Why Are People ‘Outraged’ That Private Firefighters Saved Kim and Kanye’s Home?

“People are outraged” that celebrity couple Kanye and Kim Kardashian West hired a team of private firefighters to save their home in Hidden Hills, California, claims a Thursday headline from Business Insider.

The headline-writing community certainly seems outraged. “Kim Kardashian’s Private Firefighters Expose America’s Fault Lines,” blares The Atlantic. “As California’s Wildfires Raged, The Ultra-Rich Hired Private Firefighters,” announces HuffPost. Vice puts it bluntly: “Rich People Pay for Private Firefighters While the Rest of Us Burn.”

The Wests, who have evacuated the area, did benefit from the work of private firefighters. According to TMZ, a private crew used hoses and dug ditches to save the couple’s $60 million mansion. The firefighters’ efforts reportedly helped save other homes in the neighborhood as well, as a fire at the West mansion likely would have spread.

Business Insider notes that the couple probably doesn’t have a team of firefighters literally on call. It’s more likely that the firefighters are a service they pay for as part of their fire insurance. These sorts of policies are not cheap—CBS News reports they can cost between $2,500 and $8,000 a year—and they’re often available only to people with expensive houses.

Much of the criticism aimed at such policies seems to stem from the belief that it’s unfair for rich people to get extra help saving their homes. “Firefighters are consistently ranked the most beloved public servants, not just because they look good on calendars but because they treat everyone equally,” historian Amy Greenberg tells The Atlantic. “Rich people don’t get their own ‘better’ firefighters, or at least they aren’t supposed to.”

But the wildfires raging through California are putting a massive strain on the state’s resources. Not only are 66 people dead and at least 600 more missing, but 52,000 people were forced to evacuate, with many of them going to shelters. Back in September, the state had already exhausted most of its entire annual wildfire budget, and that was before the latest fires broke out. More than 200 prison inmates have been battling the flames alongside professional crews. Clearly, California needs all the help it can get. If rich folks pay for private firefighters, that means the state can focus its resources on helping those who can’t afford expensive insurance policies.

This isn’t a new debate. During the 2007 California wildfire season, some people complained about the same thing. Reason‘s Matt Welch pointed out the absurdity of the argument in a column for the Los Angeles Times (where he worked at the time):

You would think that the cheap availability of potent fire retardant, and the creation of supplementary firefighting capability with costs borne entirely by the homeowners who choose to live in fire zones, instead of everyday taxpayers would be a cause for at least mild enthusiasm.

Bonus link: Here at Reason we’ve been singing the praises of private firefighters since at least 1976, when Reason Foundation founder Robert Poole wrote about the Rural Metro Fire Department’s efforts in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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The ACLU Condemns DeVos’s Title IX Reforms, Says These Due Process Safeguards ‘Inappropriately Favor the Accused’

DeVosIt’s no surprise that victims’ rights activists and their allies are furious about the Education Department’s proposed changes to Title IX, the federal statute that deals with sex and gender discrimination on campus.

It is surprising, however, to see the American Civil Liberties Union joining in this chorus. The ACLU has long defended the rights of accused terrorists, criminals, neo-Nazis, and the Westboro Baptist Church. The group works tirelessly to protect due process, even for the least sympathetic among us.

And yet the ACLU has condemned the new Title IX rules, declaring on Twitter: “The proposed rule would make schools less safe for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, when there is already alarmingly high rates of campus sexual assaults and harassment that go unreported. It promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused and letting schools ignore their responsibility under Title IX to respond promptly and fairly to complaints of sexual violence.”

I am astonished to see the ACLU take the position that a government policy gives an accused person too many rights, especially when these rights are things the ACLU has generally supported. (In other words, they are not weird new rights invented out of thin air. These are standard protections that regrettably were not applied to campus sexual misconduct adjudication during the Obama years.)

The Title IX reforms were announced Friday morning; they greatly strengthen due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, and they relieve colleges of the burden of investigating suggestive speech that should be permissible on free speech grounds.

“The proposed regulation rightly rejects the incredibly overbroad, unconstitutional definition of sexual harassment mandated by [the Office for Civil Rights] in its ‘blueprint’ for colleges,” said Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former Office for Civil Rights lawyer, in an email to Reason.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is also pleased with the proposal. Samantha Harris, a vice president at the group, says “the proposed regulations are a marked improvement over the previous guidance in a number of important ways.”

Some feminist groups see matters differently. The activist organization End Rape on Campus has accused DeVos of making campuses “more dangerous” for women. Another activist group, Know Your IX, describes the new rules as “worse than we could have imagined.”

Keep in mind that the new rules—while a significant improvement—are not radical. In fact, they adhere to the principles set forth by federal “rape shield” laws, which protect victims from having to discuss their past sexual relationships during adjudication hearings. And while the new rules will indeed mandate cross-examination, they do not mandate direct cross-examination: Attorneys or support persons will do the questioning. This is a detail that many activists have overlooked in their criticism: NARAL made the false claim that DeVos would allow victims to be questioned and “re-traumatized” by their attackers, and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D–Mass.) retweeted it.

I didn’t expect an honest appraisal of the new rules from the likes of NARAL. But I did figure the ACLU might appreciate some of the nuances involved here: Protecting women from sexual misconduct is important, but so are liberal principles of justice, fairness, and the presumption of innocence.

The ACLU recently broke with longstanding tradition to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—and ran ads saying that Kavanaugh’s denials of sexual impropriety should be dismissed, since other accused rapists like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein also denied the charges against them. Between that and this, principles of due process and the presumption of innocence seem to be falling off the organization’s radar as things that should be defended, at least when the person who needs these protections lacks sympathy from intersectional progressives.

Even on this front, though, the critics of Title IX reform seem to forget that the students who face sexual misconduct adjudication on campus are—as best we can tell—disproportionately men of color and immigrants. Who will speak for them, if not civil liberties organizations?

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Are the FDA’s E-Cigarette Restrictions Legal?

The e-cigarette restrictions that the Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday differ from the agency’s rumored plans in one way that may be legally important. In addition to allowing sales of the targeted flavors (everything but menthol, mint, and tobacco) by vape shops, tobacconists, and online vendors that have age verification, the rules described by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb allow other retailers to sell them in “a section” that “adequately prevents entry of persons under the age of 18,” as long as the products “are not visible or accessible to persons under the age of 18 at any time.”

That language seems to be aimed at getting around a limit on the FDA’s power that was included in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the 2009 law that gave the agency the authority to regulate tobacco products. It says the FDA may not “prohibit the sale of any tobacco product in face-to-face transactions by a specific category of retail outlets.” Since the FDA officially is allowing all categories of retail outlets to continue selling flavored e-cigarettes, it arguably is complying with that limit.

Then again, the option of creating a segregated section, presumably with a separate cashier (since the products cannot be visible to minors at any point), probably will not be feasible for most retailers. “What we are envisioning is a separate room or a walled-off area,” Gottlieb told The New York Times. “It needs to be a complete separate structure. A curtain won’t cut it.” Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president for government relations at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), says that sort of arrangement is “not practical.” Hence the rule arguably amounts to a de facto ban on sales of flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores and any other businesses that admit minors, which the Tobacco Control Act does not allow.

“The Tobacco Control Act is clear that the FDA can’t discriminate against one type of retail outlet, and that’s what they’re trying to do here,” Doug Kantor, a NACS lawyer, told the Times. “There is a very good chance this will end up in litigation, and lawyers are looking at that right now.”

It’s not clear the FDA actually wants convenience stores to create adults-only sections, which would require the same ID checks that are already required for selling e-cigarettes. If store employees cannot be trusted to verify that customers buying e-cigarettes are at least 18 (which is the implicit justication for the new restrictions), how can they be trusted to make sure that customers entering the e-cigarette section are at least 18?

As described by Gottlieb, the FDA plan does not directly regulate merchants, telling them which products they may sell under what circumstances. Nor does it directly regulate e-cigarette manufacturers, telling them which products they may sell to which retailers. The FDA instead plans to make the flavored e-cigarettes themselves illegal, but only in certain contexts.

Gottlieb said the FDA will do that by selectively revisiting its 2017 decision to change the deadline for seeking regulatory approval of e-cigarettes from November 8, 2018, to August 8, 2022. “I’m directing the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) to revisit this compliance policy as it applies to deemed ENDS products that are flavored, including all flavors other than tobacco, mint and menthol,” Goittlieb said yesterday. “The changes I seek would protect kids by having all flavored ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery system] products (other than tobacco, mint and menthol flavors or non-flavored products) sold in age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.”

Since the original deadline for submitting e-cigarette applications to the FDA has already passed, “revisit[ing] this compliance policy” for flavored e-cigarettes sold in places that minors can enter would make those products illegal in that context. But the very same products would remain legal when sold by age-restricted stores or websites. It’s a pretty weird, roundabout way to accomplish what the FDA wants, but it has the advantage of avoiding the time-consuming process of formally issuing a new rule.

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An Act of Congress Could Bring Hemp to the Shelves of Your Local Grocery Store

|||Tea/Dreamstime.comAfter decades of prohibition, consumers across America may soon be able to access hemp products in grocery stores and other everyday places.

Hemp, a nonintoxicating cousin to marijuana, has many uses. Its fibers, for example, can be used for clothing or ropes. Hemp seeds, hearts, and oil can be used in edible products. The naturally occuring cannabidiol (CBD) that can be extracted from hemp has been credited with reducing chronic pain and intense childhood epilepsy syndromes. While hemp has enjoyed a long farming history (even George Washington grew it), confusion about its proximity to pot has led government prohibitionists to ban the crop.

Now, a bill is providing hope for hemp farmers and entrepreneurs.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, a.k.a. the farm bill, contains language that would “legalize industrial hemp and make hemp producers eligible for the federal crop insurance program.” Disagreements over work requirements for food stamps have been stalling the bill’s progress, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) assured reporters this week that the full legalization of hemp would be included in the final version of the bill.

That would be “a huge step for the American hemp industry,” says Jason Amatucci, founder of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition. “What the 2018 farm bill will do is legitimize the industry to states, banks, insurance companies, Wall Street, and investors. It will help to clarify any legal gray areas that federal and state agencies have towards hemp and their end consumer products.”

Amatucci and others in the industry hope the bill will get to President Donald Trump’s desk this session, or at least in early 2019.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods has just released its forecast for the top 10 food trends in 2019. One is that “hemp-derived products are going mainstream.” An interest in the crop’s benefits has inspired many brands to enter the hemp business.

The luxury natural skin care business Andalou Naturals, for example, has launched a CannaCell® Skin Care line with more than 25 skin, hair, and body care products containing hemp stem cells. And breweries have started adding hemp and CBD to products—to the extent that regulators will let them.

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First Full Year of Trump-Run Foreign Policy Sees Record Number of Bombs Dropped on Afghanistan

The Melania Trump–led firing of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel has prompted some speculation about whether this means the influence of Ricardel’s boss, superhawk John Bolton, is on the wane and a new dawn for non-interventionism is on the way.

If you’re assessing how serious a peacenik Trump is prepared to be, you should contemplate some hard facts about Washington’s longest-lasting active war: the U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

According to an interesting analysis that Niall McCarthy of Statista has done of Air Force Central Command data, 2018—the first full year that the Trump administration has run the Afghanistan coalition—saw in just its first nine months more bombs dropped on Afghanistan than any other year in the history of the war: 5,213. The entire year of 2010, the previous record, saw just 5,101.

The number of bombs dropped had declined to 947 in 2015; in 2016, it was 1,337. But after “Trump announced a new Afghan strategy last August and committed more troops to the country,” McCarthy writes, “the number of bombs dropped by the U.S. coalition has surged dramatically.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is the architect of a policy of firing more at the enemy while trying to minimize direct contact with them, an approach in keeping with a broad trend toward keeping the political pressure on intervention down by keeping U.S. casualties down.

While the number of bombs dropped is much higher, the number of air sorties flown has come down considerably. For example, 2013 saw 21,900 sorties, 1,408 of which dropped at least one bomb, while 2018 saw just 5,819 sorties, 673 of which dropped at least one bomb. Still, 2018’s total bombs dropped nearly doubled 2013’s number.

Meanwhile, McCarthy notes, “the number of civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2018 is higher than in any year since [the United Nations] started documenting.”

Elsewhere in Reason: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s most recent reports show the generally deteriorating security, economic, and political situation there after 17 years of the U.S. war. Senate hearings have spelled out how poorly conceived and poorly supervised U.S. reconstruction spending is over there.

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Should Facebook and Twitter Censor Themselves? A Debate: New at Reason

Should social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube only remove users who make true threats or incite violence? Or do they have an ethical obligation to hold their users to a higher standard?

That was the topic of a recent public debate hosted by Reasona West Coast version of the popular New York City-based debate series, The Soho Forum—pitting Thaddeus Russell, author of A Renegade History of the United States and host of the Unregistered podcast, against Ken White, an attorney at Brown, White & Osborn, author at the legal blog Popehat, and co-host of the podcast All the President’s Lawyers.

Click here for full text and downloadable versions.

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Federal Judge Rules Trump White House Must Return Jim Acosta’s Press Pass

A federal judge ruled today that the White House must return CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass, at least for the time being.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia says the White House does not have to allow reporters onto the White House grounds. However, he notes First Amendment issues can arise if the administration allows some reporters on the grounds, but not others, according to Buzzfeed News reporter Pat McLeod. Kelly also says Acosta was not provided due process when the White House decided to revoke his hard pass.

Ultimately, Kelly says CNN successfully proved it will suffer irreparable harm as a result of the administration taking away Acosta’s pass. “I will order defendants immediately restore Mr. Acosta’s hard pass,” Kelly says.

Kelly’s ruling came a little more than a week after a contentious exchange between Trump and Acosta. At Trump’s post-midterms press conference, Acosta pressed the president on his characterization of the migrant caravan as an “invasion.” Trump responded: “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN,” adding: “And if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

Acosta attempted to ask another question, but Trump wouldn’t answer. When a White House intern tried to take the mic away from Acosta, he continued to hold onto it. Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands” on the intern, which he clearly didn’t do. The White House then revoked Acosta’s press pass, prompting an uproar from the media.

On Tuesday, CNN filed a lawsuit against Trump and some of his top aides, in an effort to make the White House give Acosta his pass back. The network received the support of multiple other news organizations, including Fox News, in the form of amicus briefs filed with the court.

CNN argues that taking away Acosta’s pass violated his and the network’s First and Fifth Amendment rights (freedom of the press and due process, respectively). Of particular issue is whether his pass was taken away because of his rude behavior or due to the content of his reporting.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sanders seemed to change the White House’s justification. Though she originally cited Acosta’s alleged physical behavior toward the intern, she now said he tried to “monopolize the floor” rather than “yield to other reporters.”

That argument may have been on Judge Kelly’s mind when he asked CNN’s attorney, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., why the White House would decide to take action against Acosta now. After all, the president has fueded with Acosta and CNN for a long time. “What triggered a content-based response here as opposed to all those other months?” Kelly asked, according to ABC News.

“This was a bad day for the president,” Boutrous responded. “It was the day after the midterms.” Boutrous also said that Acosta’s alleged rudeness isn’t the issue here. “Rudeness really is a code word for ‘I don’t like you being an aggressive reporter,'” he said, adding that it’s actually Trump who “is the most aggressive, dare I say rude, person in the room, and I’m not being critical—this is the rough and tumble of the presidency, and that’s what the First Amendment protects.”

Justice Department lawyer James Burnham argued the White House has ultimate control over who attends its press conferences. CNN reports:

Burnham said that it would be perfectly legal for the White House to revoke a journalist’s press pass if it didn’t agree with their reporting. “As a matter of law…yes,” he said.

That argument is somewhat troubling. The White House may be where Trump lives, but it’s not his property. As Reason‘s Robby Soave argued last week, the administration should not be in the business of banishing reporters for being critical, even if those reporters are also rude or tend to hog the mic.

Kelly’s ruling is only temporary. CNN had asked for “permanent relief” as well as “emergency relief,” but today’s decision only applies to the latter request. “I want to emphasize the very limited nature of today’s ruling,” Kelly says. Acosta has his pass back for now, but this saga is far from over.

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Betsy DeVos Formally Unveils New Title IX Rules: 3 Ways They Will Strengthen Due Process on Campus

DeVosThe Education Department has officially released new rules on how to enforce Title IX, the federal statute that forbids sex and gender-based discrimination in public schools.

This guidance will replace an approach, established under the Obama administration, that threatened free expression on college campuses and due process rights for students accused of sexual misconduct. Unlike the Obama-era guidance, the DeVos policies operate in accordance with basic principles of fairness. They are a massive step forward. If colleges are going to be involved in the business of adjudicating sexual assault, this new approach is vastly preferable.

A draft of the new proposals was released in September; the final version differs slightly, according to an Education Department spokesperson familiar with the process.

The biggest change since the draft proposal is that the increasingly popular single-investigator model of sexual misconduct adjudication—in which a sole administrator was charged with investigating the allegation, preparing a report on the matter, and passing judgment—is no longer permitted. Universities will be required to provide a separate decision maker, either an individual or a group, to determine an accused student’s guilt.

A less welcome development is the appeals provision: Under the new rules, both the accuser and the accused will still be able to appeal the outcome of a Title IX decision. Civil libertarians opposed this idea. In the criminal justice system, only the defendant can appeal a guilty verdict; holding an additional trial after a finding of innocence constitutes double jeopardy.

But in other important respects, the new rules are a vast improvement over what existed previously. Here are three ways the new DeVos rules will make campuses freer and fairer places:

1) They define sexual misconduct more narrowly. Under the previous system, administrators were obliged to investigate any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which is a fairly wide swath of behavior. Some officials even interpreted this to include mundane speech that happened to involve gender or sex. But the new guidance specifies that Title IX is only infringed when conduct is severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive. (Violence and quid pro quo arrangements are also prohibited.) An administrator with knowledge of a potential Title IX violation does not need to follow through with an investigation if the allegation does not satisfy these criteria.

2) The new rules mandate cross-examination. Previous guidance did not explicitly forbid cross-examination, but it heavily discouraged the practice due to concern that questioning an alleged sexual assault survivor would be re-traumatizing. The new rules state that neither the accuser nor the accused need to be physically present in the same room, but their attorneys—or support persons provided by the university—must be allowed to submit questions on their behalf for the other party to answer.

There are some exceptions. Neither party may ask questions pertaining to their previous sexual history with other partners. This is consistent with state and federal “rape shield” laws which also limit such questioning.

3) The new rules let colleges set their own evidentiary standards but require similar standards for non–Title IX adjudication. Currently, universities must adjudicate sexual misconduct under a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard: The accused is found guilty if there is 51 percent certainty that he or she is guilty. Henceforth, universities may use either this standard or the clear-and-convincing standard, which requires greater certainty. I am skeptical that many administrations will return to the higher standard of proof, which opens them up to criticism from feminist activists who think they aren’t doing enough to punish rapists. However, the new rules stipulate that a university must use the same standard for Title IX as it does for other matters—even ones involving the faculty. If academic misconduct is adjudicated under a clear-and-convincing standard, sexual misconduct must be handled in such a manner as well. This could create pressure to adopt higher standards uniformly.

There are other boons for advocates of due process. The jurisdiction of Title IX will be limited to events that transpire on campus, or are properly described as school functions. The new rules also recognize differences between K-12 education and college: K-12 teachers, for instance, must initiate investigations if they become aware of sexual misconduct, whereas college professors are not necessarily on the hook—at the university level, misconduct must generally be reported to the Title IX office for an investigation to unfold.

These rules will undoubtedly infuriate the Title IX activist movement, which has worked tirelessly to strip accused students of fundamental due process protections in the name of combating the campus rape problem. NARAL, a pro-choice feminist organization, tweeted Thursday that “a new rule from Betsy DeVos would require universities to allow accused sexual abusers to cross-examine and re-traumatize their victims. This is absolutely sickening.” This is misleading—the new rule only requires universities to allow the accused to question their accusers vis a vis an intermediary. Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D–Mass.) retweeted the comment, adding, “No survivor should be cross-examined by his or her accused rapist. Ever. Full stop.” This is a curious statement; in the criminal justice system, an accused rapist who is representing himself already enjoys the right to question his accuser.

Reforming Title IX is largely a thankless task, given that those helped by these reforms—men accused of sexual misconduct—are an unsympathetic lot. Most of the people who are very invested in Title IX as an issue are victims’ rights advocates who see any attempt to re-balance the scales of justice as a sexist attack. There’s a tempting narrative here—”Trump administration changes law to hurt women”—that will undoubtedly fool many who are unfamiliar with the specifics of Obama-era Title IX abuse. Missing from this narrative is any acknowledgement of the fact that the previous Title IX guidance had created more problems than it solved: Hundreds of young men have filed lawsuits alleging breach of contract and due process violations. Universities found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They could ignore the federal government, and risk their public funding, or they could ignore students’ rights, and risk going to court. This reality wasn’t sustainable, and DeVos’s administration deserves tremendous credit for taking some steps to address the problem.

It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it.

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Charges Against Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Accidentally Revealed by U.S. Prosecutors: Reason Roundup

Whoops. “US Department of Justice ‘accidentally reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia,” tweeted the WikiLeaks account Thursday night, with a link to a federal court filing.

That case—against a person prosecutors were seeking to charge with coercion and enticement of a minor—saw the state attempting to seal the criminal complaint against defendant Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, its supporting documents, and the arrest warrant. “The United States has considered alternatives less drastic than sealing, including, for example, the possibility of redactions, and has determined that none would suffice to protect this investigation,” states the motion, which was filed back in August but is only gaining attention now, thanks to the next sentence:

Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.

The odd juxtaposition was noticed yesterday by Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Earlier in the day Thursday, a Wall Street Journal piece said that federal authorities were “increasingly optimistic” that the Justice Department “will be able to get [Assange] into a U.S. courtroom.” Ecuador is allegedly itching to get Assange out of its London embassy. “The exact charges Justice Department might pursue remain unclear,” reported the Journal, “but they may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.”

Assange is mentioned a twice in the Kokayi motion. “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint,” it says on the second page.

Elsewhere, the document correctly lists Kokayi as the subject of the motion. His case has nothing to do with Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. The reveal appears to have been a mistake, with prosecutors taking language used (or at least prepared) in Assange’s case and forgetting to swap out his name for Kokayi’s.

“The court filing was made in error,” said Joshua Stueve of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The New York Times speculates that the Assange arrest language may have been lifted from a draft motion and no actual charges against Assange brought to a grand jury yet. But Assange’s laywer and Wikileaks suggest otherwise.

“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Assange lawyer Barry Pollack told the Times. “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”

On Twitter, the Wikileaks account pointed to a memo it had put out in 2012. “Confidential emails obtained from the US private intelligence firm Stratfor show that the United States Government has had a secret indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for more than 12 months,” that memo claimed.

FREE MINDS

First Amendment lawsuit updates. A federal judge just ruled to let a lawsuit go forward against the publisher of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.

The NRA’s 1st Amendment lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also allowed to move forward.

And today, a judge is expected to rule on whether the Trump administration acted illegally in revoking the White House press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

FREE MARKETS

Occupational licensing costs 2 million jobs annually, says study. Research from the Institute for Justice attempts to quantify the economic costs of occupational licensing. “Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs,” the institute reports.

In researching licensing laws in 36 states, it found that “states vary widely in the share of workers licensed, from 14 percent in Georgia to 27 percent in Nevada. At the national level, nearly 20 percent of workers are now licensed, up from just 5 percent in the early 1950s.” These barriers come at the price of about 2 million jobs annually, according to the study (with state job losses ranging from near 7,000 in Rhode Island to nearly 196,000 in California).

In addition, a “conservative measure of lost economic value” shows that “licensing may cost the national economy $6 billion.” A broader and “likely more accurate measure suggests the true cost may reach $184 billion or more.”

QUICK HITS

• Kamala Harris bought 1,100 ads asking people to “protect Mueller” via “emergency legislation”.

• Construction workers have the highest suicide rates.

• Ohio Republicans are once again trying to make a ban on abortion after six weeks happen.

• International politics professor Daniel Drezner on why he’s “starting to worry about the dollar.

• Facebook and Instagram are getting the Backpage treatment. “”For years now, Facebook and Instagram platforms has permitted sex traffickers unfiltered access to the most vulnerable members of society,” say lawyers for a Jane Doe suing the company.

• Election officials in Florida have ordered a manual recount of ballots in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott.

• Students and parents at a Colorado charter school are suing after some students were diciplined for liking Facebook posts critical of the school’s CEO.

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Portland Joins the Drinking Straw Crackdown

Portland, Oregon, is the latest city to crack down on plastic straws, voting unanimously Wednesday to introduce a straw-on-request law.

It’s not the worst straw restriction I’ve seen, but it is nonetheless a depressing reminder of how normalized this form of petty authoritarianism has become.

The new Portland ordinance forbids food retailers and institutional cafeterias (like those at schools and hospitals) from offering straws, plastic cutlery, and single-use condiment packages. They can still provide those items, but customers must first request them.

Violators of Portland’s ordinance will be hit with a $100 fine for a first offence, $200 for a second, and $500 for every violation thereafter. A business cannot be penalized more than once in a week for handing out unsolicited straws.

“We are clearly on a path to eliminating single-use plastics. This is our first line in the sand,” the Portland Tribune quotes Mayor Ted Wheeler saying after passage of the bill.

On the one hand, Portland’s ordinance is narrower in scope and less severe in its sanctions than other straw bans that’ve popped up across the country. Seattle and San Francisco have both banned outright straws at restaurants. Santa Barbara’s straw prohibition initially opened up restaurateurs to criminal charges. (Those were eventually pulled from the bill.)

Portland’s ordinance was mild enough that it even nabbed the endorsement of the lobbyist for the state’s restaurant and lodging association, reports the Tribune. Ensuring straws are available on request has also quieted complaints from the disabled community. As with all straw bans, however, the carve-outs are a reminder that these policies are invasive and unpopular at the conceptual level.

Portlanders will need to get in the habit of asking for soy sauce when they get takeout, because thanks to the fearless efforts of the Portland City Council, anticipating the customers wants and simply chucking a few bags of soy sauce in with the order is now actually illegal. This would seem ridiculous even if there were a compelling environmental justification for restrictions on single-use plastics. There is not.

The vast majority of plastics in the world’s oceans do not come from the takeout joints of Portland or the coffee shops of Seattle, but rather from the world’s developing nations, which lack the sophisticated waste collection systems we have in the U.S.

These bans can’t fix systemic waste collection systems abroad, but they sure do inconvenience consumers here in the U.S.

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