No Arbitration of Claims Against Scientology After Plaintiffs Had Left the Church

From Bixler v. Superior Court, decided Wednesday by the California Court of Appeal (Justices Laurence Rubin, Carl Moor, and Lamar Baker):

Petitioners … are former members of the Church of Scientology who reported to the police that another Church member [Daniel Masterson] had raped them. They allege that, in retaliation for their reports, the Church encouraged its members to engage in a vicious campaign of harassment against them. {[T]hey state no cause of action against Masterson for sexual assault. Instead, they allege causes of action against all defendants for stalking, physical invasion of privacy, constructive invasion of privacy, [and] intentional infliction of emotional distress ….}

After petitioners brought suit in superior court against the Church and related entities and persons, some of those defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on agreements that provided all disputes with the Church would be resolved according to the Church’s own “Ethics, Justice and Binding Religious Arbitration system.” That system was created to decide matters “in accordance with Scientology principles of justice and fairness.” …

The contract on its face apparently applied to all litigation against the Church:

My freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion … in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities, regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.

But the court concluded that, as a matter of California law, the arbitration agreement couldn’t be enforced after the parties left the Church:

Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues….

According to plaintiffs, Scientology forbids members from contacting police to report a crime committed by a member. It instructs members that reporting such incidents is considered a “high crime” and subjects the reporting member to punishment. Scientology utilizes so-called “Fair Game” tactics to “attack, harass, embarrass, humiliate, destroy, and/or injure individuals who Defendants declare to be an enemy of Scientology, known in Scientology as a ‘Suppressive Person’ ….” Masterson is a television actor; Scientology granted him special treatment when he achieved “celebrity status.” To that end, Scientology worked to prevent plaintiffs from reporting Masterson’s crimes and, once they did, declared plaintiffs Suppressive Persons. Scientology then mobilized an aggressive Fair Game campaign against them.

While the Fair Game campaigns against each plaintiff differed, collectively plaintiffs allege Scientology’s agents committed the following acts against them: surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, hacked their email, killed (and attempted to kill) their pets, tapped their phones, incited others to harass them, threatened to kill them, broke their locks, broke into their cars, ran them off the road, posted fake ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers, broke their windows, set the outside of their home on fire, went through their trash, and poisoned trees in their yards. This conduct was alleged to be pursuant to Scientology’s policies and procedures.

According to plaintiffs’ complaint, Scientology’s directives are that Suppressive Persons are to be silenced by whatever means necessary. Scientology instructs members “to damage the person’s professional reputation, file frivolous lawsuits, and harass and surveil ‘the enemy.'” Scientology’s “policies and procedures encourage and/or instruct followers to ‘ruin [the individual] utterly.'” …

In addition to events occurring while still a Scientology member, each petitioner alleged an invasive Fair Game campaign occurring entirely after she had left the church. Bixler alleged that she formally terminated her relationship with the Church in October 2016, then reported Masterson to the police. It was only after her report that she was declared a Suppressive Person and she and her husband were subjected to the Fair Game campaign.

Jane Doe #1 learned in June 2005 that she had been declared a Suppressive Person and was no longer permitted to engage in religious services at the Church. More than a decade later (after she asked the LAPD to reopen its investigation into Masterson), the Church commenced its Fair Game campaign against her. Jane Doe #2 ceased practicing Scientology entirely in 2004. In 2017, she reported Masterson’s assault to the LAPD, at which point the Fair Game harassment began….

This case involves both petitioners’ First Amendment rights to leave a faith and Scientology’s right to resolve disputes with its members without court intervention. When applied to a dispute that arose after petitioners left the faith, and which can be resolved on neutral principles of tort law, we find petitioners’ right to leave the faith must control….

An individual possesses an “inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes her right to change her religious beliefs ….” “The constitutional freedom to question, to doubt, and to change one’s convictions, protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, is important for very pragmatic reasons. For most people, religious development is a lifelong dynamic process even when they continue to adhere to the same religion, denomination, or sect.”

California precedent counsels against enforcing agreements that would violate an individual’s right to change religions. The issue arose in In re Marriage of Weiss (Cal. Ct. App. 1996). There, prior to marrying her Jewish husband, a woman converted to Judaism and executed a written “Declaration of Faith,” in which she pledged to rear all their children “‘in loyalty to the Jewish faith and its practices.'” After the couple divorced, the woman returned to Christianity.  She was attending church and had enrolled the couple’s child in Sunday school. The child also attended a weekly club meeting at the church and had attended church summer camp. The father “acknowledged [the mother] had the right to expose the minor to her religion, but objected to the minor’s being indoctrinated in the Christian faith or being enrolled in any activity ‘that would be contrary to his Jewish faith.'”

The trial court refused to restrain the mother’s religious activity with the child. The father appealed, arguing the court erred in not enjoining the mother from engaging the child in Christian religious activity. The Court of Appeal affirmed, recognizing the rule in California that a parent cannot enjoin the other parent from involving their child in religious activities in the absence of a showing of harm to the child.

The father argued that the written antenuptial agreement should be enforced as an exception to that rule and that the mother should be bound by her promise. … [T]he Weiss court disagreed. The court concluded the agreement was legally unenforceable for two reasons: enforcement would result in improper judicial entanglement in religious matters and would violate the mother’s First Amendment right to change her religion.

As Presiding Justice Klein wrote, “Further, in view of [the mother’s] inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes the right to change her religious beliefs and to share those beliefs with her offspring, her antenuptial commitment to raise her children in [the father’s] faith is not legally enforceable for that reason as well.”  While a parent’s religious freedom may yield to other competing interests, “‘it may not be bargained away.’ [Citation.]” …

Just like written antenuptial agreements to raise children in a particular faith are not enforceable against a parent who has left the faith, Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for subsequent non-religious, tortious acts. To hold otherwise would bind members irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional right to leave….

Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable‘ agreement to ‘forever‘ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.

Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum—a sub silencio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high….

The Church of Scientology also argued that having this rule would discriminate against religious arbitration agreements, in favor of secular arbitration agreements. No, said the court, suggesting that a similar rule might apply to secular arbitration agreement as well:

[The Church] has provided no authority upholding an arbitration agreement ad infinitum, and the California case on which Scientology relies for this proposition is distinguishable. In Buckhorn v. St. Jude Heritage Medical Group (Cal. Ct. App. 2004), … [t]he Fourth District Court of Appeal [upheld an arbitration agreement provision in a contract], on the basis that his tort claims “stem[med] from the contractual relationship between the parties,” and were therefore within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Here, petitioners’ claims against Scientology do not stem from the contractual relationship; they stem from the alleged “Fair Game” campaign Scientology engaged in as retribution for reporting Masterson to police after they left the Church. This harassment allegedly arose because of petitioners’ relationship with Masterson and their reporting his conduct to police, not because of their prior affiliation with Scientology. Indeed, plaintiff Riales alleged a similar Fair Game campaign of harassment, and it is undisputed she was never a member….

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No Arbitration of Claims Against Scientology After Plaintiffs Had Left the Church

From Bixler v. Superior Court, decided Wednesday by the California Court of Appeal (Justices Laurence Rubin, Carl Moor, and Lamar Baker):

Petitioners … are former members of the Church of Scientology who reported to the police that another Church member [Daniel Masterson] had raped them. They allege that, in retaliation for their reports, the Church encouraged its members to engage in a vicious campaign of harassment against them. {[T]hey state no cause of action against Masterson for sexual assault. Instead, they allege causes of action against all defendants for stalking, physical invasion of privacy, constructive invasion of privacy, [and] intentional infliction of emotional distress ….}

After petitioners brought suit in superior court against the Church and related entities and persons, some of those defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on agreements that provided all disputes with the Church would be resolved according to the Church’s own “Ethics, Justice and Binding Religious Arbitration system.” That system was created to decide matters “in accordance with Scientology principles of justice and fairness.” …

The contract on its face apparently applied to all litigation against the Church:

My freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion … in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities, regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.

But the court concluded that, as a matter of California law, the arbitration agreement couldn’t be enforced after the parties left the Church:

Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues….

According to plaintiffs, Scientology forbids members from contacting police to report a crime committed by a member. It instructs members that reporting such incidents is considered a “high crime” and subjects the reporting member to punishment. Scientology utilizes so-called “Fair Game” tactics to “attack, harass, embarrass, humiliate, destroy, and/or injure individuals who Defendants declare to be an enemy of Scientology, known in Scientology as a ‘Suppressive Person’ ….” Masterson is a television actor; Scientology granted him special treatment when he achieved “celebrity status.” To that end, Scientology worked to prevent plaintiffs from reporting Masterson’s crimes and, once they did, declared plaintiffs Suppressive Persons. Scientology then mobilized an aggressive Fair Game campaign against them.

While the Fair Game campaigns against each plaintiff differed, collectively plaintiffs allege Scientology’s agents committed the following acts against them: surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, hacked their email, killed (and attempted to kill) their pets, tapped their phones, incited others to harass them, threatened to kill them, broke their locks, broke into their cars, ran them off the road, posted fake ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers, broke their windows, set the outside of their home on fire, went through their trash, and poisoned trees in their yards. This conduct was alleged to be pursuant to Scientology’s policies and procedures.

According to plaintiffs’ complaint, Scientology’s directives are that Suppressive Persons are to be silenced by whatever means necessary. Scientology instructs members “to damage the person’s professional reputation, file frivolous lawsuits, and harass and surveil ‘the enemy.'” Scientology’s “policies and procedures encourage and/or instruct followers to ‘ruin [the individual] utterly.'” …

In addition to events occurring while still a Scientology member, each petitioner alleged an invasive Fair Game campaign occurring entirely after she had left the church. Bixler alleged that she formally terminated her relationship with the Church in October 2016, then reported Masterson to the police. It was only after her report that she was declared a Suppressive Person and she and her husband were subjected to the Fair Game campaign.

Jane Doe #1 learned in June 2005 that she had been declared a Suppressive Person and was no longer permitted to engage in religious services at the Church. More than a decade later (after she asked the LAPD to reopen its investigation into Masterson), the Church commenced its Fair Game campaign against her. Jane Doe #2 ceased practicing Scientology entirely in 2004. In 2017, she reported Masterson’s assault to the LAPD, at which point the Fair Game harassment began….

This case involves both petitioners’ First Amendment rights to leave a faith and Scientology’s right to resolve disputes with its members without court intervention. When applied to a dispute that arose after petitioners left the faith, and which can be resolved on neutral principles of tort law, we find petitioners’ right to leave the faith must control….

An individual possesses an “inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes her right to change her religious beliefs ….” “The constitutional freedom to question, to doubt, and to change one’s convictions, protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, is important for very pragmatic reasons. For most people, religious development is a lifelong dynamic process even when they continue to adhere to the same religion, denomination, or sect.”

California precedent counsels against enforcing agreements that would violate an individual’s right to change religions. The issue arose in In re Marriage of Weiss (Cal. Ct. App. 1996). There, prior to marrying her Jewish husband, a woman converted to Judaism and executed a written “Declaration of Faith,” in which she pledged to rear all their children “‘in loyalty to the Jewish faith and its practices.'” After the couple divorced, the woman returned to Christianity.  She was attending church and had enrolled the couple’s child in Sunday school. The child also attended a weekly club meeting at the church and had attended church summer camp. The father “acknowledged [the mother] had the right to expose the minor to her religion, but objected to the minor’s being indoctrinated in the Christian faith or being enrolled in any activity ‘that would be contrary to his Jewish faith.'”

The trial court refused to restrain the mother’s religious activity with the child. The father appealed, arguing the court erred in not enjoining the mother from engaging the child in Christian religious activity. The Court of Appeal affirmed, recognizing the rule in California that a parent cannot enjoin the other parent from involving their child in religious activities in the absence of a showing of harm to the child.

The father argued that the written antenuptial agreement should be enforced as an exception to that rule and that the mother should be bound by her promise. … [T]he Weiss court disagreed. The court concluded the agreement was legally unenforceable for two reasons: enforcement would result in improper judicial entanglement in religious matters and would violate the mother’s First Amendment right to change her religion.

As Presiding Justice Klein wrote, “Further, in view of [the mother’s] inalienable First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which includes the right to change her religious beliefs and to share those beliefs with her offspring, her antenuptial commitment to raise her children in [the father’s] faith is not legally enforceable for that reason as well.”  While a parent’s religious freedom may yield to other competing interests, “‘it may not be bargained away.’ [Citation.]” …

Just like written antenuptial agreements to raise children in a particular faith are not enforceable against a parent who has left the faith, Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for subsequent non-religious, tortious acts. To hold otherwise would bind members irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional right to leave….

Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable‘ agreement to ‘forever‘ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.

Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum—a sub silencio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high….

The Church of Scientology also argued that having this rule would discriminate against religious arbitration agreements, in favor of secular arbitration agreements. No, said the court, suggesting that a similar rule might apply to secular arbitration agreement as well:

[The Church] has provided no authority upholding an arbitration agreement ad infinitum, and the California case on which Scientology relies for this proposition is distinguishable. In Buckhorn v. St. Jude Heritage Medical Group (Cal. Ct. App. 2004), … [t]he Fourth District Court of Appeal [upheld an arbitration agreement provision in a contract], on the basis that his tort claims “stem[med] from the contractual relationship between the parties,” and were therefore within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Here, petitioners’ claims against Scientology do not stem from the contractual relationship; they stem from the alleged “Fair Game” campaign Scientology engaged in as retribution for reporting Masterson to police after they left the Church. This harassment allegedly arose because of petitioners’ relationship with Masterson and their reporting his conduct to police, not because of their prior affiliation with Scientology. Indeed, plaintiff Riales alleged a similar Fair Game campaign of harassment, and it is undisputed she was never a member….

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New York’s Liquor Store Lobby Fights Against To-Go Drink Sales by Bars, Restaurants


zumaamericasthirtythree476207

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced this month that she hopes to make permanent the relaxed to-go alcohol rules her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo adopted in March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. As the name suggests, the looser rules allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol beverages to go.

When the governor announced her proposal during her first annual State of the State address earlier this month, it was met mostly with applause. Leaders in the hospitality industry, which has been devastated by a one-two punch of Covid cases and related government restrictions, raised a glass to toast the plan.

“Cheers to Governor Hochul for announcing her support to permanently bring back drinks to go at restaurants and bars,” said New York City Hospitality Alliance head Andrew Rigie. “The drinks to go policy provides critically important revenue streams to struggling restaurants and bars and is extraordinarily popular with the public, unsurprisingly.”

Covid-era alcohol deregulation has served to provide a rare bit of welcome news during otherwise lousy times, as I explained in a July 2020 column applauding states for legalizing to-go drinks. Those states liked their to-go laws, too. Indeed, many commentators are confident alcohol-to-go sales are here to stay. And with good reason. Dozens of states around the country relaxed rules for to-go alcohol, including cocktails. While some states have reversed those gains, most haven’t. Over the summer, various outlets reported that at least a dozen states had made their to-go booze rules permanent.

New York State’s situation is a bit of an outlier. As The Hill explained in the wake of Hochul’s announcement, Cuomo actually let the state’s to-go drinks rules expire in June, months before he was forced to resign. Hochul’s move would not only bring back the exemption but also make it permanent.

But Hochul’s plans, while they’ve garnered widespread support, are facing some serious if predictable pushback in the form of powerful liquor store interests in New York State. That’s not a big surprise. As CNBC reported in May, liquor store lobbies have comprised the leading opposition against to-go cocktail legislation around the country. In New York State, liquor store interest groups are singing a familiar, sky-is-falling tune.

“This proposal will devastate our liquor stores, create a public health crisis, increase DWI incidents and underage sales, and upset the on- and off-premise system of distribution and sale of alcohol,” reads a hyperventilating statement by MetroPSA, a New York liquor-store lobby, that was reported by Wine Spectator last week.

Those claims are largely false, nebulous, and overblown. “Is there a downside to loosening booze rules?” I asked in 2020. “I don’t think so. While data suggest Americans have increased our alcohol consumption during the pandemic, harms tied to alcohol have also decreased. For example, data show drunk driving arrests are ‘down dramatically’ during the same period.”

Notably, some critics have rightly suggested that Hochul’s proposal doesn’t do enough or go far enough, or do much to reform the state’s outdated liquor laws. Steve Barnes, the Times Union‘s restaurant critic, explained in a great column last week that notes Hochul’s proposal seems to exclude tasting rooms, which had been part of Cuomo’s to-go plan and which are angry over having been excluded by the current governor’s remarks. Barnes also explains that making to-go alcohol sales permanent is just one of many necessary steps New York State lawmakers should take to improve the regulatory climate for producers and consumers in the state. Lamenting the fact that “corners of the state’s archaic booze laws still remain unaddressed,” Barnes explains, for example, that most alcohol producers in the state can’t ship directly to consumers in the state. 

As Barnes suggests, the least New York State lawmakers should do is pass a new, permanent law that allows bars, restaurants, tasting rooms, and other alcohol producers and sellers in the state sell drinks to go. Once they’ve done that, lawmakers should get to work on making other meaningful and lasting alcohol reforms that give sellers and buyers more choices.

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New York’s Liquor Store Lobby Fights Against To-Go Drink Sales by Bars, Restaurants


zumaamericasthirtythree476207

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced this month that she hopes to make permanent the relaxed to-go alcohol rules her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo adopted in March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. As the name suggests, the looser rules allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol beverages to go.

When the governor announced her proposal during her first annual State of the State address earlier this month, it was met mostly with applause. Leaders in the hospitality industry, which has been devastated by a one-two punch of Covid cases and related government restrictions, raised a glass to toast the plan.

“Cheers to Governor Hochul for announcing her support to permanently bring back drinks to go at restaurants and bars,” said New York City Hospitality Alliance head Andrew Rigie. “The drinks to go policy provides critically important revenue streams to struggling restaurants and bars and is extraordinarily popular with the public, unsurprisingly.”

Covid-era alcohol deregulation has served to provide a rare bit of welcome news during otherwise lousy times, as I explained in a July 2020 column applauding states for legalizing to-go drinks. Those states liked their to-go laws, too. Indeed, many commentators are confident alcohol-to-go sales are here to stay. And with good reason. Dozens of states around the country relaxed rules for to-go alcohol, including cocktails. While some states have reversed those gains, most haven’t. Over the summer, various outlets reported that at least a dozen states had made their to-go booze rules permanent.

New York State’s situation is a bit of an outlier. As The Hill explained in the wake of Hochul’s announcement, Cuomo actually let the state’s to-go drinks rules expire in June, months before he was forced to resign. Hochul’s move would not only bring back the exemption but also make it permanent.

But Hochul’s plans, while they’ve garnered widespread support, are facing some serious if predictable pushback in the form of powerful liquor store interests in New York State. That’s not a big surprise. As CNBC reported in May, liquor store lobbies have comprised the leading opposition against to-go cocktail legislation around the country. In New York State, liquor store interest groups are singing a familiar, sky-is-falling tune.

“This proposal will devastate our liquor stores, create a public health crisis, increase DWI incidents and underage sales, and upset the on- and off-premise system of distribution and sale of alcohol,” reads a hyperventilating statement by MetroPSA, a New York liquor-store lobby, that was reported by Wine Spectator last week.

Those claims are largely false, nebulous, and overblown. “Is there a downside to loosening booze rules?” I asked in 2020. “I don’t think so. While data suggest Americans have increased our alcohol consumption during the pandemic, harms tied to alcohol have also decreased. For example, data show drunk driving arrests are ‘down dramatically’ during the same period.”

Notably, some critics have rightly suggested that Hochul’s proposal doesn’t do enough or go far enough, or do much to reform the state’s outdated liquor laws. Steve Barnes, the Times Union‘s restaurant critic, explained in a great column last week that notes Hochul’s proposal seems to exclude tasting rooms, which had been part of Cuomo’s to-go plan and which are angry over having been excluded by the current governor’s remarks. Barnes also explains that making to-go alcohol sales permanent is just one of many necessary steps New York State lawmakers should take to improve the regulatory climate for producers and consumers in the state. Lamenting the fact that “corners of the state’s archaic booze laws still remain unaddressed,” Barnes explains, for example, that most alcohol producers in the state can’t ship directly to consumers in the state. 

As Barnes suggests, the least New York State lawmakers should do is pass a new, permanent law that allows bars, restaurants, tasting rooms, and other alcohol producers and sellers in the state sell drinks to go. Once they’ve done that, lawmakers should get to work on making other meaningful and lasting alcohol reforms that give sellers and buyers more choices.

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Two Years Without Twitter

On January 22, 2020, I decided to take a brief hiatus from Twitter. I made this decision shortly before the New York Times published my op-ed on impeachment. (Remember the first impeachment?!). I did not know how long my self-imposed exile would last, or whether I would have the discipline to stick with it.

Two years later, I am proud to be Twitter free. I still post links to my posts. I will click on a link to a tweet a friend sent me. And I occasionally use the direct messaging feature. But I never scroll through the timeline. I never check my notifications. If you’ve @’d me over the past year, I haven’t seen it. If you’ve screen-shotted my work to subtweet me, I have no clue. I suspect the fact that I do not respond emboldens some people to @ me with righteous indignation. More power to them.

Last year, when I marked my first year of Twitter sobriety, I commented:

In hindsight, I quit Twitter at just the right time. I missed the Senate impeachment trial. I missed the pandemic. I missed Blue June. I missed the racial justice marches over the summer. I missed the election. I missed the election litigation. I missed January 6, 2021. Yet, I was able to stay remarkably well informed. And, I would say, much happier and saner. Plus I have more time. I suspect I save hours every week–time much better spent elsewhere.

The past year, thankfully, has been less eventful. The impeachment trial was over in a blink of an eye. And the Biden administration has been refreshingly boring. Yes, we are still stuck in a pandemic, and the Supreme Court is still deciding COVID cases. Hopefully this time next year, we can all get back to regular order.

You should try and quit Twitter. Stop checking your timeline. Stop checking your notifications. The world will continue. And you can avoid the awful cesspool.

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Two Years Without Twitter

On January 22, 2020, I decided to take a brief hiatus from Twitter. I made this decision shortly before the New York Times published my op-ed on impeachment. (Remember the first impeachment?!). I did not know how long my self-imposed exile would last, or whether I would have the discipline to stick with it.

Two years later, I am proud to be Twitter free. I still post links to my posts. I will click on a link to a tweet a friend sent me. And I occasionally use the direct messaging feature. But I never scroll through the timeline. I never check my notifications. If you’ve @’d me over the past year, I haven’t seen it. If you’ve screen-shotted my work to subtweet me, I have no clue. I suspect the fact that I do not respond emboldens some people to @ me with righteous indignation. More power to them.

Last year, when I marked my first year of Twitter sobriety, I commented:

In hindsight, I quit Twitter at just the right time. I missed the Senate impeachment trial. I missed the pandemic. I missed Blue June. I missed the racial justice marches over the summer. I missed the election. I missed the election litigation. I missed January 6, 2021. Yet, I was able to stay remarkably well informed. And, I would say, much happier and saner. Plus I have more time. I suspect I save hours every week–time much better spent elsewhere.

The past year, thankfully, has been less eventful. The impeachment trial was over in a blink of an eye. And the Biden administration has been refreshingly boring. Yes, we are still stuck in a pandemic, and the Supreme Court is still deciding COVID cases. Hopefully this time next year, we can all get back to regular order.

You should try and quit Twitter. Stop checking your timeline. Stop checking your notifications. The world will continue. And you can avoid the awful cesspool.

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The Real-World Conflicts in Yellowstone Can Be Solved by Markets, Not Drama


Yellowstone-11

Yellowstone, the modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner, is one of the most popular shows right now. The series, which just wrapped up its fourth season, follows Costner’s John Dutton as he fights to preserve his family’s way of life on a sprawling ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley. The action-packed drama has captured the attention of Americans across the country—many of them in small-market towns and cities in “flyover” states.

The show’s popularity—with its sometimes corny dialogue and Middle America–focused themes—has media elites scratching their heads. Vox called it “a watchable yet almost relentlessly three-out-of-five-stars TV show” and lamented that it “is not particularly interested in saying anything grand or sweeping about the world.” HBO’s Succession, which has a similar family business legacy theme, is an Emmy-winning darling of media critics, but it draws only a fraction of Yellowstone‘s viewership. Just 1.7 million viewers tuned in to Succession‘s season finale last month, compared to more than 11 million for Yellowstone‘s. A Yellowstone prequel starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill that debuted last month, 1883, drew nearly 5 million viewers, making it the largest cable premiere since 2015.

Yellowstone‘s appeal, along with the apparent disinterest of the chattering class, reveals familiar red-state–blue-state cultural divisions. The show isn’t moralizing or preachy. But part of its appeal is how it features real-world issues facing heartland communities—topics that are often unfamiliar, or poorly understood, by coastal critics who might perceive Yellowstone as lowbrow.

Consider the show’s depiction of the tensions between urban and rural communities—whether in the context of disputes over water rights, property boundaries, or wildlife interactions. Our organization, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), which is based in Bozeman, Montana, near where Yellowstone takes place, recently published an entire magazine issue exploring issues in the show. Many of the plotlines involve big-city developers or transplants butting heads with locals who see the outsiders as a threat to their traditions and livelihoods, and the result is usually conflict instead of cooperation.

For instance, in the series premiere, developers from California sit in a Bozeman conference room looking over their plans to build a subdivision next to the Duttons’ ranch. When one wonders whether they can unilaterally dam a river, diverting it from the ranch to supply their vacation-home development with water and power, another says: “On our land, it’s our river. This isn’t California, gentlemen. This is Montana. We can do whatever we want.” It’s fantasy—a sophisticated Western water rights system known as prior appropriation emerged more than a century ago to preclude such a conflict-ridden approach—but it captures the urbanite-elite disdain for traditional ways of life that Yellowstone so often illustrates.

Take another example: the Duttons’ constant challenges with federal endangered species regulations. At various times throughout the show, the Endangered Species Act is either hamstringing the Duttons’ cattle-ranching business or being used by their adversaries as a weapon to remove them from the land. In one scene, a lawyer for a real estate investor devises a plan to use environmental regulations to attack the family with “a thousand little cuts.” In another, one of the Duttons’ cowboys shoots an endangered grizzly bear in self-defense, prompting a protracted investigation and an attempt by the Duttons to avoid legal punishment under the Endangered Species Act.

The basic problem with the Endangered Species Act is that it penalizes landowners who, like the Duttons, provide habitat for imperiled species. The show shines a light on the urban-rural divide between animal-loving city dwellers who want to save species and the rural landowners who bear the costs of doing so. This often pits endangered wildlife against landowners and leads to a “shoot, shovel, and shut up” approach that is bad for species as well as people. “When someone kills a bear,” says the local sheriff in the grizzly bear scene, “10,000 vegans send letters to their congressmen. You should have buried that thing in a hole before I got here because I ain’t the problem—the feds are!”

Other scenes depict challenges associated with wolves and livestock. As wolf populations have rebounded throughout much of the American West in recent decades, some states have created funds to compensate ranchers for livestock lost to wolves and other predators. Such programs have helped ranchers mitigate some of the costs of living with wolves, but they do little to turn wolves into economic assets in the eyes of rural landowners. For wolf recovery to be sustainable, strategies will need to benefit the local communities that bear the costs of providing habitat for the predators.

Similar issues are playing out in real time. Montana and Wyoming have both recently petitioned the feds to remove grizzly populations from the federal endangered species list, citing dramatic recoveries in recent decades and growing conflicts with rural landowners and residents. Despite attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist Yellowstone grizzlies dating back to 2005, the species remains listed in the region due to protracted litigation from environmentalists. Meanwhile, controversies over recent wolf-killing measures adopted in Montana and Idaho are prompting calls to relist wolves, which had previously been delisted. And in 2020, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to reintroduce wolves in the state—in what amounted to a stark urban-rural split—angering rural residents who will bear the costs. Grim us-versus-them outlooks over wildlife turn disputes about species into all-or-nothing battles, ultimately undermining landowners’ incentives to help recover wildlife.

Strife doesn’t have to triumph. In the real-life Paradise Valley in Montana, ranchers face many of the same challenges as the Duttons—pressures to subdivide, the reality of being land-rich but cash-poor, and modern global economic shifts that increasingly make it difficult to stay in the business of bringing beef to market. To help address such challenges while also promoting conservation, PERC recently launched a new tool to reward landowners for providing wildlife habitat, funded entirely by local groups interested in conserving iconic Yellowstone wildlife. Last fall, we partnered with one ranch family to create the state’s first-ever “elk occupancy agreement“—a voluntary contract that compensates the family for setting aside 500 acres of land as winter habitat for the valley’s migratory elk herds.

Other similar free market arrangements are in the works in the valley, all with the same goal: to reward private landowners who voluntarily conserve habitat that does not benefit just them but also serves as a boon to Bozemanites and even faraway out of staters, many of whom may never vote the same way they would. More new tools will be needed to replace controversy with cooperation, and connect animal-loving urbanites to ranchers who provide habitat, especially given the national backdrop of polarized red-county–blue-county politics. Even as it exaggerates conflict on the screen, Yellowstone frequently alludes to the underlying institutions that are supposed to help settle conflicts over water, land, and other resources. While the show often chooses violence, we shouldn’t have to in the real world.

“There’s a war being waged against our way of life,” John Dutton says in the latest season. For many people across the country, this sentiment rings true. Yellowstone captures it, and, in the process, the attention of more viewers than most other television series. Media critics, along with conservationists and policy makers who care about these issues in the real world, dismiss it at their own peril.

The post The Real-World Conflicts in <i>Yellowstone</i> Can Be Solved by Markets, Not Drama appeared first on Reason.com.

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The Real-World Conflicts in Yellowstone Can Be Solved by Markets, Not Drama


Yellowstone-11

Yellowstone, the modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner, is one of the most popular shows right now. The series, which just wrapped up its fourth season, follows Costner’s John Dutton as he fights to preserve his family’s way of life on a sprawling ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley. The action-packed drama has captured the attention of Americans across the country—many of them in small-market towns and cities in “flyover” states.

The show’s popularity—with its sometimes corny dialogue and Middle America–focused themes—has media elites scratching their heads. Vox called it “a watchable yet almost relentlessly three-out-of-five-stars TV show” and lamented that it “is not particularly interested in saying anything grand or sweeping about the world.” HBO’s Succession, which has a similar family business legacy theme, is an Emmy-winning darling of media critics, but it draws only a fraction of Yellowstone‘s viewership. Just 1.7 million viewers tuned in to Succession‘s season finale last month, compared to more than 11 million for Yellowstone‘s. A Yellowstone prequel starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill that debuted last month, 1883, drew nearly 5 million viewers, making it the largest cable premiere since 2015.

Yellowstone‘s appeal, along with the apparent disinterest of the chattering class, reveals familiar red-state–blue-state cultural divisions. The show isn’t moralizing or preachy. But part of its appeal is how it features real-world issues facing heartland communities—topics that are often unfamiliar, or poorly understood, by coastal critics who might perceive Yellowstone as lowbrow.

Consider the show’s depiction of the tensions between urban and rural communities—whether in the context of disputes over water rights, property boundaries, or wildlife interactions. Our organization, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), which is based in Bozeman, Montana, near where Yellowstone takes place, recently published an entire magazine issue exploring issues in the show. Many of the plotlines involve big-city developers or transplants butting heads with locals who see the outsiders as a threat to their traditions and livelihoods, and the result is usually conflict instead of cooperation.

For instance, in the series premiere, developers from California sit in a Bozeman conference room looking over their plans to build a subdivision next to the Duttons’ ranch. When one wonders whether they can unilaterally dam a river, diverting it from the ranch to supply their vacation-home development with water and power, another says: “On our land, it’s our river. This isn’t California, gentlemen. This is Montana. We can do whatever we want.” It’s fantasy—a sophisticated Western water rights system known as prior appropriation emerged more than a century ago to preclude such a conflict-ridden approach—but it captures the urbanite-elite disdain for traditional ways of life that Yellowstone so often illustrates.

Take another example: the Duttons’ constant challenges with federal endangered species regulations. At various times throughout the show, the Endangered Species Act is either hamstringing the Duttons’ cattle-ranching business or being used by their adversaries as a weapon to remove them from the land. In one scene, a lawyer for a real estate investor devises a plan to use environmental regulations to attack the family with “a thousand little cuts.” In another, one of the Duttons’ cowboys shoots an endangered grizzly bear in self-defense, prompting a protracted investigation and an attempt by the Duttons to avoid legal punishment under the Endangered Species Act.

The basic problem with the Endangered Species Act is that it penalizes landowners who, like the Duttons, provide habitat for imperiled species. The show shines a light on the urban-rural divide between animal-loving city dwellers who want to save species and the rural landowners who bear the costs of doing so. This often pits endangered wildlife against landowners and leads to a “shoot, shovel, and shut up” approach that is bad for species as well as people. “When someone kills a bear,” says the local sheriff in the grizzly bear scene, “10,000 vegans send letters to their congressmen. You should have buried that thing in a hole before I got here because I ain’t the problem—the feds are!”

Other scenes depict challenges associated with wolves and livestock. As wolf populations have rebounded throughout much of the American West in recent decades, some states have created funds to compensate ranchers for livestock lost to wolves and other predators. Such programs have helped ranchers mitigate some of the costs of living with wolves, but they do little to turn wolves into economic assets in the eyes of rural landowners. For wolf recovery to be sustainable, strategies will need to benefit the local communities that bear the costs of providing habitat for the predators.

Similar issues are playing out in real time. Montana and Wyoming have both recently petitioned the feds to remove grizzly populations from the federal endangered species list, citing dramatic recoveries in recent decades and growing conflicts with rural landowners and residents. Despite attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist Yellowstone grizzlies dating back to 2005, the species remains listed in the region due to protracted litigation from environmentalists. Meanwhile, controversies over recent wolf-killing measures adopted in Montana and Idaho are prompting calls to relist wolves, which had previously been delisted. And in 2020, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure to reintroduce wolves in the state—in what amounted to a stark urban-rural split—angering rural residents who will bear the costs. Grim us-versus-them outlooks over wildlife turn disputes about species into all-or-nothing battles, ultimately undermining landowners’ incentives to help recover wildlife.

Strife doesn’t have to triumph. In the real-life Paradise Valley in Montana, ranchers face many of the same challenges as the Duttons—pressures to subdivide, the reality of being land-rich but cash-poor, and modern global economic shifts that increasingly make it difficult to stay in the business of bringing beef to market. To help address such challenges while also promoting conservation, PERC recently launched a new tool to reward landowners for providing wildlife habitat, funded entirely by local groups interested in conserving iconic Yellowstone wildlife. Last fall, we partnered with one ranch family to create the state’s first-ever “elk occupancy agreement“—a voluntary contract that compensates the family for setting aside 500 acres of land as winter habitat for the valley’s migratory elk herds.

Other similar free market arrangements are in the works in the valley, all with the same goal: to reward private landowners who voluntarily conserve habitat that does not benefit just them but also serves as a boon to Bozemanites and even faraway out of staters, many of whom may never vote the same way they would. More new tools will be needed to replace controversy with cooperation, and connect animal-loving urbanites to ranchers who provide habitat, especially given the national backdrop of polarized red-county–blue-county politics. Even as it exaggerates conflict on the screen, Yellowstone frequently alludes to the underlying institutions that are supposed to help settle conflicts over water, land, and other resources. While the show often chooses violence, we shouldn’t have to in the real world.

“There’s a war being waged against our way of life,” John Dutton says in the latest season. For many people across the country, this sentiment rings true. Yellowstone captures it, and, in the process, the attention of more viewers than most other television series. Media critics, along with conservationists and policy makers who care about these issues in the real world, dismiss it at their own peril.

The post The Real-World Conflicts in <i>Yellowstone</i> Can Be Solved by Markets, Not Drama appeared first on Reason.com.

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