If Georgia’s Election Law Was Supposed To Suppress the Vote, It Sure Did a Bad Job


dreamstime_l_38938555

On Tuesday, voters in Georgia and Alabama cast ballots in primaries to determine their respective parties’ local, state, and federal nominees for November. In Georgia, it was the first spate of federal elections since the passage of last year’s controversial new voting bill, S.B. 202. The bill’s opponents called it “Jim Crow 2.0,” but voters this week turned out in record numbers.

S.B. 202, the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” was passed by Republican state lawmakers in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Many states, including Georgia, changed voting rules during that election cycle in attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Often, these changes were made by judges, and were challenged by local election officials, who, in some cases, struggled to comply with expanded early voting hours or more generous deadlines for returning ballots.

S.B. 202 was intended, in part, to clarify or change some of those rules. The law extended the period during which counties are required to offer early voting, and mandated at least one ballot drop box. It also imposed tougher ID requirements for absentee ballots, as well as narrowing the window in which voters can request them.

When the bill passed, opponents said it was tantamount to voter suppression. Charles Blow of The New York Times characterized the law as “Jim Crow 2.0,” invoking the decades-long period when state and local laws throughout the South deprived black Americans of constitutional rights and liberties. The ACLU of Georgia called it “Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law.” President Joe Biden said that the law “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” The Department of Justice announced that it would sue to attempt to block the law.

Now, in the first test case, it seems that critics’ worst fears did not come to pass. As of Sunday, publicly available voting data from the Georgia Secretary of State show that more than 850,000 Georgians participated in early voting, either in person or by returning an absentee ballot. This was more than double the early vote numbers from similar midterm elections in 2018. Preliminary numbers from Election Day indicate a similarly impressive in-person turnout.

Critics of the bill have responded that an uptick in votes does not mean the law did not have a suppressive effect: “It could well mean that voters overcame those hurdles, and that means that time and money were put into efforts to assure that voters could overcome those hurdles,” Richard Hasen, law professor at the University of California Irvine, told The New York Times.

According to the numbers from the Secretary of State, about 56 percent of early primary ballots cast were Republican, about 43 percent were Democratic, and fewer than 1 percent were non-partisan. This might seem out of balance for a state that has drawn closer and closer to being truly half Republican and half Democratic, especially since the 2020 Democratic primary for Georgia’s Senate seat saw Democratic voters cast 1,186,660 ballots.

But there was much more excitement on the Republican side of the ticket in this week’s primary: Both the governor and secretary of state faced serious challengers, while the two biggest names on the Democratic side—Stacey Abrams and Sen. Raphael Warnock—did not. Abrams ran unopposed, and Warnock took over 96 percent of the vote against a single challenger.

Georgia’s new laws are in line with—and, in some cases, even less restrictive than—those in place in many other states all across the country. Even if it’s impossible to prove that S.B. 202 did not keep any Georgians from exercising their right to vote, it remains a problematic piece of legislation. It was seemingly passed in direct retaliation to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to subvert the results of the 2020 election in Georgia, and it removes the secretary as a voting member of the State Election Board. Additionally, the board can now “suspend” county election superintendents and “appoint” a replacement, who retains the power to replace election officials, including “the director of elections, the election supervisor, and all poll officers.” In practice, this has resulted in Democratic local officials being replaced with Republican appointees.

Over time, that sea change may indeed turn out to negatively effect black voters. But in this primary, there is no evidence that Georgia’s voter law depressed turnout for either party.

The post If Georgia's Election Law Was Supposed To Suppress the Vote, It Sure Did a Bad Job appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/b3wvIg9
via IFTTT

In Response to the Uvalde Massacre, Politicians Reiterate Their Demands for Irrelevant Gun Control Laws


Police officer directs traffic and pedestrians.

Hours after Tuesday’s horrifying massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) indicated that he favored an immediate vote on legislation that would expand the background-check requirement for gun buyers to cover private transactions as well as sales by federally licensed dealers. Today he seemed to have second thoughts about that plan, which never made much sense to begin with.

Noting that some of his Democratic colleagues wanted to “quickly vote on sensible gun safety legislation,” Schumer said: “I’m sympathetic to that, and I believe that accountability votes are important. But sadly, this isn’t a case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand. They know. They know because my Republican colleagues are perfectly clear on this—crystal clear. Republicans don’t pretend that they support sensible gun safety legislation. They don’t pretend to be moved by the fact that 90 percent of Americans, regardless of party, support something as common sense as background checks.”

As a response to yesterday’s attack, which killed 19 children and two adults, expanding background checks is a non sequitur: The Houston Chronicle reports that the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter, who was killed during the attack, legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle he used last week, which means he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record. That was also true of the 18-year-old man charged with murdering 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on May 14, and it is typically true of mass shooters. According to a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report on public mass shootings from 1966 through 2019, 77 percent of the perpetrators purchased guns legally, while just 13 percent did so through illegal transactions.

Even for the small minority of mass shooters who have disqualifying records, an expanded federal background-check requirement would not pose much of an obstacle. Data from states with similar rules, which in practice require that all firearm sales be completed via licensed dealers, indicate that gun owners generally do not comply with that edict. “Universal background checks” are universal only in theory.

The main point of an “accountability vote,” as Schumer acknowledged, would be to show that Democrats are prepared to do something about mass shootings, even if that thing is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on such crimes. A vote also would show that Republicans are unwilling to take that approach, which could serve as a handy talking point in this year’s elections.

Despite their practical limitations, expanded background checks are highly popular (although not quite as popular as Schumer suggested). A 2021 Morning Consult poll found that 84 percent of voters, including 91 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans, agreed that background checks should be required for all gun sales.

Schumer thinks the popularity of expanded background checks shows they are a “common sense” response to mass shootings. But this would not be the first time that “common sense” was wrong. “It’s one thing to say that, regardless of the facts, you should just do something,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R–S.D.) observed. “The question is whether something you would do would actually make a difference.”

Even when it comes to the much larger category of gun homicides, there is little evidence that broad background-check laws “actually make a difference.” A 2019 study found that California’s 1991 expansion of background checks “was not associated with a net change in the firearm homicide rate over the ensuing 10 years.”

The Uvalde massacre also predictably provoked renewed calls for a federal “assault weapon” ban. “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Joe Biden asked during an emotional speech last night. “When in God’s name are we going to do what we know needs to be done?”

One of the things that “needs to be done,” according to Biden, is a renewed federal “assault weapons” ban, which he has long supported. “When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down,” he said. “When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong. What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?”

The implication, as always, was that so-called assault weapons, which are defined based on functionally unimportant characteristics, are uniquely suitable for mass murder and have no legitimate uses. That is demonstrably not true, since AR-15-style guns are among the most popular rifles sold in the United States. Furthermore, mass shooters overwhelmingly favor handguns. According to the NIJ study, 77 percent of mass shooters used handguns. A quarter of the perpetrators used what the NIJ describes as “assault rifles,” meaning they had features targeted by the legislation that Biden favors, such as a pistol grip, a folding stock, a threaded barrel, or a barrel shroud.

A gun without those characteristics, such as the “featureless” rifles that remain legal in states that have banned “assault weapons,” still fires the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity. It would therefore be surprising if prohibiting those features had any noticeable impact on the frequency or lethality of mass shootings.

In a 2017 column that The New York Times republished in response to the Uvalde massacre, Nicholas Kristof, who supports new restrictions on firearms (including expanded background checks), notes that “the 10-year ban on assault weapons accomplished little, partly because definitions were about cosmetic features like bayonet mounts (and partly because even before the ban, such guns were used in only 2 percent of crimes).” Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, glides over those points in another Time opinion piece published today, conflating arbitrarily defined “assault weapons” with “semiautomatic weapons,” a much broader category that encompasses most handguns and many rifles that would not be covered by the ban that Biden supports.

Like Times columnist Gail Collins, McCord, who served as acting assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration, seems confused about exactly what an “assault weapon” is. She mentions “the semiautomatic assault-style rifle” that the Buffalo shooter used (a Bushmaster XM-15), but the piece also refers seven times (once in the headline and six times in the text) to “semiautomatic weapons” or “semiautomatic firearms.”

Those terms apply to any gun that automatically loads another round in the chamber after the trigger is pulled, so that the weapon can be fired repeatedly without manual reloading. Unlike the features prohibited by “assault weapon” laws, that characteristic is functionally important. But a ban on all “semiautomatic firearms” would be flagrantly unconstitutional, prohibiting myriad guns “in common use” for “lawful purposes,” the category that the Supreme Court has said is covered by the Second Amendment. It would cover nearly all of the most popular handguns, which the Court described as “the quintessential self-defense weapon.”

Since McCord complains generally about “the ready availability of guns in the United States,” her bait-and-switch may be deliberate. If so, that suggests gun rights supporters are right to worry that banning “assault weapons,” while relatively inconsequential in itself, is the first step in a broader campaign to undermine the Second Amendment.

Even if McCord is sincerely confused, that is no excuse. It has been more than three decades since California enacted the nation’s first “assault weapon” ban, and that policy has been a subject of much controversy ever since. The least that advocates of such laws can do is read them.

The post In Response to the Uvalde Massacre, Politicians Reiterate Their Demands for Irrelevant Gun Control Laws appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/q6U2CTW
via IFTTT

“In Defense of the LSAT”

From Clayton Kozinski (Newsweek); seems quite right to me. An excerpt:

[S]tudies have consistently shown that LSAT performance is the single strongest predictor of academic success in law school….

Criticisms of the LSAT largely echo criticisms of standardized tests more generally.

Essentially, they boil down to the claim that the LSAT does not objectively measure ability because children from wealthy backgrounds can more easily afford elite prep courses and personalized tutoring.

It certainly seems unfair that such a significant portion of the admissions criteria favors the wealthy. But even critics of the LSAT concede that the same is true of nearly every other component of the admissions process. The wealthy can hire tutors to improve their GPA and snag better recommenders. And they can pack in more extracurriculars because they are less distracted by resource requirements.

In fact, by one reckoning, the poor benefit significantly from the fact that the LSAT is such a heavily weighted portion of the application calculus. Rather than hiring a cavalcade of tutors for each class or making time for a mountain of extracurriculars, limited resources can be focused on a single, highly important test. Moreover, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) periodically analyzes various methods of LSAT preparation. LSAC’s data show that among the most effective is the organization’s own $99 prep material. Sure, that’s an expense, but it’s hardly out of reach for most applicants. And sure enough, LSAC—which administers the LSAT—notes that doing away with the test has been shown to work against minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

LSAT opponents know all this. So why do they still single out the LSAT?

The post "In Defense of the LSAT" appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/2pXFDWH
via IFTTT

Civilization Runs on Ammonia, Plastic, Steel, and Cement—for Now


SmilCoverFinal

How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going by Vaclav Smil, Viking, 336 pp., $28.00. 

For techno-optimists like me, Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works is something of a downer. But it’s rough on the catastrophist crowd too.

Smil has done interdisciplinary scholarship on food, energy, and the environment at the University of Manitoba, and his book is a clear, concise discussion of the material bases sustaining human life and rising prosperity. It opens by analyzing the sources of energy that power the modern world.

As Smil points out, the prosperity enjoyed in modern developed countries would have been unthinkable without the huge increases in energy that have been supplied by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Until the 19th century, almost all useful energy available to humanity derived from plants: They fueled our heat, they fueled our light, and they fed our muscles and the muscles of our draft animals. Smil calculates that the increasingly efficient use of growing fossil fuel supplies over the past 220 years has led to a 3,500-fold increase in the availability of useful energy.

Put in terms of physical labor, this increased access to energy is equivalent to having 60 adults working nonstop, day and night, for every person on earth. For people living in rich developed countries, it is equivalent of 240 such laborers apiece. “An abundance of useful energy underlies and explains all the gains—from better eating to mass travel; from mechanization of production and transport to instant personal electronic communication—that have become norms rather than exceptions in all affluent countries,” Smil writes.

Smil recognizes that climate change is likely to pose significant problems as the century advances. While Smil acknowledges that humanity needs “to pursue a steady reduction of our dependence on the energies that made the modern world,” he persuasively argues that the coming transition “will not (it cannot be) a sudden abandonment of fossil carbon, nor even its rapid demise—but rather its gradual decline.”

To show the difficulty of transitioning from fossil fuels, Smil points to the Energiewende, Germany’s vast buildout of solar and wind energy. This has cost Germans around $400 billion so far, yet the share of fossil fuels in the country’s primary energy supply has fallen just slightly, from 84 to 78 percent. In the International Energy Agency’s 2020 sustainable development scenario, he notes, even aggressive decarbonization still leaves fossil fuels accounting for 56 percent of primary energy demand in 2040. The U.S. Energy Information  Administration’s 2021 International Energy Outlook report projects that the world in 2050 will be consuming more oil, natural gas, and coal than it is using now.

Smil next tackles the realities of food production for nearly 8 billion people. He observes that mid-20th-century predictions of imminent global-scale famines did not come true. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 65 percent of the world population of 2.5 billion people were undernourished in 1950. By 2019, the rate of undernourishment had fallen to 8.9 percent of 7.7 billion people. In other words, the world in 1950 could supply adequate nutrition to 890 million people, and that rose nearly 8-fold to more than 7 billion in 2019.

These increases in agricultural production have occurred in large part because we have substituted fossil fuels for human labor and fertilizers. Smil calculates that farming and fishing consume about 4 percent of recent annual global energy use. Reducing the waste of a third of food, cutting back a bit on meat eating (from 220 pounds per person annually U.S. to 85 pounds per person in France), and ending the use of biofuels would go a long way toward providing adequate nutrition for the world’s growing population while reducing humanity’s deleterious effects on the biosphere.

Smil then turns his attention to what he calls the “four pillars of modern civilization”: ammonia, cement, steel, and plastics.

Ammonia is used as a source of nitrogen to fertilize crops. The world currently produces 150 million tons of nitrogen fertilizers, largely using natural gas as feedstock. Smil calculates that “nearly 4 billion people would not have been alive without synthetic ammonia,” thus making the “synthesis of ammonia perhaps the most momentous technical advance in history.” While rich countries can cut back on their use of nitrogen fertilizers, African crop productivity remains low because the farmers on the continent currently have access to only 5 percent of the world’s supply.

Plastics—the next pillar—are produced using fossil fuel feedstocks. Global production of plastics has increased from 20,000 tons in 1925 to 2 million tons in 1950, 150 million tons in 2000, and 370 million tons in 2019. Smil decries the “irresponsible dumping” of “these diverse and often truly indispensable synthetic materials.”

The third pillar is steel, found everywhere from the skeletons of our bridges and buildings to the turbines that generate electricity. The world uses 1.8 billion tons of the metal annually, of which 1.3 billion tons are produced using virgin materials. Making steel uses about 6 percent of the world’s primary energy supply.

And then there’s the fourth pillar: cement. Humanity consumes 4.5 billion tons of this each year. From their apartment towers to their roads to their sewers, from their bridges to their subways to their airport runways, modern cities are, in Smil’s words, “embodiments of concrete.” And cement constitutes 10 to 15 percent of concrete’s final mass. In 2018 and 2019, Smil notes, China produced nearly as much cement (4.4 billion tons) as the United States did during the entire 20th century (4.56 billion tons).

If the world’s poor countries aim to replicate China’s post-1990 experience over the next 3 decades, Smil calculates, that would entail a 15-fold increase in steel output, a 10-fold rise in cement production, a doubling of ammonia synthesis, and a 30-fold expansion of plastic manufacture. “Modern economies will always be tied to massive material flows,” writes Smil. “And until all energies used to extract and process these materials come from renewable conversions, modern civilization will remain fundamentally dependent on the fossil fuels used in the production of these indispensable materials.”

Smil next outlines the history of globalization. He notes its considerable advantages but questions the brittleness of our world-spanning supply chains. He also has an excellent chapter on understanding natural and technological risks. He points out that, thanks to technological progress and rising wealth, global life expectancy has greatly lengthened over the past century and the risk of dying from a natural disaster has massively declined.

Humanity’s biggest impacts on the natural world, Smil notes, are agriculture and climate change. He is fairly confident that food production can be intensified and food waste cut, which would leave more land and sea for nature. But given humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels, solving climate change will be difficult. Smil is scathingly dismissive of “quantitative fables” that project that decarbonization can be fast, cheap, and easy. He does believe that various reasonable steps—increasing energy efficiency, insulating buildings, reducing food waste, promoting electric vehicle transportation—can slow the rate of future warming. Nevertheless, he notes that “even a tripling or quadrupling of the recent pace of decarbonization would still leave fossil carbon dominant by 2050.”

Let me briefly detour here for a bit of techno-optimist special pleading. The costs of solar power have dropped by 80 percent over the past 10 years, although intermittency remains a problem. And if regulatory authorities would get out of the way, safe new nuclear reactors could be sources of cheap and steady electricity. Recent research suggests that the worst-case scenarios for climate change are implausible and that average global temperature is likely to increase by around 2.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average by the end of this century.

Peak farmland is near, while biotech advances are enabling such resource-sparing products as microbe-fermented milk and cellular meat production in vats. An expanding number of startups claim to be able to manufacture ammonia much more cheaply than the current energy-intensive processes. For example, the Canadian company Hydrofuels says that it can produce carbon-free ammonia at a tenth the cost of conventional ammonia.

The Brimstone Energy startup claims that it can manufacture cement at the same cost using widely available calcium silicate, which contains no carbon, instead of calcium carbonate limestone. Several innovators have recently developed infinitely recyclable plastics and new energy efficient enzymes that break down current plastics into reusable molecules.

On the other hand, when it comes to energy use and carbon emissions, steel production remains a tough nut to crack.

In any case, Smil has delivered both techno-optimists and Malthusian pessimists a sobering dose of realism about the scale, mass, and inertia of the material underpinnings of modern civilization. “A realistic grasp of our past, present, and uncertain future is the best foundation for approaching the unknowable expanse of time before us,” Smil concludes. How the World Really Works amply supplies that foundation.

The post Civilization Runs on Ammonia, Plastic, Steel, and Cement—for Now appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/uTxLMNZ
via IFTTT

After the Uvalde School Shooting, Politicians and Pundits Search for Panaceas


zumaamericasthirtyfour536555

It’s hard to know what to say about yesterday’s tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, during which at least 19 children and 2 adults were killed by 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos. Ramos reportedly shot his grandmother before crashing his car and getting into a shootout with police before running into Robb Elementary School, going on a killing spree, and being shot to death by a Border Patrol agent who had responded to the scene. It’s still unclear if the school was Ramos’ deliberate target, why he chose to commit such terrible acts of violence, or what type of gun he used (initial reports say he had both a handgun and a rifle). What we do know is that this is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting almost a decade ago that left 26 people dead.

It’s understandable that people want someone other than one deranged (and now deceased) individual to be at fault here. It’s understandable—if unfortunate and unproductive—that human anger and fear tends to take the form of looking for larger forces to blame and lashing out at whatever is available. It’s incredibly difficult and depressing to process tragedies like these. People want an easy solution, and obvious villains to incur their wrath and sadness.

With smug righteousness, many keep asserting that we could stop mass shootings if only a certain type of gun were banned, or all guns were banned, or some specific new gun restrictions were enacted. But these are fantasies. Even if Congress could pass any gun restriction that advocates desire today—including a total ban on all guns—it would be impossible to enforce and almost definitely fail to have the impact people wish for.

There are more guns than people in the U.S. and Americans aren’t going to simply cooperate with a gun buyback program, for example, the way ma y Australians did when their government started such a program.

A bigger black market in guns would most likely just create more violent crime, and a bigger effort by police to confiscate or crack down on guns would inevitably lead to more police violence.

People may be emotionally soothed by platitudes around all this—an insistence that we could at least try—but the reality is that the trying itself could lead to a lot of violence.

Banning certain types of guns, enacting longer waiting periods for gun purchases, and requiring enhanced background checks often fail to prevent homicides and would have failed to prevent many of the mass shootings we’ve seen recently. What makes people so sure they would work against future mass shootings?

Even “red flag” laws (which allow for courts to order the confiscation of guns from people with mental health issues) are not the panacea people purport them to be. “Predicting violence is much harder than supporters of red flag laws often imply,” notes Reason‘s Jacob Sullum. “Psychiatrists are notoriously bad at it, and people who display what might look like ‘red flags’ almost never commit crimes like these.”

The “ban guns” crowd is far from alone in irrational blame laying, of course. On the right, this impulse has taken a particularly ugly form, with some suggesting, based on the gunman’s name, that he is an immigrant and that lax immigration policies or border control are somehow the issue here.

The idea that one immigrant committing a crime implicates all immigration is absurd and xenophobic. On top of that, Ramos was born in North Dakota.

And of course no tragedy can take place these days without someone on the right trying to blame gender politics or transgender people. This time, it was Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.), who has since deleted his tweet saying, sans evidence, that the Uvalde shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.”

Now is a time to grieve those lost, memorialize their lives, and support the families and communities of the deceased. As hopeless and unsatisfying as it sounds, there’s not much more we can realistically do. And while I’m sympathetic to the urge to do something in the wake of horrors like these, investing so much argument and emotional energy in doing things that won’t actually make a difference only serves to divide people, center the emotions of bystanders, and detract from the very real lives and communities at the center of this shooting.


FREE MINDS 

Florida law requiring social media to host political candidate speech violates First Amendment. A federal court has partially blocked Florida’s social media law, which required large online platforms to indiscriminately host messages by political candidates and media outlets. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said the law ran contrary to the First Amendment. You can read the full ruling here.

The law (S.B. 7072) was “passed by Florida Republican lawmakers and supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis,” notes Reason‘s Scott Shackford. In addition to threatening social media platforms with fines of up to $250,000 per day for failing to spread the messages of all political candidates, it “had a host of terrible provisions,” Shackford points out.

Tech groups sued to try to block the bill’s implementation and quickly got an initial temporary injunction last June, ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida.

The three 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, ruled Monday that, no, Florida cannot do what it’s trying to do here. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others are private companies with First Amendment rights and cannot be required to serve as platforms for political content nor host media outlets’ content against the tech companies’ own wills.

Judge Kevin C. Newsom, who wrote the decision, bluntly rejects Florida’s efforts to try to portray social media platforms as neutral “common carriers” like phone lines or public utilities:

“Platforms are private enterprises, not governmental (or even quasi-governmental) entities. No one has an obligation to contribute to or consume the content that the platforms make available. And correlatively, while the Constitution protects citizens from governmental efforts to restrict their access to social media … no one has a vested right to force a platform to allow her to contribute to or consume social-media content.”

The Florida law is similar to a law passed in Texas that an appeals court recently said the state could start enforcing.


FREE MARKETS

Pushback against Biden’s antitrust cops. A bid by semiconductor company Broadcom to buy VMware has antitrust debate raging again. From The New York Times:

The country’s top deal cops, the Federal Trade Commission head Lina Khan and the Justice Department’s Jonathan Kanter, have been pushing for the government to have more authority to block corporate deals. But criticism is mounting that antitrust efforts have gone too far, the DealBook newsletter reports. This week, Lawrence H. Summers, a Harvard University professor and former top adviser in the Obama administration, tweeted that a new era of “populist antitrust policy” could lead to an economy that was “more inflationary and less resilient.”

In the past, a deal like Broadcom’s potential acquisition of VMware would not have been an issue. The two companies are not direct competitors. Instead, the acquisition in deal terms is closer to what is often called a vertical integration — when one company buys another in a related industry. Horizontal deals, where the two companies are direct rivals, have traditionally been the ones that the government has policed, fearing that fewer competitors in one market would lead to higher prices.

Government officials are signaling that vertical and other deals are problematic as well. “By myopically treating transactions as vertical or horizontal, we may miss important details that a broader perspective can provide,” the F.T.C. commissioner Rebecca Slaughter said last year. In addition, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is reportedly pushing for a vote by early summer on legislation that he and others argue will address the way Big Tech has exploited gaps in antitrust regulations to eliminate competition.


QUICK HITS

• Omicron subvarient BA.2.12.1 is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S.

• Former President Donald Trump was allegedly very afraid of getting pies thrown at him.

• How the drug war is keeping truckers off the road.

• “Sarah Huckabee Sanders will win the GOP nomination for governor of Arkansas,” per CNN projections, “putting her in strong position to win the governorship in this red state in November.”

The post After the Uvalde School Shooting, Politicians and Pundits Search for Panaceas appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/Y98Epz7
via IFTTT

After the Uvalde School Shooting, Politicians and Pundits Search for Panaceas


zumaamericasthirtyfour536555

It’s hard to know what to say about yesterday’s tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, during which at least 19 children and 2 adults were killed by 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos. Ramos reportedly shot his grandmother before crashing his car and getting into a shootout with police before running into Robb Elementary School, going on a killing spree, and being shot to death by a Border Patrol agent who had responded to the scene. It’s still unclear if the school was Ramos’ deliberate target, why he chose to commit such terrible acts of violence, or what type of gun he used (initial reports say he had both a handgun and a rifle). What we do know is that this is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting almost a decade ago that left 26 people dead.

It’s understandable that people want someone other than one deranged (and now deceased) individual to be at fault here. It’s understandable—if unfortunate and unproductive—that human anger and fear tends to take the form of looking for larger forces to blame and lashing out at whatever is available. It’s incredibly difficult and depressing to process tragedies like these. People want an easy solution, and obvious villains to incur their wrath and sadness.

With smug righteousness, many keep asserting that we could stop mass shootings if only a certain type of gun were banned, or all guns were banned, or some specific new gun restrictions were enacted. But these are fantasies. Even if Congress could pass any gun restriction that advocates desire today—including a total ban on all guns—it would be impossible to enforce and almost definitely fail to have the impact people wish for.

There are more guns than people in the U.S. and Americans aren’t going to simply cooperate with a gun buyback program, for example, the way ma y Australians did when their government started such a program.

A bigger black market in guns would most likely just create more violent crime, and a bigger effort by police to confiscate or crack down on guns would inevitably lead to more police violence.

People may be emotionally soothed by platitudes around all this—an insistence that we could at least try—but the reality is that the trying itself could lead to a lot of violence.

Banning certain types of guns, enacting longer waiting periods for gun purchases, and requiring enhanced background checks often fail to prevent homicides and would have failed to prevent many of the mass shootings we’ve seen recently. What makes people so sure they would work against future mass shootings?

Even “red flag” laws (which allow for courts to order the confiscation of guns from people with mental health issues) are not the panacea people purport them to be. “Predicting violence is much harder than supporters of red flag laws often imply,” notes Reason‘s Jacob Sullum. “Psychiatrists are notoriously bad at it, and people who display what might look like ‘red flags’ almost never commit crimes like these.”

The “ban guns” crowd is far from alone in irrational blame laying, of course. On the right, this impulse has taken a particularly ugly form, with some suggesting, based on the gunman’s name, that he is an immigrant and that lax immigration policies or border control are somehow the issue here.

The idea that one immigrant committing a crime implicates all immigration is absurd and xenophobic. On top of that, Ramos was born in North Dakota.

And of course no tragedy can take place these days without someone on the right trying to blame gender politics or transgender people. This time, it was Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.), who has since deleted his tweet saying, sans evidence, that the Uvalde shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.”

Now is a time to grieve those lost, memorialize their lives, and support the families and communities of the deceased. As hopeless and unsatisfying as it sounds, there’s not much more we can realistically do. And while I’m sympathetic to the urge to do something in the wake of horrors like these, investing so much argument and emotional energy in doing things that won’t actually make a difference only serves to divide people, center the emotions of bystanders, and detract from the very real lives and communities at the center of this shooting.


FREE MINDS 

Florida law requiring social media to host political candidate speech violates First Amendment. A federal court has partially blocked Florida’s social media law, which required large online platforms to indiscriminately host messages by political candidates and media outlets. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said the law ran contrary to the First Amendment. You can read the full ruling here.

The law (S.B. 7072) was “passed by Florida Republican lawmakers and supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis,” notes Reason‘s Scott Shackford. In addition to threatening social media platforms with fines of up to $250,000 per day for failing to spread the messages of all political candidates, it “had a host of terrible provisions,” Shackford points out.

Tech groups sued to try to block the bill’s implementation and quickly got an initial temporary injunction last June, ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida.

The three 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, ruled Monday that, no, Florida cannot do what it’s trying to do here. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and others are private companies with First Amendment rights and cannot be required to serve as platforms for political content nor host media outlets’ content against the tech companies’ own wills.

Judge Kevin C. Newsom, who wrote the decision, bluntly rejects Florida’s efforts to try to portray social media platforms as neutral “common carriers” like phone lines or public utilities:

“Platforms are private enterprises, not governmental (or even quasi-governmental) entities. No one has an obligation to contribute to or consume the content that the platforms make available. And correlatively, while the Constitution protects citizens from governmental efforts to restrict their access to social media … no one has a vested right to force a platform to allow her to contribute to or consume social-media content.”

The Florida law is similar to a law passed in Texas that an appeals court recently said the state could start enforcing.


FREE MARKETS

Pushback against Biden’s antitrust cops. A bid by semiconductor company Broadcom to buy VMware has antitrust debate raging again. From The New York Times:

The country’s top deal cops, the Federal Trade Commission head Lina Khan and the Justice Department’s Jonathan Kanter, have been pushing for the government to have more authority to block corporate deals. But criticism is mounting that antitrust efforts have gone too far, the DealBook newsletter reports. This week, Lawrence H. Summers, a Harvard University professor and former top adviser in the Obama administration, tweeted that a new era of “populist antitrust policy” could lead to an economy that was “more inflationary and less resilient.”

In the past, a deal like Broadcom’s potential acquisition of VMware would not have been an issue. The two companies are not direct competitors. Instead, the acquisition in deal terms is closer to what is often called a vertical integration — when one company buys another in a related industry. Horizontal deals, where the two companies are direct rivals, have traditionally been the ones that the government has policed, fearing that fewer competitors in one market would lead to higher prices.

Government officials are signaling that vertical and other deals are problematic as well. “By myopically treating transactions as vertical or horizontal, we may miss important details that a broader perspective can provide,” the F.T.C. commissioner Rebecca Slaughter said last year. In addition, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is reportedly pushing for a vote by early summer on legislation that he and others argue will address the way Big Tech has exploited gaps in antitrust regulations to eliminate competition.


QUICK HITS

• Omicron subvarient BA.2.12.1 is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S.

• Former President Donald Trump was allegedly very afraid of getting pies thrown at him.

• How the drug war is keeping truckers off the road.

• “Sarah Huckabee Sanders will win the GOP nomination for governor of Arkansas,” per CNN projections, “putting her in strong position to win the governorship in this red state in November.”

The post After the Uvalde School Shooting, Politicians and Pundits Search for Panaceas appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/Y98Epz7
via IFTTT

What’s Next for Russia’s War in Ukraine?


sipaphotosthirteen736128

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on, and western aid for the underdogs grows, more people ask how far we are willing to go to defend another country and how much we’re willing to risk. It’s difficult to find somebody who doesn’t sympathize with the Ukrainians, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the price of supporting a war against an autocratic regime that seems unconstrained by human decency and that commands not just tanks and troops, but nuclear weapons.

“Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger costs should Ukraine lose,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) commented last week after a bipartisan majority approved $40 billion in additional assistance to Ukraine. 

Behind his words were the concerns every politician has of being the next Neville Chamberlain, appeasing a dictator now at the price of a wider war in the future. That concern is sufficiently compelling among politicians that Congress approved and President Joe Biden signed legislation offering up a sum substantially larger than the $33 billion actually requested by the White House. But that enormous sum of money at a time of soaring national debt and rising inflation largely fueled the 11 votes against the bill from McConnell’s own Republican ranks.

“Today we are faced with a vastly greater sum of money to be contributed or gifted to Ukraine,” Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), who voted against the measure, told the Senate after reciting a perhaps apocryphal story about Davy Crockett, in his years as a congressman, passing the hat rather than approving taxpayer money to support a military widow. “A noble cause, no doubt. A cause for which I share sympathy and support but a cause for which the Constitution does not sanction or approve of.”

“Putting aside the constitutionality of gifting $40 billion to Ukraine, isn’t there a more fiscally responsible way this could be done? What about taking the $40 billion from elsewhere in the budget? The US spends more on our military than the next 8 countries combined. Couldn’t Congress simply shift over the $40 billion and not add it to the debt?” he added.

The public shares at least some of Paul’s concerns about the cost of the war; while 42 percent told Pew Research in March that the U.S. was doing too little to support Ukraine, a plurality of 35 percent now says it’s doing enough. To concerns about cost, add growing public worries about the war’s endpoint. 

“About half of Americans also say they are either extremely (24%) or very (26%) concerned about the possibility of U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine leading to a U.S. war with Russia, with about one-third also saying they are somewhat concerned about this,” Pew notes. “Only about one-in-five (18%) say they are not too or not at all concerned about this.”

Concerns about the war in Ukraine cross party lines and include commentators that usually support the Biden administration, which has firmly dedicated itself to supporting Kyiv.

“There are many questions that President Biden has yet to answer for the American public with regard to the continued involvement of the United States in this conflict,” The New York Times editorialized May 19. “It is still not in America’s best interest to plunge into an all-out war with Russia, even if a negotiated peace may require Ukraine to make some hard decisions. And the U.S. aims and strategy in this war have become harder to discern, as the parameters of the mission appear to have changed.”

The Times previously committed itself to open-ended support for Ukraine, but is having some obvious second thoughts as administration officials warn that the fighting and carnage will drag on.

“We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 10.

“Moreover, as both Russia and Ukraine believe they can continue to make progress militarily, we do not see a viable negotiating path forward, at least in the short term. The uncertain nature of the battle, which is developing into a war of attrition, combined with the reality that Putin faces a mismatch between his ambitions and Russia’s current conventional military capabilities, likely means the next few months could see us moving along a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory.”

Haines added that “Putin would probably only authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime, but we will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.” 

Given that Russia’s regime hasn’t been shy about vowing military consequences up to and including nuclear annihilation for anybody who supports Ukraine or otherwise annoys Moscow, the word “probably” is doing a lot of work here. But other informed observers, including Tufts University’s Daniel W. Drezner and Texas A&M University’s Matthew Fuhrmann, agree that Russia is unlikely to follow through on its high-stakes tough talk.

Importantly, instead of cowing critics, Putin and company’s threats drove Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership. They’re not shy about their reasons for joining the military alliance.

“The Government’s assessment is that NATO membership is the best way to protect Sweden’s security in light of the fundamentally changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Swedish officials announced last week.

Even famously neutral Switzerland is drawing closer to NATO. Rather than intimidate its neighbors, Russia’s regime in full frothing-at-the-mouth mode is frightening them to join together in self-defense. Who wants to be the politicians who meekly submitted their countries to the whims of the local bully?

Russia’s imperial ambitions endanger the world beyond Europe, given the roles the aggressor and the aggrieved play in feeding a planet on which food was already rising in price and hunger spreading.

“Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned last week. “There is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets — despite the war.”

Reintegrate Ukraine’s food production? On Russia’s terms or Ukraine’s? That question will be hashed out on the battlefield while the war in Ukraine chugs along with no end in sight. If anybody knows for sure where this conflict is headed, they aren’t talking. The one thing we can be sure of is that we have good reason to be concerned about the months to come.

The post What's Next for Russia's War in Ukraine? appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/D25WfPh
via IFTTT

Court Declines to Enter TRO Ordering Defendants to “Retract … Complaints … to Amazon”

From Judge Kari Dooley’s decision earlier this month in Ligeri v. Tischer (D. Conn.) (a lawsuit over sales of “moleskin, nutritional supplements, sporting goods, housewares, and the popular ‘Green Sky’ brand rubber ducks”):

Plaintiffs Benjamin Ligeri and Central Concepts Inc. … have moved for a temporary restraining order … and therein seek a mandatory injunction requiring Defendants, Joshua Tischer, Optimistic Investments, Inc. and Michael Murphy to retract certain complaints they have allegedly made to Amazon and to cease and desist the filing of other complaints….

By verified complaint, Plaintiffs assert that the Defendants have and continue to tortiously interfere with their business expectancies, specifically their ability to sell products using their Legacy Account on the Amazon sales platform. The Defendants are alleged to have filed false and frivolous claims with Amazon that Plaintiffs’ products either: infringe a copyright; infringe a trademark; or are counterfeit, all of which would violate the Amazon platform policies. As a result, Amazon has removed some of Plaintiffs’ products from the website resulting in lost sales. Plaintiffs allege that this conduct can result in the diminished value of the Legacy Account and might ultimately destroy Plaintiff’s ability to do business on the Amazon platform entirely. Finally, Plaintiffs assert that the loss of a Legacy Account cannot be addressed through damages given the various advantages afforded such accounts which once lost, are lost forever.

On the papers submitted, the Court cannot conclude that the Plaintiffs have shown a “clear and substantial” likelihood of success on the merits of their claim. In order to find that the Defendants’ conduct was tortious, the Court would be required to find that the complaints were false or frivolous. In order to determine that the complaints were false or frivolous, the Court would need to assess whether the Plaintiffs’ products infringed a copyright, were counterfeit, or infringed a trademark, which in turn requires detailed and sometimes nuanced analysis under very complex bodies of law. The Plaintiffs ask this Court to summarily decide that no such infringement has occurred by looking at internet screenshots of the products at issue. This the Court cannot do. Although there is evidence from which to infer that the defendants are selectively targeting the Plaintiffs, e.g., allegations that the Defendants are not challenging other sellers of similar products, this does not establish one way or the other whether the complaints themselves are frivolous or false.

Further, nor does the submission establish irreparable harm absent immediate action by this Court. The submission makes clear that Amazon gives sellers a mechanism and process by which to dispute or challenge a complaint. It encourages sellers who believe the complaint is in error to contact Amazon so that Amazon can investigate. There is no indication that the Plaintiffs have availed themselves of this process before seeking the extraordinary relief identified in the motion for temporary restraining order. Indeed, Plaintiff alleges that Amazon requires sellers such as the Plaintiffs to initiate litigation against the complainant if there is a dispute as to the complaint. This allegation is at odds with the Plaintiffs’ exhibits which clearly instruct otherwise.

The Court offers no opinion as to whether, following the hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction, the Plaintiffs might meet their evidentiary burden, only that they have not done so at this juncture…

For more on the prior restraint argument against such TROs and preliminary injunctions, see here, or pp. 93-96 of my Anti-Libel Injunctions article.

The post Court Declines to Enter TRO Ordering Defendants to "Retract … Complaints … to Amazon" appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/iIu6Cag
via IFTTT

America’s Nuclear Reluctance


topicsscience

On February 14, 2022, Oregon’s NuScale Power signed an agreement with the Polish mining and processing firm KGHM to deploy NuScale’s innovative small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in Poland by 2029. At the U.N.’s Glasgow Climate Change Conference in November, NuScale contracted with a Romanian energy company to deploy its SMR technology in that country by 2028. NuScale has signed similar memoranda of understanding with electric power companies in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine.

This kind of advanced energy technology will likely be powering homes and businesses in Europe before the first reactor is completed in the United States. That’s because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in no hurry to help.

NuScale’s SMR technology did receive an NRC staff “standard design approval” in September 2020. But that happened largely because NuScale’s -technology employs a smaller-scale version of the light-water reactors that the NRC -bureaucracy has been (over-)regulating for decades.

Even with that step out of the way, NuScale has been working with the NRC for years and remains stymied by bureaucratic obstacles. The company began its pre-application meetings with the NRC in 2008 and formally submitted its design certification application in 2016. NuScale is now waiting for the NRC commissioners to issue a “standard design certification,” which the company hopes to receive later this year.

There are more steps after that. Nu‑ Scale has contracted with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to build a six-module SMR project generating 462 megawatts at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. UAMPS must also receive NRC approval. It plans to submit, by 2024, its combined license application seeking authorization to construct and operate a nuclear power plant at the Idaho site. If approved, the plant could be completed by 2030, having survived 22 years of regulatory inertia before the first electron reaches the first customer.

This is how the process plays out for a nuclear reactor design that the NRC already knows how to regulate. NuScale’s innovation is that the reactor modules are much smaller (77 megawatts) than -traditional reactors (around 1,000 megawatts). The modules are assembled at the factory, shipped by truck, and slotted together on-site in a below-grade water-filled reactor pool.

When it comes to truly novel nuclear technology, the NRC is even stodgier. In January, it rejected California-based Oklo Power’s application to build and operate the company’s Aurora compact fast -reactor in Idaho. Oklo Power ran into the NRC roadblock largely because its sodium-cooled fast reactor technology has never previously been evaluated and approved by the agency’s bureaucrats. Its microreactor would generate just 1.5 megawatts of electricity, fueled essentially by nuclear waste.

Oklo foresees selling its reactors to utility companies, industrial sites, large companies, and college and university campuses. Assembled at a factory, its Aurora reactors will generate power for 20 years without having to refuel and won’t require any human operators. Despite its setback with the NRC, the company still plans to have an operating Aurora reactor at the Idaho site by 2025.

Under the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act of 2019, the NRC is supposed to promulgate a streamlined framework for evaluating and approving new commercial advanced nuclear reactor licenses by December 31, 2027. “The rulemaking will not be finalized by the time many leading advanced reactor vendors, such as TerraPower, X-energy, Westinghouse, and others, are set to file their NRC license applications,” observed a December 2021 report from the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, a pro-nuclear nonprofit think tank.

In a February 2022 report, the pro-renewables Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis described the NuScale/UAMPS collaboration as “too late, too expensive, too risky and too uncertain.” While the report cited data showing significant construction delays for large plants, NuScale’s factory-built SMRs aim to avoid those problems. The report did acknowledge that “delays experienced during NuScale’s NRC licensing process will push the SMR’s in-service date even further into the future.”

The same can be said for other advanced reactor designs wrapped in the NRC’s red tape.

At the NRC’s stately pace of regulatory reform, the first innovative nuclear reactors designed by American companies may well begin operation in Eastern Europe before they get built in Idaho.

The post America's Nuclear Reluctance appeared first on Reason.com.

from Latest https://ift.tt/wDtYfch
via IFTTT