh via wall. "It used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our Nation's most dangerous cities," he asserted in his State of Union address. "Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities."

And then, earlier this week, he went to El Paso itself and proclaimed that the city was proof that walls work: "I've been hearing a lot of things: 'Oh the wall didn't make that much of a difference.' You know where it made a big difference? Right here in El Paso."

Trump is right that El Paso is one the safest cities in the country. He's just plain wrong that the wall has anything to do with it.

As former Reasoner Radley Balko pointed out back in 2009, if one extrapolated from conventional wisdom on both the left and right, El Paso would be "one of the scariest cities in the world."

After all, its poverty rate then was over 27 percent (now it's 20 percent), median household income was $35,600 (now it's $44,431), well below the national average of $48,000 (now it's $59,000). It was three-quarters Hispanic, and one-quarter foreign-born (the same as now). And given that it was nearly impossible for low-skilled immigrants to work in the United States legitimately, a significant percentage of the foreign-born were likely unauthorized. Worse, El Paso had lax gun laws. But the real kicker was that it was right next to Ciudad Juarez—which is one of Mexico's scariest cities, thanks to the presence of drug cartels.

But, in fact, Balko noted, El Paso had just 18 murders in 2008. By contrast, Baltimore, with roughly the same population, had 234!

Did the wall have anything to do with that?

The resounding answer is "no." The construction on the El Paso wall started in 2008, two years after President George W. Bush passed the Secure Fence Act (and locals lost a lawsuit against building the hideous structure), and was completed in 2009. But FBI figures show that El Paso's violent crime rate fell 17 percent from 2006 to 2011.

Although, by national standards, El Paso's violent crime rate was never high, it spiked in 1992 and then started a major downward trend in 1997 with the steepest declines settling in around 2002. In fact, it reached its lowest point ever in 2006, two years before construction on the wall even began—and crept up slightly in 2010, the year after the wall went up. But, overall, violent crime has by and large stayed at under 3,000 incidents per year for the past 11 years. Indeed, El Paso experienced 356.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2017—compared to the national average of 382.9.

Correlation is not causation so there is no reason to believe that the wall was actually responsible for responsible for this small uptick, especially since the city's crime rate fell again to its lowest 2006-level again around 2013.

The intriguing question is why does a city with El Paso's socio-demography have such a low crime rate?

One explanation is that the community policing approach it has deployed for the past two decades has been extremely effective. But part of the reason might also be its large foreign-born population.

Again, correlation is not causation, but here's Balko:

Many criminologists say El Paso isn't safe despite its high proportion of immigrants, it's safe because of them.

"If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population," says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. "If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you're likely in one of the country's safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they're some of the safest places in the country."…

Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that, in fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be behind bars than are the native-born. This is true for the nation as a whole, as well as for cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami, and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border such as San Diego and El Paso.

These findings track Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh's recent research on immigrants and crime in the Don't Tread on Me state:

In 2015, Texas police made 815,689 arrests of native-born Americans, 37,776 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 20,323 arrests of legal immigrants. For every 100,000 people in each subgroup, there were 3,578 arrests of natives, 2,149 arrests of illegal immigrants, and 698 arrests of legal immigrants. The arrest rate for illegal immigrants was 40 percent below that of native-born Americans. The arrest rate for all immigrants and legal immigrants was 65 percent and 81 percent below that of native-born Americans, respectively. The homicide arrest rate for native-born Americans was about 5.4 per 100,000 natives, about 46 percent higher than the illegal immigrant homicide arrest rate of 3.7 per 100,000. Related to this, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recently released data that showed the arrest rate for DACA recipients about 46 percent below that of the resident non-DACA population. (Emphasis added.)

Why are immigrant-heavy cities safer? Listen to Balko:

"Overall, immigrants have a stake in this country, and they recognize it," Northeastern University's Levin says. "They're really an exceptional sort of American. They come here having left their family and friends back home. They come at some cost to themselves in terms of security and social relationships. They are extremely success-oriented, and adjust very well to the competitive circumstances in the United States." Economists Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl argue that the very process of migration tends to select for people with a low potential for criminality.

Immigrants are not criminals and foreigners are not enemies. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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The Co-Sponsor of the Green New Deal Thinks Mitch McConnell’s Plan to Hold a Vote on It Is 'Sabotage' and a 'Republican Trick'

Ed Markey believes the time to vote on urgently necessary climate change legislation is...later.

Alex Edelman - CNP / MEGA / NewscomAlex Edelman - CNP / MEGA / NewscomLast week, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Green New Deal, a resolution calling for a massive, government-driven overhaul of the U.S. economy in order to address climate change, Markey tweeted that the plan's "transformative legislative goals are what is needed to address the generational challenge of climate change." In an accompanying press release, he said climate change should be "the highest of Congressional priorities," and he stressed that time was of the essence, saying "we need bold action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and we may have as few as 12 years to achieve it."

Apparently, however, such action can wait a little longer.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that he would soon hold a vote on the plan, which has been endorsed by a number of the Democrats' 2020 presidential contenders in the Senate, including Sens. Kamala Harris (Ca.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). The idea, McConnell said, would be to "give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal."

In response, Markey—who is, again, one of the two lead sponsors of the resolution—accused McConnell of attempting to "sabotage" the plan by "rushing a vote" on the Green New Deal. McConnell's plan to ask Markey and his fellow senators to vote on the resolution they endorsed was a "Republican trick."

One might counter that putting forth a wildly over-ambitious resolution that you don't want to vote on, presumably because you believe doing so would harm both your party's political fortunes and your political goals, is itself a form of self-sabotage. This does not appear to have occurred to Markey.

The various reactions to the Green New Deal have been deeply revealing, at least insofar as the politics are concerned.

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Facebook Is Calling the Cops on Sad Users: Reason Roundup

Plus: Rapper 21 Savage released from ICE custody and more details on how Homeland Security scammed immigrant students

Dado Ruvic/REUTERS/NewscomDado Ruvic/REUTERS/NewscomFacebook protects itself from risk by putting users in danger. Facebook moderators can't handle determinations like whether a King Cake baby counts as obscenity. Yet the social media giant has nonetheless appointed itself arbiter of your mental health. And if its bots don't like what they see, Facebook may report you to police.

As part of "suicide prevention efforts," Facebook "says it has helped first responders conduct thousands of wellness checks globally, based on reports received through its efforts," reports CNN. Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, told the station: "We are using technology to proactively detect content where someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide."

Since 2011, Facebook has allowed users to flag potential suicidal content; reports prompted emails from Facbook urging the poster to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But starting in 2017, Facebook introduced bots to search out and report potential suicidal content. The bots report suspected cries for help to human moderators, who may then "work with first responders, such as police departments to send help," says CNN.

That's right: Facebook might call the cops on you because a bot thought you seemed sad. Facebook executives think that if a user exhibits signs of depression, it's up to Facebook—not the user's friends, family, or community—to intervene.

And why not? By preemptively turning users over to authorities, Facebook saves its own butt. As with so many tech-company precautions that they try to frame as being for users' benefit and public safety, the real protected party here is Facebook itself, which doesn't want to face criticism and lawsuits if a user who commits suicide could be said to have hinted about it online first.

All it costs is putting people's lives in danger.

We've seen again and again and again how cops called in to deescalate mental health situations wind up hurting and killing those they've been called in to help. Cops are not trained psychiatric professionals. Cops are not equipped to talk people out of suicide, nor to assess whether their Facebook posts spell trouble. Cops are not equipped to judge mental health by showing up at someone's door. And cops are not going to overlook other issues, like drug possession, just because someone is having mental health issues.

Not that Facebook would care. It's also begun calling police on people for an array of potential situations, including apparently terms-of-service violations. "We may also supply law enforcement with information to help prevent or respond to fraud and other illegal activity, as well as violations of the Facebook Terms," the Facebook safety page says.

Mental health researchers are now challenging Facebook's efforts and asking about the ethical implications.



  • The national debt is now more than $22 trillion, a record high, having taken another turn upward in the wake of Trump's tax cuts.
  • Kentucky police may have killed a kidnapping victim as they were attempting to save her.
  • U.S. Senators will vote on the Green New Deal:
  • Protecting and serving:
  • "These folks need to get a life. And they can FOIA that!"
  • Voiceprints are here:
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It Looks Like Trump Will Sign Border Deal and Dodge Another Government Shutdown

Make no mistake about it, avoiding another shutdown is for the best.

Zach Gibson/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomZach Gibson/CNP/AdMedia/NewscomPresident Donald Trump will likely sign a compromise border deal that would avoid another partial government shutdown, several outlets reported Wednesday morning.

Two unnamed sources told CNN that the president intends to sign the deal, which would keep the government open beyond Friday. The Wall Street Journal reported the news as well, also citing anonymous sources.

What comes next remains unclear. The deal in question has the support of Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, who are eager to avoid another shutdown. It provides Trump with $1.375 billion for physical barriers on the border, according to Politico, not the $5.7 billion he's been demanding for months.

As I pointed out yesterday, it's still possible the president could sign the border deal and still get his way. While the bill funds just 55 of the 215 miles of border wall that the administration wants, Trump could conceivably take executive action to divert Defense or Treasury Department funds to build the wall, according to CNN. He could do this even without declaring a state of emergency.

Speaking to reporters prior to a cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump expressed his misgivings over the deal, but suggested he's "using other methods" to get his wall money.

"Am I happy at first glance?" he said. "I just got to see it. The answer is no, I'm not. I'm not happy."

"It's not going to do the trick, but I'm adding things to it and when you add whatever I have to add, it's all going to happen where we're going to build a beautiful big strong wall," Trump said. He also said he doesn't expect there to be another shutdown.

Ultimately, signing this border deal is probably the right thing to do. While government shutdowns might sound good in theory to those who love liberty and hate government overreach, the reality is much more complicated. As Reason's Eric Boehm noted last month, the last shutdown did nothing to actually reduce the federal government's power or cost. (Though it did highlight the intrusive and inappropriate role government plays in industries such as air traffic control and beer-labeling.)

Signing the border deal and then immediately taking executive action to obtain money for the wall would also be a bad idea. That's because building the wall would actually cost tens of billions of dollars and involve seizing private property to provide an ineffective solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

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National Debt Hits a New Record High: $22 Trillion

A new record, but one that won't stand for long.

John Lund Blend Images/NewscomJohn Lund Blend Images/NewscomThe national debt hit a new record high of $22 trillion this week, according to figures released by the Treasury Department. That works out to about $66,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

It's a record that likely won't stand for long. We're less than a year removed from surpassing the $21 trillion threshold, and just a little over 17 months have passed since the debt climbed above $20 trillion for the first time. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects the federal government to run a $900 billion deficit this year, and by next year, the government will be adding more $1 trillion to the national debt every 12 months.

Hitting the $22 trillion threshold this week is "another sad reminder of the inexcusable tab our nation's leaders continue to run up and will leave for the next generation," said former New Hampshire Gov. Judd Gregg and former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, co-chairs of the Campaign To Fix The Debt, a bipartisan group pushing for fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C.

"The fiscal recklessness over past years has been shocking," the former governors said in a statement.

Look a few more years into the future and things really start to accelerate. Unlike a decade ago, when the so-called Great Recession (and the questionable federal policies crafted in response to it) caused deficits to spike, the current increase is not a short-term problem that will be solved as soon as the economy rights itself. Instead, we're now at the beginning of a long upwards climb that has no end in sight—unless significant policy changes are enacted.

Here's how the CBO projects the national debt to grow, relative to America's gross domestic product—which roughly represents the size of the national economy—over the next few decades.

Source: Congressional Budget Office; Committee for a Responsible Federal BudgetSource: Congressional Budget Office; Committee for a Responsible Federal BudgetUnder current law—which assumes, among other things, that the 2017 tax cuts will expire in 2025 and not be extended—the national debt will double from 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year to 160 percent of GDP by 2050. It would hit 360 percent of GDP, and still be climbing, by the end of the CBO's 75-year projection window in 2093.

In the so-called "alternative fiscal scenario," which assumes current policies (such those tax cuts) are kept in place, the debt would hit 225 percent of GDP by 2050 and more than 600 percent of GDP by 2093.

Either way, that sort of trajectory should inspire immediate action. But President Donald Trump completely ignored the national debt issue in last week's State of the Union address, and he's previously shrugged off worries about the national debt because things won't get really bad until he's out of office. Mick Mulvaney, the president's acting chief of staff and a former congressional budget hawk, now says "nobody cares" about the debt.

The thing is, he seems to be right. In Washington, much of the discussion over the past week has focused on Democratic plans to spend untold piles of cash on a "Green New Deal" that would require a mobilization of the entire economy to fight climate change. Republicans, meanwhile, spent the past two years with full control of the federal government and used that opportunity to increase spending and cut taxes, which is not a formula for deficit reduction. Those tax cuts were defensible in many ways—the reduction in the corporate tax rates makes America competitive with the rest of the world—but it is undeniable that they added to the debt.

Indeed, a $22 trillion national debt is not the result of any single bad decision. Entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—are the main drivers of the long-term deficit, but endlessly expensive (and just plain endless) foreign wars, the 2017 tax cuts, and a bipartisan consensus that spending should keep growing faster than revenues have played important roles too.

The other problem is that the national debt isn't just getting bigger—it's getting more expensive too. Already, interest on the national debt consumes about $390 billion annually. That's more than any federal department or agency except the Pentagon, and it is only going to keep getting bigger.

As Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told Reason last year:

The danger is that if the debt keeps growing, at a certain point investors will stop lending us money at reasonable interest rates. They will be reasonably concerned that the debt is growing beyond our ability to finance it. They will demand higher interest rates, and every one percentage point increase in interest rates will add $13 trillion in interest costs over 30 years. As interest rates go up, we will have to borrow even more to make the interest payments, which causes the debt to go even higher. At a certain point, the investors will demand that we get our fiscal house in order. It will likely start with low-hanging fruit—tax hikes for the rich, for example—but those won't be enough.

Eventually, you'll be left with two choices. Either significantly raise taxes on the middle class or significantly cut benefits to current seniors. If we do neither, you will have a major financial crisis.

Hitting the $22 trillion threshold is just one step towards that future debt crisis, but it will take a long time to reverse these trends. The time to start is now, while the economy is still growing—because another recession will only make these problems more intractable. Unfortunately, there's little reason to expect Congress or the current president to take meaningful steps to defuse the long-term debt crisis before we hit the next milestone along the road—which won't take long at the rate we're going.

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One Cheer for Kamala’s Cannabis Candor: New at Reason

The presidential contender is a johnny-come-lately on legalization, but she is right about the importance of fun.

YouTubeYouTubeHow much credit should a politician get in 2019 for admitting that she smoked pot in college? Not much, says Jacob Sullum, especially if she only recently came around to the view that people should not be arrested for doing what she did.

But Kamala Harris did say something noteworthy when she was asked about marijuana during a radio interview on Monday, Sullum says: She acknowledged the importance of fun, a point that should be made more often in discussions of drug policy.

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This Private School Has a Better Way to Keep Kids Interested: New at Reason

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonThere must be a better way to keep kids interested in school than drugging them, writes John Stossel. Today, one in five school-age boys is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many are given drugs that are supposed to help them pay attention. Thankfully, Stossel observes, there are places like the Academy of Thought and Industry, a private school in Austin, Texas, that has a different way of teaching.

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Brickbat: Don't Need to Wait for an Invitation

LickingAndrianocz / Dreamstime.comMadeira Beach, Florida, City Commissioner Nancy Oakley has resigned after an administrative judge and the state ethics commission upheld a claim by former City Manager Shane Crawford that Oakley had sexually harassed him by licking his face and groping him. The commission fined her $5,000. In addition the City Commission reprimanded Oakley. Oakley denied the claims and repeated her denial in her resignation letter.

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Is Another Government Shutdown Imminent? Only Trump Knows!

Congressional leaders have reached a compromise. But Trump will have the final say.

Chris Kleponis/SIPA/NewscomChris Kleponis/SIPA/NewscomPresident Donald Trump today said he's "not happy" with a compromise reached by Democratic and Republican negotiators that would prevent another government shutdown. As was the case in the lead-up to and during the last government shutdown, it all comes down to Trump, and it remains unclear exactly what he plans to do.

News broke last night that negotiators from both chambers of Congress had reached a deal to keep the government fully funded after Friday. Republicans and Democrats have been at an impasse over border security funding since late last year. Trump and his allies in Congress want $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; Democrats don't want to give it to them. When the president refused days before Christmas to sign seven remaining spending bills—including one that would fund the Department of Homeland Security, where the wall funds would come from—roughly one-quarter of the government shut down. More than a month later, Trump finally gave in, signing a continuing resolution that would reopen the government for three weeks.

Which brings us to the present day. The deal lawmakers reached last night does not give Trump anything close to the $5.7 billion he had demanded. While the bill's text has yet to be released, the agreement reportedly includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers on the border, according to Politico. It also caps the number of beds (i.e. detention slots) for immigrants held by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) at roughly 40,500. That's about a 17 percent decrease from the current limit of 49,000, but it's still a win for Republicans. That's because Democrats originally wanted to lower the cap to 34,000, The New York Times reported, citing Democratic aides. However, as USA Today notes, it wouldn't be all that difficult for ICE to exceed the cap imposed by Congress, which it regularly does.

At a rally last night in El Paso, Texas, Trump wouldn't weigh in on the deal until he had been briefed on the details. But speaking to reporters prior to a cabinet meeting today, he expressed his displeasure with the compromise.

"Am I happy at first glance?" he said. "I just got to see it. The answer is no, I'm not. I'm not happy."

"It's not going to do the trick, but I'm adding things to it and when you add whatever I have to add, it's all going to happen where we're going to build a beautiful big strong wall," the president added. Trump also said he's "using other methods" to get his wall money.

What about the possibility of another partial government shutdown? "I don't think you're going to see a shutdown," Trump said.

A White House official told CNN's Jim Acosta, meanwhile, that despite his misgivings, Trump will likely sign the compromise.

This is Trump we're talking about, though, and as always, it's almost impossible to predict his next move. The current situation draws some parallels to December, when Trump, after saying he'd be "proud" to shut down the government over border wall funding, appeared to temporarily shift course. Then, after the Senate approved a bill with $1.3 billion in border security funding (though none for an actual wall) that would keep the government open through February, Trump revealed he wouldn't support it.

As was just as true then as it is now, it all comes down to Trump. If the president decides to reject any proposal that doesn't include $5.7 billion, then the government will probably shutter again, as the chances are slim that two-thirds of both the House and the Senate could come together to override a presidential veto. Ultimately, Trump will have the final say.

However, it's within the realm of possibility that Trump could sign the compromise legislation and still get his way. While the bill funds just 55 of the 215 miles of border wall that the administration wants, Trump could conceivably take executive action to divert Defense and/or Treasury Department funds to build the wall, according to CNN. Some of these options would require him to declare a state of emergency; others wouldn't.

Of course, it's important to note that building the wall would actually cost tens of billions of dollars and would involve seizing private property to provide an ineffective solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

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Gov. Newsom Pulls the Plug on California’s Costly Bullet Train Boondoggle

Celebrate, don’t mourn, the end of what’s always been a bad plan.

California High-Speed Rail constructionGary Reyes/TNS/NewscomCalifornia's wasteful, expensive, and likely doomed-to-fail statewide bullet train project is getting killed. Today, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said he's abandoning the plan as "too costly."

Newsom made the announcement in his State of the State address this morning. As the Associated Press reports:

Newsom said Tuesday in his State of the State address it "would cost too much and take too long" to build the line long championed by his predecessor, Jerry Brown. Latest estimates pin the cost at $77 billion and completion in 2033.

Newsom says he wants to continue construction of the high-speed link from Merced to Bakersfield in California's Central Valley. He says building the line could bring economic transformation to the agricultural region.

And he says abandoning that portion of the project would require the state to return $3.5 billion in federal dollars.

Newsom also is replacing Brown's head of the board that oversee the project and is pledging to hold the project's contractors more accountable for cost overruns.

Newsom actually turned against the bullet train project years ago but then went quiet about it when he began his plans to run for governor. He declined to discuss what he saw as the train's future on the campaign trail, but after he was elected he suggested some sort of cutback was coming, possibly eliminating the bottom half of the project, making it a train from San Francisco to the Central Valley of California.

Now it looks like he's scaling even that back. Californians are just going to be left with a train in the middle of some of the more rural parts of the state because the Newsom administration doesn't want to have to repay the federal funding.

Whatever may come next, this is happy news for most California citizens. Voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 that set aside a $10 billion bond to begin the project of building a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco with the promise that more funding would come through from the feds or from private sources, that the train would not require subsidies to operate, and that it would help fight climate change.

But it didn't take long for all those claims to be shown as unlikely, especially the costs. President Barack Obama's administration did provide $3.5 billion in stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the project otherwise saw little additional outside financial support. The train's cost ballooned from $64 to $77 billion (and it would likely end up well over $100 billion if actually completed). The construction on the first leg began in the middle of California, near Fresno, and it wouldn't even link Los Angeles to San Francisco until 2029.

As for the other alleged benefits of the high-speed rail, the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this website) has been warning all along that the train would lose millions of dollars a year, wouldn't be anywhere near as fast as promised, would cost too much to ride, and would not reach anywhere near the ridership estimates that the California High-Speed Rail Authority projected.

The decision to end the project after the current construction is finished is, of course, a big blow to former Gov. Jerry Brown. This train was his pet project and he undoubtedly saw it as his legacy. No matter how much evidence was presented that the whole deal was a big boondoggle that would leave taxpayers holding the bag, Brown didn't waver.

But the announcement is also a bit of a kick in the teeth for the proposed Green New Deal by progressive Democrats in Congress. The Green New Deal, pushed by lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), heavily leans on the idea that high-speed rail could be used to link cities and ultimately reduce the use of air travel. It was a wholly unrealistic plan for any number of logistical reasons, as Joe Setyon explained last week. Newsom killing off the project's expansion also implicates the massive costs of the lawmakers' proposals.

And Newsom is no fiscal conservative. In all likelihood, he wants to use the money he'll save from not building the train on other big progressive aims, like single-payer health care coverage or propping up the state's overextended pension system for public employees. As bad as they are, those aims are at least preferable to an absurdly overpriced makework project intended to line certain people's pockets at the expense of the taxpayers.

Here's ReasonTV on the problems and scandals of the project:

Update: State Sen. Scott Weiner seems to think the press is misquoting what Newsom said in the State of the State address:

I went back and listened to Newsom's speech, posted online. Weiner is not quite accurate here. Newsom says he wants to ultimately connect the part of the high-speed train that gets built to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but is very careful in making it clear that he's not talking about continuing the bullet train onward north and south. My perspective here is that he's trying to be gentle at letting folks down.

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American Commuters Lose 97 Hours, $87 Billion to Traffic Congestion, Says New Report

INRIX's 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard highlights the need for congestion pricing and new lanes to combat rush hour traffic.

Ryan Deberardinis/Dreamstime.comRyan Deberardinis/Dreamstime.comThe land of the free manages to have some pretty congested freeways. That's according to transportation analytics firm INRIX's new 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which ranks metro areas by how much time auto commuters waste in rush hour traffic.

Topping the list are European and Latin American metros, with drivers in Bogota, Moscow, and London all losing over 200 hours a year to congestion. U.S. cities look better by comparison, but commuters here still manage to idle away an incredible amount of time behind the wheel.

INRIX's scorecard finds Boston to be the most congested city in the country. Drivers there spend 164 hours (nearly a full week) in rush hour traffic each year. A close second is Washington, D.C., where commuters are losing 155 hours to gridlock.

Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle fill out the rest of the top six in INRIX's rankings—which weigh time lost to congestion against a city's population—with drivers in these metros wasting between 128 and 138 hours a year in traffic. On average, commuters are losing 97 hours a year because of congestion.

INRIX develops these rankings by comparing travel times during peak hours to those during free flow conditions when there is no traffic. The difference between the two figures is the amount of time lost to traffic congestion.

Having congested roadways can be a huge drag on a city's productivity, according to the INRIX report.

"[Congestion] incurs costs from time loss, increased pollution rates, and higher incidents of accidents," reads the INRIX report, which estimates the cost of traffic congestion at $87 billion a year in lost time for drivers (roughly $1,365 for the average driver.) The freight industry loses another $74 billion a year to congestion.

In addition to the lost time is the lost opportunity that traffic congestion brings. The INRIX report cites research showing that whatever the levels of traffic congestion, people are generally only willing to spend one hour a day commuting—half an hour each way—with most people moving closer to work to cut down on travel times.

The more congestion limits where you can travel within that 30 minutes, as well as the employment and leisure opportunities you'll be able to comfortably access—limiting the advantages of living in an urban area in the first place.

Congestion, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation analyst at the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit which publishes this website) is at its core a supply and demand problem. "Congestion is when you have more people than you have road space," Feigenbaum tells Reason, saying that the problem is a mix of adding congestion pricing to current road space and adding new lane miles.

The idea behind congestion pricing—variable tolls that rise and fall depending on the number of cars on the road—is that by charging drivers for the space they take up, they can be incentivized to take less congested routes or to travel in off-peak hours when traffic is lighter, improving road conditions for everyone.

A number of American cities are already giving this policy a hard look. In September 2018, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan included $1 million in her proposed budget to study congestion pricing. In December of that year, Oregon asked the federal government for permission to toll interstates around Portland (current federal law prohibits states from tolling most interstates). Last month, the head of Los Angeles' transit agency endorsed the idea as well; so too has New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

So far, Virginia is the only place in the U.S. to have implemented real congestion pricing, imposing variable tolls on parts of I-66 leading into D.C. The INRIX report notes that Singapore has managed to have both high levels of growth and low levels of congestion thanks to an aggressive policy of road pricing and high fees charged to vehicle owners.

Another option is to increase the supply of roads by adding new lane miles, which—when combined with some form of congestion pricing—can help to bring down traffic congestion, says Feigenbaum.

"Cities that have not been investing in their roadways at all, and not building any new lane capacity, are very high up on this list compared to their overall [population] size," Feigenbaum tells Reason. Road-adverse Seattle, he notes, is the 15th largest U.S. metro area by population, but manages to have the sixth-most congested roads, and travel speeds in the inner city nearly as low as New York City.

By contrast, Houston—the fifth largest metro in the U.S. and one that has continued to add more roadways to accommodate its growing population—ranks 13th on INRIX's scorecard.

Expanding roadways is not a cure all for congestion. More lanes can induce more driving, meaning more trips are taken but actual traffic flows stay about the same. Measures of roadway congestion can also understate urban mobility if a city has well-functioning transit options. INRIX's gives London as an example of a place where congestion has gotten much worse, but expanding transit options may well have increased overall urban mobility.

Feigenbaum says that transit can play a role in improving mobility in some American cities, provided it's the riders, not the taxpayers in general, that are paying for it. Improving congestion, however, he says, requires treating road space more like normal market goods, where prices rise and fall, and supply expands to meet demand.

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Gitmo Preps for an Upgrade: New at Reason

This monument to the war on terror is still open, and it’s costing taxpayers a fortune.

Bethanie Mitchel/SIPA/NewscomBethanie Mitchel/SIPA/NewscomWhether the U.S. manages to broker a peace with the Taliban or not, one legacy of the war on terror remains—the prison at Guantanamo Bay (also called Gitmo). At its height, this symbol of Bush administration power held 600 people. And as miserable as the infrastructure reportedly is down there, its commander, Navy Rear Admiral John Ring, says he could fit 200 more people if given an increase in the same number of soldiers. He'd rather have an influx of money, however.

So there were once 600 prisoners. Now there are only 40. Forty people being watched over by 1,700 soldiers. Forty people who have been held in limbo for going on two decades now. Some of them are clearly mass murderers who should still have their trial. Others linger in prison, not charged, not freed, and generally making a mockery of the whole American concept of a speedy trial, writes's Lucy Steigerwald for Reason.

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Will Howard Schultz Really Run as a Libertarian? Don't Bet on it.

Billionaire seeks ballot access, political party seeks cash, both hate the national debt...but Schultz is far more interventionist at home and abroad than, say, Bill Weld.

||| YouTubeYouTubeThe Washington Examiner today has a piece headlined "Why Howard Schultz could go Libertarian," in which officials from America's third largest political party basically wave their hands in the direction of the billionaire maybe-sorta presidential candidate and say "Over here!"

"Mr. Schultz describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so I kindly encourage Mr. Schultz to look at our platform, as that title goes hand in hand with what the Libertarian Party stands for," Florida L.P. Chair Marcos Miralles told the Examiner. Added California L.P. Chair Mimi Robson: "He's definitely a fiscal conservative and he appears to be generally for civil liberties and individual rights—so yeah, those are all things in line with the Libertarian Party." (Robson also added some wait-and-see caveats.)

Both sides in this equation obviously have something the other covets—the Libertarian Party has probable 2020 ballot access in 50 states; Schultz has a personal fortune and the professed willingness to spend up to a half-billion dollars of it on a presidential campaign. (The 2016 L.P. ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, for comparison, raised $13 million; and the party's annual budget is just a fraction of that.)

So are there wedding bells in the future for these non-duopolists? Only if party members who barely tolerated having Bill Weld represent them as a vice presidential pick will cede the top slot to a less-experienced lifelong Democrat who is far less libertarian.

Start with foreign policy. Schultz has criticized President Donald Trump's plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Schultz adviser Steve Schmidt (the 2008 presidential campaign manager of uber-hawk John McCain, and before that an adviser to Dick Cheney) explained on the WordsMatter podcast last week that Schultz "thought that Trump's decision announcing the decision precipitously was a mistake," adding: "I think if you go back to his speech at the Atlantic Council, what he talked about was the importance of alliances, the connection within that alliance of free peoples, the idea that America is the indispensable nation in the world that if the U.S. steps back that vacuum will be filled with actors that are not benevolent, not benign, so I think he stayed in that speech well within the boundaries of what we would recognize as a foreign policy that James Baker would be deeply comfortable with."

Good luck selling that foreign policy vision to the Libertarian National Convention in 2020. Bill Weld, on the other hand, was saying as recently as four months ago stuff like, "I don't understand why there are troops in Afghanistan. I'm not sure I understand why all those troops are there in Korea."

The Second Amendment, too, could prove an obstacle to Schultz-L.P. coupling. Whereas Weld is still (inaccurately, in my view) tarred as a "gun-grabber" (despite arguing repeatedly that "anyone who says, 'We have to do something about gun ownership, including AR-15s,' is just going to be dead meat, because their position doesn't make any sense"), Schultz just goes right there: "Seventy percent of the American people want the kind of policy legislation that takes the guns of war out of the American peoples' neighborhoods."

As Libertarian National Chair Nicholas Sarwark diplomatically tells the Examiner, "Schultz seems to hold some libertarian positions on issues like marriage equality and reducing the national debt....On the other side, his position on gun control would probably be very unpopular with libertarians."

Schultz, unlike most Libertarians, thinks the Affordable Care Act "was the right thing to do." He called the Trump/Republican corporate tax cuts "wrong and irrational." The trial balloon phase is still only now taking flight—he'll be doing a CNN town hall tonight—but Schultz is already a significant distance away from the L.P. before fielding many questions about drug policy, or corporate welfare, or the Federal Reserve.

There is one key factor that makes such speculation mostly academic at this point: the calendar. Even though presidential campaign season is well upon us, Libertarians choose their nominee 15 months from now. Like Weld playing footsie with a GOP primary challenge to Donald Trump, Schultz has every material reason at the moment to stay indy—it maximizes Democratic nervousness, and therefore media attention. No Libertarian will be included in polls any time soon.

Howard Schultz has ample time to see if there's really a market in these polarized, emotionally charged times for a centrist independent talking about debt. If that project fizzles on the launch pad, there's still time to bone up on the Non-Aggression Principle, though internal patience for situational Libertarians might well be wearing thin.

Related Reason content:

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The Great Democratic Cave on Border Enforcement

Trump won much more than the Democrats did.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have apparently cut a deal on funding border enforcement. So unless President Trump—who saysBorder vigilJeff Toppings Reuters via Newscom he's "unhappy" with the terms—walks away and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, a government shutdown come Friday is not in the cards. However, the question is whether after all of the drama of the last few months, did Democrats even remotely advance the cause of a sane and humane immigration enforcement policy?

Liberal commentators would have you believe that they did because Trump didn't get the $5 billion-plus he was demanding for his border "barrier." That may be right, but the fact of the matter is that he got something and the Democrats got nothing at all, as I note in my latest column at The Week.

The sticking point that nearly derailed the talks over the weekend concerned funding for detention beds to house unauthorized immigrants picked up at the border and rounded up from the interior. Given that Trump has illegally diverted funds for this end, one would have thought the Democrats would use the funding fight to hold the line and insist on starving the ICE beast.

Think again.

So terrified were the Democrats about being blamed for the next shutdown, that they approved pretty much the same levels of detention bed funding as the Republican-controlled Congress did last year.

Nor was it their only capitulation.

Go here to read about the Democrats' other surrenders, including the fact that they didn't even bring up the issue of legalizing Dreamers. They played on Trump's turf and came away empty.

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N.Y.C. Mayor Bill De Blasio Mulling Presidential Run. Stop Laughing!

New Yorkers don't want him. Why would the rest of the country?

Bill de BlasioAlbin Lohr-Jones/Sipa USA/NewscomPolitico is reporting that Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking some of the early steps for a possible presidential run in 2020. There have been rumors that he's been considering it for a while now. This weekend he'll be heading to early primary state New Hampshire to make some appearances, and he's consulting with some aides who have worked on previous national campaigns.

How crazy is this idea? Compare de Blasio's approval ratings among New York state voters with President Donald Trump's national numbers in recent polling by Quinnipiac University. In January, voters in the state gave de Blasio a 32 to 44 percent approval/disapproval rating (he fares better among just New York City voters). In a January poll from Quinnipiac, Trump had a 41 to 55 percent approval/disapproval rating nationally (though he polls much worse just among New York voters). So technically a much greater percentage of folks disapprove of Trump's performance, but certainly nobody in de Blasio's orbit is going to be quoting the mayor's poll numbers in interviews to make him look good. In that same poll, New York voters ranked de Blasio dead last among political figures from the state they'd like to see run for president. New Yorkers would rather see former Mayor Michael Bloomberg run for president. Even freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outranked him, and she's not old enough to run for president yet.

Really, what's to like about de Blasio? Who on earth would vote for him outside New York City (and perhaps a few other large coastal cities)? Has anybody on the progressive left been less adept at making the case for top-down governance by urban elites? He complains about income inequality, but the city cracks down hard on any company like Uber or Airbnb that lets folks work a side-hustle because it hurts the politically powerful taxi cartel and hotel industries. (How bad do you have to be at this to cause a black state assemblymember in New York to complain that city agents are following and harassing white residents in Brooklyn because they suspect they're Airbnb customers?) He hates charter schools, even though they provide valuable education alternatives to poor minorities in the city, because it reduces the power of teachers' unions. Meanwhile, there's probably better than even odds that the New York City subway might actually be on fire when you read this.

He rails about the evils of the wealthy while facing regular corruption scandals at City Hall. He fired a city watchdog who wrote critical reports about some of the city's departments. He's alienated the local New York City press due to a record of poor transparency (don't expect any Ocasio-Cortez-style puff pieces about him). The City Council is in the middle of passing regulations to try to stop the dramatic expansion of "placard abuse" under de Blasio, in which some 150,000 government employees park wherever they damned well please and ignore traffic laws, protected from consequences while at the same time feeding the city's congestion issues.

He's openly disdainful of the very idea of property rights, believing that government should decide what gets built. But he at this very moment is alienating other progressives in New York by insisting that Amazon needs its tax incentives and special government deals to build a second headquarters in Queens, inadvertently making the case that when the government decides what gets to be built, it's those who have the most power and influence who will dominate the discussion, not the actual members of the community. He complains about slumlords and says he's going to seize their properties, but it turns out the city's own housing authority is actually the worst landlord in the Big Apple.

Were de Blasio to actually enter the race, it would be a huge boon for anybody looking to attack the legitimacy of this effort to try drag the Democratic Party leftward toward socialistic ideation. He has flat out said that the wealth in New York is in the "wrong hands," but watch him tap dance through an interview with Jake Tapper where he does not answer the question of who the "right hands" are and who gets to decide who those "wrong" people are. The answer, of course, is people like de Blasio, who complains about how the game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful while promoting policies that keep it that way.

De Blasio treats the citizens of New York like they're subjects under government care, not free people, and a national campaign from him, if it gets anywhere at all, will involve anecdote after anecdote of the many people whose livelihoods have been harmed from his rule by all-powerful bureaucracy.

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The New York Times Thinks Helicopter Parenting Works, but It Depends How You Define It

Free-Range parenting is about fostering independence, not letting kids do whatever they want.

ParentsFizkes / DreamstimeA recent New York Times article argued that helicopter parenting, unfortunately, is the best strategy for raising successful kids. The piece was provocatively titled, "The Bad News About Helicopter Parenting: It Works."

But the article seemed to define helicopter parents as those who are neither total slackers, nor old-fashioned father-knows-best-so-shut-up-ers (so-called "authoritarian parents"). That leaves a lot of middle ground. How do helicopter parents operate, according to the piece?

Instead of strict obedience, they emphasize adaptability, problem-solving and independence—skills that will help their offspring in future workplaces that we can't even imagine yet.

To some of us (OK, me) that sounds exactly like how we raised our kids—and we don't consider ourselves helicopter parents. As Sara Zaske, author of Achtung Baby, points out, Free-Range/Let Grow parenting "does not mean being permissive. That's a big misconception: it's not about just letting kids do whatever they want. It's about fostering independence and ultimately responsibility. For me, that means preparing them to take on new challenges and having consequences if they break rules."


In the Times piece, which is mostly about a new book, Love, Money & Parenting by Mattias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti (admittedly, extremely cool names), the argument that supposedly proves "helicoptering" works is this:

when [the authors] analyzed the 2012 PISA, an academic test of 15-year-olds around the world, along with reports from the teenagers and their parents about how they interact, they found that an "intensive parenting style" correlated with higher scores on the test.

But are kids who scored well on academic tests necessarily more successful—in the near and long term—than kids who likes building tree houses with their brother? And is a parent who practices "an intensive style" the same thing as a helicopter parent?

Naturally, economic fears will always play a role in what we value and what we teach our kids. The article sympathizes with parents who are afraid their kids will fall off the road to riches, or even the road to a decent job. But many of the actual skills kids are going to need as functioning, open-minded adults are not the ones they get in adult-supervised resume-building activities. When they're just plain old playing, for instance, they're learning compromise, leadership, focus, and empathy. When they run an errand they're learning responsibility, efficiency, and problem-solving. These will serve them well, too.

When we deprive kids of independence, we raise Excellent Sheep: kids who are great on paper, but are also anxious and lacking an internal locus of control.

Just last week I was talking to a high school teacher from an affluent suburb where the catchphrase is Yale or jail. The teacher was hoping to figure out how to give younger kids some less helicoptered time—time for kids to just do what interests them, without someone coaching or grading them, precisely so they can spend sometime outside the Yale/Jail rat race—because, she said, "By high school, it's too late. Their anxiety is off the charts."

If parents and educators can just embrace the idea that not every moment has to be oriented toward an external goal, maybe everybody will be able to relax a bit.

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When the Revolution Comes, I’ll Be First Up Against the Bar

A few more drinks for AOC’s "Cocktails for the Revolution" menu.

While I have many disagreements with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), I'm genuinely pleased to see a former bartender with an interest in craft cocktails find a seat in Congress. Partly because I frequently associate politics with the desire to drink, and partly because it means that the second-largest Twitter account in American politics can now be found tweeting out cleverly-named cocktail recipes first thing Monday morning. (It's always the right time to think, or tweet, about cocktails.)

I look forward to trying all of these, especially World Without a Green New Deal. I am rather fond of both ginger beer drinks and bitter liqueurs, so a combination of the two sounds amazing. (Although, as is sometimes the case with her ideas, it will probably take a bit of workshopping since she doesn't specify precisely what's in it.)

Cocktail menus have long played a role in politics—"the fiscal agent" appeared on drink menus prior to Prohibition—so in the interest of furthering this particular form of political conversation, here are a few additional cocktail ideas to drink while waiting for the revolution to come.

Remember the Senate
An old fashioned with Filibuster rye.

Dating back to the early 1800s, the old fashioned is the original cocktail, and the template on which many of today's drinks are built. Although it fell out of favor in its classic form for many decades following Prohibition, it has seen a surge in popularity over the last 15 years—a reminder that some things that seem new and exciting are based on ideas that have been with us for a long time. In this version, I recommend Filibuster rye, a subtle whiskey with notes of vanilla and pepper that has a way of unexpectedly asserting itself in a drink.

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Portland Wants to Ban Hate Groups, Has No Idea How To Define ‘Hate Group’: New at Reason

What constitutes a hate group isn’t objective or easily defined, and Portland’s resolution makes no attempt to clarify.

|||Erin Alexis Randolph/Dreamstime.comErin Alexis Randolph/

The city government of Portland, Oregon, last week proposed a resolution that "condemns white supremacist and alt-right hate groups." How the city plans to enact the condemnation was not addressed during the February 8 meeting, the resolution not yet more than an appeal for Portlanders to take ownership of their historic discrimination and hate and to pledge to do better.

"We've heard this resolution is mostly symbolic, we've heard this resolution will solve nothing," said Mayor Ted Wheeler, continuing a do-something-ism that, last November, saw his emergency ordinance to restrict potentially violent public protests voted down.

"I have concerns about the constitutionality of the protest ordinance," Commissioner Nick Fish said at that time.

"Arguing about the restrictions in court, when they may not even help much on the ground, is not a wise use of taxpayers' money," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

The city council was apparently more comfortable with the current call to action, its five members collectively writing the resolution: a list of seventeen "Whereas…" statements that "condemns hate groups" that fails to state how these groups will be identified (or not). The resolution does, however, contain a plan to educate "all City staff on the history and impact of white supremacy, and how to identify white supremacy," writes Nancy Rommelmann in her latest at Reason.

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Kamala Harris Got So High Smoking Weed in College She Thought She Was Listening To Snoop Dogg and Tupac

The senator is already lying about her record as a drug warrior, but she's also dissembling about what music was around during her college and law school years.

This story has been updated below.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a latter-day convert to legalizing pot. As a prosecutor and California attorney general, she was opposed to legalization. Indeed, as Scott Shackford noted yesterday, in her 2014 race to become Golden State AG, her Republican opponent favored legalization, a position she literally laughed at.

In an interview yesterday with the radio show The Breakfast Club, Harris admitted to smoking weed in college ("I did inhale," she said, laughing, "I just broke news!") and that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur while getting high. Here's the problem: Harris graduated from Howard in 1986 and law school in 1989. Snoop Dogg, then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, didn't get started until 1992 and Tupac's "career did not take off until the early 1990s when he debuted in Digital Underground's 'Same Song' from the soundtrack to the 1991 film Nothing but Trouble."

So either Harris was baked enough to time travel or she hit the bong after being in school. Not cool for a candidate whose slogan is "speaking truth, demanding justice." Most likely, she's just trying to curate a playlist that sends the right message. In this, she's hardly alone. We can recall, for instance, the way in which Al Gore quickly morphed from hosting a Senate panel on "porn rock" in 1985 (which included testimony from his wife Tipper, who headed up the Parents Music Resource Center, a group committed to combating sex, drugs, and satanism in popular entertainment) to becoming the world's most public—if unconvincing—Grateful Dead fan just a few years later. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama dictated an iPod playlist to Rolling Stone that was curiously inclusive of just about every possible demographic that might vote for him. Especially in an age of forced transparency, why do politicians feel a need to do this?

For a deep dive on how Kamala Harris is messaging her not-so-progressive past on a range of issues, go here. Or watch below:

UPDATE (February 13): The Huffington Post, among other sources, question whether Harris was talking about what music she listened in college or whether she was answering a more general question of what sort of music she likes. Due to crosstalk among people on The Breakfast Club, it's not totally clear. HuffPost did reach out to a Harris spokesman and asked what music she listened to in the mid-1980s. "I'm sorry," came the reply, "but I'm not gonna be able to suss out the music she listened to 35 years ago right now. Got a lot of other stuff on my plate."

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A Border Wall Is a Bad Idea, but So Is the "Border Security" Democrats Say They Want

Until we fundamentally reframe the immigration debate in terms of human freedom rather than fear, we're not going to see real reform.

Georgetown Book ShopGeorgetown Book ShopWe all know that leading Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are explicitly against President Trump's demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall or some other form of fencing or barrier on the U.S. border with Mexico. Yet Schumer, Pelosi, and other members of their party are all in favor of "border security" in the form of increasing crackdowns on employers of illegals, installing "new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation," and funding "more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings."

As news is breaking of a possible deal to avoid another government shutdown at week's end—one that includes $1.375 billion for "physical barriers" on the border—it's worth asking whether the Democratic position is really that different than Trump's. They say no to a wall but yes to the basic immigration status quo, one that harshly limits the number of legal migrants from Mexico and other Central American countries, forces employers into the role of checking papers of potential employees, and underwrites a system of internal checkpoints that routinely deports American citizens in immigration sweeps. On immigration, as on many other issues, it turns out that the differences between Republicans and Democrats is more about semantics and small details rather than contrasting principles.

In a smart New York Times op-ed, Daniel Denvir makes the case against "border security" that both Trump and the Democrats are insisting on.

There is plainly no need for more security on the border. Illegal entries to the United States (as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, which the government has long used as a proxy) began to fall at the turn of the century, and have plummeted since 2006. They remain at historic lows today. Those who are coming to the country are often Central Americans fleeing violence that United States policy in the region helped foment.

And when it comes to drugs — a favorite justification of Mr. Trump's for his wall — evidence shows that more "border security" does not stop trafficking. From the 1970s on, every crackdown on a drug-smuggling route, whether it was heroin via the French Connection or cocaine through the Caribbean, has only led to new innovations in the trade that have empowered murderous Mexican cartels. Some scholars even argue that the rise of fentanyl can be traced to drug interdiction.

Denvir notes that back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party campaigned hard on the supposed ills associated with illegal immigration. As Reason's Matt Welch has pointed out, the 1996 Democratic Party platform sounds uncannily like Donald Trump today on a wide variety of law-and-order issues, none more so than immigration ("We have increased the Border Patrol by over 40 percent," crows the document. "In El Paso, our Border Patrol agents are so close together they can see each other").

GallupGallupWhat has happened under Trump is a wholesale reversal of attitudes toward immigrants and immigration. As I noted last fall, a record number of Americans—Republicans along with Democrats—have positive views about immigration and its effects on the country. Denvir is correct to argue that it's time to stop talking about "border security" and to start talking about how to craft an immigration policy that is in step with how the majority of us feel about newcomers.

The border must be demilitarized, which would include demolishing the already-existing wall and dramatically downsizing the Border Patrol. Criminal sanctions on illegal entry and re-entry must be repealed. Opportunities for legal immigration, particularly from Mexico and Central America, must be expanded. The right to asylum must be honored. And citizenship for those who reside here must be a stand-alone cause, unencumbered by compromises that are not only distasteful but also politically ineffectual — and that today would provoke opposition from the nativist right and the grass-roots left.

We can quibble over some of this, but he is, I think, right that we can never get to a good point on immigration policy until the argument is reframed away from questions of "border security." There are a number of powerful arguments in favor of opening the borders, including pragmatic ones (the U.S. economy needs more workers and immigration is the only way to make that happen), comparative ones ("America's share of the foreign born ranks 34th among 50 wealthy countries with a per capita gross domestic product of over $20,000"), and moral ones (law-abiding individuals do not necessarily have a right to welfare but they do have a right of movement; allowing migrants to cross the border fantastically increases their well-being).

Denvir writes from the left (he hosts a podcast for the socialist magazine Jacobin) and the one place where his analysis falters is that he thinks most Democratic politicians "have for far too long let their political opponents define the terms of debate." In fact, they're totally willing accomplices (go read that '96 campaign platform again), partly because they are beholden to organized labor, which has historically argued against more immigration, which is seen (incorrectly) as a threat to native workers' wages. That's also true of Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist senator from Vermont, who has called open borders "a Koch brothers proposal...[that] would make everybody in America poorer... [and do away] with the concept of a nation state."

There's no question that Donald Trump, virtually out of sheer will, made immigration and a border wall a top policy concern when he entered presidential politics in 2015. His positions on immigration are blissfully fact-free (for instance, despite his statements that we are being overrun down Mexico way, apprehensions on the southern border are one-quarter of what they were in 2000), but they also track with longstanding gripes from fellow Republicans and partisan Democrats. We need a fundamentally different conversation about immigration, one that doesn't see the free movement of people as a problem that must be fixed. And that's going to take a change of heart among both the right and the left.

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Here's Why Rand Paul Will Vote 'No' on AG Nominee William Barr

Paul cited Barr's past support for warrantless surveillance. He's right to be worried.

Douglas Christian/ZUMA Press/NewscomDouglas Christian/ZUMA Press/NewscomSen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) said yesterday he'll oppose the confirmation of William Barr, who President Donald Trump has nominated to be the next attorney general.

"I'm a no," Paul told Politico yesterday. "He's been the chief advocate for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. I think that the Fourth Amendment should protect your phone calls and your bank information. People shouldn't be allowed to look at it without a warrant."

It's valid criticism. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted last month, Barr helped oversee a secret phone surveillance program when he led the Justice Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. For years, the feds collected phone records on calls made between people in the U.S. and those in countries connected to alleged drug trafficking activities. (For more on Barr's drug war, read Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's column from December.)

This program would serve as a sort of precursor to the National Security Agency surveillance enabled by the PATRIOT Act following the 9/11 terror attacks. And while Barr was no longer working in the federal government by the time the PATRIOT Act was implemented, he still defended the program, which civil liberties advocates believe violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless searches. Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Barr even suggested the PATRIOT Act didn't go far enough.

Paul, for his part, has always been uneasy regarding Barr's nomination. "I'm concerned that he's been a big supporter of the PATRIOT Act, which lowered the standard for spying on Americans," the Kentucky Republican told Meet the Press in December. "And he even went so far as to say, you know, the PATRIOT Act was pretty good, but we should go much further."

"I can tell you, the first things that I've learned about him being for more surveillance of Americans is very, very troubling, Paul added.

Ultimately, Paul's opposition likely won't mean very much. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and it's hard to imagine that two other GOP senators will betray their party and vote no. Also, Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones has already said he will vote to confirm Barr. The full Senate will likely vote on the nomination this week, according to Politico.

Bonus link: Paul has long been one of the Senate's most ardent critics of the PATRIOT Act. Here he is discussing that issue and others with Reason's Matt Welch in 2015:

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A Better School: New at Reason

Kids do real work at a new kind of school.

3 million kids (mostly boys) are given medication that's supposed to make them sit still and focus.

But what if schools, not kids, are the problem?

One former public school student, Cade Summers, tells John Stossel that he hated the effect of the drugs--that it was like he had been "lobotomized."

Cade's parents took him off the "attention deficit" drugs and sent him to other schools. But Cade hated them all. "I would come home and I would sometimes just cry," Cade tells Stossel.

Then he heard of a new type of school in Austin, Texas. It promised to let kids discuss ideas, and to do real-world work.

But the school, the Academy of Thought and Industry, is a private school that charges tuition.

So Cade started getting up at 3 a.m. to work in a coffee shop to help pay the tuition.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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

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Students Fight to Free Contraception From Vending Machine Laws: Reason Roundup

Plus: Russian "spy" Maria Butina, Baton Rouge cops in blackface, good news for California sex workers, and a new FDA crackdown.

Vengo Labs/FacebookVengo Labs/FacebookSome states ban all over-the-counter drugs from vending machines. For a few years now, emergency contraception has been sold from vending machines at some colleges, providing students convenient access "without stigma," The Verge notes. Schools in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia now have medicine-dispensing machines created by Vengo Labs.

"In a space that's long been dominated by reproductive rights activists and public health advocates, it's strange to hear an emergency contraception vendor discuss the product as though it's no different from a candy bar or pack of dental floss," writes The Verge's Lux Alptraum. "Yet, it's somewhat refreshing, too."

Emergency contraception is basically a concentrated dose of normal hormonal birth control pills, taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. Offering it from campus vending machines is a great development and one that will hopefully catch on. But it also helps highlight the absurdity of still requiring a prescription to get non-emergency contraception.

Campus contraception vending machines are revealing other regulatory barriers, too. Yale University students pushing for one last year found that state law prohibits it. In Connecticut, all over-the-counter medications are banned from being sold via vending machine.

"Similar laws exist around the country and are currently being challenged," notes Alptraum. "This week, a bill was introduced in Maine at the request of students at the University of Southern Maine that would allow some over-the-counter medications—including emergency contraception—to be sold in vending machines."

Under the Maine bill, sponsored by state Rep. Maureen Terry (D-Gorham), vending machines could sell up to 10 different types of over-the-counter drugs.


Is Maria Butina really who federal prosecutors say she is? "On December 13, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation. She faces a possible five-year sentence in federal prison," notes The New Republic. More:

With anti-Russia fervor in the United States approaching levels directed at Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was easy for prosecutors to sell the story of Butina as a spy to the public and the press. But is she really? Last February, Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe, indicted 13 Russian spies for interfering with the 2016 election. And in July, two days before Butina was arrested, Mueller charged twelve more Russians with hacking into email accounts and computer networks belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. It is not inconceivable that Butina is among their ranks.

Yet a close examination of Butina's case suggests that it is not so. Butina is simply an idealistic young Russian, born in the last days of the Soviet Union, raised in the new world of capitalism, and hoping to contribute to a better understanding between two countries while pursuing a career in international relations. Fluent in English and interested in expanding gun rights in Russia, she met with Americans in Moscow and on frequent trips to the United States, forging ties with members of the National Rifle Association, important figures within the conservative movement, and aspiring politicians. "I thought it would be a good opportunity to do what I could, as an unpaid private citizen, not a government employee, to help bring our two countries together," she told me.


The FDA is targeting supplement makers in its latest regulatory crackdown. "The Food and Drug Administration on Monday accused 17 nutritional-supplement makers of selling more than 58 products with improper claims that they can prevent, treat or cure serious diseases, including Alzheimer's," reports the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said these enforcement efforts are part of a larger "plan for implementing one of the most significant modernizations of dietary supplement regulation and oversight in more than 25 years."


California bill would decriminalize condoms, crime-reporting for sex workers. "Right now, we know there are sex workers who are victimized or witness crimes and are scared to come forward because they think they are going to be arrested," said California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). "We want to create every incentive for sex workers to feel safe in reporting crimes."

A new bill introduced by Wiener would stop cops from using condoms as probable cause in prostitution arrests or charging sex workers who come forward to report crimes.


  • That time Baton Rouge cops thought they could fool drug buyers with blackface.
  • Sen. Rand Paul will vote against William Barr, Trump's nominee for attorney general. "He's been the chief advocate for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens," said the Kentucky Republican in a statement. "I think that the Fourth Amendment should protect your phone calls and your bank information. People shouldn't be allowed to look at it without a warrant."
  • U.S. border patrol agents just arrested 330 undocumented migrants around El Paso, most of them "Central American families and unaccompanied juveniles."
  • Looks like another agreement to keep funding the government beyond this Friday has been reached.
  • Trump's travel ban is back in court.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar and President Donald Trump traded a round of childish Twitter barbs about global warming and Trump's hair. (Isn't campaign season going to be fun?) Apparently, it's making sparks fly between Meghan McCain and other hosts of The View, with Joy Behar accusing McCain of having a "hissy fit." (OK, that's kind of fun.) Behar later told audiences "we were going to talk about more politics, but we changed our minds," so instead they talked about a sex dungeon in the basement of a suburban Philadelphia home for sale.

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It's About To Get Even More Expensive To Get Around NYC: New at Reason

New York City's stabs at regulating ride-sharing services have little to do with making travel easier.

Dimon Blr/UnsplashDimon Blr/UnsplashIn December 2018, New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) imposed a minimum wage on drivers working with services like Lyft and Uber. The new rules set a formula for driver compensation that raises the typical gross wage to $27.86 per hour, which the commission says works out to $17 per hour of take-home pay after expenses.

The wage hike comes just a few short months after the New York City Council passed a law freezing the number of ride-share drivers allowed on city streets. The same law gives the TLC power to impose an even lower cap in the years to come, writes Christian Britschgi.

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Brickbat: Well, Look at That

Surveillance cameraDaniele Russo / Dreamstime.comSan Juan County, Washington, Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton dismissed assault and trespassing charges against a man after finding Sheriff Ron Krebs manipulated a courtroom camera to view a defense attorney's notes as well as a juror's notebook. A court official had noticed courtroom cameras, which are normally stationary, tilting towards attorneys' tables. Krebs said the manipulation of the cameras was inadvertent and that it was related to security concerns about the defendant.

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Green New WTF?: Podcast

Untethered from real-world constraints, progressive Democratic policy goes utopian.

Oh, Van. ||| DisneyDisneyIs it kind of missing the point to talk about what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D–N.Y.) Green New Deal (GND) actually contains? That's the meta-question lurking just under the surface of the new Editors' Roundtable version of the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Matt Welch, and Peter Suderman.

The Reason editors talk about the GND's contents, its role in Democratic Party ideological positioning, and how it reflects an increasingly utopian, fact-untethered age of political discourse. Along the way, they also assess recent exertions by possible 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D–Texas), and former Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate Bill Weld. You can listen to the whole thing here:

Audio production by Mark McDaniel.

Drop of Water In the Ocean by Broke For Free is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Relevant links from the show:

"Green New Deal—Same Old Progressive Policies," by Ronald Bailey

"How Much Will the Green New Deal Cost?," by Ronald Bailey

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal Aims to Eliminate Air Travel," by Joe Setyon

"Zoning Makes the Green New Deal Impossible," by Christian Britschgi

"Think the Green New Deal Is Crazy? Blame Intersectionality." By Robby Soave

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls Climate Change 'Our World War II,'" by Nick Gillespie

"Green New Deal Will Try Anything Except Nukes, Hydro, Markets...," by Ronald Bailey

"Kamala Harris Says Her Opposition to Marijuana Legalization Is 'Not True.' We Have the Receipts!" by Scott Shackford

"Kamala Harris Hopes You'll Forget Her Record as a Drug Warrior and Draconian Prosecutor," by Justin Monticello & Katherine Mangu-Ward

"Scandal-Plagued Sen. Amy Klobuchar Announces 2020 Presidential Run," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"Bill Weld So Far Getting Chilly Northeast Reception to Possible GOP Primary Bid," by Matt Welch

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Warren's Presidential Bid Aims to Blame 'the Rich' for America's Problems: New at Reason

It's an inversion of the formula Trump used to get elected by scapegoating illegal immigrants. She's just targeting a different minority group.

Jordan Gale/Polaris/NewscomJordan Gale/Polaris/NewscomSenator Elizabeth Warren, announcing her campaign for president here over the weekend, used the word "rich" or a variation on it—"richer," "richest"—at least nine times in a single 45-minute stump speech.

She called President Donald Trump "the product of a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else."

She said "America's middle class has been deliberately hollowed out" by "the richest families in America." Warren said those richest families, "wanted to be even richer, and they didn't care who got hurt."

She spoke of "too little accountability for the rich, too little opportunity for everyone else."

One of the innovations of Donald Trump's winning 2016 campaign was that a candidate could get pretty far by blaming a lot of America's problems on a group without enough votes to influence the outcome. In Trump's case, the scapegoats were illegal immigrants. Warren appears determined to follow in Trump's footsteps by providing a single visible villainous category of people to blame for our nation's problems. She is betting that these wealthy people, for all her talk about their supposed influence, are a small enough minority that they lack the votes in a one-person, one-vote system to protect themselves.

The more traction Warren's campaign gains, though, the more it undermines her claim that "the rich and powerful have rigged our political system," writes Ira Stoll.

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London To Require GPS Trackers for Certain Residents Convicted of 'Knife Possession'

The latest in London Mayor Sadiq Khan's war on knife ownership.

Susann Prautsch/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomSusann Prautsch/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomIn an attempt to combine his hatred for knife ownership with a disregard for privacy, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced today some knife offenders will be fitted with GPS trackers upon their release from prison.

It's all part of an "innovative pilot scheme" meant "to reduce reoffending," according to a press release from Khan's office. But there are some troubling aspects of the program, which will affect "up to 100 offenders" in four London boroughs that have been "most affected by knife crime."

For one thing, Khan's office notes that the program's subjects will include not only people who committed serious crimes like robbery or grievous bodily harm, but also those convicted of "knife possession."

"Carry[ing] a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge 3 inches long or less," is forbidden by the British government. The same goes for simply owning one of the many knives the U.K. has banned, including switch blades. Violators can face up to four years behind bars, as well as "an unlimited fine."

There are, of course, plenty of good reasons to own a knife, not the least of which is self-defense. The anti-knife folks appear to disagree. "A lot of young people say carrying a knife is for protection, but how does a knife actually PROTECT you?" asks the website for an almost comical anti-knife campaign. "Does it put up a force-field, or make you invincible?" Of course not, but civilians with knives can put up a fight against the criminals who probably weren't going to follow the anti-weapon laws anyway.

Back to London's pilot program: "Under the scheme, offenders who are deemed more likely to reoffend will have their movements automatically checked against the location of reported crimes, with significant matches shared with local police," the press release reads. Khan's office did not explain how officials will determine who is likely to be a repeat offender.

"This innovative pilot will build on the good work of the City Hall funded Violent Crime Taskforce by helping offenders integrate back into society and reducing the risk of reoffending, as well as giving the police the information they need to thoroughly investigate reported crimes," Khan said in a statement.

This all seems very similar a nationwide pilot tagging program that affected some U.K. prisoners released between October 2016 and October 2017. Both programs appear to have been mandatory, and both sent the same message to released offenders: You'd better stay out of trouble, because we're watching everything you do.

This latest program is all the more egregious because it's part of London's misguided war on knives. While the city may have a problem with violence, cracking down on knife ownership is not likely to help. As Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle suggested in a piece for Reason last year, even if the knife crackdown works, criminals will just turn to legal instruments of violence, like lead pipes.

There's no guarantee that the British Government, much like America's, won't wildly overreach in the name of "safety." In the U.K., it's clear which concept police value more. Look no further than a cringeworthy commercial encouraging people to report their fellow citizens for supposedly suspicious behavior, like buying a hammer.