How We Became a ‘Nation of Narcs’ and How To Fix It: Podcast

Reason reporter Mike Riggs talks with Nick Gillespie about his story “A Nation of Narcs,” which argues that Americans have developed “a nasty habit of inviting the state into people’s lives for tiny offenses.” Riggs discusses how class, race, and ethnicity often play out when it comes to the “hassle factor” imposed on individuals who are just trying to get on with their lives. And he lays out some ways to turn back the tide.

Riggs and Gillespie also talk about the legacy of Tom Wolfe, the journalist who more than any other went out and explored the real lives of Americans and all the crazy, wonderful things they were up to.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Photo credit: Dustin Oakley.

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from Hit & Run

10 Years After Heller, Does ‘Normalizing’ the Second Amendment Mean Ignoring It?

Next month it will be 10 years since District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark case in which the Supreme Court acknowledged that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to armed self-defense. In that time the Court has done almost nothing to clarify the contours of that right.

The two exceptions are McDonald v. Chicago, the 2010 case in which the Court said the Second Amendment constrains states and cities as well as the federal government, and Caetano v. Massachusetts, a 2016 case involving a ban on stun guns in which the Court reiterated that weapons covered by the Second Amendment are not limited to those that are suitable for warfare or those that were in common use when the amendment was enacted. Critics, including Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, frequently complain that the Court is neglecting the Second Amendment, letting judges who are hostile to gun rights flout Heller by upholding unconstitutional restrictions on firearms.

Duke law professor Joseph Blocher and Eric Ruben, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, challenge that account, arguing that lower courts for the most part are simply applying the Second Amendment exceptions drawn by Heller. While there is some truth to that claim, it underestimates both the extent to which judges have ignored the implications of Heller and the extent to which that decision left important issues unresolved.

Blocher and Ruben analyzed every Second Amendment case decided by state and federal courts between June 26, 2008, when Heller was published, and February 1, 2016. Their broadest conclusion, consistent with what earlier studies have found, is that Second Amendment claims generally fail. They were successful in just 108 of the 1,153 cases in which they were raised, or 9 percent of the time. One reason for the high failure rate, Blocher and Ruben say, is that three-quarters of the claims were raised in criminal cases, where they were typically tacked on by “defendants facing serious charges,” who “have every incentive to make whatever arguments they can get away with.”

More generally, Blocher and Ruben argue, Second Amendment claims usually fail because they are usually weak. “The language of Heller makes it clear that some kinds of claims are flawed from the outset,” they write. “Most fail precisely because of limitations that Heller itself places on the right to bear arms.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in Heller, seemed keen to assure readers that the decision would not sweep away widely accepted gun control laws that had been on the books for decades (citations omitted):

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

That passage, Blocher and Ruben found, was quoted, “at least in part,” by 60 percent of the judicial decisions they examined. But it’s quite a leap to conclude that all those decisions must have been consistent with Heller, let alone consistent with the Second Amendment.

“This language from Heller gives constitutional blessing to a potentially wide range of regulation,” Blocher and Ruben write in Vox. “So it should be unsurprising that the vast majority of the cases citing it go on to reject the Second Amendment claim and uphold the challenged law. Even when courts do not explicitly cite this particular passage in upholding gun laws, they often rely on other precedents that do so. That explains why the percentage of cases citing it has been steadily declining, as courts start to cite their own prior decisions that incorporate Heller‘s list of exceptions.”

Notably, Heller‘s list of exceptions does not include bans on so-called assault weapons. To the contrary, Heller says the Second Amendment encompasses weapons “in common use” for “lawful purposes,” a description that plainly applies to the guns targeted by such laws, since Americans own more than 16 million of them and almost never use them to commit crimes. State and federal judges nevertheless have upheld “assault weapon” bans since Heller, arbitrarily deeming these guns to be outside the scope of the Second Amendment.

Scalia did note that “prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons” were upheld by most of the 19th-century courts that considered them. But since those laws allowed people to carry guns openly, Scalia’s observation hardly qualifies as an endorsement of the highly implausible proposition that the right to keep and bear arms does not extend beyond the door of a gun owner’s home. As Thomas observed when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a 9th Circuit decision upholding California’s restrictive carry permit law, it is “extremely improbable that the Framers understood the Second Amendment to protect little more than carrying a gun from the bedroom to the kitchen.”

Although there are circuit splits on both of these issues, the Court has refused to resolve them. Nor has it clarified what level of scrutiny is appropriate in Second Amendment cases, another area where the courts are all over the map. As Blocher and Ruben note, “the justices have declined dozens of opportunities to expound on the right to keep and bear arms,” a pattern that led Thomas to accuse his colleagues of treating the Second Amendment as a “constitutional orphan.”

Where gun rights advocates see uncertainty, inconsistency, and disrespect for a constitutional guarantee, Blocher and Ruben see evidence that “courts are normalizing the post-Heller Second Amendment and treating it like other constitutional rights.” By that they mean that the right to keep and bear arms is “subject to exceptions, some of which are derived from history, and to regulations that further certain important government interests.”

These exceptions, which Blocher and Ruben say epitomize “‘normal’ constitutional law,” are threatening to swallow the rule. The other part of normal constitutional law, the part that protects fundamental rights and overturns restrictions inconsistent with them, could use a boost from a Supreme Court that has been silent on this subject for too long.

from Hit & Run

James Clapper Thinks Americans Are Dumb Enough to Vote for Trump Because of Facebook Ads

James ClapperFormer Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has an important message for Americans: He thinks y’all are dumb.

Clapper is best known around here for the time he lied to a Senate committee by denying that the feds were engaged in the mass collection of American citizens’ phone and internet records. His lie was part of what prompted Edward Snowden to steal and release loads of classified documents revealing the truth.

Clapper has since insisted that he didn’t actually lie but rather just totally forgot about this massive secret data collection program. He’s been spinning that response for a couple years now. He brought it up again just recently on The View.

Clapper is making the rounds again to promote a new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence. Also providing publicity is his open feud with President Donald Trump, who is now taking his attacks on the “deep state” to the point where he’s accusing the FBI of installing a “spy” in his campaign.

While it seems obvious that the FBI was monitoring Trump’s campaign to determine the extent of connections with Russian interests, the “spy” claim seems absurdly overheated (for now, anyway). And so we’ve reached a point where Americans are “taking sides” between two men who have reputations for not exactly being honest and for treating Americans like stupid rubes.

In an interview this week with Judy Woodruff on PBS, Clapper makes it very clear how big a bunch of rubes he thinks Americans are. He believes not only that Russian interests attempted to influence the election—obviously true—but that they tipped the outcome.

This unprovable claim is based on the idea that Americans’ votes are easily manipulated. Clapper acknowledges that his former agency has not made such a formal determination, but

as a private citizen, it’s what I would call my informed opinion that, given the massive effort the Russians made, and the number of citizens that they touched, and the variety and the multidimensional aspects of what they did to influence opinion and affect the election, and given the fact that it turned on less than 80,000 votes in three states, to me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election, and it’s my belief they actually turned it.

The evidence doesn’t really show that the Russian influence campaign amounted to much. As Reason‘s Jacob Sullum has carefully detailed, the Russian social media campaign spending was a drop in the bucket when compared to overall online ad revenue, and the content seemed to focus on affirming preexisting beliefs. If it accomplished anything, it was to heighten already existing points of cultural conflict. It “exceeds logic and credulity” to think that this campaign of affirmation altered the election’s outcome. Especially when you remember that this didn’t happen in a vaccum: At the same time the Russians were buying Facebook ads, countless other groups were spending far more on election messages.

Woodruff asks Clapper why he’s inflaming this feud now. He explains, “I am so concerned about the health and strength of our institutions and our values that I spent a lot of time defending, that I had to speak out.”

Ah, the health and strength of those institution and its values. Let’s scroll up the interview a little bit. When Woodruff asked whether the intelligence community had, indeed, sometimes gone too far in their work, here’s the extremely vague way Clapper talks about the congressional committees that monitor intelligence agencies:

So the members on those committees have to represent our citizens to make sure that what the intelligence community is doing is legal, ethical and moral. And we have had cases where, depending on the situation, post-9/11, for example, where our intelligence community did things that, after the fact, people objected to.

Torture. He’s talking about torture. What’s amazing here is that he can’t even bring himself to use the “advanced interrogation techniques” doublespeak that they had settled on. The intelligence community “did things.” Just, you know, stuff. And people objected to it “after the fact,” as though the totality of what they were up to hadn’t been carefully concealed from us and the evidence destroyed.

I cannot imagine why Americans should be interested in the opinions about the norms and ethics of our federal institution from a man who won’t speak honestly about Americans’ distrust of our intelligence agencies, and who thinks we’re so stupid that some Facebook ads can trick us into voting for candidates we don’t want.

from Hit & Run

When the Censors Came for Jack Johnson’s Fight Films

The president has posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson. Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act, which prohibited the interstate transport of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery or for any other immoral purpose.” More specifically, he crossed state lines with a white girlfriend. Racists resented Johnson’s victories in the ring, they resented his refusal to be modest about his success, they resented his wealth, and they resented the fact that he slept with white women. So they used one of the Progressive Era’s most notorious “moral reform” laws to punish him.

But they didn’t just target Johnson himself. The boxer also became a central figure in one of the earliest battles over movie censorship.

After Johnson’s 1910 victory over James J. Jeffries (the so-called “great white hope”), anti-black and anti-boxing crusaders blocked local screenings of a film that showed the match. In 1912, citing the same motion picture, Congress passed the Sims Act, which banned the transport of fight films over state lines. That law led in turn to one of the strangest episodes in film history.

In 1916, a group brought a film of Johnson’s recent fight against Jess Willard to a tent erected on the boundary separating New York from Quebec. They then projected the movie from Canada onto a screen on the U.S. side of the border, where it was rephotographed on American soil. The idea was to import the images without actually importing the film—or, at least, to have a plausible-sounding story once the movie turned up in New York.

Today you need no such feints to see the film. The Johnson-Willard fight is on YouTube, and I have embedded it here:

Willard won that one. Those of you who want to see Johnson win a contest can check out some highlights from his fight with Jeffries below. I unfortunately can’t find the full film of that match online, so this edit (with narration added decades later) will have to do:

By the way: Were you wondering how Johnson would feel about the other big sports-and-politics story of the week—the NFL’s new rules against kneeling in protest during the national anthem? In 1913, chased out of America and living in exile, Johnson “refused to perform under an American flag,” according to a report quoted in Thomas Hietala’s book The Fight of the Century. “He directed that it be removed and replaced by a French flag.” I have a feeling that Colin Kaepernick’s gesture wouldn’t offend him.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

from Hit & Run

New Cancer Report Tries To Scare You Out of Eating Sausage and Bacon

BaconBeerLengelDreamstime“No amount of alcohol, sausage or bacon is safe,” declares the Daily Mirror. The article is about the latest cancer prevention dietary guidelines from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which isn’t actually as alarmist as that sentence sounds. The WCRF report estimates that eating the equivalent of two strips of bacon a day would boost your risk of colorectal cancer by 16 percent. Translation: Eating about 38 pounds of bacon a year—or the equivalent weight in sausages and hot dogs—will raise your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from about 4.5 percent to 5.2 percent for men and from 4.15 percent to 4.8 percent for women.

As far as alcohol goes, the WCRF estimates that drinking 20 grams of ethanol a day (a standard drink contains 14 grams) will increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 7 percent. Three drinks a day raises your risk of liver cancer by 6 percent. A mere 10 grams of alcohol per day increases your risk of esophageal cancer by 41 percent. And for women, drinking as little as 10 grams per day boosts their risk of breast cancer by 9 percent. So these relatively modest rates of tippling (absent other confounding factors) would increase your absolute lifetime risk colorectal cancer from 4.5 to 4.8 percent; liver cancer from 1 to 1.06 percent; esophageal cancer from 0.75 to 1 percent (if you’re a man) or from 0.22 to 0.3 percent (if you’re a woman); and breast cancer from 12.4 to 13.5 percent.

Meanwhile, a huge 2017 meta-analysis in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology finds significant health benefits from light to moderate drinking. For the purposes of the study, light drinking is defined as fewer than 3 drinks a week, moderate drinking is more than 3 and less than 14 drinks a week for men and less than 7 for women, and heavy drinking is more than 14 a week for men and more than 7 for women. To some extent, there is a trade-off between reduced cardiovascular risks and higher cancer risks. Some drinking may even help people avoid some cancers: Medscape reports of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology study that “light and moderate alcohol intake predicted reduced all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortalities in both men and women.”


For comparison, consider that the risk that persistent cigarette smokers will develop lung during their lifetimes is 1,100 percent greater than the risk that a nonsmoker will.

The WCRF also reports that being tall is a cancer risk. For every extra 2 and half inches over 5 feet and 2 inches in height, the WCRF finds that the risk of prostate cancer increases by 7 percent. My adult height is 6 feet 5 inches, suggesting that my risk of prostate cancer is up 40 percent. This boosts my lifetime risk for prostate cancer from 11 to a bit over 15 percent.

To mitigate these risks, the WCRF recommends: “Eat little, if any, processed meats” and “For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol.” Noting the “people cannot necessarily influence” how tall they grow, the WCRF makes “no global recommendations” regarding cancer risks associated with stature.

As it happens, the National Institutes of Health has just issued its Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which reports that the incidence of cancer among men has been declining by 2.2 percent per year since 1999. The cancer incidence rate for women has remained flat over that period. Cancer mortality trends are declining for both men and women, due largely to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments. Cancer mortality for men fell at a rate of 1.8 percent per year; for women, it fell 1.4 percent annually. The five-year cancer survival rate in 1953 was 35 percent, increasing to 49 percent in 1977 and now around 68 percent. Since 1999, colorectal and esophageal cancer rates have been falling while those for liver and breast cancer have been rising a bit. Over the course of their lives, about 1 in 3 Americans will develop cancer and about 1 in 5 will die of the disease. CancerIncidenceNIH2018

The declining overall cancer incidence rates occurred at the same time that per capita U.S. consumption of alcohol was increasing slightly from 2.16 gallons of ethanol in the mid-1990s to 2.33 gallons now. That amounts to slightly less than two daily drinks per person. The WCRF reports that global average annual consumption of alcohol is about 1.7 gallons per person—but just under half of the world’s adult population has never consumed alcohol. In addition, pork consumption in the U.S. has remained steady at about 50 pounds per person annually for the past couple of decades. And Americans annually eat an average of 18 pounds of bacon and 70 hot dogs—about 9 pounds—per person.

A study in December concluded that about 42 percent of cancers are attributable to modifiable risk factors. The researchers estimated that cigarette smoking accounts for 19 percent of cancer cases, excess body weight for 7.8 percent, alcohol for 5.6 percent, UV radiation for 4.7 percent, physical inactivity for 2.9 percent, low consumption of fruits and vegetables for 1.9 percent, and HPV infection for 1.8 percent. The researchers attributed just 0.9 and 0.5 percent of cancers to the consumption of processed and red meats respectively.

So if lifestyle and environmental factors are responsible for only about 40 percent of cancers, what causes most cases of the disease? Bad luck, according to a recent study by biostatistician Cristian Tomassetti and oncologist Bert Vogelstein, both of Johns Hopkins University. The research was prompted by the fact that cancer often strikes people who follow all the rules of healthy living—no smoking, a healthy diet, a healthy weight, little or no exposure to known carcinogens—and who have no family history of the disease.

Parsing data on the risk of 17 cancer types in 69 countries, the researchers report “evidence that random, unpredictable DNA copying ‘mistakes’ account for nearly two-thirds of the mutations that cause cancer.” Basically, cancer most often arises in tissues where cells are constantly being replaced, such as colon and skin. The unavoidable proliferation of random genetic copying errors increases the chances that a cell will mutate in ways that turn it cancerous. “These cancers will occur no matter how perfect the environment,” says Vogelstein.

Given their relatively low cancer risks, I will continue to enjoy bacon and cocktails. More cautious folks are free to choose otherwise.

The upshot is the longer you live, the more likely it is that intemperate lifestyle choices or sheer bad luck will catch up to you and give you cancer. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology oncologist Robert Weinberg has observed, “If you live long enough, you will get cancer.”

from Hit & Run

California’s ‘Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act’ Resulted in Less Transparency, Fairness for Taxpayers: New at Reason

It’s a rule of thumb. One should always expect the opposite result of whatever any government agency promises. The War on Poverty created a permanent underclass that perpetuated poverty throughout generations. The War on Drugs did much to erode our civil liberties, but mainly has emboldened the drug cartel. The examples go on and on.

That brings us to California’s taxing authorities. After scandals at the Board of Equalization—the Orwellian-named agency that had collected sales, use and special taxes—the Legislature gutted it and largely replaced its functions with two new bureaucracies. The 2017 legislation was called the Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act.

As you might have guessed, since its implementation a few months ago, the state’s tax proceedings have become less transparent and less fair to taxpayers, writes Steven Greenhut.

Read the whole thing.

from Hit & Run

Why Judy Gold Doesn’t Play Colleges: ‘You Don’t Tell a Comic What Topics They Can Discuss on Stage’

Add the scabrous comic Judy Gold to the growing list of professional funnypeople—Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, John Cleese, Bill Maher—who won’t play on and/or have withering things to say about the offense-taking culture of college campuses. “This idea that words are more harmful than actions,” Gold said to Vice News‘s Michael C. Moynihan in a segment that ran this week: “Lenny Bruce is rolling over in his grave!”

As with Moynihan’s piece on the Evergreen State College controversy, the real damning stuff comes not from the critics of campus culture but from the collegiate gatekeepers themselves. “When I’m working on a contract, especially with a comedian, I’m very up front in saying, you know, transphobic language isn’t going to be tolerated,” Simmons College entertainment booker Kat Michael tells him. “If you say something in your set…we reserve the right in our contract to, like, have a conversation with you about payment. And I will also pull the microphone.”

Doesn’t get more direct than that. Retorts Gold: “You don’t tell a comic what topics they can discuss on stage. I mean it’s ridiculous.”

Watch the piece here:

Then check out Nick Gillespie’s 2016 interview with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff on “Comedy, College, and the Fight to Save Free Speech“:

from Hit & Run

Don’t Worry About That Diet Soda Habit: Artificial Sweeteners Are Harmless, Say Scientists

Good news for fans of diet drinks and sugar-free sweets: You can safely ignore the hype about zero-calorie sweeteners somehow triggering weight gain and metabolic issues, according to a team of U.S. and European scientists.

The potential paradox of diet soda fueling weight gain had a lot of traction in popular health media. But this idea was based on inconsistent rodent research results, plus human studies that found links between artificial-sweetener consumption and ill effects but not a causal relationship .

Beyond Calories

A new article in the journal Obesity Reviews summarizes last year’s “Beyond Calories—Diet and Cardiometabolic Health” conference, sponsored by the CrossFit Foundation. The event convened doctors, obesity researchers, molecular biologists, nutrition scientists, and other academics from the U.S., Denmark, and Germany to consider whether all calories are “equal with regard to effects on cardiometabolic disease and obesity.”

“There is no doubt that positive energy balance, due to excessive caloric consumption and/or inadequate physical activity, is the main driver of the obesity and cardiometabolic epidemics,” write Janet King and Laura Schmidt in the paper’s introduction. But there’s also evidence that “certain dietary components increase risk” for heart disease and weight gain in ways that go beyond a simple tradeoff between calories consumed and calories burned.

In the case of diet soda and its ilk, there are all sorts of theories about how these drinks could sneakily imitate the effects of sugary beverages. It was posited that they might trigger our sweet taste receptors to crave more sweet things after consumption, that they might alter our gut bacteria in a negative way, or that they induce a biochemical response as if real sugar had been consumed.

Some speculated that “caloric compensation occurs, negating calories ‘saved,'” writes Allison Sylvetsky in a section of the article that deals with non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS). “This compensation could be psychological, whereby one’s knowledge of consuming a lower‐calorie NNS‐containing alternative may lead to giving oneself permission for greater calorie ingestion at subsequent meals,” or it “could be physiological, in which consumption of lower‐calorie NNS‐containing alternatives promotes heightened hunger and subsequently higher calorie intake.”

But that wasn’t much more than speculation. “Two separate meta‐analyses consisting of 10 and eight [randomized controlled trials] both indicated that substituting [artificial sweeteners] for sugar resulted in a modest weight loss in adults,” notes Sylvetsky. “In 62 of 90 animal studies, NNS did not increase body weight, and a more recent meta‐analysis of 12 prospective cohort studies did not support an association between NNS consumption and BMI.”

Embracing Aspartame

The most popular artificial sweetener these days is aspartame, which can be found in most diet soft drinks. Acesulfame Potatassium, Sucralose (sold in the U.S. as Splenda), and substances derived from the stevia plant are also popular. The paper cautions that aspartame has much more safety evidence on its side than the others, as it has been studied much more extensively. (There’s no particular reason to think the others will prove any less safe, but none has been studied “for periods no longer than 16 weeks.”)

Aspartame has been controversial for decades, but fears over its alleged links to everything from Alzheimer’s disease to brain cancer, diabetes, leukemia, and weight gain have proven unfounded. (Such was also the case with saccharine before it.) And there have been ample randomized controlled trials to study its effects.

“It does not appear that any of these [trials] revealed adverse effects of NNS consumption on risk factors for cardiometabolic disease,” writes Sylvetsky, summing up the research. In one six-month study, overweight and obese participants were assigned to drink either sucrose‐sweetened cola, aspartame‐sweetened cola, water, or low-fat milk. Researchers found “no significant differences between the effects of aspartame‐sweetened cola and water on body weight, visceral adiposity, liver fat and metabolic risk factors.”

In “the longest intervention study conducted to date,” 163 obese women were randomly assigned to have or avoid aspartame‐sweetened foods and drinks during a several-month weight-loss program, a one-year weight-maintenace program, and a two-year follow-up period. “The aspartame group lost significantly more weight overall,” reports Sylvetsky, “and regained significantly less weight during the 1‐year maintenance and the 2‐year follow‐up than the no‐aspartame group.”

Controlled trials “consistently demonstrate” that consuming aspartame and other artificial sweeteners is associated with decreased calorie consumption, the paper concludes. And “there are no clinical intervention studies involving chronic [sweetener] exposure in which [it] induced a weight increase relative to sugar, water or habitual diet.”

The team of researchers suggests that more studies should be done on on the effects of artificially-sweetened beverages on children and on how consumption of these drinks is related to glucose tolerance and inflammation.

from Hit & Run

Trump’s Ignorant Trade War: New at Reason

Veronique de Rugy takes on Trump’s trade war in her latest column for Reason:

“We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced on Sunday. “It’s about structural changes. It’s about lowering tariffs. China has committed to lower tariffs on many things and made structural changes to protect our technology.”

Alas, that didn’t settle the issue. Several hours later, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reaffirmed his belief that tariffs remained an important tool to “protect our technology.” Finally, on Wednesday, the president tweeted that “Our Trade Deal with China is moving along nicely, but in the end we will probably have to use a different structure in that this will be too hard to get done and to verify results after completion.”

I am not sure what Trump means by “a different structure.” Nor am I sure what a new framework would require. And I’m certainly not sure there’s any upside to trying to make sense of all these conflicting statements.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

Trump Won’t Talk to Mueller Unless He Gets a Report on Spygate: Reason Roundup

Trump won’t talk ’til learning more about “Spygate” briefing. Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost yesterday that “we could probably decide by June 12 whether [President Donald Trump will] testify” before federal prosecutors about potential “collusion” between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. The decision, said Giuliani, hangs on how much is revealed to Trump about the Justice Department’s probe into what Trump is determined to call “Spygate,” involving the FBI’s use of a confidential informant to talk to people within Trump’s orbit as part of the bureau’s Russian-influence investigation.

Giuliani also told HuffPost that if he had his druthers, the president would keep quiet. “I would not like to talk to Mueller at all. I don’t see what you gain from that.” However, Trump “has a strong view that he should testify,” Giuliani added. “He believes he’s telling the truth: He didn’t collude with the Russians and he didn’t obstruct justice.”

Eight lawmakers from both parties met yesterday with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for a classified briefing on the FBI informant used to monitor the Trump campaign. Their meeting followed a Justice Department briefing for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R–S.C.), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Also in the room: Trump’s lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. Their presence raised immediate suspicions and outrage from Democrats, but Flood and Kelly left the room before the confidential part of the meeting began, according to a White House statement.

Democrats were unimpressed by the briefing. “Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols,” Schiff tweeted after the briefing.

Giuliani told Politico yesterday that if “we learned a good deal from [the briefings], it will shorten that whole process considerably.” As for the fact that the briefings were classified, Giuliani seemed unconcerned. “I don’t want the guy’s identity,” he said. “I don’t want classified information. What I need to know is, ‘What’s the basis for their doing it?’ Most important, ‘What did the informant produce?'”


Feds monitor social media, and the ACLU wants answers. The American Civil Liberties Union wants to know why federal authorities have been doing so much social-media surveillance. On Tuesday, the group submitted a Freedom of Information Act request “for records pertaining to social media surveillance, including the monitoring and retention of immigrants’ and visa applicants’ social media information for the purpose of conducting ‘extreme vetting.'” The group seeks information on social-media monitoring by the FBI, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Multiple federal agencies are increasingly relying on social media surveillance to monitor the speech, activities, and associations of U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike,” says the request:

Government surveillance of social media raises serious constitutional and privacy concerns. Most online speech reflects no wrongdoing whatsoever and is fully protected by the First Amendment. Protected speech and beliefs—particularly expression or association of a political, cultural, or religious nature—should not serve as the sole or predominant basis for surveillance, investigation, or watchlisting.


Federal agents nix “Toke Back Mountain.” The feds are cracking down on cannabis-infused brews again. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is going after San Francisco Black Hammer Brewing, ordering the small brewery to stop selling its “Toke Back Mountain” beer.

Launched last year, Toke Back Mountain is made with cannabidiol (CBD) extract derived from hemp plants. CBD is prized more for potential health benefits than giving uses a high. Alas, the beer still runs afoul of federal law.

In a bittersweet way, the alcohol agency’s cease-and-desist here represents an improvement in our country’s insane drug policies. Black Hammer Brewing isn’t in trouble for running afoul of the federal government’s persistant ban on marijuana and its non-psychoactive cousin hemp. It ran afoul of a more mundane regulation: foregoing special approval to add a “non-standard beer ingredient” to their brew.

Black Hammer Brewing says it will now apply for approval to legally sell the CBD beer.


from Hit & Run