Will international trade law block IOT cybersecurity regulation?

Joel Trachtman thinks it’s a near certainty that the WTO agreements will complicate US efforts to head off an Internet of Things cybersecurity meltdown, and there’s a real possibility that a US cybersecurity regime could be held to violate our international trade obligations. Claire Schachter and I dig into the details of the looming disaster and how to avoid it.

In the news, Paul Rosenzweig analyzes the Ninth Circuit holding that scraping publicly available information doesn’t violate the CFAA.

The California legislature has adjourned, leaving behind a smoking ruin where Silicon Valley’s business models used to be. Mark MacCarthy elaborates: One new law would force companies like Uber and Lyft (and a boatload of others) to treat gig economy workers as employees, not contractors. Another set of votes in the legislature has left the demanding California Consumer Privacy Act more or less unscathed as its 2020 effective date looms. Really, it’s beginning to look as though even California hates Silicon Valley.

Klon Kitchen and I discuss the latest round of Treasury sanctions on North Korean hacking groups. The sanctions won’t affect anyone in North Korea, but they might affect a few of their enablers on the Internet. What I wonder, though, is this: Since sanctions violations are punishable even when they aren’t intentional, will US companies whose money is stolen by the Lazarus Group be penalized for having engaged in a prohibited transaction with a sanctioned party? Maybe the Lazarus Group should steal a Treasury license too, just to be sure.

Klon also lays out in chilling detail what the Russians were really trying to do to Ukraine’s grid – and the growing risk that someone is going to launch a destructive cyberattack that leads to a cycle of serious real-world violence. The drone attack on Saudi oil facilities shows how big that risk can be.

Paul examines reports that Israel planted spy devices near the White House. He thinks it says more about the White House than about Israel.

Paul also reports on one of the unlikelier escapades of students from his alma mater: Trading 15 minutes at the keyboard for months in jail and a lifetime of trouble on their permanent records.

I walk back the deepfake voice scam story we discussed recently, but Klon points out that it reflects a future that is coming for us soon, if not today.

Proving the old adage about a fool for a lawyer, the Mar-a-Lago trespasser has been found guilty after an ineffective pro se defense. We may never know what she was up to.

Klon digs into a long and thoughtful op-ed by NSA’s Glenn Gerstell about the effects of the “digital revolution” on national security. And I note the recent Carnegie report trying to move the encryption debate forward. I also plug my upcoming speech in Israel on the same topic.

Download the 278th Episode (mp3).

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed!

As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter. Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for topics or interviewees to CyberlawPodcast@steptoe.com. Remember: If your suggested guest appears on the show, we will send you a highly coveted Cyberlaw Podcast mug!

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of the firm.

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Will international trade law block IOT cybersecurity regulation?

Joel Trachtman thinks it’s a near certainty that the WTO agreements will complicate US efforts to head off an Internet of Things cybersecurity meltdown, and there’s a real possibility that a US cybersecurity regime could be held to violate our international trade obligations. Claire Schachter and I dig into the details of the looming disaster and how to avoid it.

In the news, Paul Rosenzweig analyzes the Ninth Circuit holding that scraping publicly available information doesn’t violate the CFAA.

The California legislature has adjourned, leaving behind a smoking ruin where Silicon Valley’s business models used to be. Mark MacCarthy elaborates: One new law would force companies like Uber and Lyft (and a boatload of others) to treat gig economy workers as employees, not contractors. Another set of votes in the legislature has left the demanding California Consumer Privacy Act more or less unscathed as its 2020 effective date looms. Really, it’s beginning to look as though even California hates Silicon Valley.

Klon Kitchen and I discuss the latest round of Treasury sanctions on North Korean hacking groups. The sanctions won’t affect anyone in North Korea, but they might affect a few of their enablers on the Internet. What I wonder, though, is this: Since sanctions violations are punishable even when they aren’t intentional, will US companies whose money is stolen by the Lazarus Group be penalized for having engaged in a prohibited transaction with a sanctioned party? Maybe the Lazarus Group should steal a Treasury license too, just to be sure.

Klon also lays out in chilling detail what the Russians were really trying to do to Ukraine’s grid – and the growing risk that someone is going to launch a destructive cyberattack that leads to a cycle of serious real-world violence. The drone attack on Saudi oil facilities shows how big that risk can be.

Paul examines reports that Israel planted spy devices near the White House. He thinks it says more about the White House than about Israel.

Paul also reports on one of the unlikelier escapades of students from his alma mater: Trading 15 minutes at the keyboard for months in jail and a lifetime of trouble on their permanent records.

I walk back the deepfake voice scam story we discussed recently, but Klon points out that it reflects a future that is coming for us soon, if not today.

Proving the old adage about a fool for a lawyer, the Mar-a-Lago trespasser has been found guilty after an ineffective pro se defense. We may never know what she was up to.

Klon digs into a long and thoughtful op-ed by NSA’s Glenn Gerstell about the effects of the “digital revolution” on national security. And I note the recent Carnegie report trying to move the encryption debate forward. I also plug my upcoming speech in Israel on the same topic.

Download the 278th Episode (mp3).

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed!

As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter. Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for topics or interviewees to CyberlawPodcast@steptoe.com. Remember: If your suggested guest appears on the show, we will send you a highly coveted Cyberlaw Podcast mug!

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of the firm.

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The U.S. Shouldn’t Rush to War With Iran Over Saudi Oilfield Attack

In the wake of an apparent drone attack targeting oilfields on the Arabian Peninsula, Congress should do everything it can to avoid getting America involved in a potential conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The attack on the Abqaiq oil facility appears to have been carried out with drones operated by Houthi rebels in Yemen. They targeted a refinery owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil monopoly. The attack is likely to cut Saudi Arabian oil production in half, reducing global supply of crude oil by about 5 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported, raising the possibility of higher gasoline prices. It did not take long for Saudi and U.S. officials—including President Donald Trump—to pin blame for the Saturday night attack on Iran, which has provided support and aid to the Houthi rebels.

On Monday night, NBC News reported that the attack was launched from within Iran, citing three anonymous sources familiar with American intelligence reports.

The question, then, becomes what America should do next.

In a tweet on Sunday, Trump gave the impression that he was willing to let the Saudis decide how America would react.

That response raises obvious constitutional concerns. Even if Saudi Arabia and Iran were heading for a military confrontation, it’s not immediately clear how that conflict would jeopardize American national security. If there is a reason for the U.S. to be involved in a regional war in the Middle East, the Trump administration should make that argument to Congress and proceed only after Congress has approved military action.

“The whole situation is more complicated than the war hawks in town would have you believe,” says Chris Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “It’s simply not true that the Iranians call the tune and the Houthis dance. It’s more complicated than that.”

Indeed, the Houthi rebels have been fighting a Saudi-backed regime in Yemen for several years—a conflict that has turned into a brutal civil war that has killed an estimated 50,000 people; while at least 50,000 more are estimated to have died in a famine triggered by the conflict, though exact numbers of deaths are difficult to ascertain. Earlier this year, Trump vetoed a bill that would have ended American military involvement in the Yemeni civil war.

But in a follow-up tweet on Monday, Trump compared Iran’s denial of involvement in the oil facility attacks to what the president called “a very big lie” regarding the downing of a U.S. drone earlier this year. At that time, Iran claimed the drone had entered its airspace, while the U.S. claimed it had not. Shortly afterward, Trump ordered a military strike against Iran before changing his mind at the very last second.

That moment aside, the Trump administration has seemed willing—and eager, at times—to start a war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pitched lawmakers on the idea that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF)—passed in the wake of 9/11 to permit the U.S. to attack Al Qaeda—allows the U.S. to attack Iran without further congressional approval. And just last week, senior State Department advisor Brian Hook wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing Iran “is effectively extending its borders, enlarging its sphere of influence, and launching lethal attacks against rivals” via the Houthis.

But if Trump is going to remind the American public about the lies that Iranian leaders have told, it seems only fair to also point out that Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has told a few lies himself. Salman, known by”MBS,” apparently ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year—and then lied about the murder for weeks after it took place at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Trump sided with bin Salman during the controversy.

It’s that sort of knee-jerk support for Saudi Arabia within American political ranks that makes a U.S. military response troublingly likely. To the extent that duplicitous Saudi behavior enters into the equation at all, it seems to be quickly pushed aside in favor of backing a long-time ally merely because it has been a long-time ally—in the way that Sen. Chris Coons (D–Conn.) did on Monday morning:

Even if members of Congress are cheering for a war with Iran, Trump should have to put the matter before them for a formal vote. And lawmakers should be measured in their approach. If you think a single attack that took 5 percent of the world’s oil supply offline temporarily is a problem, you should also consider what a full-fledged conflict among some of the world’s biggest oil-producing countries would mean.

“At a minimum, we should want to know more information before doing anything. Don’t jump to conclusions,” Preble says he would advise members of Congress. “And then, even once you’ve established the facts, you want to make sure that whatever action you’re being asked to take is likely to make the situation better.”

American involvement in a Saudi-Iran war would do little to protect the national security or economic interests of Americans. Congress should do everything in its power to avoid it.

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The U.S. Shouldn’t Rush to War With Iran Over Saudi Oilfield Attack

In the wake of an apparent drone attack targeting oilfields on the Arabian Peninsula, Congress should do everything it can to avoid getting America involved in a potential conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The attack on the Abqaiq oil facility appears to have been carried out with drones operated by Houthi rebels in Yemen. They targeted a refinery owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil monopoly. The attack is likely to cut Saudi Arabian oil production in half, reducing global supply of crude oil by about 5 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported, raising the possibility of higher gasoline prices. It did not take long for Saudi and U.S. officials—including President Donald Trump—to pin blame for the Saturday night attack on Iran, which has provided support and aid to the Houthi rebels.

On Monday night, NBC News reported that the attack was launched from within Iran, citing three anonymous sources familiar with American intelligence reports.

The question, then, becomes what America should do next.

In a tweet on Sunday, Trump gave the impression that he was willing to let the Saudis decide how America would react.

That response raises obvious constitutional concerns. Even if Saudi Arabia and Iran were heading for a military confrontation, it’s not immediately clear how that conflict would jeopardize American national security. If there is a reason for the U.S. to be involved in a regional war in the Middle East, the Trump administration should make that argument to Congress and proceed only after Congress has approved military action.

“The whole situation is more complicated than the war hawks in town would have you believe,” says Chris Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “It’s simply not true that the Iranians call the tune and the Houthis dance. It’s more complicated than that.”

Indeed, the Houthi rebels have been fighting a Saudi-backed regime in Yemen for several years—a conflict that has turned into a brutal civil war that has killed an estimated 50,000 people; while at least 50,000 more are estimated to have died in a famine triggered by the conflict, though exact numbers of deaths are difficult to ascertain. Earlier this year, Trump vetoed a bill that would have ended American military involvement in the Yemeni civil war.

But in a follow-up tweet on Monday, Trump compared Iran’s denial of involvement in the oil facility attacks to what the president called “a very big lie” regarding the downing of a U.S. drone earlier this year. At that time, Iran claimed the drone had entered its airspace, while the U.S. claimed it had not. Shortly afterward, Trump ordered a military strike against Iran before changing his mind at the very last second.

That moment aside, the Trump administration has seemed willing—and eager, at times—to start a war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pitched lawmakers on the idea that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF)—passed in the wake of 9/11 to permit the U.S. to attack Al Qaeda—allows the U.S. to attack Iran without further congressional approval. And just last week, senior State Department advisor Brian Hook wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing Iran “is effectively extending its borders, enlarging its sphere of influence, and launching lethal attacks against rivals” via the Houthis.

But if Trump is going to remind the American public about the lies that Iranian leaders have told, it seems only fair to also point out that Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has told a few lies himself. Salman, known by”MBS,” apparently ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year—and then lied about the murder for weeks after it took place at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Trump sided with bin Salman during the controversy.

It’s that sort of knee-jerk support for Saudi Arabia within American political ranks that makes a U.S. military response troublingly likely. To the extent that duplicitous Saudi behavior enters into the equation at all, it seems to be quickly pushed aside in favor of backing a long-time ally merely because it has been a long-time ally—in the way that Sen. Chris Coons (D–Conn.) did on Monday morning:

Even if members of Congress are cheering for a war with Iran, Trump should have to put the matter before them for a formal vote. And lawmakers should be measured in their approach. If you think a single attack that took 5 percent of the world’s oil supply offline temporarily is a problem, you should also consider what a full-fledged conflict among some of the world’s biggest oil-producing countries would mean.

“At a minimum, we should want to know more information before doing anything. Don’t jump to conclusions,” Preble says he would advise members of Congress. “And then, even once you’ve established the facts, you want to make sure that whatever action you’re being asked to take is likely to make the situation better.”

American involvement in a Saudi-Iran war would do little to protect the national security or economic interests of Americans. Congress should do everything in its power to avoid it.

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Saturday Night Live Fires New Cast Member Shane Gillis for Using Offensive Language

Last week, Saturday Night Live announced that comedian Shane Gillis would be joining the cast. On Monday, the show reversed its decision.

“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘S.N.L.,'” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement.

What happened? Twitter. Last Thursday, a journalist unearthed video footage of Gillis making offensive comments about Asian people during a comedy podcast. He also used homophobic language. In response, many on social media called for him to be fired.

Gillis offered a partial apology that was also a partial defense of his statements.

Needless to say, this did not satisfy the woke scolds, and thus NBC decided to end Gillis’s Saturday Night Live career before it had even begun.

“We want ‘S.N.L.’ to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as a comedian and his impressive audition for ‘S.N.L,'” said the NBC spokesperson. “We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard.”

There’s no First Amendment right to appear on Saturday Night Live, and thus Gillis’s termination is not properly a free speech issue. I haven’t listened to a single second of Gillis’s comedy, and have zero opinion on the matter of whether he is funny. But I do happen to agree with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who told CNN on Sunday that he opposed Gillis’s firing.

“I believe that our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist and that we need to try and move beyond that, if we can,” said Yang. “Particularly in a case where the person is—in this case—a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light.”

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Saturday Night Live Fires New Cast Member Shane Gillis for Using Offensive Language

Last week, Saturday Night Live announced that comedian Shane Gillis would be joining the cast. On Monday, the show reversed its decision.

“After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining ‘S.N.L.,'” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement.

What happened? Twitter. Last Thursday, a journalist unearthed video footage of Gillis making offensive comments about Asian people during a comedy podcast. He also used homophobic language. In response, many on social media called for him to be fired.

Gillis offered a partial apology that was also a partial defense of his statements.

Needless to say, this did not satisfy the woke scolds, and thus NBC decided to end Gillis’s Saturday Night Live career before it had even begun.

“We want ‘S.N.L.’ to have a variety of voices and points of view within the show, and we hired Shane on the strength of his talent as a comedian and his impressive audition for ‘S.N.L,'” said the NBC spokesperson. “We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. The language he used is offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard.”

There’s no First Amendment right to appear on Saturday Night Live, and thus Gillis’s termination is not properly a free speech issue. I haven’t listened to a single second of Gillis’s comedy, and have zero opinion on the matter of whether he is funny. But I do happen to agree with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who told CNN on Sunday that he opposed Gillis’s firing.

“I believe that our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist and that we need to try and move beyond that, if we can,” said Yang. “Particularly in a case where the person is—in this case—a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light.”

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Bernie Sanders’ Housing Plan Calls for $2.5 Trillion in New Spending and Nationwide Rent Control

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has released an ambitious housing plan that stays true to the candidate’s interventionist brand of democratic socialism.

In a speech to trade union members in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, Sanders laid out his vision for tackling high housing costs, homelessness, and gentrification through a mix of nationwide rent control, increased federal spending on housing vouchers and public housing construction, and higher taxes on the wealthy.

“I don’t have to tell anyone in America that we have an affordable housing crisis in Nevada, in Vermont, and all over this country that must be addressed,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable to me that over 18 million families in America today are paying more than 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing.”

The most radical part of Sanders’ plan is his call for a nationwide cap on rental prices above one and a half times the rate of inflation, or 3 percent, whichever is higher.

That’s much lower than the rent increases allowed by either California or Oregon, which both passed statewide rent control policies this year, limiting rent increases to 5 percent plus inflation and 7 percent plus inflation, respectively.

Those laws also included exemptions for housing constructed in the last 15 years in order to mitigate the laws’ effect on new development. The full version of Sanders’ plan has yet to be released (it is apparently coming in the next few weeks), but he has so far made no mention of any exemptions to his proposed rent caps.

Rent control has long been derided by economists as a well-intentioned policy that comes with a host of unintended consequences: Limiting the return developers can make on new housing construction disincentivizes them from building more units. Some landlords, unable to pass on the costs of repairs or renovations to tenants, let their buildings deteriorate. Others might convert their regulated rental units into more expensive condominiums that can be sold at any price, reducing the overall supply of rental housing.

That’s exactly what happened in San Francisco following an expansion of rent control in the 1990s, according to a recent study published in the journal American Economic Review. Building owners took their units off the rental market, resulting in citywide rent increases and increasing gentrification.

Housing investment has boomed in places like Toronto and Cambridge, Massachusetts, after those localities repealed their own rent control laws.

Sanders is also calling for $2.5 trillion in new housing spending over 10 years that will be paid for by a wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent of families.

Details on how exactly this money would be spent are a bit spotty. It would include $32 billion over the next five years to “end homelessness,” $70 billion to repair and expand the country’s stock of public housing, and $50 billion in aid to local and state governments to enable the creation of community land trusts.

Sanders is promising to build or rehabilitate 7.4 million units of housing for low-income people, seniors, and the disabled, all of which would be funded by a permanent expansion of the federal Housing Trust Fund. His plan also calls for funding the creation of an additional two million units of mixed-income housing.

Though hardly optimal, Sanders’ public housing construction spree would theoretically help mitigate a drop in private housing investment created by the rent control portion of his plan.

Nevertheless, building the number of new units the senator is calling for would require local and state governments to repeal their own restrictions on new housing development, a policy Sanders has yet to embrace.

Building affordable housing in expensive cities is not, well, affordable. That’s because the same land costs, impact fees, union hiring and wage requirements, and restrictive zoning laws that make private development difficult also hamstring government and non-profit developers.

The median cost for building a unit of affordable housing in California is over $300,000, and individual projects in the Golden State have seen per-unit costs surpass $700,000.

So long as these rules remain in place, the level of public housing construction Sanders is calling for just isn’t going to happen.

On the other hand, repealing rules that would prevent massive amounts of public housing being built would also probably make that public housing unnecessary, as a surge in privately funded housing development would start to bring prices down.

Places like Houston and Dallas have been able to stay relatively affordable by keeping their restrictions on new housing and suburban sprawl to a minimum. Seattle has seen modest rent decreases as a result of its upzoning land in and around its urban core.

Internationally, growing Tokyo has managed to keep rents mostly flat by having what’s been described as “a free trade zone” for new development.

Sanders is not wrong to point out that many areas of the country suffer from major housing affordability problems, but that’s not because we’ve failed to build enough public housing. It’s because we’ve failed to build enough housing period.

Deregulating housing construction would ease affordability problems where they exist, and could be done without all the taxes and inefficiencies that will inevitably come with the federal government-led initiative Sanders is proposing.

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Bernie Sanders’ Housing Plan Calls for $2.5 Trillion in New Spending and Nationwide Rent Control

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) has released an ambitious housing plan that stays true to the candidate’s interventionist brand of democratic socialism.

In a speech to trade union members in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, Sanders laid out his vision for tackling high housing costs, homelessness, and gentrification through a mix of nationwide rent control, increased federal spending on housing vouchers and public housing construction, and higher taxes on the wealthy.

“I don’t have to tell anyone in America that we have an affordable housing crisis in Nevada, in Vermont, and all over this country that must be addressed,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable to me that over 18 million families in America today are paying more than 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing.”

The most radical part of Sanders’ plan is his call for a nationwide cap on rental prices above one and a half times the rate of inflation, or 3 percent, whichever is higher.

That’s much lower than the rent increases allowed by either California or Oregon, which both passed statewide rent control policies this year, limiting rent increases to 5 percent plus inflation and 7 percent plus inflation, respectively.

Those laws also included exemptions for housing constructed in the last 15 years in order to mitigate the laws’ effect on new development. The full version of Sanders’ plan has yet to be released (it is apparently coming in the next few weeks), but he has so far made no mention of any exemptions to his proposed rent caps.

Rent control has long been derided by economists as a well-intentioned policy that comes with a host of unintended consequences: Limiting the return developers can make on new housing construction disincentivizes them from building more units. Some landlords, unable to pass on the costs of repairs or renovations to tenants, let their buildings deteriorate. Others might convert their regulated rental units into more expensive condominiums that can be sold at any price, reducing the overall supply of rental housing.

That’s exactly what happened in San Francisco following an expansion of rent control in the 1990s, according to a recent study published in the journal American Economic Review. Building owners took their units off the rental market, resulting in citywide rent increases and increasing gentrification.

Housing investment has boomed in places like Toronto and Cambridge, Massachusetts, after those localities repealed their own rent control laws.

Sanders is also calling for $2.5 trillion in new housing spending over 10 years that will be paid for by a wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent of families.

Details on how exactly this money would be spent are a bit spotty. It would include $32 billion over the next five years to “end homelessness,” $70 billion to repair and expand the country’s stock of public housing, and $50 billion in aid to local and state governments to enable the creation of community land trusts.

Sanders is promising to build or rehabilitate 7.4 million units of housing for low-income people, seniors, and the disabled, all of which would be funded by a permanent expansion of the federal Housing Trust Fund. His plan also calls for funding the creation of an additional two million units of mixed-income housing.

Though hardly optimal, Sanders’ public housing construction spree would theoretically help mitigate a drop in private housing investment created by the rent control portion of his plan.

Nevertheless, building the number of new units the senator is calling for would require local and state governments to repeal their own restrictions on new housing development, a policy Sanders has yet to embrace.

Building affordable housing in expensive cities is not, well, affordable. That’s because the same land costs, impact fees, union hiring and wage requirements, and restrictive zoning laws that make private development difficult also hamstring government and non-profit developers.

The median cost for building a unit of affordable housing in California is over $300,000, and individual projects in the Golden State have seen per-unit costs surpass $700,000.

So long as these rules remain in place, the level of public housing construction Sanders is calling for just isn’t going to happen.

On the other hand, repealing rules that would prevent massive amounts of public housing being built would also probably make that public housing unnecessary, as a surge in privately funded housing development would start to bring prices down.

Places like Houston and Dallas have been able to stay relatively affordable by keeping their restrictions on new housing and suburban sprawl to a minimum. Seattle has seen modest rent decreases as a result of its upzoning land in and around its urban core.

Internationally, growing Tokyo has managed to keep rents mostly flat by having what’s been described as “a free trade zone” for new development.

Sanders is not wrong to point out that many areas of the country suffer from major housing affordability problems, but that’s not because we’ve failed to build enough public housing. It’s because we’ve failed to build enough housing period.

Deregulating housing construction would ease affordability problems where they exist, and could be done without all the taxes and inefficiencies that will inevitably come with the federal government-led initiative Sanders is proposing.

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2018 National Crime Victimization Survey Declares the Age of Declining Violence Over

The results of the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) were released last week. The report begins with a troubling observation: “The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years.”

But with one very notable exception—a massive and inexplicable increase in sexual assaults—this year’s findings aren’t statistically significant enough to support the claim that the era of declining violence is over.

The NCVS is conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and it does not rely on reports made to the police. Instead it surveys participants about the violence they have experienced, whether or not these crimes were ever formally reported. The report categorizes violence in several ways—differentiating serious assault from simple assault, for instance.

The good news is that robbery declined from 2017 to 2018. The not so good news is that every other category showed an increase.

Most of these increases were not statistically significant. For instance, the aggravated assault rate increased from 3.6 in 2017 to 3.8 per 1,000 people. The rate stood at 4.1, 3.0, and 3.8 for the previous years (2014, 2015, and 2016). These results show yearly fluctuations, and perhaps some slight cause for concern that crime is no longer falling, but do not exactly give cause for panic.

But the sexual assault spike is quite concerning. According to the 2018 survey, the rape/sexual assault rate almost doubled, from 1.4 to 2.7. That’s a massive increase in a single year.

The reason for this increase is not clear. It seems unlikely that the sexual assault rate would have actually doubled in a single year—2018—when it remained virtually unchanged for the seven previous years.

Here’s how the NCVS defines rape:

Coerced or forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category could include incidents where the penetration was from a foreign object such as a bottle. It includes attempted rape, threatened rape, male and female victims, and both heterosexual and same-sex incidents.

And here’s how it defines sexual assault:

A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape, attempted rape, or threatened rape. These crimes include attacks or threatened attacks involving unwanted sexual contact between the victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling.

The survey’s sexual assault definition—a “wide range of victimizations,” “unwanted sexual contact,” “may or may not involve force”—includes a wider spectrum of bad behavior than does its rape definition, and yet both kinds of violence end up lumped together. But the survey used the exact same language in 2018 as it did in 2017, so the spike cannot have been caused by a change in survey methodology.

Given the ongoing #MeToo movement, it’s possible that participants are more willing to report that they have been sexually assaulted, either because being victimized carries less stigma or because they are more likely to consider certain sorts of behavior to be assaults. But one would have expected that to show up as a more gradual increase, or at the very least to have seen some increase in 2017 as well.

So it’s hard to say how to interpret this. As John Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham, wrote on Twitter:

The Uniform Crime Report, which consults actual police reports, is due out in October; hopefully it will provide more information. For now, we have a mystery.

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2018 National Crime Victimization Survey Declares the Age of Declining Violence Over

The results of the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) were released last week. The report begins with a troubling observation: “The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years.”

But with one very notable exception—a massive and inexplicable increase in sexual assaults—this year’s findings aren’t statistically significant enough to support the claim that the era of declining violence is over.

The NCVS is conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and it does not rely on reports made to the police. Instead it surveys participants about the violence they have experienced, whether or not these crimes were ever formally reported. The report categorizes violence in several ways—differentiating serious assault from simple assault, for instance.

The good news is that robbery declined from 2017 to 2018. The not so good news is that every other category showed an increase.

Most of these increases were not statistically significant. For instance, the aggravated assault rate increased from 3.6 in 2017 to 3.8 per 1,000 people. The rate stood at 4.1, 3.0, and 3.8 for the previous years (2014, 2015, and 2016). These results show yearly fluctuations, and perhaps some slight cause for concern that crime is no longer falling, but do not exactly give cause for panic.

But the sexual assault spike is quite concerning. According to the 2018 survey, the rape/sexual assault rate almost doubled, from 1.4 to 2.7. That’s a massive increase in a single year.

The reason for this increase is not clear. It seems unlikely that the sexual assault rate would have actually doubled in a single year—2018—when it remained virtually unchanged for the seven previous years.

Here’s how the NCVS defines rape:

Coerced or forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category could include incidents where the penetration was from a foreign object such as a bottle. It includes attempted rape, threatened rape, male and female victims, and both heterosexual and same-sex incidents.

And here’s how it defines sexual assault:

A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape, attempted rape, or threatened rape. These crimes include attacks or threatened attacks involving unwanted sexual contact between the victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling.

The survey’s sexual assault definition—a “wide range of victimizations,” “unwanted sexual contact,” “may or may not involve force”—includes a wider spectrum of bad behavior than does its rape definition, and yet both kinds of violence end up lumped together. But the survey used the exact same language in 2018 as it did in 2017, so the spike cannot have been caused by a change in survey methodology.

Given the ongoing #MeToo movement, it’s possible that participants are more willing to report that they have been sexually assaulted, either because being victimized carries less stigma or because they are more likely to consider certain sorts of behavior to be assaults. But one would have expected that to show up as a more gradual increase, or at the very least to have seen some increase in 2017 as well.

So it’s hard to say how to interpret this. As John Pfaff, a professor of law at Fordham, wrote on Twitter:

The Uniform Crime Report, which consults actual police reports, is due out in October; hopefully it will provide more information. For now, we have a mystery.

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