2019-06-19 19:30:40

The largest American steelmaking company will reduce production at two facilities due to decreased demand, despite a year-old effort by the Trump administration to prop up domestic steelmakers with protective tariffs.

It’s time to admit those tariffs have failed to achieve their primary policy aims.

U.S. Steel announced Tuesday that it would idle one blast furnace at its biggest facility in Gary, Indiana, and another at its plant in Ecorse, Michigan. In a statement, the company said the decision to shut down the two furnaces was because “market conditions have softened.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Steel, like other domestic steelmakers including Nucor and Steel Dynamics, has reported weaker-than-expected demand and reduced profit expectations in the second quarter of this year. Although President Trump provided a brief boost to the industry last year when he slapped 25 percent tariffs on foreign steel, that balloon appears to have popped.

Those tariffs “allowed domestic producers to raise prices, but falling demand for steel has blunted the benefit of the tariff in recent months,” the Journal reported.

Gee, who could have predicted a relationship between higher prices and slackening demand?

On their own, the idling of two U.S. Steel furnaces would be a rather unremarkable blip on the national economy, but Trump has spent the past year turning the steel industry’s successes and failures into a metric for his administration’s trade policies.

That’s why the latest evidence that Trump’s trade war is not going according to plan is also some of the most damning yet. Though Trump has expanded his use of tariffs in attempts to combat what he sees as unfair trade practices by China (and threatened to use them to change Mexican policy regarding Central American migrants), the American steel industry’s success has always been central to the current administration’s argument for greater protectionism. “If you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country,” Trump has proclaimed as justification for his tariffs.

He’s also used the supposed resurrection of the steel industry as proof that his bellicose trade policies were working. “Our steel industry was dying, and now it’s very vibrant,” Trump told The New York Times in January.

Those claims were always heavily embellished. Despite what Trump has said, repeatedly, there were not seven or eight new steel plants opening in the United States. At most, he could plausibly claim to have helped bring a few idled plants back online last year. Hiring remained flat. In November, the American Iron and Steel Institute, an industry group, reported that direct steel jobs were down 4 percent from where they’d been four years ago—mostly because increased automation meant fewer workers were needed even as plants modestly expanded production.

Meanwhile, the tariffs were exacting a painful toll on steel-consuming industries that suddenly had to navigate higher prices from both foreign-sourced steel (because of the tariffs) and domestic steel (because manufacturers like U.S. Steel raised their own prices once the protectionist tariffs kicked in). Through April l, U.S. consumers and businesses had paid about $900,000 for every steel job created or saved by Trump’s tariffs, according to an analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

That happened despite the fact that American steelmakers were strong advocates for the tariffs and appear to have exercised significant influence over their implementation.

Shareholders have lost too. Despite being able to charge higher prices for much of last year, major American steelmakers have seen their stock prices tumble during the trade war. When the tariffs were imposed on June 1, 2018, U.S. Steel stock was trading at nearly $37 per share. On Wednesday afternoon, the price was hovering around $15.25. Other big domestic steel producers have faced similar sell-offs.

Again, this should have been anticipated. The same thing happened in 2002 when President George W. Bush briefly hit imported steel with protectionist tariffs.

Bush ultimately withdrew those tariffs about nine months after they had been imposed. Trump’s steel tariffs have been in place for more than a year, though the Trump administration did ease up last month by exempting steel imported from Canada and Mexico.

At this point, it should be abundantly clear that Trump’s steel tariffs are working no better than Bush’s did. If the tariffs were boosting domestic production—even at terrific cost to consumers, businesses, and shareholders—the administration could at least argue that the trade-off was a necessary one. As it stands, there is no redeeming argument for Trump’s steel protectionism. The only question is how much longer it will take for the president to realize that.

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California may not legally prohibit the Crossroads of the West gun show from taking place on state-owned fairgrounds, a federal judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo said the First Amendment means a state agency in Southern California may not single out gun shows–which host discussions of gun politics, safety, and how to comply with legal requirements–for a preemptive ban on future events. Bencivengo, an Obama appointee, granted a preliminary injunction on Monday after oral arguments.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, a government agency with members appointed by the governor of California, voted last fall to suspend gun shows at the fairgrounds. That effectively gave the boot to B&L Productions’ Crossroads of the West, which holds gun shows at 15 locations in four western states, and had already reserved dates for 2019 at the Del Mar, California, fairgrounds. B&L Productions filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban in January.

The California attorney general argued in briefs this spring that the Crossroads of the West’s arguments are “barred by legislative, sovereign, and qualified immunity doctrines, and fail as a matter of law to state a constitutional violation.” The gun show prohibition is a temporary one, the state argued, so that officials “can give proper attention to important public safety issues” while devising a final policy.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Second Amendment Foundation are backing the lawsuit against the state of California. The California Rifle and Pistol Association, the NRA’s state affiliate, is a plaintiff, and is represented by the law firm of Michel & Associates.

The best way to interpret the dispute between the state board and Crossroads of the West is as a symbolic one allowing California government officials to signal their distaste for firearms and their owners: Unlike many other western states, state law prohibits any guns from being sold to members of the public at gun shows. Instead, prospective purchasers may only place an order, which can be fulfilled after the gun show is over, at a different location, after a mandatory 10-day waiting period elapses, and after both state and federal background checks are complete.

Gun shows in California must follow even stricter requirements than those that apply to retail stores selling firearms. Gun shows must possess at least $1 million in liability insurance, provide law enforcement with a list of all firearm vendors, provide the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies with a security plan, and prohibit minors from attending unless they’re with their parent, grandparent, or legal guardian. State law also says that vendors may not “engage in activities that incite or encourage hate crimes,” they may not “display or possess black powder or offer it for sale,” and they may not display ammunition unless it’s in “closed original factory boxes or other closed containers.”

Because such significant restrictions exist, it’s clear that the anti-Second Amendment politicians who control California’s government are actually taking aim at gun culture, of which gun shows are a big part. As far back as 1999, this sentiment spawned the Nordyke v. King case, which dealt with prohibitions on gun shows at California’s Alameda County fairgrounds, and which bounced through the courts for at least 13 years.

Anti-gun politicians have been forthright about this goal. Last fall, then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, now California’s governor, wrote a letter to the 22nd District Agricultural Association asking it to stop allowing the Crossroads of the West show to lease the Del Mar fairgrounds. “Permitting the sale of firearms and ammunition on state-owned property only perpetuates America’s gun culture,” Newsom wrote.

Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, last year vetoed a bill that would have prevented gun shows from taking place at the Cow Palace, a state-owned exhibition hall near San Francisco. AB 893, a bill currently making its way through the California state legislature, would explicitly ban gun shows at the Del Mar fairgrounds. Newsom, who is more hostile to the Second Amendment than Brown, is likely to sign it.

Because state officials who act unconstitutionally don’t have to pay their own legal bills, expect California’s war on gun culture to continue. “It’s a shame that taxpayers have to keep paying for their legislators to engage in political Kabuki theater,” says Don Kilmer, a San Jose attorney representing the Second Amendment Foundation.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) is introducing legislation to clamp down on free expression online, under the pretense of fighting tech-company “bias” against Republicans.

Hawley’s solution is to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a measure that prevents individual users of internet platforms and the companies that run them from being treated as legally indistinguishable from one another. Without it, digital companies and the users of their products (i.e., all of us) could be sued in civil court or subject to state criminal prosecution over content and messages created and published by others.

State attorneys general have been howling about Section 230 for more than a decade because it means that only the federal government can criminally prosecute internet intermediaries. Thus, state prosecutors don’t have the opportunity to seize assets and bring in big financial settlements themselves.

As attorney general of Missouri, Hawley joined Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, then attorney general of California, and the top cops from many other states in begging Congress to amend Section 230. The first time around, back in 2013, the excuse they used was “child sex trafficking,” falsely insisting that Section 230 stopped knowing perpetrators of this horrific crime from being brought to justice. (In fact, nothing in Section 230 has ever prevented the Department of Justice from enforcing federal criminal laws, including laws against forced or underage prostitution.)

When that proved a successful ruseresulting in the 2018 passage of FOSTA, which both amended Section 230 and made facilitating prostitution a federal crime—politicians were emboldened in their power grab for online speech. Now, national and state leaders are insisting that Section 230 must be destroyed in order to fight “foreign influence” in our elections, the manipulated videos known as “deepfakes,” fentanyl trafficking, gun violence, and an array of other (sometimes real, sometimes imaginary) problems.

For some Republicans leaderschief among them Hawley—this has led to the truly Orwellian tack of trying to convince conservative internet users that taking away protection for online speech will somehow allow them to speak more freely. That’s the nonsensical proposition at the heart of Hawley’s new legislation, misleadingly called the “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act.”

The measure would give the government control over online speech by denying Section 230 protections to platforms that don’t hand over an array of private intellectual property and satisfactorily prove to a bunch of partisan political appointees that they are operating in a “politically neutral” manner. Essentially, Hawley wants to revive the old Fairness Doctrinea policy that was roundly denounced by conservatives for its chilling effect on free speech and its propensity to further marginalize non-mainstream voicesand apply this cursed policy paradigm to anything online.

Under Hawley’s bill, companies would be required to reapply with the Federal Trade Commission every two years for this political favora situation that would mean companies having “to constantly curry favor with the administration,” as Mapbox policy head Tom Lee noted on Twitter. Hawley’s proposal would also require tech companies to discipline or fire any employee who made a content moderation decision that bureaucrats deem to be in violation of online-speech neutrality principles.

With stakes like these, the only viable path for tech companies would be to censor vastly more political speech, not less.

“Today I’ve introduced legislation to end Big Tech’s biggest sweetheart deal from government,” Hawley tweeted Wednesday morning. “No more government protection for Big Tech’s political censorship.”

Censorship would be universally worse without Section 230 and, as someone who studied law, Hawley should know this. But it doesn’t matter what he knows about Section 230, it matters what the masses know about Section 230which was basically zilch, until recently. That’s what makes it easy for folks like Hawley, Harris, and the rest of the bipartisan chorus calling for 230’s demise to manipulate their base into buying that it’s about “bias” or “sex trafficking” or “gun violence” or any other number of hated things.

But no matter how many culture war red flags Hawley and company raise, their solutions all come down to the same thing: letting folks in Washington have more say over what can be said on the internet, and using tweaks to Section 230 to do it. When Democrats and Republicans professing diametrically opposed goals settle on the same solution, it’s a good clue that politicians aren’t telling their constituents the truth.

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2019-06-19 16:15:52

Donald Trump has seriously altered the ways in which we talk about politics. While conversations about politics and ideology have never been particularly civil or uplifting, these days they tend to be downright nasty, and especially among groups who are mostly on the same side of things.

This is nowhere more clear than on the Republican friendly right wing, where the division between pro-Trump and “Never Trump” conservatives is creating more friction than Stormy Daniels on a stripper’s pole. Today’s guest is David French, a senior writer for National Review and a columnist for Time. He’s one of the most prominent Never Trump conservatives in the country and he recently has been attacked by fellow right-wingers for—get this—being just too nice a guy.

French’s conservative bona fides are sterling: He’s a devout evangelical Christian who writes about how religion is central to living a flourishing life. He’s written critically of high levels of immigration. He’s resolutely anti-abortion and pro-military intervention and even served during the Iraq War. He believes that young men today are being stripped of their traditional masculine identities by feminism and he’s written critically of trans people.

So why are some on the right attacking David French and why should his travails be of interest to libertarians?

French is being attacked because he believes in the classical liberal ideal of a marketplace of ideas, where people civilly argue over ideas and agree to abide peacefully by the outcomes of elections. He mostly believes in the power of persuasion rather than coercion. Unlike a growing number of conservatives and Republicans, he thinks that social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube have the right to kick off whomever they want, even if that leads to fewer conservative voices. And he’s a resolute civil libertarian who remains skeptical of government power, even or maybe especially when his own side is wielding it.

He talks about all that, and also about a recent court decision finding Oberlin College “guilty of compensatory damages for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with business relationships” in relation to statements its officials made in relation to a local Ohio bakery. French is the former president of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in education, the nation’s premier outfit fighting for free expression on college campuses, and he thinks the Oberlin verdict may be a turning point when it comes to political correctness in higher education.

French sat down to talk with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie while both were at FEECon, the annual conference organized by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes.


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Men can’t cook, and women are bad at sports. Those stereotypes are just two of many that, as of last week, are illegal in British advertisements.

Indeed, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) instituted a ban on gender stereotypes “that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.” According to the ASA’s overview, setups that will likely be in violation of the law include but are not limited to:

    • An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
    • An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies [diapers]; a woman’s inability to park a car.
    • Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
    • An ad that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring) needs to be handled with care.
    • An ad aimed at new mums which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.

The ban was implemented following an ASA review which concluded that stereotypical depictions pave the way for “real-world psychological, physical, economic, social and political harm for individuals and groups.” Specifically, it mentions that the media portrayals may influence which toys children play with, “which can have long-term impacts.” In adults, a stereotypically feminine rendering of women’s roles can decrease their “motives and ambition, attitudes to involvement in politics, performance on maths tests and preferences for leadership roles.”

Certain scenarios are exempt from the new law. An ad may depict “a woman doing the shopping” or “a man doing DIY,” so long it is not presented in a light deemed insulting by the ASA. It also permits gender stereotypes when the ad explicitly challenges them.

Gender stereotypes “constrict people’s choices,” says the ASA review. Yet the ban itself does precisely that, as it limits companies from advertising their products as they see fit and shields consumers from ideas associated with wrongthink.

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2019-06-19 16:35:41

Yesterday evening, an amendment to restrain domestic surveillance under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) crashed and burned in the House, failing by a vote of 175-252. Proposed by Reps. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D–Calif.), the amendment’s numerous no votes were split almost evenly among Democrats and Republicans.

The amendment was attached to a spending appropriations bill (HR 2740) and would have forbid the use of any funds to submit a surveillance request under Section 702’s guidelines unless the requesting organization—the National Security Agency (NSA)—certifies that the surveillance is not “to acquire the communications of a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States, any acquisition of a communication as to which no participant is a person who is targeted pursuant to the authorized acquisition, or any acquisition of a communication known to be entirely domestic.”

Translation: The purpose of Section 702 of FISA is intended to authorize warrantless secret surveillance of foreign targets of interest in other countries who may be plotting against the United States. In practice, we know that the NSA has been collecting significant amounts of domestic communications of American citizens, without warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This was the surveillance that Edward Snowden helped expose, and we’ve been arguing over it ever since.

Despite repeatedly and loudly complaining that he and his aides had been illegally surveilled under FISA as a candidate, President Donald Trump has done nothing to actually restrain these surveillance powers. Last year, given the opportunity to rethink the limits of Section 702 when it was up for renewal, Congress and Trump instead expanded its authority to snoop on Americans.

So this year, Amash and Lofgren embarked on a new effort to stop the NSA from secretly collecting Americans’ communications. Amash spoke passionately in defense of his amendment on the House floor last evening:

We can see what’s wrong with Washington right here. We have Republicans for months saying “We’re worried about FISA abuse. FISA’s out of control!” Here we are trying to limit FISA and they’re running against it. They’re saying “No, we can’t limit FISA!” Democrats say, “We want to hold the president in check. Executive power is out of control.” We have an amendment to hold the president in check. This is our time to stand up for the American people. I’m sick of going home and telling them that neither side wanted to defend their rights.

But it was not to be. The amendment got all of 10 minutes of debate and was defeated.

Of interest: Rep. Jim Jordan (R–Ohio) and Amash have been at odds over Trump’s behavior to the point that Amash has left the House Freedom Caucus they both helped found. Nevertheless Jordan showed up to declare his support for Amash’s amendment, speak in favor of it, and vote for it. On the other side of the aisle, notable Democrats supporting Amash included Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The roll call of votes can be found here.

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2019-06-19 15:30:22

Google made a big splash yesterday with its announcement that it would be making major investments in home construction throughout the housing-starved Bay Area.

“Today, Google is one of the Bay Area’s largest employers. Across the region, one issue stands out as particularly urgent and complex: housing,” wrote Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a Tuesday blog post. “The lack of new supply, combined with the rising cost of living, has resulted in a severe shortage of affordable housing options for long-time middle and low income residents.”

Pichai’s post says that the tech giant will devote $1 billion in company assets toward the development of housing throughout Silicon Valley, with the goal of building 20,000 new homes.

On the spectrum of socially-conscious investment to gimmicky public relations stunt, Google’s $1 billion housing initiative falls somewhere in between. While its goals are bold, they also are dependent on securing government permission slips and a lot more cash from other investors.

The largest part of Google’s housing initiative is the repurposing of company land worth $750 million—much of which Pichai says is currently zoned for commercial or office uses—for residential housing. Pichai estimates that this land will support 15,000 new units.

Google is already in the process of securing permission to build 5,760 homes on land it owns in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View, where it’s headquartered.

Converting office or commercial space into residential housing will obviously require the assent of Bay Area local governments and their NIMBY-inclined residents, who’ve been known to gum up a housing project or two.

Google has told the San Francisco Chronicle that it will lease some of its land to developers who will then build housing on it. That means Google will still be making money off the land, but not as much as if they simply sold it, according to the company.

This housing would not be exclusively reserved for Google employees—hopefully dispensing with some social media fretting that the company is trying to resurrect 19th century-style company towns.

According to the Chronicle, Google will not subsidize construction on its land, meaning whoever decides to build on it will have to raise their own capital.

Google will also establish a $250 million investment fund, which it says will be used to help finance the development of 5,000 units of affordable housing—typically housing units with restricted rents reserved for people earning at or below an area’s median income.

That pencils out to a per-unit investment of about $50,000. In 2015, the median cost of building an affordable housing unit in San Francisco was about $400,000, with some costing as much as $700,000. Construction costs have only risen since then.

That means Google will only be supplying a fraction of the capital needed to build these 5,000 units. The rest of the money will have to be pieced together from state and local funding, federal tax credits, and other private investors.

Lastly, Google says that it will provide $50 million in grants to nonprofits in the Bay Area combating homelessness and displacement.

Google is not the first tech company to launch housing financing initiatives. In January, both Microsoft and Facebook announced plans to invest millions in affordable housing development.

Reactions to Google’s plans have ranged from enthusiastic praise to cynical eye rolling.

California Governor Gavin Newsom—who recently passed a state budget which included $500 million for affordable housing development—praised the company’s corporate responsibility, saying in a statement that “Google recognizes that it has an important role to play in addressing California’s cost crisis.”

Others were less impressed, with tech publication The Verge running with the headline “Google pledges $1 billion to ease the Silicon Valley housing crisis it helped create.”

That latter take is unfair. Silicon Valley’s housing crisis is a product of local and state regulations preventing developers from adding enough housing to absorb all the jobs that the area’s booming tech sector adds (and continues to add).

Google did not create these restrictive rules, nor can it alone be blamed for the insane housing costs in the area. That said, the company can hardly promise that its housing initiative will create 20,000 units so long as many of these restrictive regulations remain in place.

Nevertheless, the company throwing its weight behind an effort to build more housing will hopefully encourage local governments to let that development happen.

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On June 19, 1865, nearly 20,000 troops led by Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger read from Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that the remaining 250,000 slaves were to be freed and could begin working for wages. These slaves were among the very last in the country to hear the news of their freedom, two years after President Abraham Lincoln read his Emancipation Proclamation. The news was met with celebration across the state.

From that day forth, the day and its yearly celebrations were remembered as Juneteenth, America’s other independence day.

Though Juneteenth is first and foremost a celebration of freedom, the day has taken on new challenges in the 21st century.

Young black Americans are encouraged by their elders to remember their history and respect the harsh circumstances that defined their origins. There is an understanding that if history dies in a generation, it runs the risk of being lost forever. Younger generations have not only accepted this charge but are actively trying to make these stories part of the mainstream American narrative.

This is best portrayed in the 2017 Juneteenth episode of ABC’s Black-ish. Andre Johnson, portrayed by Anthony Anderson, attempts to teach his coworkers and family the significance of Juneteenth. Johnson and his family encounter some frustration as they realize that there is very little knowledge about—and interest in—Juneteenth. At one point, the show even commentates that Irish Americans don’t have to beg other Americans to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

By the end of the episode, the Johnsons decide to celebrate Juneteenth by throwing a cookout, as they would do on the Fourth of July. There is some small hope that by normalizing celebrations of the holiday and teaching its importance whenever possible, others will come to see why it is deserving of more recognition.

Juneteenth will similarly be celebrated throughout the week with cookouts, parades, and other parties in various cities across America, as has been done in the past. Several individual states continue to make official declarations to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. But there’s a desire among some celebrants for Juneteenth to be even bigger.

Many hope to make it a national holiday; the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has started several petitions to reach that very goal.

It’s not a crazy thought. Juneteenth has already reached the White House, with Presidents Trump and Obama giving statements each year to commemorate the occasion.

So why is there such a push to make Juneteenth mainstream?

Frederick Douglass answers this question best in his 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Less than 100 years after Thomas Jefferson declared that “all men are created equal,” Douglass questioned the “national inconsistencies” of Independence Day. A former slave himself, Douglass confronts the clear hypocrisy of white Americans celebrating values like liberty and freedom at the same time an entire enslaved population existed among them.

Never shying from his blunt style, Douglass offers the following:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Today’s Juneteenth observers feel similarly. If many so readily observe a day where freedom was granted to some, why wouldn’t they want to also celebrate a holiday that recognizes the day freedom was granted to all?

There are those who won’t see the importance of recognizing such a day and those who will read this and look for the closest celebration. It is the hope of today’s Juneteenth observers that those who hear of the holiday, or any other important date in black history for that matter, both recognize the significance and accept it easily as American history like any other event that occurred on this land.

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2019-06-19 14:14:10

The sleeper issue in the 2020 election will be…the 2016 election. Or at least that’s what Trump seems to think.

The president kicked off his 2020 campaign last night with a large rally in Orlando, Florida, that felt a lot like a campaign rally from three years ago. Trump is a little more polished now, a little more conventional: His early rallies would often feature a long, unscripted passage in which he just riffed on the news, or read “The Snake,” a poem about taking in a serpent that eventually bites its host, because, well, it’s a snake. And although there were small Trumpian riffs and departures here and there, the speech felt relatively normal, at least so far as a speech by Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, can ever feel normal.

But the list of topics, and the president’s treatment of them, has barely changed since his last campaign: He’s still railing about the dangers of immigrant crime and sanctuary cities, still attacking trade deals he says have been bad for American workers, still lambasting “career politicians” and “Washington insiders,” still complaining about Crooked Hillary and her emails. For a moment, parts of the crowd chanted “lock her up.” Foreign trading partners, immigrants, Hillary Clinton—in a Trump speech, these are the ever-present enemies, and Trump’s focus is on rhetorically taking them down.

Yes, Trump has added a handful of applause lines about the dangers of socialism, and how Republicans “believe in freedom,” which is well and good, at least as far as it goes. As it turns out, however, it doesn’t go very far.

It’s more than a little bit odd to hear Trump rail against socialism before, as he did last night, moving to his support for the country’s biggest entitlement programs—Medicare and Social Security. “We will defend Medicare and Social Security for our great seniors,” Trump said, repeating a promise he made during his previous campaign. “We will defend it like nobody else.” Trump is deeply opposed to socialism—except for the socialism we already have.

But promises to defend Medicare and Social Security have been part of Trump’s shtick, and have been since he launched his campaign. Those promises aren’t going away now. They’re part of his greatest hits collection, and Trump’s campaign launch suggests he is determined to play all the hits, over and over again. 

Trump’s most ardent supporters will probably appreciate that approach; the crowd last night certainly appeared to be enthusiastically on board. But it’s a narrow appeal to those who already like Trump rather than an attempt to broaden his coalition. 

And there’s something rather strange about this strategy coming from a sitting president, who, despite his enormous influence on national affairs, appears to be living in the past. By returning to 2016 in the race for 2020, Trump is preparing to run a campaign premised on his own irrelevancy.

The economy is humming, for the moment, but Trump’s trade war is threatening economic stagnation, and the steel workers he promised to protect are losing their jobs as manufacturers shutter their facilities. Trump’s policies have sparked chaos and confusion at the border, and have resulted in a Democratic electorate that is more pro-immigration than ever. There’s a simmering conflict with Iran, stoked in large part by Trump’s inner circle. The budget is a slow-moving disaster, heading rapidly toward permanent trillion-dollar deficits. Even Trump’s precious old-age entitlements are growing creaky, with insolvency now just years away. Yet he had nothing to say about their fiscal decline. 

Trump’s greatest-hits theory of the 2020 campaign is fundamentally an appeal to nostalgia —specifically, nostalgia for three years ago, when Trump wasn’t yet president and wasn’t responsible for acting like one. But nostalgia, enjoyable as it might be, doesn’t address the actual problems of today. It’s a way of avoiding the present and its particular challenges which, in this case, means those created by Trump’s own presidency. 

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A concentration camp by any other name…Over the past 24 hours, American media has become embroiled in an intense debate over how to refer to government-run facilities for the detention of Central American migrants seeking refuge here and those caught crossing our southern border without permission. Are they “detention centers” or “concentration camps”? And how much does it really matter what we call them?

In a live video yesterday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) said unequivocally that “the U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border” and that “we need to do something about it.”

The term concentration camp technically refers to any “camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy” (that’s from the Holocaust Museum). These days, however, the term evokes only one thing for many Americans: Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

That’s why a lot of folks—including many Democrats—insisted that using “concentration camps” to refer to facilities run by U.S. immigration authorities just muddies the proverbial waters, creating a necessarily charged environment under which we must consider some very serious and real problems. For instance, here’s MSNBC host Chris Hayes:

Others opposed to using “concentration camps” clung to the technical differences between the identity-based detention orders that landed German Jews and other minorities in places like Auschwitz, and the infractions resulting in the detention of refugees and undocumented immigrants here.

But some pointed out that the identity/criminality distinction was not, historically, as clear cut as we may see it from our modern vantage point.

“For many Germans, the concentration camps were not seen as part of a program of political and racial terror, but a sensible policy, which sought to deal with the problems of uncontrolled immigration of Jews from the East and with the socially and politically deviant,” tweeted historian Ned Richardson-Little.

Others suggested that American has already lost its moral footing when our denial of having concentration camps turned on technicalities.

Those siding with Ocasio-Cortez were far from a homogeneous group politically. In response to Hayes’ tweet invoking “Godwin’s law”the axiom, coined by lawyer Mike Godwin, that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”Godwin himself responded that, no, this wasn’t what he was talking about.

In a follow-up tweet, Godwin added: “Stop thinking that if you didn’t do all the same things the Nazis did, you didn’t really run a concentration camp.”

“Yes, ‘concentration camps’ is accurate,” tweeted Washington Post and former Reason staffer Radley Balko with a link to this Esquire story.

Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, told Esquire: “We have what I would call a concentration camp system, and the definition of that in my book is, mass detention of civilians without trial.”

Actor George Takei tweeted: “I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.”

Today The New York Times talks about one of the youngest victims of this system, whatever you call it. At four months old, “Constantin was ultimately the youngest of thousands of children taken from their parents under a policy that was meant to deter families hoping to immigrate to the United States,” the Times reports. The boy’s family had come from Romania, seeking asylum from ethnic persecution of Roma there. The dad and boy went first, presenting themselves to border agents who locked the father up and took the boy. More:

In Constantin’s case, it would be months before his parents saw him again. Before then, his father would be sent for psychiatric evaluation in a Texas immigration detention center because he couldn’t stop crying; his mother would be hospitalized with hypertension from stress. Constantin would become attached to a middle-class American family, having spent the majority of his life in their tri-level house on a tree-lined street in rural Michigan, and then be sent home. Now more than a year and a half old, the baby still can’t walk on his own, and has not spoken.


A crackdown on emotional support animals is underway, following a sudden rash of complaints to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over alleged housing discrimination by landlords who wouldn’t allow pets that owners claimed were medically necessary. HUD has received “more than a thousand similar complaints” so far in 2019, reports The New York Times. More:

The number of people claiming they have a right to live with animals for their mental health — as well as to take them onto planes and into restaurants and stores — has been growing rapidly.

In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry, a for-profit company that sells official-looking vests and certificates for owners, had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its registry. Now the number is nearly 200,000.

But the spread of such animals — the vast majority of them dogs — has also been met by concerns from landlords, airlines and other businesses that many Americans may be abusing the system. Critics say that pet owners are obtaining phony certifications or letters from online therapists to avoid paying fees or to get permission to bring creatures where they wouldn’t normally be allowed.

Now, “more than two dozen state legislatures have enacted new laws to crack down on fraud.”


A reminder on the legal distinction between online “platforms” and online “publishers”: there is none. At techdirt, Mike Masnick responds to ongoing claims from politicians and press that there is:

So, let’s be clear, once again and state that there is no special legal distinction for “platforms,” and it makes no difference in the world if an internet company refers to itself as a platform, or a publisher (or, for that matter, an instigator, an enabler, a middleman, a gatekeeper, a forum, or anything). All that matters is do they meet the legal definition of an interactive computer service (which, if they’re online, the answer is generally “yes”), and (to be protected under [Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act]) whether there’s a legal question about whether or not they’re to be held liable for third party content.

Some people may want the law changed. And they may think that “internet platforms” should require some specific rules and regulations — including silly, unenforceable ideas like “being neutral,” — but that’s got nothing to do with the law today, and any suggestion that it does is simply incorrect.

More here.

And while we’re on the subject: Jeff Kosseff, author of The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet, and Eric Goldman, a law professor, have curated an awesome archive of case documents related to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Also, check out James Pethokoukis’ post at AEIdeas, the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, which implores folks not to “ruin the internet over flukey ‘bias’ incidents like the recent one on Pinterest.” Sound advice!


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