Will and Grace Botches the Gay Wedding Cake Fight

Granted, we shouldn’t expect complex legal analysis from television comedies, even ones that have lawyers in them. But I thought that Will & Grace, of all shows, would at least grasp the basics of the conflict around conservative bakers and gay wedding cakes.

Alas: Thursday’s Will & Grace, in its comic pursuit of laughs connected to current gay issues, gets the entire wedding cake debate absurdly wrong in its attempt to flip the script.

In “The Beefcake and the Cake Beef,” over-the-top wealthy gadfly Karen, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, is rejected by a bakery when she tries to get a cake made with “MAGA” on it for a birthday party for the president.

Here’s the set-up:

Refusing Karen is well within the bakery’s rights, and it will be regardless of how the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the Supreme Court comes out. A pro-Trump message on a cake is speech. A cake baker, a T-shirt printer, or a book publisher cannot be forced to print speech that he or she disagrees with. That’s called compelled speech.

The show ends up taking this role reversal to a weird and terrible conclusion. Grace, who hates Trump and all he stands for, pushes the bakery to make Karen’s MAGA cake, going so far as to raise the specter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) coming after them. To its credit, the show takes the argument to its natural, terrible conclusion: The episode ends with the baker reluctantly baking a customer a cake with a swastika on it.

But in doing so, the show pretty much gets everything backwards. It mentions that the ACLU has represented the free speech rights of Nazis, and this is true, but the show doesn’t even grasp the basic idea that the bakery has speech rights too. When it comes to compelled speech, the ACLU would likely be defending the bakery here.

MAGA cake on The argument about gay wedding cakes is fundamentally about what counts as speech and expression. The ACLU is representing gay couples in these wedding cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop. Their argument is not that bakers have to cook whatever cake their customers demand. They’re arguing that this isn’t a speech or religious freedom issue and that it’s foundationally about denying service to gay people in violation of public accommodation laws. They don’t see wedding cakes and other wedding products as a form of expressive speech. The writing on the cake, yes. The cake itself, no.

I think the ACLU is wrong here. So does the Reason Foundation, which publishes this site: We’ve submitted an amicus brief supporting the bakery and arguing that custom-made wedding goods like cakes and floral arrangements count as expressive speech and therefore that the government cannot force businesses to provide them. But even some libertarians disagree. Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy (hosted here at Reason) submitted an amicus brief supporting the opposite side.

Within this dispute, though, neither side argues that a baker should be required to make any cake that any customer wants. People do not give up their rights to free speech (and more important, the right to refuse to communicate some speech) just because they’ve opened a business and serve the public. Everything about this debate is where those boundaries of speech sit.

So Grace was completely in the wrong when she browbeat the bakery into making Karen’s MAGA cake. By doing so, she treated those bakers as though they’re nothing but servants with no say in what they may do—which, ironically, makes her just like Karen.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2G0NU6Y

Sign Referencing Civil War Hero Is Sexual Harassment, Says Massachusetts Lawmaker

Here’s a twist on the debate over public monuments to problematic figures like Confederate General Robert E. Lee: A Massachusetts state lawmaker wants to censor references to the man who scored Civil War era wins against Lee and lots of other Confederate leaders. Her reasoning? That man’s name is Joseph Hooker.

As we’re all aware, General Hooker’s last name became slang for “someone who has sex for money.” Today, “hooker” is widely considered a slur by folks in the sex-work community. Yet as far as I’m aware, there have’t been any sex worker campaigns to remove references to Joseph Hooker from public view—presumably because most well-adjusted people realize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

“There are all sorts of benign words in our language that sound like words unfit for polite company,” writes Jon Keller at CBS Boston, offering Uranus and clap as further examples. “And they offer us an opportunity to teach snickering kids about Civil War history or outer space—and about showing respect for others while avoiding making fools of ourselves.”

State Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Plymouth) disagrees. She has been calling for the removal of a statehouse sign that reads “General Hooker Entrance” (so inscribed because it stands opposite a statue of General Hooker), which she described as an affront to “women’s dignity.”

“Female staffers don’t use that entrance because the sign is offensive to them,” DuBois told WBZ-TV this week.

If that isn’t the ultimate in futile, fainting-couch feminism, I’m not sure what is.

DuBois also complained that she had heard teen boys joke with teen girls that they were “general hookers” while using the door.

Of course, DuBois is positioning herself as a crusader against sex-based harassment and patriarchy. But attitudes like hers—which treat women as excessively fragile beings, and which posit that female “dignity” is diminished by even so slight an association with sex work as walking under a door that says “hooker”—just props up old-fashioned and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2pk5N6Y

Louisiana Is the Only State to License Florists. Gov. Edwards Says It Should Stop.

Sandy Meadows died in 2004, alone and in poverty, because she could not get a license to work as a florist in Louisiana, the only state in the country to have such a nonsensical requirement.

Meadows had been working in a small grocery store, using her self-taught skill at arranging flowers to support herself after her husband passed away. There were no complaints about her performance—no tragic accidents involving rose thorns or excessive pollen—but when agents from the Louisiana Horticultural Commission discovered that she lacked a license, they threatened to shut down the grocery’s florist business. With little other choice, Meadows’ manager fired her and hired someone who had the proper paperwork.

Meadows was a plaintiff in one of the Institute for Justice’s challenges to restrictive occupational licensing laws. Before the case was resolved, though, Meadows’ health took a turn for the worse. Unable to earn money to pay her bills or afford rent, she lived out her final days in a sweltering hotel room without no car, no phone, and no electricity. Clark Neily, then an attorney with the institute, says he will never forget the last time he saw Meadows alive. (The lawsuit ended up being mooted after Meadows died and Hurricane Katrina drove the other plaintiffs out of the state.)

Now, 14 years after Meadows died, Louisiana lawmakers might finally eliminate their floral licensing scheme as part of a full-scale overhaul of the state’s occupational licensing laws.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, earlier this week called for the passage of a series of bills to lift regulatory burdens on Louisiana workers and businesses. Included in his official legislative agenda for 2018 is HB 561, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Emerson (R-Carencro). It would repeal the licensing requirements for wholesale and retail florists.

“My legislative agenda will help us cut through unnecessary red tape to provide regulatory relief from the overly burdensome system that costs small businesses, military families and professionals valuable time and money,” Gov. Edwards said in a statement. “It is time to take a look at the old way we’ve been doing things and make common sense changes to bring our regulatory laws into the 21st century.”

Neily, who is now vice president for criminal justice at the libertarian Cato Institute, applauds Edwards for highlighting the “nakedly anticompetitive” florist license.

Louisiana’s licensing requirements are the 6th worst in the nation, according to the Institute for Justice’s 2017 report on licensing laws. In addition to being the only state that licenses florists, Louisiana is one of just four states to require interior designers to be licensed and is one of only six states to license tree-trimmers.

Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commission, which oversees the licensing boards for florists, tree-trimmers, and other similar fields, tells the Baton Rouge Advocate that these rules are necessary to protect consumers. Without licensing, he claims, “you’re going to set up a situation where anybody can open a floral shop and there’s no method to regulate the industry and protect the public.

Protect the public from what? This is the laziest argument possible for denying people the right to pursue the careers of their choosing. If the Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commission is America’s only line of defense against the chaos and darkness of unlicensed flower-arranging, then why are 49 other states getting along just fine without people like Strain and the bureaucrats he oversees?

Edwards is aiming to trim more than just the florist license. He has also endorsed a bill sponsored by Emerson and state Sen. Francis Thompson (R-Delhi) that would require a periodic review of the state’s licensing laws with the goal of reducing overall licensing burdens and shifting toward less restrictive forms of regulation. The bill would also enshrine “the right of an individual to pursue a lawful occupation” as a fundamental right in the state of Louisiana.

Other bills that earned a place on Edwards’ agenda for the year would ease licensing requirements for military families by establishing interstate compacts for licensed nurses, physical therapists, and emergency medical personnel. As Reason has reported, military families face unique difficulties in dealing with state-level licensing requirements, as most states do not honor licenses from elsewhere.

“Relocating somewhere entirely unfamiliar often means finding new jobs, new schools, and months of adjustment to life in a new place,” says Edwards. “We see it as our duty to make that transition easier through regulatory relief for those families whose service brings them to Louisiana.”

Anyone who moves across state lines can face the same sort of difficulty—indeed, research shows that licensing locks workers in place and prevents them from moving to pursue better opportunites. So interstate compacts should be available to anyone, regardless of whether they are related to someone in the military. Still, it’s a good start.

And when it comes to good starts, there’s no fruit hanging lower than Louisiana’s florist licensing law.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2tYdYdQ

Philly Tax Spurs Black Market Soda Smuggling

sweet, sweet, sodaPhiladelphia’s soda tax has produced a peculiar but predictable outcome: a thriving black market in soda imports.

On March 1, Mayor Jim Kenney released a budget proposal that cut revenue projections for the city’s 1.5 cent tax on soda from an originally estimated $92.4 million to $78 million, a drop of nearly 15 percent.

Danny Price—the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 830, which represents soda bottlers and delivery drivers—attributes a good chunk of that lost revenue to black-marketeers carting in soda from untaxed jurisdictions.

“People are going out of Philadelphia, to Delaware, New Jersey, and the surrounding counties, and they’re bringing back soda,” Price tells Reason, adding that he and his union’s members spot vans loaded with soda coming into the city every day. The soda is then sold to local businesses looking to skirt the city’s tax.

The result, says Price, is less money for the city and less work for his union’s members. “Our delivery drivers bid on an area and that’s their area. If people are buying on the black market, our guys lose.”

A similar phenomenon has been reported by Vince Cicione, of Cicione Beverage, a small Philadelphia distributor of beer and soft drinks. Since the soda tax was implemented in January of last year, he says, his business has seen a moderate drop in soda sales.

“When a customer comes in the store, you tell them the price, and they walk right out,” says Cicione, who says that soda smuggling is “very common.”

Unlike the more elaborate clandestine operations Price describes, Cicione says a lot of these black market beverages are being brought in by businesses themselves, particularly restaurants and offices. “They are going to Sam’s Club, bringing it back,” he tells Reason.

A flurry of studies have been conducted on the effects of Philadelphia’s soda tax, and though individual results vary, all find a sharp drop in soda sales. One study, conducted by the Florida-based marketing firm Catalina, says that sales of soda at franchised grocery and drug stores dropped 55 percent in the first five months after the tax’s implementation, while sales just outside the city rose 38 percent.

It is unclear how much of those increased sales outside the city consists of individual consumers ducking across the line for soda, and how much is the more organized tax-dodging described by Cicione and Price.

Mayor Kenney’s staff did not respond promptly to questions about the scale of the black-market soda activity or what enforcement measures the city is taking. The city’s website says its Department of Revenue is staffing up with auditors and investigators to ensure compliance.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will soon hear a case challenging the soda levy on the grounds that it is an illegal double tax. But until the tax is either struck down in court or repealed at city hall, the smuggling is likely to continue.

Check out Reason‘s recent video on Philly’s soda tax:

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2GAf6Y0

PutinCon: A Gathering of the Kremlin’s Greatest Enemies

Conventions are usually gatherings of fans, but PutinCon—a one-off event today being hosted in Hell’s Kitchen by the Human Rights Foundation—is a gathering of Valdimir Putin’s loudest enemies. The conference is designed to unite people interested in understanding and defeating the Russian leader’s regime.

“We’re gathering the world’s top experts on the Russian dictator in New York,” explains foundation chairman Garry Kasparov, “to discuss how the free world could address the monumental challenge that Putin presents to international peace and security as well as human rights in Russia itself. This is a one-day master class on Putin from prominent public intellectuals, statesmen, biographers, and even some survivors of his brutality.”

One speaker is William Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management. Browder was once the largest foreign portfolio investor in the Russia. Now he’s one of Putin’s foremost targets. After the Russian government tortured and killed his colleague, tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, Browder helped craft the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the offshore accounts of Russian officials found guilty of human rights violations and bars them from entering the U.S.

The Magnitsky Act, which was passed in 2015, is a sore spot for the Kremlin. Putin has retaliated against United States and Browder for it in several ways, including barring Browder’s visa renewal and halting the American adoption of Russian children. The Magnitsky Act was also a key talking point of the Trump Tower meeting between Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian official.

Browder, who will be speaking about Putin’s wealth, collusion, and cronies, believes Putin’s net worth to be $200 billion. He tells Reason he thinks the best way to weaken his regime is to go after his assets.

“In order to maintain his kleptocracy, he steals as much money as he can from his people, and he tortures, maims, and kills to do so,” Browder says. “But he keeps his money in the West—in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.” Putin feels “rightfully threatened by this act,” Browder suggests, because it cuts him off from resources stored around the world. Browder, who believes the U.S. is “effectively involved with a third world war with Russia,” touts his act as “our best point of leverage.”

Other scheduled speakers include Kasparov, a grandmaster chess player turned democracy advocate. David Satter—the first journalist to be banned from Russia since the Cold War, due to his harsh criticism of the government—will speak on the events leading to Putin’s rise to power. Historian Amy Knight, who The New York Times has dubbed “the West’s foremost scholar” of the KGB, will talk about the extent of Putin’s killings.

PutinCon takes place just two days before the Russian presidential “election,” in which Putin has barred his most threatening competition, Alexei Navalny, from running. Between Russia’s alleged meddling in America’s 2016 election and the recent chemical attack on Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, the conference also comes at critical time in Russia’s relationship with the United States and the Europe.

For details on how to attend or to view the livestream, go here.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2G2NxZA

Public Sector Unions Brace for Janus Ruling: New at Reason

California’s public-sector unions are so accustomed to getting their way in the state Capitol that it’s almost entertaining watching them respond to a coming U.S. Supreme Court decision that is likely to slash their political and economic power.

In the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case, the court is deciding whether public employees in non-right-to-work states such as California may opt out of paying dues even for collective-bargaining purposes. Since 1977, workers have been allowed to withhold dues for a union’s direct political activities, but not for anything related to negotiating their contracts. The case could spell the end to mandatory unionization in the public sector.

Anticipating a ruling that could go against them, unions are pushing a variety of bills designed to mute that decision. But there’s surprisingly little they can actually accomplish, writes Steven Greenhut.

View this article.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2phafU1

Will the New ‘100 Percent Fatal’ Mind-Uploading Service Work?

DigitizedBrain Nectome, a new startup, declares that it is “comitted to the goal of archiving your mind.” How? By vitrifying your brain so as to preserve the structure of all of your synapses. That way, the thinking goes, the connections in your stored brain can one day be digitized and uploaded into a computer, perhaps a century hence.

The processs of “archiving” involves flooding your brain with the chemical fixative glutaraldehyde to rapidly solidify synapses and prevent decay, then storing it in liquid nitrogen. Since vitrification is, as the company says, “100 percent fatal,” the process would ideally take place just as a client is succumbing to a fatal illness. To upload your mind, your brain would have to be destroyed.

Will it work? Lots of neuroscientists doubt it. Over at LiveScience, Sam Gershman, a computational neuroscientist at Harvard, points out that while the “connectome is without a doubt necessary for memory,” there’s lots more going on in our brains that’s probably crucial to constructing our memories. For example, “You need to know the synaptic strengths, if they’re excitatory/inhibitory, various time constants, what neuromodulators are present, the dynamical state of dendritic spines. And that’s all assuming that memories are even stored at synapses!”

And of course, there is the philosophical question of whether or not a computer simulation of your brain would really be you.

The current alternative of regular cryonics involves freezing and preserving bodies and brains in liquid nitrogen with the hope that advances in nanotechnology will enable the repair of the damage caused by death and freezing, allowing patients to “wake up” restored to health in their own bodies.

Is this ethical? Since clients will be volunteers using their own resources, yes. Most people who decide to avail themselves of these experimental services recognize that they are extremely long shots that are likely going to end up being expensive versions of mummifcation. On the other hand, we already know what happens to the control group.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2DwweL2

When a Mash Note to a War Criminal Hit the Top 40

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which a group of American soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. You can read more about that grisly episode in Lucy Steigerwald’s story on the subject, posted elsewhere on this site today. I just want to highlight something Lucy mentioned in passing as she described the trial of Lt. William Calley, the one man convicted for his role in the crime. Back in the U.S., she writes, “Calley became a twisted sort of folk hero.”

It’s true. The most infamous of the killers in one of America’s most infamous war crimes had a cheering section in the States. No, not everyone: Of course many Americans were revolted by the rapes and murders at My Lai. But then there were the people who told themselves a different story about what had happened. The people who made a gold record and a top 40 hit of a deeply dishonest apologia called the “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley.”

“Battle” was written by Julian Wilson and James Smith, a couple of businessmen from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it was recorded by a DJ named Terry Nelson at FAME Studios, the legendary birthplace of dozens of soul, pop, and country hits. Tex Ritter was going to release a version of the song too, but the higher-ups at Capitol Records decided that would be a bad idea. (“[I]f we want to glorify a war hero,” one executive told Billboard, “let’s find someone other than Lt. Calley.”) The folks at Plantation Records had no such scruples, and they put out Nelson’s recording right after Calley was convicted:

“I’m just another soldier from the shores of U.S.A.,” the song’s Calley declares, even if “they’ve made me out a villain, they have stamped me with a brand.” The real villains are elsewhere: “While we’re fighting in the jungles they were marching in the street/While we’re dying in the rice fields they were helping our defeat/While we’re facing V.C. bullets they were sounding a retreat.” In real life, My Lai was an assault on unarmed civilians. In the song, “We responded to their rifle fire with everything we had.”

The rifle fire may be imaginary, but I guess the “everything we had” part was true:

The record peaked at #37 on the Billboard charts. To hear Casey Casem introducing it on American Top 40—right after a snappy little number called “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People“—go to the 2:28 mark here. For eight more pro-Calley songs, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2FWiSNo

Larry Kudlow Is a Big Upgrade for Trump’s White House: New at Reason

President Donald Trump will reportedly name Larry Kudlow head of the White House National Economic Council. For fans of pro-growth policies—deregulation, low taxation, and open trade—it’s great news for obvious reasons. As David Harsanyi notes, Kudlow has been a decades-long champion of these ideas, and those with coherent philosophies tend to offer some stability and continuity. This administration could use more of those things, not less.

View this article.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2FUPtmX

Kurt Loder Reviews Tomb Raider: New at Reason

Fresh out of the action factory though it may be, the new Tomb Raider is already ripe to be remade – as a better movie. A movie that would more stylishly recycle the Indiana Jones readymades at the heart of its video-game DNA, and use them for something more dynamic than set dressing. A movie that would take some Indy tips about creating memorable secondary characters. An improved film would also hack down the thick underbrush of exposition, structure the narrative more gracefully, and—this is important!—assign somebody to turn on the lights during midnight mud-fight scenes.

The director, Norwegian genre specialist Roar Uthaug, is a pro and he does some things well (the action editing is pretty snappy throughout). But he also makes some puzzling choices. The movie begins with a bit of voiceover mumbo-jumbo about an evil Japanese queen named Himiko, who was long ago entombed on the “lost island of Yamatai” and is just “waiting to be unleashed.” Fine—great, in fact: who doesn’t love this sort of stuff, writes Kurt Loder.

View this article.

from Hit & Run http://ift.tt/2IsjY1I