Secret Carter Page Surveillance Warrant Documents Released

Carter PageThe FBI believed that former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was an agent of the Russian government working on behalf of the Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election when the agency requested permission to secretly engage in surveillance on him.

The FBI’s warrant requests with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were released over the weekend in heavily redacted form, the result of several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to get more information.

It is unheard of for secret warrant documents from FISC to be publicly released. One of the court’s purposes is to provide a second branch of governmental oversight over our extremely secretive executive branch foreign surveillance. But the surveillance of Page has become a massive focus of public conflict over whether the FBI’s snooping of people connected to the Trump campaign was legitimate or politically motivated. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been consumed with either defending or attacking the investigation and the validity of the warrant.

The information released in the warrant is not going to resolve the conflict. Indeed, it appears to be playing out on Twitter and in media discussions exactly the same as it already had been. Critics of President Donald Trump and the administration believe that the warrant shows that the FBI was thoughtful and careful in its requests to FISC and had plenty of valid evidence and concerns above and beyond the controversial “Steele Dossier” that suggested that Russia had compromising information about Trump. For supporters of Trump, the warrant is thin on evidence and heavy on hearsay that Page was doing anything wrong.

Page went on CNN this morning to deny being a Russian agent. He has not yet been charged with any crimes. And Trump, of course, tweeted:

Two responses to those tweets: One, the FBI didn’t submit these warrants until after Page left Trump’s campaign, a detail that gets repeated and repeated but seems to get ignored. Page was not surveilled while he was working for Trump’s campaign. Two, the four judges who approved the warrants were all appointed by Republican presidents.

But if you’re looking for me to tell you whether the warrants were on the level, I’m afraid I don’t have any answers for you, because of that issue of FISC warrants being kept secret. I have no basis of comparison here with other warrants that have come before the court. We don’t really have contextualization to say that the warrant was more or less thorough in making its case than previous warrants.

I will say, though, that the insistence by some that the warrant didn’t have enough to justify surveillance suggests that certain Trump supporters will settle for nothing less than a full smoking gun, which would make the need for surveillance unnecessary in the first place. This was a hunt for evidence based on probable cause, not a full indictment. That there’s uncertainty in the warrant doesn’t invalidate it and it doesn’t necessarily tag it as a “fishing expedition.” The warrant is for the purpose of finding out whether Page was violating the law in the scope of his relationships with Russia. If it turns out he was not, that doesn’t actually mean the warrant was bad or politically motivated. Sometimes investigations show that people are innocent.

It may ultimately mean that the FISC judges are too quick to approve warrants, but that’s a completely separate discussion that we’re probably never going to have because it has nothing to do with Trump and everything to do with how the court operates. And we know that just last year, Trump approved the renewal and expansion of the surveillance powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to be used against American citizens while complaining at the exact same time that he had been snooped on.

That people don’t care about the court outside of Trump’s interests (either shielding or attacking him) is a disappointment, because Page is hardly the only American whose life can be upended on the basis of secret evidence concealed from the public. The release of parts of a FISC warrant should actually be the tip of the iceberg of bringing some more transparency to America’s most secretive court. If trends continue, though, it will remain largely submerged.

Read the FBI warrants here.

from Hit & Run

Can Bitcoin Become the Global Monetary Standard?: New at Reason

If you find it hard to imagine how bitcoins could ever replace dollars as the world’s primary medium of exchange, consider the bizarre tale of the donut-shaped “rai” stones on the island of Yap. Weighing up to four metric tons and standing up to 12 feet tall, these rocks couldn’t be slipped into a wallet, deposited in a bank, or even moved around without enormous effort.

Yet for centuries they served the Yapese people as an effective form of money, because “the high cost of acquiring new stones” made them hard to debase, writes Saifedean Ammous in The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking. The system lasted until the 1870s, when the Irish-American ship captain David O’Keefe managed to overwhelm the island’s economy with a new supply of the giant limestone discs.

It’s an artful beginning to a book that makes a case for bitcoin as the best form of money ever conceived, writes Jim Epstein in the latest issue of Reason.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

The Life and Death of a Hollywood Blacklist: New at Reason

Ayn Rand was a blacklist truther. The novelist and screenwriter had been a friendly witness during the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ 1947 hearings on Hollywood subversion—the probe that prompted the studios to announce that they would not hire Communists. But when she was asked about her testimony two decades later, she claimed that the blacklist was a myth, writes Reason‘s Jesse Walker.

View this article.

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Should Facebook Ban Holocaust Deniers and Professional Trolls?: Podcast

In a recent interview on the Recode podcast, Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision to allow Holocaust deniers and professional trolls such as InfoWar’s Alex Jones to keep using Facebook. Noting his Jewish heritage, Zuckerberg said

What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.”

He also said that Facebook doesn’t ” have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed,” meaning that the platform would limit the reach of postings its administrators found offensive.

This isn’t a question about First Amendment rights or government censorship. Facebook is a private company and can set the rules however it wants. But what’s the better policy from a libertarian perspective, one that simultaneously champions free expression, calls out bullshit when it sees it, and is mindful that you might alienate your best customers by letting a few idiots foul your place of business?

In the latest Reason Podcast, Reason’s Robby Soave thinks Zuck has made the right call and defends Facebook’s policy. He’s written that

Policing hate on a very large scale is quite difficult given the frequently subjective nature of offense; we risk de-platforming legitimate viewpoints that are unpopular but deserve to be heard; and ultimately, silencing hate is not the same thing as squelching it.

Mike Riggs takes a very different point of view. He argues that by allowing obviously false and controversial material to be posted, Facebook is degrading the experience for the 99.9 percent of its users who aren’t trolls. The failure to chuck out such material may explain why Facebook is suffering a decline in daily users in the United States and Canada, its most profitable region.

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from Hit & Run

North Dakota Regulators Are Going After the State’s Food Freedom Law: New at Reason

Reports surfaced this week North Dakota’s great Food Freedom Act, which became law last year, could be watered down by overbearing state regulators. Adding to the concern, a Bismarck paper recently endorsed the basic outline of such rules.

North Dakota’s law is the nation’s third bi-partisan food freedom law—after Wyoming’s and Colorado’s—and is responsbile for liberating home cooks to participate in their local economies. But, as Baylen Linnekin explains, the law continues to face threats from the state’s overbearing health department and large grocery chains.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

The U.S. Needs More Immigrants: New at Reason

In times of economic trouble—and with gross domestic product (GDP) growth still below 2 percent in the United States, today surely qualifies—many Americans instinctively become more cautious about immigration. If we let in more workers, they fret, the newcomers will be a drain on the economy, dragging down wages and gobbling up services, writes Jack Goldstone.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

The Shocking Waste Hidden Inside the $126 Billion Afghan Reconstruction: New at Reason

“Congress has appropriated $126 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since Fiscal Year 2002,” wrote Special Inspector General John F. Sopko in testimony delivered in May to the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management. By 2014, he added, inflation-adjusted appropriations for that purpose “had already exceeded the total of U.S. aid committed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding much of Europe after World War II.”

So much money, spent so fast, inevitably generates many examples of projects poorly or wastefully executed. Afghanistan reconstruction is no exception, as the ongoing work of Sopko’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) makes clear. Here are a few of the most head-smackingly absurd, writes Reason‘s Brian Doherty.

View this article.

from Hit & Run

A Judge Has Ordered the NYPD to Record Every Interaction


Judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has ordered the New York Police Department (NYPD) to create a “pilot program” to record all police interactions. The NYPD says this is “neither practical nor feasible.”

Torres’ decision stems from lawsuits over the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. In 2013, Torres was assigned to Floyd v. City of New York, a case that challenged the practice on the grounds that it was being used in a racially discriminatory fashion. A few months prior to the case, another federal judged ruled the practice unconstitutional.

As Torres wrote in 2015, the court wants to bring “the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies and practices into compliance with federal and state law.” To that end, Torres has ordered both the NYPD and those who have brought suit over the practices to design a “pilot program” that would record “low-level” police interactions, referred to as “Level 1 and 2 investigative encounters.”

The program’s design would need to be completed by September 2018. Body cameras have already begun to be issued throughout the department in response to the legal action against the department, though they are typically used in Level 3 and Level 4 encounters—this includes the interactions that are likely to end in an arrest.

The suggestion originates from a “facilitator” appointed by the court. According to the New York Post, the facilitator has said recording lower-level interactions would highlight “the extent to which police are initiating [stop-and-frisk] encounters on the basis of race.”

from Hit & Run

Disney Fires Guardians of the Galaxy Director James Gunn Over Politically Incorrect Tweets

GunnThe Walt Disney Company has fired filmmaker James Gunn, director of the Marvel franchise Guardians of the Galaxy films, due to revelations that he—gasp—said some very offensive things on Twitter many years ago.

It’s no accident these tweets were suddenly discovered; right-wing bloggers including Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec (with an assist from Breitbart and The Daily Caller) went digging after Gunn made negative remarks about conservative writer Ben Shapiro on Twitter. Ironically, Gunn was actually offering a very qualified defense of liberal actor and director Mark Duplass for saying Ben Shapiro was someone the left should engage.

Gunn’s tweets reference violence and sexual assault against children. They are gross. But he says they were intended as jokes, and there’s really no reason to suspect otherwise. While many have implied that the tweets include a link to child pornography, this is false—the link in question is harmless.

Gunn said he was a very different person when he wrote those tweets, and had previously apologized.

“I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo,” he said in a statement. “In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies.”

This really ought to have been enough. But we live in an era where both the left and the right are eager to collect the scalps of people who offend them. Conservatives who participated in the lynch mob against Gunn are hypocrites, since they have often scolded the left for doing this exact same thing.

On Twitter, I see the right-wing personalities insisting that they are merely forcing the left to abide by its own standards: if Roseanne had to lose her job, then Gunn should, too. This is exactly the kind of escalation I warned about when I criticized the knee-jerk cancellation of Roseanne. What a dull and unforgiving world the P.C. outrage mobs are creating for us.

from Hit & Run

New Kamala Harris Bill Asks Federal Taxpayers to Subsidize California’s High Housing Costs

Rents in California have skyrocketed over the past decade, thanks to the innumerable restrictions, taxes, and fees that the state imposes on new housing development. Now Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wants the rest of the country to pay to fix this problem.

On Thursday, Harris, along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Maggie Hasan (D–N.H.), and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), introduced the Rent Relief Act, which would provide refundable tax credits for tenants who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

While doing little to address the root of the housing crunch—namely restrictions on supply—Harris’ bill is undoubtably good politics in a state where 58 percent of renters pay more than a third of their income in rent. The bill has gotten glowing reviews from local politicians who are only too happy to deflect any blame they might share for the Golden State’s housing woes.

“With the billions in tax subsidies allotted to billionaires through last year’s tax changes, this legislation provides a refreshing contrast for working families who struggle daily,” says Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, where it’s illegal to build multi-family housing in some 75 percent of the city.

“Senator Harris’ legislation would help protect millions of families from losing their homes, by expanding benefits and opportunities for people who pay rent every month,” declares Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who wholeheartedly endorsed development fees in Los Angeles that add between $5,616 and $10,530 to the costs of building an average-sized one-bedroom apartment.

Yet both the fairness and the economics of the proposal leave a lot to be desired, says Lynn Fisher, a housing policy expert with the American Enterprise Institute.

“We would be asking the whole United States to subsidize the bad behavior of some locales that are artificially pushing up rents by not allowing more building to happen,” says Fisher.

In contrast to the rhetoric about helping hard-pressed renters, Fisher notes, Harris’ plan would shower benefits on a staggering number of tenants, including relatively high-income ones. The Rent Relief Act would give tax credits for people earning as much as $100,000 a year and renting out apartments that cost up to 150 percent of an area’s median fair market rent.

Americans’ earning $25,000 or less would give a tax credit worth 100 percent of the portion of their rent that exceeds 30 percent threshold of their income. Those staying in government-subsidized housing—where rents are capped at 30 percent of a tenant’s income—would get a tax credit worth a whole month’s rent.

The costs of utilities would be included in rent costs. Because the tax credit is refundable, even those with no tax liability would still get a check.

Absent any reforms that would make housing easier to build, Fisher suggests that all this would serve only to inflate costs. “If [Harris’ bill] increases market demand and the supply doesn’t expand with this, if supply can’t expand, then simply what’ve you’ve done is to raise rents in many of these areas,” Fisher tells Reason.

Low-income tenants could be made worse off still if these newly-inflated rents spawn higher security deposits and other move-in fees that would not be subsidized by Harris’ legislation.

Harris’ bill has little chance of passing a Republican-controlled Congress loathe to spend billions on the rents of liberal voters in big, blue cities. But her bill, like so many other proposed housing initiatives, illustrates how willing Democratic policy makers are to ignore the true drivers of housing costs while pushing expensive interventions that will only make the problem worse.

from Hit & Run