Michelle Obama Felt ‘the Shadow of Affirmative Action’ as Princeton Undergrad

Michelle Obama felt “the shadow of affirmative action” as an undergraduate student at Princeton University, the former first lady writes in her new book, Becoming.

Obama, who graduated in 1985, says she sometimes wondered why she had been accepted into Princeton, a majority-white school, in the first place. “It was impossible to be a black kid at a mostly white school and not feel the shadow of affirmative action,” Obama writes. “You could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, ‘I know why you’re here.'” This was often “demoralizing,” Obama says, while acknowledging she “was just imagining some of it.”

“It planted a seed of doubt. Was I here merely as part of some social experiment?” she asks.

The former first lady says she gradually realized that affirmative action wasn’t the only way the school filled quotas. “As minorities, we were the most visible, but it became clear that special dispensations were made to admit all kinds of students whose grades or accomplishments might not measure up to the acknowledged standard,” she writes. Obama cites student-athletes, as well as the “legacy kids” who attended Princeton like their “fathers and grandfathers” before them, “or whose families had funded the building of a dorm or a library.”

Princeton probably did use affirmative action to raise enrollment numbers for minority students, but the school apparently didn’t do a great job. “There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous,” Obama writes. She adds that this drove her to “overperform” in order to “keep up with or even plow past the more privileged people around” her.

This is not the first time Obama has talked about her experience as a black student at Princeton. In May, she posted on Instagram about how “scary” it was to be a black “first generation college student” at a school consisting of “generally white and well-to-do” students.

She was also interested enough in race relations that she wrote her Princeton senior thesis on the topic. The thesis surveyed black Princeton alumni to see how they “felt about race and identity after being at Princeton,” Obama writes in Becoming. In 2013, National Affairs provided more details on the thesis, which was titled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community”:

Black alumni were asked whether they felt “much more comfortable with Blacks,” “much more comfortable with Whites,” or “about equally comfortable with Blacks and Whites” in various contexts during three different periods in their lives—before attending Princeton, while students at Princeton, and after leaving Princeton.

Her senior thesis aside, Obama’s experience at Princeton is a good example of why affirmative action policies aren’t a good idea. Citing Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University, Reason‘s Robby Soave explained in 2016 that racial quotas can cause white students to look down on their black classmates. Soave wrote:

[W]hen administrators artificially sort people according to race in a manner ordained by race-based college admissions, they will inflame tensions by creating a false race-based achievement gap. In this way, efforts to increase diversity and combat racism are actually worsening the problem.

To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton. By all accounts, she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer. But the fact that people looked down on her because of Princeton’s affirmative action policies is unfortunate, just as it is for all deserving minority students who wonder whether they’re just filling a quota.

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Amazon Snags $2 Billion in Bribes and Tax Credits From New York and Virginia

Amazon is getting some prime real estate.

In exchange for more than $2 billion in economic incentives, the online shopping giant will locate a pair of new corporate headquarters just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and just across the East River from Manhattan. Tuesday’s much-anticipated announcement of the locations for Amazon’s “HQ2” also included details—which had previously been kept from the public—about the economic incentives that successfully lured the Seattle-based firm to the east coast’s political and economic hubs.

Amazon says it will invest $5 billion and create more than 50,000 jobs across the two new locations, with at least 25,000 employees at each of its new corporate campuses, to be located in Virginia’s Crystal City and New York’s Long Island City. Nashville wins a consolation prize: a new supply chain and logistics center that promises 5,000 jobs in exchange for $102 million in economic incentives.

In New York, Amazon will receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits through a state-level economic development program and a cash grant of $325 million that’s tied to the construction of new buildings at the Long Island City location over the next 10 years. In Virginia, the state is ponying up $573 million in tax breaks tied to the creation of 25,000 jobs, and the city of Arlington will provide a cash grant of $23 million over 15 years funded by an existing tax on hotel rooms.

Yes, the numbers are staggering—New York state’s pledge of $1.52 billion for 25,000 jobs works out to more than $60,000 in taxpayer support per new job created—but Amazon appears to have selected New York and the D.C. area based on more than just how many zeroes local officials agreed to put on the giant cardboard check.

After all, New Jersey offered Amazon $5 billion (with another $2 billion from Newark), and Maryland offered $8.5 billion. Yet Amazon passed them both over to pick their neighbors.

“At the end of the day, it suggests that even New York City and Virginia and Nashville didn’t really need to offer those subsidies, because Amazon is chasing other factors,” Michael Farren, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a free market think tank housed at George Mason University, tells Reason. Although most of the Amazon HQ2 bids were kept secret—sometimes in direct violation of state open records laws—Farren’s research estimates that the average offer to Amazon from the 20 finalist cities totaled around $2.15 billion from cities and $6.75 billion from states over the next 15 years.

For that amount of spending, the average state could cut its corporate income tax for all businesses by 29 percent, says Farren. That’s the sort of thing a place like New York (home to one of the nation’s worst business tax climates) could have used. But instead of helping businesses from the Bronx to Buffalo to be more competitive, New York taxpayers will help a wildly successful company bring more jobs to Long Island City.

The fact that Amazon was willing to accept a smaller incentive package for a more ideal location should send a message to politicians everywhere. Namely, landing major employers has more to do with running a thriving, sustainable city than it does with how much of other peoples’ money you throw around.

Of course, being close to the seat of political power matters too. Virginia’s deal comes with the unwritten promise that Amazon will be just a stone’s throw away from not only the country’s top lawmakers, but from the most important lobbying firms too. It’s yet another unfortunate side effect of an all-powerful central government that seemingly draws all aspects of American life closer to it, both literally and metaphorically.

Add to that the fact that New York City has been the center of American economic and cultural life for hundreds of years. When it comes right down to it, Amazon’s decision to plop down new headquarters in these two locations is something of a no-brainer. It’s also a symbolic transition for a company that was born in the start-up culture of Seattle but has now become the symbol of American capitalism in the 21st century. Even though most of Amazon’s business can be done from anywhere—indeed, that’s the very essence of Amazon—location still matters.

Of course, the $2 billion in other peoples’ money doesn’t hurt either.

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Maine’s GOP Congressman Sues to Stop Ranked-Choice Voting

Rep. Bruce PoliquinMaine Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin has filed a federal lawsuit in hopes of stopping the state’s implementation of a new voting method from wrecking his re-election chances.

In initial election returns, Poliquin is ahead of Democratic challenger Jared Golden, but just barely, 46 percent to 45 percent. The problem for Poliquin is that under Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system, he has to surpass 50 percent in order to win. There are two other independent candidates in the race covering the spread between the two major party candidates.

Previously, those laggards would matter only in the sense they could spoil one of the front-runners’ chances. But with ranked-choice, it’s a bit different. Rather than choosing one candidate, voters are invited to rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets 50 percent, there’s a retallying of the ballots where the candidate with the least number of votes is dropped. For those who voted for that candidate, their second choice (if they selected one) is tallied as their vote instead. And so it goes until one candidate gets a majority of the vote.

So even though Poliquin is leading, he could very well end up losing when the other two candidates are dropped out in following rounds of tallying. He and the Maine Republican Party have an interest in stopping ranked-choice voting in its tracks, even though voters approved the implementation of it via ballot initiatives (twice).

Today, Poliquin and a couple of Republican voters filed a suit claiming that this transition to ranked-choice voting violates the United States Constitution in an attempt to get a federal judge to stop the subsequent recounts.

The lawsuit (which can be read here) argues that implementing ranked-choice voting violates Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. That section sets up that members of the House of Representatives shall be elected by the people, though it does not specifically state how that election should be decided, whether through a majority or plurality.

The lawsuit takes note of a federal appeals court case from 1970, Phillips v. Rockefeller, involving a challenge to a U.S. Senate election in New York. In that case, a panel of judges ruled that when the authors of the Constitution wanted a majority vote to determine outcomes, they specifically stated so (as the Constitution does when referring to the electors choosing the president). If they do not, then historically only a plurality vote has been required to win a Congressional election.

But there’s a notable difference with this case and what is happening in Maine. In the Phillips case, the plaintiff was challenging the results of the election because the winner, James L. Buckley, did not receive a majority of the vote. The plaintiffs were attempting to use the court to force through a change in how elections are run. The judges resisted for the above reason.

In Maine, though, the voters themselves decided through the ballot initiative process to require a majority vote for federal elections, and it’s not really clear from that case that the judges are saying that a plurality must be the rule either. The conflict here appears to be whether the people of a state can decide for a higher threshold than plurality. In that, the U.S. Constitution is silent.

Maine’s own state constitution is clear, though, in using the word “plurality” to determine who wins state-level races, so thus far ranked-choice voting is not being used to determine the ultimate winner of the governor’s seat or state legislature seats, even though voters agreed to implement ranked-choice for those races as well. Right now, ranked-choice is being used only for federal races because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t have a demand for plurality. Maine’s top court has warned that lawmakers should change the state’s own constitution to implement ranked-choice vote for state-level elections. They have not yet done so.

The attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting is asking to join the suit to try to argue against Poliquin’s demand. John Brautigam said that ranked-choice voting implemented elsewhere have been upheld by state and federal courts and believes it will be upheld. In May, a federal judge declined a request from the state’s GOP to stop the use of ranked-choice voting for the primary elections in June.

The Press Herald in Maine notes that it’s not yet clear when the judge will take up this lawsuit. In the meantime, Maine’s secretary of state’s office is continuing with the vote tallying unless a judge orders them to stop.

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Why Stan Lee’s Flaws Were Part of His Virtues

Stan Lee, who died yesterday at age 95, is a topic that attracts obsessive nerds. Nerdery inspires a hunger to have a deeper, more complicated opinion than the standard one non-obsessives might have. In Lee’s case that normal opinion is probably best expressed as “Stan Lee was awesome, the prime driving force of the wonderful Marvel Comics universe, which has understandably brought joy to millions in comic books and now in our most popular motion pictures.”

When I was first began obsessively consuming Marvel Comics in 1975, Lee was already a half-decade past writing most of them; still, his spirit dominated them. Each comic the company issued featured a “Stan Lee Presents” logo on the splash page and his monthly “Stan’s Soapbox” columns. Stylish hardcover books, as well as monthly titles from Marvel, were reprinting his 1960s work that established the intricately interconnected Marvel superhero universe. That sense of intertwined continuity has spread, as his youthful devotees took over popular storytelling everywhere, through entire multiverses of adventure movies to most quality TV shows that strive to do more than tell disconnected weekly stories of someone solving a problem.

But smart comics cognoscenti grew to a second-level realization: that loving and crediting Lee uncritically was untrue to how Marvel Comics were actually created. To boot, venerating Lee without proper caveats was unfair to some truly creative artists. It was his artist partners Jack Kirby (the Fantastic Four and Thor most prominently and continuously) and Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Dr. Strange) who most deserve credit for the wildest and most wonderful imaginings of Marvel, given how Lee as writer/editor (and company employee while his artists were freelancers) didn’t provide full scripts, at most talking through story ideas with artists then taking their spectacular drawn pages that laid out the action and writing dialogue on them.

What’s more, Lee’s lifelong role as an employee or at least paid-off emissary of Marvel made him regularly refuse to fully and specifically credit his artist partners as true co-creators of the characters. (Books will surely be written, as many magazine articles have, on the specifics of Lee’s relationship with the artists, the company, and the truth, but the preceding are the broad basics of the comics fan arguments.) Ownership of the characters, whomever truly created them, remained with the corporation and its owners, who are now Disney, never Lee or the artists. But to add injury to insult, as many Marvel fans saw it, Lee’s continuing role with Marvel and as producer on the films made him far more money from his role as writer/editor than Kirby or Ditko ever saw.

A third-level clever take on Lee and his achievements, and those of his artist partners, is that, well, isn’t it just embarrassing that so many adults in our culture have held on to affection for and obsession with these goofy preteen fantasies of impossible superbeings? Sure, learned critics, academics, and journalists have churned out decades of smartypants theses arguing Marvel Comics’ relevance to the fears of the atomic age or their supposed mythic or Shakespearean echoes, but isn’t that all just excuse-making for childhood toys we’ve been too indulgent to put away in the closet where they belong? (The continued affection of “serious” people for Marvel Comics has been expressed everywhere this week, though I confess to feeling at times that unlovely frisson of the nerd wanting to challenge interlopers with “Oh, you love Stan Lee, huh? Then please explain Mike Murdock to me, buddy.” But it is true even in the ’60s that many hundreds of thousands from ages six to at least 26 were reading his comics, and via reprints and the movies, now tens of millions have had a chance to become true fans.)

Reed Richards, universe-exploring leader of the Fantastic Four, is pictured in the panel to the right, as drawn by Kirby. In that panel his Lee-scripted soliloquy delivers a heavy dose of the fascination and grandeur of grappling with life itself that made Lee’s comics so influential on so many who read them. He also says a few things that inadvertently frame the real way to consider Lee’s career: “There will be others…those who come after me…and each of us, in his own way, does what he can for those who will follow.”

So sure, If you wanted to minimize Lee’s importance even in terms of the huge Marvel movies (those who love comics for their own sake often want to minimize them, and those contemptuous of the supposed idiocy of a culture that spends so much time and money making and watching superhero tales do so for their own reasons), you could rightly point out that beyond the sheer concepts of “Norse God superhero” or “thawed-out World War II super-soldier” or “iron-suited industrialist” or “Russian lady spy turned hero,” the characters in the Marvel films are more based on later Marvel writers or the film writers and actors themselves than specifically on how Lee wrote them; and that Lee worked, since he was a teen in the early ’40s, in a tradition and community of comic artists and writers from whom he learned and took much. It is true that Lee did not create de novo, and that the creations he had a hand in have had a rich, in some cases richer, life without him.

But the galaxy-brain level final conclusion to what to think about Stan Lee, after all the above has been justly processed, has to be: Stan Lee was awesome. His brilliant artists did not work in a creative or business vacuum. The particulars of his dialogue and characterization were absolutely key to Marvel’s coolness and success.

And no matter what the cultural adults in the room say, and without trying to staunchly defend it to such non-believers, this ostensible adult and so many, many others now pouring out love for Stan Lee prove it: Not every wonderful, affecting story has to have the depth of insight into the actualities of the human condition of a Henry James novel, or even the depth of character and cogency of concept of the best modern science fiction.

The concepts and characters and adventures of Lee and his partners at Marvel—in all their goofiness and absurdity—captured something compelling about heroism, and our sense of the core mysteries of human and cosmic existence, and besides any such hand-waving justificatory generalizations any of us might embarrassedly make, were just so damn cool, man.

Their sheer exuberant explosive existence justifies themselves, and kids and adults of all ages have been drawn into them, deep into them, for more than half a century, captivated by the concepts, the plots, the interconnections, even the specifics of his phrasing and language choice. (Face it, true believers, many Marvelites got a quarter or more of their “interesting” vocabulary straight from Lee, if truth be our destiny.)

Maybe we’re all congenital idiots here on the bus of Stan Lee fandom, but in a sense the love and fascination inspired by his work at Marvel in the ’60s are their own proof of greatness. We’ll be awestruck by the Negative Zone and gangs of mutants fighting for supremacy and evil scientists with mechanical arms and giant Nazi robots and Asgard and the Dark Dimension and all the other concepts, acted out by enduringly charming if absurd and faux-deep characters that Lee brought or helped bring us, as long as America endures.

When it comes to his relationship as a company man to the artists, above and beyond the question of ownership (which was outside his power to change), one thing comes to mind to this obsessive reader of his work and of work about him. Comics historians present a picture whose details are too complicated and huge to reduce to a singular conclusion of what kind of man or writer or boss he was.

But from the decades of detailed interviews in the amazing comics fanzine Alter Ego—run, not coincidentally, by Lee’s writing protege at Marvel, Roy Thomas—one thing that strikes me the most is that Lee was, even as the guy who hired them and assigned work to them and created with them, a dedicated and genuine student and fan of comics art. He clearly loved and valued those artists. Lee and the artists themselves were both faced with a business world that shaped the choices creators had to make in the years before the underground and indie comics revolutions made self-publishing an imaginable choice. But artists who wanted a steady paycheck and actual access to mass markets needed a company man editor to hire them to work. Their admirers may dream of a world in which that was not true, but the comics marketplace was a world that neither they nor Lee made.

And hire them is what Lee did. Lee did not treat Kirby and Ditko and his other amazing artists as well as they’d like, and the company certainly didn’t. But in a popular culture that worked via mass production and distribution, Lee should be remembered as, whatever else he was, the guy who valued these artists and gave them a chance to work, often maintaining relationships over years or decades from the ’40s on that a less caring—or less discerning of their greatness—boss would have let go. No one loves a boss in our culture, but creatives who wish to work for a steady wage need them.

Yes, Lee was a shameless self-promoter, and the public character of “Stan Lee” was one of his most enduring creations. But that is part of his magic, not something that diminishes it. Four years ago, at age 91, Lee was still attending and participating in pitch meetings at Pow! Entertainment, the company he was working with at the time. A writing partner of mine, Daniel Browning Smith, had hosted a Stan-branded TV show, Stan Lee’s Superhumans, so I ended up with Daniel getting the honor of helping pitch some feature film and TV show ideas for Lee and his company to this man who was largely responsible for forging my own sense of story and character when I was a pre-teen.

This led to the actually strangely deep pleasure of having that man, at 91, taking time to be in a meeting he could easily have left to his associates, explain to me how a feature treatment I gave him a two-minute verbal pitch for failed to properly develop a rising sense of danger and conflict through act two.

Well, I thought, had I taken more than two minutes to explain every twist and turn maybe he’d see it wasn’t that much of a bust in rising sense of danger terms, but honestly, he was likely mostly right, if not about that flaw then about others. Having someone you admire as much as him at the other side of a table doesn’t bring out the most skilled arguer anyway. Nothing came of the meeting, and it was reasonably obvious by the end of it that nothing likely would, so I let loose the annoying fanboy and as we were shaking hands goodbye told Lee that his work forged in my youth what I saw as the key elements of myself as a person and writer.

“I get blamed for everything,” he shot back, nearly before my mouth closed.

Obviously the sort of gush he fended off a dozen times a day, and I learned later his response was, of course, one of his rehearsed lines; all the better! Lee, at his age and already giving professionally and personally of his time chose in an instant to give a younger writer and fan a further gracious gift. He responded to this hoary, to him, moment with not silence or a pro forma bored “thanks” but a memorable shot of the “real Stan” or at least the real public Stan: light and jokey and quick, that writerly voice that, combined with his pseudo-mythical grandeur, made Marvel so appealing. One quick quip, one more wonderful gift of so many from Stan Lee to me.

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Black Security Guard Uses Gun to Prevent Violence, Cops Show Up and Kill Him

RobersonJemel Roberson was working as a security guard at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge in Robbins, Chicago, last weekend when a fight broke out. He acted heroically—using his gun to protect innocent people. Then the police killed him.

The incident transpired around 4:00 a.m., after several drunken customers were ejected from the bar. Witnesses told WGN9 that one of these people came back with a gun and started shooting. Roberson, a 26-year-old black man, was armed, and returned fire. He was able to detain the shooter by pinning him to the ground and placing his knee on the suspect’s back. But when the police arrived, they thought Roberson was the assailant, even though he was wearing a vest that said “security.”

“Everybody was screaming out, ‘Security!’ He was a security guard,” Adam Harris, a witness, told reporters. “And they still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun.”

The police shot and killed Roberson. He was the only casualty; the shooter and three other people were injured.

Midlothian Police released a statement describing the incident as follows: “A Midlothian officer encountered a subject with a gun and was involved in an officer-involved shooting. The subject the officer shot was later pronounced deceased at an area hospital.” They plan to investigate.

Roberson was the father of a nine-month-old baby. His family is pursuing a lawsuit, and has created a GoFundMe page to help with burial expenses.

This is an example of a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun, only to be murdered by another bad guy with a gun: the state, in this case. And while we don’t yet know just how irresponsible the cops’ behavior was here, we know it resulted in an innocent man’s death—and that multiple people were warning police not to shoot.

An innocent person’s death is always tragic, but those who support the Second Amendment should be especially perturbed that responsible gun use got a man killed by cops.

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Why Some Capitalists Are the Worst Enemies of Capitalism: New at Reason

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently came up with a new business to attack: Amazon. Sanders said Amazon didn’t pay its workers enough and because of that, many qualified for government assistance.

At first, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended his company.

That was the right thing to do, says John Stossel. He notes: “It’s not companies’ fault that some workers qualify for handouts. More people would collect them if Amazon were not hiring. By creating jobs, Bezos gives workers better choices.”

But the media rarely mention that. Instead, they bombarded Amazon with negative coverage.

So Bezos caved. He declared that all Amazon workers would now all be paid $15 an hour or more. That higher wage sounds good to most people, but Stossel point out that while the higher minimum is good for workers who have jobs now, it can shut out beginners.

But Amazon did not stop there. It has also begun lobbying for the government to force all its competitors to pay a higher minimum wage too.

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USC Education Student Filed a Title IX Complaint Because Another Student’s Answer Offended Her

USCHere’s how one University of Southern California student handled an awkward moment: She complained to the professor, filed a Title IX report when the professor declined to spend an entire class period litigating the matter, dropped the course entirely, and then launched a petition demanding that everyone who offended her be forced to undergo racial sensitivity training.

That’s according to write-ups of the incident in The Daily Trojan and The College Fix, which offer details of Rossier School of Education student Gina Loring’s curious quest for justice.

Loring was completing group work with some other students in her Learning 525 class last September when someone typed a thoughtless and racially problematic answer into a shared document. The group had been asked to consider how to increase “the number of women of color who receive prenatal care,” and another student wrote, “sterilize them” and “take away their babies at birth.” It’s not clear whether this student—a white female student—was serious about this; as Loring would later write in her petition to the college, “the white female student admitted she had written the comments and then deleted them, stating her group, which included her and two latinx women, did not ‘agree’ with the comments, but had offered them as a possible solution, as that was their understanding of the exercise.”

Loring demanded that the instructor, Dr. Kimberly Hirabayashi, address the matter. Dr. Hirabayashi obliged, but not to Loring’s satisfaction, According to Loring:

I said I did not think we should move on, and stated I was stunned by the inappropriate and offensive nature of the comments, given the socio-historical context of sterilization and separating families as tools of oppression and genocide, as well as the saliency of current immigration policies separating children from their parents. Several other students also expressed their discomfort with the comments. A white male student defended the students who had written the comments, stating there was no ill intention. The instructor took a diplomatic stance, stating she wanted to maintain a comfortable learning environment, and repeatedly emphasized that no one should feel blamed. At her invitation, I met with Dr. Hirabayashi prior to the next class meeting and requested she bring resolve to the incident by acknowledging the comments as inappropriate and holding the students accountable. She then proceeded to open class with a vague statement about the incident, at no point addressing the comments directly. She then redirected the focus to the day’s lesson plan: a case study surrounding the disproportionately high pregnancy-related mortality rates of women of color. The incident was thus not only left without resolution, it was magnified.

Loring ultimately dropped the class and filed a complaint with the university’s Title IX office, which ostensibly handles sexual misconduct. She also launched a petition that calls on the university to mandate critical race theory training for Dr. Hirabayashi, the students involved in the group work, and all first-year students in the school of education. The petition has been signed by more than 800 people, last I checked.

This incident is a strong example of a phenomenon I’ve noticed among aggrieved leftist students: immediate, constant appeals to authority. It was not enough for the professor to briefly address what was an admittedly stupid move by a fellow classmate—according to this activist, the very curriculum of the education program should be rewritten so as to make offensive statements not merely unutterable, but unthinkable in the first place. And while anyone can make a petition about anything, the Title IX process is a powerful tool for formal adjudication of problematic speech and conduct.

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‘Mobile Brothels’ Could Be Enabled by Self-Driving Cars, But That Doesn’t Mean They Will: Reason Roundup

Wait, but why? Driverless cars for mass consumption are’t a thing yet, so naturally now is the time to start fretting about how they could enable sexual activity.

That people may generally have more car sex on hands-free commutes does make some sense. But because 21st century America has gone collectively bonkers about possible prostitution, some academics and media are taking this one step further and worrying that self-driving cars will become mobile brothels.

“People are going to sell sex in driverless cars, researchers say,” reads one Washington Post headline. The New York Post headline warns that “Self-driving vehicles will turn cars into brothels on wheels.” And so on, across U.S. and U.K. press.

This prediction was but one small part of a larger study looking at how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will change tourism-dependent industries. It appears in the Annals of Tourism Research, and covers the competition AVs will give to “all industries tied to transport.”

Most media coverage of the paper has focused on predictions about sex, particularly how AVs may be used by sex workers. Self-driving cars will “revolutionize red light districts, putting prostitution on wheels,” chirps Fast Company.

The paper’s authors are more temperate, writing that “the intersection of automated mobility and the urban night demands … analyses,” and this “might include questions of how prostitution, and sex more generally, in moving CAVs, becomes a growing phenomenon.” They suggest that “‘hotels-by-the-hour’ are likely to be replaced” by self-driving cars and while these will “likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, … such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed.”

Their speculation seems somewhat sketch to me. Unless things get way more dystopian by the 2040s—when the authors predict AVs to be in full swing—there’s little reason to think that homes, hotels, and other places where prostitution is currently common would give way to a roving red-light districts, staffed by a fleet of car-camera hacking sex workers. Even if automated cars are convenient and safe enough to set and forget, they’re still not as comfortable or private as other options. And the potential for police intervention on the road is high (whether the sex would be otherwise legal or not).

At least a few folks have been pushing back on the idea. Here’s sex worker rights activist Kate D’Adamo:

Quartz also offers a less credulous take:

Given a private, or semi-private, space, some people probably will have or sell sex in it. But we know that because they already do—in regular, hands-on-the-wheel vehicles, parked by the wayside or down some dark alley. The cars may not be moving, but the premise is the same: Sex on wheels, in a place that’s convenient for purchaser and seller alike.

What’s less convincing is that the advent of self-driving cars will lead to wholesale changes in where people pay for sex. In places where sex work remains illegal, engaging in it in a semi-public place, like a car, exposes both purchaser and seller to the risk of being caught and penalized. (High-profile examples include Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant.) While it’s true that a moving vehicle may be somewhat harder to locate than a parked one, it’s still a car out on the roads, and therefore not an ideal venue for people trying to keep their activities a secret. Those who can afford it will likely take or locate their business elsewhere.

In places where sex work is legal, driverless cars also aren’t an ideal solution. A hotel room or brothel is likely to be far less cramped, with any required accoutrements easier to come by. Sex in a moving vehicle might present a bumpier ride than desired. Perhaps more importantly for sex workers, an encounter that turned nasty would be hard to escape from—short of throwing themselves from a moving vehicle, which might be more dangerous still. And even if the sex work is legal, indecent exposure in public may not be—and there are other potential violations to consider, like removing one’s seatbelt for an extended period of time.

And here’s Reason’s Jesse Walker, asking the important questions:

Speaking of sexbots, they provide another fine example of our urge to preemptively panic about tech-enabled sex.

Officials in Houston recently banned sex on the premises of a sex doll shop that many insisted on calling a “sex robot brothel.” And though realistic, artificially intelligent humanoid robots are still a long way off, we’ve already seen years of research, ranting, and theorizing about the potential future of paid robot sex and public health harms.

FREE MARKETS

Amazon is coming to New York City and Northern Virginia. The company announced Monday that it will build its new headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, and Long Island City, Queens.

“The sad truth of the matter is that these new quasi-headquarters will probably hurt these cities more than they help,” writes Cale Guthrie Weissman at Fast Company.

Politicians have bent over backwards to woo Amazon, offering copious tax breaks, shrubbery, and other enticing gifts. New York governor Andrew Cuomo even said he’d change his name to Amazon Cuomo, in a move that did not at all read as desperate and pitiful. Beyond the new jobs, all Amazon is really offering is more congestion and skyrocketing rents.

As Ron Kim and Zephyr Teachout write in the New York Times, “serfdom is the style of ‘partnership’ [New York City] should expect.”

PROTECTING & SERVING

Police kill hero who stopped bar shooting:

QUICK HITS

• Good morning from the president:

• “What happens when you borrow the equivalent of your annual income and those low, low teaser rates start to increase? Congratulations, America, you’re about to find out,” writes Nick Gillespie.

• RIP Stan Lee.

• San Francisco sex workers fight back against the city’s “Sex Worker Abatement Unit”:

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Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt Was Also About Gov’t-Funded Market Research: New at Reason

Amazon HQThere was a good amount of criticism over how public officials slavishly courted Amazon in its hunt for new space for another headquarters with favors and favoritism. No matter: the company merely leveraged its position to muzzle officials of the 20 regions that made the shortlist.

What have gone less discussed are the many indirect ways in which policymakers were unknowingly deputized to bolster Amazon’s bottom line. It really was ingenious on Amazon’s part. They have been able to not only have their pick of the nation’s plum and primed office space, they will be able to monetize the resulting data too. Andrea O’Sullivan explains more.

View this article.

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Anti-Porn Republicans Haven’t Gone Anywhere

There’s been a “total abandonment of pornography as a battleground in America’s culture war,” writes Politico reporter Tim Alberta in “How the GOP Gave Up on Porn.” He couldn’t be more wrong.

The flashpoints have shifted certainly since the 1970s and ’80s, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority teamed with second-wave feminists to take on Playboy and Hustler. And social conservatives’ embrace of President Donald Trump does present a stark contrast to earlier eras. Alberta notes that while that Falwell sprung to action in response to a Jimmy Carter interview in Playboy (“a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day,” the pastor called it), Jerry Falwell Jr. has praised Trump despite the president’s vulgarities, even posing with the president in a photo in which Trump’s ’90s Playboy cover can be seen.

But such hypocrisy should not be mistaken for a radical repositioning of Republican dogma on “obscenity.” The dreams of Falwell Sr. and his radfem counterparts are still very much alive in the Republican Party.

“Over a decade spent covering Republican politics,” writes Alberta, “I struggle to recall instances of politicians calling attention to pornography. The lone exception: Diane Black, a congresswoman running this year for governor of Tennessee, blamed the rise in school shootings on adolescent porn habits. She was widely ridiculed and ultimately lost the GOP primary. Her comment was a cautionary tale.”

Perhaps Alberta should search his memory (or Google) a little harder. After all, it was just two years ago that Republicans added language to their official party platform that declared porn “has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”

That same year, 2016, a Utah Republican lawmaker convinced his colleagues in the state legislature to declare porn a public health crisis. Since then, six states—Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Virginia—have passed similar resolutions (something Alberta devotes several paragraphs to near the end of the article, despite his earlier quote about Diane Black standing alone).

In 2015, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly Morality in Media, organized an anti-porn summit on Capitol Hill—picking back up an event it had abandoned in the late ’80s. Prominent Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) was the summit’s honorary sponsor. Since then, NCOSE has celebrated getting Walmart to remove Cosmopolitan from checkout aisles, under the rationale that the magazine is too racy for general audiences.

Last year, Republicans in at least a dozen state legislatures introduced measures to ban porn access for anyone who wouldn’t pay a $20 fine, and Utah conservatives called for reappointing a statewide porn watchdog.

This year, the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat advocated banning porn. And a search on Congress.gov for the 2017-18 legislation mentioning “pornography” turns up 93 results. (Douthat’s column has a cameo in Alberta’s article; those 93 results do not.)

But never mind reality. Fresh from declaring that there’s been no recent Republican action against porn because he doesn’t personally remember it, Alberta gets right to theorizing about why: The right has “surrendered the fight on many social issues as America has moved left” and the anti-porn movement, like “traditional marriage and supporting prayer in public schools,” has been tossed aside. This ignores the fact that anti-porn activism of yore was often a bipartisan cause, with second-wave feminists serving as major drivers of the issue; the fact that many in the academic and feminist left still oppose pornography; and the fact that even in recent years, mainstream liberals have worked with Republicans and on their own on all sorts of anti-porn actions.

In California, a coalition of left and right activists fought to make condom use a requirement in all porn films and to appoint a “porn czar” to monitor for violations; the same activists then turned their sights on Nevada. In Dallas, the city council and Democratic mayor supported banning an adult entertainment expo from its Convention Center.

Around this same time, the FBI was running dozens of its own Dark Web porn sites in a massive (if misguided) attempt to catch people sharing pornographic images of minors.

One could credibly argue that there’s been less focus on the horrors of naked ladies per se and more on stopping exploitation. But this shift seems more predicated on limited resources and accepting technological realities than a waning impulse to control the sexual lives of others.

Let’s not forget Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era program that covertly pressured banks and payment processors to end relationships with porn actors, sex toy sellers, and others in adult entertainment and novelty industries. The initiative represents one of many ways the federal government has been trying to go after legal sex work and adult industries by choking off their access to digital infrastructure. This year a bipartisan group of legislators took aim at sex workers’ access to web hosting and advertising with FOSTA, an act alleged to target sex trafficking that actually ensnares adult advertising of all sorts.

Plenty of porn-adjacent panics have sprung up since the 1990s as well, and plenty of political effort has gone into fighting them. So, yes, we might have fewer federal obscenity prosecutions, but we also have many more federal sex crimes on the books overall and no shortage of activity on their behalf. Since 2000, we’ve seen an ever-escalating federal war on prostitution, all sorts of panic (and prosecutions) over teen sexting, and dozens of bills introduced (in Congress and statehouses) to bring “revenge porn” and “sextortion” to an end.

For instance, last year the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill that would have subjected teen sexters to a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Republican Sen. Richard Burr moved to expand FBI data-collection practices used in terrorism and national security matters to include investigations into teen sexting. And underage teens who send racy pictures to one another are routinely threatened and arrested under child pornography laws.

Alberta blames Bill Clinton for the proliferation of porn in the 1990s, but he admits that the Clinton administration intensified efforts to eradicate child pornography as general obscenity charges fell. Many of those efforts wound up problematic in practice, but this conception—that the government should stress less about the erotic activity of consenting adults and instead prioritize preventing the exploitation of underage people—is in line with the direction mainstream America was going in the 1990s and largely continues along today.

Many of those 1970s and 1980s anti-porn crusaders have used this to their advantage in fighting against attempts to decriminalize commercial sex. For going on two decades, efforts to reframe all prostitution as “sex slavery” or “human trafficking” and to inflate instances of underage and forced prostitution have been a bipartisan affair, reinvigorating the old coalition of religious conservatives, sex-negative feminists, law enforcement, and concerned citizens easy to amp up over any cause that invokes The Children.

And invoke the children Alberta does. After ascribing to porn all sorts of negative and at best unproven, at worst thoroughly debunked effects (he says it contributes “to abusive relationships and the fracturing of families” and that it incites “destructive behavior,” including violence, misogyny, and child abuse), he turns to fears over Generation Z growing up exposed to so much porn. Lots of experts are very, very afraid, and lots of people feel intuitively that the kids aren’t OK.

But data actually supporting all those fears have been scarce to nil. And in the same decades that access to porn has dramatically increased, rates of everything from domestic violence to sexual assault to crimes against children (including sex crimes) have fallen.

So Alberta uses the trick many prohibitionists play when there’s no actual evidence to support their claims: Follow vague murmurs about grave harm with concrete statistics about ancillary things. Hence, we get six straight paragraphs on the size and scope of the porn industry, how much money porn makes, how many people claim to consume it, and how many people allege in polls that they disapprove. Alberta concludes that “if ever there were a national dialogue needed about porn—if ever there were a moment for some opportunistic politician to make a cause of it—the time would be now.”

With all the legitimately pressing problems facing America today, it’s astonishing that anyone could earnestly advocate for more obscenity prosecutions and renewed cultural fighting over pornography. But here we are. Alberta has little clue what’s been going on in porn politics this millennium, but he’s sure that something more must be done.

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