Netflix Teams Up With the Obamas To Produce Big Government Propaganda

"The G Word" cover overlaid on a photo of John Stossel

Netflix is paying President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama millions of dollars to produce shows for them.

The latest Obama documentary series is The G Word. “G” for government.

As Netflix documentaries go, this one is remarkably stupid. It’s big government propaganda.

Obama begins by claiming that he does his own income taxes, saying, “It’s actually easy.”

I think he’s joking, but it’s not clear.

“I’m amazing at them,” Obama continues hours later. “You can be, too, if you use the helpful tools found at”

But that’s just silly. It’s so complex that millions of us pay to get help.

Obama’s series is hosted by silly comedian Adam Conover. Conover, correctly, calls himself “an idiot.”

He uses his time with the former president of the United States to make lame jokes and, at one point, to make sandwiches. He compliments Obama on how well he cuts the bread. It’s not funny.

The series occasionally covers some serious issues—meat inspection, for example. But instead of honest reporting, actors do a skit suggesting that, without government, meat companies would sell us dead poisoned rats.

“Food regulation was unbelievably successful,” concludes Conover.

But food is largely safe today mostly because slaughterhouses cleaned themselves up way beyond what government requires. Companies don’t want bad reputations.

One company executive showed me how they voluntarily do extra things like treat beef carcasses “with rinses and a 185-degree steam vacuum.” Also, “equipment is routinely taken completely apart to be swab-tested.”

By contrast, for 90 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected meat with a crude process called “poke and sniff.” Inspectors stuck spikes into carcasses and smelled them. They kept using the same spikes, so they sometimes spread disease. The government only stopped poke and sniff in the 1990s.

A few times, Obama’s series admits that government agencies mess things up. Conover mocks the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “not a name you normally hear after the words ‘did a great job.'”

No, but he then claims FEMA fails because it’s underfunded, saying, “How many lives could have been saved if FEMA had had the resources they needed?”

That’s ridiculous. FEMA doesn’t fail because it lacks resources. U.S. disaster relief funds have increased by billions. FEMA fails because it’s a government bureaucracy, and bureaucracies do wasteful things, like bring bottles of water to hurricane victims but then leave them at an airport.

The private sector is more efficient.

The G Word sneers at what it calls “this philosophy that the free market should be trusted over the government.” But Walmart donates supplies much more efficiently than FEMA. They employ sophisticated weather tracking that helps them determine what assets are needed where. They get things to people because they lose money if they don’t.

Obama’s series smears those of us who are skeptical of government handouts.

“In the wake of the civil rights movement,” claims Conover, “some Americans began to resent the fact that the government was now providing assistance to black and brown citizens.”

What? We didn’t resent welfare because we’re racists. We objected because it created a new permanent underclass.

Handouts, President Ronald Reagan explained correctly, “discourage work.”

So Obama’s documentary depicts Reagan as a vicious surgeon cutting valuable government agencies, throwing them into a bucket labeled “free market.”

But government wasn’t cut under Reagan. Federal spending went up during his terms. It always goes up. At one point, the excesses were so grotesque that President Bill Clinton said, “The era of big government is over.”

But it wasn’t. It only grows. Today it’s bigger than ever.

That’s fine, says Conover, because Washington rescued us during the COVID shutdowns with “stimulus checks, small business loans, and corporate tax breaks!”

They don’t mention how much of that money was stolen or that their spending orgy brought 8 percent inflation.

For three hours, Obama and his sidekick say government should do more. Whatever the problem, their answer is always more government and more money.

Maybe someday a president will point out that government has no money of its own and that spending more than you have is a road to ruin.


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New Jersey Joins New York in Defying the SCOTUS Decision Upholding the Right To Bear Arms

Unfazed by a ruling against New York's restrictions on public gun possession, New Jersey legislators are proposing a strikingly similar law.

Most states respect the constitutional right to carry guns in public for self-defense, which the Supreme Court upheld last June. But some states are only pretending to comply with the Second Amendment, as illustrated by the law that New York passed after that decision and a similar bill that legislative leaders in New Jersey introduced last week.

In an October 6 ruling, U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby rejected New York’s attempt to defy the Constitution and the Supreme Court. Although New York eliminated a demand that carry permit applicants show “proper cause,” which the Court said gave licensing officials too much discretion, the state retained and elaborated on a requirement that applicants demonstrate “good moral character.”

That amorphous standard, Suddaby noted, is based on “undefined assessments” of “temperament,” “judgment,” and trustworthiness. New York “has replaced its requirement that an applicant show a special need for self-protection with its requirement that the applicant rebut the presumption that he or she is a danger,” he wrote, “while retaining (and even expanding) the open-ended discretion afforded to its licensing officers.”

Under New York’s law, the assessment of “good moral character” includes an examination of the applicant’s online comments. As the gun owners who are challenging the law see it, that inquiry violates the right to freedom of speech as well as the right to bear arms, making the latter contingent on how applicants have exercised the former.

Suddaby issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the “good moral character” criterion, including the state’s demand for information about applicants’ social media accounts. He also took a dim view of New York’s sweeping, location-specific bans on firearm possession, which made it legally perilous even for permit holders to leave home with a gun.

Applying the standard prescribed by the Supreme Court, Suddaby said many of those restrictions seemed inconsistent with “this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” He concluded that the state’s prohibition of guns in settings such as bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, gambling facilities, stadiums, parks, playgrounds, zoos, libraries, museums, and public transportation probably failed that test.

Unfazed by that warning, New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D–Linden) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D‒Woodbridge Township) have unveiled legislation that closely resembles the law that Suddaby deemed constitutionally dubious. Like New York’s law, their bill would impose a subjective standard for carry permits and ban guns from myriad places where people might want to carry them for self-protection.

To obtain a carry permit, an applicant would have to persuade the police that he does not pose a threat to himself or others. Toward that end, he would have to undergo an interview and submit any information that local or state police officials deemed relevant, including “publicly available statements posted or published online by the applicant.”

Suddaby explicitly rejected both of those requirements in New York. And while the threat assessment that Scutari and Coughlin imagine may not be quite as open-ended as New York’s “good moral character” test, it likewise gives licensing authorities wide discretion to reject applications based on subjective judgments, including inferences from opinions an applicant has expressed.

Scutari and Coughlin’s list of gun-free locations is even longer than New York’s, and it includes many restrictions that Suddaby thought the state had failed to justify. In addition to banning guns in specified places, the bill would prohibit them on private property, including homes and businesses, unless the owner expressly allows them and posts a sign to that effect—another rule that Suddaby rejected.

These regulations, Democrats bragged, will make New Jersey “the toughest in the nation when it comes to concealed-carry laws.” Coughlin said “we’re doing this because we know gun safety does not conflict with safe gun ownership.”

Despite Coughlin’s assurances, his idea of “gun safety” plainly conflicts with what the Supreme Court has said about the right to bear arms. He may find that judges cannot be fooled as easily as he hopes.

© Copyright 2022 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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Georgia Sets Early Voting Record, Despite Controversial Voting Law

Georgians line up at a polling place to vote early.

Early voting in Georgia started this week, in accordance with the state’s controversial voting law passed last year. While many worried the new rules would suppress turnout, more than 100,000 Georgians voted on Monday, a state record for the first day of early voting. Similarly, the number of people who voted early in May’s primary was more than double the number from the 2018 midterms.

But while opponents’ worst fears may not have come to pass, much of their criticism obscured the more noxious parts of the bill.

Georgia Republicans passed S.B. 202 to overhaul the state’s voting law just two months after losing both of the state’s Senate seats to Democrats and four months after President Donald Trump lost reelection. The so-called “Election Integrity Act of 2021” sought to undo pandemic-era changes to voting rules intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

After the bill’s passage, many Democrats and progressives likened the bill to the era of segregation. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia called it “Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law.” In an official statement, President Joe Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.” But many of these criticisms hyperbolized or elided the bill’s very real issues.

Biden told ESPN that the law would “close a polling place at 5 o’clock when working people just get off,” suggesting it was intended to disenfranchise blue-collar voters. In fact, the law merely stipulates that polls must stay open between at least 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., with the option of going as long as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It also states that polling locations must be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on at least two Saturdays prior to election day.

Biden also claimed that the law meant that “there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances.” The law did not end absentee ballots, though, somewhat cravenly, it did limit the reasons a person could request one and cut the time period in which one could request an absentee ballot from six months to less than three. Trump famously insisted for months that mail-in voting was ripe for fraud despite no evidence to support his contention.

According to The Washington Post‘s roundup of Biden’s first 100 days in office, one-eighth of his false statements during that period involved Georgia’s voting law.

Meanwhile, there is plenty to dislike about the bill: In addition to sharply narrowing who can request absentee ballots, it significantly curtails the number of ballot drop boxes a county is allowed to have. The New York Times estimated that the four counties comprising metro Atlanta would go from 94 drop boxes to 23. The law also removed Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who famously resisted Trump’s entreaties to “find” enough votes to flip Georgia to the former president, as both the chair and a voting member of the State Election Board.

That board further has the power to “suspend” state and county election officials and appoint “temporary” replacements in their stead. In the months after the law passed, it remade entire counties’ election boards by replacing Democrats with Republicans.

Clearly, Georgia’s voting law has issues: The ability of the state to directly meddle in counties’ election boards is a fundamentally illiberal exercise of power, and based on the timing, it seems obvious that the law was intended to placate Trump’s ego. But by hyperbolically characterizing the bill as an outright assault on voting rights akin to the racist laws and practices of the past, opponents papered over its more pernicious aspects.

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“Strangers on the Internet” Podcast Episode 10: A Philosopher Walks into a Bar

The tenth episode (Apple Podcasts link here and Spotify link here) of “Strangers on the Internet” with co-host and psychologist Michelle Lange features philosopher Dr. Rebecca Roache from Royal Holloway, University of London, who is also known for her “The Academic Imperfectionist” podcast. She was listed as one of the top 100 philosophers on Twitter in 2018.

A self-described introvert, Rebecca is of two minds about dating apps these days. Should she bother meeting new men or comfortably stay home, knit, and hang out with her kids and cats? And speaking of cats, come hear about “Catgate”, the incident in which a (narcissistic) then-boyfriend became enraged with Rebecca because she dared to pet a stray kitty while the couple was talking! We also discuss how to learn to trust yourself again after falling prey to liars and other predators, and how to get in touch with your sense of intuition that can steer you in the right direction in all things dating.

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A North Carolina Man Was Jailed for Refusing To Wear a Mask in Court

Face mask

A North Carolina man was jailed for 24 hours for contempt of court last week. His offense? Refusing to wear a mask in court.

On October 10, Gregory Hahn arrived at a Harnett County, North Carolina, courthouse to report for jury duty. There were no local mask ordinances in place and no mask mandate at the courthouse.

“There were signs saying no masks were required,” Hahn later told WRAL, a local news station.

However, Judge Charles Gilchrist had his own rules. After arriving, Hahn and the other 98 potential jurors were informed that masks would be required in Judge Gilchrist’s courtroom. “You can go in any district courtroom without a mask, you can come into superior clerk court without a mask and the [district attorney’s] office without a mask, but with Judge Gilchrist he has a mandate that you must wear a mask,” Clerk of Superior Court Renee Whittenton told WRAL, adding that, of the superior court judges in the county, Gilchrist is the only one with a mask mandate.

When Hahn refused to mask, he found himself behind bars.

While judges have wide latitude to find individuals in contempt of court—including for failing to abide by the personal rules of the judge—this case shows how easily judges can abuse their power to punish people for seemingly innocuous offenses.

According to WRAL, Hahn was sent to speak with Gilchrist directly about his refusal. After Gilchrist asked him again to wear a mask and he again refused, Gilchrist sentenced Hahn to 24 hours in county jail, after which he was swiftly taken into custody and held with no bond.

“The irony of all this whole thing is the judge was talking to me without a mask on,” Hahn added.

Hahn, a single father, says Gilchrist denied him the ability to call his son. “I was dumbfounded,” Hahn told WRAL. “I never thought this could happen in this country.”

While Hahn was shocked by Gilchrist’s response, there’s nothing illegal about it. In the United States, judges are given broad power to jail, fine, or otherwise punish individuals for contempt of court. “I’m not surprised,” Lisa Wayne, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, tells Reason. “The judge has complete jurisdiction to make rules within their courtrooms, as long as it is not inconsistent to any kind of constitutional right that someone might have.” Wayne notes that she once “had a judge who would not allow women to wear pants in the courtroom—pantsuits. That was the rule of the court, or we would be found in contempt.”

Hahn may not have broken any laws when he refused to wear a mask in Judge Gilchrist’s courtroom—but he was jailed nonetheless. While judges should be able to maintain order in their courtrooms, a particularly draconian judge can easily make offending their personal preferences into a jailable offense. Hahn’s run-in with such a judge is a perfect example of how this power can be abused—and how easily one can fall victim to an overzealous enforcer.

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Marijuana Legalization in California Has Gone Miserably, So Officials Are Expanding Drug Enforcement

Marijuana growing in a greenhouse

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has announced nearly a million marijuana plants were eradicated in a multi-agency 13-week enforcement effort to stop illegal grow operations across the state. Furthermore, this annual three-month program, first launched in 1983, is going to be transformed into an ongoing task force.

California’s marijuana legalization has gone so poorly that the state is actually expanding the drug war.

The enforcement program Bonta refers to is the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP). It was founded as part of the war on drugs to try to tackle the many illegal marijuana grow operations across a massive state with huge swathes of undeveloped land.

The data itself is a fascinating look at how little drug legalization means when a state’s regulatory systems are so oppressive that it undermines the legal market. In 1984, CAMP’s first full year of operation, the program was responsible for the eradication of 158,000 marijuana plants. In 2022, after almost 40 years of a drug war and eight years of legalization in the state, that number has grown to 974,000 plants, spread across 449 operations in 26 counties, according to the October 11 announcement from Bonta’s office.

Despite the bragging tone of Bonta’s release, full of quotes from various agency heads about how awesome it is to work together to “bring a whole government approach to combating the damage caused by illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands,” the state is by no means winning this struggle. The numbers show that California has both failed to make a dent in illegal marijuana growth during the drug war that launched CAMP, and it has also failed to make a dent in illegal marijuana growth after the drug was made legal.

As Bonta announced CAMP’s annual numbers, he also announced that this 39-year-old drug war relic will “transition” into something EPIC. I’m not kidding. It’s called the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC) task force.

Under legalization, California is actually expanding the scope of this enforcement system far beyond what it was under prohibition.

Bonta has been attempting to rebrand the drug war to make it seem modern and very, very progressive. There are no references to “cartels” in his release, no mentions of any arrests at all (unlike this report from 1988 that emphasizes the number of arrests along with the seizures of guns and vehicles), and, fortunately, no fearmongering about the effects of marijuana use or protecting children from the scourge of drug predators.

Instead, the transition to EPIC seems to be an attempt to characterize the drug war as a progressive law enforcement measure to protect California’s undeveloped wildlands and enforce the state’s employment regulations. “With the transition to EPIC, we’re taking the next step and building out our efforts to address the environmental and economic harms and labor exploitation associated with this underground market,” Bonta writes.

This is how Bonta has talked about marijuana enforcement since taking office last year. While there’s no sensationalism or exaggerated lists of effects of drug use, there’s a list of all the toxic chemicals associated with these illegal grow operations and mention of fears of the state’s water supply being diverted. There’s anger at how the black market grow operations undermine the state’s extremely union-friendly laws with cheaper labor.

To be clear, many of these illegal grow operations are indeed dangerous and have resulted in predatory and violent behavior. The way that California has legalized marijuana—with exorbitantly high taxes and corruption-fueling local control mechanisms—has fueled the same dangerous black market the state saw under prohibition.

That also means that these new enforcement measures probably aren’t going to accomplish Bonta’s goal of eliminating illegal grow operations any more than the last four decades of drug war enforcement did. It’s not a new solution to the problem—it’s just rebranding the drug war as a progressive operation.

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Gavin Newsom Cites Dubious Evidence That His Lockdowns Saved California’s Economy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is, at last, putting an end date on the public health emergency he declared over two years ago to fight COVID-19. The governor isn’t letting his order go without trying to convince the world yet again that the dictatorial powers he claimed during the pandemic saved both lives and jobs.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been guided by the science and data—moving quickly and strategically to save lives,” said Newsom in a Monday press release. “The State of Emergency was an effective and necessary tool that we utilized to protect our state, and we wouldn’t have gotten to this point without it.”

The emergency is now set to sunset on February 28, 2023.

Every state in the country issued some sort of emergency declaration in response to the pandemic. What makes California conspicuous is the length of its emergency declaration and the breadth of powers Newsom claimed under it.

Only 12 states still have states of emergency in effect, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy’s tracker. That includes states like Texas and Georgia which started easing off their COVID security state pretty soon into the pandemic.

California didn’t do that.

Over the course of 2020 and much of 2021, the Golden State governor issued a number of “reopening” frameworks that shut down some industries almost completely and allowed others to remain open only under strict protocols of masking, social distancing, and capacity restrictions.

The most controversial of them all was the second stay-at-home order Newsom issued in December 2020. That dictate reimposed a near-lockdown on the state. It prohibited activities that were considered largely safe by that point, including attending public parks and eating at outdoor restaurants.

That order kicked off a wave of rebellions and noncompliance among retailers and restauranteurs and created a surge in support for the recall election against Newsom.

The pandemic was a mass death event. It was also a very messy one for determining the effects of particular public policy interventions on COVID transmission, death, and economic performance. It’ll take years of research to get anywhere close to definitively answering big questions about what policies worked and what didn’t.

As Newsom’s Monday press release notes, California can boast a COVID death rate significantly lower than less restrictive states like Texas and Florida. As Newsom’s press release doesn’t note, California also has a lower COVID death rate than leading lockdown states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

But the governor goes beyond claiming he kept more Californians alive. His press release also argues he kept the state’s economy alive with his regime of business closures and restrictions. And the evidence he cites for this is thin indeed.

It includes a UCLA study from June 2021 that found that large states with more stringent “nonpharmaceutical interventions”—including business closures and mask mandates—performed better on average than states with less stringent interventions. By controlling the virus, people were more willing to engage in economic activity, the argument goes.

There’s reason to think the UCLA study doesn’t tell the whole story, however.

COVID, and COVID mitigation measures, obviously had varying effects on different industries. The authors of that study did exclude small states that might skew results by being overly reliant on one industry but otherwise didn’t correct for a state’s economic composition.

Plausibly, Texas did worse economically during 2020 because COVID-19 tanked demand for the oil and gas that the state produces. Likewise, tourism-dependent Florida isn’t going to fare too well during a pandemic when far fewer people are going on vacation. The pandemic’s shift to a world of working from home, grocery delivery, and binge-watching Netflix was probably a boon to California’s tech sector.

And while California did better than Texas and Florida economically under the UCLA measure, Texas and Florida also outperformed harshly locked down New York.

An April 2022 working paper that adjusts a state’s economic performance by industry composition finds Texas and Florida outperformed California.

Newsom’s press release also throws in some incredibly silly stats that allegedly prove the state’s tough approach to the pandemic produced good economic results. It claims that the state created the most businesses of any state since the start of 2019. It’s odd to rope in a full year of pre-pandemic stats to prove that the state created a lot of businesses during the pandemic. That measurement also doesn’t adjust for California’s larger population or the other half of the ledger—the number of businesses that failed in the state. A quick look at the numbers shows that Texas gained more businesses and lost fewer per capita than California during the pandemic.

The focus on the economic variation in performance between states obviously doesn’t account for the impacts that lockdown orders had on individual liberty, constitutionally limited government, and people’s general psychological well-being. On all three metrics, we were clearly made worse off by the COVID leviathan.

The pandemic was a messy time. It will take lots of time and research to truly parse its impact and the impacts of policy responses to it.

But if Newsom is going to claim that his decision to close whole swaths of the economy by executive fiat was costless, he should try to find more convincing evidence.

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Open Virginia’s Whiskey Market

two whiskey glasses sitting next to a whiskey bottle

The Washington Post and others recently broke the story of an inside job at the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC), involving the sale of highly sought-after and rare bourbons. In turn, the agency was unwittingly inflaming a robust black market in secondary whiskey sales among local whiskey collectors.

It all started when a copy of a draft press release from Virginia ABC was apparently leaked. The release stated that the agency was revamping how it would distribute and sell limited-release or rare bourbons in its stores. Instead of these desired bottles being scattered to random state-run stores around the commonwealth on random days, the products would only be sold on Wednesdays. New limits were also to be placed on how many bottles of these so-called “allocated products” a single customer could purchase.

While this unofficial announcement caused some confusion at the time, the reason for it is now clear: Virginia ABC was in the throes of detangling a massive inside job.  

The contours of the scheme were simple enough. A former Virginia ABC employee was able to maintain access to the distribution list for when and where valuable bottles of bourbon were being sold in the state-run stores. A private Facebook group was started—with a $300 buy-in fee—in which the ex-employee would tip off whiskey aficionados to what stores the bottles would show up in and on what day they would be there. Then, the buyers just had to drive to the right store at the right time, purchase the desired whiskey at the state-determined price, and walk out. 

To see why this scheme could be lucrative for everyone involved, it’s important to understand the “bourbon bubble” that has gripped America over the past few years. Whiskey sales have doubled in the past decade, and top-shelf brands have enjoyed a particular surge. While secondary liquor sales are technically illegal in the United States, a booming black market has taken hold, with flippers making tens of thousands of dollars a year in illicit sales.

Given this dynamic, it’s fairly easy to bet that many of the buyers who purchased these valuable bottles from Virginia ABC stores at state-set prices turned around and made a handsome profit by reselling them. Although it was perhaps slow in reacting, Virginia ABC finally managed to get to the bottom of what was happening in the scheme, and now those involved are being prosecuted.

But other than targeting specific individuals and re-working the way in which sought-after bourbon is sold at ABC stores around the state, how should policy makers and industry stakeholders respond to this latest humiliation involving government-controlled liquor sales? 

In one sense, the rare bourbon market labors under some inherent structural realities that are not readily fixable overnight. After all, it is a yearslong—sometimes decadeslong—process to produce well-aged whiskey, which means that distillers cannot simply ramp up supply overnight to deflate the bourbon bubble.

But there are ways to help the situation. First and most obviously, this scandal should be seen as yet another reason why allowing the government to be in the business of selling private goods is a bad idea. The very features of Virginia’s government-controlled liquor system provided all the ingredients necessary for such a scheme to take place.

Namely, the state strictly regulates the price of liquor while at the same time having absolute control over what stores get what products. This centralized system of liquor distribution inherently places highly valuable information in the hands of a small cadre of government employees. The potential to misuse this information for undue gain is enormous. 

In contrast, a decentralized and private market makes these types of abuses much less lucrative. Different owners operate different stores, and they have more ability to adjust prices for their products to respond to the level of demand for rare bottles.  

Of course, if a liquor store wants to inform select customers secretly ahead of time about when certain valuable bottles will arrive, that’s their prerogative. But if it angers other customers who are not privy to this information, those customers can just take their business elsewhere. In contrast, one cannot effectively boycott Virginia ABC—it has a monopoly on all liquor sales in the commonwealth.

The second takeaway is equally straightforward. There is no compelling reason why secondary liquor sales should be illegal. As the experience of Prohibition itself attests, the best way to take the air out of a black market is to make it a white market. If secondary whiskey sales were allowed to take place above board, it would create more equalized access to products.

While some opponents might fret that secondary alcohol sales could be dangerous, the reality is that we allow all types of consumable food and drink products to be resold, with little in the way of negative repercussions. Furthermore, given that liquor bottles come in tamper-proof packaging—with sealed caps or corks—reselling liquor is in many ways safer than selling products like pastries at the neighborhood bake sale.

To date, much of the media focus has been on how Virginia ABC was finally able to nab the individuals involved in this scandal. A more valuable endeavor, in the long term, would be to open our liquor markets to let them function like other industries.

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Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams Both Advocate More Government in Georgia Governor Debate

Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp compete in Georgia's gubernatorial debate.

Four years ago, Stacey Abrams, former Democratic minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and part-time romance novelist, ran for governor of her state. While she narrowly lost to the Republican, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams’ run captured national attention.

Two years ago, Abrams’ tireless voter registration efforts were credited with Joe Biden’s victory in the state, the first Democrat to win Georgia’s electoral votes in nearly three decades.

This year, Abrams sought a rematch. While Kemp, now the incumbent, faced multiple primary opponents, Abrams ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. But despite a cleared field and political stardom, Abrams faces a significant polling disadvantage, averaging a five-point deficit in recent weeks. At Monday night’s debate with Kemp and Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel, Abrams needed to break away from the pack.

Unfortunately, no matter whether the Republican or Democrat wins in November, the agenda going forward will be the same: more government interference in the lives of Georgians.

In response to a pointed rebuke from Hazel about marijuana arrests, Kemp retorted that he was “going after street gangs and drug cartels,” not “recreational users.” Later in the hour, he defended his strict drug policy by blaming “the amount of fentanyl that’s coming across the Southern border because of bad border policy from [the Biden] administration.” Kemp apparently did not consider that demand for fentanyl could be fueled by marijuana crackdowns.

Kemp also criticized Abrams for her support of “ending cash bail.” Indeed, just hours before hitting the debate stage, Kemp unveiled a new policy agenda geared toward cracking down on gangs and encouraging cash bail, despite there being little evidence that the absence of cash bail increases crime.

Kemp proposed doubling the prison penalty from five to 10 years for recruiting a minor into a gang. But the only way to enforce such a provision is for the government to have the singular authority to determine what is or is not a street gang. In 2020, police in Phoenix tried to designate protesters holding “ACAB” (“all cops are bastards”) placards as a street gang; months later, the department admitted the categorization was bogus, but not before more than a dozen protesters were arrested and spent months fighting charges. Earlier this year, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suggested that gang databases pose grave constitutional concerns.

Meanwhile, Abrams dinged Kemp for “the rise of Chinese Communist Party-backed companies purchasing American farmland.” Over the weekend, Abrams told Fox News that Kemp “is placing farmland in the state of Georgia in the hands of, basically, a nation that has proven itself to be a national security threat.” She cited a state-funded website in which Kemp encourages Chinese investment in Georgia. But Kemp is not seizing property for resale, he’s encouraging Chinese companies to purchase land that Georgians are willing to sell.

Currently, Georgia’s schools sit in the bottom half of national rankings. Neither Kemp nor Abrams questioned whether the government is best equipped to educate schoolchildren, just how much money should be spent on it. Kemp bragged that in his first term, he had achieved a $5,000 pay increase for teachers; Abrams countered that $5,000 was insufficient, and that she would boost teacher pay by an additional $11,000. Abrams said that she would accomplish this by tapping into Georgia’s $6.6 billion tax surplus; notably, neither candidate suggested giving those funds back to the Georgians who paid them.

Whether Abrams’ debate performance will lead to a bump in the polls remains to be seen. It’s entirely possible that Abrams’ initial star-making run coincided with the 2018 “blue wave,” and she is simply reverting to the mean. But whether she manages an upset or Kemp is returned to the Governor’s Mansion, Georgians can expect to face more interference from their state government.

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Don’t Believe the People Blaming Crime on Defunded Police

Don't blame crime on defunded police

Police budgets are up in cities across America. It’s a tale as old as time that politicians benefit by whipping up crime panic and accusing opponents of being soft on the issue. And so it goes in 2022, with candidates—mostly conservatives, but also some Democrats trying to position themselves as centrists—insisting that 1) crime is rising, and 2) it’s the fault of criminal justice reform policies. Both claims are highly suspect (see this recent Roundup for more on crime data), and especially so the flavor of blame that suggests this mythical crime wave is the fault of liberals and progressives “defunding the police.”

Yes, “defund the police” became a popular rallying cry in the summer of 2020, as people all over the country took to the streets to protest police brutality. And, yes, it can still be heard as a refrain in some activist circles. But even as some mainstream politicians briefly flirted with this rhetoric, it’s never been a serious policy proposal, nor one that many (if any) leaders—local or national—have acted upon.

President Joe Biden—long a friend of the police and proponent of dubious crime panic policies—recently proposed in his Safer America Plan some $37 billion in federal funding for cops. “President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget requests a fully paid-for new investment of approximately $35 billion to support law enforcement and crime prevention – in addition to the President’s $2 billion discretionary request for these same programs,” noted the White House.

Cities and counties, too, have been raising police budgets. ABC News “examined the budgets of more than 100 cities and counties and found 83% are spending at least 2% more on police in 2022 than in 2019.”

The ABC News analysis included most major big and mid-size metropolitan areas, including Albuquerque, Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Oakland, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Wichita, among others.

Of the 109 areas examined, 49 raised law enforcement funding by more than 10 percent and 91 raised it by at least 2 percent. Only 8 places cut funding to law enforcement by more than 2 percent.

Nonetheless, politicians, pundits, and police persist in spreading the politically convenient myth that law enforcement agencies have been massively defunded. “Despite what the public record shows, an analysis of broadcast transcripts reveals that candidates, law enforcement leaders and television hosts discussed the impact of ‘defunding the police’ more than 10,000 times the last two years and the mentions aren’t subsiding this campaign season, ABC found.

Take scandal plagued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He claims that crime is up because “defunding has consequences.” Meanwhile, “his agency’s budget is up more than $250 million,” according to ABC. In Los Angeles County, the police budget was up to $3.6 billion in 2021–2022, from $3.3 billion in 2018–2019.

“Even if the cuts were real, the premise that lower police spending leads to increased crime (or the other way around) is counter to decades of evidence, according to public data and criminal justice experts,” ABC points out:

An ABC OTV analysis of state and local police funding and violent crime data in the U.S. overall between 1985 and 2020 found no relationship between year-to-year police spending and crime rates. (An analysis by the Washington Post found similar results from 1960 to 2018.)

Further analysis of Los Angeles County’s own crime data show violent crime numbers don’t move up or down with any relationship to money spent on law enforcement or the number of officers on patrol.

But lately, budget cuts are resolutely not the case in many places.

In Chicago, the police budget was $1.9 billion in 2021–2022, up from $1.7 billion in 2018–2019. In Phoenix, the police budget in 2021–2022 was $786.7 million, up from $687.8 million in 2018–2019. And even in places where there have been some drops, the budgets are still massive. For instance, in New York City, the 2021–2022 budget was down to $5.4 billion from $5.6 billion in 2018–2019. This year’s budget is still up from $5.2 billion in 2020–2021.


Baby bump seems to be continuing. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper from Martha J. Bailey, Janet Currie & Hannes Schwandt drills down into the data on the COVID-19 baby bump. Here’s the abstract:

We use restricted natality microdata covering the universe of U.S. births for 2015-2021 and California births from 2015 to August 2022 to examine the childbearing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although fertility rates declined in 2020, these declines appear to reflect reductions in travel to the U.S. Childbearing in the U.S. among foreign-born mothers declined immediately after lockdowns began—nine months too soon to reflect the pandemic’s effects on conceptions. We also find that the COVID pandemic resulted in a small “baby bump” among U.S.-born mothers. The 2021 baby bump is the first major reversal in declining U.S. fertility rates since 2007 and was most pronounced for first births and women under age 25, which suggests the pandemic led some women to start their families earlier. Above age 25, the baby bump was also pronounced for women ages 30-34 and women with a college education, who were more likely to benefit from working from home. The data for California track the U.S. data closely and suggest that U.S. births remained elevated through the third quarter of 2022.


What happened to the starter home? It’s been squeezed out of existence in large part by government regulations and policies, suggests Emily Badger in The New York Times. American builders used to construct “starter homes”—small-ish but enough for a family, “no-frills homes that would give a family new to the country or a young couple with student debt a foothold to build equity”—that would sell for around $100,000 or so in the 1990s and $200,000 in today’s dollars. But “the affordable end of the market has been squeezed from every side. Land costs have risen steeply in booming parts of the country. Construction materials and government fees have become more expensive. And communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be. Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today.”

“Nationwide, the small detached house has all but vanished from new construction,” notes Badger. “Only about 8 percent of new single-family homes today are 1,400 square feet or less. In the 1940s, according to CoreLogic, nearly 70 percent of new houses were that small.”

The price of land is one problem. Permits and fees from local governments are another.

In Portland, Ore., a lot may cost $100,000. Permits add $40,000-$50,000. Removing a fir tree 36 inches in diameter costs another $16,000 in fees.

“You’ve basically regulated me out of anything remotely on the affordable side,” said Justin Wood, the owner of Fish Construction NW.>>

The issue comes at a time when smaller homes are in high demand.

Badger followed up the above piece (published in late September) with another on starter homes, asking “If America needs starter homes, why are perfectly good ones being torn down?”


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