Your Tattoos Are Problematic: New at Reason

Oscar is a white guy living in Austin, Texas, with a penchant for Japanese-style tattoos. A huge black and white dragon arcs over his left shoulder. The dragon’s scales subtly change shape as he moves, and the beast’s eyes are beady and glaring, nestled below spiked eyebrows and above bared fangs. The tattoo is lightly shaded, darker around the perimeter of the dragon, with a background of stylized leaves and waves that add depth and complexity to the piece.

What Oscar knows about the origins of Japanese tattooing, he likes: “It’s associated with outlaws and outcasts—there were all these merchants and gangsters in Japan that were shunned from the societal hierarchy. Some people think the tradition began as a way for those merchants to show off their wealth privately, and for gangsters to mark themselves as part of a counterculture.”

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Keep the Government Out of Poor People’s Food Choices: New at Reason

Canned foodFood policy expert Baylen Linnekin takes a withering look at the proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to replace food aid with a “harvest box” full of food shipped to poor families:

A USDA official tried to spin the proposal as akin to Blue Apron, the upscale (and Juicero-level pointless) meal delivery service.

That’s the spin. But criticism of the proposal has been both widespread and withering. Reason‘s Eric Boehm likens it to “Amazon Prime, but for terrible canned food selected by bureaucrats.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called the proposal a “‘cruel and demeaning and an awful idea’ that would strip families of the ability to choose which groceries they buy.” USA Today‘s editorial board dubbed the harvest box proposal “a program fresh from Cold War Bulgaria.”

“The proposal has drawn widespread criticism from advocates for the poor, who see it as a paternalistic ‘nanny state’ approach that also happens to favor agricultural producers,” reports the L.A. Times. “Retailers who accept SNAP debit cards also worry about lost sales, even as leaders of food banks worry about additional work preparing the meal boxes.”

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Trump Considering Huge Tariff Increase on Steel, Aluminum With Weak ‘National Security’ Rationale

The Trump administration is trying to sell its plan to slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as necessary for national security, but the import taxes are an unnecessary step that will hurt American manufacturers and increase prices on a wide range of products, from cars to beer cans.

Last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross formally submitted to the White House a proposal for 24 percent tariffs on all steel imports. Alternatively, the plan calls for a 53 percent tariff on steel imported from 12 nations, including China, with import quotas on steel produced in all other countries, capping possible imports from those locations at 2017 levels. The proposal also calls for a tariff of 7.7 percent on aluminum imports from all countries, or a 23.6 percent import on products from five countries (China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam) with a quota on all imports from other places.

The tariffs are necessary because relying on imported steel and aluminum “threatens to impair the national security,” Ross said. The theory is that, because American weapons of war depend on steel and aluminum supplies, domestic producers must be protected from international supplies that could be cut-off in the event of a conflict.

That rationale is “weak,” according to a collection of libertarian, conservative, and nonpartisan think tanks—the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC Action, the R Street Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks and the National Taxpayers Union—that wrote an open letter to the White House on Friday opposing the tariffs. In the event of a conflict, the Pentagon has specific deals with American allies to continue supplying steel and aluminum.

“The national security case to restrict steel and aluminum imports is thin and the toll such restrictions would take on the economy is considerable,” the groups say. “Steel and aluminum tariffs or other import restrictions would hurt downstream domestic manufacturers.”

Despite that, Trump appears to be favoring most severe tariff option—24 percent on all steel imports and 7.7 percent on all aluminum imports—Bloomberg reported Friday, citing unnamed sources in the administration.

According to the Commerce Department’s report on the proposed tariffs, a 24 percent tariff on all steel imports would be expected to reduce imports by 37 percent.

Domestic manufacturers are eager for more protectionism from the White House. In February, executives from the largest American steel companies wrote a letter to Trump encouraging “action to stop the relentless inflow of foreign steel.”

While those American steel manufacturers would benefit from the tariffs, a far larger slice of the economy would be hurt. According to 2015 Census data, steel mills employ about 140,000 Americans and add about $36 billion to the economy, but steel-consuming industries employ more than 6.5 million Americans and add $1 trillion to the economy.

The last time the federal government imposed steel tariffs—during George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House, when tariffs ranging from 8 percent to 30 percent were set—the higher costs for importing steel dealt a $4 billion hit to the economy and led to 200,000 job losses, the six groups who wrote to the White House argued. Those tariffs were intended to remain in place for three years, but were withdrawn just a year after they were imposed.

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission’s database, most steel products are not subject to specific tariffs when imported. Most aluminum products have tariffs set between 2 percent and 4 percent currently.

The Trump administration has already slapped tariffs on solar panels (30 percent) and washing machines (ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent) in the name of protecting domestic manufacturers.

Those tariff weren’t created in the name of national security. And, when you get right down to it, the proposal for tariffs on steel and aluminum aren’t about national security either. It’s just protectionism, and it leaves almost everyone worse off.

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3 Broward County Police Officers Made No Attempt to Enter the School and Stop Nikolas Cruz

BrowardScot Peterson, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school resource officer who declined to confront alleged mass killer Nikolas Cruz in the midst of his attack, wasn’t alone in remaining safely away from the massacre: three Broward County sheriff’s deputies waited outside the school as well.

When Coral Springs police officers arrived on scene, they discovered several officers who “had their pistols drawn and were behind their vehicles… and not one of them had gone into the school,” according to a CNN report that described the Coral Springs officers as “stunned and upset” to discover that no one else in law enforcement had dared to take on the shooter.

This news isn’t exactly surprising, given that we already knew Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel had suspended two other officers—in addition to Peterson, who has resigned—for their conduct during the mass shooting. Perhaps Israel is not directly responsible for his officer’s behavior, though there are other questions he should answer about Broward County’s myriad failures in preventing the massacre.

Stoneman Douglas. Broward County. Florida’s Department of Families and Children. The FBI. Where does this story of unfathomable government incompetence end?

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott Calls for New Gun Controls, More Cops in Schools

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, today announced a legislative agenda in response to the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

His plan includes new restrictions aimed at:

Those who other people think of as dangerous. “I want to create a new program in Florida—I call it the Violent Threat Restraining Order,” Scott said. “This will allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons. There would be speedy due process for the accused and any fraudulent or false statements would face criminal penalties.”

A handful of states already have similar laws. California, which has such a law allowing family members and police to preemptively take away people’s gun possession rights, saw an attempt last year to also grant that power to school officials, co-workers, and mental health professionals. That attempt was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

This is one of the rare, rare cases where a proposed law change can legitimately be imagined to have prevented this specific crime had it been in effect. That said, taking away people’s gun possession rights at the word of family members or “community welfare experts” will entrap far, far more people who would never have actually harmed anyone than catch the very, very rare potential shooter. Statements need not be “fraudulent or false” to restrict the rights of the innocent.

Those adjudicated mentally ill. If a court involuntarily commits someone because they are a risk to themselves or others, they would be required to surrender all firearms and not regain their right to purchase or possess a firearm until a court hearing,” Scott said. “We are also proposing a minimum 60-day period before individuals can ask a court to restore access to firearms.”

As Jacob Sullum explained here at Reason last week, such laws will of necessity harm enormously more innocent people than they will stop someone who actually would ever harm anyone with a gun. Scott is banking on the likelihood that Floridians are ready to see any possibility, however small, of saving a child’s life as overbalancing any innocent people deprived of the right to defend themselves with the best means available.

Those aged 18 to 20. We will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older,” Scott said, with “exceptions for active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.” (Previously, the minimum age was 18. Existing national law prohibits that group from buying handguns, but not the sort of rifle used in the Parkland murders.)

While Cruz was in this age group, those in that group make up a minority of mass shooters. According to the FBI’s 2016 crime statistics, 18-to-20-year-olds commit 10.2 percent of all crimes, likely more than twice their actual percentage representation in the population.

While the FBI’s homicide data is not broken down precisely for that age group, rough guesses from existing breakdowns indicate that 18-to-20-year-olds commit about 8.7 percent of homicides in America. They are indeed by available data more likely to commit violent crimes and murders than the population at large.

If you give any credence to the notion that guns can be meaningful tools of self-defense, it’s worth considering that age group Scott wants to disarm also have historically suffered the very highest rate of violent crime victimization.

The NRA attempted recently to legally challenge already existing legal restrictions on people in that 18-20-year-old range’s ability to purchase weapons, on Second Amendment grounds. But the group failed, so if Scott gets such a law passed in Florida it is not likely to fall to a constitutional challenge anytime soon. As always, such restrictions will have an overwhelmingly larger effect of depriving innocents of the right to armed self-defense than they will prevent murders.

Those under various types of restraining orders. “We will prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm,” Scott said, “if they are subject to an injunction for protection against stalking, cyberstalking, dating violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, or domestic violence.”

Scott further announced the hope that Florida’s legislature will work with him to “establish enhanced criminal penalties for threats to schools, like social media threats of shootings or bombings,” and to “enhance penalties if any person possesses or purchases a gun after they have been deemed by state law to not have access to a gun.”

The governor also wants to ban bump stocks, and he wants to spend “$450 million to keep students safe,” including “a mandatory law enforcement officer in every public school,” “at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students,” “mandatory active shooter training as outlined by the Department of Homeland Security,” and “school-hardening measures like metal detectors, bullet-proof glass, steel doors, and upgraded locks.”

Scott also proposes a variety of information-coordinating and see-something-say-something plans, plus funding for more mental health pros and “threat assessment teams” at every school. He’s willing to give up tax cuts or other funding priorities “near and dear to our hearts” in order to fund these plans.

Robby Soave has examined at Reason the obvious downsides of ramping up that sort of law enforcement presence on the day-to-day lives of students and the overreach of such “see something say something” plans applied to the vast majority of alienated teens.

Scott is not the only Republican for whom Parkland seems to have shifted his priorities. President Donald Trump himself is now on board with bump stock bans and restrictions for 18-to-20-year-olds. And Florida Republicans in general look willing to do a lot of legislating against gun possession short of total bans on certain types of rifles.

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Ex-NFL Player Taken Into Custody Over Threatening Instagram Post, Rick Gates Pleads Guilty in Russia Probe, and Companies Cut Ties With NRA: P.M. Links

  • Former NFL player Johnathan Martin taken into custody after tagging his former high school in a threatening Instagram post.
  • Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy, lying to the FBI today.
  • Florida lawmakers back raising age requirements for purchasing firearms, other restrictions.
  • A van struck a security barrier near the White House.
  • Companies cut ties with NRA after customer backlash.
  • National Review’s Michael Brendan Doherty reviews Marion La Penn’s CPAC speech.

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Even in Health Care, Immigrants Do Jobs Americans Won’t

The debate over American health care tends to focus on how we pay for services, rather than why we pay so much more than any other developed country. In a new working paper, Jeffrey S. Flier and Jared M. Rhoads of the Mercatus Institute suggest that we could lower costs by allowing more people to practice medicine.

In a comparison of 11 industrialized nations, they write, the U.S. has the second lowest number of physicians per capita: “2.5 physicians per 1,000 population, compared to a mean of 3.1 for the group and high of 4.2 for Norway.” The American Association of Medical Colleges anticipates a shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030, particularly in the fields of pediatrics, primary care, family medicine, and internal medicine. (Not coincidentally, these are four of the lowest-paying medical specialties.)

The association wants to address that shortage by securing more federal funding for physician training, but with no concessions on tuition, which averages $55,000 per year in the United States. Flier and Rhoads have some other suggestions: expanding the number of accredited U.S. medical schools, shortening the length of medical school, granting more independence to nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and reforming state licensing boards so that medical doctors can no longer use their clout to suppress competition.

We could also, they add, make it easier for foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors to migrate to and practice in the U.S. Indeed, there are roughly 60,000 foreign medical doctors already living in the U.S. who aren’t licensed to practice.

Foreign-born medical doctors who trained outside the U.S. already play a crucial role in providing care in America. These physicians “are substantially more likely to practice in rural and poorer communities and are overrepresented in primary care specialties, including family medicine and pediatrics,” write Flier and Rhoads. A 2015 study found that international medical graduates (a group that includes Americans who train outside the U.S. and foreign citizens who train outside the U.S.) are filling a crucial care gap:

IMGs are more likely to practice in specialties in which a physician shortage would otherwise go unfilled. For example, a higher proportion of IMGs than other graduates serve socioeconomically disadvantaged populations across the United States. They also tend to fill the gaps in workforce demands in rural areas depending on the particular state. One study reported that 19.3% of IMGs, compared with 10.4% of osteopathic physicians, are practicing in rural areas. An ambulatory care survey published in 2009 found that most office-based IMG primary care physicians are in areas with physician shortages where Medicare and Medicaid patients are overrepresented. Compared with US medical graduates, a higher percentage of IMGs are also in solo practice. Overall, IMGs have been taking up opportunities to practice within patient populations that are facing difficulties caused by uneven distribution of the physician workforce.

It’s possible that foreign doctors have lower debt loads and can thus pursue lower-paying specialties, or, because the American residency system prefers American born-and-trained physicians, that IMGs fill less desirable roles in order to practice in the U.S. at all. Either way, they’re often willing to go to areas many American-trained physicians are not. Like Nebraska.

Every year, the National Residency Match Program publishes data showing what types of doctors matched to what kind of medical residency in each state (a medical residency of at least a year is required in order to receive a medical license in the U.S.). Here’s what the numbers look like for Nebraska, which had a total of 93 open positions for family medicine and internal medicine in 2017:

Across the top of that chart are the various applicant types. “US sr” are fourth-year medical students attending allopathic medical schools in the U.S.; they will be M.D.s upon graduation, and 94 percent of them will “match”—as in, be selected for—a U.S. residency. Further to the right is “IMG,” non-U.S. citizens who attended international medical schools; they land the fewest residency slots each year, with roughly 50 percent of applicants matching. In Nebraska, non-U.S. citizens who attended foreign medical schools filled 33 percent of the year-one primary care and internal medicine residency slots, and 100 percent of the neurology positions. In California, non-U.S. citizens who trained overseas filled only 10 percent of the internal medicine and family medicine slots.

More physicians want to live and work in California than in Nebraska, and American residency programs tend to favor U.S. citizens over non-citizens. Even in medicine, immigrants end up doing the jobs Americans won’t.

What’s more, foreign medical school grads are willing to do this work even though the U.S. licensure system penalizes physicians who train abroad by requiring them to do a residency regardless of whether they’re already licensed to practice in their home country. This means not only that the U.S. can only import as many physicians as there are low-tier residency slots, but also that we spend Medicare money retraining foreign-born physicians without regard for their level of competence.

Canada also faces a doctor shortage, and it has turned to the international market to fill it. But rather than requiring every foreign medical school graduate to undergo retraining, Flier and Rhoads write, immigrants “may bypass postgraduate training requirements [in Canada] if he or she did residency training in Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, or the United States.” Most foreign-born-and-trained doctors who come to the U.S. are from India, the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan, and the Dominican Republic, and there might be legitimate questions about the quality of training in those places. But that’s an assumption we should interrogate, and even if it’s accurate, it doesn’t preclude the creation and administration of some kind of comprehensive equivalency exam that could assess whether their skills were transferable. Regardless of how we handle the question of reciprocity, importing more foreign physicians could save money and lives.

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As Hyperloop Projects Advance, So Do Calls for Subsidies

HyperloopThe idea of connecting America’s cities via Hyperloop—a high-speed train propelled at breakneck speeds through vacuum tunnels—is being taken increasingly seriously. So is the possibility that the technology will get taxpayer support.

Just this week, Elon Musk’s Boring Company secured a construction permit from the District of Columbia as part of its plans to build a Hyperloop line between the nation’s capital and nearby Baltimore. The company had already received a permit to dig a 10-mile tunnel for the project from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

In the Midwest, meanwhile, the company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies inked an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to study the feasibility of a Hyperloop between Chicago and Cleveland.

So far, these projects have not relied on government support. An IDOT spokesperson has stressed that no state finding was involved in the deal. In Maryland, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn told local radio station WAMU, “The development of this project is being done entirely by the Boring Company and has zero state and federal dollars. This is a private company undertaking a project with private funds.”

But as these projects progress, taxpayer dollars may soon follow.

In January, a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives from Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to spend $20 million creating a Hyperloop Transportation Initiative. Last year, the Ohio State Legislature passed a resolution expressing support for the same idea.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies’ press release about its feasibility study cites both the letter and the resolution favorably.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as empty talk were it not for the president’s infrastructure package. Of the $200 billion in federal spending that Trump has proposed as part of the deal, $20 billion would be reserved for “transformative projects,” described as “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile.”

Projects that fit this description could get as much as 30 percent of their demonstration costs, 50 percent of their planning costs, and a full 80 percent of their construction costs from the feds.

If that idea is included in the final legislative package, it’s not hard to imagine the money landing in the pockets of Hyperloop project sponsors. White House advisers have already personally expressed their support for Musk’s Hyperloop projects.

If that happens, it will be a shame—not just for Hyperloop skeptics but for Hyperloop fans.

The technology is still very much in its infancy. Prototypes have achieved speeds of only 240 miles per hour, despite promises that future Hyperloop vehicles will reach upward of 700 miles per hour. Dumping huge amounts of federal money on such a speculative technology risks costing taxpayers a bundle for an idea that turns out to be a dud.

And even if Hyperloops do prove to be part of our transportation future, public money always comes with strings attached. Otherwise economically feasible projects could be derailed by layers of regulation and politically expedient changes.

Something similar happened with California’s high-speed rail. What was once supposed to be a straight rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles was, thanks to politically motivated demands, rerouted through the state’s Central Valley, creating all sorts of complications, delays, and cost overruns.

Government officials should let the technology evolve, not try to transform it with a ton of tax dollars.

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Meet Mark Janus, Whose Supreme Court Case May End Compulsory Union Dues: Podcast

Mark Janus is a “child-support specialist” who works for the State of Illinois. He’s also at the center of a Supreme Court case that may end the ability of public-sector unions to collect dues even from workers who are not members and who don’t want to be represented in collective bargaining. Oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME will be heard on Monday, February 23, and should be decided by the end of June.

In 22 states, public-sector unions can force non-members to pay for costs related to collective bargaining and workplace representation. Janus tells Reason‘s Nick Gillespie he was never told about that arrangement until he saw dues being deducted from his first paycheck. He argues that forcing him to pay for a service he doesn’t want from a group he doesn’t belong to violates his First Amendment guarantees of voluntary association and free speech. (His union explicitly supports candidates in elections.) “The union voice is not my voice,” he has written. “The union’s fight is not my fight.”

The dispute, writes Reason‘s Eric Boehm, “is best thought of as a sequel to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a 2016 Supreme Court case that raised the same question about whether public-sector unions can extract political dues from recalcitrant members. That case ended in a 4–4 draw after Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death left the Court with an even number of conservative and liberal members. For obvious reasons, that means all eyes in this case will be fixed on the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch.”

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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The Looming Tower Tracks the CIA/FBI Fight over Bin Laden: New at Reason

'The Looming Tower'Lawrence Wright in 2006 wrote a magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of modern jihad, The Looming Tower.

That was followed in 2007 by a one-man, off-Broadway show, My Trip to Al Qaeda, partly an adaptation of the book and partly a reflection about what it meant. Three years later, Wright turned out an HBO adaptation of the play. Both were widely praised.

And now Wright has turned his book into a Hulu miniseries about the handful of U.S. national security officials who saw bin Laden coming and tried to stop him, much to their government’s indifference. It’s scary, a little sickening, and entirely spellbinding. Television critic Glenn Garvin reviews.

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