Trump Loses Round One in Financial Record Fight

This afternoon, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia rejected President Donald Trump’s attempt to block a congressional subpoena seeking financial records from Trump’s accountants.

Here is the introduction to Judge Mehta’s opinion in Trump v. Committee on Oversight and Reform:

I do, therefore, . . . solemnly protest against these proceedings of the House of Representatives, because they are in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, and subversive of its constitutional independence; because they are calculated to foster a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear before ex parte committees to pretended private conversations between the President and themselves, incapable, from their nature, of being disproved; thus furnishing material for harassing him, degrading him in the eyes of the country . . .

– President James Buchanan

These words, written by President James Buchanan in March 1860, protested a resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives to form a committee—known as the Covode Committee—to investigate whether the President or any other officer of  the Executive Branch had sought to influence the actions of Congress by improper means. . . . Buchanan “cheerfully admitted” that the House of Representatives had the authority to make inquiries “incident to their legislative duties,” as “necessary to enable them to discover and to provide the appropriate legislative remedies for any abuses which may be ascertained.” But he objected to the Covode Committee’s investigation of his conduct. He maintained that the House of Representatives possessed no general powers to investigate him, except when sitting as an impeaching body. Buchanan feared that, if the House were to exercise such authority, it “would establish a precedent dangerous and embarrassing to all my successors, to whatever
political party they might be attached.”

Some 160 years later, President Donald J. Trump has taken up the fight of his predecessor. On April 15, 2019, the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the House of Representatives issued a subpoena for records to Mazars USA LLP, a firm that has provided accounting services to President Trump. The subpoena called for Mazars to produce financial records and other documents relating to President Trump personally as well as various associated businesses and entities dating back to 2011—years before he declared his candidacy for office. The decision to issue the subpoena came about after the President’s former lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, testified before the House Oversight Committee that the President routinely would alter the estimated value of his assets and liabilities on financial statements, depending on the purpose for which a statement was needed. For instance, Cohen said that the President provided inflated financial statements to a bank to obtain a loan to purchase a National Football League franchise. But when it came time to calculate his real estate taxes, the President would deflate the value of certain assets. To support his accusations, Cohen produced financial statements from 2011, 2012, and 2013, at least two of which were prepared by Mazars.

Echoing the protests of President Buchanan, President Trump and his associated entities are before this court, claiming that the Oversight Committee’s subpoena to Mazars exceeds the Committee’s constitutional power to conduct investigations. The President argues that there is no legislative purpose for the subpoena. The Oversight Committee’s true motive, the President insists, is to collect personal information about him solely for political advantage. He asks the court to declare the Mazars subpoena invalid and unenforceable.

Courts have grappled for more than a century with the question of the scope of Congress’s investigative power. The binding principle that emerges from these judicial decisions is that courts must presume Congress is acting in furtherance of its constitutional responsibility to legislate and must defer to congressional judgments about what Congress needs to carry out that purpose. To be sure, there are limits on Congress’s investigative authority. But those limits do not substantially constrain Congress. So long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which “legislation could be had,” Congress acts as contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.

Applying those principles here compels the conclusion that President Trump cannot block the subpoena to Mazars. According to the Oversight Committee, it believes that the requested records will aid its consideration of strengthening ethics and disclosure laws, as well as amending the penalties for violating such laws. The Committee also says that the records will assist in monitoring the President’s compliance with the Foreign Emoluments Clauses. These are facially valid legislative purposes, and it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations. Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee.

 

No doubt this opinion will be appealed. Trump’s attorneys may succeed in obtaining a stay, or otherwise slowing down these proceedings, but I expect they will ultimately be unsuccessful.

Assuming Congress must be able to identify a legitimate legislative purpose when seeking such information, Judge Mehta is correct to conclude that that any such requirement is amply satisfied here. The President is not a private individual. His financial information is relevant to the legislature’s authority to determine whether foreign emoluments are to be permitted and under what conditions, as well as to whether presidential conduct implicates his oath of office or could justify an impeachment inquiry. Whether or not relevant legislation has been introduced or a formal impeachment inquiry has been opened is irrelevant, as Congress is not required to introduce legislation before investigating whether any such legislation is desirable, nor is Congress required to open a formal impeachment proceeding before looking into whether such a proceeding would be justified, and it would be a stark departure from traditional separation of powers norms for a court to conclude otherwise.

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Unpacking the Supreme Court’s decision in Pepper v. Apple

We begin this episode with a quick tour of the 5-4 Apple antitrust decision that pitted two Trump appointees against each other. Matthew Heiman and I consider the differences in judging styles that produced the split—and the role that 25 years of living with Silicon Valley “platform billionaires” may have played in the decision.

Eric Emerson joins us for the first time to talk about the legal fallout from the latest tariff increases on Chinese products. Short version: companies have some short-term tactics to explore (country of origin, drawback, valuation), but large importers/resellers will have to grapple with larger and costlier strategies of supply chain diversification and localization.

Meanwhile, China has not been taking the trade war lying down. In addition to its own tariff increases, it now seems to be enforcing its demanding cybersecurity law more aggressively against foreign firms. I suggest that we may also be seeing retaliation in Chinese courts as well.

In related news, Nick Weaver and I debate the potentially sweeping new Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain.

Maury Shenk explains the UK Supreme Court ruling that expands the court’s authority over the UK’s intelligence agencies—despite clear Parliamentary language to the contrary. Bottom line: Bad news for UK intelligence. Hidden good news for the US: Turns out that there is something worse than activist judges interpreting a written constitution – activist judges who can more or less make up the constitution they interpret.

It was a cybersecurity disaster week for some of the biggest names in tech. Nick helps me understand which bugs were worst, Cisco’s, Intel’s, or Microsoft’s. Then we review the equally bad week that the NSO Group and its WhatsApp exploit had.

Cleaning up in a lightning round:  We cover the order requiring the Chinese owner of Grindr to sell by mid-2020. We also cover Canada’s approach to social media, which spurs me to offer unwonted praise for France’s Macron and his moderation. The EU has a plan for sanctions on cyberattackers; Matthew and I doubt it will get much use. Is too much fuss being made over leak investigators using Web bugs to see if defense counsel at Guantanamo have been leaking; Nick and I disagree, at least a bit.

And the podcast closes with yet another installment in our long-running feature, “This Week in Internet Sex Toy Law.” Suffice it to say that the latest case can’t be understood without consulting both Orin Kerr and Jerry Seinfeld.

Download the 264th Episode (mp3).

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect their firms, clients, spouses, or families.

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Bernie Sanders Has a Strange Affinity for Strongman Daniel Ortega. He’s Not the Only Democrat Who Does.

Give The New York Times credit for publishing, over the weekend, a long investigative piece about the strange enthusiasm of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for the communist strongman Daniel Ortega, who ruled Nicaragua in the 1980s and is in power there again today.

It bears remembering, though, that the group of Democratic presidential candidates who might be described as Ortega groupies extends well beyond the self-described socialist senator from Vermont.

One of the newest additions to the Democratic presidential field is the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. The Times reported back in 2013 that during the 1980s, de Blasio “helped raise funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to the party’s newspaper, Barricada, or Barricade.”

Sanders visited Nicaragua in 1985; de Blasio went there in 1988.

The Times reported that in the late 1980s, when Ortega was in power, de Blasio “oversaw efforts to solicit and ship millions of dollars in food, clothing and supplies to Nicaragua.” The Times reported in 2013 that de Blasio “to this day…speaks admiringly of the Sandinistas’ campaign.”

Then there’s the man polls indicate is the front-runner for Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden. A former aide to George W. Bush, Peter Wehner, has written in the Wall Street Journal that “In the early 1980s, the U.S. was engaged in a debate over funding the Contras, a group of Nicaraguan freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. Mr. Biden was a leading opponent of President Ronald Reagan’s efforts to fund the Contras.”

The voting records bear that out. On October 3, 1984, Biden voted to prohibit the Reagan administration from spending money against Nicaragua from the intelligence budget. The amendment was rejected, 42-57. On June 6, 1985, the Senate approved an amendment offered by Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn to release $38 million in humanitarian aid to the Contra rebels fighting Ortega’s Sandinistas. The amendment passed, but Biden was one of 42 Senators who opposed it. Both votes wound up on the annual scorecards of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal interest group.

Biden voted again in March 1987 for halting aid to the Contras. In 1986 Biden wanted to require the Reagan administration to negotiate with Ortega’s government before sending any money to the contras.

Somewhat comically, Biden fetched up in December 2018 with a piece in Americas Quarterly headlined “The Western Hemisphere Needs U.S. Leadership.” Now, Biden concedes, “Instead of respecting the will of their people, the governments of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua have confronted peaceful protesters with force, even armed vigilantes. They have limited the freedoms of expression and assembly necessary for political dialogue and arrested their political opponents.”

In fairness to Biden, one can be a critic of a regime, a leader, or its polices while simultaneously thinking that it is unwise for the American government to provide financial support to a group dedicated to overthrowing that regime. Just as President Trump is hesitant to move militarily against Iran for fear of repeating the Iraq War, politicians in the 1980s were hesitant to back anticommunist forces for fear of repeating the Vietnam War.

For Democrats hoping to run against President Trump in 2020, though, the Ortega story is a complexifier. It makes it harder for Democrats to criticize Trump for cozying up to North Korea if the Democrats themselves were cozying up to Ortega. It makes it harder for Democrats to criticize Trump as an isolationist who is abandoning U.S. interests and principles overseas if the Democrats themselves wanted to cut loose the Contras and consign the people of Nicaragua to a communist authoritarian strongman.

The real resonance, though, has less to do with Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua as a foreign policy case about the merits of American intervention, and more to do with the threat of Ortega-style policies here in the United States. Reasonable people may disagree about how involved America should get in rescuing Nicaragua from socialism. What’s troubling, though, is the idea that a significant wing of the Democratic party might want to emulate precisely the policies—redistribution, central planning, disrespect of property rights—that have left Nicaragua as the poorest country in Central America.

If President Trump wants to illuminate the point, he might offer the Nicaraguan strongman a visa to the United States. Let Ortega campaign alongside Sanders, de Blasio, and Biden in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Let the 2020 Democrats compete for the Bolshevik comandante‘s endorsement.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

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Once Again, the Mongols Motorcycle Club Can Legally Keep Its Patch

Meth dealing. Money laundering. Murder.

These are just a few of the crimes for which members of the Southern California-based Mongols Motorcycle Club have been arrested. But regardless of the crimes they stand accused of committing while wearing the Mongols patch, Central District of California Court Judge David O. Carter recently thwarted yet another attempt by federal law enforcers to confiscate the bike club’s brand.

During a sentencing hearing on Friday for racketeering charges against the entirety of the Mongol Nation, Carter ordered the club to pay a fine of $500,000 and serve five years probation. When prosecutors also asked Carter to forfeit the Mongols’ trademark for their patch, which bears a figure on a motorcycle resembling Genghis Khan, Carter ruled against the request.

The feds have been after the Mongol patch for years, arguing that displaying the logo is as dangerous as the crimes committed by the club members. As previously reported at Reason, the long legal fight brings together free speech violations, asset forfeiture, and intellectual property. When prosecutors received pretrial authority to go after the patch in 2008, law enforcement confiscated jackets and other items bearing the imagery despite not filing charges for a crime.

Prosecutors briefly enjoyed a win when a California jury decided in January that they could take the trademarked patch away from the group. This decision was eventually overturned by Carter in February. He concluded that the seizure of the trademark violated the First Amendment right to free expression and the Eighth Amendment protection from excessive punishment.

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Late Capitalism or Latest Capitalism: Game of Thrones Edition

So Game of Thrones is finis. This seems like a good time to recount how various consumer brands riffed off the show, even episodes depicting what were essentially war crimes. (In the second-to-last episode of the series, Daenerys Targaryen kills thousands of innocent city dwellers with the help of her fire-breathing dragon. As the official Snickers Twitter feed puts it, “Not smooth.”)

Indeed, the speed with which brands hitched their wagon to the show demonstrates what the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger bemoaned as “the capacity of the capitalist society to reabsorb, suck up, swallow, ‘cultural goods’ of widely varying digestibility” (so too does the rise of Che Guevara t-shirts and t-shirts satirizing those shirts). Joseph Schumpeter famously identified “the perennial gale of creative destruction” as the “essential fact about capitalism.” In response to ever-shifting demands from consumers, producer are “incessantly revolutioniz[ing] the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

So it is also with cultural expression, especially in an age of meme-ing, deep fakes, and nearly frictionless reproduction. Now more than ever, pop culture (including advertising) is a perpetual meaning machine in which appropriation, reappropriation, and misappropriation are ubiquitous and inevitable. Because of the rise of empowering technology and the related breakdown of gatekeepers, more of us than ever before are joining a conversation once restricted to the high priests of politics, the academy, or the corporate suite.

Folks who believe we are in the days of “late capitalism”—the period in which the internal contradictions outlined by Marx and Engels are becoming visible, suggesting we are only days, months, or years from a proletarian revolution—might want to chomp on a Snickers themselves. In the past couple of decades, increases in international trade have helped to lift billions out of poverty and, even more amazingly, deliver middle-class standards of living to a majority of the planet’s population. T

he internet is awash in user-generated content, and whatever you can say about social media, it’s made more of us participants rather than mere observers in our culture. That’s all very smooth.

Here are some Twitter ads featuring Game of Thrones (courtesy of Lexy Garcia). Enjoy them before we all move on the next thing.

 

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The Democrats’ Dumb War Against Charter Schools

How bad is the plan to ban for-profit charter schools, released Saturday by second-place presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)? Bad enough to draw this New York magazine headline from Jonathan Chait: “Bernie Sanders Wants to Destroy the Best Schools Poor Urban Kids Have.” Also bad enough to generate this asinine tweet:

We talk about the Democratic war on charters—sadly not limited to Bernie Sanders!—on this week’s Editors’ Roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-WardNick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and Matt Welch. Also discussed: Last night’s television finale, last week’s weirdly DOA Trump immigration plan, and of course the weekend’s biggest news in libertarian politics, namely the tweetstorm from Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) about the “impeachment threshold” behavior by the president.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Relevant links from the show:

Rep. Justin Amash Says Trump ‘Has Engaged in Impeachable Conduct,’” by Eric Boehm

Donald Trump Responds To Justin Amash: ‘Never a Fan…Total Lightweight…Loser,’” by Nick Gillespie

Justin Amash’s Principled Stand Against Trump Will Not Make Him Popular in the GOP,” by Robby Soave

Beto Called Charter Schools a ‘Good Idea’ in 2012. He Was Right.” By Zuri Davis

Cory Booker Is Running for President. Must He Run Away from School Choice?” by Robby Soave

N.Y.C. Mayor Bill De Blasio Mulling Presidential Run. Stop Laughing!” By Scott Shackford

Does School Choice Help Students Learn? All Signs Point to Yes,” by Nick Gillespie

Trump Unveils Plan To Promote Skill-Based Immigration,” by Zuri Davis

White House Increases Temporary Work Visas; Proposes Keeping Immigration Flat,” by Matt Welch

Game of Thrones Finale: Daenerys Vows to Make a Hell of Earth,” by Robby Soave

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Trump’s One-Sided War Against New York’s Political Elite

The list of people ready to guffaw at the pending national humiliation of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is longer than the walk-up line for To Kill a Mockingbird. There is the New York mayor’s political nemesis in Albany, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, no doubt miffed that his own lane to the White House got smothered in the avalanche of Joe Biden‘s late-ish entrance into the 2020 presidential race. There are the headline writers at the New York Post and Daily News, whose familiarity with the unpopular incompetent breeds a delicious contempt. And then there are the people who have actually worked for the guy, who use words like “lunacy” to describe de Blasio’s quest.

But the loudest pre-emptive snorts are already coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., 250 miles south.

De Blasio thus becomes the latest Manhattan bug on the windshield of the man who McKay Coppins memorably described in The Atlantic as “the outer-borough president.” From a young age, Coppins observed, Trump “was acutely aware of the cultural, and physical, chasm that separated himself from the city’s aristocracy. In several interviews and speeches over the years, he has recalled gazing anxiously across the East River toward Manhattan, desperate to make a name for himself among the New York elite.”

That elite was never truly impressed, even after the developer and tabloid fixture found splashy success across the East River: “Trump was a vulgar self-promoter, a new-money rube, a walking assault on good taste and manners. He was, in short, not one of them. And he knew it.”

Coppins wrote those words in January 2017. Since then, the president has had ample time to act on his revenge fantasies against the city where he first made his now-ubiquitous name. And the results of this D.C. vs. Manhattan fight have been as lopsided as a Harlem Globetrotters game.

The biggest Trumpian blow against the betters he left behind, by far, was the 2017 federal income-tax cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions at $10,000. Disproportionately affecting residents of high-income, high-tax polities, the SALT cap seems almost tailor-made to clobber Manhattan. According to a 2017 Tax Foundation study, New York County (which is comprised solely of Manhattan) took by far the highest median pre-reform SALT deduction in the country—$24,900 per itemizing inhabitant, compared to $17,000 in Marin County, California. (The New York City-adjacent suburban counties of Westchester and Nassau ranked #4 and #8, respectively.)

“SALT was an economic civil war,” Gov. Cuomo complained at a February news conference, blaming the cap for a whopping $2.3 billion tax-revenue shortfall. “It literally restructured the economy to help red states at the cost of blue states….It was a diabolical, political maneuver.”

Diabolical? Hardly. As Reason economics columnist Veronique de Rugy has observed,

the deduction provides an indirect federal subsidy to state and local governments in high-income areas by decreasing the net cost of nonfederal taxes to those who pay them. As the Tax Policy Center notes, in some instances these state and local governments effectively “export a portion of their tax burden to the rest of the nation.”

But Cuomo is on firmer ground when he notes the politics of it all. The governor, whose biggest 2018 re-election campaign theme was standing up to Trump, has been remarkably ineffective in that role. He created a SALT workaround allowing tax filers to donate their tax sums to state charities that provide social services, but that got quashed by the Treasury Department and faces an unpromising future in the courts. He met with President Trump in February and vowed a “nationwide campaign” to repeal the cap, but Democratic New York governors don’t tend to have much sway in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

“People are mobile,” Cuomo warned in February. “And they will go to a better tax environment. That is not a hypothesis. That is a fact.” Hmmmm, there might be a teachable lesson there….

The Census in mid-April came out with its annual population adjustment. And what did it find? Year-over-year population loss not just in New York state but—for the first time after a long climb—the city as well. Naturally, the president couldn’t help himself from taking a victory lap. “People are fleeing New York State because of high taxes,” Trump tweeted. “They didn’t even put up a fight against SALT—could have won.”

That personalized, pugilistic interpretation of the tax deal was shared by a politician who otherwise usually backs the president, Rep. Steve King (R–Long Island). “He’s from New York,” King told Newsday, “but he did more to hurt New York than what’s ever been done before. That’s the reality and he’s trying to pass the buck to us.”

Usually, out-migration from New York state to Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and the like is replaced by international in-migration to New York City. But the Trump administration has affected those numbers, too, not just by squeezing down the number of legal refugees, student visas, family green cards, and temp workers, but by changing the very way population is counted.

The American Community Survey, from which the most recent Census data was gleaned, asked international migrants a different question last year. Not, when did you arrive in the U.S., but where did you live last year. “Our feeling is that the number for net international migration is likely too low because the new method tends to produce a lower figure,” New York Department of City Planning chief demographer Joseph Salvo told The New York Times.

Most controversially, the administration’s new citizenship question on the decennial Census survey—which it has not asked since 1950—will (if permitted by the Supreme Court) almost certainly lead to an undercount among any household that contains even one illegal immigrant. Remarkably, and in contravention to the original purposes of the Census, this appears to be by design.

The combination of actual population loss and conscious undercounting of immigrant-heavy populations is directly weakening New York’s political power. The Empire State is currently projected to be the only one in the union to lose two congressional seats after the post-Census reapportionment.

Most of President Trump’s haymakers directed toward Manhattan fail to land. He keeps whining about his depiction on Saturday Night Live and his treatment by the news division at 30 Rockefeller Center, but all his Twitter rage-threats to sue for defamation, re-impose the Equal Time rule, or even have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) re-examine licenses, have hit the dead end of robust legal protection of the First Amendment. (As well as the respect for same by FCC Chair Ajit Pai.)

The administration’s attempts to crack down on sanctuary cities have similarly been rebuffed by the courts. Mayor de Blasio flatly rejected requests to hand the feds information about the immigration status of prisoners in city custody. And even Trump’s trade wars have so far just stalled, not yet reversed, the long Wall Street boom.

But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that in the Acela corridor power struggle between New York and Washington, it is Trump and Trump alone who has come out on top. In January 2016 the most likely obstacles to the reality TV star’s path to the White House were former New York senator Hillary Clinton, Brooklyn-born democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, and possibly former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Only Sanders remains, and he’s running a distant second in the pre-primary season to the guy who canceled out Andrew Cuomo. De Blasio stands to be the latest to not only lose to Trump, but suffer continuous degradation throughout.

“A special hello to all of you in this room who have known and loved me for many, many years,” then-candidate Trump said, with startling contempt, at the New York elite’s legendary and traditionally jovial Al Smith dinner in October 2016. “But then suddenly, [they] decided when I ran for president as a Republican, that I’ve always been a no-good, rotten, disgusting scoundrel. And they totally forgot about me.”

Now, New York politicians can’t stop yammering about Trump. But they can’t stop losing to him, either.

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Texas Poised To Ban All Red Light Cameras

If Texas cities want to fine drivers into the poor house, they’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way—with actual law enforcement officers. A bill to ban red light cameras has passed the Texas Legislature and is heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. He’s expected to sign it.

Red light cameras were allegedly introduced to reduce collisions with an automated system that sent tickets and fines to those who ran through intersections. Or, at least, that’s what drivers were told.

The reality is that cities use red light cameras as a source of revenue, not for public safety. In Chicago, Illinois, a former city official was sent to prison for taking bribes from a red light camera company. Chicago raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the camera tickets, and at one point these machines appeared to be malfunctioning and sending out hundreds of tickets inappropriately.

More recently, the state of Oregon attempted to target a man with threats of punishment for challenging the timing and duration of yellow lights, accusing him of misrepresenting himself as an engineer (he is, in fact, an engineer, but not licensed in Oregon). The state tried unsuccessfully to fine him.

Some cities and states have pinned a lot of their budget numbers on this revenue, which creates some pretty twisted incentives. The Dallas Morning News notes that Dallas drew in nearly $6 million from red-light camera fines in 2018. Half of the money goes to the city. The other half gets directed toward trauma hospitals in the state.

But there’s actually very little evidence that red light cameras actually improve public safety. Study after study often says the opposite, and some communities have stopped using them without being directed to by their state governments. HB 1631 in Texas will forbid the use of red light cameras across the state, and the evidence from these cameras cannot be used for charges or citations. The bill allows municipalities to honor their contracts with private camera operators until they expire, so it may be a few years before they disappear—in Fort Worth, the city contract runs through 2026. But the bill also forbids county and state official from refusing to register a car on the basis of having unpaid red-light camera tickets.

Assuming Abbott signs the bill into law, this is great news for citizens, especially in cities that blanket their neighborhoods with cameras to eke out money.

Mind you, Texas is still a state where speed traps rule and cities and counties bring in millions in revenue from writing tickets. And those tools of petty enforcement can be used and abused to torment people when officers get angry over any challenge to their authority (See: Sandra Bland). But at least one terrible tool used to milk citizens out of their money is taking the exit ramp.

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Here Are 5 Times Donald Trump Warned Against Going to War With Iran

Trump’s 2016 campaign was defined largely by the scattershot and freelancing style of his rallies and debate performances, but one of his most consistent and specific positions was one of general skepticism about American military interventions in other countries. He wrecked the Republican primary field, and humiliated Jeb Bush specifically, by simply calling America’s post-9/11 wars what they obviously are: a disaster. He took that same approach in dispatching Hillary Clinton, who was saddled with her own long history of supporting wars in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere.

But Trump wasn’t just Monday morning quarterbacking conflicts that were already going poorly. Even before running for president, he warned about the prospect of war with Iran—and about how his predecessor could stoke such a conflict for domestic political reasons.

On at least five occasions between October 2012 and November 2013—a period when tension with Iran was rising, as the Obama administration put pressure on the Iranian government to negotiate a nuclear deal—Trump issued warnings and predictions about the foolishness of war.

Thankfully, Trump’s prediction that Obama would launch a war with Iran did not come to pass. But now that he occupies the White House, Trump might want to take a look back through his own Twitter history regarding Iran—particularly those last two tweets, regarding the president’s “toughness” and “inability to negotiate.”

Lately, Trump has been taking a very different approach. For example, on Sunday (potentially in response to a segment about Iran that ran on Fox News), Trump openly threatened Iran.

That message follows a week in which tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new highs: A new aircraft carrier was deployed into the Persian Gulf. Nonessential personnel were evacuated from the U.S. embassy Baghdad in anticipation of possible military action. And Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), a key Trump ally in Congress, was on cable news promising war with Iran would be easy to win.

Despite the stepped-up rhetoric and other signals from the White House, it’s not clear that Trump is determined to take America into war. He’s reportedly been “frustrated” with advisors like John Bolton—who has been openly talking about his desire to bomb Iran for more than a decade—and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Bolton, of course, was one of the key architects of the war in Iraq, and he now seems determined to lead Trump down the same disastrous path. In the past, Trump has been susceptible to the influence of his top foreign policy advisors. In 2017, when he announced plans to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan—after previously promising to end that war—Trump credited then-Defense Secretary James Mattis with changing his mind about withdrawing.

The danger now is that Trump could be lured into the same trap he once believed Barack Obama would stumble into—using war as a way to boost domestic political standing.

History suggests that’s a mistake. As Jonathan Bernstein points out at Bloomberg, voters have very short memories even if wars go well—George H.B. Bush lost his bid for re-election just months after the conclusion of the First Gulf War, an intervention that had broad support from the American public. If the war goes poorly, it would likely end any hope of a second term for Trump, as Harry Truman’s and Lyndon Johnson’s political careers remind us.

That’s doubly true in Trump’s case because much of his appeal in 2016 was the result of voters’ desire to scale back America’s military involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia. Abandoning that principle should cost Trump dearly, says Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

“Trump’s supporters should exhibit no patience for such excuses. The president has nearly unfettered ability to choose his advisers. It was Trump’s decision to surround himself with a mixture of stale, conventional thinkers and extreme hawks,” writes Carpenter. “If he continues to betray his war-weary supporters, they may well abandon him in the 2020 presidential election, and they would be fully justified in doing so.”

The American people elected a man who warned against using war for political leverage—but they might have gotten a president who is doing exactly that.

 

 

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A Texas Attorney Was Arrested and Detained for Helping Three Young Migrants on the Side of the Road

On the night of Feb. 27, Teresa Todd listened as a Border Patrol agent read off her Miranda rights, something intimately familiar to her as the city attorney for Marfa, Texas, as well as the county attorney for Jeff Davis County. Except this time, she was the accused, and she wasn’t sure what she had done.

Earlier that evening, a trio of young Central American migrants waved her down while she was driving on a West Texas interstate. All three—Carlos, Francisco, and Esmeralda—were limping, she says, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration after making the hazardous trek across the southern border. But one looked gravely ill.

Esmeralda “could barely stand,” Todd tells Reason. “The color of her skin, the way she looked, the way her eyes were glossed over, I literally thought she was going to pass out at any minute. It was very clear she needed immediate medical attention.”

She invited the three to warm up in her car while she phoned for help, calling, among others, a Border Patrol lawyer. A sheriff’s deputy soon pulled up behind her. Agents from Border Patrol followed, who then Mirandized her, put her in the back of their vehicle, and told her she could be charged “with transporting or harboring illegal aliens,” according to Todd.

Baffled, she tells Reason that she was “just trying to help,” particularly as Esmeralda appeared decreasingly lucid.

Upon arriving at the Border Patrol station, Todd was ordered to remove her jewelry and surrender her purse. She was then locked in a holding cell for 45 minutes and eventually driven back to her car late that night. About a week later, a federal agent showed up to her office and confiscated her phone; it was not returned to her for 53 days. She remains the subject of an active federal investigation.

“I lost 10 pounds the first week from the stress,” Todd says.

This small saga is one of many to spring from the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, which has seen the government treat good Samaritans like criminals. Four women were sentenced last month on misdemeanor charges after leaving jugs of water and cans of beans for migrants in Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Another good Samaritan, Scott Warren, goes on trial later this month, accused of giving two undocumented immigrants food and water as well as letting them stay with him for two nights. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Todd’s case is ongoing, and she doesn’t know when—or if—she’ll see a suitable resolution, as Border Patrol “has not been forthcoming with any information.” So she’s trying to tackling the root of the issue, which she sees as the federal government’s encroachment on Texas state law.

“The Texas Penal Code provides defenses to prosecution for Necessity, Defense of Third Person(s), and Protection of Life or Health,” according to Todd, meaning that the accused could viably defend themselves against similar charges by proving that they were helping someone in need. “In this and in other ways, I think that Texas state law is more fair and forward-looking.” She has already reached out to her district’s congressman, Rep. Will Hurd (R–Texas), to collaborate on a way forward.

“The longer I live in Jeff Davis County, the more libertarian I get,” says Todd, who is an elected official.

The three migrants remain in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody “pending disposition of their immigration cases,” according to a statement from the agency. Originally from El Salvador, court documents say the siblings fled an aunt’s house in Guatemala after a gang leader expressed that he wanted to be in a relationship with Esmeralda and two of Carlos’s friends were murdered by gang members, according to The New York Times.

Esmeralda was eventually treated for starvation, dehydration, infected wounds inflicted by cactus spines, as well as rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that can lead to kidney failure, The New York Times reports. After arriving at the Border Patrol station on Feb. 27, Todd says she pleaded with officials to take Esmeralda to a hospital, as “she was not doing well at all.” They finally conceded.

Looking back on that night, Todd says her next call would have been to the Jeff Davis County Sheriff to request emergency medical assistance. “Then Border Patrol came, and I couldn’t use my phone anymore,” she tells Reason. “So I didn’t get to make that call.”

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