Free Minds & Free Markets

Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2019 March 8-31

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What the Heck, Ben Sasse?

Sasse tarnished his reputation as a thoughtful, independent, constitutional conservative by supporting Trump's emergency declaration.

Sipa USA/NewscomSipa USA/NewscomWhen the Senate voted Thursday afternoon to block President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the southern border, most Republicans stood with the president and opposed the effort.

But none of those "nay" votes seems quite as loud, or discordant, as the one cast by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who is fond of talking about the importance of Congress as a check on runaway executive power but who declined Thursday to play his part in stopping exactly such a power grab. The joint resolution passed easily—59-41, with 12 Republicans supporting it—so Sasse's vote didn't change the outcome, but that really only makes Sasse's opposition more curious.

Even more curious is the statement Sasse provided about the vote.

"We have an obvious crisis at the border," he said, before defending Trump's authority to use the National Emergencies Act of 1976 (NEA) to address it.

"I think that law is overly broad and I want to fix it, but at present Nancy Pelosi doesn't," Sasse said. "As a constitutional conservative, I believe that the NEA currently on the books should be narrowed considerably."

His argument, essentially, is that it's more important to fix the many flaws with the NEA than to block a single instance of executive overreach made possible by the law—a law that he worries will be used by a future Democratic president in more and different ways to trample Congress.

But, c'mon, this isn't a binary choice. Voting to stop Trump's exective flexing doesn't prevent Congress from doing more to limit presidents' authority to use the NEA for politically-motivated national emergencies that really aren't. Sasse could absolutely vote for Thursday's resolution and continue advocating for further congressional action against the NEA—in fact, his position likely would only be bolstered by voting to stop Trump in this instance. That's exactly what a self-identified "constitutional conservative" should do.

Instead, his statement makes it sound like Sasse is in favor of checks and balances for partisan reasons only. That's a shame, because a vote in favor of the resolution would also fit with the concerns Sasse has (repeatedly) expressed about executive overreach and congressional complacency.

Here's Sasse last month in National Review talking about the emergency declaration:

"If we get used to presidents just declaring an emergency any time they can't get what they want from Congress, it will be almost impossible to go back to a Constitutional system of checks and balances. Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power."

And back in August, Sasse went on a lengthy stem-winder during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, prompting me to praise him for calling out how Congress has abdicated its responsibility to be the nation's law-making authority by handing over power to the executive branch.

"Government is about power. Government is not just another word for things we do together," said Sasse. "Almost all the power right now happens off-stage, and that leaves people wondering 'Who is looking out for me?'"

On Thursday, Sasse had a chance put his vote where his mouth is. He didn't do it. His vote might have been due to fealty to the White House (he had dinner with Trump on Wednesday), or due to concern about future attack ads from a Trump-backed primary challenger (he's up for re-election in 2020), or simply a strategic blunder that was forced upon him by a president from his own party.

Regardless, it will make it more difficult to take him seriously the next time he talks about the dangers of executive power and it should be a blow to Sasse's carefully cultivated image as a thoughtful, independent conservative.

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Global Gene-Edited Baby Ban Urged

Why should an international panel of experts get to decide if you will be allowed to gene-edit your kids?

TimeTestTubeBaby1978TimeThe American Medical Association called for a moratorium on experiments that would seek to implant a "test tube baby" into a woman in an editorial in the May 1, 1972, issue of its journal. The association asserted that the ethical implications of this and other experiments in "genetic engineering" should be thoroughly explored before the work is applied to human beings. Ethically speaking, a Harris poll just two years earlier reported that a majority of Americans believed that producing test-tube babies was "against God's will."

Subsequent to the AMA's statement, research on in vitro fertilization (IVF) essentially halted in the United States until British researchers announced the imminent birth of just such a test tube baby—Louise Joy Brown—in July, 1978. The consensus about the morality of IVF then flipped and the Gallup poll a month later reported that 60 percent of Americans approved of IVF and more than half would consider using it if they were infertile.

The first IVF baby born in the United States was Elizabeth Carr in 1981. Since then, more than 8 million babies have been born as a result of IVF and other advanced fertility treatments.

In Nature, a group of eminent researchers are now advocating a moratorium on heritable human genome editing. "We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing—that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children," they write. "By 'global moratorium,'" they hasten to add, "we do not mean a permanent ban."

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Lawsuit Against Suppliers of the Rifle Used in the Sandy Hook Massacre Will Proceed

The Connecticut Supreme Court rejects an absurdly broad definition of "negligent entrustment" but allows a claim based on "unfair trading practices."

WikipediaWikipediaToday the Connecticut Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the company that distributed the gun, and the store that sold it to the perpetrator's mother. The court agreed with the trial judge that the plaintiffs, a survivor of the attack and relatives of nine people murdered at the school, could not sue under a theory of "negligent entrustment." But it said they could sue under the theory that Remington, which owns the company that makes the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle used by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by marketing the gun, a variation on the Colt AR-15, in a way that emphasized its "militaristic and assaultive qualities."

Under CUPTA, people can seek damages for injuries caused by "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce." The Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed with Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis, who in 2016 ruled that the plaintiffs could not sue under CUPTA because they did not have a "consumer or commercial relationship" with the defendant. It also concluded that CUPTA lawsuits are not barred by a federal law that generally protects gun suppliers from civil liability for crimes committed with their products.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which Congress passed in 2005, allows civil actions based on knowing violations of "a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product" when the violations were "a proximate cause" of harm. "Once we accept the premise that Congress did not intend to immunize firearms suppliers who engage in truly unethical and irresponsible marketing practices promoting criminal conduct," the court said, "it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet."

The plantiffs cite these examples of "unethical and irresponsible marketing practices":

The defendants unethically promoted their assault weapons for offensive, military style missions by publishing advertisements and distributing product catalogs that (1) promote the AR-15 as ''the uncompromising choice when you demand a rifle as mission adaptable as you are,'' (2) depict soldiers moving on patrol through jungles, armed with Bushmaster rifles, (3) feature the slogan ''[w]hen you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers,'' superimposed over the silhouette of a soldier holding his helmet against the backdrop of an American flag, (4) tout the ''military proven performance'' of firearms like the XM15-E2S, (5) promote civilian rifles as ''the ultimate combat weapons system,'' (6) invoke the unparalleled destructive power of their AR-15 rifles, (7) claim that the most elite branches of the United States military, including the United States Navy SEALs, the United States Army Green Berets and Army Rangers, and other special forces, have used the AR-15, and (8) depict a close-up of an AR-15 with the following slogan: ''Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.''

The lawsuit argues that such messages would appeal to a troubled young man like Lanza, that they may have influenced him to choose the XM15 from among his mother's guns when he attacked the elementary school, and that the attack would have been less deadly if he had used a different gun. All of those claims are questionable, and it is hard to see how a reasonable jury, even if it found the Bushmaster ads distasteful, could conclude that they were "a proximate cause" of mass murder. But thanks to this ruling, the plaintiffs will have a chance to make that case.

The legal theory that the court rejected, which aimed to take advantage of another exception to the PLCAA's protection, was potentially much more threatening to the gun industry. The plaintiffs argued that supplying military-style rifles to civilians in itself qualifies as negligent entrustment, a cause of action that involves transferring a "dangerous instrumentality" to someone whom the defendant knows or should know is apt to cause harm with it. According to the lawsuit, the business of selling "modern sporting rifles" to the general public is one giant tort, even though these guns are very rarely used to commit crimes.

Judge Bellis concluded in 2016 that such a breathtakingly broad understanding of negligent entrustment is at odds with Connecticut common law and with the PLCAA, which defines the cause of action as "the supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others." The rifle in this case was purchased by Lanza's mother, and there was no reason to suspect she was such a person. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with Bellis: "We expressly reject the plaintiffs' theory that, merely by selling semiautomatic rifles—which were legal at the time—to the civilian population, the defendants became responsible for any crimes committed with those weapons."

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Bernie Sanders Wanted ‘Public Ownership of the Major Means of Production’ in 1976

There’s a word for that….

||| ReasonReasonWe have long known that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has bad economic ideas, which have sadly been mainstreamed within the modern Democratic Party. We have further known that the democratic socialist at the outset of his political career in the 1970s had some, ah, unusual enthusiasms, ranging from widening freeway on-ramps for hitchhikers to the "abolition of all laws which interfere with the Constitutional right of citizens to bear arms"(!). Sanders described himself in 1976 as "clearly anti-capitalistic," and was prone that decade and others hence to embarrassing apologia for communist countries.

Still, reading today's tranche of '70s Bernie-brainfartery from CNN outrage-archeologists Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott is a striking reminder, against our current backdrop of Green-New-Deal-progressive-one-upsmanship, that the foundation of Sanders's political thinking is a pile of truly garbage economics that he refuses to disavow even while distancing himself from some of its particulars.

"I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries," Sanders told the Burlington Free Press in October 1976, at age 35, while making the last of four failed runs for office that decade. "There is a handful of people sitting at the head of the main banks controlling the destiny of underprivileged nations, the country as well as Vermont's economy. That is not tolerable. That control cannot be held by them. We need public control over capital; and the capital must be put to use for public need not for the advancement of those who made the investments."

When pointed out by the interviewer that "That is Socialism," Sanders replied "Of course. But that word has so many connotations—like 'capitalism'—that it has almost ceased to mean anything."

Well, yes and no. Pretty much every definition you can find of socialism, then as now, involves public ownership of the means of production. Which is precisely what 1976 Bernie was advocating.

"We have got to begin to deal with the fact that corporations do not have the god-given right to disrupt the lives of their workers or the economic foundation of their towns simply because they wish to move elsewhere to earn a higher rate of profit," he said in a CNN-unearthed press release in August 1976. "In the long run, the problem of the fleeing corporations must be dealt with on the national level by legislation which will bring about the public ownership of the major means of production and their conversion into worker-controlled enterprises."

Bolding mine, to emphasize #Socialism.

It is true, and important, that contemporary Sanders and his emulators have long since discarded the general means-of-production bit, though occasionally they have to confront the fact that their vast economic wishlists will replace entire industries with a single government provider. But the most damning of the CNN findings is actually the freshest of the quotes, from campaign spokesman Josh Orton:

Throughout his career, Bernie has fought on the side of working people and against the influence of both the powerful ultra-rich and giant corporations who seek only to further their own greed. The record shows that from the very beginning, Bernie anticipated and worked to combat the rise of a billionaire ruling class and the exploding power of Wall Street and multinational corporations. Whether fighting to lower energy prices or expand access to capital for local development, Bernie's first priority has always been—and will always be—defending the interests of working people across the country.

That's a funny way of saying I was wrong.

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Arkansas Legislature Effectively Votes To Abolish Civil Asset Forfeiture

Arkansas joins three other states in requiring police secure a conviction before they can seize a person's property.

Ingram Publishing/NewscomIngram Publishing/NewscomThe Arkansas legislature unanimously passed a significant asset forfeiture reform bill Wednesday. The new law will require police and prosecutors to obtain a criminal conviction in most cases before they can seize someone's property.

The bill, S.B. 308, passed the Arkansas Senate by a unanimous vote last month. On Wednesday, the bill similarly sailed through the Arkansas House by a vote of 93-0. If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas will join four three states—North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska—that have severely curtailed or abolished asset forfeiture.

The new law would require prosecutors to obtain a criminal conviction to forfeit property. There are a list of exceptions, however, including if the property owner is deceased, deported, flees the jurisdiction or fails to challenge the forfeiture, or if the property is abandoned.

Jenna Moll, the deputy director of the Justice Action Network, a criminal justice advocacy group, called the passage of the bill "a watershed moment for forfeiture reform efforts in the United States."

"To see two chambers of the Arkansas legislature pass this legislation unanimously is truly remarkable," Moll says. "Arkansas has now truly set the marker for other states seeking to protect property rights and improve due process for their citizens."

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never charged or convicted of a crime. Law enforcement groups say it is a vital tool that disrupts drug trafficking and other organized crime by targeting the flow of ill-gotten money.

However, civil liberties groups argue there are far too few procedural protections for innocent property owners, who may lose their car, their cash, and even their house.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum reported in 2016, an Arkansas highway trooper seized $20,000 from a man during a traffic stop on suspicion that it was drug money, even though there was no evidence whatsoever of illegal activity.

The proceeds of asset forfeiture are often then split between local prosecutors' offices and police departments. The federal government also partners with state and local police on forfeiture cases, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Justice Department's asset forfeiture fund.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that state law enforcement agencies rake in tens of millions of dollars a year through asset forfeiture.

Arkansas law enforcement agencies seized nearly $88 million in cash from 2010-18, about $9.7 million per year, according to data collected by Jeremy Horpedahl, assistant professor of economics at the University of Central Arkansas.

That does not include the value for roughly 4,900 vehicles, at least 3,300 weapons and 1,000 other pieces of property confiscated in that span, according to numbers provided by Horpedahl, who has been tracking the data since a former student wrote a thesis on civil asset forfeiture in the state.

Numerous investigations and reports have found that, in addition to big cash hauls and flashy speedboats, police often use asset forfeiture for petty seizures against everyday people, not cartel lords. Asset forfeiture also disproportionately targets minorities and poor people who don't have the resources to challenge seizures in court. A recent investigation by local newspapers in South Carolina revealed that black men accounted for 65 percent of all citizens targeted for civil forfeiture in the state, despite making up only 13 percent of the total state population.

More than half of all U.S. states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform over the past decade in response to bipartisan concerns.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision that the Eighth Amendment's protections against excessive fines and fees applied to the states. The case, Timbs v. Indiana, challenged the seizure of a $42,000 Land Rover—four times the maximum fine for the drug crime that resulted in the seizure.

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12 Republicans Join Dems To Block Trump's National Emergency at the Border

A clear rebuke of Trump, though mainly a symbolic one

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/NewscomThe Senate voted Thursday to terminate President Donald Trump's use of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The final vote was 59-41 in favor of a joint resolution blocking Trump's emergency declaration, with 12 Republicans joining all 45 Democrats—as well as Angus King (I–Maine) and Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), who caucus with Democrats—in voting yes. The resolution, originally introduced in the House by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D–Tex.), is fairly simple. "Pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act," it reads, "the national emergency declared by the finding of the hereby terminated."

The resolution passed the House last month in a 245–182 vote. Just 13 House Republicans joined the entire Democratic caucus to vote in favor of the legislation; only one Republican congressman, Michigan's libertarian-leaning Justin Amash, co-sponsored it.

Trump's national emergency seeks to redirect $3.6 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget toward construction of the border wall. He may have the legal authority to do so under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which gives the president extremely broad powers, even if his reasoning leaves much to be desired.

Still, his use of emergency powers has raised concerns from those who are worried about the precedent of a president bypassing Congress, which only agreed to allocate $1.375 billion in wall funding, in order to accomplish his agenda.

"I have concerns about it," Sen. Kevin Cramer (R–N.D.) told Reason last month, referring to Trump's national emergency declaration. "I frankly think it's unnecessary, but we'll see."

The Senate's vote to reject the emergency declaration was not surprising. In the days and weeks leading up to the vote, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, all said they would vote to block it, citing concerns about Trump's action on constitutional grounds. Tillis reversed his stance from the Senate floor Thursday, though at that point enough Republicans had said they would vote yes to ensure passage.

"I can't vote to give the president the power to spend money that hasn't been appropriated by Congress," Paul explained in a speech. Those four senators' public comments essentially guaranteed the resolution's passage, as Republicans currently hold just a three-seat majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

"What is clear in the Senate is that there will be enough votes to pass the resolution of disapproval, which will then be vetoed by the president and then in all likelihood the veto will be upheld in the House," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) said earlier this month, according to Politico.

Trump has indeed said he'd veto the resolution, reaffirming his intentions in a tweet Thursday afternoon:

Trump's tweet came hours after a plan by Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) to limit Trump's national emergency powers seemed to fall apart. On Tuesday, Lee introduced legislation that would have kept Trump's current national emergency intact, while automatically terminating future emergency declarations within 30 days.

Lee's bill didn't deal with the problem at hand, and it would still allow the president to re-declare a national emergency every 30 days. But both Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) opposed Lee's legislation, prompting the Utah senator to say he would vote to block the emergency declaration, according to The New York Times.

Later Thursday morning, Trump said in a tweet he would "support" congressional efforts "at a later date" to change the law regarding national emergency declarations. "But today's issue is BORDER SECURITY and Crime!!!" he said.

Lee's announcement, meanwhile, solidified chances that the resolution would pass in the Senate. Still, the Senate's move to reject Trump on this issue was largely symbolic. In order to override a presidential veto, two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress are necessary. The 59 senators who rejected Trump's declaration are far less than the 67 needed. It's also highly unlike that enough House Republicans will vote to override the veto.

"It's not like this signals some big break from the president going forward," one GOP senator told CNN prior to the vote. "But it is an example, one maybe we've avoided the last few years, that we can push back and send a message when we need to."

Before the Senate voted, Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) also said he would vote yes on the resolution. "This is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core," he said in a statement. "For the Executive Branch to override a law passed by Congress would make it the ultimate power rather than a balancing power." Sen. Lamar Alexander (R–Tenn) made a similar announcement from the Senate floor, and Sens. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), Rob Portman (R–Ohio), Roy Blunt (R–Mo.), and Jerry Moran (R–Kan.) said they would vote yes as well. Sens. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Roger Wicker (R–Miss.) also voted in favor.

The White House, meanwhile, has continued to defend the emergency declaration. "What we want to see the Senate do this week is stand with the president, to stand with the president's declaration of a national emergency," Vice President Mike Pence said in a Fox News interview that aired Thursday morning. "A vote against President Trump's national emergency is a vote against border security. A vote against the president's national emergency declaration is a vote to deny the humanitarian and security crisis that's happening at our Southern border."

This post has been updated with President Trump's response to the Senate vote.

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Congressional Democrats Reintroduce LGBT-Protecting Equality Act

But is it actually even needed?

Rainbow wallKmitu / Dreamstime.comCongressional Democrats are again attempting to amend federal civil rights laws to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity with the reintroduction of the Equality Act.

The Equality Act would add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of classes protected under federal law from discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means it would be against federal law to discriminate in employment, public accommodations, housing, education, bank practices, jury service, and similar areas on the basis of somebody being gay or transgender.

There's more to the bill than that, but the antidiscrimination provisions are going to get the bulk of the oxygen.

The Equality Act dramatically expands what the federal government counts as a "public accommodation" under the Civil Rights Act. When the Civil Rights Act was passed, it specifically limited the definition to areas where African Americans were being denied service in wide and broad patterns—hotels, gas stations, movie theaters, and the like. The law was narrowly tailored. The Equality Act dramatically expands this definition of "public accommodation" to cover any business in the country that provides a "good, service, or program."

That matters, as far as this whole tiresome wedding cake fight goes, because under the current federal definition of public accommodations, services like photographers and florists do not qualify. So even if sexual orientation were added, for example, the federal government still couldn't force a photographer to shoot a gay couple's wedding.

And while the Equality Act doesn't alter the exceptions in the Civil Rights Act for religious organizations, it specifically notes that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 cannot be invoked as a defense for discriminating under these laws. The American Civil Liberties Union sees this as a selling point.

Every single one of the 500 estimated Democratic candidates for president are going to line up behind this legislation. There have been a handful of Republican lawmakers who have declared support for it as well, but so far, NBC notes, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the only Republican on board. With Republicans in control of the Senate, the Equality Act seems unlikely to get much of anywhere.

It's possible that introducing this bill again (it was introduced in 2015 and 2017 without much luck) is not about changing the law so much as getting Republicans on record about LGBT issues in advance of a heated general election. And if that is indeed the case, it is its own kind of progress: Less than 20 years ago, Republicans were using LGBT topics as a wedge issue against Democratic leaders, and Democrats were trying to thread a centrist needle.

It's also worth reminding people that we used to have a bill known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a much less sweeping proposal than the Equality Act. For years, Democratic lawmakers tried (and failed) to pass the bill through both houses. While they were doing that, the culture continued to change in such a way that more and more citizens and businesses voluntarily adopted the practices mandated by ENDA: That employers shouldn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Were it introduced today, ENDA very well could be passable. But it was switched out and replaced with the much further-reaching Equality Act, which serves as both a reminder that free exchange is a more powerful cultural force than fiat, and that Congress is always either two steps behind or overreaching.

The Equality Act has the feel of a get-out-the-vote effort aimed at LGBT voters. The campaign for the bill is heavily focused on how many people are technically "unprotected" because not every state covers sexual orientation or gender identity in its own antidiscrimination laws. But saying that 8.1 million people are "unprotected" from antidiscrimination laws (as The Williams Institute does here) is a far cry from saying that 8.1 million people are facing actual discrimination. Framing the number that way is intended to frighten LGBT people.

While such discrimination does still happen, it's abundantly clear that America's cultural attitude on LGBT issues has shifted in the direction of tolerance and inclusion. As a society, Americans now find those examples of employment discrimination shocking and pretty gross. We use cultural pressure to attempt to change these practices, and often it works.

That then leaves some deep concerns with why the bill so dramatically expands what counts as a public accommodation. Broadening the definition in the way this bill does will spur litigation against small businesses and employers, but it won't fix a problem that's getting better by the day.

Read the bill for yourself here.

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Democrat Senator on Trump's Enthusiasm for Eminent Domain: 'Language You’d Expect Out of Some Autocrat'

“What a betrayal of conservative principles this is,” Sen. Michael Bennet says.

Jeff Malet Photography/NewscomJeff Malet Photography/NewscomAmid the debate over President Donald Trump's use of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the issue of eminent domain often doesn't get the attention it deserves.

While Reps. Will Hurd (R–Texas) and Justin Amash (R–Mich.) have raised serious concerns about the wall's implications for private property rights, many other members of Congress, including self-proclaimed small-government conservatives, don't see this as a major issue.

But it is.

The federal government owns less than a third of the land on the southern border. The rest belongs to the states, Native American tribes, and private individuals. Most of the border land in Texas is private property, and as some of those landowners explained to Reason TV, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press, they don't plan to go down without a fight.

If those landowners can't count on the majority of congressional Republicans, they can at least count on folks like Sen. Michael Bennet (D–Colo.), who criticized Trump in a Senate floor speech on Thursday for his imminent use of eminent domain. Bennet's comments came as the Senate debated a measure the House has already passed that would block Trump's national emergency declaration.

"The president couldn't get Mexico to pay for the wall. He couldn't get a Republican House and a Republican Senate to pay for the wall," Bennet said in a fiery speech. "So now he's violating the Constitution to steal money that has been appropriated by this branch." Trump's national emergency declaration seeks to repurpose $3.6 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget for the wall. Congress only voted to allocate $1.375 billion for this purpose.

"He's stealing that money from the Department of Defense, from our war fighters, from the United States military," Bennet said, "to expropriate private land held by American farmers and ranchers, many of whom, I assume, are Republicans, through eminent domain."

"If any person tried to do that in Colorado, there's not a person in our delegation that would support that: Stealing our farms and ranches," he said indignantly.

Bennet went on to cite several of Trump's past comments on the issue of eminent domain. (For more on Trump's terrible record on property rights, read the Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin.) Eminent domain "is used incredibly rarely because most people don't want the government deciding whether they can live in their house, or on their farm, or on their ranch," Bennet said.

In 2015, Trump called eminent domain "a wonderful thing" and suggested that people who complain over having to sell their homes "just want money." In February 2016, Trump told Breitbart that "we are going to need a little eminent domain to get that wall built, just so you understand."

"You need eminent domain. You have to take certain areas, OK?" Trump said at the time.

That 2016 quote, Bennet said, is "the kind of language you'd expect out of some autocrat someplace, not in a democracy."

The Colorado Democrat then turned the table on Republicans who support Trump's national emergency declaration. "That is what you are supporting when you vote with him on this bill," he said. "I don't know how anybody goes home and defends…misappropriating money that's been dedicated to the Department of Defense, to our military—to take that money extra-constitutionally and use it to take the property of law-abiding American citizens."

"What a betrayal of conservative principles this is," he said. "And I don't understand it—why people would cash in their conservative principles so cheaply."

Trump, for his part, has continued to defend the idea of using eminent domain to build the wall. "[Lawsuits are] not going to hold [the wall] up because under the military version of eminent domain and under, actually, homeland security we can do it before we even start," he said in January.

Federal law does allow for military department secretaries to "acquire any interest in land" if "the acquisition is needed in the interest of national defense."

Amash, meanwhile, has introduced legislation that would essentially require the federal government to offer landowners "just compensation" before seizing their property to make room for the wall. This bill, however, appears destined to go nowhere.

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Alaska Finalizes Rules for the Country's First State-Licensed Cannabis Lounges

In states where you can legally buy pot, finding places where you can legally use it is still a challenge.

herbanplanet.comherbanplanet.comAlaska could become the first state to license cannabis consumption sites as soon as this summer under regulations that received final approval this week. The regulations, which allow licensed pot shops to seek a special endorsement that permits on-site consumption in a segregated room or outdoor space, address a longstanding problem that is especially acute for visitors from other states and tenants with weed-unfriendly landlords: After you legally purchase marijuana, where can you legally use it?

Since every state where recreational marijuana use is legal prohibits public consumption, there are few options aside from private residences. Even in Las Vegas, which sees 43 million visitors a year and is home to the world's largest cannabis emporium, tourists have to furtively consume the marijuana they openly buy.

Denver, where marijuana merchants have been legally serving recreational customers since 2014, interprets the state's ban on "open and public" consumption very broadly. Last summer the city suddenly cracked down on marijuana tour buses that had been one of the few officially tolerated alternatives. Under a local ballot initiative approved by voters in 2016, the city is beginning to experiment with strictly regulated "cannabis consumption establishments," but they cannot also sell cannabis, and so far only one such license has been issued.

California's 2016 legalization initiative allowed locally licensed on-site consumption, and there several places in San Francisco where you can both buy and use marijuana. But Alaska is the first place where the state government will issue licenses for that purpose. The regulations allow local governments to ban cannabis lounges within their borders or restrict the forms of consumption.

"This is something that's not happening anywhere else in the U.S. yet," Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, told the Associated Press. "As we start to develop this, people are really looking at us, so I know that everybody wants to get it right."

Eric Riemer, co-owner of the Stoney Moose, a pot shop in Ketchikan, a popular tourist destination, told A.P. he cannot allow indoor consumption because state rules require a detached structure for that but is hoping to create an outdoor space that will be shielded from public view (and smell). "Our whole plan is to be courteous to the people that are around us, to the visitors to town, be respectful of the area and our neighbors," he said. "And the way to do that is to just design the heck out of this place so that it's absolutely as close to minimal impact as possible on our neighborhood."

Maine's 2016 legalization initiative envisioned "retail marijuana social clubs," but the state still has not created a system for licensing and regulating retailers, and approval of clubs has been postponed until 2023. In Massachusetts, which also legalized recreational use in 2016, pot shops began to open last fall, but legislators there, like their counterparts in Maine, are delaying approval of on-site consumption. Nevada, another state where voters approved legalization in 2016, does not allow on-site consumption, but cannabis lounges that do not sell marijuana seem to be legal, and Las Vegas may finally start licensing them later this year.

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New York City's Minimum Wage Law for Rideshare Drivers Might Actually Be Reducing Drivers' Pay

New court documents suggest that the city's rideshare regulations have backfired in a big way

MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS/NewscomMIKE SEGAR/REUTERS/NewscomNew York City's new minimum pay rules for rideshare drivers were intended to boost driver income, but they may be having the exact opposite effect.

On Tuesday, rideshare company Juno—which is currently suing city regulators over the new pay rules—filed court documents showing that their bookings are down some 30 percent for the month of February (when the new pay rules went into effect) and that average hourly compensation has fallen by 17 percent.

"Costs have increased for riders, demand for Juno's services has decreased, and hourly earnings for Juno's drivers have fallen," reads a memorandum filed by Juno, which warns that these effects "will only get worse" so long as the rules remain in place.

The decline is particularly concerning, Juno CEO Ronen Ben David wrote in a separate court filing, because the company had been seeing business increase prior to the implementation of the new pay rules. Juno performs about 5 percent of rideshare rides in New York City, compared to about 20 percent for Lyft and 70 percent for Uber.

Lyft, which is also suing New York City regulators, reports that they, too, are seeing a decline in rides booked though their app, although it has not been as severe as the hit reported by Juno. Lyft estimates that the city's rideshare industry could see a $50 million decline in bookings in 2019.

In August of last year, the New York City Council passed a bill requiring the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC)—the regulator responsible for the rideshare industry and the target of Lyft and Juno's lawsuits—to come up with pay standards that would raise drivers' earnings to $17.22 an hour.

In December, the TLC did just that, issuing new driver pay rules built around a complicated formula that factors in an individual trip's time and length as well as a company's utilization rate (the amount of time drivers actually have a passenger in the car.)

In their lawsuits, Juno and Lyft object to the commission's rule on two grounds.

The first objection made by both companies is the way the TLC's driver pay formula employs the utilization rate. Without getting too in the weeds, the higher a company's utilization rate, the less it has to pay per-trip to its drivers. That advantages companies like Uber and Via, which both have higher utilization rates, by allowing them to pay drivers less for the exact same trip.

The Juno suit argues that companies with lower utilization rates will have to raise fares to cope with these higher costs, which scares away riders, further lowering their utilization rate and raising their per-trip costs, which requires more fare increases. The company says this vicious cycle will ultimately kill off smaller services.

Lyft also objects to the TLC's formula calculating pay on a per-trip basis, which the company argues both violates the city council law establishing pay standards, and creates distortions in the market.

A report from MIT Professor Catherine Tucker, filed as part of Lyft's lawsuit, argues that a rigid per-trip formula prevents companies from adjusting fares and driver pay to respond to changes in demand throughout the day.

Tucker's report also argues that the TLC's current formula rewards drivers for completing short, slow trips, as opposed to longer or faster rides—essentially creating an incentive for drivers to service riders in dense Manhattan at the expense of commuters in the city's outer boroughs. That incentive works against another of the city's goals, which is to reduce congestion in Manhattan. Starting in February, for-hire vehicles entering Manhattan have to pay a new fee designed to limit car trips on the island's gridlocked streets. Traditional cabs pay $2.50 per trip, while trips performed by rideshare companies are slapped with a $2.75 fee. Shared rides performed on UberPool or Lyft Line pay only a $.75 fee.

Disentangling the effects of the congestion surcharge and the fare hikes that followed the new minimum pay rules is difficult. Their combined effect is that rideshare trips are costing more, and people are taking fewer of them.

Thanks to perverse incentives contained in the TLC's pay rules, the decline in trips will likely not net out any improvements in congestion. As the market for rideshare rides shrinks, total driver compensation could start to fall as well. According to Juno's court filings, it already has.

Juno and Lyft's lawsuits are still ongoing. In February a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the TLC's new pay formula, but Lyft at least has chosen to continue to comply with the rules as its case works its way through the courts.

For now, it appears that if these new regulations "help" anyone, it will be Uber and the incumbent taxi industry and taxi medallion owners; many of whom have refinanced their medallions so many times that they are essentially underwater on an investment that is devalued by rideshare competition. There are already clear losers: passengers and smaller rideshare companies trying to earn their business.

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Uber Pays Drivers $20 Million to Settle Contractor Dispute

The drivers argued they should be classified as employees, not contractors.

Mohamed Ahmed Soliman | Dreamstime.comMohamed Ahmed Soliman | Dreamstime.comUber is out $20 million. The ride-hailing company has agreed to settle a six-year-old lawsuit with drivers who argued they should be classified as employees—not contractors—and therefore deserve benefits and wage protections.

Although Uber will hand a decent payout to the 13,600 drivers named in the suit, the company will not change their employment status. That's a victory for its freelance-based business model amid an onslaught of similar lawsuits.

Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the drivers, calls the settlement "substantial." Drivers will pocket about 37 cents for each mile they've driven for Uber, which, on average, will amount to more than $1,000 per person.

Still, the company just avoided a major roadblock. If drivers transitioned from contractors to employees, Uber would be obliged to provide a minimum wage, paid time off, worker's compensation, and reimbursement for expenses, among other things. That would upend the app's flexible approach and send overhead costs through the roof—making the $20 million payout look like pennies in comparison. Massive driver layoffs and stratospheric ride prices would inevitably follow.

Vulnerable populations stand to lose the most from reduced access to rideshare opportunities. In New York City, for instance, a staggering 90 percent of app-based drivers are first-generation immigrations who speak English as a second language. Uber's current driver qualifications—they must be 21 years of age, have a valid driver's license, and own a decent car—allow large swaths of people to get ahead on the ride-hailing app. But the barriers to entry would be much higher if the company were encumbered with such heavy costs per driver.

Fewer drivers would beget fewer rides and higher prices. Individuals in thinly populated, poorer communities would have a harder time getting around, as the remaning Ubers would likely huddle in bustling areas where surge pricing ensures a better payoff. And increased fees would render the app prohibitively expensive for some, particularly those who already cannot afford a taxi.

Despite Uber's success this week, its troubles are far from over. A California Supreme Court ruling in April of last year made it increasingly burdensome for the company to justify classifying its drivers as freelancers. Thousands of claims are still awaiting arbitration. And several other gig-economy giants—including Lyft, Amazon, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Handy—have similar lawsuits pending.

But Uber won't be pumping the brakes anytime soon, as it intends to go public later this year. In a statement, a spokesman said that the company "has changed a lot since 2013," citing improved driver experience through in-app tipping and a new rewards program. It has also promised to alter the process by which it removes operators from the app and plans to institute driver remediation classes as well as an appeals procedure.

"We're pleased to reach a settlement on this matter and we'll continue working hard to improve the quality, security and dignity of independent work," the spokesman said.

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Universities Play the Victim in Admissions Scandal, but They’re Far From Blameless: New at Reason

Higher education is a moral mess.

Darren4155/Dreamstime.comDarren4155/Dreamstime.comUniversities say they are the victims of college admissions fraud scandals. At first glance, they're right. But digging a bit deeper, the schools are far from blameless. The most recent college admissions scandal involving celebrities and other elites reveals a number of unflattering things about academic business ethics.

It's no real surprise this sort of thing happens. Universities suffer from a principal-agent problem. Employees are supposed to serve the institution's interest, but often professors, administrators, staff, and students can serve themselves at the expense of everyone else. For example, the more financially needy a department is, the more frequently its classes appear as gen-ed requirements. There's little evidence these gen-ed classes teach the skills they're supposed to, so the best explanation is they exist to inflate departmental budgets at the expense of students.

Elite universities present their admissions standards as a screening mechanism to ensure that students can cut it an intellectually challenging classroom environment. Yet evidence showing that students study and learn little, engage in a pervasive culture of cheating, and a decline in scholarly rigor among faculty provide reasons to doubt this claim. Despite the relative ease of coursework, admissions remains an extremely scarce commodity at elite schools. We should expect the universities implicated in the most recent bribery scandal to play the victim, even when their own discretionary admissions policies and corrupt officials helped to make it possible, write Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness in their latest for Reason.

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NYC Bill Would Outlaw Unfair Terminations in the Fast Food Industry

The proposal comes as restaurants struggle with the city's new $15 minimum wage.

Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS/NewscomSergei Karpukhin/REUTERS/Newscom

In recent years, the Big Apple's fast food industry has trailblazed for employee protections and higher wages, particularly as the driving force behind the "Fight for 15." It's a battle they won with the passage of New York's $15 minimum wage law. Now they're setting their sights on eliminating unfair firings.

"Workers have told me they've been fired for no reason at all," Democratic City Councilman Brad Lander, who introduced a bill to ban the practice in the fast food industry, told The Guardian. "Should employers have the right to fire people for any reason, including the most trivial reasons? Most people would say that's not a right people should have."

Proponents say that, in dismissing employees, fast-casual restauranteurs should need to show "just cause"—that is, proof of serious misconduct. But what compromises that misconduct is somewhat ambiguous. Under Lander's legislation, workers will be able to appeal firings via arbitration, a complaint to the Department of Consumer Affairs, or with a lawsuit.

Ironically, some of those terminations are likely the result of the movement's last legislative victory, with restaurants purging jobs in the wake of the city's minimum wage hike. Fifty-three percent of New York's "limited service" establishments—otherwise known as fast-casual spots—plan to eliminate positions this year in response to the wage increase, according to a survey by the New York Hospitality Alliance. That comes after 50 percent did so in 2018.

"There's a misperception about the profitability of restaurants in general," Chris Westcott, CEO of Rosa Mexicano, tells Eater NY. "Everyone thinks we're rolling in it. And it's tight. There's a limit to what we can spend."

Westcott isn't wrong: The restaurant industry operates on slim profit margins, which peak around 4 percent, according to the financial information company Sageworks. So significant hikes to the minimum wage often necessitate staff reductions, as businesses struggle under the weight of increased labor costs. But employers may find themselves in a costly arbitration process for terminating employees they can't afford to keep, according to Michael Lotito, a labor attorney who represents the restaurant industry.

"I don't know how a small business owner would be able to survive in the circumstances of that bill," he tells Reason. While layoffs for economic reasons are hypothetically permitted under "just cause," there is quite a bit of uncertainty as to how the law would work in practice—meaning cash-strapped franchise owners could be susceptible to lawsuits for making bottom-line business decisions.

"It is that fear that will inhibit job growth, job expansion," Lotito says. That's especially true if its sister bill also passes, championed by Democratic councilmember Adrienne Adams: It would require that all staff layoffs be made in order of seniority, regardless of employee performance. "What you'll wind up doing is just buying everybody out, because it's going to be too expensive to arbitrate everything," Lotito predicts.

Employing people will be so expensive, he says, that many business owners will likely pivot to automation. Fast food employees are particularly vulnerable to advances in technology, as more than 70 percent of their tasks are easily automatable, according to a report by the Brookings Institution. McDonald's, Panera, and KFC have already started integrating self-service kiosks, a trend that would snowball if employers feared a stream of lawsuits.

The National Restaurant Association echoes those sentiments. "Imposing burdensome and discriminatory legislation that only targets quick-service operators would greatly impact operations of New York City restaurants, making it harder for New Yorkers to pursue a rewarding career in the industry," a spokesperson for the group tells Reason.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of limited service establishments plan to cut hours this year in response to increasing labor costs, according to the New York Hospitality Alliance survey. But if Lander's proposal passes, they'll be restricted from doing that too. The bill prohibits fast-casual businesses from reducing an employee's hours by 15 percent or more unless they can furnish an acceptable excuse.

While the bill is an unprecedented move, New York restaurants are no strangers to city micromanagement. A law passed in 2017 that set rules on how employers can schedule staff is costing companies "thousands of dollars a pay period" in fines, according to Lotito, because the rules are "impossible to comply with."

In that vein, the unfair firings bill is just the latest in a long line of bad ideas, the totality of which will likely force many small business owners to leave the Big Apple entirely. "It's not just this one statute," says Lotito. "It's the chorus of statutes. It's the message that's being sent, that we are more progressive than other cities—and if you don't like it, you can leave."

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Licensing Reform Opponents Say Unlicensed Barbers Would Be as Dangerous as Unlicensed Chefs. Chefs Aren't Licensed.

Texas barbers and cosmetologists turn to fearmongering.

John Margolies/LOC/Cover Images/NewscomJohn Margolies/LOC/Cover Images/NewscomBarbers and cosmetologists in Texas warn that repealing mandatory licenses for their professions would be as dangerous as having unlicensed chefs preparing your meals.

Chefs are not, in fact, subject to government licensing.

"Would you just sit down and just let anyone cut your hair? Or, would you allow your daughters, or your wife go out and just have anybody do their hair? I don't think so," hairdresser Lyn Doan tells News 6. "Are you just going to let anybody cook your food, and eat it, and not know if the kitchen is clean or not? I mean this is ridiculous, I've never heard of such a thing."

It certainly is ridiculous, but not in the way Doan means. Indeed, her argument captures both the absurdity of claiming that barber licenses are necessary to protect public health and the sheer desperation of licensed barbers and cosmetologists to maintain their protectionist regime. As in other places, Texas barbers and cosmetologists are stoking unfounded fears because there really isn't a good, practical argument for forcing cosmetologists to have 1,500 hours of training—as is currently required in Texas, where emergency medical technicians are required to have only 120 hours of training.

But the comparison to chefs is a good one—though again, not in the way that Doan means. That's a profession where there is an obvious interest in protecting public health, but that goal is accomplished through a combination of government regulations and market mechanisms that do not include one-size-fits-all licensing laws.

When you go to a restaurant—whether it's a McDonald's or the most expensive steakhouse in Texas—the lack of licensing laws for chefs doesn't mean that you're "going to let anybody cook your food," as Doan puts it. You're trusting that, first and foremost, the restaurant has a strong incentive not to employ chefs who are bad at their jobs or a danger to your health. At higher-caliber establishments, you're also assuming that the chefs have completed higher levels of training and have achieved certain professional certification. (Some places may even advertise as much as a way to get you in the door.) And, of course, the government plays a background role by inspecting the facilities for cleanliness.

In other words, there's a market for chefs that sorts them based on their skills, experience, and technique. Removing licensing for barbers and cosmetologists would likely produce a similar arrangement. People who want to cut hair and can show they know the basics of how to do it could work at the hair-styling equivalent of a fast food joint, while those with more training and better skills would be in demand at upscale salons and could demand higher pay. Private certifications could replace licensing as a way for workers to signal their skills to prospective employers and clients, and the government could reduce its role to inspections that regulate the physical space where barbering takes place.

To really understand how ridiculous the barber and cosmetology licensing regimes are, flip the whole analogy on its head. Applying the same regulatory process to chefs would create a world where flipping burgers would require a degree from a restaurant school. It's possible, I suppose, that forcing all chefs to have that high level of training might have minuscule benefits to public health. But it would make it much more difficult to find a job in the food service industry—and consumers would probably have to pay $25 for a Happy Meal.

Abolishing barber and cosmetology licensing won't cause a scourge of public health problems, but it would provide greater economic opportunities.

"Cosmetology is a field in which the consumer can be trusted to seek out the best service provider without any serious risk of harm. There are several vocations in Texas that pertain to aspects of public safety like car mechanics, personal trainers, and electrologists that are not required by the state to be licensed," state Rep. Matt Shaheen (R–Plano), who is sponsoring the licensing reform bill, tells News 6. "Texans that are willing to join the workforce and compete—especially low income Texans looking to improve their lives—should face the fewest obstacles possible, and by requiring a cosmetology license, we're creating unnecessary obstacles for those who want to earn a living."

He's right. Requiring one-size-fits all licensing for Texan barbers and cosmetologists makes as much sense as requiring that the guy making your burrito at Chipotle has as much training as a line cook at an establishment with a Michelin star.

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Senators Say They Didn't Authorize This War in Yemen and the U.S. Must Stop Supporting It: Reason Roundup

Plus: a Rand Paul add-on makes sure measure doesn't inadvertently authorize new wars, Dick's stores are dropping guns, campus art controversy, and good 8A news

Yuri Gripas/Reuters/NewscomYuri Gripas/Reuters/NewscomThe Senate yesterday approved a resolution to end U.S. support for bombings and other acts of war in Yemen. With a 54–46 vote, lawmakers said the U.S. must block further military support for Saudi Arabia's and the United Arab Emirates' bombings and other acts of aggression in Yemen.

Congress never authorized the U.S. to enter this conflict. Yet as Mike Lee (R–Utah) said, "We have been supporting and in some case actively participating in this war." He was one of seven Republicans in the Senate who voted for the resolution, which invokes the War Powers Act. (The others were Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Todd Young of Indiana.)

"Since March 2015, members of the United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, including providing to the Saudi-led coalition aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling," the resolution states.

Yet "no specific statutory authorization for the use of United States Armed Forces with respect to the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen has been enacted, and no provision of law explicitly authorizes the provision of targeting assistance or of midair refueling services to warplanes of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates that are engaged in such conflict."

"Nothing in this joint resolution shall be construed to influence or disrupt any military operations and cooperation with Israel," another section explicitly stipulates.

"Debate on the resolution, as in the past, centered on arguments that the US involvement isn't technically a war in and of itself, and that ending the war would be bad for Israel," writes Jason Ditz at

The resolution came with an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which seeks to ensure that no language in the bill inadvertently authorizes any other wars. An alternative amendment by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), aiming to keep the US involved in the name of saving American civilians from conceivable missile fire, narrowly failed.

This is the second time in a month that Congress has voted on a War Powers Act challenge to the Yemen War, with the House having had such a vote in mid-February. The House will still have to reconcile itself to another vote, however, because Senate leadership prevented debate on the House version and forced war opponents to start with a fresh challenge.

The White House has said President Donald Trump will veto the bill. As of now, it has far from the two-thirds majorities it would require in both houses to overcome the veto.


Police moonlight as art critics:

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Has Phony Betomania Already Bitten the Dust?

Legitimately interesting yet eminently mockable GenXer Beto O'Rourke joins the 2020 presidential scrum.

In retrospect, the biggest surprise was that Beto O'Rourke did not announce his long-expected (though recently denied) presidential candidacy last week in his native habitat of South by Southwest, while he was promoting an HBO documentary about his stirring failure to unseat one of the most reviled incumbents in American politics.

But then, the former El Paso congressman, whose occasionally moody Gen X uplift has almost completely overshadowed his unusual political path and heterodox policy beliefs, probably knew he was about to get the full Vanity Fair Annie Leibovitz cover treatment:

||| Vanity FairVanity Fair

Wednesday evening, the inevitable was confirmed: He's running. "I'm really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents," O'Rourke said in a text to "It's a big part of why I'm running. This city is the best example of this country at its best." An official announcement came this morning.

Because America is still a great country, there is already a robust #SaveBetosDog hashtag and a sky full of mirth opening up over the head of the toothsome Texan. Including this bizarre, pre-emptive shot across the bow by the Club for Growth, in which the fiscally conservative group goes after the New Democrat Coalition member for taking advantage of his "white male privilege" and being a pale imitation of Barack Obama. No, really:

The attack ad points to several of O'Rourke's vulnerable points in the crowded Democratic primary. He clearly wants to tap into the Obama vein of American politics without, as a white man who married into wealth, having endured or accomplished as much. He supported as El Paso city councilman an eminent domain deal that would have (but never did) bulldoze the homes of barrio Latinos to the benefit of his own father-in-law. He was arrested for drunk driving in 1998 after hitting a truck at a high rate of speed and (according to one witness) trying to drive away from the scene, though the charges were ultimately dismissed after he completed a court-supervised diversion program.

And dear God, is he ripe for the mocking.

There is more to the mystical skateboarder and lackluster air drummer, though, than merely the inevitable memes. In the words of an Intercept headline Wednesday night, "Beto O'Rourke Is Running for President and it all Started With Weed." The El Pasoan was a lonely Democratic voice in questioning the drug war a decade ago, and made that a key issue in successfully primarying the eight-term incumbent congressman hack Silvestre Reyes back in 2012.

||| Carol Guzy/ZUMA Press/NewscomCarol Guzy/ZUMA Press/NewscomLiving as he does across the fortified border with Ciudad Juarez, and speaking pretty good Spanish, O'Rourke has also prioritized an immigration reform that includes fewer Border Patrol agents, freer trade, and (most recently) some torn-down walls. (Read his immigration-related interviews with Reason from 2013, 2015, and 2018.) His highest-profile pre-campaign public appearance this season was an El Paso immigration counter-rally last month at which he reportedly outdrew a same-day, same-city event by President Donald Trump. In a Democratic field comparatively heavy on women but light on Latinos, you can bet that O'Rourke will make immigration enforcement and reform a central issue.

Anything else of interest to libertarians? Well, O'Rourke has been known to consort in a friendly way with the Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.). Like Amash, he has been a persistent critic of U.S. interventionism abroad:

[A] member of the House Armed Services Committee, [O'Rourke is] a withering critic of both the Iraq and Libya interventions ("two incredibly ill-conceived regime change wars "), opposed bombing Syria, and has consistently called on Congress to end the open-ended post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force ("blank check for endless war") and reassert its war-declaration powers. "Troubling, unconstitutional, to be at war in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen & Somalia, in addition to Afghanistan, w/out informed authorization," he tweeted in 2017. "Why do we have such a hard time admitting the West's role and culpability in the problems in the Middle East?" he wrote in 2016.

He also greeted the entrance of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) into the race by declaring that "I'm a capitalist," though this was only days after gushing over the Green New Deal. And as I wrote earlier this month,

[L]ike vanishingly few politicians from either major party, O'Rourke speaks as if there are budgetary constraints on the federal level. "We are $21 trillion in debt," he lamented at a town hall in December, commenting further that "we are projected to add $1 trillion in deficit spending to that debt just in this next fiscal year." He's also a comparatively lonely pro-trade voice in the Democratic field.

Chances are that not much of O'Rourke's policy priors will be discussed in the coming days, if ever. Not when the commanding heights of the Conde Nast empire are disgorging Gen X hagiography like this:

[I]n the O'Rourke living room, a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf contains a section for rock memoirs (Bob Dylan's Chronicles, a favorite) and a stack of LPs (the Clash, Nina Simone) but also a sizable collection of presidential biographies, including Robert Caro's work on Lyndon B. Johnson. Arranged in historical order, the biographies suggest there's been some reflection on the gravity of the presidency. But there's also some political poetry to it, a sense that O'Rourke might be destined for this shelf. He has an aura.

Conservative trolls will have a field day at this and other unintentional embarrassments. But one also can smell just a whiff of fear. If somehow O'Rourke can recapture the history-making fundraising and liberal knee-weakening prowess that he exhibited in 2018, if his Up With People shtick can mask his comparative centrism enough to win a Democratic primary in a socialist year, then Republicans might face a tough challenge in reelecting a persistently unpopular president. Beto O'Rourke is a target-rich environment for mockery, yes, and mockery may also be the best weapon for taking out what could be a formidable candidate.

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Is Redistricting Depriving Women of Their Voting Rights?: New at Reason

The Supreme Court weighs in.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonSince at least 2004, when the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Pennsylvania's congressional district boundaries because there was not a good enough way to quantify gerrymandering, the problem facing would-be reformers is this: How do you measure something that's best understood by how it affects other things?

Last year, reformers thought they had solved that conundrum. Armed with a new metric called the "Efficiency Gap"—a formula that claims to demonstrate how gerrymandering makes congressional races less competitive—they asked the Supreme Court to toss out Wisconsin's congressional map, writes Eric Boehm.

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Politics Trump Policy Once Again in Budget Debate: New at Reason

Gage Skidmore / Flickr.comGage Skidmore / Flickr.comThe Trump administration just delivered a massive budget to Congress. And as Veronique de Rugy explains, a look at the numbers and the talking points drafted to defend it confirms that budgets favor politics over policy. This also confirms that it really doesn't really matter who is in the White House. Big spenders will spend and then dissemble to cover up their fiscal irresponsibility.

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Brickbat: Make School Buses Great Again

MAGA HatLorna Roberts / Dreamstime.comThe Martin County, Florida, sheriff's office is investigating whether a school bus aide committed a crime when she yanked a "Make American Great Again" hat off a student's head. The boy's mother filed a report with the sheriff's office after school officials told her they would not let her see security video of the incident until the school system had completed an investigation. That video shows the aide confront the boy seconds after he boards the bus and demand he take the hat off. When he refused, she pulled the hat off.

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Proposed FDA Policy Will Make It Harder for Vapers to Get the Flavors They Prefer

The upshot could be more smoking-related disease and death.

FDAFDAMoving forward with its plan to restrict sales of e-cigarettes in the name of preventing underage vaping, the Food and Drug Administration today unveiled a "draft compliance policy" that effectively bans all flavors except tobacco, mint, and menthol but prioritizes enforcement against products "offered for sale in ways that pose a greater risk for minors." What that means is not completely clear, although it is bound to create headaches for manufacturers and retailers while making it harder for both former smokers and people interested in quitting to obtain the vaping products they prefer.

The FDA plans to "end current compliance policy" for e-cigarettes, except the three exempted flavors. That policy gave manufacturers until August 2022 to get FDA approval for their products, four years later than the original deadline. In the interim, they were allowed to continue selling products that were on the market as of August 8, 2016. The FDA intends to move the deadline up by a year for the disfavored flavors (i.e., nearly all of them) and end its policy of preapproval forbearance as it applies to those products. But the agency suggests that it won't take immediate action against them unless they are sold in a way that implicates its enforcement priorities.

The FDA lists four of those priorities: 1) "products sold in locations that minors are able to enter at any time," 2) "products sold through retail establishments and online retail locations that have sold to minors after issuance of the guidance," 3) "products sold online with no limit on the quantity that a customer may purchase within a given period of time," and 4) "products sold online without independent, third-party age- and identity-verification services that compare customer information against third-party data sources, such as public records."

Although the list is not necessarily exhaustive, it seems reasonable to surmise that flavored e-cigarettes, pods, and e-liquids won't be subject to immediate enforcement action if they are sold by stores that do not admit minors or by online vendors with age verification and quantity limits. Theoretically, a convenience store could get away with selling such products if it restricted them to a separate section where minors are not allowed, but the cost of doing that surely will be prohibitive in most cases. (That option seems to be aimed mainly at evading a provision of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that says the FDA may not "prohibit the sale of any tobacco product in face-to-face transactions by a specific category of retail outlets.") The upshot is that adults who like the disfavored flavors will have to get them from vape shops, tobacconists, or websites with FDA-approved policies, as opposed to the thousands of other stores where they were heretofore available.

"We expect that some flavored e-cigarette products will no longer be sold at all," says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. "We expect that other flavored e-cigarette products that continue to be sold will be sold only in a manner that prevents youth access, while premarket authorization for these products is sought from the FDA by 2021." Retailers who carried flavored e-cigarettes would be well-advised not to take Gottlieb at his word here, since they will be subject to enforcement action if they let customers younger than 18 enter their stores, even if they are scrupulous about checking IDs and never sell e-cigarettes to minors.

Gottlieb, who recognizes that e-cigarettes offer a "tremendous public health opportunity" as a harm-reducing alternative to the combustible kind, justifies the FDA's flavor discrimination by observing that the restricted varieties are especially popular with teenagers. Yet they are also undeniably popular with adults. According to survey data cited by the FDA in its draft compliance policy, 63 percent of adult vapers prefer flavors other than mint or menthol. "E-cigarettes are appealing to both youth and adults because of the variety of flavors that allow for customization," the authors of that study observed. "Findings indicate that the wide variety of flavors available and the freedom to 'mix-and-match' flavors may maintain use of e-cigarettes among youth and adults."

Will every vaper who likes a variety of flavors backslide once they are harder to get than the cigarettes he used to smoke? Will every smoker who tries vaping be deterred by the lack of flavor variety in the vast majority of stores? No, but there are bound to be some people in both categories, and they will face much greater health hazards than they otherwise would. The FDA is effectively encouraging smoking by trying to curb adolescent vaping with measures that go far beyond enforcing the minimum purchase age.

"This could have been worse," says Liz Mair of Vapers United. "But we do not consider the debate surrounding vapor regulation to be anywhere near settled, and we would urge FDA to provide further clarity as soon as possible, while continuing to bear in mind that the priority here should be enabling existing smokers to try vaping as a method [of] quitting and/or reducing harm...rather than restricting the marketplace in a way that could inadvertently keep smoking rates where they are now or even lead to them rising again."

The FDA will be accepting comments on its proposed policy for the next 30 days.

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Trump Says FAA Will Ground Boeing Model That Crashed in Ethiopia

"The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern," Trump said.

Nicolas Economou/ZUMA Press/NewscomNicolas Economou/ZUMA Press/NewscomPresident Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. government will ground the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, days after an Ethiopian Airiness plane crashed and killed all 157 people aboard.

Trump will issue an "emergency order to ground all 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9, and planes associated with that line," according to CNN. "Pilots have been notified, airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern," the president added, explaining that both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration were "in agreement."

The plane that crashed in Ethiopia is similar to the Boeing Max 8 model that went down off the coast of Indonesia last October. It's still not exactly clear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines crash. But in announcing that his country would be grounding Boeing 737 Max aircraft on Tuesday, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau mentioned a "possible similarity" between both incidents, according to CBS News.

Similar "vertical fluctuations" and "oscillations" were evident in the tracing data from both flights, The New York Times reported Garneau as saying. In addition to Canada, governments from the European Union, China, and Iraq have also grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. FAA Administrator Dan Elwell preiously said in a statement Tuesday the agency's review of the 737 Max model "shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft." A Trump administration official did tell Politico that the White House and the FAA were in "constant contact" regarding the issue. Now, it appears the administration has decided otherwise.

"The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory," the FAA said in a statement. "The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision."

It is important to note that there's no universal consensus on whether the groundings are necessary. That's because there isn't yet clear-cut evidence that the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes were related. While the plane that crashed last October had technical issues prior to takeoff, the Ethiopian Airlines flight did not. Retired airline pilot and current accident investigator John Cox explained in a Los Angeles Times column why we shouldn't jump to conclusions:

Until the data from the recorders are analyzed, the FAA cannot determine if an "unsafe condition" exists. And only if they determine that an "unsafe condition" exists can they ground the airplane. Unless the actions the FAA takes are consistently based on facts and data, then they aren't actually enhancing safety.

In the aftermath of an aviation catastrophe, everyone wants an immediate answer to ensure it doesn't happen again. The news media highlight the questions and fears in their daily (or hourly) updates. Anxiety mounts. In this case we need to let the well-proven investigative process work. This process takes time, and we have to be patient.

As Reason's Stephanie Slade has pointed out, in the aftermath of deadly tragedies, airlines will voluntarily take precautions to ensure safety so that passengers aren't afraid to fly with them. The same goes for plane manufacturers like Boeing.

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Sen. Mike Lee's Bill To Limit Trump's Emergency Powers Doesn't Actually Address the Immediate Problem

Lee's new bill would automatically terminate emergency declarations within 30 days, but leave Trump's current national emergency intact.

Ron Sachs/AdMedia/NewscomRon Sachs/AdMedia/NewscomCome Thursday, the Senate is expected to vote on a resolution terminating President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration, something that has put Senate Republicans in a tough position.

Voting yes on the resolution, which passed the House in late February, would reaffirm their rhetorical commitment to containing executive overreach and check a naked power grab by the president. It would also risk pissing off Trump and the GOP base, who're depending on the current emergency to fund the president's border wall.

Fortunately, Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) may have given these lawmakers an out. On Tuesday, the Utah senator introduced a new bill that would leave Trump's current emergency declaration intact, while placing restrictions on the future exercise of emergency powers.

Lee's bill—the awkwardly named Assuring that Robust, Thorough, and Informed Congressional Leadership is Exercised Over National Emergencies (ARTICLE ONE) Act—would automatically terminate an emergency declaration within 30 days.

Congress would have to pass a resolution explicitly endorsing an emergency declaration to prevent it from sunsetting. The bill would also give Congress the power to limit or amend the scope of any emergency declaration, and require the president to report how exactly his emergency powers are being put to use.

The idea, says Lee, is to claw back some of the powers Congress' has ceded to the executive branch over the years.

"If Congress is troubled by recent emergency declarations made pursuant to the National Emergencies Act, they only have themselves to blame," Lee said in a statement. "If we don't want our president acting like a king we need to start taking back the legislative powers that allow him to do so."

Whatever the intentions of the legislation, however, its introduction now could well enable the president's use of emergency powers in the short term. Lee's bill would allow senators to vote to keep Trump's wall-funding emergency in place, while also claiming that they are checking future abuses of executive emergency powers.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R–N.C.)—one of four Republicans who've said explicitly they would be voting in favor of terminating Trump's emergency declaration—is already wavering on that commitment following Lee's unveiling of his bill, according to The New York Times.

His defection alone could be enough to sink the House's resolution.

"If you would have asked me before…then I would have said, in the Senate, the president is going to lose," Sen. Joe Kennedy (R–La.) told the Times. Now, he's not so sure. "A lot of people are trying to think of a way to express their support for the president, but at the same time express their concern" about executive overreach, he said.

In addition to possibly preserving Trump's current wall-funding emergency declaration, it's also questionable how much Lee's legislation would limit the future ability of any president to declare national emergencies.

While the bill would automatically terminate these emergencies within 30 days, the president could still circumvent Congress by simply re-declaring a national emergency every month.

A spokesperson for Lee's office told Reason that while there's nothing in the senator's bill to prevent this kind of behavior, "such obvious shenanigans would be politically unsustainable."

That's certainly possible. But given that Congressional Republicans largely lack the political will to check Trump's current invocation of national emergency powers (powers many of them think the president shouldn't have in the first place), one wonders if they'll be more willing to check future excesses that still technically conform to the letter of the law.

"The history of these big framework statutes doesn't give you a lot of reason to hope that a new framework statute is going to solve the problem of lack of Congressional will to fight the executive branch on these things," says Gene Healy, Vice President of the libertarian Cato Institute and an expert on presidential powers.

Healy points to the War Powers Act—which puts limits on the ability of the president to deploy into foreign conflicts without Congressional authorization—as an example of a well-meaning statute that presidents have nevertheless managed to ignore or skirt without repercussion.

Nevertheless, Healy says that Lee's bill is a good first step toward reigning in presidential emergency declarations.

"I think it's a start. It would be better if these things are time-limited," he tells Reason. Healy also praised the bill's requirement that Congress approve an emergency for it to continue. The current National Emergencies Act allows emergencies to continue unless Congress explicitly votes to terminate them.

A more comprehensive approach, says Healy, would be to pare back the powers a president can unlock with an emergency declaration.

A Brennan Center paper from December 2018 found 123 statutory powers the executive can unlock by unilaterally declaring an emergency. There are currently 31 active national emergencies, some of which date back to the Carter Administration.

The New York Times reports that over a dozen Republican senators have said they'd support Lee's bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) today said that even if the ARTICLE ONE Act passed the senate, she would not bring it up for a vote in the House.

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Paul Manafort Sentenced to Nearly Four Additional Years in Federal Prison Just as New York Files New Charges

Double jeopardy or a way of circumventing a potential Trump pardon? Or both?

Paul ManafortJonathan Ernst/REUTERS/NewscomPaul Manafort will serve a total of seven and a half years in federal prison for various tax frauds and lies he told to government officials, and it now looks like prosecutors in New York are looking to increase the tally with state charges.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday added 43 months to Manafort's federal sentence. Last week's sentence covered multiple cases of bank and tax fraud. Today's sentence covered Manfort's lies to the Justice Department about his lobbying efforts in Ukraine, his failure to register as a foreign agent, money laundering, and witness tampering.

Almost immediately after Jackson handed down the rest of Manafort's sentence, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced 16 new charges against Manfort. Manafort stands accused of mortgage fraud, falsifying business records, and conspiracy, with Vance's office alleging that he profited millions off providing false information while applying for loans. These alleged crimes all took place between December 2015 and March 2016.

Because these are New York charges and not federal charges, that means President Donald Trump cannot pardon Manafort if he's convicted; which, intentional or not, gives this new indictment a feel of political motivation. Manafort is 69 years old and will spend most of his 70s in prison. There's very little justice to be served by extending that prison time even further. The New York Times reported that he faces up to an additional 25 years if convicted of state charges.

The Times notes that prosecutors had previously decided to move forward with this case regardless of whether Trump pardoned Manafort, and the paper predicts that Manafort's lawyers will argue it would count as double jeopardy to try him again in state court for the same crimes he was tried and convicted of in federal court.

Jacob Sullum noted last year that New York's Democratic attorney general is outraged at the idea that the president can use his power to pardon people she doesn't like (if the president in question is Donald Trump), and that she considers it a terrible legal "loophole" that Manafort couldn't be charged again for these same crimes by state prosecutors.

Read the details of the new indictments here.

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Elizabeth Warren Wants To Run Your Business for You: Podcast

George Mason's Todd Zywicki says the senator and presidential hopeful has inherited the ideas of Louis Brandeis without learning the lessons of overregulation.

"I am a capitalist," says Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is also a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. "I believe in markets."

She's got a funny way of showing her faith. Last week, she unveiled her plan to break up tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple. She's called for a "wealth tax" that would target households with over $50 million in assets and introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would force corporations with over $1 billion in annual revenue to get a national charter and give employees the right to vote in 40 percent of a company's board of directors. She was also the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an Obama-era agency that was widely assailed by free-market analysts as overly intrusive and unaccountable.

To get a sense of where Warren's ideas come from, I talked with Todd Zywicki, a longtime critic of Warren. Zywicki teaches law at George Mason University and is the former director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission. Zywicki says Warren is a direct ideological descendant of Louis Brandeis, the Progressive Era lawyer and Supreme Court justice who attacked what he called "the curse of bigness" in business and pushed for a massively regulated economy. Warren, says Zywicki, has thoroughly absorbed Brandeis's distrust of large firms, as well as his belief that "disinterested" bureaucrats can smooth out any and all issues with free markets. What she doesn't understand, he says, is that the regulatory agencies championed by Brandeis were routinely captured by the businesses they regulated or diverted by the idiosyncratic whims of commissioners, leading to the increasing ossification of the U.S. economy through much of the 20th century until deregulation took hold first during the Carter years and later under Ronald Reagan. More recently, notes Zywicki, the Dodd-Frank laws passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to limit the power of banks have actually increased concentration in the financial sector.

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Want to End Urban-Rural Conflict? Stop Looking for a Victor: New at Reason

Whether red vs. blue or city vs. country, political tensions are best addressed by letting people run their own lives.

Aesops Fables (1912), illustrated by Arthur Rackham.Aesops Fables (1912), illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

There's a spreading revolt against city-spawned restrictions on self-defense rights by the residents of sparsely settled counties and the officials who represent them. The issue "has largely underscored the rift between rural and urban areas," the Wall Street Journal noted over the weekend.

It's a rift, writes J.D. Tuccille, that's widening as the political divide in the United States takes on a strongly geographical character—less along state or regional lines than at the borders between dense populations and open country.

With hostile people from divergent cultures and political affiliations glaring at each other across the nation's city limits, it's time to reconsider the tendency towards centralization of power in our country that leaves so many people groaning under laws and policies they find abhorrent. If we really want to defuse tensions, argues Tuccille, we should devolve decision-making as far down the political food chain as possible.

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Maybe Now We Can Finally Read This Star Trek/Dr. Seuss Mash-Up

Federal judge's ruling in a fair-use lawsuit "is a big win for the First Amendment."

What do you find at the intersection between the quadrants of Star Trek and Dr. Seuss? Why, a fair-use lawsuit, of course! But thanks to a federal judge's ruling on Tuesday, that suit's supply of dilithium crystals might be running dangerously low.

Confused? Let's break it down. We've all heard of the 1990 Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Geisel) book Oh, the Places You'll Go! It's an inspiring children's story often given as a gift to students graduating from high school or college.

But you might not have heard of Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!, a 2016 "mash-up" of Star Trek and Dr. Seuss. The book is the crowdfunded brainchild of ComicMix, a company that creates (as the name suggests) content related to comics and other works of fiction. In 2016, ComicMix's Glenn Hauman teamed up with longtime comics artist Ty Templeton and writer David Gerrold (real name David Jerrold Friedman), who wrote the renowned episode The Trouble with Tribbles for the original Star Trek series. They started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, eventually raising nearly $30,000, and considered Boldly to be "a parody, a mash-up, and a transformative work," according to an order issued Tuesday from Judge Janis Sammartino of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

But Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the copyrights for the late author's works, wasn't having it. Beginning in September 2016, the company sent a series of cease-and-desist letters regarding the unpublished Boldly. In November of that year, Dr. Seuss Enterprises filed suit, claiming copyright violations. The book became trapped in a pocket of null space.

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Facebook Had Every Right to Reject Elizabeth Warren's Crappy Ad

Nobody in the media should be supporting an elected official trying to control what speech online platforms allow.

Elizabeth WarrenAlex Edelman/SIPA/NewscomPresidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) seems to think her argument for "breaking up" large tech companies like Amazon and Facebook was bolstered earlier in the week when Facebook temporarily censored some of her advertisements.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, her disingenuous reaction (and the pandering of a compliant press) highlights how we should not permit powerful elected government officials—of all people—to set the rules of behavior for online media platforms, no matter how big they are.

To summarize, Warren attempted to purchase advertising on Facebook to promote her campaign to break up big tech, including Facebook. Three of her advertisements contained one of Facebook's logos. Those ads (but not her others—that's important to note) were rejected temporarily because Facebook has rules against using their logos in advertisements. The reasoning behind this is extremely logical—to avoid the possibility of confusing Facebook users over the difference between ads and "official" messages from Facebook itself.

So, to be blunt here, Warren's campaign screwed up with its ad design. It's all their own stupid fault for including the logo. But, no, Warren is spinning this as proof that Facebook is too powerful because it's able to "shut down debate" about Facebook:

Some observations here:

  • They rejected a small selection (three) of several ads. The others ran.
  • Each of the ads was limited in reach and cost less than $100, according to Politico.
  • The company rejected the ads because Warren's campaign violated a rule put in place to help prevent people from getting scammed by fake ads posing as Facebook messages (presumably a good rule).
  • There is a massive and healthy discussion all over the media landscape about whether Facebook is too powerful that does not apparently require Facebook to host $100 advertisements from Warren to facilitate. There is no monopoly here.
  • Warren's plans to break up big tech appear to include importing over the European Union's proposal for a huge copyright enforcement regime that will lead to massive amounts of censorship online. If this enforcement system were brought over to the United States, amusingly enough, an image recognition pre-screening tool ordered to be put into place by the government itself would have probably caused Facebook to reject Warren's ad for trademark violations. Meaning, a government program Warren appears to support would have censored her own ad.
  • Facebook has every constitutional right to reject ads that contain content it objects to or finds reprehensible or offensive. That wasn't why they rejected the ad temporarily, but regardless, nobody has a right to force Facebook to host their advertisements. (Somebody kindly tell this to Sen. Ted Cruz.)

So either Warren is being deliberately manipulative here (by downplaying that there was a reason for Facebook's decision and that it wasn't all of her advertisements) in order to bolster her argument, or she's too dense to understand the implications of her own arguments. Should The New York Times be required to run ads from President Donald Trump calling them "fake news" while using the newspaper's own logo?

In either case, this response actually emphasizes that Warren and her team lack either the ethical compass or the technological grasp of online platforms (and apparently trademarks as well) to be trusted to make any decisions at all about Facebook's business practices.

And yet, some media folks are lapping this up with a spoon, probably angered at how online platforms have disrupted the media's domination of advertising avenues. The "monopoly" is in the wrong people's hands! Here's a fascinating defense of Warren's overblown fears of "big tech" from Brian Feldman at New York Magazine arguing that the "accidental" removal is part of the problem:

Understanding this is the key to understanding why Big Tech is something to be concerned about. Even when it's assumed to be operating in good faith and attempting to be fair, Facebook still makes the wrong call. It does this many times every day. The threat of Big Tech is not some nefarious Big Brother scenario in which the Thought Police eradicate any dissent; it's that even when companies like Facebook are earnestly trying to do their jobs well, the scale at which they operate make its screw-ups and mistakes substantial.

But Facebook actually didn't make the "wrong call." They, in fact, decided to make an exception to their rule to pander to Warren. Note the invocation of "Big Brother" and "Thought Police" here. Those are terms to describe government policing of speech. Feldman presents this as an omnipresent fear but everybody seems to be oblivious to the fact that what Warren wants to do here is to intrude into these online platforms with the authority of government.

The "substantialness" of Facebook's mistakes absolutely pale in comparison to the disasters that occur when government officials screw up even when they have allegedly good intentions. People have been stuck in prison for decades due to a stupidly harsh drug war pushed by lawmakers and presidents who delusionally think this is going to save us all from addiction. We are still engaged in thoughtless, aimless military actions overseas that leave both American troops and foreign citizens dead because of powerful people like Warren "earnestly trying to do their jobs well."

I'll take Facebook's mistakes over a senator's anytime. That this is not the default position of everybody in the media in 2019 who has seen what has come of some of our most intrusive domestic and foreign policies is a mystery to me.

Bonus link: Reason's Peter Suderman explains how awful and economically illiterate Warren's tech plan is.

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Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Are Wrong About Trump's Medicare Cuts

Meanwhile, both support single-payer, which would radically cut payments to health care providers.

Over the last few days, both Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—both of whom are currently vying for the Democratic presidential nomination—have attacked President Trump for proposing Medicare cuts in his latest budget.

You might get the impression from these tweets that Trump is proposing to slash Medicare's benefits. For the most part, that's not true. As Trump's acting budget director said when the budget plan was released, the president is "not cutting Medicare," and "there are no structural changes for Medicare." Too bad.

Rick Friedman/Polaris/NewscomRick Friedman/Polaris/NewscomInstead, the cuts, such that they are, are focused on eliminating that conveniently vague Washington standby—"waste, fraud, and abuse." Trump's budget, like previous presidential budgets, won't become law, so this is in some sense an argument about vague cuts that almost certainly won't happen.

In this case, the proposed cuts mostly take the form of payment reductions to health providers, like hospitals. (In the world of health care policy, you can usually tell whose payments are on the chopping block by which industry group issues the loudest objection.) About 11 percent of the reductions would hit Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, and could affect how much seniors pay out of pocket.

There are a few things to note about these reductions.

The first is that the total reduction is not the $845 billion Sanders claims.

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The Washington Post Blames Obama for Fentanyl Deaths

The paper suggests that more drug law enforcement is the solution to a problem created by drug law enforcement.

House Judiciary CommitteeHouse Judiciary CommitteeA story in today's Washington Post makes the case that the Obama administration failed to take the proliferation of fentanyl as a heroin booster and substitute seriously enough, resulting in drug-related deaths that otherwise would not have occurred. The story is formatted in white type on a black background, interspersed with examples of people who died after taking fentanyl, so you know the Post's intentions are serious. I wish I could say the same about its argument, which makes much of press conferences that did not happen and reports that should have gotten more attention but fails to identify a single policy that would have made an important difference.

Reporters Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz, and Katie Zezima note in passing that the crackdown on prescription opioids pushed nonmedical users (as well as some bona fide pain patients) toward black-market alternatives, which are much more dangerous because their potency is inconsistent and unpredictable. Initially the main alternative was heroin, which was "cheaper and and more available," notwthstanding a century of government efforts to eliminate sources, interdict shipments, and put distributors in prison. To the extent that such efforts have been successful at all, they have encouraged traffickers to replace heroin with more potent products such as fentanyl, which makes it possible to pack more doses in any given volume and is "20 times more profitable than heroin by weight." Yet the main solution Higham et al. suggest is eliminating sources, interdicting shipments, and putting distributors in prison, a strategy that by their own account has manifestly failed to stop Americans from obtaining the psychoactive substances the government says they should not want.

Higham et al. implicitly fault former Attorney General Eric Holder's "Smart on Crime" initiative, which among other things urged federal prosecutors to refrain from triggering mandatory minimum sentences in run-of-the-mill drug cases involving low-level, nonviolent offenders. "Out in the field," they write, "some drug agents and prosecutors said they noticed an immediate difference, just as fentanyl started to show up on the streets." Draconian mandatory minimums "provide powerful incentives for people to talk," they explain, and Holder's policy deprived drug warriors of that weapon.

The Post cites Dominick Capuano, a former New York City narcotics cop, who "said federal prosecutors would no longer take the lower-level cases and morale among his drug agents plummeted as heroin and fentanyl overdoses soared." According to Capuano, the attempt to curtail the use of mandatory minimums undermined the NYPD's anti-drug tactics. "The low-lying fish is where you start the cases," he tells the Post. "Those are the people who flip, who give information, and that's what leads to these bigger cases."

Let us leave aside the question of whether threatening "low-lying fish" with manifestly unjust prison terms is morally justified because it "leads to these bigger cases." Is there any reason to think "these bigger cases," which had not stopped heroin from being cheap and plentiful, would have been any more successful when deployed against fentanyl? The fentanyl supply is, if anything, harder to disrupt than the heroin supply, since it is a synthetic product that does not rely on crops and enters the country in small packages from myriad sources, including the mail and private courier services as well as hidden compartments of vehicles crossing the border at legal ports of entry.

If there is a pattern to be seen in the facts cited by Higham et al., it is not the Obama administration's insufficient zealousness in prosecuting the war on drugs. It is the fultility of that endeavor, which never manages to block the supply of illegal drugs, as Donald Trump keeps promising to do, but does manage to make drug use more dangerous. Prohibition created a black market in which potency is highly variable, which leads to fatal dosing errors. Restricting access to prescription analgesics pushed more people into that market, resulting in more fatalities. Attempts to curtail the heroin supply encouraged the shift to fentanyl, which made potency even more unpredictable and drug-related deaths even more common.

But things can always get worse. Already the use of superpotent fentanyl analogs is on the rise, and the strategy implicitly endorsed by the Post is apt to encourage that trend.

"This is a massive institutional failure, and I don't think people have come to grips with it," John P. Walters, George W. Bush's drug czar, tells the Post. "This is like an absurd bad dream and we don't know how to intervene or how to save lives." Walters is absolutely right, but not in the way he thinks.

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Amash Bill Would Prohibit Unequal Ballot Access Laws, Straight-Ticket Voting in Congressional Elections

The libertarian-leaning Michigan congressman takes aim at two scourges of American democracy, despite what it would mean for his party's political interests.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/NewscomIn 2018, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in Arkansas, Mark West, received 2.9 percent of the vote. Early this year, Arkansas state lawmakers and Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, teamed up to raise the threshold for automatic ballot access for third parties.

The new mark: 3 percent.

For candidates and political parties outside the Republican/Democratic duopoly, one of the biggest impediments to winning elections is simply getting your name in front of the voters on Election Day. Thanks to state laws that require parties get to a certain amount of the vote to automatically qualifiy for the ballot in future elections, and other rules that often mandate third party or independent voters must collect thousands more signatures than their major party opponents to be included on the ballot, smaller parties are forced to spend valuable and scarce resources to gain simple ballot access.

As what happened in Arkansas this year demonstrates, these rules are always arbitrary, often unfair, and usually set by the very interests that benefit from them: the two biggest political parties.

A bill introduced in Congress this week by libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) would put an end to that practice—at least for congressional elections, over which Congress has final authority. His proposal, the Ballot Fairness Act, would prohibit unequal ballot access rules in congressional elections, meaning that third parties and independent candidates could not be held to different standards than Democratic and Republican candidates.

"Laws should not advantage particular political parties or discriminate against candidates who choose not to affiliate with a party," says Amash. "The Ballot Fairness Act helps equalize the treatment of candidates so elections will be fairer and voters will have more options."

His bill would also prohibit straight-ticket voting—an option available to voters in some states that allows the ability to cast a vote for a party's entire slate of candidates by making a single choice, rather than casting votes in each race individually—in congressional elections. Amash has previously said that the existence of straight-ticket voting makes it "prohibitive to run outside of the major parties."

Like unequal ballot access laws, straight-ticket voting provides an obvious advantage to major party candidates, and it does change the outcome of elections. As Reason's Matt Welch has previously noted: Where it's available, citizens are more likely to vote a straight-party ticket. They are also considerably more likely to cast a vote in down-ballot partisan races, but considerably less likely to vote in nonpartisan races or for ballot initiatives.

Both reforms included in Amash's proposal would be beneficial to American democracy by eliminating tools that Democrats and Republicans wield against upstart candidates and parties. With a majority of Americans unhappy with both major parties, it would appear that the electorate is clamoring for additional options—options that are often denied because of structural impediments facing alternatives.

"Amash's bill, if enacted, would be a huge benefit to the Libertarian Party, removing the unfair ballot access hurdles our Congressional candidates face all across the country," Nicholas Sarwark, chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, tells Reason. "It also is a good test for which members of Congress really want more participation in the political process, since it would allow more voices from across the political spectrum to participate in elections without unfair barriers created by the two old parties."

That's also why the bill probably doesn't have much of a chance of getting a hearing or a vote. Amash is a rare and welcome outlier, but most members of Congress are probably unlikely to support a bill that does away with structural advantages they could take advantage of in the next election.

The decision to introduce this bill could also raise more questions about whether Amash plans to jump ship from the Republican Party from which the five-term congressman seems increasingly alienated. Whether he's concerningly quoting Adele lyrics on Twitter, or being profiled by CNN as the "loneliest Republican in Congress," Amash's committment to small government and free markets stands in stark contrast to a Trumpified GOP that seems to have little interest in either. There has been speculation that Amash could seek the Libertarian Party nomination for president in 2020—and Amash says he won't rule it out.

Indeed, if you were putting together a list of things Congress could do to make life a little easier for America's downtrodden third parties, a bill like Amash's would be at or near the top. Ballot access fights are time-consuming and expensive, and every hour spent collecting signatures or every dollar spent on lawyers to challenge unfair access laws (as the LP is currently doing in several states) takes away from what could be used to campaign.

Is Amash acting as a third party mole in Congress? Is he symbolically flipping the bird to the GOP that has abandoned him, as he tries to weaken the major parties' structural advantages in elections? It's Justin Amash we're talking about, so the right answer—if not the most provocative one—is that he's probably just doing what he thinks is right, even if it means he's all alone.

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Time to Put the College Admissions System on a Rocket and Shoot It Into the Sun

Cheating scandal should have taxpayers asking whether it's right to subsidize the campus party lifestyles of celebrity scions who fake water polo careers.

OJOlivia Jade / Screenshot via Youtube"I don't know how much of school I'm gonna attend," Olivia Jade, a YouTube star and daughter of Full House actress Lori Loughlin, told her fans just before she moved to the University of Southern California (USC) to begin freshman year. "But I'm gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying....I don't really care about school, as you guys all know."

With that attitude, one might have hoped Jade could not earn admission to USC. But her parents paid half a million dollars to a man named William Singer, and Singer bribed all the necessary officials so that Jade's dream of going to college for the partying could come true.

Now Loughlin is one of 50 people facing federal fraud charges for participating in Singer's schemes to trick various colleges and universities into admitting wealthy but underqualified applicants. The perpetrators—which include another actress, Desperate Housewives' Felicity Huffman—gave Singer millions of dollars to guarantee their kids would be admitted to first-choice schools like Yale, Stanford, University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Singer's scheme was stunningly deceitful. His two main strategies were bribing test-taking officials so that they would give his clients more time to take the SAT or ACT—or even supply the correct answers directly—and bribing athletic officials to falsely claim the client was a high-value recruit for a certain sport. This often involved sending fake photos of the kids engaged in athletic activities—pole-vaulting, swimming, etc.—for sports they didn't play. Jade, for instance, gained admission after submitting a photo implying she was a talented coxswain on the crew team. She was not. But a $50,000 payment to a USC senior athletic director was all it took to facilitate the lie.

Indeed, athletic administrative bloat appears to be a significant contributing factor to the success of this scam. Many of the bribe-takers were coaches, and it's fairly worrying they have so much sway over the admissions process. One downside of forcing universities to hire a bunch of administrators—something federal guidance has encouraged for decades—is that there are more potential targets for Singer's schemes.

Unfortunately, colleges and universities routinely prioritize factors other than academic ability when making admissions decisions. Athletic considerations matter far too much, as do legacy connections. And of course, donating a new wing to the university's hospital or library is a good way to make sure your kid gets a second look. Singer took things much further, but it's a difference of degrees. As Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times, "It may be legal to pledge $2.5 million to Harvard just as your son is applying—which is what Jared Kushner's father did for him—and illegal to bribe a coach to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,but how much of a difference is there, really? Both elevate money over accomplishment. Both are ways of cutting in line."

The best remedy to this problem might be to admit that college is, to some degree, a scam. Note that these parents were evidently unconcerned that their kids—who were often coached to fake learning disabilities so they could get more time on the ACT and SAT—might struggle with their course loads. It's because college is a joke, and it's easy enough for an academically disinclined grifter—an Olivia Jade, if you will—to get by studying nonsense subjects. They're paying for the experience and the diploma, not the actual education.

This is a point that Bryan Caplan raises in his excellent book The Case Against Education. Caplan argues that most of the value of a college education is signaling rather than skills. Students don't learn very much that will be useful to them in the job world, and even if they do, they quickly forget it. But a diploma signals to employers that the diploma-holder is competent in some abstract way—they jumped through a bunch of impressive-looking hoops, and are thus more worthy of a job than people who didn't. The implication of Caplan's research is that public funding of higher education is therefore a waste: It doesn't actually benefit society to subsidize a signaling mechanism if there's little relevant skill-gaining along the way. It just punishes everybody who, for whatever reason, doesn't have access to the right hoops.

If we are going to continue to publicly fund higher education, taxpayers might rightly ask whether institutions that receive federal dollars should be permitted to privilege the wealthy, the donor class, the athletes (both faux and actual), and certain racial groups (resulting in abject discrimination against Asians) over applicants who might actually be interested in checking a book out of the library. But if higher education is really just about celebrity scions pretending to play water polo in order to gain admittance to an exclusive partying club, maybe it's long past time to hit the defund button.

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Don't Be Fooled by Polls Showing GOP Interest in Challenging Trump

When voters see what the actual options are, their interest in political competition plummets.

||| ELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomELIZABETH FRANTZ/REUTERS/NewscomHey, check out this new CNN poll showing that 40 percent of registered Republicans in Iowa hope that President Donald Trump gets challenged for the GOP nomination! So you're saying there's a #NeverTrump chance, right?

That poll-softening, plus the potential Trump-weakening revelations from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, is the basic case for optimism among those agitating for a competitive primary. "Having large percentages of partisans say they wish their incumbent president would be challenged (or not seek reelection) is not something you normally see in the course of successful reelection campaigns," Bulwark Publisher Sarah Longwell wrote last month. "That doesn't mean that 40 percent of Republicans will abandon Trump in 2020 in favor of the Democratic nominee. But it surely means something."

Whatever that something is, it's currently a good deal less than two out of five Republicans actively considering a non-Trump primary vote. Why? Because whenever presented with actual, instead of theoretical, choices, competition-curious voters say "Ewwwww, I didn't mean that guy!"

The CNN poll of 400 Republican Iowans shows Trump with a net favorability of 67 percentage points (82 percent favorable, 15 percent unfavorable). What about CNN commentator and professional primary-Hamlet John Kasich? The former Ohio governor is at -1 percentage point net favorability (27 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable). That actually leads the #NeverTrump field: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is at -8, exploratory committee-haver Bill Weld is at -11, and the universally derided independent Howard Schultz lags the field at -18.

It gets worse for the challengers. A Monmouth University poll released yesterday of 339 Republicans nationwide showed Trump whacking Weld head-to-head, 54 percent to 8 percent, and also hammering Hogan, 55 percent to 6 percent.

"What's clear," concludes The Washington Post's Aaron Blake, "is that, at this early juncture, the math just doesn't add up."

Let's not skip over that "early juncture" bit; here's some important context about primary polls:

Still, the insight remains, and it's durable across election cycles: Voters in high numbers say they want choice, but when actually presented with that choice, they reject it. Even moreso during periods of high negative polarization.

Just look at this 21st century polling spread from Gallup. Why, a whopping 57 percent of Americans say we need a third party, compared to just 38 percent who say the two major parties are combining to do an adequate job!

||| GallupGallup

And yet a couple of weeks after that last poll was taken, third parties and independent candidates got skunked in the midterm elections. As Nick Gillespie observed 14 months ago in a typically subtle headline, "Post-Trump, Do We Really Want a Viable Third Party? Survey Says Yes, History Says GTFO." Or if you prefer Washington Post number-cruncher David Byler's more subdued formulation yesterday, "In theory, it might be possible to imagine someone uniting the less Trump-y factions of the GOP and putting together a solid challenge to Trump. But it's hard to do that in practice."

As the #NeverTrump crowd keeps waiting for a Mueller magic bullet that might not ever materialize, it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, will look at those long odds yet still decide to roll the dice.

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Trump Turns Drug Cartels Into Terror Cells: Reason Roundup

Plus: Stormy Daniels hints at more legal action and California ends the death penalty.

AdMedia/NewscomAdMedia/NewscomWho needs words to have meanings? Not our government, that's for sure these days. In an interview released Tuesday, President Donald Trump said his administration was "seriously" considering designating drug dealers "as terrorist organizations."

What makes someone selling drugs into a terrorist? That's an easy one: they come from south of the U.S. border.

Trump told Breitbart News: "We're thinking about doing it very seriously," the it being a designation that "Mexican drug cartels" are terrorist groups. "In fact, we've been thinking about it for a long time. ... As terrorists—as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are."

No one wants to stick up for violent mobsters, which is what many Mexican drug-peddling associations surely are. But the trouble with designations like these—those based on membership in some law-enforcement designated category, like a "gang" or a "terrorist organization"—is that they tend to just escalate penalties and public sentiment against anyone possessing drugs while Latino, or part of whatever the demonized identity du jour is. It encourages "criminal justice" that runs on guilt by association. It gives drug warriors an excuse to keep up their hardline tactics under the guise of fighting a new threat. And it provides cover to all sorts of bullshit prohibitionist policies and anti-immigration crusades, as well.

Republicans in Congress have introduced a bill similar to what Trump is proposing. The measure would make it so not just those deemed cartel members would be included but anyone who assisted anyone accused of cartel membership.

So it's the war on terror, war on drugs, and war on immigration all rolled into one! I'm sure if they put their minds to it, they can wrap "sex traffickers" and "satanists" and Russian bots in there, too.


No more capital punishment in California. Per an executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state will suspend all death penalty sentences going forward and grant reprieves to the 737 prisoners currently facing execution.

"I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people," said Newsom in a statement. "The death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian."


Things are "about to get real interesting," Stormy Daniels told an audience at The Wing co-working space in Washington on Tuesday. Daniels has parted ways with showboating attorney Michael Avenatti after a federal judge dismissed her lawsuit seeking to void a non-disclosure agreement she signed regarding the money paid to her by Michael Cohen on Trump's behalf. Her new lawyer is Clark Brewster.

An earlier suit against Trump for defamation was dismissed last fall. Since then, however, "it's been proven that I didn't lie," said Daniels, referring to revelations made by Cohen in his congressional testimony this year. "I think we're gonna try that one again."

Daniels also said she was proud of Cohen for his recent testimony. "He's tired of being bullied. He's tired of being called a liar and called a rat and, whatever, you know. Part of me was, like, 'Wow, he sounds really sincere.' I'm so proud of him for doing the right thing."

As for Avenatti—who tweeted Tuesday that he had terminated their business relationship—Daniels said she had been seeking a new lawyer already and he was just trying to get ahead of that. Their goals were not really aligned to begin with, Daniels explained. She wanted the non-disclosure agreement invalidated so she didn't have to pay a massive $20 million fine for breaking it. But for Avenatti, it was all about finding a way to bring down the president. "That was his agenda," she said.


• Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) wants to make things easier for third-party candidates.

• American Civil Liberties Union lawyers say a man's suit to punish his former girlfriend for having an abortion will not get far.

Boing Boing warns about the "rise of the surveillance scooters."

• Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is pushing a troubling bill that's purportedly about campaign finance reform but actually threatens free political speech.

• How America is making the drug war worse in Southeast Asia.

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It’s All About the Ad Hominems, Baby: New at Reason

Anti-Semitism aside, Ilhan Omar’s comments about Israel illustrate a pernicious, bipartisan tendency to attack motives instead of arguments.

Aaron Lavinsky / Zuma Press / NewscomAaron Lavinsky / Zuma Press / NewscomIlhan Omar says she did not realize her statements about Israel could be construed as anti-Semitic. Maybe we should take the Minnesota congresswoman at her word, Jacob Sullum says—except that she is manifestly unwilling to give people who disagree with her the same courtesy.

Omar's comments, which last week yielded a broad, anodyne House resolution against bigotry that satisfied no one, evoked a trifecta of anti-Jewish stereotypes. But Sullum says they also embodied a bipartisan tendency to question people's motives rather than rebutting their arguments, a tactic that is poisonous to civil and rational debate.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wants to Raise Your Taxes: New at Reason

MSNBCMSNBCDo you pay enough taxes? What is enough?

When asked on 60 Minutes, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn't seem to have a specific tax rate in mind, but then she said, "back in the '60s…you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent."

Suddenly, 70 percent tax rates are a progressive plan, although Rep. Ilhan Omar added, "We've had it as high as 90 percent."

John Stossel has a better idea: let's leave most of America's wealth in private hands.

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Brickbat: What an Ash

Ash WednesdayFotoarena/Sipa USA/NewscomUtah's Davis School District says it is investigating a fourth-grade teacher who forced a student to wipe an Ash Wednesday cross from his forehead, telling him it was inappropriate in the school. The boy's grandmother says she spoke to the teacher after the incident. "I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment, and she said, no," the grandmother said. The teacher and the school district have apologized to the boy.

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Reason/Soho Forum Debate About Israel and Palestine, March 18

The resolution: "To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel must first achieve defeat of the Palestinian movement."

Soho ForumSoho ForumTo resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel must first achieve defeat of the Palestinian movement.

That's the resolution up for debate at the next Soho Forum, which takes places on Monday, March 19 at Subculture Theater in New York. Reason is proud to co-sponsor The Soho Forum, a monthly Oxford-style debate series that "features topics of special interest to libertarians and...aims to enhance social and professional ties within the NYC libertarian community." In an Oxford-style debate, the audience is polled before and after the discussion. The winner is whichever debater pulled more people to his side.

Tickets cost between $12 and $24 and must be purchased online (go here now). Admission gives access to a free buffet of light food and access to a cash bar with wine, beer, and soft drinks. Enter the discount code "reason" and get 25 percent off your ticket price!

The debate will be moderated by the Soho Forum's Gene Epstein and will feature a set by libertarian comedian and podcaster Dave Smith specifically tailored to the night's topic.

Here is information about the evening's debaters.

For the affirmative:

Elan Journo is a Fellow and Director of Policy Research at the Ayn Rand Institute. His latest book is What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He is co-author of Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism, a contributor to Defending Free Speech, and editor of Winning the Unwinnable War. Follow him on twitter @elanjourno, Facebook: elan.journo and reach out at

For the negative:

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

And here is information about venue and start time:

Cash bar opens at 5:45pm
Event starts at 6:30pm
Subculture Theater
45 Bleecker St,
NY, 10012

Seating must be reserved in advance.

Remember to use the discount code 'reason' to get a 25 percent discount!

Each Soho Forum is recorded and released as a Reason TV video and a podcast (go here to subscribe to the Reason Podcast). Here's video of last month's Reason/Soho Forum debate, featuring fomer BB&T head John Allison and Moody's Mark Zandi debating the cause of the 2008 financial crisis.

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Reason Has Been Nominated for 10 'Maggie' Awards

Finalists include "What to Know Before You Pay for Sex" and a Reason documentary about San Francisco's insane housing regulations.

TheTheIt's my pleasure to inform you, dear reader, that Reason is a finalist in 10 categories at the 67th annual Maggie Awards. The awards, which serve to recognize consumer, student, and trade publications, are hosted this year by B2B Media, and were formerly put on by the Western Publishing Association.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony in Los Angeles on May 3.

In the meantime, please check out the nominees and revisit some of our best work from 2018:

Best special theme issue for the July 2018 issue, "Burn After Reading." Start with the opening salvo from Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, and work your way through a litany of "how-tos, personal stories, and guides for all kinds of activities that can and do happen at the borders of legally permissible behavior."

Best video channel for "This Insane Battle To Block a New Apartment Building Explains Why San Francisco and Other Cities Are So Expensive," produced by Justin Monticello.

Best special interest magazine for the December 2018 issue, in which we celebrate Reason's 50th birthday and half a century's commitment to defending, celebrating, and empowering free minds and free markets.

Best feature article for "Sanctuary Churches Take in Immigrants and Take on Trump," in which Shikha Dalmia profiles religious leaders and churches that are refusing "to heed anti-harboring laws that make it a criminal offense to knowingly shield or transport an 'alien who has entered the United States in violation of the law.'"

Best how-to article for "What to Know Before You Pay for Sex," by Maggie McNeill, Reason's favorite escort and sex-worker rights advocate, who notes that "hiring an escort is neither difficult nor dangerous as long as one exercises patience, diligence, and good manners."

Best signed editorial or essay for "When Fixing the Problem Makes It Worse" and "Zombie Statistics," both by Katherine Mangu-Ward.

Best regularly featured column for the work of J.D. Tuccille, Reason's high-desert renegade sage. Read "Embrace the Dirt Nap," about the passing of his father (and fellow libertarian legend) Jerome Tuccille.

Best overall publication design for the outstanding work of Art Director Joanna Andreasson, whose unique combination of talent, patience, and workflow management allows Reason to punch above its art-budget weight every damn month.

And last but not least, best web publication and best blog for the daily and weekly work of the entire Reason crew.

It is an honor to work with this fine group of folks. Please join me in tipping a coffee mug their way, and stay tuned for a win tally this May.

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ACLU Sues Philadelphia Over Cash Bail Demands That Keep Poor Defendants in Jail

Magistrates are supposed to consider the financial concerns of people who come before them. Instead they're tossing them behind bars.

Trapped in jailKwanchaidt / Dreamstime.comThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing Philadelphia's court system to try to get judges to stop demanding cash bail from defendants without any consideration of whether they can pay, perpetuating an environment where people are stuck in jail because they're poor, not because they're dangerous.

The ACLU announced the lawsuit this morning, on behalf of a community bail fund in the city, an organization that serves young people charged with crimes and awaiting trial, and several defendants who were stuck in pretrial detention because they couldn't afford cash bail.

The lawsuit charges magistrates of Philadelphia's court system of being deliberately indifferent to the poverty of defendants, ignoring when they're told that people who come before them cannot afford to pay bail. The ACLU observed more than 2,000 bail hearings and found that judges frequently spent less than three minutes on each defendant, not asking any questions, and simply demanding defendants pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they want to be free. Don't have the money? The magistrates simply didn't care.

That's not how these pretrial determinations are supposed to work, according to the court's own Rules of Criminal Procedure, claims the ACLU lawsuit. The purpose of bail is to make sure that the defendant returns to court, and Pennsylvania's pretrial determinations are supposed to favor release. There's a whole set of factors magistrates are supposed to consider when setting bail or conditions for release, and the ACLU says this isn't happening.

This has been a typical, chronic problem that has been highlighted across the country in various pushes to reform or eliminate demands for cash bail. Bail is not actually being used to guarantee that people return to court and behave while they're free. Instead, it's being thoughtlessly, mechanically applied across the board in such a way that poor people end up stuck behind bars, even when there is no evidence (or even analysis) that they are likely to skip court or commit crimes while freed.

In a statement, Sally Pei of the law firm Arnold & Porter (partners with the ACLU in the lawsuit) noted the unfairness of the way the magistrates have been applying bail demands. "Our clients are not given even the rudiments of a fair hearing," she said. "The court imposes bail they cannot afford in three minutes or less. Our clients are not given a chance to speak and often cannot hear the proceedings at all. The court routinely requires bail they cannot meet, without considering any alternatives to monetary bail. We have seen arraignment magistrates impose bail on people who are receiving food stamps."

It's also worth noting that data coming from Philadelphia actually questions whether cash bail even serves its role in making sure people show up for court and keep clean. Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's district attorney, decided last year to stop demanding cash bail for many low level crimes, resulting in an increase in the number of defendants who were freed on their own recognizance. Data collected over the course of a year shows that the courts in Philadelphia did not see an increase in no-shows, and these freed defendants did not go running out to commit new crimes in higher rates than before. In fact, the city is seeing new highs in rates of court appearances.

The class action lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Eastern District, calls for the state to order these magistrates to conduct actual pretrial arraignments as the rules describe and actually consider the financial situations of defendants when assigning bail, not just essentially order them detained because they cannot afford to pay.

Read the lawsuit here.

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See a Heroic Rideshare Driver in Los Angeles Save a Fellow Worker From a Police Sting

"I just got trapped and wanted to stop someone else from getting trapped," the driver tells a uniformed officer who warns him he could be arrested for interfering with an investigation.

A videographer, who says he had just been cited by undercover cops for daring to offer them a ride when the officers stood on the sidewalk with luggage and waved down passing cars, decided to come back to the rescue of another rideshare driver, as seen in a video uploaded yesterday to YouTube.

The videographer came up to the pair of undercover officers as a car with Lyft and Uber stickers pulled up to them and a male officer leaned in to discuss where they wanted to be taken. The videographer then shouted to the driver, "Hey brother, those people are undercover cops. I just got a citation for this."

It worked; the driver said, "Oh really?" and pulled away before committing the crime of offering a paid ride summoned by a streethail and not a smartphone app.

"Good job guys," the videographer taunted the undercover officers. "I'll see ya'll in court."

The female undercover officer then began filming him with her phone. "Your phone ain't dead no more huh?" says the videographer, alluding to the lie he says the pair told him when he was cited to explain why they were hailing by hand and not app.

The female officer accused him of harassing her and interfering with an investigation. A marked police car with two other officers then pulled up to the videographer, who told the newly arriving police, "I just got trapped and wanted to stop someone else from getting trapped."

"You know by doing this you are interfering with an know you could get arrested for that," a uniformed officer said.

The video ends there. Back in 2016, local radio station KPCC reported on how a similar set of Los Angeles stings was being paid for by the competing taxi industry.

L.A. police should focus on the city's actual problems instead of harrassing poor suckers who are just trying to earn an honest buck by providing rides to people for money. After all, in 2019 the city saw well over 12,000 violent and property crimes in just its first 40 days; that's more than 300 a day. There is no way that those officers' time is best spent trying to entrap peaceful service providers and harassing someone who dared "interfere" with them.

The video:

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Activist Students Demand Sarah Lawrence College Punish a Conservative Professor for Expressing His Views

"The College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students."

SLCSaidie Lou / Wikimedia CommonsA group of activist students at Sarah Lawrence College calling themselves the Diaspora Coalition have released a long list of demands after occupying the campus's main administrative building for 24 hours.

One of these demands concerns Samuel Abrams, a tenured professor of politics. Abrams is conservative-leaning, and has complained about the ideological bias of leftist administrators in a New York Times op-ed. Last November, his office door was vandalized by unknown persons who wanted him to apologize to marginalized students and quit the college.

Now the Diaspora Coalition is demanding that Sarah Lawrence review Abrams' tenure. The review should be conducted by a panel consisting of members of—you guessed it—the Diaspora Coalition, as well as faculty members of color.

"In addition, the College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students," the demands continue. The college must also apologize "for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed. Abrams must issue a public apology to the broader SLC community and cease to target Black people, queer people, and women."

At least 25 Sarah Lawrence professors stand by the demands, which include a variety of additional progressive goals, according to the campus' activist publication, The Phoenix.

The college did not respond to a request for comment. Abrams was underwhelmed by the college's previous statements regarding his free speech rights when his office door was vandalized, and is certainly not impressed now.

"The College had a chance to take the lead and serve as an national example in terms of how to have civil debates and disagreement and discuss facts and how they differ from opinions," Abrams told me via email. "Sadly, the school did not come out strongly on academic freedom and free speech and this behavior runs against the core values of the College itself."

Sarah Lawrence President Cristle Collins Judd has evidently agreed to meet with the demonstrators. One of their demands, of course, is that no action be taken to discipline them.

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Joe Biden Is Probably Running for President. He's Got a Lot of Baggage.

How will a former vice president with a lot of baggage fare in an increasingly progressive, intersectional Democratic primary?

Abaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/NewscomAbaca Press/Douliery Olivier/Abaca/Sipa USA/NewscomJoe Biden has made the decision to run for president in 2020, according to Tuesday article published by The Hill.

"I'm giving it a shot," Biden reportedly said on a phone call with senior Democratic lawmakers, lending credence to long-running speculation that the 76-year-old former vice president and senator from Delaware would enter the crowded Democratic primary field.

A spokesperson told The Hill that Biden still has yet to make a final decision. However, this latest news, plus the numerous hints that Biden keeps dropping, make his announcement an almost forgone conclusion.

Should he choose to enter the race, Biden, who's been in public office since the mid-1970s, has a lot of things going for him. The biggest pluses he has are probably high name recognition and his role as vice president in the still fondly remembered Obama administration.

Polls show Biden easily at the top of the field. The latest Monmouth poll has him at 28 percent support, compared to 25 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt). A poll of likely Iowa caucus voters showed Biden with 27 percent, nearly tied with Sanders, and well ahead of the rest of the field.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the Democratic primary contenders are taking a sharp left turn in an effort to appeal to an energized progressive base, Biden's comparative moderation and cross-party appeal could be seen as an asset to moderate Democrats, and even some progressive types, who are keen on beating Donald Trump at all costs.

He's the Democrat Republicans are reportedly most worried about.

Still, it's important not to overstate early polling, which often tests name recognition more than genuine popularity. Those same things that make Biden a popular name now could also sink his chances in a Democratic Party that is becoming increasingly intersectional and progressive.

Biden's most recent gaffe was his decision to call current Vice President Mike Pence "a decent guy." In the good old days, that might have been seen as a gentlemanly thing to do, something that might win you points for trying to rise above it all. In 2019, those remarks were seen as craven praising of the fiercely anti-LGBTQ Pence.

Biden eventually apologized for his remark, but he'll likely run into similar problems with his defense of billionaires, who he says "aren't bad guys."

More significant are Biden's past views on a number of hot button topics, including race and criminal justice, which his opponents will almost certainly hold his feet to the fire over.

Both the Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner have dug up Biden's opposition in the 1970s to busing—a policy whereby school children were bussed to schools often far from their homes in order to create more a more racially integrated school system.

"I think the concept of busing...that we are going to integrate people so that they all have the same access and they learn to grow up with one another and all the rest, is a rejection of the whole movement of black pride," said Biden in a 1972 interview as reported by the Examiner.

Biden was also the primary author of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (sometimes called the Biden Crime Bill) which increased federal sentences, created mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, and dedicated more money to building prisons and hiring cops.

The bill is often blamed for the explosion in the prison population and leading to our current era of mass incarceration.

Earlier this year, Biden expressed regret for some of the mandatory minimums included in his bill, but it's doubtful that level of contrition will be enough in the eyes of some voters.

Just four years ago, Biden wrote an essay for the Brennan Center on the 1994 crime bill in which he bemoaned cuts to police budgets, failed to mention anything about mandatory minimums, and included lines like "all life matters. And the fact that all life matters is the reason most officers became cops in the first place."

Earlier this month the Huffington Post published an article detailing Biden's opposition to anti-trust regulation in the 1970s and support for financial deregulation in the 1990s, two issues that economic populist like Sanders could use to rake him over the coals.

There's also the matter of Biden's wandering hands.

The former vice president is famous for engaging in some awkward, potentially over-the-line touching of women at public events, which is not necessarily a small issue in the #metoo era. At the very least, it could be an embarrassing thing to have to defend on a debate stage.

There's also the chance that Biden, for all his folksy charm, just isn't as exciting as other candidates in the race. He's an older, white male in a party that is increasingly young and ethnically diverse. He's got only a few big policy ideas in a party that is hungry for Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.

Biden has yet to make a formal announcement, but that will likely be coming soon. Once he enters the race, there will be a lot of opportunity for him to clarify his positions, and for his opponents to attack his record.

How Biden handles that scrutiny will determine whether his 2020 run will be successful, or just flame out like his previous attempts.

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Trump Wants to Tax Your Juul

The White House's budget proposal would subject E-cigarettes and vaping products to a new "user fee," but it's really just a tax.

MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS/NewscomMIKE BLAKE/REUTERS/NewscomPresident Donald Trump's budget proposal would make vaping more expensive by targetting e-cigarettes with a new "user fee" intended to generate $100 million annually.

The tax would fund regulatory programs and public health campaigns run by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products—despite the fact that there is no tobacco used in e-cigarettes, which instead use nicotine-laced fluids. Cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco are already subject to the FDA's user fees.

Extending those fees to e-cigarettes, the White House budget proposal says, is necessary to ensure that the FDA "has the resources to address today's alarming rise in youth e-cigarette use."

It's true that vaping is on the rise amoung teens. According to last year's National Youth Tobacco Survey, which is conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control, 20.8 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, up from just 11.7 percent in 2017.

But whether or not $100 million in new taxes on e-cigarettes will change that remains debatable, as does the more basic question of whether an increase in youth vaping is a public health problem at all. After all, e-cigarettes are far less dangerous than traditional, combustible cigarettes—as much as 95 percent less hazardous, according to some studies—and smoking rates among teenagers have continued to decline even as as e-cigarette use has surged.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum put it last year: "To the extent that teenagers who would otherwise be smoking are vaping instead, that should count as a public health victory."

Indeed, by imposing the same taxes and regulations on e-cigarettes as traditional cigarettes, the Trump administration is aiming to treat the products as equals when they clearly are not. Making it more difficult and expensive to vape may cause more young people to take up smoking, and may make it more difficult for smokers who want to use e-cigarettes as a way to quit their unhealthier habit.

"If the intent here is to achieve tax parity between cigarettes and vapor products, that is a huge mistake and a massive giveaway to Big Tobacco," says Liz Mair, a strategist for Vapers United, a nonprofit that opposes vaping taxes at the state and federal levels. "If your concern is improving public health, either as a matter of altruism and ethics or pure concern for taxpayers' pocketbooks, your policy should generally be to keep vapor taxes much lower than cigarette taxes to incentivize people to try to quit smoking using them."

Whether as a cash-grab or an attempt at nudging consumers towards healthier choices, the Trump administration's proposed vaping tax seems like bad policy. Congress has a long history of ignoring the president's budget in favor of writing its own—this is one idea that Congress should have no qualms about discarding.

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Escalation in Somalia is A Foreign Policy Failure in Progress: New at Reason

U.S. intervention quietly escalates in Somalia.


While the Trump administration has very visibly made and modified plans to reduce U.S. military intervention in Syria and Afghanistan, it has quietly escalated the fight in Somalia against terrorist group al-Shabab. U.S. airstrikes in the North African nation are on the rise, and that higher pace of bombardment has contributed to increased civilian displacement and all the turmoil that comes with it.

But al-Shabab is hardly a significant threat to U.S. security. Its aims are provincial, and its numbers are few. This redoubled commitment to endless war should be immediately reversed. U.S. military intervention in Somalia is exacerbating political instability without contributing to the security of the American or Somali people.

This is a foreign policy failure in progress. If the last two decades of missteps in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated anything, it is that secretive wars of choice are prone to mission creep and rife with unintended consequences. Rather than expand, U.S. military intervention in Somalia should be shut down before it spirals into another needless generational conflict, writes Bonnie Kristian in her latest at Reason.

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Watch N.J. Cop Throw Motionless Man to the Ground Before Dragging and Hitting Him: 'Get the Fuck Up'

The man wasn't moving, and didn't appear to pose any threat.

A New Jersey Transit Police officer was caught on video Saturday night throwing a motionless man to the ground, dragging him, hitting him, and telling him to "get the fuck up."

The exact circumstances that led to the events caught on camera were not clear. But it doesn't appear that the man posed any threat to the unidentified officer. "The unresponsive man was accosted and had his face brutally slammed into the pavement for no other apparent reason that the power trip of the Transit police officer," read the caption of the video, which was originally posted to Facebook, according to

The roughly one-minute video starts with the officer pulling the man up from the ground outside of the Trenton Transit Center, then throwing him back down to the pavement. "Get up, get out," the cop says. "Get up and get out now."

The man stays on the ground, barely moving, for roughly 45 seconds while the officer stands over him. Then, the cop drags him by the sweatshirt across the pavement before dropping him to the ground again and hitting him. "Get the fuck up," the officer says.

New Jersey Transit Police wouldn't identify the officer or the man he dragged, but did say they were looking into the incident. "The matter is currently under investigation with the New Jersey Transit Police Department Internal Affairs," spokesperson Jim Smith told ABC News. The officer involved has been suspended, Smith said.

According to the woman who took the video (who wanted to stay anonymous): "There was no resisting" and the man "wasn't even speaking." The woman told WPVI she stopped filming due to a dead phone battery, though the officer didn't stop dragging. "After my phone died it continued to happen. The berating. Probably another five minutes. Dragging him on the cement and dragging his face on the ground."

It's important to note that this video only captured about a minute of what was clearly a longer encounter. We don't know what happened before the camera started rolling, as the anonymous woman admitted, and we don't know why the man was on the ground in the first place.

However, it seems all too clear that it wasn't necessary for the officer to use such excessive force. The man on the ground wasn't moving, let alone resisting. It's difficult to understand why dragging him across the pavement and hitting him was an appropriate response to a man who was mostly immobile.

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Trump’s Budget Shortchanges the Prison Reform Bill He Signed

The FIRST STEP Act called for $75 million for reentry programs. It’s not listed in the White House’s summary.

President Donald Trump signing FIRST STEP ActOliver Contreras/Sipa USA/NewscomIn President Donald Trump's proposed 2020 budget, released Monday, here's how the White House talked about funding for criminal justice reform:

The Administration is committed to breaking this cycle of recidivism by better preparing individuals to reenter communities and to mitigating the collateral consequences of incarceration. In addition to backing criminal justice reform through the FIRST STEP Act, the Administration supports efforts to bolster evidence-based programming in Federal correctional institutions. The Budget provides approximately $754 million for reentry programming in the Bureau of Prisons, including funding for education, career and technical training, substance abuse, and residential reentry centers. Of this amount, the Budget provides $14 million for the development of new and innovative pilot programs designed to address the needs of individuals incarcerated in Federal prisons.

There is a bit of a problem, here, though. That $14 million for new pilot programs is all well and good, but when the FIRST STEP Act was passed, it called for $75 million per year for five years to implement all its changes. The money doesn't appear to be listed here.

Reason's Eric Boehm noted in February that the omnibus spending bill passing through Congress did not have this money in it, and the bipartisan groups that pushed for the passage of the FIRST STEP Act were alarmed by its absence.

Now, groups are further alarmed that while Trump's budget proposal specifically invokes the Act's name, it doesn't clearly delineate that $75 million as part of the proposal. This doesn't mean it isn't going to be fully funded, but it's not clear where and how, and according to The Marshall Project, the White House is declining to answer their questions. Justin George notes:

Money for the law's costs could be set aside by the Department of Justice, but it was awaiting the confirmation of a new attorney general. That didn't happen until last month when William Barr was confirmed.

Monday marked the start of the lengthy budget process, which lasts into the fall and involves additions, subtractions, negotiations and redrafts between federal agencies, the White House and Congress. It is Congress that allocates funding. While nothing has been written in stone, Trump's plan indicates what the White House considers important, and it may foretell political fights to come over empowering the law or leaving it toothless.

The $754 million referenced for reentry systems refers to existing programs, and it's a $15 million increase over 2019's spending. Even if that increase all goes to expanded job training and other programs in the FIRST STEP Act designed to ease federal prisoners back into the real world, help them become functioning members of society, and hopefully not commit new crimes, that's still only half the money called for in the legislation.

To be clear, because we're big on reducing government waste and cutting spending, the Justice Department's budget doesn't have to increase by exactly $75 million to cover the expenses of the FIRST STEP Act. And it most certainly doesn't need to. We can say with confidence that there's already enough money sloshing around in the Justice Department to fully fund the legislation's new programs.

We should be concerned, though, that this budget summary doesn't indicate it has any plans to do so. Criminal justice reformers on the left, center, and right all came together to push through these very, very modest changes. Trump signed the bill and praised it, even referencing it in his last State of the Union address. He wants credit for the bill's passage, but that credit also requires that it actually be implemented, not just passed.

Here's a suggestion! The White House is proposing in this budget plan shifting responsibility for tobacco and alcohol enforcement entirely out of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to the Treasury Department instead. Why not put the rest of its duties in the hands of the FBI and kill the agency entirely?

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Trump's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is Back

The administration's new $1 trillion infrastructure plan is light on both details and free market reforms.

Ron Sachs/SIPA/NewscomRon Sachs/SIPA/Newscom

President Donald Trump's 2020 budget request to Congress has been released, and with it is a renewed call for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. This 13-digit proposal is a notably scaled back version of Trump's previous plans, both in the amount of new money the president is looking to spend and in reforms he's hoping to make.

"Decades after building-out the core of our infrastructure, much of it is in urgent need of repair, expansion, and modernization," reads a fact-sheet released alongside the budget. "Without continued investment and maintenance, America's infrastructure will continue to age, deteriorate in quality and performance, and gradually contribute less to American economic output."

To right the situation, the White House's 2020 budget calls for $1 trillion in infrastructure investments, at least $200 billion of which would be made up of new federal spending.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is roughly the same plan the administration released in February 2018, which promised $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments kickstarted by $200 billion in new federal spending.

That plan was fairly detailed, coming with some funding formulas for that $200 billion in new spending that put an emphasis on projects that could attract, state, local, or even private investment, and which would not need ongoing federal support.

The February 2018 plan also included regulatory reforms that would have made it easier to privatize airports and toll interstate highways. Private Activity Bonds—tax-exempt bonds issued by private sponsors to raise capital for infrastructure projects—would likewise have been expanded.

That proposal died on the vine as Congress became preoccupied with other issues and Trump failed to advocate for it.

This new proposal, while still including some broad language about how the federal government shouldn't be "the primary funder of the Nation's transportation systems" is otherwise pretty light on details.

Of that $200 billion in new spending, the administration has specific plans for only $10 billion of it. The White House says that it will "will work with the Congress on allocating the remaining amount."

Unlike the White House's February 2018 infrastructure plan—which envisioned a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan as an addition to existing federal efforts—the budget documents released today suggest that the Trump administration will be counting a renewal of current surface transportation spending toward its $1 trillion plan.

This latest budget document is "less specific, and it relies slightly less on the private sector than other proposals" had, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy expert with the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website.

That change, says Feigenbaum, could be a nod to the fact that the White House knows it will not be able to get many of its infrastructure priorities through a Democrat-controlled House. It could also reflect an internal change in the administration's priorities.

"Many of the architects of his original proposal are no longer in the administration," said Feigenbaum, meaning the White House could have "folks with a different list of priorities that are not as strictly free market as they once were."

A good example of this can be seen in the portion of Trump's budget proposal dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The president's request includes $3.3 billion for updating the agency's air traffic control operations to improve safety and reduce delays.

Notably missing is any reference to spinning off air traffic control operations, currently run by the FAA, into a separate nonprofit corporation. This is something the administration has supported in the past as a way of modernizing air traffic control services, and references to the idea were included in both previous presidential budget requests.

That it is now missing form this budget proposal is an indication that the Trump administration's plans for infrastructure reform are now less ambitious and less free market.

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Illinois Governor Proposes a ‘Fair Tax’: New at Reason

But it wouldn’t be fair to small businesses


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has unveiled his graduated state income tax plan, which would raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Right now, the Illinois Constitution says everyone pays a 4.95 percent state income tax no matter what they earn.

The Democratic governor calls his plan a "fair tax," on the grounds that a billionaire like himself should not pay the same amount as someone who only makes $100,000 or $30,000. His plan includes new taxes on marijuana, sports betting, insurance companies, and plastic bags, and higher taxes on cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

Illinois spends, spends, spends. But it cannot spend its way into prosperity. The government has to roll back its spending, balance its budget, and reduce taxes in order to keep businesses in the state. The state owes $8.5 billion in unpaid bills and $134 billion in unfunded pensions, along with the $3.2 billion budget deficit. Even if Pritzker closes the budget deficit, how will the state pay off the rest of its debt? How will the state handle new spending? Mary Chastain breaks down the new proposal at Reason.

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Reed College Trains RAs to Recognize Covert White Supremacy. Examples: 'Colorblindness' and 'Assuming Good Intentions Are Enough.'

"It's provocative, and that was the intention."

ReedAnother Believer / Wikimedia CommonsStudents who wish to become housing assistants at Reed College must undergo training to identify overt and covert white supremacy. A handout used in the January seminar lists examples of both: Overt white supremacy concerns obviously racist things such as racial slurs, hate crimes, and using the n-word, whereas covert white supremacy consists of a much broader and more baffling spectrum of behaviors, including "assuming that good intentions are enough," engaging in "cultural appropriation," expecting people of color "to teach white people," being a "self-appointed white ally," and of course, use of the phrase "Make America Great Again."

It's this last inclusion that drew the attention of The College Fix. But whether or not MAGA should be considered always and automatically an example of racism, there are enough questionable inclusions to make a reasonable person wonder about this list.

As it turns out, the list was not created by Reed College. A staffer at the college's Office for Inclusive Community found it on the internet and printed it off.

"It's provocative, and that was the intention, to present the RAs with something provocative and spur a conversation about the difference between implicit bias versus explicit bias," Kevin Myers, a spokesperson for Reed College, told The College Fix.

Note that this conversation did not take place inside a classroom—it took place in a training seminar for student resident advisors and housing staff. This is concerning; as part of a course's curriculum, one might reasonably expect this information to be presented by an academic expert on white supremacy, and the subsequent discussion to contain some nuance and room for disagreement. The Office for Inclusive Community, on the other hand, is an activist bureaucracy. What free speech assurances are there for students entering an administrative training program?

When I talk about campus free speech issues in the context of my forthcoming book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump (pre-order here), I'm often asked whether I think the faculty are indoctrinating the students. People are usually surprised to learn that the greater dangers to intellectual diversity and freedom of expression may be coming from the administration, and this Reed College seminar is an excellent example of why that's the case.

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Elizabeth Warren Wants to Make Your Life More Annoying and More Expensive

The Massachusetts Democrat is running for president, but sometimes it seems like she's running for America's super-CEO.

Sam Simmonds/Polaris/NewscomSam Simmonds/Polaris/NewscomTo understand the ramifications of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) new plan to break up big tech, consider AmazonBasics. It's an in-house brand under which Amazon sells many things, from bath towels to sheets to batteries. The label is probably best known for its electronics cables, which typically cost quite a bit less than their brand name counterparts and are more reliable than most cheap generic brands.

The New York Times has praised AmazonBasics cables for their general reliability. And Wirecutter, a consumer reviews site owned by the Times, chose AmazonBasics HDMI cables, an essential cord for connecting supporting devices to home theaters and flat-screen televisions, as their best all-around pick. Two years ago, a Times Smarter Living columnist recommended AmazonBasics' affordably priced 6 foot long iPhone charging cable as a cheap way to change your life for the better, calling the longer-than-average cable "magic" and writing, "the happiness of lying on my couch while charging far outweighed the cable's $7.99 price tag." It's a surprisingly affordable form of bliss.

The point is: These cables are good. They're inexpensive, reliable, and, thanks to Amazon's ubiquity, easy to come by.

Elizabeth Warren wants Amazon to stop selling them.

That's because Warren's proposal would prohibit large companies from selling products in marketplaces they own and operate, meaning that Apple, for example, could not sell software through the App Store it runs. "Apple, you've got to break it apart from their App Store. It's got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store," she told The Verge over the weekend. "They don't get to do both at the same time."

As an Amazon house brand selling products within Amazon's platform, AmazonBasics would go away. It would have to be shut down or spun off, and would thus no longer benefit from being backed by Amazon's considerable resources. The same would be true of numerous other AmazonBrands, from GoodThreads, which offers quality, inexpensive clothing basics, to Stone & Beam, the company's label for modestly priced furniture and home goods.

Warren has billed her plan as a way to promote competition and provide consumers more choices, but the most immediate and obvious effect is that consumers would lose inexpensive, reliable options.

Amazon's house brands are not the only products and services that would be affected.

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The World Wide Web Just Won't Grow Up. Good?: Reason Roundup

Plus: Reason web-culture coverage past...introducing the millennial presidential candidate...another Seattle "sex trafficking" case based on nonsense

CernCernToday marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the internet as we know it. "In 1989 the world's largest physics laboratory, CERN, was a hive of ideas and information stored on multiple incompatible computers," CERN explains today.

Tim Berners-Lee envisioned a unifying structure for linking information across different computers, and wrote a proposal in March 1989 called 'Information Management: A Proposal'. By 1991 this vision of universal connectivity had become the World Wide Web.

For the record, the internet and the web aren't technically the same. Internet refers to "the global network of computers that are able to communicate with one another and dates back to the US military's ARPANET developed in the 60s," as The Verge notes. "The web, meanwhile, is the public's main way of accessing this network, and was proposed by Berners-Lee in the late 80s."

Today, Tim Berners-Lee and CERN are leading celebrations and discussion in honor of the web's three decades—and in contemplation of where we go from here. Right now, the web is still in a troubled "digital adolesence," Berners-Lee said, but we're on a journey toward "a more mature, responsible and inclusive future."

Meanwhile, many folks are reflecting on their earliest web experiences and how things have changed in the past 30 years. "Reports of the web's death are exaggerated," argues Klint Finley at Wired.

Obviously, the spirit of early web culture was much different than today—more free, sure, but also way less wide. Expansion to an ever-growing number of people and an ever-growing segment of our lives has made old phrases like IRL (for the kids, that's "in real life"—something people used to consider separate from web culture) obsolete. Meanwhile, "context collapse" has taken on whole new meanings and proportions.

It's tempting to look around at Twitter outrage cycles, congressional censorship designs on social media, seemingly arbitrary bans by web companies, and all the other negative features of today's world wide web and conclude that we've been backsliding. But I think this shows a little historical revisionism—after all, congressional censorship designs on the digital have always been strong, and while outrage culture may be more participatory than ever, so is the backlash against it. Tech platforms that started radical may have gone establishment, but their early spirit is alive and vital among newer platforms, especially encrypted technology companies. Sex workers may face increasing state micromanagement of their tech use, but they're also able disseminate their messages directly and worldwide like never before—a paradox that holds true for many marginalized communities and can be huge for breaking through the bullshit narratives constructed by the self-interested and powerful.

It's a mixed bag here, is what I'm saying. We've got a lot to celebrate, and a lot of work to do. In that spirit, here's some of Reason's coverage of digital culture highs and lows:

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Tax Myths: New at Reason

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks taxing the rich at 70 percent will bring in lots of tax money. It won't.

On 60 Minutes, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) recently said "people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes."

Anderson Cooper then asked her what a "fair share" would be.

Ocasio-Cortez responded that in the past, "Sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60-70 percent."

Soon, that became the progressive plan.

But economic historian Phil Magness, of the American Institute for Economic Research, says that progressives miss an important fact: The high tax rates that America had in the past actually didn't bring in much revenue.

When rates were at 70 percent, Magness tells John Stossel, "A millionaire on average would pay 41 percent."

That's because rich people find loopholes.

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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EU’s Attempt to Stop Terrorist Content Online Will Lead to Massive Censorship: New at Reason

Demands for instant responses and the possibility of huge fines will lead to a culture of quick, thoughtless removal of messages.

Censored phoneKlevo / Dreamstime.comSocial media platforms continue to struggle with the unenviable balancing act that pits free expression against content moderation. The European Union may soon make this endeavor all the more fraught with its proposal to deputize service providers as censors of terrorist content.

The plan, which was unveiled last year, would obligate "hosting service providers" like Facebook and Twitter to remove any "information which is used to incite and glorify the commission of terrorist offences, encouraging the contribution to and providing instructions for committing terrorist offences as well as promoting participation in terrorist groups" within one hour or face severe financial penalties up to 4 percent of the service provider's global annual turnover.

EU member states would be required to create or designate a "competent authority" to issue takedown requests to hosting service providers—in other words, to instruct websites to censor content. Additionally, hosting service providers would be expected to develop "proactive measures" to prevent terrorist content from being posted in the future. Andrea O'Sullivan explains how this is likely to go horribly wrong.

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Netflix Bows to the Saudis: New at Reason

Even tech giants have to follow the law.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonIn January, The New York Times reported that free speech had suffered a setback when Netflix restricted access to an episode of a comedy act at the request of the government of Saudi Arabia. The episode of Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act, which included impolitic remarks about the Saudi crown prince, remains available to Netflix subscribers elsewhere.

The Times underscored its displeasure by publishing an opinion piece attacking "Netflix's supine compliance" in the face of a "dictatorial crackdown," with a historical Hitler reference tossed in for good measure. A few days later, the Times published a second opinion article lamenting that the "streaming giant has set a disturbing precedent" and has "lent some legitimacy to the claim that it is wrong for Saudis to ever hear their leaders criticized."

It's true, of course, that the absolute monarchy ruling Saudi Arabia lacks a sense of humor, tolerates no criticism, and has a disturbing affinity for bonesaws, writes Declan McCullagh.

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Brickbat: Uniform of the Day

LASD signSonnenbergshots / Dreamstime.comA Los Angeles county sheriff's deputy has pleaded guilty to his role in a theft from a legal marijuana business that netted more than half a ton of marijuana and more than $600,000 in cash. Marc Antrim was off duty but wearing a sheriff's office jacket and driving a sheriff's office SUV when he and his partners pulled up to the firm's security gate and showed guards a fake warrant. They locked the guards up and began to rob the place. They were interrupted by Los Angeles Police Department officers patrolling the area. But Antrim was able to convince cops he was serving a search warrant on the business.

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Yes, You Can Get Kicked Off Twitter for Saying 'Learn To Code'—Even If It’s Not Harassment

"I’m more confused than angry about all of this."

TwitterPavel Starikov / DreamstimeChuck Ross, a reporter at The Daily Caller, was recently suspended from Twitter after making a "learn to code" meta joke—an incident that calls into question the company's earlier claims regarding the problematic quip.

A few weeks ago, The Wrap's Jon Levine reported that a "person in the know" had told him tweeting "learn to code" at a laid-off journalist would be considered a violation of the platform's terms of service, and could result in a ban. Twitter swiftly clarified that the phrase "learn to code" itself would not be considered harassment unless directed at specific individuals as part of a targeted campaign. The company routinely takes action against such kinds of communication, whether or not they are insinuations that coding experience is a better path to financial stability than journalism.

"Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals—a policy that's long been against the Twitter Rules," a spokesperson told me.

On Sunday afternoon, Ross sent a "learn to code" tweet that should not have been considered harassment under the above definition. The tweet is screenshotted here. A writer for State Scoop had quoted former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, as saying that a 34-year-old geologist who works for ExxonMobil should "be sharpening their other skills." Ross quote-tweeted the statement, adding "learn to code." This was clearly a joke directed at the theoretical geologist, not the State Scoop writer.

Nevertheless, Ross was suspended by Twitter around 10:00 p.m., shortly after President Trump had retweeted one of his articles.

"I have no evidence of course that this was a causal event, but I can imagine that maybe one of the numerous trolls who jumped into my Twitter feed referred me to Twitter," Ross told me in an interview.

Ross appealed the suspension, and Twitter told him it would be several days before a decision was made. Preferring not to wait that long, Ross opted to comply with Twitter's request that he delete the tweet. He was then placed under lockdown for 12 hours, during which he couldn't tweet but could read and send direct messages and browse other people's tweets.

Twitter did not immediately respond to my request for comment about what happened. Ross told me that a representative for the company confirmed to him that they are looking into the matter.

"I'm more confused than angry about all of this," Ross said.

I'm also confused, since Twitter's actions here contradict their contention that tweeting "learn to code" is only verboten in certain situations. And this is not the first such contradiction: A Washington Examiner writer was similarly suspended for a learn-to-code tweet that had nothing to do with harassment. (Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently admitted that the company may have been "too aggressive" about policing this specific phrase.)

I respect Twitter's right as a private company to set its own rules for what kinds of speech are allowed. But the platform is ostensibly committed to free speech, and it's thus a tad concerning that making an obvious joke about the employment prospects of imaginary people is now being treated as harassment. At the very least, I would like to know more about how these decisions are made.

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Trump's Budget Would Add $7.9 Trillion to the National Debt Over the Next Decade

And the real outcome is likely to be worse, since the budget relies on overly rosy assumptions about future economic growth.

Keegan Barber/ZUMA Press/NewscomKeegan Barber/ZUMA Press/NewscomPage 1 of President Donald Trump's proposed budget boldly promises to tame America's runaway national debt, which recently surpassed $22 trillion and continues to grow.

"My 2020 Budget builds on the tremendous progress we have made and provides a clear roadmap for the Congress to bring federal spending and debt under control," Trump writes in a message to Congress that serves as the introduction to the budget plan. "We must protect future generations from Washington's habitual deficit spending."

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the 150-page budget undermines the opening salvo. Trump's budget relies on "accounting gimmicks" long popular with both parties, such as using overly rosy economic projections to make an end-run around budget caps that his fellow Republicans once championed. The proposed budget would run trillion-dollar deficits in each of the next four years, and would take 15 years to balance—even with the optimistic assumptions about future economic growth—five years longer than the Trump administration's first budget promised.

The budget proposal released Monday also puts to bed the question of whether Trump can keep his campaign promise to eliminate the national debt in eight years.

Indeed, under the projections included in the budget plan, the country would run a deficit of $631 billion in 2025 (which would be Trump's eighth budget, if he remains in office that long)—hardly smaller than the $666 billion deficit in the final fiscal year of Preisdent Barack Obama's time in office.

Source: The White HouseSource: The White House

Over 10 years, Trump's budget would add more than $7.9 trillion to the national debt.

The real outcome is likely to be much worse than the estimates provided Monday by the White House. That's because Trump's budget assumes 3 percent annual economic growth for the next decade, a figure that's well in excess of what most economists expect. The Federal Reserve, for example, projects 2.3 percent growth over the next year.

Without those overly rosy assumptions, the national debt would likely be $2 trillion higher by 2029, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a nonpartisan group that advocates for balanced budgets. The group says the budget is likely to add about $10 trillion to the national debt by 2029.

"President Trump's budget aims to reverse an unsustainable fiscal situation and put debt on a downward path relative to the economy," says Maya MacGuineas, president of the CRFB. "Unfortunately, as in previous years, he relies on far too many accounting gimmicks and fantasy assumptions and puts forward far too few actual solutions."

The latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office assume lower levels of future revenue than the Trump budget does. As a result, the CBO does not expect the deficit to decline during the next decade, and expects that it will reach $1.3 trillion annually by 2029.

While likely exaggerating future economic growth, Trump's budget also overstates the likelihood of achieving reductions in domestic spending.

Perhaps the best example of unrealistic spending cuts are the $660 billion in savings that the budget assumes would come from repealing and replacing Obamacare—a policy that couldn't get through Congress when Republicans controlled both chambers and seems virtually impossible now that Democrats hold the House. Already, Democrats are slamming Trump's budget for the non-defense discretionary cuts the administration has proposed.

Worse, Trump's budget attempts to hide spending increases for the Pentagon by moving those new funds into off-the-books accounts originally meant to pay for America's foreign wars. The administration says it wants to tackle wasteful spending in welfare and other domestic programs, but there's plenty of wasteful spending at the Pentagon, too. It's hard to take the president's calls for belt-tightening seriously when the cuts only apply to some parts of the federal budget.

Balancing a budget that's $22 trillion in the red is not easy, of course, but the first requirement should be to stop making matters worse.

"The nation has never been in such a troubling fiscal situation," writes Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Federal debt is soaring even after a decade of economic growth. Debt is imposing a rising cost that burdens all of us. Politicians have always had incentives to spend, but never before has Washington been so irresponsible."

Trump's budget also calls for the extension of the 2017 tax cuts, which are currently expected to expire in 2025. As Edwards points out, the budget could balance within 10 years—even with lower expected revenues by keeping the tax cuts in place—if annual spending growth was restrained to 1.8 percent.

That's a reasonable figure. Too bad this budget ignores it.

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The Socialists Are Coming! Or Are They?: Podcast

Democratic mega-proposals, GOP budgetary fictions, prostitution decriminalization surprises, and Zardoz moments galore

The new Editors' Roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast (featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and me), starts off, as so much policy discussion does nowadays, with a quote from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.). From there we get into polling data about the youths and their socialisms, concrete mega-proposals from 2020 presidential candidates, and garbage tweets like this:

Also broached during this podcast: President Donald Trump's practically fictional budget request, the surprising emergence of decriminalized prostitution as at least a side issue in the 2020 Democratic primary, Captain Marvel's too-obvious '90s references (as if such a thing were possible), and Nick Gillespie's eternal Zardoz moments.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes.

Listen via Stitcher by going here or clicking below.

Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'IMF' by DOt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 30

Relevant links from the show:

"Large Majority of Millennials and Gen Z Support Private Health Insurance While Nearly Half Say They Want Socialism," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"Why Are We Still Debating the 'Merits' of Socialism?" by Steven Greenhut

"The Rise of the Low-Tax Socialists," by Peter Suderman

"'Everyone' Here Is a Socialist Except Most Americans," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"White House Budget Calls for Domestic Spending Cuts, Military Spending Hikes, $8 Billion for Border Wall, Extension of Tax Cuts," by Eric Boehm

"Kamala Harris Won't Denounce Federal Law That Harms Sex Workers, but May Support Decriminalizing Prostitution," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"Captain Marvel Is a Message Movie Without a Message," by Peter Suderman

And, of course,

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

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Does Prosperity Trigger Calls for Socialism? New at Reason.

In good economic times, heightened inequality means that class tensions are heightened, as soaring visible wealth stokes envy and resentment.

Artur Widak/ZUMA Press/NewscomArtur Widak/ZUMA Press/NewscomThe U.S. stock market is a decade into a rally that has seen broad indexes triple in value and generate $30 trillion in wealth. The unemployment rate is 3.8% nationally, and the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are tied with even lower seasonally adjusted rates of 2.4%. Real annual growth in the gross domestic product was recently estimated at 2.9% for the U.S. in 2018, outpacing other developed economies such as those of Japan and Europe.

Does this sound like a textbook case of pre-revolutionary misery? Not exactly.

Socialists, though, see virtually any economic condition as paving the path away from capitalism. In bad economic times, the population rebels against the system that can be blamed for having led to deprivation. And in good economic times, the heightened inequality means that class tensions are heightened, as soaring visible wealth stokes envy and resentment.

It may be that the danger of socialism is greater in good times than in bad, because in good times, people are susceptible to the illusion that the country can afford socialism, writes Ira Stoll.

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Feds Say Ohio Vice Cop Andrew Mitchell Abducted Women and Forced Them Into Sex

Authorities wouldn't say whether the charges related to Donna Dalton, who was shot to death by Mitchell last August.

Paul Becker/FacebookPaul Becker/FacebookThe Columbus, Ohio, police officer who fatally shot Donna Dalton last year has now been arrested by the FBI and indicted on federal charges. Vice cop Andrew Mitchell is accused of kidnapping women "under the guise of an arrest" and forcing victims "to engage in sex for their freedom," as the Columbus Division of Police put it.

A seven-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury last week and unsealed today, and federal agents picked up Mitchell this morning. The charges encompass activity beginning in July 2017.

"While under the guise of an arrest," said U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Ohio Ben C. Glassman at a press conference Monday, Mitchell "picked up a woman, transported her to another location, and then offered her freedom in exchange for oral sex."

Mitchell—an ex-homicide cop, 30-year veteran of the force, and vice officer since May 2017—is accused of similar conduct with another woman in September 2017 and again in spring 2018, forcing her into vaginal and anal sex.

"Having become aware of the investigation into his activities," Mitchell then tampered with witnesses, said Glassman. He later attempted to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into this, and then lied to the FBI when asked if he had ever "had sex with a prostitute," when he had both done so under circumstances like this as well as "paid for sex some."

Glassman stressed that "this is just an indictment" and that the investigation is ongoing. For now, Mitchell faces federal charges of witness tampering, making false statements, obstruction of justice, and deprivation of rights under the color of law.

Authorities would not say whether the federal charges are related to Dalton (also known as Donna Castleberry), who was shot multiple times while in Mitchell's unmarked police car last August. Mitchell claimed that he killed her in self-defense after she stabbed him in the hand.

Police later announced that at the time of the shooting, Mitchell was already under investigation based on an unspecified citizen complaint. The department's critical incident response team began a separate investigation into Dalton's death. Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O'Brien said the latter investigation had been completed and findings would be presented to a grand jury later this month.

Columbus police opened an investigation into its whole vice squad around the same time. Vice officers faced lawsuits over their arrest of Stormy Daniels, who was making a guest appearance at a Columbus strip club, and two other workers there. Charges against all three women were dropped, and the city has already settled the non-Daniels suit.

In September, the chief of Columbus police asked federal investigators to pitch in. The division "has requested the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Public Corruption Task Force as evidence has developed in the investigations of the Columbus Police Vice Section," it said in a statement. "The Task Force includes the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio Auditor of State, and the FBI. A formal request was made by Chief Kim Jacobs to transfer the investigations and the Task Force accepted."

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If the Feds Have Stopped Snooping on Our Phone Records, Watch Out for the Anti-Encryption Propaganda

Backdoors into your texts and private message provide far more information than your phone metadata.

FBI Director Christpher WrayAdMedia/NewscomThe USA Freedom Act may be dying not with a bang, or a fight, or a big public debate, but with a whimper. And that might be explained by a simple question: When's the last time you used your cellphone to make an actual phone call?

If you missed the news (and you might have, since as it barely made a dent in the news cycle), the National Security Agency (NSA) has reportedly abandoned a surveillance tool it fought hard to maintain after Edward Snowden exposed it. The NSA had been secretly collecting millions and millions of Americans' phone records and metadata and storing them to look for potential connections to terrorism. Or at least that's the reason we were told they were doing it—there is no evidence that collecting all this private domestic information actually helped fight terrorism at all.

When this abuse of the PATRIOT Act was exposed, intelligence officials and their lawmaker allies fought hard to keep the authority to collect all this information. A compromise was reached in 2015 with the USA Freedom Act, which allowed the NSA to request Americans' phone records from the telecom companies themselves in a more restricted fashion. They still requested millions and millions of records through this system each year. Then they discovered that they were getting records they didn't have the authority to access and had to purge the system last year.

Now an aide to a Republican congressman claims that the NSA has all but abandoned using the Freedom Act to collect phone metadata and the law might not get renewed when it expires at the end of the year. If that's true, it's a strange end to a long fight between national security state officials and privacy activists—a battle that stretched across multiple administrations.

There's a good reason to be skeptical: It's the NSA! They might have developed