Taxpayer-funded bonds sold to raise revenue for parks and schools in cash-strapped Detroit will instead be used to lure its professional basketball team back into the city.
The Detroit Pistons have played out in the suburbs (first in Pontiac, now in Auburn Hills) since 1977, but will relocate to a new downtown arena thanks to $34 million in incentives approved by the Detroit City Council.
Taxpayers are already on the hook for more than $300 million of the $900 million construction cost for new Little Caesars Arena, built to host the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League. The additional spending will make the arena suitable for basketball and help pay for new practice facility and front office for the Pistons.
Michigan Radio reported this week that "some Detroiters are unhappy with the deal because the bonds are taxpayer funded with money originally intended for schools and parks."
As well they should be. In a city still recovering from bankruptcy, local officials might have found better ways to use $34 million. It's a fair question whether government should be spending money on parks and schools, but it's certainly a more core function than throwing cash at billionaire team owners. Tom Gores, who owns the Pistons, is worth an estimated $3.3 billion.
But it gets worse. As the Detroit Free Press reported earlier this month, local activists filed a lawsuit to block the stadium spending. The city asked the judge to dismiss the case, making several laughable claims about why it was essential to spend money on the stadium project, instead of using the money to help fund the city's public schools (which are $500 million in debt, by the way).
Stopping the project, the city's attorneys argued, would be "devastating" to Detroit's "remarkable comeback story."
"Post-bankruptcy, the city cannot expect lenders to extend unsecured credit at reasonable rates, so its debt has been limited to secured transactions, tied to specific revenue streams," the attorneys write. "The default on any of that debt would significantly affect the ability of the city to attract investors. The city is currently engaged in a bond offering to raise funds to rebuild neighborhoods. A default on DDA's debt would certainly increase the costs and could possibly derail the plan completely."
As Deadspin noted this week, this is disingenuous nonsense. The city's attorneys are essentially arguing that not giving millions of dollars to the Pistons' billionaire owner would jeopardize Detroit's entire economic recovery.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
The next time you see a headline about how woefully underfunded Detroit's schools are or hear about appeals for additional state and federal funding, think about how its city leaders prioritize a finite amount of tax revenue. Detroit's rickety fiscal situation is the result of decades of poor choices, from which it appears the current leadership has learned nothing.
TRUMP: The Complete Collection, edited by Denis Kitchen, Dark Horse Books, 184 pages, $29.99
Trump?the title of which, I feel compelled to point out, has nothing to do with the current POTUS?was an illustrated satirical magazine edited by Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman and published by Playboy's Hugh Hefner. Both men were young, very ambitious, and perhaps a little too idealistic. Thanks partly to a storm of unforeseen business woes that almost destroyed the Playboy empire and partly to Kurtzman and Hefner's generosity toward their contributors, the publication lasted for only two issues, one released in 1956 and the other in 1957. The result, on display in a new collection edited and annotated by Denis Kitchen, was a tragic might-have-been, writes Peter Bagge.
View this article.
When economists talk in their sleep, they say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This axiom is drilled into them from day one of their undergraduate education and never leaves their minds. Any economist who tried to deny it would find herself suddenly choking in pain and unable to speak. What it means is that if the government does something that costs money, some human somewhere will bear the expense. "Free" public schools, "free" parks, and "free" roads all have to be paid for by the citizenry. Collectively, we can't get something for nothing.
This useful insight has long been offered as an objection to costly government programs. But it applies as well to measures that extract savings from costly government programs. In their replacement of Obamacare, congressional Republicans promise to achieve greater frugality in Medicaid, which helps low-income Americans, without inflicting more hardship. The melancholy truth, writes Steve Chapman, is that it's not gonna happen.
View this article.
Alcohol regulations in this country could improve dramatically if more state courts would reject bald economic protectionism as a valid basis for lawmaking. That's the conclusion of a new study published last week by the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.
The new study, Could Economic Liberty Litigation 'Free the Booze'?, uses the hook of a recent South Carolina court case to suggest?hopefully?that we may be seeing the dawn of a new period of much-needed state alcohol deregulation.
The lawsuit in question concerned section 61-6-140 of South Carolina's Alcohol Beverage Control Act, which stated that "[n]o more than three retail dealer licenses may be issued to one licensee[.]" The case involved national alcohol beverage superstore Total Wine, which owns three locations in South Carolina but was rebuffed by the state in its efforts to open a fourth. Total Wine sued to overturn the South Carolina law.
The state, the court found, "offer[ed] economic protectionism as the sole justification of this extreme business regulation." The court determined the state's "only justification for these provisions is that they support small businesses." Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin explains more.
View this article.
"There's a huge story to be told," says Anthony Lappé, "about the actual extent of the U.S. government's involvement in drug trafficking."
And that's exactly the story Lappé and his co-producers Julian Hobbs and Elli Hakami tell in a mesmerizing four-part series that debuted this week on cable TV's History Channel. Through dramatic recreations and in-depth interviews with academic researchers, historians, journalists, former federal agents, and drug dealers, America's War on Drugs (watch full episodes online here) tells true tales of how, for instance, the CIA and Department of Defense helped to introduce LSD to Americans in the 1950s.
"The CIA literally sent over two guys to Sandoz Laboratories where LSD had first been synthesized and bought up the world's supply of LSD and brought it back," Lappé tells Nick Gillespie in a wide-ranging conversation about the longest war the U.S. government has fought. "With that supply they began a [secret mind-control] program called MK Ultra which had all sorts of other drugs involved."
The different episodes cover the history of drug prohibition, the rise of the '60s drug counterculture; heroin epidemics past and present; how drug policy has warped U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and beyond; the bipartisan politics of prohibition; and much more. America's War on Drugs features exclusive and rarely seen footage and documents how, time and time again, the government was often facilitating trade and use in the very drugs it was trying to stamp out. The show's website adds articles, short videos, and more information in an attempt to produce an "immersive experience" that will change how viewers think and feel about prohibition.
Lappé, who has worked at Vice, Huffington Post, and elsewhere, tells Gillespie that he is particulary excited to see his series air on the History Channel because it's an indicator the drug-policy reform is in the air. Though not a libertarian himself, he says "a great trait of libertarianism...is that knowledge and reason will eventually win out over keeping things in the dark, making things taboo." Even when it veers off into questionable territory (such as the role of the government in creating the crack epidemic of the 1980s), America's War on Drugs performs the invaluable function of furthering a conversation about drug policies and attitudes that have caused far more harm than they have alleviated.
Audio production by Ian Keyser.
Image: America's War on Drugs, History Channel.
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This is a rush transcript?check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there.
Today we're talking with Anthony Lappe who along with Julian Hobbs and Elli Hakami has produced a four part docuseries called America's War on Drugs for the History Channel. You can go to history.com to watch the series and read more about our country's longest war. The series aired this week and it will be in reruns on History Channel, so check it out there.
Anthony, thanks for joining the Reason podcast.
Anthony Lappe: It's great to be here Nick.
Gillespie: Give us the big picture first. Who's your audience for this and what do you hope to bring to people through the docuseries?
Lappe: The exciting thing about this project really is the fact that it's on the History Channel. I honestly didn't believe it was actually going to air until it started airing on Sunday night and I was sitting there watching it because what we do here is actually pretty radical. I don't think anyone has ever really told this story fully on mainstream cable television before. We take a very critical look at the entire history of the war on drugs. In particular, looking at American foreign policy and how the Central Intelligence Agency is not just been involved in a couple of bad apples here and there. In couple rogue operations as a lot of these drug trafficking allegations have been called before.
But actually very directly involved in drug trafficking not only drug trafficking but in the largest drug trafficking stories of our time. Whether that's in the secret tests that introduced LSD to the United States or heroin during the late 60's and early 70's from southeast Asia, to cocaine during the late 70's and early 80's onto opium and heroin coming out of Afghanistan. There's a huge story to be told there about the actual extent of the US government's involvement in drug trafficking.
Gillespie: Let's talk first about the old days of MK Ultra and mind control and the way that the CIA actually helped introduce LSD evolved drugs into America, to American minds. What was going on in the 50's with the CIA and how did they become involved in introducing LSD to Americans?
Lappe: This is a story that a lot of your listeners may have heard about, people have heard about MK Ultra and I had as well, but I never really understood the full origins of the story. They go all the way back to the 1950's. During the 1950's of course, US and the Soviet Union are locked in a battle for hearts and minds around the world and psychoactive drugs were a big part of the Cold War psychological warfare programs on both sides.
The CIA had heard rumors that the Soviet Union was starting to use LSD at this point as a truth serum to see if they could break spies and get them to expose details, admit they were spies et cetera. The CIA literally sent over two guys to Sandoz Laboratories where LSD had first been synthesized and bought up the world's supply of LSD and brought it back. With that supply they began a program called MK Ultra which had all sorts of other drugs involved.
In particular they started doing secret tests around the country. Some of them using in veteran's hospitals and through the military. Others were in mental hospitals, a lot of basic, pretty much a lot of them were unwitting people, mental patients. But one of the incredible stories we found, I never knew this before, is that Ken Kesey, famously the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and really the guy who started the famous acid tests in the San Francisco Bay area, it was really the godfather of acid movement. As a Stanford grad student, or sorry an undergrad, was part of a test at the Menlo Park Veteran's hospital. Loved it so much that he got a job in the lab, stole all the acid, went up to San Francisco and started his acid test. That was the origins of how LSD was introduced into United States. This was also happening in other places around the country. It was just that Ken Kesey was the progenitor of the entire movement. It literally was the CIA.
Gillespie: That is a real challenge to all good thinking Libertarians like myself. Small L Libertarians who say that the government can never do anything right. The manage to strangely change the course, not of, I guess maybe of Cold War history, but certainly of American cultural history through their actions. The first episode of the series, and again check these out on history.com, the History Channel if you have, you can download their app and take a look at it. Plus there's other material there that's well worth delving into.
You look at the prehistory of Richard Nixon's declaration of a war on drugs in the early 70's, what were some of the motivating factors you found behind Nixon declaring war on drugs? Very early in the 70's he talked about, famously used the phrase, declaring a war on drugs, that illegals drugs were the number one enemy facing America. What was going on, things like pot and acid and heroin rose to that level of attention from the federal government?
Lappe: You really had two strains happening. You had the psychedelic movement which was heavily influenced by acid which the CIA itself had introduced, which is just my blowing right. Then you had pot as well which basically increasing numbers of young people were smoking. Nixon declares famously this war on drugs in June 1971. At the same time there was a massive heroin epidemic that really was ravaging mostly the eastern seaboard. What a lot people don't realize is that too in part, you could argue another case of blow back from our own operations.
During the mid 60's to late 60's there was a famous, everyone knows, a war against communist forces in Vietnam but also next door there was a gigantic secret war happening in Laos that officially we were not supposed to be fighting. Both politically it was radioactive for Johnson to declare another front but there were also treaties that said that we couldn't have troops on the ground both with Laos and we had an agreement, a sort of tacit agreement with the Soviet Union they wouldn't put troops on the ground.
There was a massive clandestine CIA operation in Laos running this secret war. People have probably heard of this CIA airline called Air America. Basically we go into business helping a local warlord named Vang Pao. When we started the war in the mid 60's, around 65, Vang Pao was a sort of somewhat populous, anti-communist leader of the Hmong hill people in Laos and was peripherally involved in growing opium because that's really what the cash crop was in that area.
By 1968, 1969 into 1970 Vang Pao was the biggest heroin trafficker on the planet. Some of his partners were the Sicilian mobsters that we had gone into business to put in Havana Cuba and south Florida to try to kill Fidel Castro. Basically we had created this huge network or aided this huge network of international drug trafficking that created a massive heroin epidemic which has only been surpassed by the current opioid crisis and we go into that later.
What happens is, there's all this heroin in the theater of war in southeast Asia, a lot of troops are getting hooked, famously they all start bringing this heroin back and heroin really starts devastating the inner city and there was a legitimate belief by a lot of people that really it was out of control and crime rates were really skyrocketing especially in cities like New York. So Nixon was under a lot of pressure. He had run in 1960 under the banner of law and order and the country was literally falling apart by 1971 in his eyes.
Gillespie: As you were saying, the crime really ratcheted up. It started in the 50's but it really ratcheted up in the 60's, there was the perception that people were leaving cities in droves to avoid crime. You talk, I think, in the first episode, it's something that in 1960 the government figures had something like 50,000 heroin addicts around the country or heroin users and it had crept up to something like 200,000 or 500,000 by about 1970.
Gillespie: Part of it Nixon was a law and order guy and there's, you go into this a bit at your site as well as in the show that John Ehrlichman one of Richard Nixon's chief lieutenants in a 1990, 94 interview with Dan Baum who ultimately published a story in Harper's about this, that he said that the war on pot and the war on drugs was really a way to control black people. There was also this sense that the urban American was going to hell in a hand basket as well.
Follow up question for that is, the war on drugs gets birthed out of mixed feeling and Nixon and there's some footage in one of the episodes of Ronald Reagan denouncing the use of acid in the 60's and obviously became drug warrior himself as president. There was a strong bipartisan element to the war on drugs because even people, Jimmy Carter seemed to be okay with the idea of pot legalization or decriminalization until events overtook him and he became a staunch drug warrior. People like Bill Clinton, people like Barack Obama also added to the drug war. What is the, I guess that's a long wind up for a pretty simple question, what is it about the war on drugs that pulls such support from Democrats and Republicans across the board?
Lappe: I think this is pretty deep question because I think it goes to what I found in working on this project which is really one of the most epic projects I've ever worked on in my life in terms of the amount of research we did. I think drugs have always played a scapegoat role in our society where we see other social forces, in particular economic forces and other things that have been pressures on communities and it's very easy to point the finger at drugs. In some ways it's a natural reaction to try to crack down on them in the harshest way. Of course by cracking down on drugs are an inanimate object, there is no such thing as a crack down on drugs. You're cracking down on people. And when you crack down on people, that has a reverberating effect. It also can be used as a tool.
Nixon is probably one of the most cynical politicians in our history but maybe not the worst in my opinion. He saw it purely, in my opinion, as a political move. As a way to take out this, he believed he had all these enemies that were growing around him, all these social movements, you had black nationalism, you had increasingly radicalized hippie movement that had turned from a peacenik movement into a more dangerous, whether underground type of operations. There was a feeling that society was unraveling to some degree. That was in large part because it was because we lived in a oppressive racist society and there was a war that in 1968, everyone knew was at a stalemate or that we had lost but continued going on. People don't realize half the people died, of our soldiers after 1968 when Nixon ran under this completely cynical lie that he had a secret plan to end the war [Editor's note: Journalism historian Joseph W. Campbell has documented that Candidate Nixon never publicly made such a pledge, which continues to be cited frequently.].
There was all these other forces going on in drugs were very easy way to demonize people.
Gillespie: At the website, at history.com, among the various things you have in timelines or whatnot that are worth going back to. The early attempts to link cocaine with black people and if you want to crack down on cocaine because white women may be taking it or something, you crack down on black people. When pot became illegal, under federal law, became effectively illegal in the 1930's, it was identified with Mexicans. Chinese and opium was a problem. It is fascinating in the 60's you have with something like LSD the youth movement and hippies and then again when ecstasy which was made illegal in the 80's thanks in large part to Joe Biden.
The identification of a subculture or subgroup or a particular ethnic group that you can crack down on is one of the really haunting elements, I think, of the drug war and that comes through in this, in this series. Talk a bit about how particularly after 9/11 part of the series, and I think you're absolutely right in looking at it, that what this does in a way that is really fresh and interesting is look at how foreign policy, US foreign policy has been both guided and infected by the drug war. Talk a bit about the post 9/11 era and how have fears of narco-terrorism really changed the way we go about our foreign policy?
Lappe: Narco-terrorism is a term that started, that was introduced after 9/11, shortly after really. We show how in the first Superbowl after 9/11, the Partnership for Drug Free America began running this very eerie infamous ad now where you had a bunch of kids saying, "I supported terrorists, I supported a suicide bomber, I did this." Basically saying because I did drugs I was helping all of these different terrorists groups et cetera. When the incredible irony is that our own government has been knee deep in drug trafficking for decades.
There was a big push though it was completely ironic and what we show in our last episode which is the post 9/11 era, is we actually have an undercover DEA agent. This was a huge theme that we saw throughout our series was the tension between the DEA and the CIA. I'll paint the picture of what was happening in Afghanistan.
In the late 1990's, opium has always been one of or the biggest cash crop in Afghanistan. During the 1990's there was a massive civil war. All sides were using opium to finance themselves. The Taliban comes in to power and starts taxing at first, opium growers but by the late 90's the Taliban is having a huge PR problem. They're chopping off women's heads in stadiums and they're blowing up the Buddhas. They were becoming an international pariah. They pulled this incredible PR coup where they said they were cracking down on opium. When really all they were doing were stockpiling it. Basically they launched this whole fake crackdown that got the UN off their back. The US, we even in 2000, sent them $40 million of aid money to help, quote unquote, crackdown on opium. But really what was happening was they were stockpiling opium and then after 9/11 used those stockpiles to ramp up their war effort.
At the time of 9/11, Afghanistan was about 30% of the world's heroin. Today it's about 90%. What Afghanistan has become is a drug war. People never talk about it in that context but Afghanistan is a giant drug war. The Taliban have, to quote REM, lost their religion. They're really are not much of a religious force any more as they are just any other militant insurgency group that is trying to take down a government. There isn't much, they're not putting a lot of effort into their Sharia program. They basically have become gigantic drug traffickers. But also our allies in Afghanistan. Including in the early days, Hamid Karzai's brother, Wali Karzai was the biggest heroin trafficker and drug lord who controlled all the traffic in Kandahar. Who was completely protected by the CIA.
I talked to soldiers who literally their job was to guard the opium fields of our local warlord allies. This heroin has had a major impact on the world's drug stage. It should be noted a lot of the heroin that comes into the United States is coming from Mexico now but a lot of it is coming from Afghanistan, especially on the east coast and in Canada. It's a really incredible story that no one really talks about. There's a great reporter that is one of our contributors to the show named, Gretchen Peters, wrote a book called, Seeds of Terror. That essentially is her thesis.
We also have great stories about the undercover DEA agents who were fighting to try to take down drug traffickers at the same time the CIA was undermining their efforts.
Gillespie: It's a phenomenal drama that unfolds and it has these dark, rich, historical ironies that abound throughout the series. The odds are good now at least and actually in a story that's up at the website, you guys talk about Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General under Donald Trump. Who has really, he's pledged to really redouble efforts at least domestically, on the war on drugs which you guys point out at least in it's Nixonian phase has been going on for 50 years. It's really more like a 100 years when you go all the way back to things like the Harrison Narcotics Act.
It's failing, it doesn't seem to have much effect on drug usage rates, they seem to be independent of enforcement, there's obviously problems with surgeon opiod use that is it's own tangled web of unintended consequences and weird interventions into markets. At the same time the odds are phenomenal that pot is going to be fully legal in the US within the next decade if not before. During the campaign, weirdly Donald Trump seemed to be at times okay with the idea of different states deciding what kind of marijuana policies, obviously the Sessions factors a big difference from that. Are you optimistic that we're at least entering the beginning of the end of the drug war, to borrow a terrible Vietnam phrase that there's light at the end of the tunnel in terms of American attitudes towards currently illegal drugs, and rethinking the drug war?
Lappe: There's no doubt that things are moving in that direction in the same way there's no doubt that things like gay rights and LGBT rights are moving in a certain direction. Jeff Sessions essentially is a weird outlier, historical blip, as you said, to try to pin Trump down on any one ideology or stance is literally impossible. He said we were going to stop all our foreign wars, yet he's sending 8,000 more troops in Afghanistan. Whatever Trump has said on the war on drugs is sort of irrelevant.
But Sessions is just a weird dinosaur throwback to another era that I think is just going to be, if he survives the next three years. Will just be a blip in the road towards eventually people moving, starting with marijuana towards legalization both for, at least, nationwide to medicinal use if not most states towards recreational use. Because people are seeing that it doesn't really have any negative effects, there isn't really a gigantic increase in use and there's great benefits to society in terms of being able to tax it and make it a normalized thing. I think a big part of the problem with drugs and Dr. Carl Hart at Columbia is one of the most iconoclastic guys on this and he's in our series, he's out on the far fringes of this. But what he really says is, the problem with drugs is not drugs. The problem is drug use and misuse and people being idiots with drugs and not knowing how to use them.
Gillespie: But it's hard to know how to use them if you're not allowed to freely and openly discuss the facts, your experiences, your parents, we have enough problems with alcohol abuse and that's fully legal. When you start talking about these other drugs it's hard to get good information.
Lappe: Right. It's the same thing with these abstinence programs. You see wherever there's abstinence programs there's more STD's, there's more pregnancies because people are ignorant. I think that's a great trait of libertarianism even though I don't believe in everything you guys believe in. Is that knowledge and reason will eventually win out over keeping things in the dark, making things taboo. I think that people are rational and when it comes ... There's always going to be people who are going to abuse something, just the same way people abuse alcohol or any substance. I think there is a general consensus that we're moving in a particular direction and I think that ultimately it's going to be better for society.
Gillespie: I hope so and think that your series that was on History Channel will being rerun there as well as it's available on history.com along with a lot of other articles and timelines, does a really good job of helping to start that discussion which has been waiting to happen for decades now.
We have been talking with Anthony Lappe who along with Julian Hobbs and Elli Hakami has produced a great four part series for History Channel called, America's War on Drugs. It's available online and look for it on your basic cable package.
Anthony, thanks so much for talking to the Reason podcast today.
Lappe: Thanks a lot, it was a lot of fun.
Gillespie: This has been the Reason podcast, I'm Nick Gillespie, thanks for listening. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Thanks so much.
A controversial, religion-based LGBT law in Mississippi can't be blocked based solely on fears that discrimination will follow, a federal panel of judges ruled this week.
On the surface, Mississippi's HB 1523, passed last year, appears to be "religious freedom" legislation intended to protect Christian conservatives from state punishment for making decisions like declining to sell wedding cakes to gay couples.
What the law actually does is more complex, anti-libertarian and clearly unconstitutional.
The law grants special protections by the state for three particular religious beliefs. They are:Marriage is or should be recognized as only being between a man and a woman. Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage. Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
The law grants people who have only those beliefs various protections under the law. Religious organizations cannot be accused of discrimination on the basis of making decisions in accordance with the protected beliefs. The state cannot discriminate against families who want to adopt or foster children because they share those protected beliefs.
The state cannot punish doctors or therapists who refuse to provide services that would violate those beliefs (meaning a doctor couldn't refuse to treat people simply because they're gay or transgender but could refuse to provide therapy or treatment to help facilitate a sex change).
The state couldn't punish businesses for refusing to serve people in accordance with those beliefs or interfere with schools and businesses setting their own policies of how (or if) to accommodate transgender people. The state wouldn't even be able to punish government employees who refuse to hand out same-sex marriage licenses, but only if it's because of their religious beliefs.
To be very clear, this is not some form of Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing people general but limited exceptions to following laws because of religious beliefs. This is a law that determines only these three beliefs get special protection. The law is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from showing a preference for any particular religious belief. It is blatantly unconstitutional.
Objecting to the law, a group of plaintiffs filed suit, and a lower court put an injunction in place to keep it from implementation.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel did not make a decision about the constitutionality of the law in any way. Instead, the three judges ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs lacked standing at this point to oppose the law. There is no case yet seeking relief from the courts. The ruling notes that in order for the judges to grant standing, it's not enough to argue that the law violates the Establishment Clause?"[the plaintiffs] must allege a personal violation of rights."
The panel's decision should not be taken as a determination that the law is constitutional or valid. Assuming the law actually gets implemented, it probably won't be long before somebody will be able to prove the law has affected them.
Television critic Glenn Garvin does not think Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press succeeds in making viewers feel for the fate of Gawker after it published the private sex tape starring Hulk Hogan:
The case that's the subject of Nobody Speak is possibly the most fascinating and least significant in the three-century history of media litigation. It's full of depraved sex, villainous intrigue, and lurid betrayals. But its ultimate contribution to legal canon was not exactly epic. As longtime media lawyer Charles Glasser (an interview of whom would have been a welcome addition to Nobody Speak) wrote after the verdict, the case's lesson was simple: "Don't publish secretly-made sex tapes."
The story begins in 2012, when celebrity wrestler Hogan (nom de real life: Terry Bollea) got an unusual gesture of friendship from his best pal, radio shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge: Hey, wanna sleep with my wife? Hogan knew this was a frequent recreational activity of Bubba (nom de non-perv world: Todd Alan Clem) and the busty Mrs. Sponge and had previously declined to participate But this time, down on his luck?and wallet?after a series of business reverses and an expensive divorce, he agreed.
What Hogan didn't know was that the Sponges routinely and secretly taped these marital guest appearances. (After the case blew up, Bubba claimed Hogan knew all about the taping, but he wouldn't repeat it under oath during the trial.) That might not have mattered except that a copy of the recording, apparently stolen by one of Bubba's employees, found its way into the hands of the scabby gossip website Gawker.
View this article.
When governments issue regulations that undermine the value of property, bureaucrats don't necessarily have to compensate property holders, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court voted 5-3, in Murr V. Wisconsin, a closely watched Fifth Amendment property rights case. The case arose from a dispute over two tiny parcels of land along the St. Croix River in western Wisconsin and morphed into a major property rights case that drew several western states into the debate before the court.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in a scathing dissent, wrote that ruling was a significant blow for property rights and would give greater power to government bureaucrats to pass rules that diminish the value of property without having to compensate property owners under the Firth Amendment's Takings Clause.
"Put simply, today's decision knocks the definition of 'private property' loose from its foundation on stable state law rules," Roberts wrote. The ruling "compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the press of the public interest."
Donna Murr, in a statement provided by the Pacific Legal Foundation, the libertarian law firm that represented the family in the case, said her family was disappointed by the result.
"It is our hope that property owners across the country will learn from our experience and not take their property rights for granted," Murr said. "Although the outcome was not what we had hoped for, we believe our case will demonstrate the importance of taking a stand and protecting property rights through the court system when necessary."
In 2004, Murr and her siblings sought to sell one of two parcels of land that had been in the family for decades. Murr's parents bought the land in the 1960s, built a cabin on one parcel, and left the other parcel undeveloped as a long-term investment.
The family attempted to sell the vacant parcel to pay for renovations to the cabin, but were prevented from doing so by regulations restricting the use of land along rivers like the St. Croix approved by the state in the 1980s, long after the purchase of both lots.
Those regulations effectively gutted the value of the Murrs' property. The property was appraised at $400,000 before the Murrs tried to sell it. When the family came to the county, now the only eligible buyer, the county offered $40,000.
The Murrs filed a lawsuit against the state and county, arguing that they should be compensated for the lost value of the property, arguing the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees governments must compensate property owners when land is seized or otherwise made un-useful for public purposes.
To avoid liability in the case, the state and county told the Murrs they could combine the two parcels of land for regulatory purposes. This meant that even though the two pieces of land were separate and the Murr family paid taxes on them separately, the family would be unable to make a takings claim for one of the two parcels.
In short, they could sell both lots together, but not one or the other.
Lower courts agreed with the government interpretation and the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the court rulings.
"Treating the lot in question as a single parcel is legitimate for purposes of this takings inquiry, and this supports the conclusion that no regulatory taking occurred here," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "They have not been deprived of all economically beneficial use of their property."
Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy in the majority opinion, while conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent. The Supreme Court's newest member, Justice Neil Gorsuch, did not participate in the case.
The ruling could have implications that go well beyond the 2.5 acres of land in Wisconsin.
Several western states filed amicus briefs in the case on behalf of the Murr family (as did the Reason Foundation, which publishes this blog). Though states like Nevada and Arizona did not have a direct interest in the Murrs' ability to sell their vacant land, they saw the case as having important implications for conflicts over federal lands.
Many state governments own contiguous lots and large bodies of water near areas owned by the federal government (military bases, national parks, etc). If those government bodies are allowed to merge contiguous lots for regulatory purposes, the federal government could impose severe restrictions on state land and wouldn't have to pay consequences, warned Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University who authored the amicus brief on behalf of those western states.
Writing Friday at The Washington Post about the ruling, Somin said it is "likely to create confusion and uncertainty going forward."
"In at least some cases, today's indeed ruling allows the government to avoid compensating property owners for the taking of their land, merely because they also own the lot next door," he writes. "But the vague nature of the test established by the Court makes it very hard to figure out exactly when that might happen."
With Friday being the 12th anniversary of the infamous decision in Kelo v. New London (in which the Supreme Court upheld an objectionable use of eminent domain), Somin jokes that maybe property rights advocates should hope the court doesn't release any more rulings on June 23.
Roberts, in his dissenting opinion, stressed that the court's ruling in Murr could allow for "ad hoc, case-specific consideration" of takings claims, thus undermining constitutional protections that should be consistent and predictable for property owners. Meaning more leeway for governments to do what Wisconsin did to the Murrs.
"The result is that the government's goals shape the playing field," Roberts wrote, "even before the contest over whether the challenged regulation goes 'too far' even gets underway."
A bi-partisan group of senators is attempting to scuttle reform with a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that leaves the agency in charge of America's costly and outdated air traffic control system.
Much of the blame for this quick retreat rests with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)?which represents the business jet operators who benefit immensely from the current broken system?and its well-funded effort to lobby rural lawmakers, Bob Poole, Director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this website) says.
The NBAA has spent $750,000 on lobbying, hiring three different lobbying firms in the first quarter of 2017 alone to make their case directly to Congress.
Business jet operators, are getting "a pretty sweet deal," Poole says. "[They] pay a tiny fuel tax that amounts to?one percent of the total aviation tax revenue that goes to FAA," while using up to 15 percent of air traffic control services.
The NBAA has also covertly mobilized rural mayors and pressured rural senators to block changes to the current system with front groups like the Association for Aviation Across America (AAAA), Poole says. Among them is Sen. John Thune, (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who said there was not sufficient support in his committee to privatize air traffic control.
In numerous policy briefs and open letters, the AAAA (chaired by NBAA president Ed Bolen) has peddled the claim that air traffic control reform would decimate rural air service by empowering big airlines to spend resources at only the most profitable urban hubs.
The House version of FAA reauthorization (which includes air traffic control reform), however, requires air traffic control service to be maintained for rural airports, Poole says. The House bill also gives smaller regional airlines who service those rural airports the same voting power in its proposed independent air traffic control corporation as larger commercial airlines.
By keeping the FAA in charge of operations, these senators are leaving in place a bad model "that every other civilized country has eliminated by separating air traffic control from safety regulation," Poole says.
Poole has since the 1970s advocated, in the pages of Reason and on Capitol Hill, spinning off air traffic control into an independent, non-profit corporation managed by industry stakeholders and funded by user fees, not tax dollars.
About 60 countries have already adopted this model. In early June President Trump kicked off his "Infrastructure Week" throwing his support behind air traffic control reform. That was followed up by a House FAA reauthorization bill which closely follows Poole's model for reform.
Even people responsible for running the air traffic control system have gotten behind the idea.
"Five or six former Secretaries of Transportation and the current one, Elaine Chao, all support this. All three of the people who have been in charge of running the FAA's Air Traffic Organization?say we've got to do this," says Poole.
Poole also mentions the example of NavCanada, Canada's privatized air traffic control system, whose charter requires it to service numerous airports in vast rural north of the country. Canada's private air traffic control system has also been able to adopt new and safer technology far quicker than the FAA.
Air traffic control reform might still survive the Senate, Poole says. The House version of the bill has the support of several Democrats on the Transportation Committee, as well Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, who had previously been opposed to the idea.
Only a system independent of FAA management and congressional appropriation can bring U.S. air traffic control into the 21st century, Poole says.
"You can't run this thing as a high-tech business, which it's supposed to be," he says, "under the constraints of government budgets and congressional micromanagement."
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), the self-described Tea Party libertarian who is so cantankerous that he won't even join the House Freedom Caucus despite sharing many of its views, was always one of the most outspoken opponents to the Freedom Caucus-approved American Health Care Act (AHCA). After that bill first failed the House, Massie warned in an interview with me that "We don't really have 218 conservatives here [who] meant what they said when they said they wanted to repeal Obamacare." And just before his Freedom Caucus pals wilted under glare of President Donald Trump, the congressman snarked: "The AHCA is like a kidney stone?the House doesn't care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it."
So what does Massie think about the new Senate attempt to modify the Affordable Care Act? Not much. Our pal Kennedy had the congressman on the show last night, and he dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act as "Obamacare 1.1," warning that it may "cause a quicker death spiral." He then added more fuel to the Hot Potato Theory of the Republican Party's motivation for rushing through a bad and unpopular bill: "At some point I realized they didn't care what happened to the House bill as long as they could get it out of the House," Massie said. "The Senate probably just wants to get it out of the Senate." Whole segment here:
Re-read Peter Suderman's critical analysis of Obamacare Lite.
The latest budget has new spending but no attempts at serious reform.
Steven Greenhut writes:
Legislators in California announced a budget deal last week that spends a record $125 billion in the general fund. But most interesting isn't what's in the deal, but what isn't.
There's plenty of new spending, of course, but not so much that it outpaces the rate of inflation. There are controversial "trailer" bills that attempt to change the rules in an ongoing recall election and take away power from elected members of the Board of Equalization, the state's tax board. Missing are any attempts at serious reform of existing government programs or ways to stretch the already hefty tax dollars Californians send to Sacramento.
The budget's authors talk quite a lot about funding important priorities, especially the public-education programs that consume an awe-inspiring 43 percent of the general fund. Yet Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Democrat-dominated Legislature refuse to confront the main reason such programs typically are so costly and ineffective: public-sector unions.
These unions are so powerful that they stifle cost-saving reforms in every conceivable area of government ? from the prison system to policing to transportation programs to the public school and college systems. Union work rules don't allow for experimentation and creativity, or even the firing of poorly performing employees. The state is thus left with just one approach: throwing more money at the problem.
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If you hate the way police in the United States abuse, threaten, and sometimes kill citizens during routine law enforcement, and you also oppose hate speech and want the government to ban it, take note of how Germany enforces its hate speech laws: They send police to raid people's homes and arrest them.
This week German police, in a coordinated effort, raided the homes of 36 people accused of violating the country's hate speech laws. From The New York Times:
Most of the raids concerned politically motivated right-wing incitement, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office, whose officers conducted home searches and interrogations. But the raids also targeted two people accused of left-wing extremist content, as well as one person accused of making threats or harassment based on someone's sexual orientation.
"The still high incidence of punishable hate posting shows a need for police action," Holger Münch, president of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said in a statement. "Our free society must not allow a climate of fear, threat, criminal violence and violence either on the street or on the internet."
Nothing helps prevent a "climate of fear" like police officers busting into dozens of people's homes because they said things the government has outlawed, am I right, folks?
Americans who want to create an exception that "hate speech" not be protected by the First Amendment often point to Europe and insist countries with such speech bans are no less free for it.
On the theory alone, they're wrong. Prohibiting offensive messages is an imposition on freedom, regardless of whether one favors the laws. You are inherently less free when you face criminal penalties for saying certain things.
In practice, we see the obvious truth of hate speech law enforcement: gangs of police officers breaking into people's homes and charging them with crimes. In the context of America's struggles to hold police officers accountable for violent or reckless misconduct, the enforcement of hate speech laws in America would get people killed.
And if people think the victims will be those alt-right folks, they're just not paying attention. It's undoubtedly going to be some minority teen who recklessly tweets "Kill Whitey" in response to some news item of the day.
Yesterday we noted the government's tendency to unfairly apply speech regulations to benefit the powerful over the disenfranchised is a great reason not to give government power to determine hate speech. We have plenty of other examples showing how hate speech laws would actually play out in the hands of our government.
Several years ago the mayor of Peoria arranged for the police to raid the home of a man who made a Twitter account parodying him. After news of the raid went viral, the mayor showed absolutely no remorse for the absurd reason behind it and insisted he was the one who had his freedom of speech trampled.
Politicians would like nothing better than to possess the means to punish those who make fun of them. The local college diversity committee wouldn't be meting out punishment. The politicians would.
Look at what's happening to hate crime laws. People enacted these laws allegedly to protect minorities from violence based on their identities. Now states have added law enforcement as a protected class, and police are calling for sentencing punishments for those who say mean things about them when they are arrested.
It's reckless to think that hate speech laws won't end up in a similar place. Eventually we'll see police raiding people's homes for tweeting mean things about them. The kernel of this is contained in tweets from a police inspector in Sussex, England, who did not like people making fun of a rainbow-colored cop car.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies killed a teenager Thursday morning while shooting at a pitbull they said was charging at them.
It's another example of over-reliance on police response and too much deference to the actions they take. The Los Angeles County sheriff's office said its policy is that officers are allowed to shoot at dogs if they "reasonably believe" they could be seriously injured or killed by the animal.
The Los Angeles district attorney's office considers shootings of dogs that pose an immediate, severe or fatal threat justified, even if a person is injured in the shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The deputies initially responded to a call about a "loud party," at an apartment complex. Deputies said a pit bull charged at them when they arrived at the location. Armando Garcia-Muro, 17, had briefly restrained the dog but it got away again.
Two of the five sheriff's deputies shot six to eight rounds at the pitbull. None of them appear to have hit the dog.
Garcia-Muro was hit in the chest by at least one round about 3:40 am Thursday in Palmdale. Deputies said the bullet may have ricocheted off the ground. A ricocheting bullet fragment also struck the leg of a deputy who was bitten by the dog, according to the police account.
The teen "may have been struck by one of the skip rounds in what we're calling an extremely, extremely unfortunate incident," Capt. Christopher Bergner told the Times. "Our initial impression was [the deputies] didn't even see the individual coming around from the side of the building."
The owner of the dog, who told the Times she didn't want to identify herself because she had "too many things going on with the law right now," said she doubted the deputies' claim that the 3-year-old blue-nosed pit bull attacked them.
"That's not my dog. That's not his personality," she told the Times. The woman also told the newspaper her apartment was used as a hangout for local teenagers who "come over and listen to music."
Deputies did not say whether or not they retrieved or killed the dog. Bergner told the Times any time a deputy fires their service weapon, they are put on temporary desk duty during the subsequent investigation.
From the sheriff's account the shooting appears to be accidental. That doesn't mean it wasn't preventable. Any thorough investigation would attempt to explain why, if Garcia-Muro was able to restrain the dog on his own, even for a brief time, couldn't five trained law enforcement professionals do so without the use of a firearm in the early morning in a dark residential area.
Department and district attorney policies on shooting dogs do not encourage finding those answers. The leeway given to law enforcement officers puts bystanders at risk.
Distaste for the president may not translate to distaste for other Republicans, as the special election in Georgia showed.
David Harsanyi writes:
What if Republican voters who don't particularly like President Donald Trump are also able to compartmentalize their votes? What if they dislike Democrats more than they do the president? What if, rather than being punished for Trump's unpopularity, local candidates are rewarded for their moderation? This would be a disaster for Democrats. And Tuesday's runoff election in Georgia's 6th District shows that it might be possible.
Now, had Jon Ossoff come out ahead of Karen Handel, the coverage would have painted this as a game-changing moment: a referendum on conservatism itself, a harbinger of a coming liberal wave and a rejection of Trump's disastrous presidency. It would have illustrated that Democrats had figured out how to flip those suburban and affluent Republicans who aren't crazy about the president.
Perhaps some of that will still play out during the midterms because one race (or even four) doesn't tell us everything we need to know. Every district is unique. Still, there are definitely ominous signs for Democrats.
You can try and grasp at moral victories, of course, as I saw a number of liberal pundits on cable television trying to do yesterday. You can tell yourself that Ossoff had come closer than any Democrat ever in the 6th District. But there are numerous problems with this optimism. For one, there won't be many red districts where the president is less popular. Democrats are going to have to flip some of these seats to win back a majority. Second, it's difficult to imagine how the environment could be any worse for the GOP (though that, too, is possible). Moreover, Ossoff spent a record $23.6 million on a House race, yet Handel outran not only him but also Trump.
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